The Two Facets of Christianity

Driving across Iowa is boring. However, it’s something that B and I find ourselves doing a few times a year, and two weeks ago was yet another one of those occasions. Before we got married, we used long drives as an opportunity to work through our 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married book. As was its intended purpose, the questions spurred many deep and thoughtful conversations. Now, having worked through the book and passed it on to my best friend and her fiancé, we are continuing the trend. Somehow, being confined together in a small space for 3+ hours with nothing to do but drive (and occasionally change the CD or playlist), we become reflective.

As I’ve shared before, B and I come from very different religious backgrounds and viewpoints. And, although we attend church together every week, our beliefs still differ greatly. But instead of tip-toeing around the issue, B and I have learned to listen to one another as we explain our views, where we’re coming from, and where we stand currently.

One thing that B shared with me on this past trip really stuck with me. As I was elaborating on my recent experiences with Yoga, and what that meant to my faith, he said that he didn’t really feel like what I was talking about had anything to do with Christianity. I got quiet. He continued, saying that, although Christianity is (obviously) a huge trend in American culture, and many, many people call themselves and view themselves as Christians, he feels there are very few real Christians in the world. He went on to explain that he feels like real Christians are people who are out there in the world, doing something about what Jesus preached and what God asks of us. It’s not enough to feel close to God or feel a connection to Jesus, B explained. You’ve got to get out there and work to change the world.

At first, I felt offended by what B said. I’ve been feeling so connected to God and my faith recently, that I took this is some sort of insult. I felt that B was saying that what I was experiencing wasn’t good enough. “Well,” I responded, “I’m a Christian. So you can consider me a Christian.”

But, having had a week to reflect on our conversation, I’ve been able to get my thoughts together a little more. So, here goes:

I believe that Jesus brought peace to the world. I believe that this is the connectedness I feel when I do Yoga. It’s the connectedness my dad feels when he meditates. Different people feel peace in different ways; regardless, this feeling is what needs to become internalized before one can go out into the world and respond to the charge that Jesus issued to his followers. When living in peace, one is able to hear God’s call and respond to Jesus’ request. The call sounds different for every person. This is the personal, spiritual aspect of Christianity.

For me, I feel called to work with children. I want to share the love and peace I know with my students, and I want to change their worlds for the better. I do this by teaching them to read so that they can experience the world through books, teaching them to think so that they can form their own opinions, and teaching them how to handle their emotions so that they can form strong relationships in their life. This is the action-based aspect of Christianity.

The spiritual and active facets of Christianity work together to make one’s faith. One part cannot exist without the other; peace and action work hand-in-hand in my faith.

So, readers: Do you agree or disagree? How do you find peace? What is your call?

Was Jesus a Yogi?

All week, I’ve been pondering an interesting development in my understanding of Yoga and its relationship to my faith. This past week in church, on the second Sunday of Easter, our pastor gave an interesting sermon on the Resurrection. It struck my interest so quickly, that I began taking notes. From my rough outline, penciled in the margins of my bulletin, here’s a quick recap:

(This is by no means a direct quote… Rather my summary of what was said!)

There are twelve appearances of the resurrected Jesus in the gospel. Interestingly, 12 is the Biblical number for “completeness” or “perfection”. Although there are rumors of other appearances, not penned or included in the holy word, these twelve hold the substance and the meaning behind the Resurrection.

One of the appearances (according to John 20:1-22) occurred the evening of that very first Easter. The disciples (all twelve of them) had gathered together to comfort one another in the sorrow they were feeling upon the crucifixion of their leader. They’d heard rumors all day–women around town were saying the tomb was empty and that Jesus had been raised from the dead, however, they were skeptical. They didn’t dare to believe this was true.

But then, in the midst of their gathering, Jesus appeared and said to them: “Peace be with you.” In these words is the meaning of Easter. With these words, Jesus transforms the pain and loss of his death into joy and peace. In the depths of despair, Jesus sheds light, bringing life from death.

He repeats these words, adding “as God has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). It is with these words that Jesus issues a charge for what will become the Church. It is with these words that we are called to respond to the resurrection, to share grace and peace with one another.

The next verse reads: “And with that, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (John 20:22 NIV). Through the breath, Jesus says, we are able to do everything that God calls us to do. Through the breath, we find grace, peace, and forgiveness.

As I contemplated the last part of this sermon, and Jesus’ use of the word breath, I drew a parallel between what Jesus said and did, and what I’ve lately been experiencing in my Yoga practice. The sense of peace that Jesus brought to the disciples when they learned of his Resurrection, the peace felt through the Holy Spirit, is the peace that I feel in Yoga. It’s through the movement of Yoga that I feel connected to God. And what guides movement in Yoga? Breath.

I had a brief, but impactful, conversation with my Dad on Easter Sunday. He’d read my most recent post on Yoga and explained to me that it mirrored the benefits he gets from Meditation. He told me that, over the years as he’s practiced Meditation, he’s begun to believe that Jesus taught people to achieve actualization through something similar to Yoga or Meditation. He even drew a parallel between Buddha and Jesus.

Sunday afternoon, as I surrendered deeply into Pigeon Pose, which has become my most contemplative position, I thought more about these connections. I’m convinced that the breath–which is with us always, filling us deeply from head to toe with oxygen that we so truly need–is a constant reminder of the peace God wants us to find in the Resurrection.

I’m comfortable with assuming that you breathe on a regular basis. So, I encourage you to add to that experience. Whether Meditation is your thing, or the movement of Yoga brings you to that point of centeredness, allow your breath to be transformative. Allow your breath to be that bridge between you and God.

Getting My “Om” On

Since Ash Wednesday, I’ve been getting my “om” on twice weekly. This is the second year that I’ve decided to add Yoga to my life during the season of Lent. I find that taking time to do something relaxing and meditative is much better for my spirit than depriving myself of something for 40 days–although I understand the religious associations with the latter. I grew up giving up soda or ice cream each Lenten season. (Although, to be honest, I thought it was completely unfair that Spring Break fell during that time, and granted myself a one week reprieve, which I justified by starting my Lent one week early.) And, although I was mindful of why I wasn’t allowing myself to indulge my cravings for carbonation or frozen desserts, I didn’t find myself feeling very spiritual about the experience–more just grumpy.

That’s why I decided to make a commitment to add something in to my life every year at Lent. The first year, I prayed daily. The second year, I exercised twice a week–this was back when that was not a part of my lifestyle. I think I skipped a couple years at the beginning of college, but then my senior year I tried the Yoga thing.

Yoga allows my mind and body to connect in a way that nothing else does. When I allow my mind to release all extraneous thought, and I spend time focusing on inhales, exhales, and fluid movements, I feel thankful for my strong body, my strong mind, and the God that blessed me with them. That connectedness becomes rooted deep within me until I feel it at times–even when I’m not practicing Yoga. It gives me patience, gentleness, love, kindness, and joy. Basically, I find myself over-flowing with the fruits of the spirit.

I love to practice a variety of Yoga. Some days, I challenge myself with a Power Yoga class at my gym. Other days, it’s Yoga on the mat in my living room with a Shiva Rea DVD. (My puppies like “sacred rolling” the best.) Recently, I started going to a Yoga studio close by, and have been impressed by how experiential those practices are. (Last week, I vocalized my first “om”.)

Every time I start doing Yoga with fidelity, I tell myself I’m going to keep it up this time. But then, without fail, things get in the way. Half-marathon training runs, the appeal of a higher-calorie-burning workout, or just life in general. This time, though, I’m hoping the practice will become habit, so that next year I’ll need to find a new Lenten devotion…

Venting Session Re-Posted

Let me vent to you for a second. I am so disappointed that Christians have a terrible reputation. That people stereotype Christians in a bad way….think they are judgemental, haters, offended group of legalistic rule-watching-bible-beaters who are stupid. That reputation exists for a million reasons but one thing stays the same…..I HATE THAT. It makes me angry and sad and disappointed. I want people to know that God wants you to be the best version of you….be authentic…have fun and JOY…know where you are from and where you are going….and that He loves you more than I can possible describe. There are gonna be struggles…our lives are crappy, sometimes we feel we can’t climb outta our muddy trenches…but it doesn’t change the fact that God made us outta the dirt to LOVE us. He gave us his son to LOVE us. to BE WITH us. to GIVE US the best possible relationship we can imagine. and God wants us to have a future. more than this dirty shell. and He loves it when we love each other.

I am trying to focus on that. BE like that. to break that mold that everyone keeps on trying to jam me into.

Re-posted from one of my favorite daily perusals, Bower Power. Well, said, Katie!

Breaking Out On Our Own…

In this old post from almost a year ago, I mentioned the wonderful relationship that B and I have with our church. We’ve since been married in that church, and have continued to attend regularly. We truly enjoy all of our involvements with the congregation, from youth-advising to handbell choirs, adult education classes to book club. However, we’ve continued to face one struggle: truly being adults in the environment where I was raised as a child.

You know how people tend to fall into their familiar roles when they’re around their family? I’m talking about the adult brother who still pulls his sisters’ hair, and the middle-aged woman who can’t help but roll her eyes and her dad’s jokes, or the grown-up children who still talk back to their mother. Well, I think it’s like that at my church.

At church, I’m surrounded by people who raised me. First of all, there are my parents. We sit with them every week, I ring handbells in the same chior as my parents, and my mom and I co-host book club meetings. Then, there are my friends’ parents. You know, the ones who hosted me for slumber parties, took me to the pool, and watched me struggled through my “awkward” years alongside their adolescent children. Sitting in the congregation are also my old Sunday school teachers, choir directors, and youth advisors. The adults who laid down the law in my teenage years, and knew me when I still brought my American Girl doll to church with me every week. Now, I’m asking them not to see me as little Katie anymore, but as grown up, married Katie.

And I feel frustrated when they don’t.

But, I’m making the conscious decision to let go of that frustration. This week at church, we had our annual potluck with our Covenant Groups, which are small groups of 15-20 people to which each member is assigned. This was the first year I was not a part of my parents’ Covenant Group. B and I went to a different room, brought a salad to contribute, and introduced ourselves as a married couple. A separate, grown-up entity. Of course, we weren’t fooling anyone. Most of the people in the room had known me for 10+ years. However, we were accepted in our new life and as our own familial unit. It felt good.

We’ve also signed up for some volunteer and fellowship opportunities in the near future. Having been a member of the church for such a long time, there are few things I haven’t participated in over the years. But these are a couple new activities that we’ll get to experience for the first time together.

I know that I’m not the first person to make this transition from youth to adult in the church. I’ve talked with many other members who’ve had similar experiences. Our church is something special, and I think it speaks a lot for our congregation that its members are willing to make the effort.

The Faith Club

For the past year, every other Thursday night, I’ve been a part of a group of women who meet to discuss their faith. We started out calling ourselves Women’s Bible Study, but recently our name has changed, due in part to our most-recent read: The Faith Club by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner.

We chose this book after a study on John Stott’s Basic Christianity. Although we’d enjoyed reading about the background of our own faith, we agreed that we’d like to learn more about some of the other prominent religions of the world. We considered reading short books on each of the main five world religions, but in our search we came across The Faith Club, and knew it was right for our group (which now goes by the name Faith Club).

The Faith Club was written by three women–Christian, Muslim, and Jewish (respectively)–living in New York City after 9/11. They originally met with the intention to write a children’s book explaining the three religions, their similarities, and their differences. However, the realized that before they could write such a book, they had quite a lot to learn from one another. The Faith Club details the conversations they had, the stereotypes they shattered, and the relationships they formed. Each woman shares parts of her own story, from dealing with death, to anxiety issues, questions over the existence of heaven and hell, and what is deemed the “Crucifixion Crisis”. Each woman develops in her own faith, yet the respect they form for one another is outstanding.

The Faith Club highlights the similarities between the three religions, while also tackling the over-arching question: How can I be comfortable and devout in my own faith, yet recognize the validity of other faiths?

I believe anyone in my Faith Club would highly recommend this book, and would LOVE to discuss it with you. Now that we’ll be moving on to another to-be-determined book, I know I’ll miss Ranya, Suzanne, and Priscilla. Those Thursday nights, it felt like they’d become a part of our faith club.

Describe what your family dinners are like.

After publishing my last post, I noticed a new feature on WordPress that must have been added during my blogging hiatus. To the side of the “Congratulations, you published a post!” message, were ideas for post topics.

Although my blog began last February with a wedding-planning/apartment-decorating/relationship theme (okay, it was never that focused to begin with), life has progressed in the past eight months. Wedding planning no longer applies. Although I’m still interested in home-decorating, renter’s agreements, budgets, and time constraints leave me without a huge base of posting topics. Luckily, the relationship aspect of my life remains in the foreground, however, I can see my blog is taking a bit of a turn. So, you’ll have to excuse me, for I’m warning you in advance that I plan to break the major law of blogging. I am hereby revoking any “themes” my blog may (or may not) have had. Well, I take that back. Here’s the new theme: I like to write and I need a place to do it.

With this in mind, I’m going to stop worrying so much about find the perfect topic for a post, and instead concentrate on doing what I love most: writing. I may use these randomly-generated topics that WordPress recommends, I may review the book my Faith Club is currently reading (aptly named The Faith Club), or I may post recipes or tell you about how much I LOVE my new Nook.

For today? I believe I’ll…

Describe what {my} family dinners are like.

I grew up an only child in a family that valued spending time together. We always, and I mean always, ate our meals together. There were no breakfasts of cereals or dinners of PBJs eaten standing in the kitchen at the Johnson household. Eating dinner, for us, meant setting the table, saying grace, and enjoying each other’s company for at least ten minutes each night before we ran off to our many activities (yes, even a family with one child can have a busy evening!).

However, I’d like to focus this discussion on a particular part of a family dinner: grace.

Our church recently had the honor of hosting Dr. Rodger Nishioka, a professor of Christian Educ. at Columbia Theological Seminary for a weekend. Dr. Nishioka has been a part of many studies and lead many workshops on effective youth ministry. He shared an interesting statistic in a conversation with our youth group: Only 32%* of mainline-Protestant youth pray regularly before or after meals. *I’m not guaranteeing this was the exact number, but it was pretty close to this.

I can’t say this number really surprised me, but it did open up an interesting conversation about what constitutes prayer and our own grace-saying routines. Growing up with my parents, we recited the conventional “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blest” nightly. A nice, simple one-liner that we said in unison and punctuated with an “Amen. Squeeze-squeeze.” Our only deviation came when I was a youngster and was confused as to why we were praying about a pizza. (“Come, large pizza” is apparently what my four-year-old ears heard.)

With my mom’s side of the family, it was the same prayer, but said solely by my uncle with a bunch of “thee’s”, “thou’s”, and “thy’s” thrown in.

There’s something to be said for the familiarity of a comfortable dinner prayer. But I know I’d be lying if I said that prayer was always the most mindful, purposeful phrase that came out of my mouth.

Before our wedding, the pastor that married us advised that B and I try praying together. She promised it would be rewarding, and advised that it may be good for two people living together in such a strong commitment. This was not a subject we’d broached before in our relationship. B did not grow up praying regularly, with the exception of extended-family dinners. And my prayers had never been voiced aloud. But, when we moved in together, we decided to instate our own grace routine, as a way of spending that time praying together daily and continuing the tradition that had begun at my childhood family dinners.

For the past six months, B and I have alternated praying every night when we sit down for dinner. It was awkward at first; it’s always intimidating to put something so personal out on the table (literally) for the first time. However, it becomes less awkward with every “Amen. Squeeze-squeeze.” (Yes, we still do the squeeze-squeeze.) And, it encourages us to reflect on the day, think of one another, and to see what weight or joys the other is carrying.

So, while I can’t say with certainty what the implication of 32% of Christian teens praying regularly has had, I can infer that from my own experiences the positive impact it’s had on my life, both now and in the past.

The Ones You Choose

Place me like a seal over your heart,

like a seal on your arm;

for love is as strong as death,

its jealousy unyielding as the grave.

It burns like blazing fire,

like a mighty flame.

Many waters cannot quench love;

rivers cannot sweep it away.

If one were to give

all the wealth of one’s house for love,

it would be utterly scorned.

~ Song of Solomon 8:6-7 (NIV)

I’d like to share an excerpt from a paper I wrote sophomore year of college in my autobiographical writing class:

Walking in the back door, a friendly voice greets me by name. My heels click as I walk down the hallway in time with the floating voices of the choir warming up. Weaving my way through the crowded concourse, the organ music rattles the glass doors as the current church service draws to a close. Giggles ring through the air as children push their way in and out of the sea of legs. Familiar laughs and voices surround me, and I know that I am at home with my family. Because, as Vanessa Carlton comments, “sometimes family are the ones you choose” (Carlton).

            Grace Covenant has led me to form the kinds of relationships you know will last. In the nursery of Mom’s bible study class during my toddler years, I received hugs, kisses, and homemade Valentine’s cards from a boy named Trey. Our relationship never moved to a romantic level, but Trey is the one who took me to my senior prom and is still a constant in my life today.

            My relationship with the church has taught me the power of love and the strength and support that comes from that feeling. We have taken a stand in the Presbyterian church’s beliefs on gay rights by ordaining a lesbian in our church. We have supported families through countless battles with cancer, suicides, and premature deaths with more homemade meals and greeting cards than is imaginable. We have celebrated births, baptisms, first Communions, confirmations, and weddings.

            I like to think that my family has made a mark on Grace Covenant, too. After my preschool class, which was held at the church, I would sit on the floor in the hallway playing with my Polly Pockets while my mom helped paint the beautiful Noah’s Ark mural in the education wing. I still point out to visitors the inside of the pink flamingo that I was allowed to help with. My dad points out that the bird he helped with had to be painted over.

            Part of what makes a family strong is having a background and a common sense of roots. Oftentimes in a biological family this comes almost automatically—common ancestry, common experiences. But with my church family, it is something we had to create ourselves, and I am thankful every day to Mom and Dad for helping to create such a support system in my life.

I share this with you today because I think it’s the best I’ll ever be able to capture the impact my church has had on my life.
B didn’t grow up with a strong church background. His family dabbled in youth programs, church basketball leagues, etc., but any real involvement ended by his middle school years. By the time he and I started dating, B had taken a pretty strong stance against organized religion. He’s shared with me since then that he was weary of my faith when we started dating, and feared that it would be a gap we just couldn’t reach across.
Luckily, it’s been anything but that. Within the first year of our relationship, B started coming to church with me fairly regularly. Soon, he even attended a few Sundays when I was up at school. His involvement became more and more regular, until this past November when he decided to take a leap into membership. This, obviously, was a huge step for someone who had been so turned off by organized religion earlier in his life.
I feel so grateful to B for giving my second home a chance. It doesn’t surprise me that he ended up loving Grace Covenant–our church is known for being welcoming and inclusive. I’m so thankful that B and I will have the chance establish our lives as a married couple in a supportive community of people who have seen me grow from a toddler in the nursery to a director of the middle school choir. I look forward to (someday–not too soon!) bringing my own little ones into the mix and them having similar experiences.Thank you, GCPC, for all you’ve done for us! We ❤ you 🙂