Young People, Yoga, and Yeshua


Luke 16:9-13 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
The gospel reading is a really intriguing one. Intriguing and complex. I don’t want to get into the weeds of the text per se. Let me give you the gist of what Jesus is saying. And apply the principle Jesus offers to look at a topic that is ever present in the minds of church folks, especially church folks who are part of a church that is struggling.

Basically, what Jesus is getting at is this: followers of Jesus should not be afraid of using worldly means and wealth for the greater good. Not only should we not be afraid of utilizing the world’s ways in service to God and building God’s kingdom, we should be active in doing exactly that. Jesus says make friends with those who are masters at the world’s markets and ways so that such mastery can be subverted and used for good. Be savvy.

In other words, while Jesus doesn’t use these words, I think it applied. Jesus is saying, I think, this – when it comes to growing God’s commonwealth, we must embrace being the worldly tools savviness and innovativeness.

This principle easily applied to the topic of young people and the church. Churches cannot afford not to be savvy and innovative when it comes to seeing the dilemma of no young people and doing something about it. We should not be leery of seeing the work of the church as competing in the market of reaching hearts and minds in America. We need to look at it in a market savvy way. St. Paul’s is competing for the hearts and minds of folks who don’t attend church. How are we doing in this competition?

Now, there have been countless articles, essay, sermons, even research about what I will be calling the Graying of the Church dilemma. To be honest, no one has figured out a solution. Young people are simply not interested in church life in a consistent way. Yes, there are churches that attract young people. Yet these churches are all so different. You have Episcopal and Catholic churches that are high church with a very traditional style of worship with a very progressive theology that have a lot of young people in the pews. And then you have just the opposite, non-denominational churches that are low church with a very contemporary style of worship with a very conservative theology that have a lot of young people in the pews. You can also find traditional churches with traditional liturgy and theology that attract young people and non-traditional churches with alternative forms of worship and liberal theology that attract young people. It is not a one-size fits all gambit, in other words.

I think a more helpful way to approach this is to look at spiritual-based groups that are consistently successful attracting younger people. If you look at spiritual-based groups of various sorts, you quickly see that yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness groups continue to grow and do so among young people especially. The rise in the practice of yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness amongst Millennials is confirmed by the date. A 2018 survey done by the National Institute of Health showed that 28% of Americans practice yoga and/or meditation. In February 2015, Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, claims that “Meditation [on college campuses] has been spreading on a larger scale in the last five years.” And Tai Chi teachers across the country report increases in the number of young people attending classes.

I experienced this firsthand a few years ago. In 2013, I began as the minister of the Community Church of North Orange and Tully in Western Massachusetts. As you may know, New England is the least religious region in the country. And this was reflected in my time at the North Orange Church. My first year there, I was approached by the granddaughter of a deceased church matriarch who was a new yoga instructor. She asked the church and I about using the church space to offer yoga. The church said yes upon my urging. She began with a one weekday offering. Great interest followed. The yoga classes soon increased to three. So, three times a week, new faces who otherwise didn’t attend Sunday services, engaged in the ancient practice of Yoga at the church. The yoga class in many ways outpaced church growth especially when it came to young people.

Why is the growth of yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness applicable? Well, firstly, it shows that people are not turned off by the spiritual. Yes, many don’t do Yoga because of the spiritual foundation of it, but they also don’t dismiss or reject it because of it either. They use the powerful and positive tool with deep spiritual roots, a body movement and exercise that incorporates the stress-reducing, peace-inducing practice of mindful breathing.

What this says to me is that spirituality that is applicable to our everyday lives is a big draw for our new generations

Young people especially are looking for tools to help them in their lives. What does church offer them that they can take into their lives to help them center themselves and find meaning amid the chaos?

Knowledge and learning is no longer a draw. Learning is especially not a draw when it is passive learning. Young people can do a google search and learn all they want to know. Sermons are no longer really a draw across the board. Passively receiving a preacher’s thoughts on a certain subject, without discussion, interaction, questions and answer time, it is leaves much to be desired. What’s more, you can go on Youtube and find the greatest preachers in the world.

At the same time, people are bombarded by knowledge and information. There is a desire to filter out the noise and experience moments without too much thinking. Yoga, tai chi, mindfulness practice does just that.

If church and Sunday worship could emulate this, we’d have something.

Also, the success of yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness teaches me that the church would be wise to see the importance of honoring our need for self-care. Yes, building community is the reason we are here. Finding comfort and care in community and comforting and caring for others in our wider community – this is our purpose. Compassionate community is both the means and end of what we do. But included in this is the practice of taking care of ourselves, making sure we are spiritually in the right place to do the hard of work of building community.

Church can aid in this by becoming a place that helps filter out the meaningless noise and points to the truth of love beyond it all. This is so needed these days.

There should be joy in this. There should be a sense of contentment in filtering out the noise and experiencing moments with God. I am not talking about entertainment for entertainment’s sake. While entertainment is important, that is not the point of Sunday mornings. What I am saying is that practicing the Day of Rest should not amount to being bored all day. It should amount to doing things that refresh our souls, that refuel our souls, that revive our souls.

The building of compassionate community doesn’t have to be boring or overly serious or self-important but joyous. There should be humor, silence, song, and poetry. There should be giving, receiving, and sharing. There should be real relationships amid us and between us. There should be potlucks and picnics and pies. There should be fairs and suppers and concerts. It is all part of the deal, part of the deal that is life in community.

Lastly, and I will be quick, Yoga, tai chi and mindfulness teaches us the importance of a holistic approach to things. We as humans are a combination of our bodies and our minds and our spirits. Between worship and bible study, this church does a good job of focusing on the spirit and on the mind. But we are like most churches. We neglect the body in church life. Standing up and down during worship is as much as we do when it comes to the body. I like the Communion practice of walking to the receive the elements. But I ponder ideas of embodied spiritual practice in church life.

Maybe incorporating simple Tai Chi movements like the simple standing bow into worship. Or maybe have worship at a park and incorporating mindful walking in nature or planting a small tree and watering it as part of worship. An embodied spiritual practice, Christianity needs such a practice. People need it, as their involvement in yoga and tai chi show.

The practices of yoga, tai chi and mindfulness, they teach us a new way of approaching church. They show us that people want something deeper, people want to filter out the noise and experience and enjoy their moments, people want to honor their whole being. Connecting this to the life of the Spirit and the way of God is what the church can do and thrive in the doing.

So, I offer this prayer: may we be the compassionate community God calls us to be. May we in the process find shelter and sanctuary here in this space and now. May we seek to in turn be for others a church offering shelter from the storms of life and a light in the coalmine of distress and despair. May we with our whole selves honor God by honoring others and honoring creation, and invite others to join us.

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