One of my favorite theologians and pastors has, in his retirement, continued to serve as the Senior of the Society of the Holy Trinity. Frank Senn's books are models in combining pastoral ministry with faithful theological inquiry.
Disclaimer: I used to be a member of this Society, but unsubscribed almost a decade ago because of a difference of opinion on social issues. Nevertheless, I have been thankful to STS for keeping me on their mailing list, because I learn much from their community and faithfulness.
Senn's most recent column riffs on something he read in Yoga Journal. He has taken up yoga more regularly in his retirement. Senn knows at least some of his readers are conservative enough to question integrating yoga into Christian practice, so he writes, "You may be assured that I continue my romance with Christian orthodoxy even as I learn wisdom from the East."
most recent column in the STS newsletter takes as its launching point fourteen questions from an article in Yoga Journal.
That's as good a way as I know of summarizing open confessionalism. You can remain committed to your own tradition but just so be open to wisdom from other traditions.
The questions themselves are worth pondering, especially in these early weeks of summer. They are a good review of life and faith. So here are they are, reframed for the typical Lutheran Confessions blog reader.
1. Are you committed to daily self-practice?
"Taking classes is not the same as having your own practice." It is one thing to attend worship Sunday morning, or an adult education forum. It is another thing to pursue faith practices and learning for ourselves. Are you intentional about your daily prayer and faith practices?
2. Do you have a great teacher?
"It's so important to have someone you can go to when you need guidance." I often encourage people to surround themselves with different types of mentors. Find at least one person who is "ahead" of you, who you can learn from, someone you hope to emulate. Identify some peers who are to the "side" of you and are at about the same place as you. And ideally, be a mentor for someone else, a neighbor child or a younger colleague.
3. Do you have a meditation practice?
Meditation is a difficult word for some people, it has overtones that make us uncomfortable. Yet the benefits of meditation are immense. Dan Harris's 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story is a spectacular argument for, and introduction to, traditional forms of meditation. But others meditate while walking, or running, or fishing. The point is to have a practice, to take the time.
4. Have you read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?
I haven't, but now I'm intrigued. For Christians, the question is more likely, "Have you read Romans lately, or the Psalms? Have you read classic spiritual works by C.S. Lewis or Julian of Norwich.
5. Have you addressed your own psychological garbage?
That is a good question for every type of person, from yoga teacher to pastor to blog readers. We need to be in a place, as Senn writes, to not burden others with our own unfinished psychological business. If you need mental health care, get it.
6. Do you have healthy boundaries?
This often means in professional setting healthy sexual boundaries, and the question is definitely directed to that. But boundaries also have to do with self-differentiation, the ability to not let people walk all over you, and to not walk all over others.
7. Can you meet others where they are?
Not everyone is in the same place mentally, spiritually, or theologically. We're all challenged by our own issues, and if we are going to meet people where they are, we're going to need to understand that we come out of a position, and then listen well to the position and perspective of others. I love Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Vintage) on this.
8. Are you still (and always) a student?
"In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few." You can never know enough, as Senn says, either of your own faith tradition, or of the wider cultural world in which we live. Christian faith is the endless exploration of the meeting place of these.
9. Do you live what you teach?
The integrity of bringing together what you say with what you do is no easy task, because often we can't alway see for ourselves where we are divided selves. Make sure and ask your mentors and people in your life how you are doing at living what you teach. Then ask yourself, "Have you developed ways to be joyful in integrating what you believe with how you live?"
10. Do you share from your heart?
We all wear masks. There's a sense in which we are always cultivating an avatar. But as much as possible, is who we are presenting to the world the authentic self that arises from our heart.
11. Are you able to say, "I don't know?"
Parents are soon trained in this, especially when children learn the "Why?" game. The best experts in any discipline know when to admit what they don't know, and then join the inquirer in the search.
12. Can you accept other teachers and traditions?
Everyone is working out how to be faithful in their own context. Before we jump on somebody else and judge them out of our own tradition, can we adopt a posture of respect, an attitude of understanding that they are on a different journey, but one you could join them in by learning and talking together.
13. Can you laugh at yourself?
Oh my, if we could, as Kierkegaard wanted us to do, will one thing, I think willing to laugh at ourselves would carry us most of the way to holiness.
14. Can you be kind to yourself in your profession?
Many of us carry the burden of our profession, and struggle to hold it lightly. But if we can be kind, we can understand both that we are in the midst of things, that the end isn't yet, that we are still being formed, that we are part of a larger web, and that grace and God undergird all of it.
15. Can you be a responsible member of groups and organizations you are a member of?
Senn adds this question at the end because he wants to remind the Society of the Holy Trinity members to be faithful in their membership responsibilities. But in the modern era this is a good question to ask, period. We need each other, and we need those in our communities to do their part for the community. Even yoga classes. Even churches.