Rethinking “Political Nestorianism”

Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou

I don’t use this blog to attack other blog posts, but I feel compelled to make an exception in the case of an article written by Aristotle Papanikolaou.

Dr. Papanikolaou is the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture and Co-Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, and the article in question was published on the Public Orthodoxy, under the title ‘Political Nestorianism and the Politics of Theosis.’ It was originally a talk delivered at the June 2015 Fordham/OTSA conference on the (then) upcoming “Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church.”

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Memory is the Mother of Creativity

From ‘Best Kept Secrets About Brain Fitness: a Conversation with Graham Taylor and Robin Phillips (Part 3)‘:

In Greek mythology, the Muses were the offspring of Zeus’s union with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.

“People argue that the computer has diminished the need for humans to exercise their memories as much…. but I think it is an oversimplification. …if we don’t learn and remember things—perhaps because we think we can always look up the information online—then our brains will never have the opportunity to form schemas out of what we’ve learned. Our brains will be little better than a computer which is able to retrieve lots of information but isn’t able to sort the information out into schemas that are meaningful and wisdom-imparting. Also, it shouldn’t be overlooked that memory is closely linked to creativity. As our personal and collective memories are being outsourced to machines, we forget (no irony intended) that humans have always understood there to be a reciprocal link between memory and creativity. The Muses in ancient Greek mythology were the goddesses of inspiration for literature, science and the arts, yet significantly they were the offspring of Zeus’s union with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. I don’t think that was a coincidence: the Greeks understood that memory is at the heart of both creativity and wisdom. As the Greek playwright Aeschylus put it in Prometheus Bound, “Memory is the mother of all wisdom.” That’s why teaching the techniques for memory and learning ought to be at the heart of education. But because we aren’t teaching these techniques, what happens is that there is a vacuum in which numerous false ideas about memory arise.”

Constitutionally Thankful

The following is from Robert Roberts’ essay ‘The Blessings of Gratitude’ in the volume The Psychology of Gratitude:

gratitude“The constitutionally grateful person has a shield against such debilitating regrets because he or she is inclined to dwell on the favorable, rather than the regrettable. As noted earlier, as an emotion, gratitude is a perception of benefits and benevolence; a person with gratitude-readiness will tend to see what is good in situations and to notice less what is bad. The kind of unfortunate actions and events that make the constitutionally regretful person miserable may have occurred in the grateful one’s life as well, but the grateful person can move on from them, because his or her mind is tuned to happier things….
Grateful people tend to be satisfied with what they have and so are less susceptible to such emotions as disappointment, regret, and frustration. People who believe in God as He is conceived in Christianity have an even more powerful resource for transcending many of the circumstances that disappoint, frustrate, and anger most of us. In consequence, grateful people, whether religious or not, will be less prone to emotions such as anger, resentment, envy, and bitterness, that tend to undermine happy social relations. But the virtue of gratitude is not only a prophylactic against such corruption of relationships; it also contributes positively to friendship and civility, because it is both benevolent (wishing the benefactor well) and just (giving the benefactor his or her due, in a certain special way). The justice of gratitude can be plausible argued to be metaphysical–a kind of attunement to one’s basic human nature and the nature of the universe–because we are in fact dependent recipients of good things, both from some of our fellow human beings and from God. Such attunement is a realization of human nature and thus maturity, fulfillment, well-being.

Beautifying Brokenness: How God Works With Weakness and Why it’s Okay to be You

The Japanese have an ancient style of art known as Kintsugi, which is the art of repairing broken pottery with a material mixed with powdered gold or silver. Unlike other repair methods that attempt to disguise the cracks in broken pottery, Kintsugi illuminates the cracks, embracing them as part of the object’s history. When broken pottery is subject to this technique, it actually becomes more beautiful than pottery that was never broken in the first place.

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Viktor Frankl on Reframing Suffering

A pervailing notion is that suffering and gratitude cannot co-exist. According to this way of thinking, gratefulness and suffering exist in a type of zero-sum relationship, so that once our sufferings reach a certain level of intensity it squeezes out any possibility of genuine gratitude.

Viktor Frankl

A book that debunks this notion is Viktor Frankl’s work Man’s Search For Meaning. Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1944 because of his Jewish pedigree. After being released, Frankl described his three years in the concentration camps in Man’s Search For Meaning. The book does not make for comfortable reading since Frankl chronicles the torments of mind, body and spirit that he and the other prisoners had to endure. But what intrigued me was when Frankl eloquently described how suffering enabled him and the other prisoners to understand what was truly important in life, and thus to be grateful for things that the rest of us take for granted.

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Self-Acceptance and Repentance

As a conservative Christian, I used to shy away from the message of self-acceptance, seeing it as mere psychobabble. I was also concerned that too much self-acceptance might stifle personal growth and improvement. Worse, it might even block us from being humble. So I took this concern to a number of pastors, priests, monks, scholars and Christian psychologists throughout the world.

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Beauty and the Sacramental Vision

From my article ‘More than Schooling: The Perils of Pragmatism in Christian Attitudes Toward the Liberal Arts‘:

“Being able to just be in the presence of beauty is central to coming to know God and to participate in the sacramental life. As students come to appreciate beauty for its own sake—independent of utilitarian goals—their souls are prepared to receive God at a deep, pre-cognitive level.”

Comfort and Emotional Numbing

From my article ‘What Gratitude is Not‘:

“When our pursuit of comfort causes us to numb ourselves to the pain and hurt happening around us, and even happening to us, what we’re doing is we’re also inadvertently numbing away the capacity to empathize, to feel love, joy and gratitude. When we harden ourselves as a defense against fear, grief, disappointment, shame, rejection or vulnerability, the result is that we’re reducing our capacity to feel the emotions that are important for our wellbeing, including gratitude.”

Smartphones and Your Brain

Today marks the beginning of Screen-Free Week, when children throughout the nation are encouraged to unplug from the screen to rediscover the joys of childhood, the richness of relationships, and the adventure of stillness.

In anticipation of Screen-Free Week, I spent some of my weekend reviewing a number of studies on how digital addiction and information overload is re-writing our children’s brains. I summarized some of these studies in my TSM article “The Dangers of Digital Addiction and Information Overload: How I Discovered that Silence is Good for my Brain.

One piece of research that was fascinating (and somewhat alarming) was that even if you’re not using it, simply being able to see a smartphone hinders a person’s ability to focus on tough tasks. Having a tablet or smart-phone in the room, whether or not one actually uses it, leads to a reduced attention span, poor performance on tasks, especially tasks requiring high levels of attention or cognitive abilities. The mere presence of a smart-phone in the same room also weakens a person’s ability to connect with other people, especially when something meaningful is being discussed.
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The Relationship of God’s Kingdom to This World

During this season of Easter, as the Church celebrates the breaking forth of New Creation, I’ve had occasion to reflect on the relationship of God’s Kingdom to this world. In an interview with Uri Brito about my book Saints and Scoundrels, Uri asked me about Christ’s statement “My Kingdom is not of this world” and how this should inform our thinking about Christendom. Here’s a transcript of Uri’s question followed by my reply (to listen to the entire interview, click here):

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