“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.”
In Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, he has an interesting discussion about some of the reasons we find it hard to resolve conflict in a peaceful way. Often people get into fights without ever identifying the real issues. This is often because there are issues behind the surface issues that obscure the real nature of the problem. In particular, conflict over material issues (i.e., issues that involve practical decisions and substantive matters) are often confused because of conflict over personal issues (i.e., issues that relate to what is going on inside or between persons), and visa versa. How many times in marriages, family life and churches is it impossible to even discuss material issues without personal issues getting in the way and obscuring the decisions that need to be made? But conversely, how many times is it impossible to discuss personal issues without the way being blocked by strong disagreements about material matters?
Last year I received an invitation to speak at a conference for professionals in the caring professions. The conference, which was attended by doctors, nurses, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, dentists, hospital and army chaplains, missionaries, marriage and family therapists, surgeons and students, was on the topic of pain and suffering. The conference organizers asked me to give a seminar on the topic “Gratitude During Times of Suffering” and my marching orders were simple: explain how it’s possible to remain thankful in the midst extreme of suffering.
Now I’ve never been particularly good at being thankful when things are going wrong. If I have trouble sleeping, I grumble the next day. If I don’t have enough money to buy something I want, I whine and complain to whoever will’; listen. If I have a physical injury, everyone in my circle of friends is sure to know about it. So expecting me to give a talk about practicing gratitude during times of suffering would be like asking ask John Wayne to dance Swan Lake, or asking Justin Bieber to sing the part for Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro.
To put it bluntly, I found my assignment daunting. How could I teach other professionals a lesson I had not even mastered myself?
“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.”
“If only someone would tell me what to do!” I often thought as I lay awake at night, going over and over the same problemsa in my mind.
The situation I found myself facing was different to the struggles I had faced earlier in my Christian life. In the early days of being a Christian, my focus had been on cutting out sinful habits and coming to terms with the claims of Christ on my life. It hadn’t been easy, but at least my marching orders had been straight-forward. By contrast, after many years as a believer, I increasingly found myself facing situations—sometimes on a daily basis—where I had no idea how God wanted me to behave. In the minutia of daily life, I encountered problems at work, problems with my teenage children, problems in the lives of those who looked to me for guidance, problems in my finances and health. I often found myself baffled, stumbling along without a clear sense of direction. On big decisions, I could go to my pastor for advice, but it simply wasn’t possible to get advice for the dozens of small problems that cropped up every day.
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.
In my Salvo article ‘Sex an the Kiddies‘ I pointed out that one of the subversive features of the over-sexualized environment our children are growing up in is that they are becoming desensitized. In a society where sex is used to sell everything from shoes to vegetables, the danger is that children become so used to it that they cease to consider things to be sexual which clearly are.
I sometimes say I used to be a journalist, although in reality when I used to write for Christian Voice the majority of what I did was simply to “curate” content from other news outlets. The difference between curation and genuine journalism is important to understand, since this distinction is in danger of being obscured amid widespread cynicism about the mainstream media.
Beth Kanter defines content curation as “the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.” It “involves sifting, sorting, arranging, and publishing information.”
In a series of articles written for Salvo Magazine over the years, I have contrasted the outlook of modern feminism with what female writers in the past have written about female dignity. What has emerged from this research is a stark juxtaposition about the meaning of female dignity.
Consider that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many female thinkers defended their sex precisely by asserting, maintaining, and celebrating appropriate sexual distinctions. For example, the Victorian writer Elizabeth Wordsworth once noted that “in an ideal state of society we never lose sight of the womanliness of women . . . why should it be considered a compliment to any woman to be told she writes, paints, sings, talks, or even thinks, like a man?”
Even more progressive female thinkers who challenged conventional feminine virtues and roles still took it for granted that there was a connection between biological sex and innate gender distinctions, and that such distinctions were a source of one’s dignity. For example, Abigail Adams (1744–1818), who is considered a pioneer of early feminism, wrote to her sister praising Thomas Jefferson’s daughter for “so womanly a behavior.” Similarly, in the works of eighteenth-century female novelists who are now celebrated as proto-feminists, we find examples of women asserting their female dignity precisely by glorying in their inherent womanliness.
By contrast, twentieth and twenty-first century feminist writers have seen themselves as defending their sex precisely through their attempts to neutralize the sexual polarity. For them, it is no longer acceptable to emphasize the womanliness of women, as Elizabeth Wordsworth and Abigail Adams did, but neither is it acceptable to praise women for being like men. Feminism of the twentieth-century questioned the very category of womanliness and turned toward androgyny and egalitarianism.
I have explored this further, along with some of the implications, in the following articles: