In response to the article I wrote for Touchstone Magazine earlier this year, “The Cross of Least Resistance: Our Path to Holiness Runs Straight Through Calvary“, I have had readers write to me saying that struggle is NOT a good thing in the Christian life. You see, in that article I criticized the pervasive notion that when the Holy Spirit moves in someone’s heart they are always enabled to achieve complete victory over sin, where “victory” is taken to mean the absence of protracted struggle, frustration, confusion and occasional setbacks. According to the line of thinking I was attacking, the presence of difficulty is a sign that God’s life-giving power is not operative within us.
It had been a particularly unpleasant day at the office for Ranald.
It was only after being promoted to management six months earlier that Ranald realized how stressful his dream job actually was. Sure, it was nice to be getting a larger pay check and finally to pay off some debts. However, managing a team of people who insisted on being disorganized was taking its toll. Sometimes Ranald looked back wistfully on the days before he was put in charge of the entire department.
These were some of the thoughts going through Ranald’s mind as he drove home one Friday evening. He wanted nothing more than to just go home, switch on the TV and tune out. He knew that wouldn’t be possible. His wife and kids would have demands. They always did. The children would need help with homework, his teenage daughter would need to talk about her day, and his wife would expect his undivided attention as she shared about her own struggles.
Update: since writing the post below, all spots in the first run of the course, taught by John Adams, are now full. Interested parties can register for the second run beginning December 4th and taught by Julie Gold.
Teachers wishing to qualify for pay increases by gaining graduate level credits now have the perfect opportunity. On September 25th, the Idaho-based education company, The Connecting Link, is launching their online course “Mindfulness in the 21st century Classroom” for the professional development of teachers. This Masters level course is being taught by educational psychologist John Adams and is being accredited through Argosy University, Antioch University, Benedictine University, Valparaiso University and Central Michigan University. It is designed to give educators at all levels an overview of recent research on mindfulness practices. Even better, the course provides step by step guidance on how to integrate mindfulness practices into the classroom.
If you’re interested, here are some links you may want to check out:
- For a free lesson, drawn from the material of the course, see ‘Free Mindfulness Lesson for Teachers!‘
- For a detailed syllabus of the course, visit TCL’s ‘Online Participant Syllabus‘.
- To learn more about why mindfulness is important for teachers and how it’s being used in the classroom, see my article ‘Mindfulness: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Classroom.’
- To learn more about John Adams, the instructor of this course, click here.
- To register a place in the upcoming course, click here. (Right now TCL is running a “Back to School Savings” special of $100 off!)
- For a promotional flier advertising the course and giving details about the special savings, click here.
When our brains become overloaded with too much information, or when our working memory is compromised by being exposed to too many distractions, there are certain mental functions that stop working as well. According to the research (which I have shared here and here), some of the cognitive functions that become diminished when we are bombarded with too much information include,
- conceptual and contextual thinking;
- the ability to grasp over-arching narratives of meaning (the big picture);
- the ability to make unexpected connections between different ideas and facts;
- the ability to put knowledge into schemas.
In short, scientists are finding that too much information can cause our brains to become lost in a sea of particulars without the ability to connect these particulars into larger structures of understanding. Other functions to be shut down include the ability to be attentive to others, to empathize, and the ability to understand things from another person’s point of view.
In order for these higher cognitive functions to work, the brain needs lots of time during the day when we are at rest, when we are quiet, and when we can focus on specific mental, imaginative or interpersonal tasks against a backdrop of stillness.
From my Touchstone article ‘More than Schooling: The Perils of Pragmatism in Christian Attitudes Toward the Liberal Arts‘
Appreciating that some artifacts are good in themselves, and not merely because of what they do for us, is the first step towards a proper appropriation of the liberal arts. The best argument for teaching children to love Aeschylus, Shakespeare, and Hopkins is simply that these authors wrote things that are beautiful. Just as the best reason for smelling a rose is that it has a lovely fragrance, so the best reason for learning Latin is that Virgil’s Aeneid is beautiful. Again, the template for this approach is creation itself.
Christian worldview education is in danger of being hijacked by pragmatists who think that non-utilitarian approaches somehow depart from the imperative to bring all things under Christ. This is ironic since the Bible itself reveals a better way….
The exclusively pragmatic approach does a particularly great disservice to the teaching of literature since it orients us to adopt a didactic and utilitarian approach to texts. We may start to think that the value of a text lies in the worldview lessons we are able to draw out of it and completely overlook the aesthetic considerations. Many, for instance, have the idea that the primary purpose of learning Shakespeare is to understand allusions and figures of speech, or that memorizing poems is mainly good as an exercise to develop memory skills, or that the value of learning Latin is to understand word origins, and so forth. The idea that learning Virgil in the original Latin has a value not tied to any practical benefit strikes them as odd.
When students are trained to think in strictly pragmatic ways, they will find it difficult to enjoy, say, a Shakespeare play if they can’t derive a specific worldview lesson from it. They may become so over-active in finding worldview lessons that they discern some Shakespeare never intended. How much better it would be to get them to enjoy Shakespeare plays simply for their masterly use of language and compelling plots and characters. How much better for students to come to love things that are noble and praiseworthy even when they do not have a specific use. As Flannery O’Connor put it in Mystery and Manners, “The fact is, people don’t know what they are expected to do with a novel, believing, as so many do, that art must be utilitarian, that it must do something, rather than be something.”
It is interesting that for Zwingli, “spiritual” worship was synonymous with non-physical worship, while “purity” was equivalent with simplicity. Worship in Zwingli’s Zurich not only involved a ban on images, but also music, decoration and liturgical fragrance. In fact, during Zwingli’s first four years in the city, few themes featured as prominently as that of “invented external worship.” There was more at stake here than merely Zwingli’s concern to uphold the integrity of the Second Commandment: the root of his antipathy to material paraphernalia and external ceremony was that such practices were visible. For Zwingli the visible was the province of unbelief, while the invisible was the realm of faith. God, who is unseen, cannot be approached through the visible material of the created world, and it is a sign of spiritual immaturity for worshipers to be dependent on created things. Jealous to preserve God’s glory, Zwingli had sought to organize the relations between the spiritual and the material in a way that ensured the heavenly would never be mediated through the earthly. The more God could be seen to work independent of instrumentality, the greater God’s sovereignty was thought to be. Thus, in order for God to be fully magnified in all His transcendence, the spiritual potency of creation had to be either denied or heavily qualified; for God to have all the glory, creation must have none; to trust in God involved an inverse distrust in the elements of creation. His deep distrust of instrumental causality led Zwingli to seek to make the sacraments declarative rather than instrumental. He was, in the words of Gerrish, “reluctant to acknowledge any other causality than that of God, the first cause. Hence, the very notion of sacramental causality was offensive to him. It seems to detract from the immediacy of the divine activity if one assigns even an instrumental function to the creaturely elements of water, bread, and wine. Signs, for Zwingli, are not instrumental, but indicative or declarative.” Even Zwingli’s doctrine of predestination arose from this same impulse and was the inevitable correlate to saying that God was the only active cause operative among creatures. Significantly, when Zwingli had his iconic clash with Luther at Marburg, it was the former’s affirmation of the incompatibility of spirit and matter that led him to so forcefully oppose the doctrine of real presence.
The sixth-century desert father, Dorotheos of Gaza, gave some very helpful wisdom for emotional people struggling with temptation and/or afflictions. (From Discourses and Sayings):
“God does not allow us to be burdened with anything beyond our power of endurance, and therefore, when difficulties come upon us we do not sin unless we are unwilling to endure a little tribulation or to suffer anything unforeseen. As the Apostle says, ‘God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able [to endure].’ But we are men who have no patience and no desire for a little labor and [no desire] to brace ourselves to accept anything with humility. Therefore we are crushed [by our difficulties]. The more we run away from temptations, the more they weigh us down and the less are we able to drive them away. Suppose a man for some reason dives into the sea: if he knows the art of swimming, what does he do when a great wave comes along? He ducks under until it goes past and then he goes on swimming unharmed. But if he is determined to set himself against it, it pushes him away and hurls him back a great distance, and when again he begins to swim forward another wave comes upon him, and if again he tries to swim against it, again it fores him back, and he only tires himself out and makes no headway. But if he ducks his head and lowers himself under the wave, as I said, no harm comes to him and he continues to swim as long as he likes. Those who go on doing their work this way when they are in trouble, putting up with their temptations with patience and humility, come through unharmed. But if they get distressed and downcast, seeking the reasons for everything, tormenting themselves and being annoyed with themselves instead of helping themselves, they do themselves harm.
“If painful experiences crowd in upon us, we ought not to be disturbed; allowing ourselves to be disturbed by these experiences is sheer ignorance and pride because we are not recognizing our own condition and, as the Fathers tell us, we are running away from labor. We make no progress because we have not squarely taken our own measure, we do not persevere in the work we begin, and want to acquire virtue without effort. Why should an emotional man find it strange to be disturbed by his emotions? Why should he be overwhelmed if he sometimes gives way to them? If you have them inside yourself why are you disturbed when they break out? You have their seeds in you and yet you ask, why do they spring up and trouble me? Better to have patience and go on struggling with them and beg for God’s help. It is impossible for someone struggling against his evil desires not to suffer affliction from them.”
I love The Calvinist International website. The Protestant world needs more Calvinists like the people who write for this site – Calvinists willing to return to their rich heritage after so many churches in America have truncated reformed theology to be about little more than the tulip. Those who, like myself, have completely abandoned Protestantism, would do well to be well-versed in what TCL calls “the old evangelical tradition, most of which is still largely forgotten”, before launching into historically misinformed tirades against evangelicalism.
That said, my recommendation of the website is not without qualifications. Many of their writers could practice a little more intellectual charity towards their opponents, including being a little more selective in the pejorative adjectives used to describe those with whom they disagree. I would also like to see their method of resourcement significantly widened to include more extensive engagement with the breadth of what is available from the classical Christian tradition.
In Chapter 2 of The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of some of the factors that have contributed to the West’s spiritual decline. In his historical narrative there were five landmark events that played a pivotal role in this process. He summarizes these as follows:
“In the fourteenth century, the loss of belief in the integral connection between God and Creation—or in philosophic terms, transcendent reality and material reality [he is talking about Nominalism vs. Realism here.]
The collapse of religious unity and religious authority in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century
The eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which displaced the Christian religion with the cult of Reason, privatized religious life, and inaugurated the age of democracy
The Industrial Revolution (ca 1760-1840) and the growth of capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
The Sexual Revolution (1960-present).”
From my book Saints and Scoundrels, page 302:
“In our era, young children are continually being pressured to engage in self-expression before they are shown how to think coherently, and they are pressured to engage in reasoning before they are given the facts with which to reason. The result is not intellectual freedom but enslavement, for someone that is never taught how to think is by default trained to be a bondservant to the latest fad or fashion.”