— Albert Camus
Scene from Looper, Sony Pictures
You’re not allowed to change things in time travel. Every thing that happens is fated to happen and will happen regardless of what you try to do. Each person has only a single timeline which can “loop” back upon itself but never replace one or the other. So at any given point in time you may have multiple “instances” of a person but looking at the entire timeline, there is only one instance of a person that starts with birth and ends with death.
Scene from Terminator 2: Judgement Day, TriStar Pictures
There’s a difference between judging and making a judgement. Making a judgment is something we do every day. We decide what is wrong and what is right. We can look at an act like telling a lie, or stealing and say that they are wrong or right. We teach our children to have good judgement, to ultimately make a decision about what is a right or wrong act.
Judging, on the other hand, involves condemnation. When we judge someone we declare that the person is either guilty or innocent of a crime. Judging is personal. When we judge, we put on judicial robes and not just decide whether they are guilty of a crime, but we also mete out the punishment we feel befits the crime.
Often times, you’ll hear people say “Who am I to judge?” and they shrug their shoulders.
This is a way of saying that they absolve themselves of making a judgement about wrong or right. After all, who am I to say that something is right or wrong. It seems very humble and very wise - but in fact, they are making a judgement. The judgement is that declaring something right or wrong is wrong and the right path is to shrug your shoulders and declare it’s all relative.
We ourselves might say “Don’t judge me!”
What we mean to say is “Don’t tell me what I’m doing is wrong!” We have such an innate fear of condemnation that when we hear someone saying what we are doing is wrong, we instantly react defensively. Sometimes this reaction is justified, because the person who is telling you you’re wrong is not making a judgement but judging us. When we are being judged, we are being condemned. The look of disdain, the haughty voice, the “I would never do that” attitude - that’s the sentence the judge is passing on you - it’s your punishment as a criminal.
But let’s say you’re a drug addict and your lifestyle is destroying your family and your career. When your spouse comes to you in a loving way and says what you’re doing is wrong are they condemning you? Or are they making a judgement that your addictive acts are wrong and they want to warn you about them?
It’s an incredibly fine line to walk between judgement and judging. Judgement is wisdom. But how can you exercise judgement without looking down your nose at the person doing the wrong thing? How can you not feel proud that you’re not a thief or liar or cheat? How can you not be happy that you are not like them?
The only way is if you have true humility.
If you realize that you are fundamentally no better than the other, if you recognize that all your right behavior is due to an accident of birth, if you know that you deserve the same verdict as the other… that’s where the fine line lies.
— Earl Nightingale
— Leonardo da Vinci
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism.
There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships.
The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship; be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles; is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story.
The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness."
— David Foster Wallace
There’s a good reason why if God, if he really exists, is offensive to everyone. A God that is extra-dimensional and personal will transcend human culture and understanding. If God is perfectly in sync with the values and understandings of a single culture then there’s a good bet that that particular God is not real at all but rather a power play of that culture to dominate other cultures.
But if God is a real personal God, then he will contradict all cultures in some way. There will be something offensive to each culture because such a God transcends culture.
So to Western culture, the idea of grace and love will be embraced but the idea of sin and judgement will be rejected as “backward” and offensive.
To Eastern culture, the idea of communal church and judgement for wrongs will be embraced and the idea of pardon for sins and forgiveness will be rejected as “corrupting” and offensive.
If your God doesn’t offend you, then perhaps He isn’t real at all.
— Thomas Fuller
My oldest son is learning how to whistle. He’s also learning how to snap his fingers. Also, the monkey bars. And riding a bike. And he wants to be good at them all, yesterday…
I keep telling him to be patient. That he just needs to practice. That he should be okay with failure, and it will come with time. But it doesn’t help. There are so many milestone to hit and everything is extremely urgent for a little boy.
It’s startling to be reminded of how many milestones there are for young children. Counting to 10 is a milestone. Learning your ABC’s is a milestone. Riding a bike, packing a good solid snowball, being able to catch a bouncy ball on the first bounce. When you’re small the milestones are small and closely packed. Each week brings a new life marker to traverse and each challenge at first insurmountable and then quickly passed by.
As we grow older, our milestones come further and further apart. High school to college. Your first job. Marriage. Kids. Retirement. We have a much more difficult time surmounting the obstacles that keep us from our goals and maybe we might never reach that next milestone.
It’s stressful and unpleasant.
Maybe we look back with nostalgia at our youth and how easy and commonplace the markers were to achieve.
But that would be a mirage as nostalgia always is. I can see in my son, the strain of the next milestone. Wanting to whistle, to draw, to read, to climb, to swing - is a tangible stress. It is no less unpleasant than my struggles reaching my larger and harder milestones. It is no shorter for him than it is for me - he just perceives time to be much slower than me.
So I keep whispering to him that I love him. That no matter what, we can come back tomorrow and try again. I tell him through the tears of frustration that it’s okay to fail - because I love him no matter what. I remind him of how long it took him to learn how to ride his scooter. How we went out, just him and I, into the summer sun and practiced and practiced till he could glide like a bird on wing. I remind him about how he had to slowly and painstakingly build up hard callouses on his hands so that he could conquer the monkey bars. Sometimes I help him. Sometimes I let him struggle. Sometimes I urge him on. Sometimes I dry his tears.
Most of all, I stand by him, as he tries his hardest.
— Friedrich Nietzsche
If there’s one thing Hurricane Sandy has reminded me of it’s that our great civilization is just a thin veneer over humanity. Disasters such as Katrina or Sandy expose civilization for what it is - a complex inverted pyramid which we all rely upon.
As I’m writing this, my friends in Long Island still are without power. The lines for gas are running a mile long and the subways are just now coming to life.
Modern life is predicated on complexity and specialization. The food we eat, the power we get from outlets relies on a series of specialists all dedicated to a singularly focused job. Food is grown in industrialized farms, it’s harvested by machines and trucked in by a distribution pipeline. It’s packaged at a wholeseller and shipped to distributors and collected at supermarkets in a packaged form.
Our power is generated from miles away and carried over a fragile spider’s network of power cables down to step-down transformers which convert this power over a web of cables to our homes and apartments. Specialist engineers and technicians watch over this network and repair their specialized portion when they need to.
Society is based on complexity but disasters strip away that complexity and leave us with the simple factors. Heat. Food. Water. Shelter.
It strips away pretension as well and leaves us with very human emotions. Greed, envy, anger, love, charity, despair and hope.
My power-less friends talk about simple things - a hot shower, candles, warm blankets.
William Golding wrote a book that almost every child in America had to read: The Lord of the Flies. When we are stripped bare of the complexity of modern life, we often see the true character of our lives. Do our chants of “Kyrie eleison" turn into "Kill the pig”? Do our moralities and ideas that are sheltered by the comfortable blanket of civilization give way to the realities of our sin?
Or in the midst of the storm, are our actions still guided by our better angels?