|photo by Alan Light|
|photo by Alan Light|
St. Teresa of Calcutta once said “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Throughout the Gospels, Christ warns us so much against judging others. This is partially a practical consideration, since none of us can see into another’s soul. A person’s behavior may be wrong, but I do not know how culpable they are for their actions. Perhaps a person has many sexual partners. This is clearly wrong. But what if they grew up in a family where no one ever explained to them why it was wrong. They may honestly have no idea that they are inviting great sin into their lives. In our modern culture, very often the values that are promoted in media are the opposite of the ones that Jesus
But there is another reason why we should not judge others: it makes it harder to love them.
Of course, there can be the condescending kind of “love” that comes from the self-righteous. We who are religious can often fall into this trap. We look on those who do not live the way Christ commanded and we pity them, but from a perspective where we are the enlightened ones above those dwelling in darkness. Of course we would never put it in such crass terms, but that thinking is at the root of this trap.
But real love doesn’t do that. Real love doesn’t judge a person. (Again, wrong actions should always be called out and corrected, but we should never do this in a way where we sit in judgment over another’s soul).
We are called to connect to the people God has placed in our lives. We are called to love them as they are.
One of the main problems occurs when we build narratives around people and we mistake our own narrative for the person.
Let’s say I’m walking down the hall and I trip. I look up and the person in front of me keeps walking as if nothing happened. If you’re like me, you start to think, “What is wrong with this person. They didn’t even think to look behind them and see if I was okay? Are they selfish that they don’t care?” And then I start building a story about this person in my head about their narcissistic personality and how oblivious they are to the needs of others. But then perhaps I catch up to them to see that they are crying because they’ve just received news that someone they love has just passed away. Coming into contact with the real person destroys the story I built in my own mind.
Maybe I’m strange, but I think we do this more often than we think. We assume motives and meanings behind the actions of the people we encounter and we begin to judge them based on those stories in our heads.
This is one of the things that leads to divisions in things like class and race. We build stories about people who are different from us and we judge them based on the stories in our heads. How often do stereotypes act as the filter through which we judge another person?
This happens a lot when we begin to lose contact with people. One of the reasons friendships rarely survive high school is because people slowly lose contact. Because of that, our stories in our heads of our high school friends begin to grow over the real person, like moss covering a statue. We then begin to mistake the stories we create for the actual person. I’ve seen this happen where people convince themselves that friends who are good and loyal are actually selfish and toxic. As time and distance increase the gap between them, the narrative they construct becomes more and more real.
This is especially true with the dead. In A Grief Observed, CS Lewis recounts this story: ““Today I had to meet a man I haven’t seen for ten years. And all that time I had thought I was remembering him well- how he looked and spoke and the sort of things he said. The first five minutes of the real man shattered the image completely. Not that he had changed. On the contrary. I kept on thinking, ‘Yes, of course, of course. I’d forgotten that he thought that- or disliked this, or knew so-and-so- or jerked his head back that way.’ I had known all these things once and I recognized them the moment I met them again. But they had all faded out of my mental picture of him, and when they were all replaced by his actual presence the total effect was quite astonishingly different from the image I had carried about with me for those ten years.”
Lewis was shocked by how much his own story about his friend had replaced the actual person. But fortunately, seeing him again could shake away his illusion. But Lewis had just lost his wife Joy (who he calls “H.” in his writings). And he writes: How can I hope that this will not happen to my memory of H.? That it is not happening already? Slowly, quietly, like snow-flakes- like the small flakes that come when it is going to snow all night- little flakes of me, my impressions, my selections, are settling down on the image of her. The real shape will be quite hidden in the end. Ten minutes- ten seconds- of the real H. would correct all this. And yet, even if those ten seconds were allowed me, one second later the little flakes would begin to fall again. The rough, sharp, cleansing tang of her otherness is gone.”
With the dead, we don’t get those course corrections. Often we end up sanctifying our memories of those that have passed and remember them better than they were. Lewis worried that he was losing the reality of who his wife was and replacing her with his narrative. This is a problem, because he wants to love his wife, not his story of her.
Sadly, we can also do the opposite. We can demonize the dead in our minds. And they do not have the opportunity to break through to reality. If we judge them, we cannot get the correction we need from encountering them in the here and now.
We should not judge the people in our lives now. How much more should we not judge the dead. We walk on very dangerous ground when we do this.
The more we fall into judgment, the less we are able to love. And that is the real trap that Christ tries to save us from. It is a terrible thing to lose someone we love.
It is a far worse thing to lose the ability to love someone
Hello, Dear Reader,
As normally happens a few times a year, I am finding myself unusually busy, with many projects converging at once. Because of this, I may not be able to update this blog regularly for the next couple weeks. During that time I will be busy with:
-grading the classes I teach for the end of the quarter
-(this includes grading around 130 projects)
-writing a term paper for a Master's class
-taking care of a house project
-assisting at RCIA at my parish
-stepping up rehearsals for our Fall Show for Theater
Once I am able to finish a few of these, I will be able to return to regular, blogging as I have in the past.
Thank you for you patience, Dear Reader. I will be back soon.
The story of Adam and Eve is one of the most familiar stories in all of Scripture. God makes man and woman and places them in the Garden of Eden. In the center of this paradise were two trees: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. God only gave the man and woman one rule: Do NOT eat from the Tree of Knowledge. But the serpent enters the garden and tempts the humans to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and thus paradise is lost.
As I said, the story is familiar. In fact, it is so familiar that we can forget how shocking it actually is.
Many years ago, Dr. Scott Hahn put forth a different image of this story than we may have in our minds. He pointed out that the Hebrew word (“nahash”) that gets translated into English as “serpent” or “snake” can also be translated as “dragon.” On this view, Dr. Hahn posits that the story is not about a subtle snake seducing the woman into sin. Instead, it is the story of a large, scary monster who intimidates the woman into looking towards the Tree of Knowledge. One of the most telling lines is Genesis 3:6, where it says, “So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Up until this point, Genesis 3 recounted the dialogue between the nahash and the woman. And then suddenly Adam appears.
Where the heck was Adam this whole time?
The Bible is not clear on this point, but it is possible that he was standing there the whole time, letting his wife be bullied by this dragon. If that is the case, that puts a new spin on the story where it is primarily about Adam’s failure.
I want to be clear that I am not giving my 100% endorsement to Dr. Hahn’s interpretation. But there are some very interesting reflections that come about when you view the story this way. Dr. Hahn frames the story of the Fall as a marriage test. God is testing Adam’s worthiness as a husband. One of the most important roles of a husband is that of loving protector.
I ask my female students what would happen if they were on a date with their boyfriend and some random guys started shouting obscenities at her. Most of them say that they would expect their boyfriend to stand up for them. This is not to say that these young ladies could not stand up for themselves. But there is an expectation that the man in the relationship come to the defense of his lady.
On Dr. Hahn’s view, Adam should have stood up to the nahash. But what would happen if a simple, naked man with no weapons fought a giant, hulking dragon?
He would die, of course.
And that is the point of the story: Adam the groom should become a corpse.
There is no way that the man should overpower the dragon. Instead, the dragon will kill him. And in that man would finally discover what true love really is.
Up until this point, Adam and Eve share affection, friendship, and romance. There is something beautiful about how he says, “Here at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” (Genesis 2:23) He sounds like Jerry McGuire saying to his wife, “You, complete me.” And we see reflected in this love those many sentiments of deep emotion we hear on the radio. This is the stuff of love songs.
But it is still missing the deepest of loves.
Beyond affection, friendship, and romance, there is the type of love that is represented by the Greek word “agape.” This represents a completely selfless, unconditional love. This is the type of love that offers itself completely without seeking anything in return. This is the love that would pay any price, not for any gain, but only for the good of the beloved.
This is the love where I would give my life for you.
Adam has not yet experienced this love. But he has the opportunity to live this true meaning of love by standing up to the nahash and laying down his life for his wife. But wouldn’t that be bad that Adam dies? Yes, but there is a solution: the Tree of Life.
What should happen is that Adam should die for his wife and then she should feed him from the Tree of Life and he should be brought back, now fulfilling his vocation of agape for his wife.
But he fails.
That is why we need Christ.
One of the best movies ever made about Jesus was Franco Zefferelli's Jesus of Nazareth. There have dozens of movies made about the life of Christ. And since the source material is the most-read story in the history of the world, you can imagine that taking an original point-of-view would be difficult. But one the smartest narrative strategies this movie does is in how it approaches Jesus. He is so iconic and so far above us that it becomes incredibly difficult to do Him justice. CS Lewis said that it is easy to enter the mindset of someone worse than you. All you have to do is remove the moral restraints in our soul. But it is so much more difficult to put ourselves into the mind of someone better than us. Jesus of Nazareth sidesteps this by being much more about what it was like for ordinary people to be in the presence of the God-Man Jesus than it is about telling the story from Jesus' perspective.
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable
Christopher Nolan has not yet made a bad movie.
His latest, Tenet, is not one of his best, but it is not bad.
The movie centers around our main character played by John David Washington. After a botched extraction operation at a Russian opera house, he chooses death over giving up his allies. However, he doesn't die and is instead recruited into an unexplained organization that has discovered some items whose entropy is reversed. This means that these objects move through time in reverse. For example, a gun that has been reversed would catch bullets instead of shooting them. At some point the exposition scientist Barbara (Clemence Poesy) says to the main character that you shouldn't think about it too much. Instead you should just feel it. Washington's character is told that they need to prevent a coming catastrophe and that the only clue they have is the word "Tenet." To help him he enlists Neil (Robert Pattinson) who seems to have a weary charm about him as he sets up the connection that our hero needs. Somehow his path leads him to a Russian oligarch named Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and the only way to get to him is to make a connection with his estranged wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki), whose desperate desire to be free of Sator is matched only by her fear of losing their child. Washington's character proceeds to uncover a conspiracy that could have consequences that would make a world war look trivial.
As always, Christopher Nolan is the master of visual storytelling. I heard that there is little to no CGI in this film and that most everything is done with practical effects. This makes a great deal of the action, though wild and eye-popping, much more real and tangible than most films. Even without the special time effects, Nolan knows how to build and create tension while at the same time giving marvelous, world-hopping villas. In a lot of its look, this felt like Nolan making a James Bond film: a hero spy who has to span the globe to exotic locations while confronting a evil maniac.
The acting is also quite excellent. Washington has charisma, like his father Denzel, but he is his own man. I would not have made the familial connection. In this movie, Washington is cool and smart while being a decisive man of action. He is able to do a lot with very little (more on this later) and he is able to draw you in as a protagonist. Pattinson continues to prove that he is more of an actor than a movie star. The Twilight films made him a heartthrob, but the guy actually has talent. Neil appears flippant, but there is always something behind the eyes that lets you know there's something more. Debicki plays her part with claustrophobic grace. She is suffocated by her lack of choices and you can see her desperately holding it together behind a veneer of grace. And I always love Branagh, who just sinks his teeth into a man of simple malevolence. There isn't anything in this performance that is horribly different than some of the other villains he's played, but he does what is required of him with great skill.
Despite how cool and how slick the film is, it lacks something: heart.
Interstellar was Nolan's most emotionally intense film. In fact, its biggest flaw is that it leans too heavy on sentiment in the final act. It feels like Nolan's last two films, Tenet and Dunkirk, are reactions to the criticisms he received on Interstellar. The emotional root of both of his latest films is so blunted that it lacks the emotional hook necessary to make the movies great. Technical achievements are a tool to tell and engaging story. But without the emotional connection to the characters it is very hard for the story to have any lasting impact. Notice that I have not mentioned the name of Washington's character in this review. That is because it is never given. The withholding of the name doesn't really add anything to the story. In fact, it is emblematic of a the film, which keeps the audience at arm's length and prevents us from fully embracing it. The exposition is confusing, and not in the usually heady way that Nolan does where he simply does not talk down to you. Here it feels like he is intentionally talking over your head. He feels like that college professor who uses big words so that you feel too stupid to question him.
His time-travel hook feels much more like a gimmick than anything he has used in his other movies. He still makes the most of this gimmick, using it to recontextualize scenes as they are revisited from different perspectives based on their relative motion in time. But in the end it is still a gimmick. It should be the means by which you advance an engaging plot, theme, and characters. Nolan tries to do this, but setting up and executing the gimmick takes up so much of his storytelling energy that the other elements suffer for it.
And Nolan wants to deal with big questions like fate and free will as it relates to time travel, but he can't quite seem to get there. There seems to be a very annoying consequentialist ethics at play, where things that should be seen as moral evils like suicide are acceptable as a practical end. Too many characters casually talk about suicide as a forgone conclusion to horrible situations.
The movie also suffers from horrible sound design. I thought that it was simply a problem with my theater, but after watching the movie I saw a review that mentioned that the strange mix of sounds was by design. Nolan wanted the characters to be swallowed up by the environments and the score. At least that is how it felt. I can't see the artistic advantage to this if your audiences struggles to make out important plot points.
It is a shame that Nolan keeps you at arms length, because with the right emotional hook, Tenet had potential to be one of his best. If he continues down this stylistic road, he may very well be on his way to making his first bad movie.
I know I have been lax in promoting monthly charities. But I would like to return to offer The Michael Hogan Fund.
I am a huge fan of the Battlestar Galactica reboot and I was particularly impressed with Michael Hogan's performance as Saul Tigh. He portrayed a man that was horribly broken and flawed, but through the crucible of suffering, he came out the other side a more noble person.
His wife, Susan wrote this on their Gofundme page:
“ You probably know Michael as an actor. Or maybe you know him as a friend, an acquaintance, a co-worker, a father, a grandfather, or a husband. My husband. I am Susan Hogan and I am married to this extraordinary man. We have been each other’s best friend for decades.
On Feb. 17, 2020, everything changed drastically in our world. Michael was in Vancouver participating in a Battlestar Galactica convention, and at dinner following his day’s work, he fell and hit his head. Hard. He went to bed that night not realizing that the impact had caused a massive brain bleed. He was unable to be woken the next morning and was taken to Vancouver General Hospital and emergency surgery performed. It took 57 staples to close the part of his scull they had to remove in order to reach the damage.
The accident left him with complete paralysis on his left side, memory loss, cogntivie impairment and an inability to swallow.
Then things became incredibly more difficult during the COVID pandemic with visits by family being restricted then denied and no care team (physiotherapist,
OT, speech therapist, etc. ) allowed in.
They are trying to raise money for all of the therapies and medical expenses. I believe that since the accident neither Michael nor his wife have been able to work, which puts them in greater strain.
There are many noble charities out there that help serve many people. And I am sure that you, dear reader, are supportive of many of those causes.
But this is a chance to collectively help one individual.
I do not know Michael Hogan personally. I have never met him, even casually at a convention. I do not know his life, his morals, his politcs, or is personality. All I know is that there is someone who has fallen on hard times and is in need. There are many people struggling out there like the Hogans, but that should stop us from helping them out if we can.
And as always, I will never ask you to do something I am not willing to do myself.
Please consider giving to this charity or another worthy cause.