"In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter..."
Jon Krakauer, Into The Wild
(Pictured is the very bus in which McCandless' body was found)
I've been on a reading binge lately, partly because I have the time while commuting on the train. Since Christmas, I've read Cormac McCarthy's The Road , Peter Scazzero's The Emotionally Healthy Church, William Young's The Shack, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild and I'm currently reading Lawrence Solomon's The Deniers .
All of these books have moved me. After reading, I really try to evaluate how and why a book affects me the way it does. Having just finished Into the Wild, I'm still processing how deeply and in what ways it moved me. One of the things I take away from Krakauer's thought-provoking piece is the value of non-judgement.
Krakauer spends a good part of the book writing about how people criticized Chris McCandless for what he did and what happened to him. Krakauer reports that people characterized McCandless as "mentally disturbed," "foolish," "a nut," "purposefully ill-prepared," "a kook," and "simply one more dreamy half-cocked greenhorn who went into the country expecting to find answers to all his problems and instead found only mosquitos and a lonely death." After reading the book, I don't think that is how Krakauer ultimately judged McCandless, and it isn't how I do either.
One point that Krakauer makes, that is not lost on me, is that as adults we forget what it was like to be an invincible 24 year old youth. By extension, I have either forgotten or have never known what it is like to be a little boy, unemployed, a woman, a union worker, divorced, a politician, a wife, 24 yrs old, pregnant, poor, Caucasian, a socialist, rich, black, illiterate, an anti-capitalist, uneducated, influential, powerless, etc., etc.
I have let on as though I have empathy for others, but in reality I have given it little thought. Certainly, I've heard the encouragement not to judge another until I've walked a mile in his moccasins, but what does this really mean? I have friends whose son has undergone transgender surgeries. I have little idea how the gravity of that would affect me.
It embarrasses me to say it, but in the past I have many times commented on other people's physical appearance. I may still do it without thinking. To me, this is the worst sort of arrogance and prejudice. Really, what right have I (of all people) to comment on anyone else's physical appearance?
It is, frankly, not easy to withhold judgement. If it were, I don't think it would be a so highly regarded character trait. I'm really a bigot at heart. I hold my own values, judgements, motives, ideas, and ideals very dear. If you have others, I'm suspect. I'm ready to argue, question, interrogate, examine, hold under a microscope, vet, inspect, parse and otherwise tear you and your strange ways apart.
As a Believer, I know that Christ was the ultimate empath. He gave up His position as deity to become like us. He did walk in mile in our moccasins. He said that He did not come to judge, but to save.
I still come back to the idea of "what's in it for me?" What motive would I have to give up my own values to allow someone else to exert theirs over me? What motive did Christ have for giving up His deity to become like us? Why did He exclaim on the cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?" No judgement. No condemnation. Just taking the sins of the world onto Himself. Only mercy and forgiveness. What was in it for Him? Certainly I am not God or even "a god." I have no power to save and yet I am asked in my Belief system to follow Him. To become like Him. Then again, am I to show The Way by not judging or condemning? By extending mercy and forgiveness? What would be the good of dying to myself? What if there is no physical reward for non-judgement or non-condemnation? What if the rebirth is spiritual and has no return in the physical world? Does the lingering "what's in it for me" question defeat the whole purpose of dying to oneself? Is the physical world simply a practice/testing ground for the spiritual world? Is that why CS Lewis referred to this world as a Shadow-Land?
Finally, if this present physical life is all preparation for eternity, what part does my marriage play in the practice/testing? If there is one person, as a husband , that I should withhold judgement and condemnation from, that I should extend mercy and forgiveness towards, that I should die to myself for, that I should love like Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for, who would that person be? Questions...