Eternal Present 

Most people would agree that 2016 has been a horrible year. The number of famous people who’ve died seems far out of proportion to any other year, and the political climate, culminating in the election of Donald Trump as president in the US, has been extremely bitter and hostile, leading many to fear what comes next. The world situation seems just one misunderstanding away from igniting into a major conflict on many fronts. On a personal level, 2016 has been very trying for me as well. I’ve lost family members, had very little success with my writing, my health has been questionable, and my “day job”, which pays all my bills, has been on shaky ground since July. Many people, myself included, will be happy to bid farewell to this lousy year.

As U2 reminds us in their song, New Year’s Day, however, not much actually changes when we make the arbitrary switch from one year to the next. Companies which operate on a calendar year may have more resources at the start of a new year, and therefore are in a better position to hire or expand, which can definitely affect individuals, but if it’s cold and rainy on December 31, it will most likely be so on January 1, and if one has a lingering illness or pending financial commitment, it’s unlikely to go away just because the calendar changes. However psychologically comforting ending a year might seem, the reality is that time itself, and, by extension the calendars it yields, is an artificial measurement created by people. Time is a tool, developed to help distinguish one collection of days from another. It’s ironic that so many people stress over deadlines and schedules, when the very time underlying it all has little to no meaning outside of its given context.

At one point in history, calendars were often measured in accordance with important events. Roman time was usually marked in accordance with the reign of a given emperor, such as fourth year of the reign of Augustus. This tradition continued among the monarchs of Europe after the Roman empire fell. The Western calendar once marked time from the estimated birth of Jesus, though most scholars now place his birth before the start of the current calendar. At some point, as the Western calendar became more prominent throughout the world, the religious trappings were removed to give us “before common era” and “after common era”. Jews maintain their own calendar, in addition to using the Western one, as do Muslims, and other nations, such as China, measure the years differently than those in the West.

It is said that, in writing, the best way to increase tension is to start a countdown, and consistently worrying about the passage of time certainly increases a person’s tension and stress level. For most, time serves as just this sort of stress inducing catalyst, with as many people hating the pressure imposed as there are folks who feel motivated by deadlines or the sense that “time is slipping away”. As with most human-made constructs, there is a great deal of absurdity inherent in creating a method of marking time, only to realize we don’t have enough time to accomplish what we need to do.

Many Eastern philosophies speak of existing “in the moment” and this is, perhaps good advice for us all. In reality, we all exist in the Eternal Present. While we can remember times past, and have the ability to envision a future, what we experience is the here and now. True, there are times when we may feel the passage of minutes and hours, usually while trying to meet some deadline, but it’s also very easy to lose track of time if one is engaged in some endeavor, like reading, writing, or having a stimulating conversation. Just as we often feel enslaved by the clock, we have the ability to turn off our sense of time, as many do by “unplugging” when camping or otherwise on vacation. Oftentimes, when people plan vacations around events, or scheduled activities, they come back feeling just as stressed out as when they went away.

Despite the precise measurement of days, hours, minutes, and seconds provided by the clock and calendar, most people mark time by the events they experience. Most people alive at the time of the Kennedy assassination can relate exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. I can still remember where I was when I heard of the Challenger explosion. Personally, we recall births, deaths, marriages, divorces. In such instances, it’s not the calendar which governs the moment; instead, it serves its purpose of being a marker documenting an event. My mother used to remark on how unbelievable it was that so much time had passed from some event she recalled from when she was younger. I’m sometimes amazed when I look back on events like the Olympics, and realize how far I’ve come.

For better or worse, time is a constant in our lives. It serves the purpose it’s intended to serve, but, for many, it can also become an impediment, forcing us to rush toward some imaginary goal, sapping our energy for other, more desirable activities. We should never become so caught up in the so-called “rush of time” that we allow it to dictate our lives. Always be sure to steal a few moments away for oneself.

I wish everyone a healthy and happy 2017.

Nature of God

The nature of that which we call God exists in the act of creation. The instilling of matter and energy with their given properties which set in motion the building blocks of the universe. Afterward, what more needed to be done? The basic elements of everything that followed were in place and all that was left was to let them form into whatever configuration came about. Was there a conscious intent behind that? Did there need to be?

Much debate has taken place on the nature of God and how this entity interacts with the products of the universe. Was creation enough for it or was there a need for a guiding hand in what developed after? Perhaps the whole idea was to see what came about and if this was so, interference wasn’t warranted. Surely with the rise of life on Earth, particularly humans, whatever was responsible for the creation of the universe would want to step in to show us the way. Maybe not. We, too, are products of the universe, so why should we feel entitled to special treatment just because we have the ability to contemplate our place in the cosmos? 

Every creature on earth is destined to die and every species is destined to evolve into something else or go extinct. This is the pattern of history which we have the power to observe. Why should we feel things will be different for us? It’s our responsibility to recognize the unique opportunity presented to us and to learn how best to live in this universe full of infinite possibilities. We have it in our hands to enhance life on this planet, not just for ourselves but for every creature with whom we share this experience. To deny our responsibility, to act like we have no control and are mere players being directed by an unseen hand without our understanding accomplishes nothing. 

We conceive the world around us. We define the terms and have the ability to see the effect we’re having. So far, no other entity has stepped in to definitively show us the way. A few vague words crafted by others in an ancient time are insufficient to provide us with the tools to navigate what we recognize as an increasingly complex existence. Perhaps it’s time to stop looking to the past and start accepting the evidence right in front of us for guidance. 

There’s a point in the transition from childhood into becoming an adult where the individual stops looking over his or her shoulder to see how the elders are reacting, where one learns to trust the lessons learned and to combine them with one’s own observations to chart one’s course. For humanity, that time is now. The future’s before us and it’s within our means to be diligent stewards of this planet or to destroy it. We can’t keep waiting, assuming everything will work out for the best. If we are going to appoint ourselves as rulers on this Earth, it’s time to fully accept the responsibility that comes with it, otherwise we risk becoming just another footnote in its history. 

End Times

As a child, growing up in a conservative Christian household and an evangelical church in the South, I was exposed to end times prophecy throughout most of my formative years, and I must admit, I found it very frightening. The thought that, at any minute, people were going to be called up into the heavens, and those left behind would have to suffer through the reign of the Antichrist was the cause of many nightmares, constantly worrying that I wasn’t living the type of life most likely to spare me from the tribulation. Now forty or more years later, we’re well past the 1980s, when most of the prophecies I heard as a child were to be fulfilled and absolutely none of the events have occurred as they were predicted. My guess is, they’ll never be fulfilled.

My main source for end time prophecies when I was younger was Hal Lindsey in his The Late Great Planet Earth, and 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. The Late Great Planet Earth correctly predicted troubles in Iran before the Islamic Revolution occurred there, and Countdown to Armageddon targeted the year 1988 as the time when we’d see the Antichrist rise and take over the world. This estimation came from calculating one generation following when Israel was recognized as a country in 1948, with a generation calculated in biblical terms as forty years. As it turned out, all we got in the United States in 1988 was the election of George H. W. Bush as president, and while he was named as a contender for the Antichrist by some — as many presidents have been — he never took dominion over all the world, nor dictated that those without a certain mark on their hands or foreheads would be unable to buy, sell or trade anything. There were others who used the Quatrains of Nostradamus to predict calamities befalling the earth, not to mention all other manner of doomsday preachers and self-stilled prophets of destruction. Oddly enough, most of this fervor for the end of days quieted down after the year 2000.

The Antichrist holds a particular fascination for those who follow end times prophecy, and many people have been named as strong contenders for the role, with much “evidence” to support the claim. In my lifetime, the following people have been identified as possibilities for the Antichrist: Nelson Rockefeller, Muammar Gaddafi, Ronald Reagan, both Bush presidents, Saddam Hussein, whoever happens to be the Secretary General of the United Nations at any given time, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Hafez al-Assad, Louis Farrakhan, Anwar Sadat, Yasser Arafat, Ted Kennedy, and Barack Obama. Look at that list. While there are a few similarities between say Arafat and al-Assad, there’s almost no common ground between Obama and the Bushes, or Reagan and Rev. Moon. In fact, just about anyone who assumes authority in any capacity worldwide could be said to fulfill many of the requirements of the Antichrist as they are rather vague and couched in symbolic language.

End times prophecy has been part of Christianity since before the beginning, since many cite the Book of Daniel, which predates Christianity by a hundred or more years, as an early Apocalypse. The Gospels tell us that John the Baptist warned his followers, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” and no less an authority than Jesus himself weighed in on the coming of the kingdom. “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power” (With some variations, Mark 9:1, Matthew 16:28, Luke 9:27). Despite this, much of what we recognize as end times prophecy comes from two sources, the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, and the Apocalypse or Revelation of John in the New Testament. Both books, while certainly apocalyptic, were probably more about the times in which they were written than about some unforeseen era thousands of years removed, just as science fiction writers of today set stories in the future in order to comment on events and occurrences in today’s society. Jules Verne correctly predicted humans would one day be able to travel under the oceans, and H. G. Wells wrote of a futuristic world-wide conflict, yet no one identifies either of them as prophets in the sense of Daniel or John.

Bending the stories in Daniel or Revelation into futuristic prophecies does a disservice to the very real people who suffered very real persecution under dictators like Nero in Rome and Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucids, who were much more the embodiment of the Antichrist than any modern religious or political leader will ever be. Martyrs were martyrs for a reason. They were viciously slaughtered for their beliefs, not simply counseled to wish someone “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Modern Christians in most Western industrialized nations should have a talk with their counterparts in places like Egypt, Pakistan and North Korea if they think that not being allowed to display a nativity scene on public property is the greatest threat to their beliefs. The mere fact that those who profess to be Christians in the United States are able to complain so vehemently every time some public policy goes against their beliefs, demonstrates why claims of persecution often fall on deaf ears. In fact, the greatest threat facing most traditional Christian churches in America today is the rise of more evangelical Christian sects, aggressively recruiting members for their mega-churches.

This is not to say there have not been attacks on believers and places of worship in the United States, but the motivation behind these assaults is usually not the faith of those targeted. The recent murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina was motivated by race and not religion, as many such attacks in the U.S. have tended to be. If this had been meant as an attack on Christianity, any church anywhere would have sufficed, but the shooter chose a specific church that’s been a cornerstone of the African American community for more than a century. In fact, prior to the attack in Charleston, and the recent fires at other Black churches throughout the South, most of the times when Christian churches were targeted for violence in the United States over the past century, it was in places like Alabama and Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement, once again targeting African Americans, and most of those who carried out the violence or condoned it professed to be Christians themselves.

With regards to the anticipated “end of days,” it makes absolutely no sense that any sort of supreme being would go to the trouble of creating the world and populating it with all manner of diverse creatures with the singular goal of destroying it. A being that is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-loving should have far more options in dealing with it’s creations than the total destruction of all life on the planet. Throughout the Bible, we see the evolution of this supreme being from the angry and vengeful YHWH of Genesis to the loving heavenly father spoken of by Paul and echoed in the Gospels. Obviously, the world will end some day — scientists have determined it to be inevitable — but to rationalize it as some sort of divine plan of retribution makes a mockery of the notion of a loving and forgiving god who’s in charge of everything. Most parents don’t become parents just to murder their children. This is not to say parents, even mothers, don’t kill their children, but it’s a serious divergence from the norm, rather than commonplace. If humans, the most disruptive species on the planet, can learn to live and let live, certainly the creator of the universe can come to a similar conclusion.

End times predictions and their consequences are exclusively the domain of humans. It’s highly doubtful that reptiles, birds, fish, or other large mammals such as lions, bears, or chimpanzees have provoked the wrath of a supreme being to the extent that all life must be eradicated, yet they’re just as much a part of the world as we are and would suffer equally if such an entity suddenly decided to end everything in a fiery cataclysm just to teach humans a lesson. The dinosaurs existed for millions of years, and no one has ever attributed their mass extinction to the wrath of a supreme being, even though it most likely occurred as a result of a natural phenomenon such as a comet or volcano. Rather than anticipate or even welcome such a cataclysm, humans would be better served trying to make life on earth more manageable, by not driving other species to extinction or using up the Earth’s resources as though they’re our exclusive property to waste as we choose. If we could spend a little time each day trying to make the world a better place, before long, we might just discover the heaven many aspire to is right here on Earth.

A Guide for Handling Assassins from the Future

Note: This article appears in an updated version in my essay collection The Cheese Toast Project, available in print from online bookstores, and in print and Kindle at Amazon.

While it cannot be definitively proven that the future has already happened, we can be certain that the future will arrive at some point, and with the phenomenal advances in technology seen throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, a day may well arrive when humans will discover ways to travel backward in time. For this reason, it is advisable that people in this day and age begin preparing for the possibility that at some point after time travel has been perfected, someone with a serious grievance against a person living in the current day, might undertake to dispatch an assassin or assassins to rid the timeline of this perceived threat. Certainly, important people, such as presidents, business leaders, and other celebrities are fair game, but average people should not rule out the impact they are having on the timeline. Actions have consequences, and one cannot know for certain what the ultimate outcome of his or her actions might be. A decision seemingly as harmless as the choice of one’s daily footwear could set off ripples throughout time that could lead to disastrous consequences for some unfortunate individual in the distant future, and for this reason, it’s best to be on one’s guard.

One should never assume he or she is not important enough to warrant the attention of some dystopian future regime seeking to erase one’s influence on history. As shown in the beloved holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, the loss of a single individual to history can have a profound and devastating impact on people with whom this individual has never even directly interacted. One may give money to a beggar some afternoon, which is enough to allow that individual to eat, thus surviving to another day, during which he or she saves another person who goes on to discover the cure for cancer. A popular urban legend tells us of a British soldier during World War I who took pity on a German corporal he found in his gun sight, sparing the man’s life, and taking him prisoner instead. This corporal went on to become chancellor of Germany, and initiated the Second World War. Humans are social beings and each interaction leads to further interaction, so the impact of a given life can cause ripples throughout society, affecting people far beyond the immediate scope of the individual’s attention.

Despite this, one should not attempt to trick fate by being the sort of person a futuristic antagonist would not want to erase from history. Just as Oedipus’ father tried to avert fate by sending his son away to die, only to have Oedipus return and carry out his preordained role, attempting to avoid a future outcome may, in fact, bring about the very outcome one is trying to avoid. One cannot be certain what will or won’t cause someone distress a hundred or more years from now, prompting that person to desire one’s removal from the timeline. The best advice is to live one’s life as one chooses, but always be mindful of the impact one’s actions are having, while remaining on the lookout for signs that someone in the future has taken umbrage with one’s actions. There’s no need to get discouraged, however, because even when being pursued by a futuristic assassin, one still has many advantages working in one’s favor.

First, take solace in the fact that it won’t be easy for someone from the future to pinpoint one’s location with any degree of accuracy, though social media is making it much easier for individuals to broadcast their whereabouts. We cannot be certain, though, how much of our current culture will still exist fifty to a hundred years from now. In just the span of the last twenty to thirty years, technology has rendered many permanent storage mediums obsolete, such as floppy discs and tape drives, making it all but impossible to retrieve data stored on them. Consider how difficult it is to garner details on someone living in the 1930s, even though records on individuals from that era still exist. As pervasive as the Internet can be, unless someone makes the effort to store and catalog specific types of data, the vast amount of information available constantly dilutes the stream of posts, photos, and videos. Only a fraction of items posted to YouTube become Internet sensations, and even one’s closest associates quickly lose track of the concert or theatrical review one posted to Facebook a few days ago. Still, the information exists, and an obsessive futuristic antagonist, hell bent on wrecking havoc on the timeline may well have the time, energy, and resources to pursue such goals.

One may also be comforted with the thought that superior technology may not be an advantage once an individual travels back into our time. An assassin traveling to the current day from some future date will no doubt be constrained by the limitations of our technology. For instance, if one of us were somehow transported to the Civil War era with an iPhone, not only would there be no way to charge it, but the network needed to communicate using it won’t exist, making it almost useless. Granted, technology from the future will, undoubtedly, be far advanced from ours, and the ability to establish a wireless network hub from a cellular phone already exists to some extent, but networks, and storage mediums needed to convey data and files would not be present, and it’s not likely any futuristic technology would be backward compatible.

Some may point out that the ability to send a time traveler to a specific place and time may be sketchy, but we should not be lulled into a false sense of security by our lack of knowledge as to how time travel might work. One should assume that a society capable of sending people backward in time would have worked out most of the kinks before offering it to the sort of people likely to want to alter the timeline. Still, we can assume that people won’t just be popping in from out of nowhere, regardless of who may be present to witness the arrival. The key element of sending an assassin from the future will be surprise, so someone just arriving in a flash of light is certain to cause a few alarms to go off. Given that it’s not likely a two-way portal will exist, at least until enough travelers have arrived to construct one, the time traveler will most likely require some sort of vehicle in which to travel, thus requiring a reliable hiding place for the equipment.

It is imperative that if one believes he or she is being pursued by a futuristic assassin, this information should not be shared with anyone. It’s not likely one’s friends or relatives would believe such a claim in the first place, and would attribute the claim to a joke, or perhaps mental illness. Equally so, one should not directly confront a suspected futuristic assassin, not least of which because it could lead to the individual hastening his or her plans to eradicate the target, but also because it is highly unlikely such an individual would freely admit to being an assassin from the future, and could use the accusation to call into question one’s mental state, leading to incarceration, making one much more easy to find and kill. The best course of action is to remain calm and look for tell tale signs to confirm one is, in fact, in the presence of someone from the future.

Be alert! Assassins from the future are nothing if not wily. It won’t be easy to trick one into showing his or her hand. Diligence is very important. Does this individual seem overly nostalgic for modern day cars, or buildings recently constructed, as though recalling them from memory? Has this individual shown little or no surprise over catastrophic events that have occurred, as though these events were anticipated? Does this person display far too much confidence in making predictions on current sporting events, as though the outcome is a foregone conclusion? The devil is in the details, and even the most astute futuristic assassin could have quirks which give away the game. Listen for odd turns of phrase, strange patterns of speech, or unfamiliarity with common cliches or sayings. Does this individual render a blank stare when confronted with the names or actions of well-known performers, or sports figures? Certainly, there are those in the current day who don’t follow the antics of the Real Housewives or denizens of the Jersey Shore, but enough unfamiliarity with common culture could be just the warning one needs to spot someone not from our time.

The question then arises of what do to if one suspects someone of being an assassin from the future. This is a very tricky proposition, since very few will believe such a claim, and would most likely be of no assistance in protecting oneself. It is important to remember, if an assassin has been dispatched from the future to take someone out, this individual will want to be discrete. It’s not likely such a person would zap someone with a laser, or otherwise employ technology not found in our time. Futuristic assassins must be resourceful, and will go out of their way to not draw attention to themselves. These factors can be used to one’s advantage. One strategy would be to somehow discretely convey to the individual that one is aware of his or her intentions, which may not avert the danger, but might cause the individual to strike out rashly, after which retaliatory measures would be justified.

A word of caution must be inserted here. One should not assume every individual one suspects of being from the future is here to cause one harm. Perhaps the individual has a personal reason for employing time travel, to right a wrong, or prevent some tragedy from happening. It’s entirely possible that the person one suspects of plotting against one’s life is merely here to take advantage of a fluctuation in the stock market, or get in on the ground floor of a lucrative business. Vigilance is the watch word here. If the suspected time traveler shows no particular interest in one’s day to day schedule, cannot be found hanging about one’s cubicle at work for no reason, or otherwise exhibits no overt concerns about one’s whereabouts or activities, it’s entirely likely this individual is simply enjoying the fruits of being able to visit different times and presents no immediate danger.

It is hoped that these simple guidelines will be of assistance to anyone suspecting incursions from generations yet to be. Many, if not most of us, may never have to deal with visitors from the future, but it pays to be ready just in case. We can’t count on every futuristic assassin being a relentless, unfeeling cyborg, or otherwise exhibiting signs easily detected. By observing these guidelines, one can be confident of remaining in the timeline, regardless of how persistent some futuristic denizen is to prevent it.