SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - False Prophets & Japanese Feelings
Not all words are true, nor are all truths in words
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A life well-lived is a life well-examined. A life well-examined always has a little weird and güd within it. This newsletter is an examination of our weird and güd world.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Not just Christianity, but Islam and Judaism waste no words in describing the dangers of false prophets. When your moral code comes from a single source, getting that source wrong can yield hell on earth.
Good thing we don’t turn to prophets for direction on how to live a moral life anymore.
At its core, the figure of the false prophet is just a highly ambitious scam artist.
Not content with stealing merely your banking details, the modern false prophet would aim for the same reverence and obedience that false prophets of the past gained through claiming special spiritual insight.
Uunlike our past, where every event was interpreted through the lens of religious belief, a religious false prophet of today would only hold sway with the devoutly religious. Locked out of institutional power by that pesky separation of church and state, the short path to grandeur no longer leads a conniving character through the church.
Where could a person searching for unearned glory while offering empty promises of heaven on earth in exchange for unquestioning allegiance find an audience today?
Perhaps every field has its false prophets, but the most ambitious would flock to wherever power and belief coalesce in a secular society.
The idea of the false prophet isn’t beholden to religion any more than the idea of evil is.
While words might bear the language of those who first penned them, the core of human experience transcends time and place.
You might not be seeking someone to tell you the Good News today, but you do seek someone to tell you the news. Your morality might not be influenced by religious texts, but your morality is probably influenced by some texts. You might not seek a messiah, but you do seek leaders who exemplify the life you want to live. You may not go to confession and ask absolution, but you carry the burden of shame like any other imperfect human.
A thousand years is a day to the steady creeping influence of evolution. You aren’t as immune to the false prophet as science might convince you.
Cults are the obvious evidence that the appeal of a false prophet is as present as ever, but what about the secular? Aren’t the rational, with their respect for proof and theory, spared the risk of succumbing to honeyed lies?
You can probably name at least one person you know who proves that a well-seasoned story doesn’t need a diety to become dogma.
I’m not the person who will list names of false prophets for you to avoid; I’d only become yet another person peddling their own brand of truth.
No one person has any more claim to the truth than another—we all seek it with the same eyes and ears.
It’s the pursuit of truth that matters, not the mortal figure who espouses it today only to falter and offer falsities tomorrow.
The bible still offers the most succinct and simple wisdom for discerning a truth seeker from a false speaker:
Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?
So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
Thus you will know them by their fruits.
Truth is slippery; like water, you can grasp it only for a moment before it starts to drip out from the imperfect human hands you hold it within. The weather changes and suddenly rain water and ocean water are identical. Heat evaporates the dew you just saw with your own eyes.
The truth does exist and some truths can be measured as reliably as the distance between two objects. Yet, humans are primitive tools for seeking truth; we don’t always see what stands right before us.
It’s our human imperfection that births an unlikely union between the First Epistle of John and the philosopher Plato. 1 John 4:1-3 warns:
…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
By this, you know the Spirit of God…
Just like the bible warns against taking spirits at face value, Plato warned against taking shadows in place of their origins in his Allegory Of The Cave:
To them…the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
Two different times, places, and sources offer two different perspectives on solving the same problem—accepting falsities for realities.
An idea we accept without testing becomes a narrative that can lead us away from truth, something Plato argued most people were content to trade for a sense of security.
The solution to false prophets is the same solution to false narratives; don’t seek out a new prophet, but test the spirits for yourself.
You have the same eyes and ears as any self-proclaimed prophet.
Some might claim clearer vision or unique experience, but none are better built to seek truth than any other human.
If you aren’t sure whether to follow someone who professes to know the truth of achieving a better world, use your humble human vessel and look at whether they leave goodness or suffering in their wake.
You will know them by their fruits.
We go through our lives with our minds pointed toward our current problems, toward our next challenge, toward our future goals. We worry, we plan, we strive and strive, we repeat.
We spend a lot of time figuring out how to best spend our time.
When to set your alarm, when to workout, when to eat, when to see friends and family, when to pursue that idea you’re holding on to, when to sleep.
We think about time most of the time—when do you need to be there? Will you be late if you stop for coffee? This is the businessman’s sense of time.
There’s another kind of time we rarely take the time to consider.
To understand time in a way that replaces minutes and hours with sand and flowers, we go back in time to an era when lives were shorter but seconds felt longer—the 9th century.
Embracing (Naomi Kawase, 1992)
I would say people of the 9th century had the same hours in a day that you do, but that’s not exactly true—you have more hours in your day. You taunt the sun with every flip of a light switch, reveling in your dominion over night and day.
Despite the power to extend your days, you feel that you have less time than ever; there’s so much you want to do and so little that fits.
You’re safer and more comfortable, you save time with rapid transportation across distances that once took days, even your food can be cooked and delivered to your door.
Why are you so rushed?
Convenience has a cost. Where we’ve designed means to save time, we’ve designed other means to consume time.
You’ll never read all the good books. You’ll never watch all the good movies. You’ll never visit all the world’s places. You’ll never pursue all the interests you have.
And every moment in between the tasks on your endless to-do list is swallowed up by checking, checking, checking—your texts, your calls, the headlines, the newsfeeds.
What do you know about time? You rarely ever see it.
While life was consumed by the work of living for the people of the 9th century, they had what we lack today—the time in between.
It’s the time in between things that lets us see time best: catching sight of your neighbor walking by with their elderly dog or noticing the soft green growth on a tree that still bears winter’s mark. These are the moments that—if you’re not rushed—give you the twinge of something beautiful and something sad bound together as one.
もののあはれ — mono no aware.
The Japanese have phrases for a lot of things we don’t think much about, including the melancholy beauty of impermanence: mono no aware. This “sadness of things” or the “ahh-ness of things”, two translation that show how much the west struggles with the concept of impermanence, reaches all the way back to the 9th century, with roots in Shintoism and Buddhism.
The beauty of change and decay as seen in the things around us requires the patient, unhurried gaze that Buddhism brings to mind.
Mono no aware puts words to that gaze, giving us a map fragment that makes finding it ourselves a little less mysterious.
Rather than finding the time in numbers on a screen, mono no aware is the experience of telling time in the objects around you.
Seeing the stuffed bear that once lived on your childhood bed layered in grey dust in your parents’ garage stirs the recognition of time passed and the melancholy for warm moments that will never be anything again but memories.
Maybe the wistfulness we feel over beloved moments gone is what makes mono no aware so important. Where we could easily sink into sadness remembering moments we’ll never savor again, the experience of mono no aware isn’t complete without embracing that impermanence as beautiful in itself.
The flower you crush under your shoe is just as beautiful in its decay because that state is the result of the day before when its bright color caught your eye.
The elderly dog that hobbles by isn’t just a source of sadness for a life near its end, but a source of beauty for a life fully lived.
It’s hard to let go, but it helps to pair goodbye with thank you.
Spirit Hold by Holly Warburton
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
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