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Heeding messages. Whose messages?

This article about messaging is in three parts:

• Part One: Michelangelo’s Biblical Errancy
• Part Two: Meaning and Message Are Intertwined
• Part Three: Asking You to Choose to Believe in Awe

PART ONE: Michelangelo’s Biblical Errancy

Michelangelo was a great artist.
His interpretations of biblical ideas, however, aren’t so great. Let me elaborate three of them.

Michelangelo (1): Moses

The Italian master 15th Century sculpture of Moses puts two horns atop his head. Why? Why would he render Moses with such an outgrowth?

The common explanation can be found on the web:

This is believed to be because of the mistranslation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Latin by St. Jerome. Moses is actually described as having ‘rays of the skin of his face, which Jerome in the Vulgate had translated as ‘horns.’ The mistake in translation is possible because the word ‘keren’ in the Hebrew language can mean either ‘radiated (light)’ or ‘grew horns.’

I’m calling this one an honest mistake by Michelangelo and Jerome.

But really? Horns? How did Jerome come to think that Moses, coming down from a face-to-face meeting with God, would have horns? How does anyone make that type of blunder?

If you were given the choice of words to complete the sentence, which would you choose:

Moses, descending Mt. Sinai from meeting with God, _________.
“grew horns” / “radiated light”

It seems Jerome wasn’t totally off when you consider that Zeus and other ancient Gods were depicted as having horns. Therefore, Jerome, living in the fourth century might have thought that horns would be the best choice of what was coming out of Moses’s head. Moses, returning from his conference with God, returned more God-like. So, horns aren’t unreasonable. I’m going to say this was an honest mistake on Michelangelo’s part.

Michelangelo (2): God and Creation

Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of a chapel to honor Pope Sixtus IV. The glorious chapel named after Sixtus depicts many Biblical scenes. The portion entitled The Creation of Adam conflict with my theology.
What I very much dislike is the connection – or rather the disconnection – between God and Adam.

I cannot get my thinking to square with the lifeless relationship between the two. Even if Adam is inanimate before God’s touch (and I’m not making comment on God having a hand and face, that the creation story of Genesis 2 is used as opposed to Genesis 1 which I prefer, or Adam having a belly button), God ought to be yearning, pining, extending towards Adam.

God is active. Even if you define God as your highest, most noble form of one’s self, there’s got to be some passion. Not like the way it is depicted there on the ceiling.

Rabbi Brian’s assessment: the touch between God and creation is central. Re-do it with more emotion, more pathos.

Michelangelo (3): King David

If you imagine King David, chances are, aided by the image here, your thinking is ridiculously inaccurate.

The beautiful sculpture by Michelangelo of King David – muscular and larger than life – is just plain wrong.

Michelangelo must have known that one.

The Bible, the most definitive text we have as to what David looked like, depicts a different guy who was nebbish. Small. The opposite of muscular. A wimp.

We know about King David’s size from the biblical story of David versus Goliath. David was tiny. That’s the point of the story – he was the smallest kid from the smallest tribe.

So, let me tell you a story of how David went from the scrawniest kid on the block to 17 feet tall, musclebound, and a giant – like the one he is said to have defeated, i.e. Goliath.

Here is my theory as to how this happened:

15th-century Florence, Italy.  The middle-class are taking on the Church for wealth and authority. And, as Machiavelli and critical thinking about power is all the rage, the merchants come to realize this: whoever controls the media controls the message. They commission Michelangelo to create a fantastical sculpture of King David, one that would re-define what King David looks like. The message they wanted, those who are small can be powerful. Indeed. If you control the medium, you control the message.”

PART TWO: Meaning and Message

King David himself, it should be noted, was an expert at controlling the message.
In fact, when you read the Bible critically, you can see that after his defeat of Goliath, David lived and worked for the Philistines and he used their muscle to take over the kingdom from Saul, then reigning king.  How come you don’t know this? Because David, once in power, managed to change how the message. click to read more

It’s the message
It’s the message that’s important. The message is and has always been important.
From Stephen Schwartz’s musical Wicked,

A man’s called a traitor / Or liberator.
A rich man’s a thief / or philanthropist
Is one a crusader / or ruthless invader?
It’s all in which label / is able to persist.

The next line is too good not to include, although it would lead me off topic any other day:

There are precious few at ease / with moral ambiguities,
so we act as though they don’t exist.
It’s about the messages people see.
It’s about the messages we put out.
It’s about the messages we believe.

Leonard Knight – the man who painted the salvation mountain

A young man shoveling snow on the East coast looked to the sky and saw a dirigible airship. That marvel of engineering was advertising a beer. He thought to himself, “That oughtn’t be the message people see when they look to the sky.”

This and what follows is the story Leonard Knight told me when I was there in 2002 on an RV trip with my Dad that took us to the desert of Niland, California – a place TV shows routinely use to depict the occupied territories in Palestine/Israel. The place is a hauntingly deserted resort town from 1950’s Southern California and became a veritable hell on earth when their water delivery got turned off. The Salton Sea is not a pretty place. Except for what this man did there. He painted Salvation Mountain. But, I’m getting ahead of the story.

Leonard saw the beer ad in the sky and set out to do something about it. He set up a hot air balloon of his own. And, on it, he has three giant words: “God is love.”

He travelled the country going up and down landing in farms making friends with people. Then, he landed in Niland took some household paint and proclaimed on the mountain it for all see, “God is love.”
Leonard knew that the message is important.

A digital video I made of Leonard, dad, Salvation mountain.
Bear in mind this is 2002 technology.

PART THREE: How about you?

Do you like the messages you get?

If not, do something we used to do when I was a kid and change the channel. If you are addicted to FB, stop. If you #Instagram and the messages you are seeing there aren’t things of beauty to your soul, #stop.

You control the messages you see.

And, you control the messages you choose to believe.

You can.

You can choose to believe in love. You can choose to believe you are safe at this moment. And, you can choose to be you – wonder-filled you.

You have a choice of which message to believe. Believe that God is an absent and detached creator. Or, choose to believe that the universe celebrates, has awe-and joy, and is enthralled with you?

The choice is yours.

I know how I have chosen and it is what I know. I know that the universe doesn’t want to be apart from me. I believe that (the) God (of my understanding) celebrates being a part of my life.

Who controls the message you have come to believe about the world?

Who controls the message of what you are?

I can see the light emanating from your encounters with the divine.

Start the revolution, my friend.

What other narrative would you rather believe?

My friend, God has called me. And God has called you.
(Ignore messages that tell you otherwise.)

Live out your dreams a little more. Be a little less rational.  Look up into the sky and wonder.

You can beat back the voices in your head that proclaim that you are not intimately connected with God and that this life is not about love.

Let your face shine with radiated light, with joy, with love, with grace, with spaciousness.

You can feel loved, longed for, beloved by this world.

Let your lungs be filled with air and let them be completely diminished when you exhale.

Why not? Really? W.h.y.  n.o.t.?  Why not?

Visit Rabbi Brian’s Blog Religion Outside the Box

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