Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rabbit Trails

I have an inquisitive mind. I love to read, analyze, and otherwise examine the ideas, issues,  and information I encounter. Yesterday was the kind of day that sets my mind to spinning.

During the day I was reading several chapters out of four or five different books. I read a few chapters from one book, then moved on to another. One book was light fiction, the others were books that required the brain to be engaged. My mind wandered down a number of interesting paths.

The day concluded with a wonderful, enjoyable and stimulating evening. We got together with two other couples and explored the Da Vinci exhibit at the MTS Centre Exhibition Hall.  Afterwards we all went to one couple's home where we visited for almost 4 hours over snacks and drinks. We began by sharing our observations and reactions to the da Vinci exhibit and then wandered through an interesting assortment of topics. During this conversation I was asked if I would blog about the da Vinci exhibit.

So that's where I'll start and then see what other rabbit trails I'll chase down.

Leonardo da Vinci was a complex man with many gifts and interests. He was also a very inquisitive person who pursued many ideas. He is best known for his inventions, his mirrored script, the Vetruvian Man, and his paintings of the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Among other things, Da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, inventor, and engineer. We spent two hours at the exhibit and I could have easily spent twice as much time there or more. I'll be going back.

I must admit that I don't understand the fascination (almost obsession) with the Mona Lisa. So much has been written and speculated about the painting over the years. To me it seems a bit much for a picture that I remember being quite small when I saw it at the Louvre in 1984.

A significant part of the exhibit was focused on the Mona Lisa. It reported on a multi spectral scanning of the painting with displays of close - up of details revealed by scanning the painting with thirteen different wave lengths from ultra-violet to infra-red. Apparently this scanning revealed 25 secrets of the Mona Lisa. One image of the painting depicting both the front and back was supposedly in its actual size. It seemed larger than what I remembered. Since it has been 27 years since I was at The Louvre I googled the Mona Lisa and learned the canvas is 30 inches x 20 7/8 inches. My memory is certainly off on this one. What other erroneous ideas and memories do I carry around in my head?

Leonardo da Vinci lived during the Renaissance. I wonder why the piped in background music in one of the display rooms was all baroque music. Seems odd! I would have been more inclined to pipe in Renaissance music.

I had always had the impression that da Vinci was a prolific inventor whose ideas were way before his time. A misinformed assumption. I learned that along with his many original ideas and inventions, many of his notes and sketches were attempts to improve on things that were already in existence.

I thought his Last Supper was a typical fresco. Wrong again! Da Vinci experimented with different materials and painting method. This experiment was not a success story and the resulting rapid deterioration has required many restorations. So have the restorations retained the integrity of the painting? I don't know - something to check out.

The various restoration attempts on the Mona Lisa have affected the colour and other details of the image. The restorations remind me of a slide show presentation I saw when I was a kid. The pastor of our church was a retired teacher who did a lot of travelling. He loved history and always toured historical sites and buildings. Upon his return he usually gave a presentation about his trips with lots of slides for us to see. On this occasion the images were of various buildings and pieces of art at the Vatican. Lots of pictures of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. The images on the ceiling were dark, with dull colours. I remember much was made about this being Michelangelo's painting style and scholars were trying to read some kind of hidden meaning into this style using dark, dull and subdued colours. In 1980 a cleaning and restoration of the chapel ceiling was begun. Turned out the dark, subdued colours were the result of the buildup of varnishes that had been used in past restoration attempts and the accumulation of dust and the smoke from many candles. The colours unveiled by the cleaning were vivid, bright and bold. Another 'truth' revealed. So much for all that scholarly speculation.

So what is true and what isn't?

I read a historical novel recently where the writer took a different approach in his foreword than Dan Brown did in The Da Vinci Code. Brown insisted that everything in his book was based on fact. This writer informed the reader that half the information in the book was true, the other half wasn't. It was up to the reader to determine which was which.

A number of years ago I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. The writers made an incredible number of claims based on myths, legends, ancient mysteries and conspiracy theories. They presented this information as historical fact. I found their arguments to be nothing more than speculation, and their insistence that their findings were evidence of the truth still seem ludicrous to me. Dan Brown drew the facts in his novel The Da Vinci Code out of the information in this 'history book'. I laughed when Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln took Dan Brown to court and sued him for copyright infringement. The judge threw the suit out saying no one can copyright historical fact. Since Baigent and his buddies insist that their book is historical fact, everybody was free to use the information any way they pleased. So no copyright infringement.

So what is truth? Do I understand and interpret truth based on my personal experiences, biases, and beliefs?Is my truth tainted by my many filters?

Two scenes popped into my mind.
  1. The conversation between Pontius Pilate and Jesus described in John 18: 37 & 38.  Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”   “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.
  2. A scene from the movie A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson. Cruise: "I want the truth!" Nicholson; "You can't handle the truth!"
I wonder, do I always accept what I'm told as truth? Do I always really want the truth? I know I like to research information given to me and determine its veracity for myself. Do I do that often enough? Should I be more questioning about information I receive? Do I accept the word of some people that I shouldn't? Where does this inquisitiveness cross the line into suspicion and paranoia?

Earlier yesterday I came across a book criticizing a new book by a very popular current author who is also the pastor of a mega church (more than 10,000 members). I went on-line to see if this criticism was an isolated challenge or more widespread. I found the book (which I haven't read, yet) and author being challenged and refuted by a host of biblical scholars and Christian leaders. According to these critics the author had ignored biblical truth and was presenting his own ideas as authoritative. How many of his parishioners question and research this man's writings and teachings? How many accept and agree with his message because of his leadership position?

How well am I discerning the truth? Should I be more enquiring?

One of the books I was reading is about David; shepherd, musician, warrior, king; a man after God's own heart. In it I came across the following:

Solitude has nurturing qualities all its own. Anyone who must have superficial sounds to survive lacks depth. If you can't stand to be alone with yourself, you have deep, unresolved conflicts in your inner life. Solitude has a way of helping us  address those issues. (Chuck Swindoll)

Is that true?

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1 John 4:1-3

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