Monday, January 12, 2009

limits and limitations

The bulk of yesterday's Sunday School lesson on the reality of limits; in praise of limits; wrestling with our limits…

1.) The Reality of Limits-- from Chesterton's Orthodoxy: (there's a nice quote on this from my review of The Flying Inn as well)

“[It is said that] bold creative artists [should] care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits….You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called "The Loves of the Triangles"; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the THING he is doing….”

We see this all over the place-- for example, from proponents of so-called "same-sex marriage"; in those who advocate public policies despite economic realities; the law of gravity; and so on. Or consider this beauty from We're not talking about self-imposed limits-- or the general idea behind "you can do anything you want to when you grow up (unless you take it literally!)...

2.) In Praise of Limits

a.) God’s standards, “rules”, and principles: They point the way toward abundant life and ironically, provide freedom vs. bondage (Jas 1:25, Ps 119; refs to “bondage”).

b.) Dallas Willard argues that God wants us to have as much "power" as possible-- for the good of His Kingdom-- but it is for our own good and the good of others-- that our power be limited with the requisite character.

c.) As an opportunity for human excellence (here, I relied on a quote from Christopher Tollefson in a FT book review)

Tollefson opens with a story about a 1990s trio called Morphine—a drummer, a saxophonist, and a bass player named Mark Sandman. Sandman’s bass guitar had only two strings; when asked why he didn’t have a third string, Sandman replied, “I like to limit myself.”

Tollefson’s response:

“A little glib, perhaps, but it tells us something about the pursuit of excellence—human excellence is available only against a background of limitation. Not only must we overcome such limitations, we must capitalize on them, as when the sculptor takes advantage of the flaw in the marble. Excellence demands that we extend the boundaries of human accomplishment in a way inseparable from nature’s checks on our aspirations.”

This reminds me of two stories from music. First, there's the perhaps-apocryphal story of violinist Fritz Kreisler who would purposely break his E-string to make the fantastic music even more challenging. Second, I love playing Eccles’ Sonata (in E Minor) on violin. Then, at an orchestra try-out, I saw and heard a string bass play the same piece. Wow!

As a "musical" counter-example, we could consider the famous scene from Spinal Tap: "these go to 11".

For the punchline, I'm going to go to a second post.


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