Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On The Boundary

It's interesting how much of life is lived in the colliding spaces between polarities. For example, part of us feels a need to connect with others and another part requires solitude. We like being busy, but we also enjoy when we can just lay back and rest.

Theologian Paul Tillich's autobiography On The Boundary is essentially a collection of the various tensions in his life. He explains his life by means of the boundaries where these polarities collide. Chapter one is titled Between Two Temperaments. And although he makes a point of not ascribing too much of who we are to our parents, there is no denying the influence of parental and ancestral traits.

Between City and Country is a second chapter. I know in myself the attraction of rural, open spaces. I also know the attraction of cultural experiences that exist where people live in more congested spaces. Tillich lived in the country from age four to fourteen. But having lived in the city for a portion of his life he could not embrace the "romantic rejection of technical civilization" and learned the importance of the city "for the critical side of intellectual and artistic life." Through the city he learned first hand about the social and political movements that are concentrated in cities.

Another chapter is titled Between Reality and Imagination. "Imagination manifests itself, among other ways, in a delight in play," Tillich writes, soon citing Nietzsche (who preferred play to a spirit of gravity), Kierkegaard''s "aesthetic sphere" and the manner in which imagination wove itself into mythology. "Art is the highest form of play and the genuinely creative realm of the imagination."

Between Theory and Practice is the following chapter. Tillich was attracted to the theoretical life, but the practical issues served to unhinge any effort to live totally in the confines of the ivory tower. "We were thus inevitably faced with problems of practical politics which often conflicted with theoretical positions," he wrote.

Between Heteronomy and Autonomy deals with the struggle to find oneself in a culture where you are supposed to fit in and be like everyone else. "The age-old experience of mankind, that new knowledge can be won only by breaking a taboo and that all autonomous thinking is accompanied by a consciousness of guilt, is a fundamental experience of my life," he wrote. And a little later he states, "Freedom that has been fought for and for which no sacrifices have been made is easily cast aside."

Other chapters include:
Between Theology and Philosophy
Between Church and Society
Between Religion and Culture
Between Lutheranism and Socialism
Between Idealism and Marxism
Between Native and Alien Land
Retrospect: Boundary and Limitation

In this last chapter Tillich offers his summing up: "This is the dialectic of existence; each of life's possibilities drives of its own accord to a boundary and beyond the boundary where it meets that which limits it. The man who stands on many boundaries experiences the unrest, insecurity, and inner limitation of existence in many forms."

Food for thought... Where are your boundaries? What are the polarities that define your life?

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