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Quotations I love: Bruce Springsteen on limits and possibilities

Lynne Baab • Friday January 22 2021

Quotations I love: Bruce Springsteen on limits and possibilities

In my zoom women’s group this past week, the conversation was all about who had already gotten the vaccine and how/when the others would get it. These dear friends in my group are all in Seattle, while I am in New Zealand. The situation with covid in the United States, the United Kingdom, and many other countries right now demonstrates a fascinating combination of limits and possibilities. The virus is still roaring, and people need to lead limited lives, but with each passing day, more people have received the vaccination and have hopes of regaining some freedom.

I love these words from Bruce Springsteen about limits and possibilities:

“When you’re young, you believe the world changes faster than it does. It does change, but it’s slow. You learn to accept the world on its terms without giving up the belief that you can change the world. That’s a successful adulthood—the maturation of your thought process and very soul to the point where you understand the limits of life, without giving up on its possibilities.
—Bruce Springsteen, quoted by David Brooks in “Bruce Springsteen and the Art of Aging Well,” The Atlantic, October 2020

Finding the tension point, the balance point, between limits and possibilities is challenging. I have always resisted talk of limitless possibilities, but I see very clearly that hope is necessary and possibilities must stay on our radar screen. I also dislike falling into despair, but I like honesty about limitations.

I like that Springsteen is talking about understanding the limits of life AND holding onto possibilities. My faithful blog readers will know that one of my big life lessons in the past year and a quarter has been the idea of holding grief and gratitude in two hands. (The first post in my series on that topic is here.) Springsteen’s words about limits and possibilities are perhaps another picture of what we need to hold in two hands at the same time.

Jesus modeled an interesting combination of awareness of limits and embrace of possibilities. His own life was limited by his constant awareness of his calling. Early in his ministry, Jesus goes off to pray and the disciples follow him to urge him to come and heal more people. Jesus tells them he intends to go into other villages to preach the good news, “for that is what I came out to do” (Mark 1:35-39). Throughout his ministry, he is very aware that all paths for him lead to Jerusalem and the cross. Would Jesus have considered this intense focus a form of a limit? Or was it simply being goal-oriented? I wonder how many of the limits we experience come from the goals we feel called to follow, and how many of the limits are undesirable consequences of human brokenness.

Jesus always seemed to see possibilities for people. In the longest conversation recorded with an individual in the Gospels, Jesus expects the woman at the well to understand what he’s saying about living water and worshipping God in Spirit and in truth (John 4). When he encounters the woman caught in adultery, he gives her a charge to go and sin no more, even while he says he doesn’t condemn her (John 8:2-11).

When Bruce Springsteen mentions possibilities in his interview with David Brooks, I don’t know if he’s thinking about possibilities for himself or possibilities for other people or both. I do know that seeing potential and possibilities in the lives of others is a gift that we can give them, and when others see possibilities for us, we are more able to hold on to hope.

A topic for another time is the connection between possibilities and hope. Maybe you’d like to ponder that this week, or maybe thinking about how you hold onto both limits and possibilities is challenge enough.

(Next week:“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” a provocative comment by G. K. Chesterton. Illustration by Dave Baab: Yosemite Upper and Lower Falls. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below. I love getting new subscribers.)

An article I wrote that you might never have seen focuses on how to think theologically about the internet. It focuses on three areas where theological exploration has been robust (place, relationship, and sin), and applies those three topics to the internet. The article (actually a chapter in an edited book) was written before online conspiracy theories became so prevalent, but the ideas in it are still very relevant and lay a foundation for thinking theologically about the role of the internet in 2021. “Toward a Theology of the Internet: Place, Relationship and Sin.”



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