Thursday, July 29, 2010

Guiding Law

George Morris is a Fundamentalist.  Not the religious type, mind you, but a Fundamentalist nonetheless. 
George, the founder and proprietor of Vermont Instruments and the person who taught me how to build a guitar, isn’t particularly religious, but when it comes to teaching people to build a guitar there’s no wiggle room.  There’s George’s way, or the highway.
He had two weeks to show five people who had never built a guitar how to build a guitar—and to actually do it.  So he rarely acknowledged that there was any other way to do it other than his way.  If he did mention other methods, it was to discourage us from trying them.  For instance, he mentioned that some people soak the sides of the guitar in water for a few hours prior to bending them.  “Don’t do that,” he said.  “It’s not water that enables the sides to bend, it’s heat.  Soaking the wood actually weakens the fibers and leads to cracking.”  So we just misted the sides prior to bending, the resulting steam aiding in the heat transfer.  In terms of actually bending the sides, I have since learned that there are at least three different methods of doing it; George only taught us one, not even mentioning the other two.  There are four ways of attaching the neck to the body; we learned one.  “Do it this way.”  No room for discussion, creativity, or innovation.
This was exactly what we needed.  Beginners can’t be expected to be able to absorb the intricacies of various methodologies, much less be able to judge which one is most appropriate for beginners.  We needed an expert to decide for us, which is what George did, and then guide us in executing it.  “Do it this way,” is exactly what we needed.  (In case you’re curious, the method he taught is the one used in allsome steel string guitars, so he could teach one way regardless of what kind of guitar the student was building.) classical guitars and in
   Rules are our friends.  They guide and help us, especially in unfamiliar territory.  Which is where the Israelites were when Moses gave them The Law.  They had just spent over 400 years living as slaves in Egypt, and now they were in the desert.  And they weren’t slaves.  So they were in unfamiliar territory, both literally and metaphorically.  And they were heading toward unfamiliar territory; the Promised Land would be a new land where they would live as free people amidst other peoples they did not know and who did not know them.
If all you’ve known is how to live as a slave, maybe living free doesn’t come naturally.  Maybe you need some guidance.  The Israelites would be creating a whole new society, one shaped by their experience of slavery.  They needed rules for this new society, rules to teach them how to live together as free people, worshiping only one God, which was also unprecedented, amidst people who would likely be hostile to them.  So that’s what God gave them through Moses on Mt. Sinai.
And The Law was given to them for another important reason: to make sure, as they gained wealth and power, that they didn’t act like Pharaoh.   Human history is littered is examples of formerly oppressed people becoming themselves oppressors once they gained power.  God would have none of that, which is why there are laws in the Torah protecting the alien, the sojourner, the stranger, and the conquered.  (And, yes, even the slave, though their presence in Israelite society is strange, but that’s another topic altogether.)
Once you become familiar with the territory, however, you have to evaluate the rules.  Some, if not most, still apply, but some don’t and need to be modified or even discarded.  If that isn’t done, the rules become irrelevant at best and, at worst, they become oppressive.
There is a tendency in Christianity to resist rules and to be against The Law; this is often based on a misreading of both Jesus and Paul, both of whom affirmed the Torah.  It is also a result of a confusion between legalism and The Law.  Being against legalism is not to advocate lawlessness—or even Lawlessness. 
I use 90% of what George Morris taught me about building a guitar.  I bend the sides exactly the way he taught, carve the neck the way he taught, thickness the top the way he taught.  But as I’ve become more familiar with luthiery I’ve also learned that there are structural, acoustic, and reparability issues regarding the way one attaches the neck to the body, and taking all those things into consideration I now do it differently than George taught.  And I know he would be fine with that, because I’m not quite a beginner anymore.  But I’m grateful that he didn’t make me try to make that decision on my own back then; I wasn’t ready for it.
The Law was a gift, as are rules for Christian behavior.  They are given to help us live life in the Kingdom of God until it is familiar territory.

No comments:

Post a Comment