Archive | October, 2012

Phile #2 Anime and it’s Culture

31 Oct

This the first of three related Phile entries that treat of my interests in anime, ‘otaku’ culture, and fan responses

One of my major non-research interests is Anime and the surrounding otaku (anime fan) culture that it generates. both for itself, and for the gateway to Japanese culture that it has provided me. I like the canvas that anime offers for telling large, save-the-world and galactic spanning adventures, and for it’s ability to peer with great detail and occasional insight into even the smallest social unit and make even the most mundane of experiences seem magical, quite apart from the “glimpses of  unfamiliar Japan” to quote the title of  Lafcadio Hearn’s late 19th century book that it opens before me, inviting me to explore a real “undiscovered country”.

It Is What It Is

‘Anime’, simply put is a French loan word into Japanese that describes Japanese animation or ‘cartoons’.   But it’s so much more: Unlike its American and European counterparts, which historically and culturally  equate animation with cartoons and perceives it as an art form geared toward children and the childish -though in the 90’s with the advent of The Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy, South Park, Futurama, King of the Hill, and Family Guy, shown on such networks as MTV, USA Network, Fox, and  Nickelodeon this perception has begun to change- in Japan, animation, or anime, is simply perceived as another narrative art form and medium for artistic (commercial) expression, alongside theatre (plays), classical (and pop music),  television and motion pictures, and performing arts generally, and shows are produced that cater across age groups from children’s shows through young adult to adult programming (in both the ‘grown-up’ and “adult” sense). You can have action, comedy, drama, soap-opera, historical dramas, mystery, political, romance, suspense, thrillers and educational programs such as public service announcements or religious-themed shows, as well as ‘standard fare’ science fiction, fantasy, super-hero, horror and monster shows. As well, categories fall into shojo (for young girls) shonen (for young boys), josei (for older teens and young women), seinen (for older teen and young men), and of course, general use manga, including a genre that treats of the daily life of the Japanese  business man: the so-called “salary man” or Sararīman,

More than Meets the Eyes….Nihongo Style

Anime is also shorthand for an entire culture that includes ‘manga’ (comic books and graphic novels) early always published in a monochrome format (black and white, or black and insert-publisher’s- pastel-color-of-choice-here), and of course it’s read in the Japanese manner: top to bottom writing, right-to-left page formatting,  ‘doujin’ or fan-created works (of manga) that parody existing works or utilize fan-fiction to use those same characters in alternative or extended situations -often involving original characters created by the fan-artist or doujin-ka but still based in the same universe.  Doujin-ka often organize themselves into Circles (in the US and abroad the term is Studio) where they will churn out  their 20-30 page parodies and/or original stories. The Tokyo Comic Market, or   Comiket, is one of the largest gatherings of such groups, where amateur and professional Circles come to display their wares, do the meet-and-greet (if there’s time), dress up and show off, but there are smaller groups that meet all over the country and abroad. Indeed, a number of animes have been developed around this concept.

From Concept to Reality

Inspiration for individual shows comes from any of a number of sources: original ideas, light novels (roughly the equivalent of YA fiction), an existing manga series, existing game (visual novel, ‘dating-sim’  or  (frequently) ‘eroge game’).

Anime is produced as either multi-episode (usually in runs of 13 episodes per series (what we count as multiple “seasons” Japanese usually see as sequential “series”), shorter collection of OAV -original animation video (think of this as “straight-to-video” model), and of course full fledged motion pictures, though usually, this is done for already established series.

In the good old days a short OAV series could be produced by independent studios, but economics being what they are, nowadays, an anime series is put together by a production committees or partnership consisting of combination of the animation studio, a distribution company -who may also license the intellectual property overseas- for merchandising rights, the broadcast network that will air the show,  the original publisher if the anime is not  an original idea (i.e. manga or book publisher, game studio), occasionally a music label involved in production (especially if the theme song is sung by a popular band) such as Columbia or Lantis, and other such sponsors as may be involved in the production.

Your Stigma Is My Approbation

‘Otaku’ in Japanese is a word with social stigma, denoting an individual so obsessed with an interest -for our consideration anime, but also pachinko and gambling, other forms of collecting (such as insects, supernatural or occult memorabilia that he -or she- has disengaged from normal and expected patterns of social involvement: be that family responsibilities, employment, education, or often personal appearance and hygiene. So, it is quite ironic, or humorous, that a denigrating term in Japan is latched onto by American and other non-Japanese fans as the moniker to describe their fandom. (Then again, the propensity of groups to take upon themselves terms originally used to denigrate them as an identifying mark of honor, such as “Christian”, “Protestant”, or “Puritan” should tell us something about the need for group identification, no?)

Many anime series are set in real-life locales in Japan. This has its own effect: the development of  a niche market in anime-tourism to visit spots associated with particular animes,  from shopping districts to shrines and temples, to famous historical imperial buildings. And speaking of shopping districts and anime….

Akihabara or “Electric Town” is a shopping district in Tokyo that at one time was The Place to buy all things electronic, but with changing economic patters, was forced to reinvent itself to survive, and so re-emerged in the 90’s as the Mecca for anime otaku (‘fans’) selling everything from videos and manga, to models, figurines, clothing, costume accessories (known as ‘cosplay’) and other one of a kind collector’s items from individual shows.

So, what’s in it for me?

I enjoy anime because it takes animation seriously, because it does an incredible job of taking me to exotic new worlds, be that strange new planets, or merely the neighborhood shopping district in Japan  (which, being in the Far East, is exotic enough for Americans). It opens a whole world of possibilities for reading, watching, and even creating works in a similar vein.  Anime Conventions provide venues for disparate people: men, women, children and adults, black, white, yellow, whatever, to come together to celebrate and share a common interest. It helps that the Japanese are a very visually oriented culture: one look at their architecture, horticulture, and traditional arts is enough to bring this home

It’s just a jump to the East…

Anime, for me was my ‘real’ introduction to the deeper culture of Japan. It has led to my current collection of some 28 volumes of grammar, kanji recognition, kanji etymology,  history, and cultural studies (anthropology and sociology), ranging from the classic “Electric Geisha”  by Atsushi Ueda and Miriam Eguchi to Okakura Kakuzō’s  The Book of Tea, to Minamoto’s The Five Rings not to mention a look and a promise glance toward the 5 classics of Chinese literature. And then, of course there’s the 1000 (or so) volumes of manga (mostly in Japanese -yep you guessed it, my original inspiration for learning Japanese was so I could read the manga that’ll never get translated), but now as mentioned above, I have books on Japanese history (political and social history), architecture, art and art history, gardens, religion, wedding customs (and sexual mores), literature, and of course anime, along with language.

Where it all started!

My first conscious introduction* to anime came in the 1990’s in college -of course, where else would I have the freedom to explore and be exposed to different subjects like that- oddly enough, thanks to a local  Blockbuster Video, which had (all VHS at the time) such shows as Project A-ko (English dub), Gall Force, Gall Force EternityAppleseed, New Dominion Tank Police, Akira, and I think, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Unknown to me at the time I first watched it on TBS (but long since ingrained into my head) as a child,  the Sandy Frank production of “Battle of the Planets” a/k/a “G-For,ce”  was really called Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman -“Science Ninja Team Gatchaman” and was one of the earliest anime to arrive on American shores from Japan. Gatchaman itself was also a first – the first series  to use teams of young people/teenagers with special advanced powers flying in special vehicles that combine to save the world. Another unconscious introduction to anime was a movie that had aired on HBO in the 80’s “Warriors of the Wind” which was the Americanization of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli film  “Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind” but I digress, or do I?) . Nor did I realize at the time that G.I.Joe, Transformers, even a show on Nickelodeon – “Mysterious Cities of Gold” about searching for “El Dorado” in the 1600’s, was really a Japanese production.

*Now that I think of it, Akira was probably the first movie that I knew of as Japanese, and as anime.

 

Sources:

1. my own experience

2. years of reading the following news sites :

3.  Several now-discontinued anime magazines:

  • Newtype USA,
  • Animerica,
  • Otaku USA (which may still enjoy print publication, just not in my area)

4. Several now defunct anthologies of manga (a nearly extinct commodity)

  • Animerica Extra
  • Shojo Beat
  • Shonen Jump
  • Rajin Comics
  • Yen+ (which changed  to a web-only subscription publication in 2010, which can be found here http://www.yenpress.com/yenplus/)

Part II (Phile #3 “For the Love of the Convention”) will discuss my enjoyment and participation in anime conventions, those fun-filled weekends that celebrate all things anime (including the food)!
Edited on Nov 2, 2012, for grammar, clarity, and consistency

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Pile #2 The Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David Stearn

24 Oct

The Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B’rit Hadashah (New  Testament) / [Translated by] David Stern. Clarksville, MD:  Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. 1998.  lv, 1630 p. ,  ill. (maps). Includes  Bibliographic References and Index. [on title verso: “Published by Messianic Jewish  Publishers”; on cover “Translation by David H Stearn”]

The Christian faith is blessed to have its Sacred Scripture (Old and/or New Testaments) originally composed in Hebrew, (Aramaic,) and Koine Greek, translated into more than 2000 of the approximate 6,500 living  languages on the Earth, and some that are considered “dead”,  making the Christian Bible (and the Jewish Bible encased therein) one the most accessible pieces of literature whether sacred, or profane in the world.  English (in both it’s British and American variants and those nations of the British Commonwealth and influence) is but one of these languages as well as an international lingua franca and alone accounts for more than… well let’s just say there are not a few versions in English.  (This is like saying there are not a few Protestant denominations in the United States, where the number is something like 20,800 and counting.)  Now this is important because….

Translations and their uses

The Bible is also one of the most studied texts in the world. The modern academic and critical study of the Christian Scriptures involves a knowledge of Hebrew,  Aramaic, and Greek -the primary languages of biblical composition- but also encompasses plethora of other Near Eastern languages of antiquity including Syriac, Arabic and Akkadian.

For the majority of (Western) Christians without access or understanding of the original languages, however, exposure to the Bible has been mediated on the one hand by the Latin Vulgate, (and lesser extent the  Greek Septuagint) as translated into various vernacular languages, and on the other hand the message of biblical Judaism through Hebrew (and again, through the Vulgate and Septuagint). In short, we rely on translations.  And, as the history of translation has shown, not all translations are created equal, and some have been treated (rightly or wrongly) as heretical. Moreover, different editions and translations have different uses.

Quite apart from critical texts and the critical apparatus employed by academic scholarship and homiletics such as the membership of the Society of Biblical Literature (http://www.sbl-site.org), formal study of the Bible (Old or New) places more emphasis on original texts than on translations, but interlinear versions are often used.

Informal group use, individual, and pulpit preachers though, rarely go this deep, at most they may utilize word studies of certain words. And the versions used are correspondingly more varied. Examples include Today’s English Version “Good News Bible”) intentionally uses a limited vocabulary for those who read and speak English as a Second Language, The Living Bible, prepared originally for teenage children.  The Authorized Version, familiarly known as the King James Version for all it’s beauty as a text, was conceived of for political as well as theological reasons to be official version in opposition to the Geneva Bible replacing an earlier Bishops’ Bible and the Great Bible which was itself rendered to counter illegal vernaculars such as that produced by Tyndale, Coverdale, or Matthews.

Then, there is the plethora of other versions such as the Dhouay-Rheims Bible which was the first official Catholic English translation in the (or the closest thing to it), the Jerusalem and New Jerusalem Bible, the New American Standard Bible (also Catholic in inspiration), various updates and revisions of the KJV such as the NKJV, the New International Version (NIV),  the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and it’s successor the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) -all of which are used in churches throughout the English speaking world.

And, there is the 1998 offering by Dr. David Stearn, titled The Complete Jewish Bible (herein CJB) which is very nearly a horse of a different color. Why is that, you may ask?

What’s in a name:

The Complete Jewish Bible takes it’s name from the combination of Stearn’s New Testament translation, and his rendering of the Tanahk/Old Testament. which he admits is “something between a translation and a paraphrase” using the 1917 JPS text (now in public domain) as a base for modernization and presented in Hebrew order. Aside from the biblical texts themselves,  the CJB includes a comprehensive introduction that provides the history of composition, intent, style, structure and use of the CJB, along with maps, glossary and pronunciation guide, an index of Tanakh texts cited in the B’rit Hadashah, and maps of the biblical Near East and Yeretz Yisrael, and a title of contents with accompanying lists of Books in the Christian Old Testament Order, and Books of the Bible in Alphabetical Order.  The Introduction (p xii-lv) is itself a wealth of information and insight into the translator’s intention and translations in general, and I have made much use of it for this review.

Every Translation an Interpretation

This is certainly true of Muslim attitudes toward any translation of the Qu’ran out of the Arabic, but in fact it holds true for any text that is translated from one language to another, because there is not a perfect word-for-word correlation. As noted earlier, different translations have different audiences, purposes, and generally fall into one of 4 categories: literal (sometimes called “word-for-word”), paraphrase, thought-for-thought, or a combination of the above. One thing all the versions have in common, though, is that through the Greek, it places the reader at least one remove from the actual thoughts and thinking of Jesus from His own people and believers in His Name through the ages.

Enter David Stearn, and his translation: The Complete Jewish Bible.

Stearn says in his introduction that in writing his Jewish New Testament Commentary, he found that much of what he was writing was “arguing with the translator of the English version I was using” (xiii), so, to cut a long story short, he went back and made his own translation, doing a reconstruction of it to recast it in a Jewish light. This is more than just cosmetic facelift.   Jesus spoke in Aramaic, his first followers spoke Aramaic. Jews of the Diaspora who heard and believed, as well as those God-fearing Gentiles who heard and believed the message, not to mention the out and out Gentiles who heard and believed, spoke, thought, and wrote in Greek, and what has come down to us is a Greek text and not the Aramaic or Hebrew thought that underlies the text.

As translators will admit, there is always a loss of nuance in going between a donor and a receptor language, so there will of necessity being a greater or lesser distortion of the message, and in this case of Jewish concepts. What Dr. Stearn has done in his capacity of a one-man translation committee (in this respect I a reminded of J.B. Phillips’ translations, or Martin Luther German Bible) is to bring a fresh exposure to the Jewish nature of the New Testament documents. Using the  Greek text as a base, he nonetheless gives the Hebrew form for names and concepts (for example Yeshua and Miriam for Jesus and Mary,  Torah and Talmidim, for Law and Disciples) and other expressions (he calls the “Letter to the Hebrews” “Letter to Messianic Jews”), and in other cases he has simply transliterated a Greek word rather than supply a translation (such as “church” and “saints”) when such words as traditionally translated carry too much intellectual and emotional baggage.

One irritation for me personally, was Dr. Stearn’s decision to render the word traditionally read “man” as “human being” no matter where it occurs, unless specifically being addressed to a male.  I like to think that the prophets receiving Revelation would have heard the Almighty addressing them as “Man” or “O Man” and not “Human Being”.
.
Stearn’s concluding thoughts on translations are “The beauty of God’s Word is that it can be translated into various ways that serve these purposes and others, without obscuring the Bible’s own purpose -which is to show people the truth about God, themselves, relationships and the meaning of life, and to call forth the appropriate and necessary responses.” (p xv)

Insightful, and Disconcerting

The CJB is not an academic text, and it doesn’t make use of a critical apparatus, though it may be helpful in individual or group Bible studies as an aide to understanding the richness of the text.   His translation of the B’rit Hadashah was meant to be for both conventional and Messianic Jews, and for interested gentile Christians -to show to both groups that the message of the B’rit Hadash was not foreign to what had come before in the Tanakh.

The CJB was not conceived as a single whole: it incorporates an earlier work “The Jewish New Testament” (published in 1989  and well received by: “Messianic Jews and by Christians open to experiencing the Jewishness of their faith” (p xiii), and the commitment to bring the JNT and a compatibly paraphrased  (non-Christian) Tanakh together under a single cover came later. (xiii)

For potential readers I do offer a caution -as part of Stearn’s intention to  harmonize  into a Jewish context  and style both the Old and New Testaments (Tanakh, and B’rit Hadashah) it introduces and uses a lot of unfamiliar non-English vocabulary: names, places, concepts which can be confusing to the unprepared reader  It also tends to utilize Yiddish expressions, which, for the purist and stickler out there among us -besides being anachronistic is (to quote Captain Hook) “bad form”. One could argue (though I don’t know if Stearn himself does so) that Yiddish was used because Yiddish is a commonly accessible popular language to contemporary Jews, in the same way that Aramaic was a commonly accessible popular language for Jews of antiquity.

Some nonprofessional readers and reviewers (on Amazon.com and other sites with user-generated content reviews) of the CJB condemn it as a deceptive tool of Christian evangelism, and thus an “unJewish” book.  However, in evaluating the claims of a work, it is necessary as far as possible to know who the intended audience of the work is.  It is not enough to read the body of the text without giving consideration to Forewords, Prefaces, and/or Introductions of a work where the author (or translator) often states his own intentions in producing the work.  Those same reader-reviewers who claim that the CJB is an “unJewish” book often make further claim that Messianic Judaism is not sufficiently “Jewish”. Their complaint only holds though,  if we allow them to define the terms.

Final thoughts: The CJB is a fine text to get a feel for the authentic Jewish flavor of the New Testament, best used in conjunction with other versions for the fullest understanding of the Message of Jesus.

Additional information obtained from

1. Wikipedia Article “List of Christian Denominations by Number of Members”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations_by_number_of_members accessed on October 23, 2012 17:29 (EST)

2. “Versions of the Bible” Catholic Encyclopedia (1917) hosted by New Advent.org Article http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15367a.htm#English accessed on October 23, 2012 17:34  (EST)

3. “Literal Bible Translations on The Baptist Page.net”  http://www.thebaptistpage.net/Bible_Translations/Bible_Literal_Translations_page1.html accessed on October 23, 2012 17:09 (EST)

4. “complete_jewish_bible.pdf (application/pdf Object)” http://www.torahtimes.org/gnmbook/complete_jewish_bible.pdf accessed on October 23, 2012 17:08 (EST) (n.b. pdf document)

Meta-pile #2 Recent Acquisitions

18 Oct

Have accident, Will Buy Books

Living and driving in a major modern metropolitan area like Atlanta, traffic accidents are very nearly a fact of life -sooner or later the odds favor that any one driver will (probably) find themselves party to a fender-bender if not something more serious. Well, the next to the last week of September it was my turn (again). Let’s just say it was Ford versus Chevy, and the Chevy (a black, 4 door cab truck) came out the better of it. Thankfully there were no injuries, just various amounts of cosmetic damage. Oh yeah, and a ticket.

So, what is a guy to do after receiving a citation for “improper lane change” and dropping off his car at the dealership/collision center? Why, go shopping of course for a pick-me-up on the next day. That’s right, I took my borrowed car and headed down to my local used bookstore (in this case “The Book Nook” in Marietta) to load up on various offerings, in this case 9 books and 3 CDs -all in an attempt to take my mind off what had happened to me earlier.  And it worked -the allure of  story, music, and intellectual opportunity won me over.  And below I  share with you my allotment of ill-gotten gain, with perhaps a review or two (once I finally get around to reading this particular pile of philes, mind you. I am constantly amazed at how my intellectual eyes are always bigger than my intellectual stomach, at least in the short term).

Books (given in as close to the order that I picked them out as I can get by memory alone):

The problem of the soul: Two visions of mind and how to reconcile them / Owen Flanagan.  New York:  Basic Books. 2002. xvi, 364 p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

The Trostkys, Freuds, and Woody Allens: Portrait of a culture / Ivan Kalmar. New York: Penguin Books. 1993. 401 p.  Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

The Undead and Philosophy: Chicken Soup for the Souless / Richard Green and K. Silem Mohammad, eds. Chicago: Open Court. 261 p. Includes Index. “Popular Culture an Philosophy. George A. Reisch, series editor”

365 views of Mt. Fuji: Algorithms of the floating world / Todd Shimoda. Illustrations by L.J.C. Shimoda. Berkley, CA: Stone Bridge Press. 1998. xiii,  356 p. Illustrated.

Immortal Wishes : Labor and transcendence on a Japanese sacred mountain / Ellen Schattschneider. Durham, NC: Dale University Press. 2003.  xiv, 268 p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

The age of analysis: The Twentieth Century philosophers / Morton White. New York: New American Library. 1955.  253 p. — “The Mentor Philosophers” — [on the title page: “Selected, with introduction and interpretative commentary by Morton White.  A Mentor Book, published by The New American Library”] — [“First printing, September, 1955 Tenth printing, November, 1964”]

A short history of Chinese philosophy / Fung Yu Lan. Edited by Derk Bodde. New York: The Free Press. 1948. xx, 368 p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index. — “First Free Press Paperback edition 1966”

My life with the saints / James Martin, S. J. Chicago: Loyola. 2006. x, 411 p. Includes Bibliographic References

Assassin’s apprentice / Robin Hobb. New York : Bantam Books, 1996.  435 p. “The Farseer Triology: Book One”

CD Resources:

Sacred Fire: Live in South America / Carlos Santana. London/Umgd. 1993.

The Lonesome Jubilee / John Cougar Mellancamp. Polygram Records. 1987.

Confessions / Pillar. Essential Records.  2009.

Phile #1 Journals, Societies, and Research. Oh My!

17 Oct

Academic Societies and Member Benefits

As a birthday present to myself, I recently renewed (or restored) my annual membership in the prestigious Society of Biblical Literature, chiefly to gain access to it’s flagship journal, The Journal of Biblical Literature (JBL),  as well as selections from the Review of Biblical Literature (RBL) and courtesy access to the JSTOR online database and search function  (http://about.jstor.org/10things ). To my joy I discovered that a benefit of membership allowed me to download previous issues of the Journal back to 2003. Needless to say there should be many, many gems to read and comment upon  to arise from this happy state of affairs. I also plan before year’s end to join the American Anthropological Association for the not-so-lofty goal of acquiring personal copies of its flagship journal,  American Anthropologist –nevermind what other benefits may accrue.

Research:  Social Vice No. 1!

This may seem strange at first glance, but two things should put your mind at ease oh seasoned blogaphile. One:   My major social vice (apart from the usual social vices associated with being male in contemporary society) -as anyone in my immediate family or circle of friends could tell you- is my propensity to carry a book around with me (and not-infrequently a pen and notebook) everywhere I go, and not just to the necessary room and restaurant. (In fact, I once took a notebook into a Cirque du Soleil show cause I thought I might receive some good ideas there, and I was right!) And things have only gotten worse with the introduction of first the Kindle, and now an iPad to my collection of writing and research implements.  Simply put…I like collecting reading material, and if i had a way to own the majority of academic books I have read from my first day in junior college, I could die a happy man.

Secondly, my two main intellectual research aims revolve around the seeking of a comprehensive humanistic understanding of the paths of knowledge (sacred and profane). These separate but not necessarily mutually-exclusive programmes are:  1) religious epistemology or the question of answering from a philosophical and theological point of view how we know that God has spoken to us -how we can speak of a “Supernatural” that  stands above, over, and against “Nature” and   2) the study of the nature, natural history, and makeup (biology and psychology) of Consciousness and it’s relation to Mind and Brain as a locus of the “mind-body” problem in natural philosophy (Science), and as a key to a reconciliation of religious and scientific epistemology, usually called the Faith – Reason or Science-Religion controversy.

Such an endeavor will utilize such disciplines as: Evolutionary Theory, Molecular Biology, Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Science, Neurophilosophy, Embedded Cognition, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Theology, Anthropology, even Literary and Art Criticism.  So the more sources I can gather and/or obtain access to, the better my analysis will eventually become.

It’s raining journals, Hallelujah!

There are a few other journals that I want to subscribe to as well, but then again, if I had my way, and had the resources, I’d join as many societies -just for the journal access-as I could, or if there was a website that offered affordable individual access to academic journals online, I’d subscribe to that, but most of the sites out there only sell subscriptions to institutions (hmm…now that’s an idea…incorporate myself as a research institute and gain access that way  *evil hand washing motions commences* ).

  1. Journal of Early Christian studies.
  2. Novum Testamentum
  3.  Anglican and Episcopal History
  4. Philosophy and Literature
  5. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science
  6. First Things
  7.  The Oxford American – The Southern Magazine of Good Writing
  8. Books and Culture: A Christian Review

I will of course add other titles as they come to me which of course means that this post may see constant revision, so don’t forget to check back fairly regularly to see what a mess I’ve gotten myself into with my intellectual eyes fighting it out with my intellectual stomach.

And that about wraps up this edition of the Philes.  Next up (hopefully) is Pile #2 “The Complete Jewish Bible”

Until then, Read on my fiends, and stay thirsty!

edited on 17 October for consistency. Last edited for content on 15 December

Pile #1 “God’s Chosen Fast” by Arthur Wallis

17 Oct

God’s chosen fast: a spiritual and practical guide to fasting / Arthur Wallis. Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade. 1968 [Paperback in 1969. Reprinted in 1970. Reprinted 1971] 119 p. Includes Bibliographic References and Index. *Note: This review refers to the 1971 reprint.

The original Amazon book review can be found here: “God’s Chosen Fast” http://www.amazon.com/review/R1R98GMUWVUS5R/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Recently, fasting as a Christian spiritual discipline has enjoyed a larger visibility in Protestant circles, when as little as two generations ago it was all but shunned as a Catholic practice of ‘works-righteousness’ and this increased visibility can be seen in the abundance of internet resources, no less than in the cataglogs and shelves of Christian book publishers and  bookstores. At least, in the “Choice Books” kiosk at the grocery store where I work, I have seen no fewer than 3 titles promoting  fasting in a Christian’s life, including one on a popular fast called  the “Daniel Fast” -derived from the fasts of Daniel and his associates in the early part of the biblical Book of Daniel- entitled The Daniel Fast for spiritual breakthrough by Elmer L Towns (subject of a future review, naturally).  Of course not all books are created equal, nor will every book (even the best written one) speak to the needs of every single person.

But let’s backtrack a little, because today I want to focus on an early work of ‘restoration’, a small book written in 1968 titled God’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis (and which has been reprinted as recently as the mid-nineties). Arthur Wallis was a British born preacher, speaker, and author, writing 10 books, as well as editing and writing for the magazine Restoration.  The book Wallis is most known is The Radical  Christian,  which was a call to live the Christian life without compromise. It can be found here:  http://www.disciple.co.za/site/attachments/071_The%20Radical%20Christian.pdf   thanks to a link from the Lifechanging blog at http://lifechanging.wordpress.com/2007/06/02/arthur-wallis-a-radical-christian/

He was an early leader in the Restorationist movement (known in the UK as the “House Church” or “New Church Movement”) which sought to return the Church to the discipline and authority of New Testament times. It was from this movement that the Churches of Christ, and Disciples of Christ in the United States were formed.

Fasting

As the title  says, the subject of this book is fasting, and the proper way for a Christian to go about it. Fasting -defined as the voluntary abstaining from food and/or drink- is a basic and essential element in all the major religious and spiritual traditions of the world, and is understood as a basic method for the discipline of body and mind, and a tool to combat selfishness within asceticism -a spiritual or religious practice characterized by abstaining from worldly pleasures, prayer and meditation  in order to reach a spiritual or religious goal, usually liberation from the passions or sin. The word is derived from the Greek: ἄσκησις, áskēsis, “exercise” or “training”).  In the Old Testament/Tanak, fasts could be individual or communal, and the Scriptures record many instances of Kings of Israel or Judah, and prophets calling the nation to a Public Fast, as well as liturgical fasts commanded by the Lord, for particular causes, or in penitence for gross national and personal sins.

Fasting achieved prominence in Christian circles from the 4th century with the rise of Christian asceticism and monasticism after the Age of Martyrs ended with the Roman Emperor Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity, and became a staple of penitential practice during the Middle Ages. In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation in Europe (and it’s heirs in North America) largely did away with the discipline of fasting along with the rest of Catholic practice and doctrine, leaving only the Lenten fast in England, and Lutheran Germany (along with those countries that remained Catholic) as a remnant.

The twentieth century, though saw a renaissance of the spiritual disciplines and a renewed Liturgical Movement within mainline Protestantism, and in the latter half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century especially, literature has abounded in the marketplace and through religious communities promoting the purposes, methods, durations, types, and benefits of fasting, and it has even entered the vocabulary of the medical field through the holistic health, homeopathic and alternative medicine fields.

Hungering for God’s best

Having proved the great value and blessing of fasting over many years, I was concerned that so many earnest believers had apparently never given the subject any serious thought. This concern became a constraint to share with those who hunger for God’s best, what the Bible has to say about this spiritual exercise. (p7)

Wallis’s book is an early fruit of this renewal from a Protestant, Evangelical perspective, seeking to provide a secure biblical model of fasting for the life of the believer (if not the community). It was the felt lack of adequate biblically  based resources (for or by Protestants that is) in Christian bookstores or tract racks, that led Mr. Wallis to write the book he did. Composed of  23 brief chapters (none longer than 5 pages) and 3 appendices (on dubious mentions of fasting in the Authorized Version, answers to practical questions on fasting, and on healthy eating), Wallis provides, as the subtitle of the book says “a spiritual and practical guide to fasting” , though the actual practical side of fasting is but little touched on. He covers the different Old Testament fasts, and the attitude of the later biblical prophets toward liturgical fasting, as well as Jesus’s own directives on fasting.

Fasting With Intention

The book, however, is not a historical treatment of fasting, but a prescription for individual believers on why and how to fast. The basic message of Wallis’s book is that fasting should always and only be done with intention to further the Kingdom of God, as an other-directed expression of faith.  It is a good message as far as it goes, but his almost cavalier rejection of any other positive use for fasting as a training for holiness leads e to conclude that he really does not understand the discipline that he is critiquing. He uses only three non-biblical sets of sources, and two of them are Protestant reference books from which he derives his understanding of asceticism.

All in all, Wallis’ message of intentional fasting is one that every Christian can share, even if the severe limits he places to that intention and the benefits to be derived from the fast, are not ones that everybody can agree to.

On the other hand, one can hardly expect Christians of a Protestant persuasion who come from a tradition that has downplayed if not outright rejected the benefits of any fasting, to suddenly accept the wisdom about fasting that other portions of Christ’s Body have accumulated over the centuries at one gulp.

Until next time then,  Read on my friends, and stay thirsty

edited for consistency on 17 October 2012

                                                                                                                        

additional information from Wikipedia article “Arthur Wallis”  accessed on 16 October 2012 at  23:47

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Wallis_%28Bible_teacher%29

Meta-Pile #1 on Reviews and Reviewing

16 Oct

You would think  that a person trained in library science should have a better sense of organization when it comes to sequencing the books to be reviewed,  and yet, judging from the lack of order in my list of  Amazon reviews, even I have to scratch my head and wonder what is going on. It was only after staring at all the assorted stacks of books in my writing area that I came to the following conclusion: That the reviews that will appear here in Piles and Philes are are deliberately presented without a  pre-determined order, although at times I may post a series of works on similar subjects or related themes. Instead, it reflects an organic development based on my interests and whichever particular book happens to be in front of me, and any other related books that I can locate in a given time period (thus fulfilling the occasional and eclectic nature of my reviewing).

My intention has long been  to review as completely and thoroughly as possible my existing and future personal collection of books and other media, items borrowed from public (currently the Cobb County Public Library) or academic libraries, and books loaned to me by other individuals, and this intention has survived many attempts at a systematic read through (probably because I’m good at distracting myself with books from other sections in the library at Just the right moment 🙂 .

I make no apology for the eclectic nature of the collection as it makes it’s way onto the blog: I read what I like or what catches my eye (whether or not I agree with it’s contents) and review what I read (or watch).

For example: God’s Chosen Fast, my  first review (see supra), was initially read and reviewed for an issue of my (Episcopal) parish newsletter during Lent of 2011. This gave me an  existing review that was easily  adapted  for an Amazon Book Review (not to mention a Goodreads review)  when I decided to start a comprehensive program of reviewing; and, but a short step to incorporate it into the Piles and Philes.  Moreover, I have chosen this same process for the first 18 reviews to appear, because it offers both less, and more work. In fact, this double or triple editing style of multiple postings of the same review allows me to fine-tune the review for the particular audience, and increases both my understanding and enjoyment of the work in question.

Until next time then,  Read on my friends, and stay thirsty!

 

edited for consistency on 17 October 2012

Piles and Philes New Series

10 Oct

Welcome to the Philes!  I’d offer you a seat, but as you can see, nearly all the chairs or other suitable sitting (or writing) surface also happen to be the right size and shape for yet one more pile of books or stack of CDs or DVDs and so is otherwise occupied, including a good portion of the floor. Such an arrangement admittedly makes it a little difficult to navigate, but I like the way it feels: A cross between Yomiko Readman’s penthouse suite, the office of nearly every history professor I have had in college (special mention to Dr. David Franklin, Dr. Gordon Carper, even Rev. Whitley) and a cross-section of the second hand book shops along Charing Cross Road in London, England, with the occasional nod to food and clothing.  Erasmus would look fondly around my house.

This is actually my second concerted attempt at a review blog, whence the subtitle “New Series” -the first attempt was an irregular concern of my youth, but now, as I cross the threshold of my fortieth year, the desire to settle down and actually leave a semi-permanent record denoting some achievement(s) has struck and continues to strike at the confines of my procrastination-induced listlessness that I like to call a life.

Now obviously there are far and away too many books out there already, not to mention the ones that continue to come out, yet alone the vast corpus of periodical literature, visual narratives, shows and documentaries to begin to make the beginnings of a dent of a scratch on the surface of what humanity has produced in terms of the literary, cinemagraphic and intellectual record, and only one of me, but that’s ok, for I promise I shall do the best I can. In fact, I tend to mentally take notes on every book, article (and to a lesser extent visual narrative) I read (or watch), rather good, bad, ugly, or indifferent.

About me.  I suppose introductions are always in order, and at the least are the polite thing way to begin a relationship. Hello! My name is Ignio Monto..  Michael. Michael Lilly. I have  a Bachelor of Arts in History from Berry College, a Master of Science in Library Studies from Florida State University and delusions of grandeur about earning yet more graduate and post-graduate degrees; I have been gainfully employed at the registers of a major retail grocery chain these past 15 years (its amazing how many notes you can take on the back of receipt paper); and an insatiable need to read bordering on compulsion -I figure bringing a book to the movies in order not to waste the opportunity so thoughtfully provided by theatre staff in keeping the auditorium lights on to read a few more sentences, paragraphs, pages before the trailers start counts as at least a little compulsive, but I could be wrong.  And naturally All Your Bases Are Belonging To Us.    unless a review  carries an explicit by-line, it is perfectly safe, natural, and correct to assume (which makes it of course only the second good assumption in the history of the world…the other belongs to Our Lady St. Mary) that all posts have been created, edited, and occasionally grammatically abused by myself.

I am also a committed Christian believer raised in the Anglican tradition, holding dear the Orthodox and catholic doctrines, practices and devotions that have nurtured two millenia of believers, and have recently began expanding my understanding of the Jewish and Hebrew nature of the faith through studies with a Messianic Rabbi. As such, I come upon my reading, not with a “tabula rasa” which any self-respecting post-deconstructionist literary theorist or critic would tell you is impossible to begin with, but with something approaching a Christian understanding of the nature of the world and of right behaviour (my living up to said standards is irrespective of whether I accept that such standards exist). This means, among other things, that yes I will make judgements about characters perceived behaviors and particular when I deem they deviate from healthy, proper moral living. But it also means I will tell you why

The first couple dozen entries will consist largely in playing catch up with my existing work, pointing to and expanding upon reviews previously posted to Amazon, in the order in which they were posted on Amazon. If you want to follow along you can either read each review as we come to it, or read ahead by following the permalinks below of the books I have already reviewed.

1. “God’s Chosen Fast” http://www.amazon.com/review/R1R98GMUWVUS5R/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
2.  “The Complete Jewish Bible” http://www.amazon.com/review/R66CVERFI6YD8/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
3. “This Is My Beloved Son” http://www.amazon.com/review/RQD9GCNQSQT80/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
4.  “The Meaning of Creation” http://www.amazon.com/review/R20W108MQ5RWE7/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
5.  “Will Catholics Be Left Behind?” http://www.amazon.com/review/R2T3SRJBJZSPNX/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
6.  “The Essene Book of Everyday Virtue” http://www.amazon.com/review/RY9XXORXX8U9E/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
7.  “Africa and the Bible” http://www.amazon.com/review/R18ATGAOOAKH2R/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
8.  “With the Lightnings” http://www.amazon.com/review/R31RF3NY5N6HA7/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
9.  “Freehold” http://www.amazon.com/review/R19N5R1ILNPKAD/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
10. “Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle”  http://www.amazon.com/review/R1VHFOAF9LO7B8/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
11. “On Basilisk Station” http://www.amazon.com/review/R2D2NRHI1LFE6K/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
12. “Seeing Christ in the Old Testament” http://www.amazon.com/review/R2QW77K1H0ZO4P/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
13. “Me of Little Faith” http://www.amazon.com/review/R71BKI94QR89Y/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
14. “Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy” http://www.amazon.com/review/R3KBA1KB2WLUNS/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
15. “The Highest Tide” http://www.amazon.com/review/R12KYOKY89C1G/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
16. “Eye of the World” http://www.amazon.com/review/R32L1PFWZI7WVK/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
17. “Yeshua” http://www.amazon.com/review/R4FCZET43W3B3/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm
18. “Mary Through the Centuries” http://www.amazon.com/review/R29FFXU775OJ6T/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

One more thing, I plan on being the primary blogger, but from time to time I hope to twist the arm of a friend or two to get them to provide guest reviews, to give my poor fingers a break.

So, until next time,  Read on my friends, and stay thirsty

edited for consistency on 17 October 2012