Friday, April 16, 2010

sometimes "active" and "passive" faith don't seem that different

Long, long ago when I was in college I knew a fellow named Steve Hays. We occasionally commiserated about theology and one of a few observations he shared was that there seems to be a paradox at work--the Christians who are often biggest into free will are very concerned to discern what God's will is, to pray that one would find God's specific will in a specific situation. In other words a lot of effort went into the whole process of discovery. It is as though the more freedom you insist God has given you the more anxious you are to find out what GOD'S will for you in any given situation is.

Conversely, there were many people who were sure of God's providential direction who, to put it a bit simply, were content that anything not expressly forbidden to do in scripture was entirely within their Christian liberty to do. God has not given any specific instructions about what kind of job to have so you go and pursue the kind of job you would like to have provided it is not something that is prohibited by scripture. The Bible does not say whether or not YOU specifically should marry so you marry if you choose at the time that you choose. God does not generally tell you anything outside what is revealed in scripture so within the confines of what scripture does not prohibit you do whatever you want. These correspond roughly to what Mark Driscoll referred to as normative and regulative principles.

The paradox is that these modes seem to have applications that are inversely proportional to the formulated principles. The more likely you are to advocate the power of your freedom the more likely you are to be concerned in discerning what God's will is for your life. The more certain you are that God providentially directs all things the less certain you are that God has any particular interest in actually telling you whether you're going to have X job in Y place at Z time.

This often manifests in another paradox, that those who describe their calling and direction from God in the most passive terms tend to be the most active, even activist, in how they live out their life of faith. For instance, when I consider the life and example of Mark Driscoll he describes his calling in the most passive terms imaginable. God told him to marry Grace and plant a church to reach young men. Everything is about what God told Mark to do. He describes himself in many cases as the passive recipient of whatever God tasked him to go do.

Yet if you look at how he goes through life (especially if you've met the man) no one could be more active or even activist about trying to figure out and implement the nuts and bolts of what he believes God wants him to do. If a person is unusually cynical they have another assessment but I'll get to that cynicism and the problem of the flip side momentarily. Perhaps the most vivid articulation of the active implementation of what might otherwise be a man prone to describe his calling as passive is how Mark talked about prayer in his Ruth sermon series. In discussing Boaz' prayer of blessing for Ruth Driscoll had this broad observation to share, "sometimes you have to answer your own prayer." Now this was the same series in which Driscoll described himself as Abimelech, a guy who "could" ask God what His will is but generally doesn't bother to because he's got it all figured out. So, again, the paradox is that a man who describes his ministry as passively received by command of God admits that he's pretty much an action guy who makes plans and figures out what he's going to do.

Now lest someone get overly cynical this paradox, has precedent as far back as Paul. Paul wrote that he did more than all the other apostles yet also said that it was not him but Christ at work in him. Paul, too, describes his conversion experience in exceptionally passive terms. He is a recipient of salvation and not someone who "made a decision for Christ'. While a person could make the suggestion that a guy like Driscoll uses descriptions of God's calling to do what he basically wants to do we could say this about all sorts of religious leaders, even the apostle Paul. Unbelievers, of course, have been saying this for generations so it's no surprise there. It is the Christian in danger of hoisting himself on his own petard trying to use this argument selectively. The argument that someone else's spiritual hero is just doing what he wants in God's name applies equally well to your own hero, after all. And of course that is why I'm not presenting my observation and that of others as an argument, just as an observation.

But what I DO present as an argument is a caution, namely that what I have seen in a guy like Driscoll is a willingness to present his own words from the Lord at face value while expressing from the pulpit a significant skepticism about the words of God claimed by other spiritual people. Driscoll doesn't do this quite so much any more but he used to do it regularly. Having recounted that there were people who were claiming God wanted them to run the church he was planting I understand that skepticism on his part, but as I wrote earlier, skepticism is invariably a double-edged sword here. Both experience and a lack of it or changes in it can often precipitate drastic changes in theology. We would do well to be cautious in claiming for ourselves what we would deny others.


At the other side are folks from charismatic backgrounds who believe that we have free will and talk about how God communicates to us. For these people the freedom is paradoxically moot because people are urged to find out what God's will for them is. It is ironic that those who lay stock by the divine permission of freedom seem least eager to use it and pray through or "tarry" until they figure out what God wants. But in the end a person could persuasively argue that in both cases people are trying to figure out what they want to do and employ different modes of theological language to figure out what that is. These people want to move to the place where they feel they are in God's will. If the annointing has moved to Toronto then visit Toronto to catch the fresh fire. If you aren't sure what to do then pursue the feeling of peace that what you are doing is in God's will and, say, doesn't this end up looking pretty much the same as with the other folks who just do what they want and trust that God is going to providentially work it all out?

The danger in the application of both "theories" of divining the will of God is that if you don't know what YOU want God certainly doesn't spell things out in most cases and it is presumptuous to suppose that God has something so important that He has to tell you about it in some unusual way. Or, to go by the precedent of saints of old, if you're thick-headed and stubborn enough that God has to actually tell you what to do then that speaks poorly of your inattention to the Lord.


There are two other considerations about the active/passive faith distinction. A "passive" faith can be considered accepting that whatever happens is God's will, whether circumstances are good or bad. The "active" faith is considered to be the conviction that prayer moves the heart of God and that if you ask in Jesus' name that prayer will be answered. The passive approach describes the functin of prayer as changing your heart toward God so that you accept His providential will while the active version of faith is seen as pouring your heart out to the Lord in the faith that God will respond.


I can't take either extreme seriously. It is true that to say prayer's chief end is to change our acceptance or lack of acceptance about circumstances does not fit with the entirety of what the scriptures teache about prayer and what saints have understood prayer to be. If someone prays for thirty years and that petition is never granted how long do we avoid the surmise that God's answer to said prayer is "no"?

On the other hand, enough prayers get answered in unobservable ways that we end up seeing that faith is faith, the substance of things hoped for the evidence for which is unseen. Abraham knew that his body was as good as dead and that his wife was barren. He believed God, often fitfully and with starts and stops and spectacular lapses, but he believed God.

This was not, however, a positive confession, nor a "blab it and grab it" or "name it and claim it" approach to trusting God. Abraham was promised something by God without having asked for it. Now we live in a time in which studies have, as unbelievers have often touted, established that prayer has no medical effect whatever and that prayer is useless to change circumstances. If your theology of prayer hinges on the idea that your prayers change the order of the universe unbelievers have a ready answer for you, your prayers don't matter. If your theology of prayer is that it changes your heart toward your circumstances and toward God's providence then your reply would be that such studies that supposedly disprove the effectiveness of prayer fail to grasp one of the key reasons God would have us pray to Him, for fellowship and to better understand His character.


This is not a case of one or the other as a chorus from a Paula Abdul song insists it is. Yet many frustrations about prayer can stem from embracing one of these two aspects without giving due consideration to the other. God is not obliged to answer our prayers insofar as He is God and owes us nothing, yet we are taught that if we pray in the Lord's name the Father will hear and grant whatever we request.

The question inevitably becomes what it means to ask for something in the name of Jesus. Many things have been asked in the name of Jesus that were declined, such as the removal of the thorn in Paul's flesh. It was not wrong for Paul to ask that that thorn be removed but the answer God made to that prayerwas clearly "no", which came in the form of "my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." Paul in his action of prayer was admonished to recognize the need of a "passive" acceptance of the weakness God was content to give him just as he was active more than the other apostles in proclaiming what he had passively received. As I have been attempting to demonstrate, many of the contrasts we construct in our minds about the contrast between "active" faith and "passive" faith is ultimately pedestrian, academic, and woefully inaccurate. In what may surely be a case of a broken clock telling the correct time twice a day I once heard Benny Hinn say that it doesn't matter how much faith you have if whatever amount of faith you do have is in Christ.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

triumph is not "redemption"

Earlier this year I finally got around to catching District 9. It was show at Mars Hill Lake City campus and since I know more than a few people there and wanted to see the film I went. One of the things that James Harleman discussed there that I believe merits continuing discussion is that in our popular imagination we tend to conflate two aspects of a heroic narrative that are not necessarily the same. We expect stories like Iron Man or Avatar where someone who is on the wrong side of things has an epiphany and a conversion experience and goes on to become the most renowned exponent of the view he or she once spurned. Paul's apostolic ministry after a pre-conversion career of persecution is obviously in view for this sort of narrative convention and the narrative exists in many forms throughout literature and history.

However, this arc is rare in the real world and District 9 subverts the expectations of modern sci-fi tropes by having the protagonist be an essentially venal, stupid man. He does not find redemption in the Jake Sully mode of redemption because he has no personal moment of triumph against all odds. All things considered merely surviving within the odds is miraculous for Wikus. James' observation that we tend to want our protagonists to not only repent but to prevail is undercut in District 9's narrative. I propose that to properly understand the implications of what redemption and victory mean it helps to understand what is and isn't in common between redemption and triump.

To be redeemed is to be bought back, to be recovered. This means you have been snatched from the jaws of death. To stop going down the wrong path is not the same as beating everyone else to the finish line that is on the right path. We can get this idea that "redemption" is the full shift from going the wrong way to being the champion of the right way. While we can cite an apostolic precedent in the life of Paul or Augustine or whomever we wish to indicate (and some of us present ourselves as the exemplars of this kind of thing either directly or indirectly) this is not really a way to readily understand the kindness of Christ.

Is it? Perhaps it is and I am simply not that smart but if we take seriously "He must become greater and greater while I must become less and less" we have to eschew this kind of holding ourselves up as examples. There are ways to do it but I am not convinced that most people who hold themselves up for our emulation in Christ are the same as those who uphold Christ as the true king to follow. A great witness for some seems to consist of telling others how much they need Jesus as though having once acquired Jesus all is well. I have Jesus and you NEED Jesus. But need Jesus for what? To lose your life? Jesus does not sell His cause to us the way we so often sell His cause to others. You know, the "I used to be on crack cocaine and lived a life of sin but Jesus turned my life around" stuff. Even in the popular testimony there is the urge to embrace the narrative of our looking death in the eye and somehow being able to say that thanks to God death blinked.

How this squares with Paul is that it doesn't square with Paul who wrote that he and other apostles faced death daily and yet lived. Paradoxically being constantly aware of the inevitability of death allowed the apostle to be aware that he was given life through Christ. In Christ we share in His triumph by faith but we are in the process of being redeemed now.

Note to Leo Brouwer (I'm sure he won't read it)

Please consider writing more fugues for solo guitar. Your Fuga #1 rocks all around. Please write more of those.

Rekhin's set is fun and all but there's no reason there can't be other sets and you're one of the guitarist-composers who I think could tackle it. The other one is Atanas Ourkouzounov (check out Suite in modo bulgaro for proof of that). Michael Nicollela wrote a beautiful Toccata and Fugue that I hope some more people play. And surely we know of the various transcriptions of Bach for solo guitar. I'm not even going to count my modest attempts to compose my own set.

So obviously I know the field a bit but you (on the billion to once chance you'll read this), Mr. Brouwer, are well-situated to compose such a set and have it get some circulation in the West. So, uh, even though I know you're never going to read this I'm posting a public request on my blog that nobody reads in the hopes that I can plug for some of your music and maybe inspire more guitarist-composers to write fugues for our beautiful instrument.

and the beat goes on

I may well have overcome some hurdles in my preludes and fugues project. I've got a subject for E major, D flat major, and E flat minor. I have two ideas for D major and D minor respectively and an idea for an E minor fugue. If I can knock out these then all the major and minor keys from C major to F minor will be covered. Yep, you guessed it, I'll be at the half-way point for the 24 preludes and fugues.

I'd like to finish the whole set as quickly as I can but I want to finish it as EFFECTIVELY as I can. Pairing the works off into dozens made sense for Igor Rekhin and I would be a fool to not follow the precedent established by earlier composers. So while I would love to finish F# major, F# minor, G minor, A minor, B flat major, B major, and B minor those form a hefty amount of work. Meanwhile, if I focus on the smaller number of fugues to be finished in the first half I could reach a point where the first half in chromatic sequential and major/minor order is finished.

Seeing as this is intended to be a complete cycle of pieces it makes more sense to finish them in groups. Having said that, there's no reason that a guitarist could not perform just a few entries from the series. As yet I have few takers for performance. I've gotten some positive feedback about the project and specific pieces from a composer whose work I admire greatly so that's encouraging.

I'm thinking about performing all my F minor material as a unified work later this year. It may prove to be as brutal a gauntlet as Diabelli's F major guitar sonata (which pretty much nobody plays except Anthony Glise)! My compositions are not exactly in that style but for hard core classical guitar nerds you should go snap up Glise's edition of complete sonatas or Sor, Giuliani, and Diabelli. If I had money to burn (and believe me I don't!!) I'd go get this edition! Be warned, it's way, way out of print (as of 2006, why didn't I think to get that back when I had a job!).

So, anyhow, I'm still hunting for work and while I'm doing that I'm trying to prepare a few pieces for performance. The odds are good (unless something catastrophic happens to me) that I can finish at least half of the 24 this year, which excites me a great deal. These are the things that make life exciting for me (other people, I imagine, get excited by things like dating or building things). It would appear that other than Rekhin no one else has finished a set of these works. I won't be the first but at the rate things are going I'll be the first to finish a set that uses invertible counterpoint and employs grand stretto. Brouwer uses grand stretto brilliantly in his one fugue for guitar.

Man, now that I'm thinking about it, why doesn't Leo Brouwer write a set of preludes and fugues for solo guitar. I don't doubt that they would rock. Someone who has the time and resources should ask Brouwer if he plans to write more fugues for guitar! I'd do it but I've got no reasons to head to Cuba!

speaking of chamber music for the guitar ...

http://www.dobermaneditions.com/en/shortcuts/ourkouzounov-series/


http://www.dobermaneditions.com//en/sheet-music-for-other-instruments/c378081924/c378033634/p17575023.html


http://www.dobermaneditions.com//en/sheet-music-for-other-instruments/c378081922/c378033624/p17263556.html


http://www.dobermaneditions.com//en/sheet-music-for-other-instruments/c378081924/c378033636/p17263948.html


http://www.dobermaneditions.com//en/new-issues/c378107332/p17502913.html

http://www.dobermaneditions.com//en/sheet-music-for-other-instruments/c378081922/c378033624/p17263729.html

Seeing as I'm on the search for work and can't be spending money on these pieces I can only vouch for the pieces generally rather than speaking of specifics. If you're a Keith Jarrett fan who wants more guitar music inspired by that style Kaleidascore is a must-get piece. All Atanas' music for flute and guitar is wonderful and his work for cello and guitar is also great. You may have noticed I love his music. :) I'm going to have to see if I can persuade the local guitar society to tackle some of his music for guitar quartet.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Scotteriology: Apologetics and the Dead Sea Scrolls

http://scotteriology.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/apologetics-and-the-dead-sea-scrolls/#comments


I could have gone over there and posted a comment but the comment I had seemed too long to warrant posting in the actual comment section.


I have not read a ton on the Dead Sea Scrolls and have only dabbled a bit in intertestamental literature. I read parts of the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah, enough to know that if you really think Isaiah wrote that after his martyrdom that I can now make a sales pitch to you and introduce myself as Ricky Roma. I have not actually read all of the books of Enoch but I, er, have them on my desktop and may get to them one day. I have read Bauckham's valuable monograph on Jude and 2 Peter where he discusses the connection between Jude's epistle and the surprisingly high ratio of non-canonical material referenced in the epistle. And, as I mentioned elsewhere, I read Susan Garrett's useful books on diabology in NT literature to say nothing more than the name Jeffrey Burton Russell for the historian's side of things.


And all that is to say that one of the most useful applications of studying intertestamental literature is to observe how much stuff that is supposedly attributed to "biblical" teaching on spiritual warfare does not derive from the biblical texts as much as traditions surrounding the texts and intertestamental literature. Preachers who would not accept the idea that church tradition trumps a plain reading of the text will affirm without question that the Prince of Tyre and light-bearer passages in Ezekiel and Isaiah refer to the devil (Mark Driscoll is only a local example). Now as Russell pointed out that these texts have taken on an interpretive reference to Satan does not make that interpretation invalid, it's just useful to point out that this is not even close to what the ORIGINAL REFERENTS IN THE TEXTS WERE.


Possibly the single most abused aspect of apocalyptic literature is to presume that it was written as a warning to US and not to THEM, the people who first received the message. It's more fun to think that some Hal Lindsey or Jack van Impe meaning for NOW is intended in the apocalyptic literature than to see apocalyptic literature as a commentary on contemporary events from the AUTHOR'S time period. This is, of course, one of they key reasons Daniel is considered by many scholars to be a fabrication that couldn't have been written by Daniel, assuming Daniel even existed.


Ironically one of the ways that apocalyptic literature is abused in seemingly every generation is in a way that is roughly concordant with original use. The error is to transpose OUR crises on to the crises the author was dealing with. So Ezekiel or Isaiah are writing about the United States whenever an eagle is used even though that's not what the eagle refers to. The lion must refer to England or the unidentifiable beast must refer to Russia because early Christian writers in the middle east might not have seen bears. The number of the Beast HAS to refer to someone we can identify now in our time, not Nero. Sure, every variation of the number reveals Nero's identity but that doesn't matter because the primary purpose of prophecy is not a call to faithfulness and trust in the goodness of God but the prediction of when God will destroy the people you hate, whomever you hate.

The idea that the scriptures are a gift to us so that we may understand who God is but not FOR US in the sense of being some IM from God straight to our iPhone needs continual clarification. Pastors and teachers who talk about "what God told me" don't help because no one can explain what it even means to say God told them something. Now for unbelievers, of course, that whole question never comes up because the supposition is that people make stuff up and retroactively plug God into the space where justification for doing what you want comes up. For people in that camp there's always the Woody Allen stand-by of "The heart wants what it wants." Or whatever applicable organ may be applicable--the Woody wants what the Woody wants, I guess.


For those who don't have the temerity to invoke a deity proposing that what you want or think is validated by the Bible is the next best step. If you think that the European Union is the seat of the antichrist then you can make the Bible fit that design. If you think that the United States is God's chosen nation then by blunt application of covenant theology you can delude yourself into thinking that "if my people" refers to ANY country that you decide had a start as a Christian nation.


Now it is certainly true that Jewish and early Christian authors did address the politics of their time but not many Christians seem interested in investigating that because if Scott's observation that many Christians don't care about Dead Sea Scrolls research except as an aid to apologetics holds true then it probably holds equally true that most laity investigating eschatology and apocalyptic literature are doing so to bolster their already established political and social views in the here and now. I have written about this at length in other blog posts here. I don't wish to repeat myself too endlessly but the recent post on Scotteriology has gotten me thinking about these things again.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

I know I get on this hobby horse but guitarists, explore chamber music

I'm not exactly a great classical guitarist but I do play once in a while and the more time goes by the more I wish guitarists would get into chamber music. It's fine to lament that the same guitarists keep playing the same stuff over and over again.

I don't mind that people say that guitarists tend to be conservative in what they program or explore but we all know that is not universally true. The bad reviews I saw of Michael Nicollela's Shard are proof enough that there are guitarists (even locally) who are willing to play some really far out stuff that a lot of people don't like. I'll admit that Shard is not as fun for me as Micahel's own compositions (which are great, by the way) but I admire his interest in exploring all sorts of music, even music I don't personally get. But he plays some stuff that's awesome. His version of Reich's Electric Counterpoint is pretty satisfying.
Yet for all this there are times and places for guitarists who are not as adventurous as you would like them to be.

But it seems as though some ten years ago Matanya Ophee was right to point out that chamber music can get more attention. Guitarists can often pay lip service to the idea of chamber music while never venturing to make careers based on performing and recording chamber music, much less composing it. To all this I would say this is why Atanas Ourkouzounov is one of my favorite living guitarists. He does a lot of performing, composing, and arranging chamber music for guitar. By chamber music I mean there is more than one instrument involved and that other instrument is not just another guitar!

I have been hoping to work with other musicians but am not well situated for it right now. Job hunting means a lot of attention I might otherwise put into networking has to be devoted to looking for work. I also am just now networking with a handful of musicians who have busy lives. The possibility of managing to play chamber works is not immediately high but I hope, in the long run, will be solid.

But in many cases guitarists do not make themselves available to other musicians and there seems to be an unstated desire that the guitar parts not be too boring. We guitarists who play classical guitar have the same sorts of weakness guitarists in rock bands have, at least guitarists who are not also singers. One of my favorite musical collaborations in college involved a cellist and a harmonica-player. A lot of what I did in that setting was simply strumming chords but I had a blast. I let the cello and harmonica do pretty much all of the solo work and kept a steady rhythm.

It useful for all musicians to perform in musical settings where your part is indispensable but not glamorous. I don't think most guitarists really crave that paradoxical quality. Most of us are drawn to the instrument because of its self sufficiency, because the guitar, as so many people tritely put it, "is a miniature orchestra". Ophee's smart-ass remark that most guitarists have no idea how to conduct is salient. If the guitar is a miniature orchestra then would that more guitarists get used to the idea that they may play a concerto or two in which someone else is featured as the soloist. In the orchestra there are also woodwinds, brass, percussion, and things like that.

So if you haven't considered playing music with other musicians already, consider it. If you're a music student and a guitarist start networking to play chamber music with non-guitarist musicians now! Play in folk bands, rock bands, jazz bands, get in some kind of ensemble setting where what you do matters because it contributes to the musical whole and not just the glamour of the rock star persona. You'll find that you develop an entirely new set of musical disciplines keeping time with other musicians. In choral and quartet repertoire people recognize that your individual part lacks glamour. Those of us who sing in inner voices in choral repertoire are acutely aware of this! Violists and second violinists also know this! Guitarists ... we guitarists all have some kind of first fiddler mentality or worse. It is a disposition to overcome. Ophee made this point a decade ago and while it may never be heeded it always bears repeating.

A brief word about Barefoot Gen

I read the first four volumes of the series some ten years ago and they constitute the single most harrowing comic book narrative I have managed to read. I'm not counting hentai stuff that I have heard about and never plan to read. There are famous titles in anime and manga that I have heard about and have good sense enough to leave alone. As an old icon in a lexicon of genre reviews had it, "naughty tentacles" with the non-explaining explanation of `nuff said. Trust me, the less you know the better off you are there!

Now Barefoot Gen is, you may know, the semi-fictionalized account of Keiji Nakazawa's being in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. He describes what he saw first hand of the destruction. My leaning conservative in both theology and politics does not mean I have no appreciation for what Nakazawa sets out to do. There is a sense in which some may find it easy to simply assume the United States was terrible to drop the bomb. Dropping the bomb was incontestably terrible and yet Nakazawa's narrative reveals the capacity for monstrous action everywhere.

What makes Gen a compelling read is how despite the anger and sentiments of Gen it is impossible to exonerate anyone. Attempting to end all wars and prevent the use of the atomic bomb is no less admirable a wish because it is perhaps among most wishes most exemplary of a desire that we not live in a world rife with sin and with those who embrace sin. Just as that the poor shall always be with us does not mean we don't care how we may help the poor so that there will always be wars does not mean we have to suppose every war is inevitable. It does not, however, mean that the moral certainty of opponents is anymore certain than the moral certainty of advocates.

What I mean is this, human has ever had the capacity for technology outstripping our ethics. The problem is not, as so many people like to claim it is, that technological advances prove that technology is bad. This is to locate sin outside the human heart and to imagine that what you eat defiles you. Jesus spoke so forcefully against that he was crucified for it. In Gen we can see that even a pacifist father is capable of being physically abusive to his children. The series is harrowing because no one is untouched. This is a book series that I believe more people should read. One need not subscribe to the policies and views of those who have championed the book in every detail to appreciate the necessity of the comic book and the value it has for collecting eye witness accounts of the bombing of Hiroshima and exploring the ways in which everyone reveals their own corruption. There is no better story to expound by example the scriptural observation, "There is no one who is righteous, not even one."

A few bits of advice about reading Barefoot Gen. First off make sure you have not eaten anything or don't plan to eat anything for a while before and after reading the comic book. You will see cartoon depictions of things that are, once you grasp them, pretty horrific. Give yourself plenty of alone time for this reading experience. Which gets me to the second observation, that this such an emotionally blunt, raw, even simplistic read that it is advisable to read it in chunks and not attempt to read all ten volumes in one go, or even simply one of the ten volumes in one go.

It may be tempting for American Christians to not even read the book if they know about it because it was written by someone in Japan protesting that we dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The atomic bomb was necessary to end the war and therefore reading a critical assessment at a purely personal level by a cartoonist won't benefit anyone. No one should bother reading it because it wouldn't be helpful.

Well, by that measure no one should read Kings or Chronicles or Judges in which a Levite carves up his dead concubine, David slaughters villages to keep his profile low while wandering outside Israelite lands, and where Israelite kings endorsed child sacrifice. If it merely be said that the Bible has some reason for discussing these things Barefoot Gen has the same reason, to warn us of our own capacity for depravity and the dangers of convincing ourselves that we are above doing terrifying things to each other.

If it were not for Barefoot Gen we probably would not have had Art Speigelmann's Maus, a comic book account of Spiegelmann's father's time in a concentration camp in World War 2. Where the American cartoonists transforms people into mice, cats, pigs, and dogs (Jews, Germans, Poles, and Americans respectively) as a way to create emotional distance for himself and the reader, Nakazawa eliminates that emotional distance entirely by using a very cartoony rendering of humans.

Having read both Barefoot Gen and Maus I have been persuaded that Maus is the product of someone who is not just distancing himself from the horrors his father suffered but who has also, at some level, chosen to distance himself from his parents. It is the kind of emotional remove that I half understand and half do not understand but that is another subject for another time. The creator of Maus, in any event, had the emotional and artistic luxury of making an intra-art distance to help him get through the work. Nakazawa deprived himself of that and goes so far as to have metanarratives within metanarratives that keep emotionally cycling back to the same formative experience. As he observes through his characters thorughout Gen, the bomb opened up possibilities that altered even those who strove to be good people.

In any number of places Barefoot Gen has characters describing the atomic bomb as a portal to hell. If this seems flamboyant and inaccurate it would be wise to reconsider. Scripture in a few places describes the final judgment as one of fire, a fire that will consume the elements. The end of this age will come not with a flood but with fire. Even Christians in America who do not necessarily embrace "liberal" ideas tend to think of atomic blasts as being part of the coming of Armaggedon. That the metaphor of the atomic bomb as being an entry to hell is overwrought and overused does not necessarily make it inaccurate.

Now obviously I do enjoy lots of comic books and enjoy anime. Eureka Seven has become one of my favorite anime ever and I try to catch Miyazaki's films when I can. Barefoot Gen is less glamorous than many more popular anime and manga (Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll, Neon Genesis Evangelion and any number of other series) but it is more important to read. What it lacks in artistic sophistication it makes up for in historical importance. I would strongly urge everyone to read the combination of Barefoot Gen, Maus, and Persepolis to get a good overview of the biographical genre of comics particularly because the bombing of Hiroshima, the Nazi concentration camps, and the Muslim revolution in Iran are all very important historical events in the 20th century. These are also all amazing comic books but I think the most important of these is Gen.