Archives For Language

 

Dwell and Savor.

 
A Review of

Word by Word:
A Daily Spiritual Practice
Marilyn McEntyre

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2016
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Reviewed by Alisa Williams
 
 
 
There are books that seem to appear in one’s life when they are most needed. So it was with Word by Word by Marilyn McEntyre. In the midst of packing up boxes for a move across state lines, McEntyre’s thoughtful devotional served as a little lifeline of peace and profundity in the midst of the chaos that accompanies ending a chapter of life and beginning anew.

In Word by Word, McEntyre reflects on the richness of words – fifteen words to be exact. She invites the reader on a journey that involves patience and discipline, especially for those of us who like to fly through a book so we can be on to the next great read.

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The Whole Cacophony
of Human Experience

 
A Review of 

Living with a Dead Language:
My Romance with Latin

Ann Patty

Hardback: Viking, 2016.
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Reviewed by Sam Chamelin
 
 
It seems unlikely that anyone would pick up a book about learning Latin, unless you have already had the pleasure of diving into this dusty corner of academia.  That’s precisely how I came to this book.  Like Ann Patty, I am a Latinist, and her descriptions of small, dark, and somewhat awkward undergraduate Latin students returned me to my own studies at Ursinus College.  I remember that my professor, John Wickersham, once brought an impression made from a ring of Julius Caesar as a “Show and Tell” piece, and he encouraged us to take a look.  We obliged, and yet somehow failed to match his excitement over the piece.  When we had finished our staid examination of his child-like exuberance, he chastised us with surprising fervor, saying that we hadn’t properly paid respect to our proximity to history.  “You are touching something that touched something that touched Julius Caesar,” he bellowed.  “I want you to touch it, get your fingers into it.  LOOK at it.”  With that, we passed it around again, paying more fervid attention to this historic item to the third degree.

While Ann Patty lacks the characteristic eccentricity of professional Latinists, she seems just as eager as Dr. Wickersham to connect the lives of readers to this far-from-dead language.  In this surprising and engaging memoir, Living with a Dead Language:  My Romance with Latin, Patty leads us to put our minds, our fingers, and indeed even our lives into the study of this language.  In doing so, she introduces us to a world where languages aren’t dead; rather, the continue to be a primary means by which we make sense of the world and our own lives.  Patty is happy to allow her life to serve as a template for this journey.

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The Surprise of Living

A Feature Review of

Finding God in the Verbs: Crafting a Fresh Language of Prayer  
Jennie Isbell and J. Brent Bill

Paperback: IVP Books, 2015
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Reviewed By Trish Edwards-Konic
 
 
Do you want to dig deeper into your already flourishing prayer life? Or has your prayer life gotten boring? Do you long to have the prayer intimacy of the saints, or even the Psalmists? If you answered yes to any of these queries, this is the book for you.
 
Finding God in the Verbs: Crafting a Fresh Language of Prayer by Jennie Isbell and J. Brent Bill tackles these concerns and more. The 2 authors spent several years of conversation as they crafted this tome. Jennie Isbell is an experienced spiritual director and author of Leading Quakers. J. Brent Bill is a Friends minister and author of several books and articles such as Mind the Light: Learning to See With Spiritual Eyes and Imagination & Spirit.

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A Gift to the Church and Classroom
 

Dazzling Bodies: Rethinking Spirituality and Community Formation.
Richard Valantasis

 
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2014.
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Reviewed by Kyle A. Schenkewitz
 
 
In Dazzling Bodies, Richard Valantasis develops a remarkable vision for Christian communities through engagement with critical theory, theological discourse, and diverse ministerial contexts. His thesis is as fresh and innovative as it is steeped in the liturgical and spiritual traditions of ancient Christianity. His concern is to unbind contemporary spirituality from its individualistic tendencies and reconnect the basis of spirituality to the worshipping community. He argues that Christian spiritual practices arose out of communal life, fed and formed the community, and linked the individual members to the communal identity. The disconnect between community and spirituality has been detrimental to contemporary congregations. Dazzling Bodies proposes methods for analyzing parishes as communities in order to understand their corporate life. One aspect of this analysis is how communities use words, gestures, sounds and other signs to communicate with one another.  Applying social semiotic theory, he argues, helps identify the systems of solidarity and power in the parish setting. These “diagnostic tools enable us all to understand the process of developing a spirituality while staying closely connected to our religious communities.” (xii) For Valantasis, communal spirituality is primarily communicated and shared in the liturgical worship of a parish. In the liturgy, individuals meet and are gathered together into a corporate identity, “a complex locus of individual and corporate spiritualities.” (xiii) In the rich density of the corporate liturgical performance, individual bodies become dazzling with the energetic life of the Spirit at work in the corporate body.  These dazzling bodies shine forth from within the life of the community to transform the world around them.

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Infinite Forkability

A Feature Review of

From the Tree to the Labyrinth: Historical Studies on the Sign and Interpretation

Umberto Eco

Translated by Anthony Oldcorn
Hardback: Harvard UP, 2014
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Review by Michial Farmer

 

The problem with reading a book written by a man of such superhuman erudition as Umberto Eco is that the reader needs a similarly Herculean level of learning in order to challenge and critique it. The rest of us can read Eco, learn from him, even enjoy the overwhelming nature of the experience—but we can’t argue with him the way good books call us to argue with them. We can only sit at his feet—our guru, our professor, we the devotees, we the students.

 

From the Tree to the Labyrinth, for example—a book that was published in Italian in 2007 but that has just been heroically translated into English by Harvard Professor of Italian Studies Anthony Oldcorn—discourses for nearly a hundred pages on Aristotle’s difficult logical and scientific treatises, not so much on what they themselves say as on what an even more difficult series of medieval commentators, philosophers, and scribes took them to say. (And that’s only about a sixth of the overall book.) It’s to Eco’s credit (and to Olcorn’s, whose accomplishment is only slightly less impressive than Eco’s) that this journey rarely feels tedious or perilous. He knows this material well, explains it skillfully, and mostly leaves his non-specialist reader feeling illiterate for not being familiar with, say, Scotus Eriugena.

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Wendell Berry

I stumbled this morning on this fascinating 1978 lecture by Wendell Berry, which as best I can tell has never been published in one of Berry’s books.

Description:In a discussion about language and culture, the author of The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture argues that the deterioration of language into vague technocratic abstractions is directly responsible for our present moral, ecological and political ills.

If this lecture was timely in 1978, it is even more so today, 35 years later!!!
 
*** Books by Wendell Berry
 
There are a few rough spots is this recording (presumably due to the transfer from tape to digital), but stick with it as this lecture is well worth the time!
 
Listen Now:
 



 
CLICK HERE to download as an MP3 (87 MB)…


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Susan Wheeler - MemeMemes IRL

A review of

Meme: Poems

Susan Wheeler

Paperback: U of Iowa Press, 2012.
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Reviewed by J. Ted Voigt

I used to think that words had something to do with information. I didn’t know quite how it worked, but I knew that when I saw words strung together the result would be a gain of information.  After reading Meme by Susan Wheeler, I know some things I didn’t know before, but I’m still not sure if it had anything to do with information.  I’ve always heard that poetry is supposed to “show, not tell” but I have never seen that idea on display as powerfully as Wheeler does in her new collection.

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The Flame Alphabet - Ben MarcusThe Toxicity of Words

A review of

The Flame Alphabet: A Novel.
Ben Marcus.
Hardback: Knopf, 2012.
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Reviewed by J. Brent Bill.

“… no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8).

In his novel The Flame Alphabet, experimental fictioneer Ben Marcus brings the words of James to life – and not just as a metaphor.  Indeed, in Marcus’ book, words are toxic – literally.

Marcus says he’s long been fascinated with the idea of toxicity of language and The Flame Alphabet gives him a platform in which to explore and experiment with that fascination.  In it, tongues spout poison.  Young tongues.  Particularly young Jewish tongues.  Specifically young Jewess Esther’s tongue.

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“Not Your Typical Linguist

A review of
?What Language Is:
And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be

by John McWhorter

Review by Brittany Buczynski.


What Language is - John McWhorterWhat Language Is:
And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be

John McWhorter
Hardback: Gotham, 2011.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

If all books on language were this entertaining, there would be more college linguistics majors than undecideds. John McWhorter’s What Language Is: And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be is easily the smartest, clearest (and funniest) meta-literary book I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Linguistics is an incredibly complex field of study, including not only the practical elements like language families and the International Phonetic Alphabet, but the intangible theoretical aspects. Does an unwritten oral tongue count as a full-fledged “language”? How did Old English morph into Middle English and then Modern English? And why did it move in the direction it did? Are there any overriding patterns behind language evolution? Questions like these are just the tip of the iceberg for the linguistics student. The other frustrating thing is that languages are constantly changing, so unless you’re studying a dead language (e.g., Latin) you’re given the added challenge of trying to hit a moving target, almost as if a scientist were attempting to examine a squirming, live ant under a microscope.

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A Review of

Speaking Christian:
Why Christian Words Have Lost
Their Meaning and Power
—AND HOW THEY CAN BE RESTORED

Marcus J. Borg
Hardback: HarperOne, 2011.

Buy Now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ] [ Amazon-Kindle ]

Reviewed by Shaun C. Brown

Not long after philosophers like Ludwig Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin made the linguistic turn, theologians followed suit.  An increased emphasis upon theology as speech about God continues until this day, as seen in works like George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, which emphasized a cultural-linguistic understanding of theology.  Some of Lindbeck’s postliberal heirs, like Stanley Hauerwas, have continued this emphasis.  As Hauerwas says in his recent book Working with Words: On Learning to Speak Christian, “To learn to be a Christian, to learn the discipline of the faith, is not just similar to learning another language.  It is learning another language” (87).  Speaking Christian represents New Testament scholar Marcus Borg’s attempt at cultural-linguistic theology.

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