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Today in Language: Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685. Regardless of one's criteria, Bach must be considered one of the greatest composers of all time. What he did for music would be difficult ever to rival or to undo.

My personal Bach favorite, other than just anything he composed, is probably “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It is not, of course, strictly “his,” as he neither scored the basic melody nor wrote the lyrics. And yet Bachian brilliance infuses any orchestration of it. It is one of those glorious pieces, like Handel’s Messiah, that seem to require that the composer have known God. My favorite philosophical point about the piece is the absolute necessity of the “Jesu” of the title, without which it becomes nonsense, as in the title of a novel by Jean Giono.

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Communication: Definition 4

In From Input to Output: A Teachers Guide to Second Language Acquisition, Bill VanPatten gives a definition of communication particularly adapted to language teaching: “the expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning in a given social and situational context” (115).


1a. This definition is much more person-oriented and much less mechanical than many definitions of communication.
1b. The "expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning" are processes involved in communication, and expressing them in this non-mechanical way seems important at least in regard to linguistic communication.
2. Unlike many definitions, this one references meaning, which has to be crucial to any understanding of communication.
3. This definition does not explicitly reference intention, although it could certainly be inferred from terms such as “expression” and “negotiation.”

Book Review: Crucifixion of the Warrior God

Crucifixion of the Warrior God Vol. 1 and 2, The: Volumes 1 and 2 by Gregory A. Boyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boyd exposits the utter centrality of Christ and the cross to all biblical theology, particularly the problem texts of the OT. This is quite simply the best (and the only good) book I have read about the problem of texts such as the Canaanite genocide.

Not many theologians get to write a book like this in their career -- a 10-year project written in community with many other theologians and Christians and based on an impressively comprehensive corpus. The length of the two-volume work is definitely warranted. Boyd belabors over chapters and chapters the indispensable nature of a Christocentric, crucicentric hermeneutic, and he also points out how many, many theologians who have promoted such a hermeneutic have failed to live up to it when it comes to Yahweh-sanctioned OT violence.

After the hermeneutical groundwork, Boyd establishes his apparently unique Cruciform Thesis, comprised…

Consumerist Spirituality vs. Ordinary Christianity

“In consumerist spirituality, the new stuff on offer is mostly new experiences, ‘transformative’ experiences that you’re supposed to get if you don’t want to miss out on something special in your spiritual life. [...] You'll also be told that without it you’re just an ordinary, plain Christian, lacking the extraordinary power and blessing that God wants you to have in your life.”

So writes Phillip Cary in Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Dont Have to Do. I have not quite finished the book, but it has to be one of the best popular-level, Christian-living books I have read in a long time. Recognizing the vacuity of consumerist spirituality is not terribly difficult for most of us. But what is the alternative? Well, I’m glad you asked, because Cary goes on:

“Think about what’s wrong with this kind of sales pitch [see previous quotation]. What makes you an ordinary Christian, after all? Isn’t the answer faith in Christ? And what power and blessing do ordinary C…

Communication: Definition 3

In Relevance: Communication and Cognition, Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson define communication as “a process involving two information-processing devices. One device modifies the physical environment of the other. As a result, the second device constructs representations similar to representations already stored in the first device” (1).


1. Like most definitions, this one appears somewhat mechanical, although Sperber and Wilson do avoid the use of the word “code” in their definition.
2. Also like many definitions, this one does not reference either meaning or intention.
3. Unlike many definitions, this one is not limited to language or even to human communication.
4. Sperber and Wilson actually go on to make similar observations. They also distinguish between two dominant models of communication, a code model and an inferential model: “According to the code model, communication is achieved by encoding and decoding messages. [...] According to the inferential model, communicati…

An Idiosyncratic Reading List: Signed Copies

It is said that living former U.S. presidents form one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. On my shelves, an equally exclusive club of books sits and beckons, smugly and urgently. It is the Shelf of the Signed Copies.

Though elite, the Shelf of the Signed Copies is not an impenetrable fortress of exclusivity. Many, though not just any, other books could potentially enter its coveted ranks. (Indeed, the asterisked volumes in the list below indicate anticipated autographs.) Books written by the now deceased, alas, cannot join the club. Many other books, though written by living authors, have my priorities working against them -- I simply am not looking for autographs for every last one of my books. But when I get an autograph, it is a heady experience, not just because one is a book nerd but because one actually meets a personal hero.

As things currently stand, here is the list of signed copies that I own, in order of when I got them signed:

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Acccents (…

Communication: Definition 2

Joseph A. Devito in Human Communication (9th ed.) writes, “Communication occurs when one person (or more) sends and receives messages that are distorted by noise, occur within a context, have some effect, and provide some opportunity for feedback” (2).


1. This definition does not reference either meaning or intention, but the former is probably implied in “messages” and the latter in “sends and receives.”
2. This definition assumes, but does not explicitly state, that the sending and receiving is with another person. Devito does say “one person (or more),” but it is not at all clear how communication can happen with only one person. That is a theoretical question to pose, I suppose: Can one person alone communicate?
3. The statement “occur within a context” is true but perhaps so obvious as to be unhelpful, at least in a definition. After all, would anyone try to communicate in a vacuum? Is a vacuum not still a context? Is a non-context possible?