Today we have a guest post. Please join me in welcoming a new friend of mine, Sam Rocha, who is a Patheos blogger, a professor of Philosophy, and a musician. He is currently raising money to produce an album of soul music grounded in St. Augustine’s Confessions. I feel his project is fairly important for a couple of reasons. First of all, if you are a Christian in the Western tradition (Protestant or Roman Catholic), you are in some way an Augustinian Christian, whether you have heard of Augustine or not. Not only is his dramatic conversation story in the Confessions something of a benchmark against which to measure the genre of spiritual autobiography, but some have even seen Augustine as the originator of the particular idea of an “inner self” that many of us, Christian or not, take for granted nowadays. We can only do ourselves a favour by reflecting on and becoming more aware of this Augustinian heritage.
Secondly, the complicated intersection of art and Christian faith is so often reduced to sentimental, pietistic caricatures, or appropriated by hipsters scavenging the wreckage of our theological past looking for the sexiest bits to use as superficial ornaments (see here for Sam’s assessment of the problems in Catholic circles, and here for mine in Christian circles more generally). Far better than sitting around complaining about these things is to support someone like Sam, who has spent a good portion of his life trying to understand philosophy, and, more particularly, Augustine. Please join me in supporting Sam’s project as you are able, whether in monetary terms or in sharing his project with others who might be able to help support it – and remember that even if you can’t give much, everything counts. You can contribute to his project here. Below you can find his own discussion of his project and the reasons it is important for all of us:
We Gather At the Beautiful: An Augustinian Appeal
All the summary statements that try to gather St. Augustine’s Confessions into a tidy sum tend to dismember the integrity of what is there. Scripture, prayer, doubt, story, questions, arguments, theory, confession, profession, psychoanalysis, iconoclasm, and iconophilia. And more.
The breadth and depth of the Confessions make it a separate and inimitable text in the canon of the West. This, of course, is only one work in the oeuvre of the most prolific writer of the Early Church. No wonder that it seems bizarre to think of any Christian as not being, in some sense, Augustinian.
When the impact of Augustine is extended beyond the religious, into the legal and the modern question of the self, we begin to see that the Confessions contain a whole that is not reducible to its parts.
It is this integrity of the Confessions, I think, that reveals and conceals a unity radical enough to bring about a revival of the ancient and new that appears through beauty. Augustine’s Confessions are most intelligible as art, understood through an aesthetic imagination.
In the same way, it seems to me that too often ecumenical aspirations overlook the role of the arts that is always already operating, in very concrete practices, to bring about literal communion. As a Roman Catholic, I always smile when we sing Martin Luther’s splendid composition, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
Our imagination need not be limited by liturgical or devotional art. In fact, it may severely limit the possibilities of seeing room for the formation of real communities of friendship. The discotheque, the dance club, or iPod may not seem to be the most obvious place for Christian unity, but this, I think, would be a clear and severe oversight.
For the past ten years, I’ve been playing and performing soul music. Gospel, funk, blues, folk, jazz and all the fusions therein. A Roman Catholic playing a guitar solo during an ecstatic Pentecostal praise and worship service. A Papist planning Lenten liturgy at Peace Lutheran Church in Gahanna, Ohio. Taking the bridge to a “shout chorus” at the club, which is instantly understood and celebrated as being “churchy” and maybe a bit boozy.
Soul music has an entire vocabulary and spirituality, taken primarily from the Black prophetic tradition, that is dripping with ecumenical sweat, ripe for communion. Combining that tradition with Augustine is to, I hope, make some room, to set space aside where the whole can be treated holistically, where art can speak for itself, where sinners can pray together. A gathering.
There is a deep unity in confession. To confess is not only to disclose; it is also to profess, to testify. This album I have composed and would like to record is about that disclosure and testimony. It is born of a Roman Catholic, a son of a Catholic lay evangelist, but it does not belong in my church alone. After all, beauty is always offered in excess, and in that saturation we find the gathering, culture, and unity.
Please, if you are willing and able, I ask for your support in this endeavour to create Augustinian soul music.