I’ve loved the last few books by James K.A. Smith (You Are What You Love, How (Not) to be Secular, and his trio of cultural liturgy books). He combines church history, movies, music, philosophy, theology, cultural references, apologetics, and the Christian life in a way that connects the disconnected. He pushes you to think and feel. In On the Road with Augustine, Smith uses Augustine’s writings (particularly The Confessions) and life to help us navigate 21st century life.
Both Augustine and Smith prove to be trustworthy travel partners. Together, they help us think through our longings and desires in a realm of issues (freedom, ambition, sex, friendship, mothers, fathers, friendship, enlightenment, justice, story, and death). It’s an apologetic offering rest to the restless in the same source Augustine found rest: Jesus. While some of Smith’s best material is too lengthy to put here, I’ve provide a few of my favorite quotes from the book.
“The Christian gospel, for Augustine, wasn’t just the answer to an intellectual question (though it was that); it was more like a shelter in a storm, a port for a wayward soul, nourishment for a prodigal who was famished, whose own heart had become, he said, ‘a famished land.’ (18)
“For Augustine, psychology is cartography: to understand oneself is a matter of mapping our penchant to look for love in all the wrong places.” (11)
“Where we rest is a matter of what and how we love. Our restlessness is a reflection of what we try to ‘enjoy’ as an end in itself—what we look to as a place to land. The heart’s hunger is infinite, which is why it will ultimately be disappointed with anything merely finite.” (13)
“Humans are those strange creatures who can never be fully satisfied by anything created—though that never stops us from trying.” (13)
“Angst’s disturbing disclosure of meaninglessness is a door to walk through: it opens onto the possibility of finding yourself. Not-at-home-ness could be the place from which you finally hear the call to be yourself.” (41)
“The question is whether this tension of the between becomes a catalyst for pilgrimage—prompting me, like Abraham, to answer the call and “Go!”—or whether I try to decamp in that distant country, turning my exile into arrival, suppressing my sense that there must be something more, that another shore is calling. For Augustine, so much of our restlessness and disappointment is the result of trying to convince ourselves that we’re already home. The alternative is not escapism; it is a refugee spirituality—unsettled yet hopeful, tenuous but searching, eager to find the hometown we’ve never been to.” (50)
“The desire for grace is the first grace. Coming to the end of your self-sufficiency is the first revelation.” (67)
“Grace is freedom. But the paradox (or irony)—especially to those of us conditioned by the myth of autonomy, who can imagine freedom only as freedom from—is that this gracious infusion of freedom comes wrapped in the gift of constraint, the gift of the law, a command that calls us into being.” (70)
“Our idolatries are less like conscious decisions to believe a falsehood and more like learned dispositions to hope in what will disappoint. Our idolatries are not intellectual; they are affective—instances of disordered love and devotion. Idolatry is caught more than it is taught. We practice our way into idolatries, absorb them from the water in which we swim. Hence our idolatries often reflect the ethos of our environments.” (82)
“It’s the hunger for an orienting narrative that our culture industries tap into. Whether it’s Disney or HBO, HGTV or Instagram, they’re all myth-making, which is just to say they are offering scripts we can live into.” (163)
“Every child looking for an absent, distant father is on the road to cover up a deeper desire: that such a father would come looking for them—that the arrow of hunger would be reversed and the father would return. Because then we would know he was thinking about us, looking for us, loving us. What to make of this father hunger other than a deep longing to be seen and known by the One who made us?” (199)