Sam Rocha (Youtube)

Sam Rocha has commented on religion, politics and education in online venues like Vox Nova, First Things and Patheos Catholic since the early 2000s. Tell Them Something Beautiful collects in one volume Rocha’s best short essays and online reflections from the Obama presidency. Whether lamenting political discourse, calling for an end to compulsory schooling or upending kitschy holiness, Rocha aims to please and disappoint both right and left, a good sign for thoughtful Christians.

Tell Them Something Beautifulby Samuel D. Rocha

Cascade Books. 244p $49

Tell Them Something Beautiful is divided into four sections with titles like “Discontents and Diagnosis” (which predicts the Trump presidency) and “The Ordo Amoris” (about the unsentimental politics of love), to name two. These divisions call attention to how Rocha’s main concerns overlap and also demonstrate his renaissance dexterity as a thinker, musician and teacher. These thematic overlaps also remind us that who we are, what we believe and how we learn are inextricably linked to our universal call to holiness.

Rocha is most persuasive when discussing education and schooling. The U.S. educational system, Rocha argues, fails to educate persons in their ensouled totality. His writing on education deftly exposes how American politics, art, capitalist economics and liturgy affect the way we relate to each other and how we relate to God. At the same time, no reader would come away thinking Rocha a dry and pious academic. From Mexican food to Pope Francis, one of the most delightful benefits from reading this collection is constant surprise over to whom or what he chooses to grant loving irreverence or critical praise.

From Mexican food to Pope Francis, one of the most delightful benefits of reading Sam Rocha is constant surprise over to whom or what he chooses to grant loving irreverence or critical praise.

The collection is not without its frustrations. Tedious sentences may pass online, but one wonders if careless editing was intended for the sake of fidelity to the slapdashery of blogs. But this is a minor quibble considering Rocha’s unwillingness to cater to preconceived news feeds in his writing.

Reading such a capacious mind at work reminds us how beautiful it is to witness someone fully live into their vocation. Rocha is called to write and does so with a principled degree of honesty, profundity and humor. Or, to use the author’s own descriptor, funk.

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