Monday, June 09, 2008

A very good read

I just finished another good book. The title is take this bread The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first-century Christian. The authors name is Sara Miles. This is what was written on the back-cover of the book...
Early one morning, for no earthly reason, Sara Miles, raised an atheist, wandered into a church, received communion, and found herself transformed - embracing a faith she'd once scorned. A lesbian left-wing journalist who'd covered revolutions around the world, Miles didn't discover a religion that was about angels or good behavior or piety; her faith centered on real hunger, real food, and real bodies. Before long, she turned the bread she ate at communion into tons of groceries, piled on the church's altar to be given away. Within a few years, she and the people she served had started nearly a dozen food pantries in the poorest parts of their city.
Take This Bread is rich with real-life Dickensian characters - church ladies, millionaires, schizophrenics, bishops, and thieves - all blown into Mile's life by the relentless force of her newfound calling. Here, in this achingly beautiful, passionate book, is the living communion of Christ.

The city she was in is San Francisco. Yes she is a lesbian. Yes she is a Christian. Think about this for a second...what would have happened if the church she wandered into did not allow her to serve? These food pantries would have never been started. You have to read the book to hear her story. I could not do it justice. If you would like to know more about her here is a link to her website.

Here is an excerpt I would like to share from chapter 20...

"The thing about modern fundamentalists is that they think they can control God like a piece of technology and that they're the only ones who have the secret code."

It was a huge relief to me to have a friend who could get beyond conventional discussions about religion. So many of the arguments between left- and right-wing Christians, fundamentalists and Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, seemed to hinge on the idea that their own sect had the correct practice, "the secret code," that would save the followers and make God reward them. That was idolatry, as I saw it: magical thinking, pagan religion. I didn't think God needed humans to practice religion at all: God didn't need to be appeased by sacrifices or offerings or perfectly memorized quotations from the Bible spoken in the right order. God was not manageable.

Human beings might want rituals, but it was dangerous to confuse the rituals with an ultimately unknowable God. That led to crusades, sectarian killings, the casting-out of heretics--in fact, to the murder of Jesus, who dared to challenge the religious authorities with raw truth. "The message of Jesus," Paul told me, mixing a black bean salad, "is the only sure cure for religion."

This was a different way to learn theology: not the solitary reading I'd stumbled through, not the instruction I'd received through sermons. There in the kitchen was the physicality at the heart of the story of Jesus. Listening and sauteing, talking and tasting, feeding friends and eating together: It was a stew of words and acts and food.

And through it, I could sometimes grasp the backward, upside-down reality I'd sensed at Christianty's core: the frightening promise that, as the prayer said, echoing Mary's words, "Things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which have grown old are being made new." This was where I found my faith: a faith expressed in the wild conceit that a help-less, low-caste baby could be God. That ugly, contaminated, and unimportant people embodied holiness. That my own neediness and misfitting, not my goodness or piety, were what God intended to use.

And here, at the pantry, just like Mercedes, like Paul, like Lauren, I was finding a message from God. It said the hunger that had drawn us here was so that we could see what the kingdom of heaven looked like.

Some Christians thought the kingdom was about an afterlife, but I believed it was this world, just as my parents had, in their secular way, insisted so long ago. The kingdom was the same old earth, populated by the same clueless humans, transformed wherever you could glimpse God shining through it.

Some thought it was about judgement, but I believed that in the kingdom, there was no separation of sinners from saved, righteous from damned. The pantry looked like the kingdom to me precisely because we were all thrown in together--a makeshift community so much bigger and more contradictory than any of us would have chosen. But each of us had come just as we were to this Table, drawn, without planning, to the shores of some lake where we'd heard miracles might happen. And we found the kind of abundance described in parables: food for five thousand, money multiplying like manna; oil pouring out profligately and the lamps burning wildly all night long, blazing through the darkness of our lives.

Wow! This book gave me goosebumps. Check it out if you have a chance to.



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