Take this Bread

No doubt, one of the best reads for me in the past two years was Sara Miles’ Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion. I can’t claim it a life changer, but as a memoir of conversion centered at the table of God, it’s a book that’s affirmed for me so much about faith, eucharist and church, and in the most compelling way.

Miles, a left-leaning journalist, political activist and atheist, was not the most likely candidate for conversion to Christian faith, yet stumbling into a celebration of communion in an Episcopal church in San Francisco, Miles found an experience of profound change. In this act of ‘eating Jesus’, she discovered the beginning of a radical turn-around in everything that mattered to her. And nothing in Miles’ life, nor in the life of her congregation, would be the same again.

The beauty of Miles’ book is that this is more, far more, than a story of personal conversion. It’s about the out-working of that conversion in the feeding of the poorest and most marginalized in her home city. It’s the story of food pantries blossomed all over San Francisco, ministries of hospitality that have extended the table of the church far beyond the bounds of the sanctuary. But it’s also an honest story. For the most part, Miles avoids the idealized and overly romantic haze that can surround stories like this and the result is a much more grounded and empowering book for those who read.

In Miles’ words, her story is political as well as personal:

‘At a moment when right-wing American Christianity is ascendant, when religion worldwide is rife with fundamentalism and exclusionary ideological crusades, I stumbled into a radically inclusive faith centered on sacraments and action. What I found wasn’t about angels, or going to church, or trying to be ‘good’ in a pious, idealized way. It wasn’t about arguing a doctrine — the Virgin birth, predestination, the sinfulness of homosexuality and divorce — or pledging blind allegiance to a denomination. I was, as the prophet said, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the poor, the despised and the outcasts are honored.’

It’s a compelling read and I recommend it.

Postscript: more recently Miles has published a sequel, Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead, which I’m still reading. It’s certainly had its accolades. Has anyone read it?

4 Comments

  1. I loved “take this bread” so much that I bought 3 copies to share with friends. I found it compelling as a story of someone without all the churchy baggage who got unexpectedly turned inside out by the gospel story of welcome and hospitality that her whole life was transformed…. I liked Jesus Freak too – especially the bits about healing, which made me think pretty hard – but overall didn’t find it as powerful as Take This Bread. I’d be interested to see what you think about it, Simon.

    Reply

  2. Thanks Bronwen. I’m so glad your response has been the same as mine. I have chatted with others who found it all a yawn. I begin to think my taste in books is a little odd, heartened though that it has sold like hot cakes so we do have company!

    I’ve only read the first chapter of ‘Jesus Freak’ so I’ll let you know when I’m done. Like sequels at the movies, follow-up books must be hard for an author. All that pressure!

    Have a good Sunday!

    Reply

  3. Jesus Freak is interesting where it pushes around the theme of what happens when the institutional church becomes too institutional and tries to take control over the exercise of ministry by its members.

    Reply

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