Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (reviewed October 2007)

Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (2007). [*****] A friend and member of my congregation read this memoir recently, and loved it so much she ordered a bunch of copies to hand out to all of us involved in "outreach" ministries (at my church, this includes a homeless shelter, a food and clothing cupboard, and a day camp and after school program for inner-city kids). Sarah Miles is the daughter of lapsed Christians who, along with my dad, I would describe as "born-again, fundamentalist atheists." She grew up (as I did) in a completely secular, leftist world, and as a young adult became very involved as a journalist and activist in the revolutionary wars in Central America in the 80's. She also at various times supported herself as a restaurant cook. Sometime after the birth of her daughter, having settled with her partner in San Francisco, she stumbles for no apparent reason into an Episcopal church, receives communion, and falls into a radical conversion to Christianity that freaks her out, along with everyone else in her life. The Eucharist being the central metaphor of her new faith, she comes to feel deeply called to feed people (a not altogether new experience, having spent a lot of her life cooking for others), and she goes on to start a food pantry at her church, and then several more pantries all over San Francisco. I loved this book for many reasons. While my own conversion to Christianity is different in many ways from Miles's, her story echoes many of the themes in my own experience, especially in the centrality of the Eucharist and of Jesus's call to "feed my sheep," and this summation of her faith: Christianity "wasn't an argument I could win, or even resolve. It wasn't a thesis. It was a mystery that I was finally willing to swallow." I love any story that counters the hegemony of the Christian right in our cultural understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I love how unsentimental she is about the poor, how honest she is about church politics, how willing she is to show her own warts. Miles is not only someone who has something important to say, but who says it well, with lovely, concrete descriptions full of details and the "stuff" of life – especially food and its fixing. Her writing very much reflects her incarnational faith and her deep need to feed and be fed.

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