As a lesbian, left-winger, who was raised by atheists, author and journalist, Sara Miles, saw herself as the most unlikely of converts to Christianity. Then one day, for no earthly reason she could pinpoint other than sheer curiosity, she found herself walking into St. Gregory's Episcopal Church in San Francisco. There she was welcomed to receive a bite of bread and a sip of wine, and after that, her life would never be the same again. That small act of sharing food at the Lord's Table transformed her in ways she never could have imagined. As someone who had worked in a professional capacity as a chef and who had also shared food with strangers in far-off and oftentimes dangerous lands during her time as an overseas reporter, this act of sharing food spoke to her on a deeper level. Soon she was reading the Bible and being inspired by Jesus's words to "feed his sheep." This led her, through sheer persistence and determination, to open a food pantry at the church where all were welcomed no matter what. The people she met in her work there continued to transform and inspire her on a weekly basis. That along with her passion for the project allowed her to minister to them in beautiful and meaningful ways. Take This Bread is her story of this inspiring journey.
I've had Sara Miles's book Jesus Freak on my TBR list for a while, but I ended up picking up Take This Bread instead to participate in a book club at the new church I'm attending. Ms. Miles has an easy-to-read writing style that I enjoyed, but even more so than that, I appreciated many of the things she writes about. When I started reading it, I wasn't entirely sure if I would, because I'm not a foodie, while the author most definitely is. I'm lucky to manage a boxed dinner or a simple meal like spaghetti, while she's worked in a professional capacity as a chef. Also some of the early parts of the book are about her time as a journalist in Central America during the Nicaraguan civil war, Iran-Contra, etc. These parts were still interesting and I remember some of these events from watching the news as a child, but I had a hard time relating to her adventurousness that even had her getting shot at while pregnant. I admired her for her pluck and grit, but somehow, I couldn't imagine putting myself in those kinds of circumstances. I also have to admit that during these parts I was a little anxious to get to the main gist of the book, which is her conversion story and subsequent feeding of the poor. However, I will admit that all of Ms. Miles's experiences were seamlessly tied into these latter events in her life and all were part of her spiritual journey.
The author describes herself as the most unlikely of converts: left-wing, lesbian, raised by devout atheists, disdainful of "religious nuts." Then one day, for no reason she could discern other than sheer curiosity, she walked into St. Gregory's Episcopal Church, received communion, and had a deeply spiritual experience that changed her forever. I have to admit that I was perhaps a little jealous of this, wondering why I've never experienced an epiphany or some wildly spiritual sense of God while receiving communion. But I wasn't the only one. Others in my book club felt the same way, and some of them think that it might have something to do with us having been in church all our lives, so the sacraments aren't a big deal to us, just a normal every-Sunday part of service. I also started thinking about it and realized that God can speak to us in a myriad of ways that are as different as the individual themselves. If we have an open heart, he meets us where we are and can use our life's experiences to help us experience Him. For Ms. Miles, food had always been a big part of her life, from her time working as a cook to sharing strange and sometimes meager food with the people she met on her journeys as a journalist, so it would be natural for communion to affect her differently.
That sharing of bread with strangers around the Lord's Table at St. Gregory's eventually morphed into a desire to feed other strangers, and that's when the author began working to start a food pantry at the church. This is the part that really resonated with me in several ways. First, the way Ms. Miles runs the food pantry is almost unheard of. She requires no proof of need, no proof of residency, no social security number, no signature... Nothing! Just like she was welcomed at the Lord's Table without regard for her spiritual background, so she welcomed others to the pantry. All they had to do was come and the church would provide free food. Yes, they occasionally ran into problems but worked them out as they came up, and ultimately, the author felt that even a few people "gaming the system" was worth it to get food into hungry bellies. She treated the people who came like human beings, worthy of respect and dignity. In turn, many of them became friends and volunteers at the pantry.
This is where I was also deeply struck by the fact that Ms. Miles welcomed everyone to help out regardless of who they were. Despite this essentially being a faith-based organization, there was no litmus test for volunteering. Race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, disability... None of it mattered! Everyone was on equal footing and welcomed into the group. In fact, very few church members were volunteers at the pantry. Most came from the neighborhood, and for many, it empowered them by allowing them to give back in a way that they wouldn't be able to otherwise due to a lack of finances. As a result of this outpouring of love into the community, Ms. Miles was able to minister not only to hungry people, but to many hurting people as well. Despite not being a trained priest, she was able to pray with people, bless them, give them hope when their own churches, families, friends, etc. had failed them or they were going through terrible circumstances. She even officiated at a wedding.
As Christians, we're taught that every person is made in the image of God, but I think, all too often, we tend to forget that, especially when faced with someone who is "other." By that I mean that they don't line up with our own image of what a person should be, because they have a different skin color, cultural background, religious beliefs, political beliefs, gender, or sexual orientation, or because they have a disability, drug addiction, or criminal record, or because they're poor or maybe even homeless. I could go on and on with the ways in which we have a tendency to judge others, but something Take This Bread has challenged me to do is to not look at those things that make us different, but to always look for the little piece of God in every person. I think if more people took the time to do that, we could genuinely change the world and really make a difference. The other thing that stunned me about this book is the amount of wastefulness that is present in the US. I've always known that we're a profligate country, but the amount of food that's going in the garbage or getting plowed under by farmers, when people are starving on the streets is absolutely shameful. I try very hard to be careful not to waste things, but after reading this book, I'll try even harder. Again, if more people did this, I think we could make our world a much better place. So for these reasons and many others, I found Take This Bread to be an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, and after a great first experience with Sara Miles's writing, I'll definitely be checking out her other books.
Note: This book contains some profanity, which readers might not expect from a Christian book and which may offend some. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the author is a lesbian, and she does talk a little about her home life with her partner and daughter, so if this offends, it might not be the book for you.
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