Wednesday, August 20, 2008

discussing Take This Bread

Discussion taking place at The Exponent.

[If you have not yet read Take This Bread, excerpts can be read here here and here, and an additional essay by Miles can be read here.]

“ ‘Oh God of abundance,’ I began, ‘you feed us every day. Rise in us now, make us into your bread, that we may share your gifts with a hungry world, and join in love with all people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ ” -pg 247

This was one of the prayers offered by Sara, one she specially wrote for use at the Food Pantry where her and her volunteers distribute free groceries to upwards of three hundred people once a week. I think the main reason it caught my eye as I read it this time around, was that it is reminded me very much of a prayer Bart Erhman described in his book God’s Problem. For Bart, the doctrine of a God who feeds people became proof that there is no God because millions of people starve every day. For Sara, the doctrine of a God who feeds people became the knowledge that God was asking for her help, because millions of people starve every day.

I hardly know where to begin with this book, there are so many themes and things written in it that just stop me in my tracks, I can hardly refrain from just blurting out “oh, did you read this part?” and “I LOVE what she said here” and “this quote just blows me away!”

So, actually… I’m gonna just blurt stuff out here:

I LOVE Sara’s doctrine of inclusion that welcomes everyone to the (sacramental) table;
“As I interpreted it, Jesus invited notorious wrongdoes to his table, airily discarding all the religious rules of the day, and fed whoever showed up, by the thousands. In the end, he was murdered for eating with the wrong people.” –pg 92

I am profoundly humbled by her belief that you cannot be Christian by your self,
“I was going to get communion, whether I wanted it or not, with people I didn’t necessarily like… the people God chose for me.” –pg 97 The atheist, the Buddhist, the wealthy liberal church member who doesn’t want the Food Pantry interfering with ‘church’, the schizophrenic, the hopeless drug addict, the homophobic evangelical, the sexual deviant (as she occasionally refers to herself) … all part of God’s flesh, the body that we are a part of.

Her take on the Holy Scriptures is delightful to me; “ ‘The Word of God,’ [Donald] said, ‘is what’s heard by the people of God when the Bible is read.’ That meant the Word was living not because it was magical but because over and over, down the centuries, believers wrestled with texts, adapted them, edited them, interpreted them, swallowed them whole an spat them out. The stories in the Bible were records of human attempts to understand God- attempts that were hopelessly incomplete. But through words and acts, we kept trying.” –pg 172

One of my favorite parts, the one lodged in the back of my mind like a seed, is when Sara takes a vial of rosemary scented oil to the Food Bank and shyly goes around asking the workers there if they wanted a blessing. A special anointing, a ‘blessing of the hands’ that she thought up just for the occasion. Dipping her thumb in the oil, making the sign of the cross upon the palm of whoever said yes, giving a little prayer. As they all go about their work of feeding the poor. The imagery is one I just cannot shake.

I was sometimes uncomfortable with her ‘new convert’ fervor, slipping scriptural phrases into conversations with her atheist partner, self-righteously strong-arming her new church community into the good-works sector using the guilt card (“it’s what Jesus would do if he were here”). And my heart hurt a little bit when she shared the account of the young girl, obviously abused, who wanted baptism; ‘…the water God puts on you to make you safe…’ It was a beautiful, intimate ordinance, as Sara and Lynn (the female minister) washed and anointed this girl (pg 237)… but I found my self thinking, aching; does she think this will protect her? Did they explain well enough to that beaten abused child that the water and the oil won’t keep her from getting hit (or worse)?

I could go on and on… (the politics of food, the ordination of women and homosexuals, the wars within religious communities and between different factions of Christians, same-sex marriage, the spirituality of sharing food and of the dinner table, etc…) but I’ll stop now.

However, I’m hoping you will go on, I’m dying to know what you thought of the book!

What did you think of Sara’s conversion, of her experiences at St Gregory’s, of her radical politics and her unconventional education, of her work with the Food Pantries and her unorthodox gospel?
What parts were memorable, which were uncomfortable?
What similarities do you see between Sara’s beliefs and experience and your own?
Anything else that I am not asking but you want to share, please feel free.

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