June 21, 2018

Recommendation and Review: Take This Bread by Sara Miles

miles_bread.jpgA profile of Sara Miles at Religion and Ethics This Week.

Sara Miles.net.

Easily qualifying as the most interesting spiritual memoir I’ve read since Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, Sara Miles’ Take This Bread is an incredible blast of fresh air into the shelves of ever-less-relevant accumulations of prose that pass for Christian writing these days. Take This Bread is a Caponesque book, overflowing with a convert’s discovery of grace and a disciple’s experience of doing what John Wimber called “the stuff the church ought to be doing if Jesus is real.”

Talk about your Purpose-Driven Life! Miles is converted from the most unlikely background. She finds out what a journey with Jesus is like in the company of a collection of left-edge-of-the-church Episcopalians. Her transformation from reluctant convert to innovative servant and subversive gospel grocer is way too much fun to easily put down.

Don’t get near this book if you have a checklist of the usual reasons to be offended. There’s a smattering of bad language, plenty of liberal politics and theology running amuck and, of course, acceptance of actual people without laundering their lifestyles. The author is a former atheist, well-known leftist journalist, lesbian and entirely surprised Christian.

If you review Christian books with an eye to making conservative Christians and their pastors say a happy “amen,” I urge you to save yourself time and ink. Sara Miles’ Christian profession won’t survive your scrutiny and your example will probably upset you. Review another book on the atonement.

This is a book that will offend you, hit you below your theological belt, make you ashamed to call yourself a follower of Christ when you do so little in imitation of him and hopefully motivate you to rethink the connection between Jesus in the Gospels and the Jesus we’re offering to the world. This is theological agitation, a modern day Confessions and a left-coast version of In His Steps, all rolled into one.

Miles has written a book not unlike Capon’s Between Noon and Three; a book that needs a warning for the usual conservative Christian audience, a book that will delight and upset, and a book that will deeply impact a person’s perspective on the Gospel, even with some remaining substantial disagreements.

I’ve been rethinking the meaning of the Lord’s Supper for the past two years, and Miles met me right where I am–connecting God, Passover, Jesus’ ministry table, the Lord’s Supper and the continuing Eucharist in the church. This is a book that validated my hunch that Jesus’ inclusive invitation to eat and the Christian instinct to install boundaries and purity codes are not able to co-exist peacefully. Few Christians will come to every conclusion of Miles and the St. Gregory’s community, but their approach can’t be faulted for inconsistency, or for failing to seriously engage what Jesus means today.

Anyone who has enjoyed the writing of Shane Claiborne or who longs to hear what God is doing off the radar of his spokesmen and editors will love Take This Bread.

Take This Bread is a great book and if you can handle something well outside of the usual safety zone of Christian writing, I recommend it highly.

UPDATE: I want to repeat that if you assume I agree with everything in Miles’ life and faith, you are making a very flawed deduction. I do not endorse homosexual marriage, nor do I find the Apostle’s Creed to be needlessly divisive. There’s a number of areas where wiser people will detect the good news that we all need to continue growing in Christ. But I can’t tell you how powerfully this story reflects a response to the poor that is authentic and true to Jesus in a way that most conservative evangelical churches (and most mainline, not so conservative churches) can’t even conceptualize.

I received a review copy of this book.

Comments

  1. Sounds like another Anne Lamont type–a Christian who is alive and growing, though not in the ways that would be prescribed or even accepted by many. It is good to see that God is limited by what we think and feel.

  2. Rob Rumfelt says:

    O.K. You sold me. I will have to read this book. Only trouble is, my “must read” list is getting way too long!

    Let’s see, there’s “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt” written by a novelist whose career was defined by vampires, “The Shack” by a new writer whose vision of God is rattling some cages, and “The Space Trilogy” a science fiction epic by a former atheist.

    Man, us Christians gotta be careful what we read!

  3. Dear Michael,

    As one who grew up among the Landmark Baptists, I know churches and pastors can run amok ‘fencing the table’. Allowing for this, however, do you truly see no difference between excluding, let’s say, non-members or wrongly baptized believers, and excluding people who are manifestly not Christians, or even worse, people who profess faith but live in gross sin and with no wish to repent of it?

    If you don’t, how do you square your belief with I Corinthians 5:11 and the (near) universal practice of the Church Catholic? Passover and the Last Supper, so far from confirming your hunch seems to me to correct it.

    While I differ from you on this point, I very much appreciate you taking yourself–and your readers–out of our safety zone. Godpseed.

  4. MP: I haven’t articulated a view of the Lord’s Supper, and I never said I agree completely with Miles or her church.

    I’m not going to repeat what I wrote. I see a connection between all these tables, from Passover to eschatological, and Jesus ate with sinners. The difference between the Eucharist in I Cor and the table of Jesus with tax collectors and disciples before the Rez is still an area of study and consideration for me.

    But the concept of restricting the invitational nature of the table can’t trump all the rest of the Biblical material. Anyone could eat at the passover table. Jesus invited the crowds to eat with him. The church is proclaiming Jesus in the LS, not hiding him.

    Somewhere in these various understandings is where I am.

    Please don’t write my theology before I do. 🙂

    peace

    MS

  5. I love your review, Michael–Sara’s book has impacted my wife and I (as well as some other friends) in much the same way, to the point we are brainstorming ways our house church community can throw meal-sharing parties in the way of Jesus, inviting homeless folks and business leaders around a common, nourishing table to share our souls with each other.

    I wanna pre-empt some of the hand-wringing I already see a-brewin’ in some of the comments by people concerned about your connecting the dots between Hebrew feasts, Jesus’ scandalously inclusive meal-sharing practices, Last Supper, Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/Agape feast, and the great eschatological banquets of (say) Isaiah and Revelation. I think your spiritual-theological instincts are dead-on here, and I’m going to martial a rather strange bedfellow for our support.

    See, it’s not just the Capons, Miles’, and Claibornes of the Church who see an inclusive, invitational, sacred meal-sharing at the heart of Christian faith. Conservative house church theologian Eric Svendsen, who I’d venture would be quite uncomfortable with some nuances of Sara’s story, nonetheless has some sharp critiques for those who would close off the Table of the Lord to ‘outsiders.’ Some excerpts:

    “Is the Lord’s Supper to be “protected” from unbelievers? The New Testament setting of the Lord’s Supper itself would seem to preclude anything like a “protected” Supper. The first-century church did not meet in specially designed public buildings call “churches.” They met together—and ate together—primarily in homes. Moreover, the Lord’s Supper was not for them some incidental activity pushed back to the final ten minutes of the meeting once per quarter. It was absolutely central to the church meeting every Lord’s Day, and indeed, it was the very focus of the meeting. Bear in mind that the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament was a full meal, and participation in that meal was the very purpose for meeting together in the first place. In fact, the entire meeting was very likely conducted while at table, and the eating likely lasted throughout the entire meeting. Hence, part of the purpose of the Supper was to share a meal together, especially to provide for (in the words of Paul) “those who have nothing.”

    If, then, during those days “some unbeliever walk[ed] in” per Paul’s scenario in 1 Cor 14:23-25, or if some unbelieving spouse decided to accompany a believing spouse to the meeting—and brought their young children along as well—imagine the awkwardness of the church as they partook of a meal together around a table and instructed the unbelievers and children to sit at the table with them but refrain from joining in the meal; the members of the church dine sumptuously, while their children and spouses look on with hunger. Such a scenario is absurd on its face, particularly in light of Paul’s teaching that the children and unbelieving spouse of a believer are “sanctified,” “clean,” and “holy” by virtue of the believing spouse (1 Cor 7:14). Whatever the direct application is of that principle, it seems fair to apply it to this case as well.”

    Svendsen says plenty more, right here. In fact if you look at the right-hand column of his ‘blog, he has a rather extensive multipart series on the Lord’s Supper as practices in the 1st and 2nd centuries and its ramifications for today. While his anti-Catholicism and heavy-handed ‘apologetics’ style in other parts of his blog isn’t my cup of tea, I think this series of his is quite excellent.

  6. Of course, I should marshal for support, rather than martial. Sigh.

  7. Rob, you haven’t read Out of Egypt yet? Don’t you know that Road to Cana, the second in the Christ the Lord series, has been released? 😛

  8. “Somewhere in these various understandings is where I am.”

    Two thousand years later and we are still “Somewhere in these various understandings”. Does that reflect on us or the Word or both? Let the world alone then, because they are already “Somewhere in these various understandings”.

    The average evangelical church observes the Lord’s Supper once a quarter due to time restrictions, it is usually given to everyone present with or without a warning/explanation, and is well organized to fit quickly in the Sunday morning format. I wouldn’t call that “various” much less even an “understanding”.

    The aerobics class gets more pub than communion.

  9. Through the books you’ve been endorsing, it seems to me you’re leaning more and more in Sara’s direction. Are you seeing things more and more from a liberal perspective, or is that just me?

  10. As I said in a previous post, I have agreed to review books for a major web site, and I review what they send me. Not my choice. So about half the books you see on here are books that are sent to me without prior knowledge. The other half are either books I buy or books I agree to review after an advance request. I would not review some of these books if I had been asked in advance, even if I liked them later.

    Sara Miles may be called a liberal, but her obedience to Jesus is “fundamentalist.” I said I didn’t agree with everything in the book, and if you can provide a more specific definition of liberal, I’ll make specific responses. As a post-evangelical, I believe there are areas of value from all corners of the church.

  11. Returning to Jesus’ own version of the table doesn’t seem to be a liberal move. Changing what Jesus intended as open invitation to members only might be of more concern, I think.

    Other than Miles, what has been a “liberal” book? Bruxy Cavey?

  12. I can hardly wait to get this book. It’s probably not “normal,” but I truly like to be offended by what others write. It causes my heart to grapple anew with what I perceive to be “truth” and see if I really have any ground to stand on. Often I don’t; sometimes I do. I quote from Capon’s book just today on my blog, and concerning “truth,” so it was timely to see this post and the various comments posted here.

  13. bookdragon says:

    At the start of a Passover meal, it is required to open the door and call out, inviting *all* who are hungry to come and eat. It’s one of the moments I love most in the Seder.

    But somehow humans just can’t seem to handle grace. I sometimes think whole history of religious movements that last long enough to become institutions can generally be summed up as ‘people building fences where God opened doors’.

  14. I’m sold. Thanks for reviewing books that shake things up a bit. I agree that we can (and probably should) read books written by people with whom we have some disagreements. When I’ve read such books, I have walked away with a greater sense of the full Body of Christ.

  15. Why is there no room for brokenness after coming to Jesus? Are we still sold on the revivalist notion that Jesus cures all our ills in one easy-to-swallow dosage? Come to Jesus, and all your problems are solved? I just watched the recent PBS special about Johnny Cash. He struggled throughout his life with various addictions and failures, but held on to his faith. The program really gave him a lot of respect. Success-based, create-your-own-utopia thinking is what the scientologists are now pushing. I think the world sees it all as a fraud (no matter who is peddling it) and desparately wants an alternative. I see someone in need of forgiveness everytime I look in the mirror. I also dimly see the One in whose image the Holy Spirit is creating me through His good work. It might do us good to look for that same image being formed in others, rather than always first searching out the flaws. Is that liberalism?

  16. Steve Rowe says:

    Putting Sara Miles and Fleming Rutledge back to back is fascinating check out this link to one of Ms. Miles sermons.

    http://www.saintgregorys.org/Liturgy/Sermons/AudioFile/061008-1030-miles.mp3

    I thank God that my church (Anglican/Episcopalian) is big enough for both of them. I would be delighted to have Sara in my church asking tough questions in Sunday school and running the food bank (She would make an excellent deacon) but I am not sure someone with such heterodox theology and irregular life style should be in the pulpit. By the way I think my own funny theology and screwed up personal life disqualify me for leadership as well (if you don’t know where you are going how you can lead?). On the other hand I would be delighted to submit to the leadership of a woman like Rev. Rutledge.

  17. Hi Michael, I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s book about her own spiritual experience and I guess it is similar to this book. She tells her life like it is, raw and blunt, yet funny and genuine. The bad words and bad experiences only amplify the conversion and Christ’s undeserved kindness. Just very refreshing to see how God works beyond our little boxes. Also it is good to go above the name calling and labelling and just see Jesus and His working on people.

  18. Mort Chien says:

    I read some of the interviews on Sara’s website. See http://saramiles.net/interviews/3 for an interesting one. Time will tell whether or not she leaves her gay lifestyle behind. I do not see that that makes her any worse than anyone else, but it does raise problems if her growth in sanctification leaves this area untouched.

    -mort

  19. We aren’t going to discuss Miles’ sexual preference in this thread. Point made well. Thanks.

  20. Just so you know, I wasn’t trying to pin you to the wall. I’m just genuinely curious — I remember the “I Like John Piper” days of IM. It seems like your perspective has shifted a bit over the years.

    I don’t have a specific definition of “liberal” for you. I’m only 23. The reason I used the word is that I read some of the material at Sara Miles’ personal site, and it sounded a lot like the late 19th-century liberal movement I read about in Bible college — heavy emphasis on social justice, reduced emphasis on Scripture (she describes Paul as her favorite misogynistic, homophobic apostle), and universalistic.

    I know the word “liberal” is charged with rhetorical heat these days, so perhaps I should have used a different one.

  21. One o- the things that’s negative about book reviews is that in the re-ormed world the rules are pretty clear: you can’t like a book by someone with serious theological problems.

    O- course, reading “about” liberals or reading “selected” liberals is di–erent -rom reading actual people, and especially di–erent -rom human beings and a living -aith.

    You’ve mentioned some o- the things that might disturb some readers- though if someone labels “social justice” as a reason to be concerned would be o– base -rom a lot of perspectives.

    I’m not an apologist -or Miles, but she’s not trained in theology, and there’s a lot she doesn’t know about Paul.

    The emphasis on scripture, however, is where I have to di–er. There’s a very signi-icant and in-luential emphasis on scripture at every level.

    One of my -avorite parts of the book is a conversation she has with a KJV Only conservative Baptist, and they simply quote scripture to each other and go no -urther than that. It’s a moment I’d like to see repeated a lot.

    As I said, I liked the book, liked her discovery of Jesus and was absolutely shamed by her obedience to Jesus’ Kingdom vision. Compared to the endless debate about theological points only theologians can comprehend, it was wonderfully simple.

    peace

    MS

  22. The “I Like Piper” days.

    Well, I still like Piper and have his books on my shelf. I just gave 10 of his books to my chapel preachers.

    But while it is safe to say my opinion has changed, I’d say Piper has changed as well.

    But I am not an enemy or angry critic of John Piper.

    I have great respect for him on many, many fronts.

  23. Richard says:

    Another new feature of IMonk’s new style theology is his newfound enthusiasm for avoiding the letter “f” at all costs (simply replacing it with a modest -). Good for him. Honestly, using the letter “f”, a innocent practice in itself, just might lead to using words that begin with “F”… and I think we can all see the dangers of that.

    Seriously, thanks for the review, Michael. The book’s on my list and, yes, it looks like I will be offended by some of it. Excellent!

  24. Explanation:

    There’s a bug in this version of WordPress that acts up occasionally….and the bug is that I can’t publish anything with the letter F in it. That comment had the bug, so I decided to keep the post and lose the “f’s.”

  25. The “ph” in emfasis sounds just like the letter “f” and it was included. For shame!

  26. Sounds like a very interesting book and I am going to be getting a copy. Since you seem to be very interested in the meaning and practice behind the Lord’s Supper etc. I would like to recommend a book to you that is one of the books I am reading in my Sacraments class in my MA in Catholic Theology program. It is called the “Hidden Manna” 2nd ed. by Fr. James T. O’Connor. Gives a fascinating study of the Eucharist from the beginning through all the arguments throughout history to the present day. Here is one of my favorite quotes from this book, “the Eucharistic appearances are themselves the boundary between the visible and invisible orders of creation, the horizon at which earthly time and the everlasting aeon of the blessed touch. The appearances are the window whose far side holds ‘what God has prepared for those who love him.’ (1 Cor 2:9).” Also if you get a chance check out my new blog at theophilusmonk.wordpress.com, Michael you have been an inspiration to me over the past few years so I wish you nothing but the best and God’s Peace to you!

  27. I agree with accepting those who are marginalized, but I don’t think that means we ought to accept people as they are, or rather we should not be content with allowing people stay where they are. God has not left me as a child, he has not left me as a suicidally depressed 7th grader, and he has not left me hopeless. He has challenged me re-think my behaviors and alter my lifestyle in a lot of ways. Some of those ways I have rethought and grown up in as well, knowing that there is a line between holiness and legalism. I suppose my principle gripe with Miles’ is that it seems she would be content leaving sin well enough alone, or at least certain sin that masks itself as a “but-this-is-who-I-am” statement. There is a place for messiness, sure, but there’s far more room for a vibrant, unmuddled Life.

  28. Great review – I’ll be getting the book soon.

    An unrelated request, since I didn’t see any other way to leave it: could you look into the possibility of having Permalink functionality with the blog? I would love to share specific posts with friends and family, but there’s no easy way to do that right now. I don’t like cutting and pasting, because 1) it doesn’t encourage people to read more of you and 2) the formatting is always screwed up.

    Back to reading and lurking…

  29. Rob Rumfelt says:

    Scott M,

    No, I haven’t read “Out of Egypt” yet. Finally getting around to it. By waiting so long, I have the advantage of reading “Road to Cana” right after!

  30. Post titles are permalinks.

  31. I think the idea of hospitality in eating with others who are non-Christians is a biblical imperative and I whole-heartedly embrace that. However, The Passover meal was just for circumcised that no outsider was to eat (Exodus 12:43). In the same way, no one should take the Eucharist except those baptized into the community. It is also the instruction of the Didache “But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord.” (Didache 9)

    They had a similar policy in Jonathan Edwards church and he tried to change it, and that is part of the reason he was kicked out. It may sound nice, but is dangerous ground as one who does not decern the body “drinks judgment on himself.” 1 Cor 11:29

    I think there are evangelistic tools out there that do not require us to open the eucharistic table.

  32. Jared,

    Good summary argument, but I am curious if you can articulate how a restricted eucharistic table relates to Jesus’ meals during his ministry.

    Also, I need to research this, but it’s my understanding that Jewish passover liturgy includes a call for all to come and eat.

    I wouldn’t argue with you or anyone that Christian practice has been to restrict the table, but I don’t have an RC view of tradition 🙂

    peace

    MS

  33. Here’s a good quote summarizing the early Syrian Church’s inclusive stance on sharing the Eucharist. I think as we dig through the Gospels, the New Testament, and Church history, we might find that a more authentically conservative retrieval of (the best of) Tradition supports Jesus’ scandalous grace and outpoured love.

  34. Ok, almost a year later, I am now reading Sara’s book. I am absolutely amazed. Sara describes communion and its connection to the Christian life in a way that I have longed to hear for years. She uses phrases like “mystified”, “speechless”, and being reduced to tears. If more evangelicals would get it like she does, I don’t think communion would be relegated to a quarterly event or rushed through after the sermon.

    Is she perfect? You know, in the lifetime I have been a Christian or even during the 29 years since I made a “decision” for Christ, I sure thought I would be a lot closer myself. I sure thought I would be less of a jerk by now. Sara is real. That may be the one thing that pretentious evangelicals will find offensive about her. It is amazing to me that after seeing the darkest side of Christianity that she could still be embraced by Christ.