Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chapter 24 Sharing Jesus

After a couple of years of working for St. Gregory's food pantry, Sara Miles describes how her sense of mission changed. "My only sense of "mission" now was to show others that they, too, could feed and touch and heal and love, without fear. To catch them up in the desire to see more, taste more, without caring if they got a doctrine right or became a regular at my church. To get them walking, without the safety net of ritual correctness, along the path that Jesus blazed and to share the feast of their lives with others." (266)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chapter 24 Containing God

"When it came right down to it, the God that I'd found was a God who lived on earth, who knew what it was like to walk around in a body, fight with religious authorities, hurt his mother's feelings. "We walk the road, Lord Jesus, that you trod," went one of my favorite hymns." (264)

"And rather than protecting me and sealing me off in a community of shared doctrine and rules, this truth thrust me into the wildness of faith. I didn't need a creed to artificially connect me with other believers: It was the ragged vastness of our different spiritual lives that pointed, for me, to a larger force. It made me even more of a believer to accept that none of us, fundamentalist or radical or orthodox, Muslim or Jew or Christian, could adequately sum God up." (264-5)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Chapter 24 The Cost of Faith

There are many different costs when it comes to believing and following the way of Jesus. Sara Miles describes some of her battles with understanding the costs of faith after her conversion. One of the hardest things to come to terms with was how very much alike we all are in the body of Christ. "Christianity, if it was all I'd come to believe, demanded that I understand exactly how like everyone else I was. And it was this realization that would not go away, even as I battled with the costs of faith." (262)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Take This Bread Book Study Discussion

After a few months of reading Take This Bread by Sara Miles, we will be gathering for discussion about the book and the questions that have been online next Sunday, August 27th, at 9:00 am in St. John's Parish Hall. I hope you will join us!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Chapter 23 Who is God?

One of the biggest religious questions of all time is simply a question of identity: who is God? Every one who lives into a spiritual life asks this question, or a similar form of it, at some point along their journey. 

""I don't have the slightest idea what God is like, really," preached Rick. "All I know is what I see God doing, in my own life and in the lives of the people around me."" (257-8)

How would you describe who God is?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Chapter 23 Christian Fighting

Sadly, Sara Miles found that there was a lot of push back against her idea of having food pantry on Sundays. She was surprised and disappointed, though she fought hard for her idea. 

It is surprising to many people how much Christians fight among themselves, and on a wide variety of topics. In the last ten years, Episcopalians have fought themselves on every level, in congregations, in dioceses, in provinces, in the national General Convention, in the Anglican Communion. 

"The endless fights among the faithful had prompted Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, to write that "unity is a gospel imperative when we recognize that it opens us to change, to conversion: when we realize how our life with Christ is somehow bound up with our willingness to abide with those we think are sinful, and those we think are stupid."" (255)

""In plain words," as the archbishop said, "unity is a gospel imperative to just the extent that we find it hard."" (256)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Chapter 23 Sunday Dinner

Among her ideas to expand the reach of the food pantry, Sara Miles wants to start a food pantry on Sunday afternoons at St. Gregory's. She was hoping that people would come for church and lunch and volunteer at the food pantry as an outpouring of love from Sunday morning. "I believed the food pantry represented the best of St. Gregory's practices and values: its openness, its inclusion, its beauty, and its invitation to participate in creating something together." (251)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chapter 22 Abundance

Sara Miles had written a prayer for the food pantry, which was sung every week with the Lord’s Prayer. It went like this: “O God of abundance, you feed us every day. Rise in use 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.” (247)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Chapter 22 Multiplying the Loaves

Unfortunately in San Francisco, the poverty situation is in a place where even being open every week and having opened 9 other food pantries, St. Gregory’s was still having to turn away people at the end of the day because they didn’t have any more food. Then something big happened.

“Then I saw the news: St. Gregory’s Pantry was awarded two hundred thousand dollars. We were going to get an escrow account, disbursed at twenty thousand dollars a year for ten years, because “St. Gregory’s Pantry has a tiny operating budget and no staff, but it has accomplished great things.”” (245)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Chapter 21 Baptism

One of the children who started coming to the food pantry started asking Sara Miles about the baptismal font outside the back of the church. Explaining baptism to this girl made her think about baptism in a new way. “Baptism, if it signified anything, signified the unavoidable reality of the cross at the heart of the Christian faith. It wasn’t a magic charm but a reminder of God’s presence in the midst of unresolved human pain.” (236)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chapter 21 Matrimony

When the state of California allowed gay couples to get married, Sara found herself in a position to be able to get married. Her partner and herself agreed, and got married at the courthouse. However, the next day, St. Gregory's had a blessing and celebration for them and a few other couples. 

“A year later, Mercedes would hand me an envelope at the food pantry, apologizing that it had taken her so long to give us an appropriate wedding present. “Sara y Marta,” she’d written on the greeting card, which was in flowery Spanish and featured embossed, entwined gold bands. Inside, Mercedes had tucked a Western Union money order for two hundred dollars, which she’d put aside, week by week, from her housecleaning wages. “Your holy matrimony and true love,” she’d printed carefully at the bottom of the card, “is a gift from God.” I cried as I read over the prayer from the marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer. It had new meaning for me. “Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world,” the prayer said, “that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.”” (235)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Chapter 21 Rites

Healing happened at the food pantry, without any doctors, nurses, or priests. Many came and were healed through the love and prayer they received.

“I didn’t believe in miracles. And yet I had begun to believe in healing. I saw that you could be changed, opened to experiencing your life differently, made more whole, even as your body was falling apart. That you could be healed from fear by touch, even when you remained sick.” (231)

When have you experienced healing?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Chapter 20 Reframing

Sara’s friend Steve would visit from seminary sometimes and enjoy the simplicity of the food pantry. While other people see the food pantry as helping people, the volunteers saw it as community building. “”Like, its not about doing charity for poor people. We’re bringing people together to share food and praise God. What else do you want? That’s church.” “That’s communion,” I said. “Jesus’s Table.”” (223)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Chapter 20 Cooking with My Brother II

Sara Miles and the priest Paul Fromberg start cooking lunch for the volunteers every week. They cooked real food, and a wide variety of it, and while they did they talked about everything. One of their conversations was about the Virgin Mary.

""Right. Here's the radical thing about Mary: She doesn't need a man to have a baby. Her virginity means that her womb belongs to her." "And that she's willing to be taken over," I said, reaching for a spoon. "To let God move in her and not know what's gonna happen next." "Exactly," said Paul. "The thing about modern fundamentalists is that they think they can control God like a piece of technology and that they're the only ones who have the secret code." It was a huge relief to me to have a friend who could get beyond conventional discussions about religion. So many of the arguments between left- and right-wing Christians, fundamentalists and Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, seemed to hinge on the idea that their own sect had the correct practice, "the secret code," that would save the followers and make God reward them. That was idolatry, as I saw it: magical thinking, pagan religion. I didn't think God needed humans to practice religion at all: God didn't need to be appeased by sacrifices or offerings or perfectly memorized quotations from the Bible spoken in the right order. God was not manageable. Human beings might want rituals, but it was dangerous to confuse the rituals with an ultimately unknowable God. That led to crusades, sectarian killings, the casting-out of heretics -- in fact, to the murder of Jesus, who dared to challenge the religious authorities with raw truth. "The message of Jesus," Paul told me, mixing a black bean salad, "is the only cure for religion."" (221)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Episcopal Sacraments

In Chapter 21, Sara Miles talks about the different sacraments and sacramental rites of the Episcopal Church and how they were translated into the life and community of the food pantry. The Episcopal Church recognizes two Sacraments: Baptism and Eucharist. Along with the Sacraments, the Episcopal Church recognizes five sacramental rites, which means they are like sacraments, yet not with the same kind of necessity. The Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer puts it this way, "Although they are means of grace, they are not necessary for all persons in the same way that Baptism and the Eucharist are." (BCP 860)

The sacramental rites include confirmation, ordination, matrimony, reconciliation, and unction. As you can see, not everyone is called to ordination, not everyone is called to matrimony. Yet, we recognize these rites as ways in which people experience God and God's grace. The Catechism doesn't leave it just to those seven ways though. One of the questions it asks and answers is "Is God's activity limited to these rites?" The answer is a resolute no. "God does not limit himself to these rites; they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us." (BCP 861)

Sara Miles finds all of them are part of the life of the food pantry in different ways. Where do you see these sacraments in your life?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Chapter 19 New Sight

Sara Miles describes learning many surprising things on her new Christian journey, however she wasn't always prepared for what Christianity taught her.
"Instead, religion was like learning how to see. I was trying to make meaning from things I hadn't previously paid attention to -- the events I hadn't bothered to see and the people I didn't want to." (211)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Chapter 19 Wisdom

Sometimes wisdom comes from the strangest places as Sara Miles found out with her volunteers. Even the most outcast of the misfits could offer another wisdom for life. 

""Honey," she said, "you can't change people; you just have to forgive them."" (209)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Chapter 19 Misfits

Sara Miles describes how the volunteers started eating lunch together each week. "I'd described the pantry from the beginning as communion. But I'd forgotten that communion was above all a meal. Those first few years at the pantry, the volunteers ate the way cooks do: poorly, in a hurry, carelessly." "We'd grab whatever was at hand and eat as we worked, until one day when the truck arrived so early there was no setup left to do, and I made a pot of soup. I had no idea how hungry we'd been. Soon I'd convinced the Food Bank to deliver all our food early, and I was cooking soup for ten, then fifteen, then twenty volunteers." (207) Soon all the volunteers were gathering for a meal together before the food pantry opened, gathering at a table together to share in a meal. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chapter 18 Abundance

Sara Miles and her food pantry were facing an expansion problem. They didn't have enough money and they didn't have enough volunteers. They wanted to find a way to feed more people, but they didn't know how. God had an idea.

"Steve sent me a note complaining about yet another boring liturgy discussion at staff meeting. "But on the bright side," he ended his note, "some guy just phoned the office and wants to give you twenty-five thousand dollars. Call me."" (200)

When the courts had extra money from large settlements left over after all the class members in a suit had entered their claims, the money was given to charities recommended by the lawyers. In this case, one of the lawyers recommended the Food Pantry at St. Gregory's. This was a huge opportunity. 

Sara went to find other places to start food pantries.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Chapter 18 Manna

Sara Miles was so surprised that most of her volunteers for the food pantry were not members of St. Gregory's. "Jeff wasn't surprised at all when I told him we now had twenty-three volunteers -- only two of them from St. Gregory's, and the rest people who'd come to get groceries. "Why not?" said my spiritual director. "It feels great to give stuff away. Look what it's done for you." He added, "And if you're poor, how often do you get to give? Here, you hand good food to two hundred and fifty people in an afternoon, and they're all smiling at you and saying 'Thanks.'"" (199)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Gratitude Practices

In the last twenty or so years, psychologists and sociologists have been studying a new cure to depression issues: gratitude practices. Social scientists have been finding that if a person writes down a few specific things for which they are grateful for each day, they find their lives being more satisfying, fuller, and happier.

In Christian tradition, we have a long history of giving thanks through worship and praise. Unfortunately in some senses over the years, the personal nature of the Eucharistic act of gratitude has been lost. People don't associate going to church with being thankful for other aspects of their lives. However, there are ways of bringing this association back and making gratitude a daily part of Christian life. Keeping a gratitude journal or jar, sharing gratitudes with other members of the congregation, and reviewing your gratitudes help cultivate a new attitude and make it easier to give thanks to God for all the gifts He has given us!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Chapter 17 Healing

One of the priests Sara Miles worked with at St. Gregory's was The Rev. Paul Fromberg. He explained part of his spiritual journey to becoming a priest like this:

""It was clear to me that a lot of suffering was chemical, not just psychological. I felt, as a talk psychotherapist, I'd be fooling people and not giving them what they needed. At the same time, I was beginning to believe that Word and sacrament might have something to do with healing."" (188)
How do you find healing through Word and Sacrament?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Chapter 17 The People of God

Sara Miles shares stories of learning about the good things and the bad things of the Christian people. "The sense of chosen-ness, of a special society of the initiated, is pervasive among Christians. I remember being shocked when I discovered that the phrase "the people of God" was churchspeak for "churchgoing Christians of our denomination"; I'd thought, naively, that it meant all God's people, all humanity." (179)

What does the phrase "the people of God" mean to you?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Chapter 17 The Desert

Sara Miles had an experience with someone who was a food pantry volunteer. The volunteer's boyfriend was regularly beating her up and threatening to kill her, so she stole his gun and brought it to the church to hide.
"That's what church was for, I realized: a place to bring the ugly, frightening secret you couldn't tell anyone else about." (184)
Sara Miles hid the gun  and the volunteer moved away from her boyfriend. Later, Sara and the St. Gregory's parish administrator, Steve, took the gun to the police. ""You just made the high point of my career as a parish administrator," said Steve. "I never imagined I'd show a cop something that would make him say 'Holy shit.'" "Yeah, well," I said, "I guess this is what you call the Christian life."" (185)

While this was an extreme situation, Sara did care for and provide a safe space for that volunteer. When have you found yourself in a surprising situation because of your faith?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Chapter 16 Holiness in Life

Sara Miles started to come to a realization about the Christian life: “The words I read and prayed, and the different acts of a liturgical year, continued to bounce off one another: walking, talking, carrying plates of food to a table, eating. Somehow the sanctified and ritual parts of church, as I told Jeff, were merging with the parts that reminded me of ordinary life: dinner parties, working in a restaurant kitchen, hanging out with my friends. “It’s like there’s not really a line between what’s holy and what’s not,” I said in amazement. “Or not such a sharp one.” “That would be correct,” said Jeff.” (173-174)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Chapter 16 Words and Acts

As Sara Miles dives deeper into her new faith, she learns what is meant by the struggle to understand God.  She relates what her priest says about understanding the Word of God and the persistence of humanity in relationship with God. 

“”The Word of God,” he 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, and 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.” (171-172)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Spiritual Direction

One of the Christian practices Sara Miles describes taking part in throughout her time at St. Gregory's is Spiritual Direction. Spiritual Direction is a practice where usually two people meet together at regular, agreed upon, intervals to discuss how the person seeking direction is encountering God in their life. The Director listens, gives perspective, suggests new ways of looking at situations, and asks questions in order to help the directee deepen their relationship with God. Spiritual Direction has been a part of the Christian tradition since biblical times, when new converts were given a mentor who would help them on their journey.

While Spiritual Direction typically takes place in an established relationship, there are also retreats offered throughout the country at camps, retreat centers, monasteries, and convents which offer a more intense experience of spiritual direction, with sessions each day. Sometimes these retreats are offered in conjunction with specific topics in mind.

Spiritual Direction is not just a part of the Christian tradition, but also a part of the Jewish and Muslim traditions, along with many other religions. Having a spiritual teacher or mentor leads to stronger, deeper, and more durable relationships with God and has been considered a wise move for centuries.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Chapter 15 Faith and Certainty

 For Sara Miles, who had been through wars before, going through war while being a Christian was much different than her previous experiences. 

“Being a Christian in wartime, for me, was turning out to be the opposite of having “God on our side.” It meant expanding not just a personal capacity to suffer but the personal and institutional capacity to dwell in ambiguity and unsettledness. It occurred to me that the church was a place, maybe the only place, where that could happen.” (167)

“”You know,” I told Jeff, the next time I saw him, “when I was looking at it from the outside, faith seemed to be about certainty. What a surprise.”” (168)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chapter 15 Differences of Faith

Sara Miles shares some of her experience with spiritual direction; talking with someone else specifically about her spiritual life. During the period right after September 11th, 2001, Sara experienced some difficulty relating to other denominations of Christians. Luckily her spiritual director was able to help her out. 

“”There have always been different ways of being a Christian,” Jeff said. “Claim your own, keep going.”” (163)

What is your Christianity?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Chapter 15 Faith and Politics

In the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, Sara Miles found another new perspective on Christianity.“This was what it meant to be a Christian for me: that in the midst of undeniable suffering, it was possible to summon up gratitude and praise. “All of us go down to the dust,” we sang, “yet even at the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” That had been a breathtaking moment, a brief space in which I could feel  the violent reality of human life collide with a faith that, beyond the very worst we could do to one another, there was God.” (159-160)

“In that dark time, I was inching toward what religious traditions called “orthopraxy” (right practice) rather than orthodoxy (right belief). I was hearing that what counted wasn’t fundamentalist theology, or liberation or traditional or postmodern theology. It wasn’t denominations or creeds or rituals. It wasn’t liberal or conservative ideology. It was faith, working through love.” (161)

“But faith working through love: That could mean plugging away with other people, acting in small ways without the comfort of a big vision or even a lot of realistic hope. It could look more like prayer: opening yourself to uncertainty, accepting your lack of control. It meant taking on concrete tasks in the middle of confusion, without stopping to argue about who was the truest believer. Whatever else, I could at least keep working in the pantry, feeding as many people as I could.” (161-162)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chapter 14 Heavenly Banquet

Sara Miles says she had an epiphany one day: "I understood why Christians imagined the kingdom of heaven as a feast: a banquet where nobody was excluded, where the weakest and most broken, the worst sinners and outcasts, were honored guests who welcomed one another in peace and shared their food." (158) All from working at the food pantry. 

How do you best understand the kingdom of heaven?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Chapter 14 Gleaners

Sara Miles connects her understanding of what is going on in the American food system with the food system in the Bible. Second Harvest Food Bank and organizations like it are providing the work of the gleaners. 

"To feed the hungry with the excess of an unfair system: to make bread out of injustice. It was like the Bible verse that instructed people how to leave food for gleaners: "When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow."" (149)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Food in the Bible

"Take this Bread" is largely focused on the intersection between Christianity and food. Sara Miles, the author, describes her journey to becoming a Christian in midlife through her journeys working in restaurants and, eventually, running a food pantry. Her relationship with Christianity is largely mitigated through food, through communion and sharing food with others.

So what does the Bible have to say about food?

In the beginning, God created vegetarians. Adam and Eve lived in the garden and only ate what grew in the garden. However, Noah was allowed to eat animals, though not blood. Later on though, Moses was given lots of dietary rules and restrictions about the food the people of Israel were allowed to eat. (Today, following the scriptural rules for eating and drinking as described in the Hebrew Scriptures is known as keeping Kosher.) Unfortunately, these rules started creating problems for people. When Jesus was alive, he sometimes ate and drank things that broke Kosher laws. By the end of Acts, Peter has a vision that opens up the rules of eating and drinking fully.

The Bible has lots of stories of people eating and drinking together. It includes parables which help explain some of Jesus' teachings through food. We cannot allow different kinds of food to separate us from one another. Grounded in our common need for energy and sustenance, food is something that brings us together as people of God.

If you'd like to read more, here is one great article about food in the Bible by Scott Munger.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Chapter 13 Chief Cornerstone

"Once I picked up a huge grapefruit and showed it to a volunteer from St. Gregory's. "That's the stone the builders rejected," I said, quoting Scripture aloud with only a twinge of embarrassment. I could see, now, how we were like that, too: the volunteers, and the families who came for groceries. Each of us, at some point, might have been rejected for being too young, too poor, too queer, too old, too crazy or difficult or sick; in one way or another, cracked, broken, not right. But gathered around the Table in this work, we were becoming right together, converted into the cornerstone of something God was building." (139)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Chapter 13 Serving

Sara Miles's food pantry volunteers have lots of great wisdom to share.

"Lawrence Chyall, a tall, bookish guy with decades of work as a restaurant maitre d', dropped by on his day off. Calm and unflappable, he organized our chaotic line outside, dealing with hungry poor people as graciously as he did with rich, cranky customers. "It's all about 'Your table is ready'," he said." (135)

""I'm not a good enough person to stand up there in front of everyone," he said. "I'd have to be a whole lot more holy." I laughed. "The thing about serving," I told him, "is that it's not about you."" (135)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chapter 13 Church of the One True Sack

Once Sara Miles and her volunteers started the food pantry, it took off like a shot. It grew fast and bonded together into something people really could start believing in. 

"We were making a church. "Church of the One True Sack of Groceries," Steve said. "The Jesus Christ Love Shack," I said, "and House of Prayer for All, alleluia." (134)

"All we had to do was open the door. Hundreds of hungry people would walk in. And in the presence of shared food and the immediacy of such visible, common need, visitors could blurt out anything, open themselves to people totally unlike themselves, act out of character." (138)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Chapter 12 Yearning for Baptism

“Now here I was, an adult, with an irrational yearning for it—almost a hunger. The idea seemed dangerous and seductive, and I’d tried to resist it. I’d stand there at the Table, looking out the doors at the rock font, and try not to see the water spilling forth. I impetuously called Mark, my Lutheran friend, and asked if he’d be my godfather. I told Donald I wanted to be baptized. Then, full of dread and superstition, I backed out.” (122)

Have you ever really really wanted something, only to be given the opportunity to have it/do it, and then backed out? 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Chapter 12 A Different Everyone

“You can’t be a Christian by yourself.”

Its a saying Sara Miles brings up again and again, and its a saying that has rung true throughout the Church's history. Many have tried. Many burn out with the effort. Unfortunately, its as true as it is wise. 

You can't be a Christian by yourself. 

I would say, in a very Trinitarian spirit, that you need at least three other people in order to be a Christian. 

In order of importance, the first other person you need is God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

And then of course, you need someone else to learn from, learn with, to pick you up, to pick up, to help you when you're feeling discouraged, to remind you of God's love for you... to be on the journey with you. 

And... even if you don't want them, you also need someone to challenge you, to help you see God in new ways, to make you get outside of yourself and your ideals and to make things dirty and messy and confusing... that way you go back to that first person: God. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Baptismal Covenant

In Chapter 12 (which I will quote from in the next couple of days) Sara Miles describes her experience of baptism. One of the things she quotes from in the book is the Book of Common Prayer's Baptismal Covenant.

The Baptismal Covenant is the part of the baptism service where the candidate (the person wanting to be baptized), is asked questions about their beliefs and desires when it comes to becoming a Christian. Not only does the candidate answer the questions, the whole community who is present answers as well, signifying the community and the solidarity of being in the body of Christ together. You'll also notice, nothing is done without God being involved. God is always present.

The Baptismal Covenant goes like this:

Celebrant (fancy word for priest): Do you believe in God the Father?
People: I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People: I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant: Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Celebrant: Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
People: I will, with God's help.

Celebrant: Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People: I will, with God's help.

Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People: I will, with God's help.

Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God's help.

Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God's help.

These questions can be found in the Book of Common Prayer starting on page 304, or online at BCPOnline.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Chapter 11 Gratitude

Sara Miles, in the face of resistance to her proposal that they start a food pantry at St. Gregory's, wrote the parish a letter. She wrote, "The first time I came to the Table at St. Gregory's, I was a hungry stranger. Each week since then, I've shown up -- undeserving and needy -- and each week, someone's hands have broken bread and brought me into communion. Because of how I've been welcomed and fed in the Eucharist, I see starting a food pantry at church not as an act of 'outreach' but one of gratitude. To feed others means acknowledging our own hunger and at the same time acknowledging the amazing abundance we're fed with by God." (116)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Chapter 11 Volunteers

"Volunteers would help out at the pantry for the same reason they became deacons or bread bakers or choir members: not because they wanted to go to meetings but because they wanted to do something, be part of something. And, I said, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the people who came to eat stayed to help out: After all, that's what had happened to me." (113)

This has happened and continues to do so with our food pantry at St. John's, Shepherd's Green Community Food Pantry. We have people who help upstairs checking everyone in, we have people who help downstairs preparing the groceries, all who started because they came looking for something to eat. In many ways, this has happened to many of us who have come to church to take communion, and then stayed to help out with the events or mission or keeping up of what is going on here. The verbs of communion continue to be: take, bless, eat, give thanks, send out. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Chapter 11 "Good Works"

 Sometimes the goal of helping other people means having to set aside your own priorities. Sara Miles describes the response she got when she introduced St. Gregory's to the idea of starting a food pantry in their sanctuary.

"[Donald, the priest] smiled when I told him I'd been inspired by the new Table, with its inscriptions. "That altar was extravagant -- six thousand dollars or something," he'd remember later. "And then you came and said, fine, now let's use the Table to do what it says." Donald sighed, recalling his anticipation of a fight. "I thought, wow, this will be interesting. We just spent all this money on an altar, and now we're gonna bring in people who will scuff it?"" (111-112)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Chapter 10 Charity

While Sara Miles knew that she was following God's vision for St. Gregory's, she also had some personal feelings she had to deal with. How could she start a food pantry when she didn't like the idea of charity? "Charity had always slightly creeped me out: There was nothing quite as condescending as the phrase "helping the less fortunate" rolling off the tongue of a white professional, as if poverty were a matter of luck instead of the result of a political system." (107)

How do we reconcile the views of other people and our own mission? How do you help other people while acknowledging the broken systems of our world which are not fair?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Chapter 10 Seeing More

After seeing her vision of having a food pantry at St. Gregory's, Sara Miles starts to learn about what it would take to start one. She talks to the people at the San Francisco Second Harvest Food Bank. Her contact there gives her some good advice: 

""You know," Anne told me, "well-fed people like to say, 'Oh, if you're hungry enough, you'll eat anything.' That's probably true, at some point. But it's not good for people. It's wrong."" (106)

"Provide a range of healthy groceries, let people choose what they want, allow them to cook their own meals: It was a simple and empowering idea." (106)

Not only does this way of giving food to other people allow them to eat, it also gives them more power over their lives. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Second Harvest Food Bank

Its was the 1960's. America was changing. One of the major issues for people was having enough food. Yet, thousands of restaurants and grocery stores across the country were throwing out millions of pounds of still good food. Volunteers at soup kitchens here and there started putting their brains together to come up with a better way to feed the millions of people who went hungry everyday.

This is the story of how the Feeding America organization got started. People realized that instead of throwing out still good food, they could store it in food banks, who could organize to hand it out to the people who needed it most.

At St. John's, we work with Feeding America through the Second Harvest Food Bank of Erie. "Feeding America’s mission is to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage the country in the fight to end hunger.""Second Harvest is a member of Feeding America, a network of food banks and food distribution programs in the United States. This membership allows Second Harvest to cooperate with other member food banks, to receive food from national corporate food donors, and to benefit from national publicity and mutual support."

The Second Harvest organization website suggests the foods in the list below as the most needed donations to food banks across the country. From the list, you can see how this ministry of food is focused not just on making sure people are eating, but also making sure people are eating healthy and nutritious foods that will support their long term success. 
  • Meals in a can (soup, stew, chili)
  • Tuna or canned chicken
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned foods with pop-top lids
  • Canned fruit in its own juice or water
  • Low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Olive or canola oil
  • Spices
  • Low-sugar whole grain cereals
  • Healthy snacks (granola bars, nuts, dried fruit)

Friday, June 30, 2017

Chapter 9 The Table

The altar at St. Gregory's is a fine piece of art. It is referred to as "The Table" and is quite grand. It stands by itself in the center of the room and everyone dances around it during the Eucharistic prayer. Sara Miles describes it this way: "In fact, they had just commissioned an expensive new altar that physicalized their philosophy of open communion. It stood alone, in the center of the rotunda: Hand-built of gorgeous, polished hardwood in the style of an early Palestinian altar, it was inscribed in gilt letters with two quotations. The first, in Greek, from the Gospel of Luke, recorded an insult to Jesus: "This guy welcomes sinners and eats with them." On the other side of the altar were the words of the seventh-century mystic Isaac of Nineveh: "Did not our Lord share his table with tax collectors and harlots? So do not distinguish between worthy and unworthy. All must be equal for you to love and serve."" (95)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Chapter 9 Being a Deacon

St. Gregory's offers their parishioners an opportunity usually unheard of in an Episcopal church: members can serve in the roles of Deacons without being ordained as Deacons. Sara Miles decides to try out this role in her church and shares her experience in this chapter of learning what to do and how it felt to serve during the church service. 

"Besides, I liked the idea of deaconing as a verb rather than deacon as a title or an identity." (94) 

What is the role of the deacon? Who serves the church and the people of the church? We at St. John's have just recently received a new deacon into our community, how have you experienced his role and service to the church? How have you experienced deacons other places? 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Chapter 9 Crossing II

Processing her experience of taking communion at St. Gregory's led Sara Miles into another world altogether. 

"All of it pointed to a force stronger than the anxious formulas of religion: a radically inclusive love that accompanied people in the most ordinary of actions -- eating, drinking, walking -- and stayed with them, through fear, even past death. That love meant giving yourself away, embracing outsiders as family, emptying yourself to feed and live for others. The stories illuminated the holiness located in mortal human bodies, and the promise that people could see God by cherishing all those different bodies the way God did. They spoke of a communion so much vaster than any church could contain: one I had sensed all my life could be expressed in the sharing of food, particularly with strangers." (93)

Starting with her invitation to serve at the Table in St. Gregory's, Sara Miles starts to realize how she was seeing God in the world.

"It seemed pretty clear. If I wanted to see God, I could feed people." (93)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Chapter 8 Friends with God

Sara Miles talks about learning about the saint for which the church she started going to was named after. 

"Supper with God. This was what had grabbed me - and it wasn't an accident. My year of questioning drew me to lift my head and look around, more thoughtfully, at the place I'd wandered into: Saint Gregory of Nyssa, named after a fourth-century married bishop from Cappadocia, in what is now Turkey. A mystic, universalist, and humanist, Gregory had proclaimed that "the only thing worthwhile is being God's friend."" (77)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Chapter 8 Histories

Sara Miles explains that she truly could not let go of this Holy Communion thing. 
"I burned to understand what felt to me like the heart of Christianity: communion." (74) 
What do you think is the heart of Christianity?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Scandal of the Incarnation

"It was the materiality of Christianity that fascinated me, the compelling story of incarnation in its grungiest details, the promise that words and flesh were deeply, deeply connected." (Sara Miles, Take this Bread, page 71)

There is a well known theological work (at least, well known in some groups of people) called, The Scandal of the Incarnation. In this book, Hans Urs von Balthasar, a prolific Swiss theologian and Catholic priest, thematically arranges quotes from St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon and martyr of the 3rd century. St. Irenaeus wrote passionately about the importance and scandalous nature of God becoming human. He was originally writing against some of the Gnostic views of the time which denigrated our material lives, our bodies, their needs, and their place in religion. 

Its funny how something scandalous doesn't seem so upsetting after two thousand years of getting used to the idea. As David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, writes, "Today the Incarnation seems about as scandalous as fruitcake, but in the fourth and fifth centuries, no issue more divided Christians than the assertion that in the babe and then man, Jesus of Nazareth, almighty God had joined God's own self to frail and fickle human flesh."

Thankfully though, God has become human. God does know what it is like to live on Earth, to be born, to be hungry, to be tired, to be happy, and sad, and angry, and in love, to stand up for one's beliefs, and to die, unhappily and innocently. This connection makes what we do in our communities, in our towns, in our normal daily lives, important to how we connect with God. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Chapter 7 Prayer

Figuring out what it means to pray is never an easy task. Learning how to pray is something we do over and over again throughout our lives.

In an early conversation with a friend after her conversion, Sara Miles tries to describe what it means to pray.
""When you told me to pray," Jose would remember later, "it was incredibly earnest. You said prayer was like having this intense, profound longing that you just had to be with. That you put the longing in the hands of God, in a certain way. That it was important to be receptive to the unfulfilled, and not fill it or deny it." (page 70)

In what ways do you pray?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Chapter 7 Crossing

After experiencing her first Communion, Sara Miles goes on to describe trying to come to terms with starting to go to an Episcopal church, starting to become a Christian.

"My first year at St. Gregory's would begin, and end, with questions. Now I understand that questions are at the heart of faith, and that certainties about God can flicker on and off, no matter what you think you know." (page 65)

What certainties about God do you know? 
What questions about Christianity do you have?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Chapter 6 Connection

"There was an immediacy of communion at St. Gregory's, unmediated by altar rails, the raw physicality of that mystical meal. There was an invitation to jump in rather than official entrance requirements. There was the suggestion that God could be located in experience, sensed through bodies, tasted in food; that my body was connected literally and mysteriously to other bodies and loved without reason." (64)

How do you experience God in your life?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chapter 6 Jesus

I don't know about you, but I have personally found this chapter very powerful. I don't remember my first communion. However, I do know the longing for it when I end up at services where I cannot take communion because of my food allergies. I too have cried at the altar rail from being a part of communion, and I have experienced crying at the altar rail because I could not take part in the literal eating of communion during that service. The Church believes that even if you cannot literally eat, for many reasons during a communion service, that if your intention is there, you have received. All well and good. There is still something powerful about the actual eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. 

Sara Miles goes on to talk about her confusion about what happened to her in taking her First Communion. She was repulsed, but also drawn toward it. 

"Yet that impossible word, Jesus, lodged in me like a crumb. I said it over and over to myself, as if repetition would help me understand. I had no idea what it meant; I didn't know what to do with it. But it was realer than any thought of mine, or even any subjective emotion: It was as real as the actual taste of the bread and the wine. And the word was indisputably in my body now, as if I'd swallowed a radioactive pellet that would outlive my own flesh. Much later on, I'd read what Jesus's disciples said about the idea of eating a body and drinking blood. "This is intolerable," they declared. Many of them, shocked, "could not accept it and went away and followed him no more." Well, it was intolerable." (59)

Have you ever found the idea about communion shocking?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Chapter 6 First Communion

Sara Miles experiences her first communion, un-baptized, unprepared, unsuspecting. 

“Early one winter morning, when Katie was sleeping at her father’s house, I walked into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco. I had no earthly reason to be there. I’d never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord’s Prayer. I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian – or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut. But on other long walks, I’d passed the beautiful wooden building, with its shingled steeples and plain windows, and this time I went in, on an impulse, with no more than a reporter’s habitual curiosity.” (57)

“There was no organ, no choir, no pulpit: just the unadorned voices of the people, and long silences framed by the ringing of deep Tibetan bowls. I sang, too. It crossed my mind that this is ridiculous. We sat down and stood up, sang and sat down, waited and listened and stood up and sang, and it was all pretty peaceful and sort of interesting. “Jesus invites everyone to his table,” the woman announced, and we started moving up in a stately dance to the table in the rotunda. It has some dishes on it, and a pottery goblet. And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying “the body of Christ,” and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying “the blood of Christ,” and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me.” (58)

"I still can't explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening - I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening - the piece of bread was the "body" of "Christ," a patently untrue or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening - God, named "Christ" or "Jesus," was real, and in my mouth - utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry." (59)

Do you remember your first communion? What was/is your experience?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Holy Communion or Eucharist or Mass or the Lord's Supper

We have many names for the ritual of gathering together to eat the bread and wine which Jesus told us to do in memory of him: Holy Communion, Eucharist, Mass, or the Lord's Supper. They all mean the same thing: the community of God's people gathered together to worship God in the eating of bread and wine which takes on special meaning in some way as the Body and Blood of Jesus.

(The theological differences of transubstantiation, full union, real presence, are not what I am debating now.)

The history of traditions around the Eucharist, the giving thanks to God, is long and wide. Some churches celebrate with unleavened bread, some with leavened bread. Some churches use wine, some use juice. Some traditions specify who is allowed to participate, specifying that those who wish to do so must be baptized in their church, some churches accept the baptisms of other churches, while some churches allow anyone to participate whether they have been baptized or not.

The Episcopal Church has traditionally required people to be baptized before they are allowed to participate in Holy Communion. For some time, the requirement was also that people be confirmed. During revising of the Book of Common Prayer, eventually the requirement for confirmation was dropped. Lately, (the last twenty years) there has been some discussion about whether the church should drop the requirement for baptism for participation in Communion. The idea is called Open Table and suggests that since Jesus ate and drank with all manner of people, not asking whether or not people are baptized, that we should too. There is also some wisdom about experiencing what being a part of the community looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes like before they join.

The church that Sara Miles ends up going to in San Francisco, St. Gregory of Nyssa, has gotten special dispensation from their diocese and the larger church to practice Open Table as an experiment in theology.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Chapter 5 Democracy

One of the people who made a big impression on Sara Miles was Ignacio Martín Baró.  Baró was a Jesuit priest and scholar and psychologist in Central America. He wrote a great deal about mental health in places of oppression, especially in contexts of community and liberation efforts. Sara Miles had a number of conversations with him and during one them she remembers him talking about democracy.

"In that cool office, he talked not about blood but about democracy, which sometimes he'd call "fellowship."" "Democracy definitely means that people will make mistakes. "And," he added, "we should welcome them."" (page 45)

How welcoming are we of other people's mistakes? How forgiving?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Chapter 5 Community

No matter what part of a war you are involved with, it makes you see your life differently. Sara Miles shares how it changed her perception of community and her life in that community of human beings.

"What I learned in those moments of danger and grief informs what I now call my Christianity. It was a feeling of total community with others, whether or not I was like them, through the common fact of our mortal bodies. We all had bodies that could suffer and be killed; we all had hearts that could stop beating in an instant. In war, I looked at other, different people and saw them, face-to-face--and, seeing them, felt a we." (page 39)

Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Perhaps he should have also told us to pray for those we persecute. When do you feel the greatest sense of community?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Chapter 5 War Years

As a journalist covering a war zone in Central America, Sara Miles saw the best and worst parts of both sides of the wars. 
"In both roles, as journalist and as organizer, I'd learn that it's possible to fall in love with a revolution - then doubt it, fight with it, lose faith in it, and return with a sense of humor and a harder, lasting love. I would have to learn the same thing about church when I was much older, and it would be no easier." (page 35)
Doubt and faith are a journey we walk throughout our lives. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Chapter 4 Learning through the Body

By this point... I'm starting to get hungry. I imagine Sara Miles is a pretty good cook. 

"As with everything else I'd learned - as with the religion I would come to practice - I absorbed cooking through my body." (page 32)

Our bodies are a very integral part of who we are as human beings. What can we learn from our own bodies? What haven't we learned because we don't want to listen to our own bodies?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Chapter 4 Cooking with My Brother

During her time as a cook, Sara Miles also worked with her brother David. She recalls some of the stories and lessons she learned during that time period, especially from the differences of style between herself and her brother. 

""It's just a piece of quiche, David," I said. "So why not do it right?" he said." (page 26)

Some words or phrases in the English language allow people to get out of doing things well. One of those words is "Just." With just, we right things off as not needing our best, we discount how much those things matter. The dangers of the word "just" is that it allows us to not do things right because it doesn't fully count. How often do you use the word "just?"

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Gnostic Influence

The Greek word is Gnosis. It means knowledge or wisdom.

In the early church world, the Greek philosophers had great influence. People would walk and travel hundreds of miles to sit at the feet of some of the great philosophers. There were teachers who were all over the spectrum from those who believed that experience through the body was the only way to knowledge all the way to the other end where only internal knowledge from asceticism and denying the bodily experience was accepted.

The Gnostic tradition was developing at the same time as the Christian tradition and in many times and places, the two coexisted and co-mingled. Many of the early ascetics of the Christian tradition were under the influence of some of the Gnostic ideas about needing to transcend the body in order to experience the divine. Some of those who were exiled from the church because they went as far as to say that Jesus was not a part of the Trinity, merely a human being who was teaching his disciples how to become divine.

Today, the Gnostic influence can still be seen in the Bible and in the world around us. There are some passages from Paul's letters that are understood to be included because he was trying to fight against the Gnostic influence. However, the idea that human beings can transcend their bodies is still one that comes up. The incarnation and resurrection appearances teaches differently. Our bodies are part of us, even when we are experiencing the eternal and divine. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Chapter 3 Solidarity

"But the pleasure of hiding in plain sight was just one of the benefits I picked up from working as a cook. I learned solidarity, the kind that only comes through shared bodily experience, sweating and lifting and hauling side by side with others. I learned from watching customers that the rituals of even the plainest or most cynically prepared dinner could carry unconscious messages of love and comfort. And at the end of a rush, when I sat down with the kitchen staff and waiters, I learned how central food is to creating human community, what eating together around a table can do. As a wise bishop would tell me, years and years later, in words I couldn't possibly have grasped back then, "There's a hunger beyond food that's expressed in food, and that's why feeding is always a kind of miracle." (page 23)
What miracles have happened to you around food?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Chapter 3 Slow Down to Hurry Up

More lessons from Sara Miles' chef mentor: 
"Got to slow down to speed up," he said. Remember, doll: Slow down. When it's busy, slow down." (page 20)

How often do we just run right through things because we think we need to hurry up? Take a moment to slow down today. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Chapter 3 Accountability

The lessons Sara Miles learned from working as a cook in a restaurant are endless. One lesson she remembers and lives by is about accountability. "Honor meant never shifting the blame when someone beneath us messed up, meant claiming the mistake - "Say it loud," he'd sing, James Brown behind the grill - making it right and carrying on." (page 19)

Responsibility and accountability are big words, with a lot of weight behind them. How accountable are you for your actions? 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Chapter 3 Standing the Heat - Waiting

Sara Miles spent many years working as a cook in a restaurant. The cook that she worked for had some great sayings she writes in the book. ""You," he'd boom, pointing with the eight-inch chef's knife, "are a waiter." A moment of silence for emphasis, and he'd lunge forward: "That means, goddamnit, you wait!"(page 19)

What the chef says is a play on words for sure, but waiting is a lost art in American culture. However, patience is one of the Fruits of the Spirit from Paul's letters. 
How does waiting make you feel? 
What is the value in learning how to wait?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Chapter 2 Pilgrimage

During her time in college, Sara Miles found herself in the midst of the war zone in Central America. 

"It turned out that gunfire had a way of focusing my attention. And that I cared, passionately, about knowing the difference between the official story and physical reality." (pg 13)

This is something that is becoming questionable in our society, what is the physical reality of a situation? No matter how we look at something we always bring our context, our baggage and our perceptions into the story. Any story can be looked at in a myriad of ways and in a world where people can tell those stories for a wide audience, the language used, the nuances, can be very important to understanding the story being told. What is the physical reality of our lives? What are the stories we tell ourselves? How much of a gap is there between the two?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Power of a Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage is a sacred tradition in religion. Christianity does not hold the reins of the pilgrimage, since people were walking to visit holy sites long before Jesus ever walked around Galilee. The Jewish tradition of visiting the Temple (today, the Wailing Wall) predates Christian pilgrimages. Muslims also have a tradition of pilgrimage, walking to Mecca on the Hajj. Today, thousands of people make pilgrimages in all sorts of ways in order to connect with God, with themselves, and their communities. Stories about pilgrimage are fascinating since each one is very different.

Personally I have a couple of pilgrimage stories. As a teenager in the Journey to Adulthood Sunday School program, my class made a pilgrimage to San Francisco and the one of the Redwood Forests. Directly after seminary, before I started my first paid job in ministry, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, walking the land which Jesus and millions of other Christians have walked.

What's your pilgrimage story?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Chapter 1 The Family Table, Part 2

Sara Miles spends the chapter sharing about how her family approached life. "We all soaked up experience: sex, travel, drugs, food, hard physical work - anything that would take us further into the sensual, immediate world that my parents insisted was the opposite of religion." (pg 9)

Where do you think the boundaries of religion lie? Do you think there is an "opposite of religion"? What is it?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Chapter 1 The Family Table

In Chapter 1, Sara Miles, the author, begins the book by sharing how she was raised and what she learned from her parents about religion. Both sets of her grandparents had been missionaries and their zeal had turned their children off religion. Her mother tells her the story of why she left Christianity as a child and recalls what she disliked the most. 

"" I hated the 'You have to be good because God says so,' " recalled my mother. "I hated being preached at. Everything was about guilt."" (page 7)

What are the parts about religion or Christianity you dislike the most?

Environmental Wholeness - Safety and Security

Almighty God, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us fellow workers in your creation: Give us wisdom and reverence so to use the resources of nature, that no one may suffer from our abuse of them, and that generations yet to come may continue to praise you for your bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 827 For the Conservation of Natural Resources)

While many aspects of personal wholeness and health are internal and solely personal, Environmental Wholeness is an aspect of our lives that is many times out of our control. Having Environmental Wholeness means living in a environment where you feel safe, from daily natural elements and from abuse from other people, and where there is room for you to live, move, and grow. We can do many things to make sure the environment around us is safe and makes us feel secure, however sometimes there are aspects of our environments we have no control over.

The natural world around us does many wonderful things for us. However, our relationship with the natural world is a delicate dance of giving and taking. Many times, especially when it comes to weather, we have no control over what happens in our environments. Yet, it does play a part in our stress levels and our ability to feel safe. Living in areas which are free from pollutants and able to sustain human life through plenty of food and water are important aspects of a stable life.

Beyond the natural world, our Environmental Wholeness consists of the houses we live in and the people we live with on a regular basis. Unfortunately thousands of men, women, and children live in unsafe environments every day. Part of the work of agencies such as the Venango County Community Services, Emmaus Haven Shelter, and Mustard Seed Missions, is to help people improve their environments so that they can find a place to live where they feel secure and able to thrive.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday - Prologue

In the Prologue to her book, Sara Miles writes, "It turned out that the prerequisite for conversion wasn't knowing how to behave in church, or having a religious vocabulary or an a priori "belief" in an abstract set of propositions: It was hunger, the same hunger I'd always carried."

I have found in my own experience that people seem to think they have to be good enough to be a Christian or smart enough or have something they think they are lacking. Jesus asks for nothing, except that we believe in Him. 

Today is a two question day:
What do you think is a requirement for conversion to Christianity?
What are you hungry for?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday - the Author's Note

The book starts out with a sense of humor, and a very realistic sense at that!

Before the first chapter, before the prologue, the author, Sara Miles shares a note with all her readers.

"To use a religious analogy: This book is not the Bible imagined as inerrant and historically definitive. It's more the Bible I believe in - that is, a human compilation of stories told in different voices, edited and rearranged over many drafts to suggest truths not always fully understood."

She starts the book already begging a question from her readers... great engagement! 

How do you understand the Bible?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

I've been here ten months. Not a huge amount of time, but enough to start learning some basics about each other. If you haven't caught on yet, I'll tell you a secret. I like questions. Good deep questions. Questions that can be looked at and analyzed and pondered. Questions without answers or questions without easy answers. I like questions, and we get two goodies in the passage from Acts today. The feast of the Ascension is always celebrated on the fortieth day of Easter, typically a Thursday, and so we celebrated Ascension Day this past Thursday. The feast of the Ascension celebrates the day on which Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection and appearances in Israel. The story is best told in Acts as we heard it this morning. 
The first of the two good questions is from the disciples who are walking along talking to Jesus. The disciples ask Jesus, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Its such a simple question. Yes or no? Easy, is it the time? However the question belies a very simple assumption. The disciples still think that Jesus is going to overthrow the Roman rule of the nation of Israel. You and I both know, he wasn't going to do that at all. The disciples, however, still don't get it. The whole mission hasn't been about restoring the nation of Israel. In a very major way, Jesus had already done restored Israel, just not in the way that the disciples were expecting. He did restore the people of God to the kingdom of God, bringing them back into relationship with God. Unfortunately, he didn't also overthrow the Roman Empire. Though of the choices, overthrowing death or the Roman Empire, I'm glad Jesus chose death. Probably just because the Roman Empire eventually died of its own accord and I am very grateful that Jesus saved us all from the clutches of sin and death. 

Jesus does answer the disciples question. However, Jesus doesn't give them a Yes or No answer. He tells them it is not for them to know when the Roman Empire will fall. It is not for them to know the times or periods of the future. Those are set by the Father. He does tell them that they will receive power with the Holy Spirit and that they have a job to do as witnesses throughout the earth proclaiming about Jesus. It wasn't the job that they wanted, but it is the job that they got. Right before Jesus ascends to heaven, he tells the disciples what they are to do. Then he gets lifted up and disappears from their sight.

Which leads us to the second good question. The disciples are standing there, dumbfounded I am sure, having just watched their leader disappear into the sky above them, when some men in white robes, probably angels, ask them a question. There was probably some momentary confusion among the disciples when they realized they were being addressed and some questioning as to who these men were. I bet some of those disciples could have stood there all day wondering what had just happened and what was going to happen next. "Men of Galilee, the Angels say, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?"

While the men in white robes, the angels, then tell the disciples some information about Jesus and his coming and goings, there is an implication to this question. I don't know about you, however any time I was asked why I was standing around looking at something as a child, the implication was always, "Don't you have something you should be doing?" Maybe that's just me and some hold over guilt from my parents. The disciples weren't going to find anything by standing and staring into heaven. Jesus had given them a job to do immediately before he left them and there is a sense that they need to get moving on the task ahead of them. The disciples never answer the question the angels ask them in the story. It is more of a rhetorical question after all. 

Thinking about these two questions leads me to wonder what it would look like if we asked them in our context here at St. John's. We probably don't wonder about Jesus overthrowing the Roman Empire and restoring the nation of Israel, however, we do ask similar questions to Jesus. When Lord, are you going to take care of the hungry? When Lord, are you going to end war in the world? When Lord, are you going to come back and restore justice in this world? When Lord, are you going to cure cancer? When Lord, are you going to come and fix my stressful situation? We as human beings are susceptible to wanting someone else to take care of our own problems for us. What assumptions about Jesus are we making at St. John's? How have we missed the point of Jesus' mission in the world and how have we missed our own part of it because we want someone else to take care of it?

The second question is as rhetorical and as poignant in our context at St. John's as it is for the disciples. Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? Jesus has given us a job to do and yet, sometimes we are better at staring into heaven than what we are called to do. You may ask, What work do we have to do? Like the disciples we are called to be witnesses to Jesus to the ends of the earth. Granted that does sound a little big and vague. I mean, that could mean a whole lot of things. 

When I think of all the things we could do, my brain gets overwhelmed... like a overused circuit... it tends toward breaking. When the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, in the story we will hear next week, as Jesus told them they would, they start speaking in different languages! What could we do with the Holy Spirit? What could we do if we didn't keep ourselves hemmed in? What could we do if we were willing to dream big?

Once we are given the Holy Spirit in baptism, there is really no call for us to be living normal ordinary boring lives. We have each been made extraordinary. With the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God breaks through and transforms moments into extraordinary times. What would St. John's be if we had confidence and faith and hope? Confidence in God to lead the way, faith in God to transform our actions and hope in ourselves to create goals and to achieve them? It may seem crazy, and I'm perfectly okay with y'all thinking I'm a little bit crazy, just not too much, I have passed multiple psychological exams... however, It may seem crazy that I have started day dreaming and planning and thinking ahead nine years to when St. John's hits its bicentennial. In nine years, this parish, this congregation will be two hundred years old. Two hundred years. Years of abundance, years of scarcity, years of sorrow, years of joy, always connecting to God through worship and prayer and fellowship. What will St. John's look like in nine years? What will we have dreamed and done together? How will we have witnessed to Jesus to the ends of the earth?

What would you do if you had no boundaries? no consequences? no fear or lack of money? I have a day dream book where I have written down things I have thought I would like to do some day. It spans a wide range of things. Many of them will never happen, though they are fun to think about and figure out what they would be like. Some of them are possible and for those few that I have sensed the greatest desire to do, I have what I call planning pages in further along in the notebook. On those pages, I write down what it would take to do those things. What would I have to do now, what would I have to save for? I outline things. Granted, I'm a planner, I'm a strategist. I plan ahead. Work out back up plans, pack emergency equipment. Not everyone does this. Some of us have vision, some of us get stuff done. Some of us plan ahead and work out the details. We are given different gifts so that we can work together as a community and support each other, so that we are not all silos, working by ourselves, getting burned out. We can hand things off when our gifts have been exhausted so that we can move on to the next project. 

I do not have the answers. I do have the questions. And I have the willingness to lean into the questions, to go on the Adventure, to see where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Please don't just stand there staring into heaven, follow Jesus' call to be a witness to the marvelous work that he has done!


take this bread - a summer virtual book study

Welcome to the summer virtual book study!

The purpose of a summer virtual book study is to take off some of the pressure of a regular book study. You can take this book at your own pace. Another good thing about a virtual book study is that wherever you and your book and your favorite device go, you can participate!

I will be posting quotes, questions, stories, pictures, and histories on this blog and on other St. John's social media outlets (check our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram sites). The posts will go Sunday through Friday, with a break on Saturday, throughout the months of June, July, and August. The chapters are short, the reading is interesting, and the stories are real.

In August we will have a review, in person, at St. John's during the Formation Hour, 9:00 am. The review is to gather together and think back over the discussions, ideas, thoughts that come out of the book study. I'm sure there will be some really good discussions ahead!

If you need to order the book, you can find it on Amazon.

If you want to participate and need help purchasing a book, please let me know!