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.