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)