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Book Discussion: Take This Bread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Caroline says:

    G, thanks so much for bringing this book to my attention. I’m halfway through, and I love it. She has so many fascinating takes on prayer, church community, etc.

    One of my favorite things is the way she talks about communion. It made me appreciate the sacrament in a way I never have before.

    Regarding the Eucharist, she says: ‘It reconciled, if only for a minute, all of God’s creation, revealing that, without exception, we were members of one body, God’s body, in endless diversity. The feast showed us how to re-member what had been dis-membered by human attempts to separate and divide, judge and cast out, select or punish. At that Table, sharing food, we were brought into the ongoing work of making creation whole.

    So beautiful.

  2. G says:

    your welcome caroline!
    doesn’t she have a way with words? I like to write quotes in my journal… and I have pages of her words copied in there.

    and I found her book by accident, just perusing at the library. Such a happy accident!

  3. G says:

    and it was her writing about the sacrament that really got me trying to take advantage of it in my LDS ward.

    (and made me a bit jealous of her liberal little artsy church with it’s open communion and beautiful liturgy.)

    I have had thought about trying to find a church similar to st gregory’s, just to see what their eucharist is like… but I haven’t.

    I’m just working on trying to have a good experience with the bread and water passed around in my ward’s Sacrament meeting.

  4. Caroline says:

    I’m jealous of her artsy little church as well. I love the way she describes people singing and dancing over the Eucharist.

    I haven’t been to a liberal Anglican service, but I do go to the United Church of Christ a lot. I love their communion. People sing while everyone goes up row by row to take the bread and water. It’s lovely.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    I loved her descriptions of food and its power–to unite, to nourish. I have often thought there was something special about sharing a meal and preparing food for others, but I never thought of it in such spiritual terms.

    G and Caroline (and anyone else), do you think you would recommend this for a ward book group? I keep going back and forth.

  6. G says:

    emily cc… yes, I have wondered that (about recommending it for ward group).

    I guess it would depend on the ward.

    a book written by a left-wing lesbian just wouldn’t fly at all in my ward, (especially with all her anti-one-true-belief theories)…
    but yet,
    but yet,
    what an incredible spiritual memoir!

  7. Caroline says:

    I have a private ward book group filled with people who are generally a bit left of center. I would definitely recommend it. In fact, next time it’s my turn, I will.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    G, I’m not sure if my ward could get past the initial label either. I think I might try anyway and suggest it…

  1. April 17, 2009

    […] of the Eucharist.   Now I had been looking forward to this part (especially since reading Take This Bread),  curious and hoping it would be acceptable for a visitor to participate (sort of like trying […]

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