Friday, September 17, 2010
Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead
New York, Jossey-Bass, 2010
Week 38 Spiritual Memoir
Every Friday afternoon upwards of 800 people come to get as much free food as they can carry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. It is a major ministry of that church and the brainchild of author Sara Miles. Jesus Freak is the story of that food ministry and of the people who are touched by it.
Journalist and chef Sarah Miles walked into St Gregory’s church at age 46 and was converted by the sacrament of communion that she received on that day. She recounts that tale of conversion and its consequences in her book, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. Now she considers herself a “Jesus freak.” She runs the food pantry program at the church and is the program director for the church as well.
I especially appreciated her thought that communion is the same as dinner, and when you feed someone or share a meal with someone, you are practicing communion. “We’ll stay hungry if we eat alone. We’ll be lonely if we think we can only share fellowship with the right people…We’ll starve if we believe that a community is a supernatural kind of miracle, or a product we can buy—not something we create by offering ourselves recklessly to others. We’ll never feel truly fed if we’re constantly competing to get our share. If we believe that love is scarce, and are afraid to give it away.”
Often in her work, she speaks to other churches that have food ministry programs, but many of them are like my local church, where the recipients of the food are screened, sent with a paper saying they can receive food but only once or twice a month. The extravagance of the program Miles runs boggles the mind, but like the story of the loaves and fishes, there is always enough.
The next part of the book discuss the healing (as opposed to curing) aspects of the food ministry and the burn out that comes when those who are enabled try to fix the problems of the poor. The powerful last chapter tells the story of Laura, who is dying of emphysema and needs to make arrangements for her teenage son. Sara guides her through the process of dying; it is a powerful story of the risen Jesus. Miles says that we raise the dead every time we Christians “stand around in our boring churches, eating little wafers or pieces of whole wheat pita, saying aloud that Christ is risen. It’s what we do whenever we continue in simple, literal acts: breaking bread, praying without hope of perfect outcomes, admitting our weaknesses, and loving people who don’t deserve it. It’s what we do when we remember that death is not the end.”
Throughout the book, there are stories of acceptance, of caring, and of redemption. Like the review that follows, I was “blown away” by this book. I have a friend, Ken, who is in jail in Florida for assault—an assault that happened when he was drunk and in a schizophrenic rage. During his jail term, he has gotten sober, gotten his medications regulated, and found Jesus. Throughout this book, I kept thinking Ken needs to find a place like this, where he can be useful and find acceptance. Maybe when his jail term is done, he needs to find Sara Miles and her church and feed those people who are in need.
Review of the book: http://www.blogher.com/review-why-book-jesus-freak-knocked-my-socks
Video of Sara Miles and the food pantry: