Friday, May 25, 2007

Take This Bread

In the latest issue of The National Catholic Reporter, Bill Frogameni reviews Sara Miles’ book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion.


I found this review both very refreshing and timely. Why? Well, here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis it’s become standard policy to deny communion to Catholics who are considered “the wrong people,” with regards their experiences and views on certain matters related to sexuality.

In particular, I’m thinking of the denial of communion to wearers of the Rainbow Sash, and the denial of communion to attendees of the recent New Ways Ministry Sixth National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality.

Following are excerpts from Frogameni’s review of Take This Bread.

Progressive journalist Sara Miles [pictured below] is in a same-sex marriage. She attends an Episcopalian church where ministers don tie-dyed robes and offer Communion to the unbaptized. But don’t tell the author of Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion she’s not in the mainstream of Christianity, that she’s conjured a theology tailored for her liberal San Francisco sensibilities.


“I don’t feel like I’m making up something convenient. I feel quite rooted in the Christian tradition,” she says in a phone interview.

And that’s a great theme throughout this tightly crafted, joyful memoir of coming to believe that God doesn’t discriminate and grace is for all. “As I interpreted it,” Ms. Miles writes, “Jesus invited notorious wrongdoers to his table, airily discarded 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.”

[Miles] isn’t interested in defining her Christianity in terms of what she’s against. Being Christian is an act of inclusion for her: She’s invited, but so is everyone else -- even other Christians who may despise her on general principle. The bottom line, she says, is that you can’t be Christian by yourself. And so Take this Bread advocates big-tent Christianity in the truest sense of the phrase.

With that in mind, Ms. Miles keeps returning to the idea that being truly Christian has little to do with identity politics, posturing on issues, or “liberal” versus “conservative.” It’s more about hunger and feeding, body and blood -- those things that are most elemental in the human experience. Ms. Miles went to church one day because she was spiritually hungry and found a piece of bread that gave her powerful sustenance. . . .

[W]hile she’s passionately engaged in the debate over the expression of faith, she thinks Christians still have more in common than not. “What sustains us in unity is ultimately not temporal politics or our being able to agree on wording of a resolution as if we’re engaged in a zoning battle,” she says. “We’re sustained by a mystery that notably, as we say, passes human understanding.”

Such poetic reflections are welcome, but Take This Bread really resonates based on the results of the author’s conversion. A year into her new life, the author became inspired to start a food pantry. However, she envisioned a pantry that “wasn’t a social service program but a service, modeled on the liturgy of the Eucharist.” So the pantry was eventually set up in the church itself, groceries placed on the altar, and all manner of persons invited to the table. There was no indoctrination of the needy and little of the structure typically found in a food pantry. The point was not to arbitrate who could come or how many could come, but only to open the doors and trust God would provide. . . .

At its heart, Take this Bread is a story of finding sustenance and passing it on. It’s about what can happen when people ignore the petty trappings of religion and find the central Christian ethos. For the author, it comes down to how one responds to hunger. “The impulse to share food is basic and ancient,” she notes. “It’s no wonder the old stories teach that what you give to a stranger, you give to God.”

To read Bill Frogameni’s review of Sara Miles’ Take This Bread in its entirety, click here.


Image 1: Amazon.com
Image 2: St. Gregory’s Church

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
An Energizing and Spirited Weekend
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ” – Reflections on the Eucharist
My Rainbow Sash Experience

Recommended Off-site Link:
SaraMiles.net

27 comments:

Eileen said...

What Sarah said - exactly and emphatically.

All are welcome.

Whether we like it or not. It's God's party - we don't get to decide who is on the invite list.

Mystical Seeker said...

I have been to St. Gregory's church in San Francisco. It is really a wonderfully inclusive church. I think the fact that she found her way to Christianity when she was offered the ability to partake of the communion shows the way that open communion is an expression of inclusion.

To be honest, when I have attended St. Gregory's, it is pretty hard NOT to take communion. It just seems kind of rude not to partake of it. Everyone is invited, no one cares what you believe or what your background is or whether you are gay or straight, and when you are standing in a circle around the altar, it just isn't easy not to be a participant.

paramedicgirl said...

It's not "standard policy" to deny communion to sexually active gay people. It's doctrine that can't be changed. People living in a state of mortal sin can't receive Holy Communion. How can one be in a state of grace if they are having sexual relations outside of a sacramental marriage? That holds true for straight single people as well as gays. Both are called to a life of chastity.

What about this is so hard to understand?

Michael J. Bayly said...

ParamedicGirl,

First, none of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is infallible. As Catholic theologian Daniel Helminiak says: “Certain beliefs have been proclaimed infallibly, but never an ethical teaching.”

He goes on to note that “the Catholic mind is smart enough to know that right and wrong often depend on concrete circumstances and limited human understanding.” (For an insightful interview I conducted with Daniel Helminiak in 2006, click here.)

Second, doctrine can and has changed. An invaluable resource in this matter is Maureen Fiedler and Linda Radden’s Rome Has Spoken: A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements, and How They Have Changed Through the Centuries.

This is a book that, as Pat McCloskey of Commonweal notes, “clearly demonstrates that the Roman Catholic Church, living within human history, has evolved in its teachings about issues vital to the life of individuals and the entire community.”

McCloskey also observes that, “mature believers can deal with both change and continuity.”

As for understanding where the Magisterium is coming from with regards its sexual theology, I understand completely. Yet like the majority of folks who comprise the Church, I recognize that the sources of the Magisterium’s understanding (and thus theology) on matters sexual are limited, biased, and, for many people, non-affirming of their experience of God in their relational and sexual lives.

For gay people in particular, such teaching does not lead to that “fullness of life” spoken about by our brother Jesus. (For more on this see The Many Forms of Courage”).

Finally, as Jesuit Philip Endean reminds us: we should always keep in mind the authentically Catholic perspective which recognizes that “dogmas of tradition exist not as truths complete in themselves, but rather as resources for helping us discover the ever greater glory . . . of the God whose gift of self pervades all possible experience.”

And whether you want to accept it or not, ParamedicGirl, “all possible experience” includes gay people’s experiences of love, intimacy, and relationship.

Now, what’s so hard to understand about that?


Peace,

Michael

Peggy said...

"...Catholic theologian Daniel Helminiak says: “Certain beliefs have been proclaimed infallibly, but never an ethical teaching.”"

He's wrong.

Peggy said...

"For gay people in particular, such teaching does not lead to that “fullness of life” spoken about by our brother Jesus."

I love sweets and smoking. When I'm reminded that neither are good for me, that really cuts into my "fullness of life", too.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Peggy,

I see you're back. Just can't keep away, it seems. I find this somewhat surprising since you find so much of what I post objectionable.

With regards Helminiak: sorry, but when it comes to theological matters, I side with those who have actually studied and written about such matters. Helminiak is correct when he says that no ethical teaching has been proclaimed infallibly.

The institutional church's teaching on sexuality denies and condemns gay people's experiences of love, intimacy and relationship with another of the same gender. That you compare such profoundly human and potentially spiritual experiences to confectionery and cigarettes is quite misguided and sad.

Peace,

Michael

Eileen said...

I was going to post something, but, I realized I just couldn't be nice in the face of such ignorance, so, I'll save it.

Peace, Michael.

Peggy said...

Michael wrote,

"...I side with those who have actually studied and written about such matters. "

Are you saying the Magisterium hasn't "studied and written" about homosexuality?

Why are my cravings for cigarettes and sugar any less valid than your desires?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Peggy,

Yes, I am saying that the Magisterium has not adequately studied the reality of homosexuality. That's painfully obvious.

And as for your second question: You've got to be kidding me!

Peace,

Michael

Peggy said...

The Magisterium is guided by the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus Christ.

And no, I'm not kidding. Let's discuss.

Eileen said...

My tongue is bleeding.

Mystical Seeker said...

Eileen, unfortunately, I think we all have had bleeding tongues in the face of such ignorance from time to time.

Eileen said...

No sense trying to talk sense to ignorance born of righteousness.

It's a waste of breath.

Peggy said...

I'll take your collective tongue-biting to mean that you're unable to rebut my argument.

Doesn't my loving to smoke automatically make it good for me? Doesn't my level of desire for sweets override the negative effects of eating too much of them?

Tom Devine said...

Dear Peggy,

Smoking or not smoking is not a moral decision. Sure, smoking is "bad" for your body, but that's just an instrumental "bad," not a moral one: our bodies are all mortal, and it's just a matter of how functional you want to keep yours while you're on earth. But, IMO, that choice is yours, and there's no absolute moral imperative about it.

Having sex or not can be a purely instrumental decision too -- except when love is involved. And, trust me, gay people can feel love too. What really makes a person "gay" or "straight" is ultimately who they love, in the personal, romantic sense. And that sort of love seems to be inextricably intertwined with sexual desire. For that paradox, I think we can only blame, or thank, the Creator.

Denying someone the right to express his or her love, is, in my opinion, like denying them the right to express their religion. It cuts that close to the real "fullness of life," in my opinion.

I regularly attend St. Gregory's, and have found it an inspiration to take Christianity seriously.

Peggy said...

So, if I love another woman's husband, I've got the green light to jump in the sack with him?

Does a gay man's love for another man trump the inherent dangers to which they are both exposed during anal sex?

Eileen said...

Tom - Very nicely put.

Peggy - Acutally it only means I know better than to waste my time on the self-righteous. You know what you want to know, no more, no less.

BTW, God thinks smoking and eating candy to excess are a sin too. He calls it glutony.

I never, ever heard God call love a sin. Nor Christ.

Eileen said...

Peggy - Newsflash - Lots of hetero couples enjoy anal sex - gasp...even the married ones. I wonder if they are worried about the inherent dangers of it, if they are in a committed, monogamous relationship?

Additionally, I know a male couple (togther for 25 years) who don't do anal sex - they don't like it. They do other things. So, I guess it's not a worry for them. And anal sex is obviously not an issue for lesbians.

Get over the ick factor. God made sex. He made humans to be sexual beings. Why would God create something he didn't approve of - and who are we as human beings to put ourselves in God's place as judge of said creations? (so don't get into bullshit arguments with me about child molestation and murder - someone else is obviously hurt in these cases. Two adults, who love one another in a committed, monogamous relationship aren't hurting anybody.)

Comparing a basic human need to a desire to smoke or overeat or commit adultery is just showing willful ignorance. In the interim, this article might be helpful to you: http://www.healthbolt.net/2007/02/14/26-reasons-what-you-think-is-right-is-wrong/

As for your second example, adultery is a sin - others can be harmed by having an affair with someone already in a committed relationship.

Committed monogamy, in my mind, is not a big issue with God, no matter the sex of the players. It's the committment and love that matter. On this issue, the Magisterium is dead wrong, and ignoring the Holy Spirit active in our world today (not just in Nicea...1700 years ago.)

Peggy said...

Eileen,

Are you acknowledging that there is such a thing as sin? How do you know about gluttony? Who or what is your source for the Truth?

Does having a differing viewpoint than you automatically make one "self-righteous"?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Eileen and Tom,

Thanks for your responses.

The article Eileen directs Peggy to can also be found by clicking here.

Peace,

Michael

Eileen said...

I am a catholic - used to be a Roman Catholic, now an Episcopal one.

I'm quite familiar with Roman catechism (made all my sacrement, including marriage), although I'm not qualified to argue canon law. Which is good, as it holds no interest for me (and I doubt it does for God either, personally).

The truth I believe in is the gospel. The words of Christ. Not the words of Christ as interpreted by Paul, although, Paul did have some things to say with which I agree. Last I checked, they didn't nail Paul up on the cross. He was human and falliable just like the rest of us. Doing the best he could, within the limits of his own human foibles.

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) don't address homosexuality (I wonder why, if it was so important to God?). And Christ said he was delivering a new covenant, breaking the old, so I feel free to disregard the old levitical laws contained there in, while I eat my ham, and shellfish, and enjoy dogs.

I do acknowledge sin, although I'm not obsessed with it. I'm human, I err. So do you, and the rest of humanity. I work on it the best I can, as I'm sure you feel you do in your own life.

As for self-righteous here's a definition:
believing in own virtue: sure of the moral superiority of personal beliefs and actions, usually to an irritating degree.

I believe the way you carry on your discourse here is highly disrespectful, and exhibiting self-righteousness.

I can respect that you disagree, but I don't care for the way I've seen you conduct your arguments around this blog. It reeks to me of self-righteousness.

You of course, can say the same of me.

There, I guess we're even.

Peggy said...

"...Newsflash - Lots of hetero couples enjoy anal sex - gasp...even the married ones."

Since the marital act is supposed to be both unitive and procreative, anal sex doesn't fit the bill for anyone - hetero or otherwise - according to the Catholic Church.

"I know a male couple (togther for 25 years) who don't do anal sex - they don't like it. They do other things."

Other things?! (See my previous point.)

"Why would God create something he didn't approve of..."

God created human beings and he blessed us with a sexual drive for the purpose of unity and reproduction. Males have a penis and females have a vagina; they were made to go together, and together they serve a monumental purpose. There is no other organ/orifice combination that fits the unitive/procreative criteria.

"The truth I believe in is the gospel. The words of Christ. Not the words of Christ as interpreted by Paul, although, Paul did have some things to say with which I agree."

With all due respect, your arrogance is really showing here as is your pick-and-choose brand of Christianity. Mighty big of you to agree with SOME of the things Paul has to say, considering he personally knew Jesus and devoted his life to spreading the Gospel.

You say you're an Episcopalian...has your church discounted both the Old and New Testaments as well?


A definition for all of us to ponder:
"Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law." " (CCC #1849)

Michael J. Bayly said...

Friends,

What strikes me most about our sister Peggy’s comments is how cerebral, legalistic, and rigid they sound.

I’m sure such characteristics come in handy, but they’re not ones that I want shaping or reflecting my life - and, in particular, my interpersonal interactions and relationships.

Indeed, all of the great religious traditions of the world (including Christianity) warn against such characteristics usurping the more genuinely religious qualities of trust and love.

As John Haught notes in What Is Religion?: “At the heart of religion there is an attitude of confidence and assurance. Religion is not in the same category of understanding as, for example, knowledge of the multiplication tables. [Religion] hardly possesses that kind of clarity and distinctness. People do not become religious simply by performing automatic operations in logic. Religion instead is closer to interpersonal kinds of experience and knowledge. The latter require that we risk ourselves by going out to people in acts of trust.”

The ultra-authoritarian style of Catholicism Peggy clearly wants us all to follow does indeed come across as being “in the same category of understanding as . . . knowledge of the multiplication tables.” It’s what Catholic theologian Gary Mack has described as the ‘Big Book of Doctrine’ school of theology.

As I’ve noted in a previous post, Macy, a scholar of Church history, observes that “this strange form of authoritarianism, fomented both by the ultra-montanism of the late nineteenth-century papacy and by Enlightenment anti-clericalism, understands Roman Catholicism as fundamentally an attempt to provide the definitive answers to all questions, usually in one ‘big book of doctrine,’ whether it be Thomas’s Summa, Denzinger’s Enchiridion, or lately the Roman Catechism of the Universal Church” – from which, incidentally, Peggy quoted in her last post.

I’m sure such texts serve a purpose, but to prop them up as the last word and thus as divine oracles is idolatrous. The role of such texts should be to gather the (limited) wisdom of the day, i.e., the prevailing orthodoxy. Yet in a spirit of humility and trust they should also acknowledge that as the people of God we’re still in process, still on pilgrimage with regard discerning the fullness of truth about God and about what it means to be fully human.

Unfortunately, under the suffocating influence of that “Big Book of Doctrine” school of theology, many of the Church's teaching texts arrogantly attempt to box God in, to limit God’s transforming presence in people’s experience and in the world. Yet as we all know, the Spirit blows where it wills.

It’s fascinating, to me, how we so often try to limit God within the parameters of our limited understanding. God is not limited by heterosexuality, is not contained within that particular understanding and expression of human sexuality. Countless loving LGBT couples throughout human history are testimony to this. The Church as people of God, is ahead of the institutional Church in acknowledging and celebrating this truth, as it is ahead of the institutional Church in most other matters of human sexuality and gender – from birth control to the role of women in the Church.

Folks like Peggy, of course, dismiss contemporary theologians – even those of the caliber of Karl Rahner – claiming, to the effect, that, compared to the Magisterium, they are mere peons.

What always strikes me as odd in such disdain for theologians is the failure to recognize and acknowledge that the teachings of the Magisterium are themselves the product of theological reflection by theologians attuned (to varying degrees) to the movement of the spirit within the entire Church, and both aided and limited by the cultural and scientific knowledge of the day. I mean, the teachings of the Magisterium didn’t just fall out of the sky!

I’m sure Peggy thinks I’m anti-Magisterium. Not so. There’s a place and role for this type of body within the Church. What I (and others) object to are the Magisterium's limited and exclusionary methods of authoritative teaching – methods unduly influenced by the “Big Book of Doctrine” school of theology.

Such influence is all the more lamentable given the fact that, as Catholic theologian Mary Bednarowski reminds us, an understanding of the Magisterium as “highly authoritarian and centered in Rome and in the authority of the Pope is a fairly recent interpretation of a kind of teaching function that, historically, was perceived as somewhat speculative.” By speculative, Bednarowski means “creatively reflective in responding to the realities of human life and experience in and of the world.”

As I’ve noted previously, in theory, the Magisterium serves as the normative teaching office of the Catholic Church. Such an office is appropriate and, indeed, necessary. Yet in current practice, the Magisterium is clearly hampered in its discernment of the Spirit within the Church as the People of God, as the Body of Christ.

Why is this? For the Magisterium to be a genuine normative teaching body within an understanding of “the church” as the living Body of Christ, it needs to be comprised of representatives from the entire Body of Christ – an entirety that includes, for instance, women and LGBT persons.

Until such inclusion, until such listening to the experiences and insights of others is evident in the formulation of Church teaching, I can't place much credence in the quotes from the Catechism thrown at me by folks like Peggy. For the vast majority of Catholics, such teaching, when it comes to matters related to sexuality, lack wisdom and compassion. They have not been “received” by the faithful, and so are clearly inauthentic teachings. It’s that simple.

Most Catholics are bypassing such inauthentic teaching and going straight to the Spirit – that wondrous, enlightening, transforming spirit promised and given to the entire Church at Pentecost. It is this spirit that sustains and guides the Church as people of God during this time in our history when the institutional Church is mired in the hubris of a “Big Book of Doctrine” school of theology.

My sense is that Peggy considers the Spirit contained solely within this particular (and thus limited) school of theological thought and thus the Magisterium. Such an understanding is contrary to the Biblical testimony and our Catholic tradition.

On a number of occasions, Peggy has clearly articulated the “party line” of the “Big Book of Doctrine” school of theology. You’ve made your point, Peggy. We’ve discussed and dialogued, and have obviously come to a point where all we can now say is that we “agree to disagree.”

Peace,

Michael

Eileen said...

Peggy -

I have no doubt you believe that.

I don't need a bunch of pointy hats to tell me what to believe.

I know people who are gay. I am related to people who are gay, and even to a person who had a sex change. None of them are evil, murdering, child molesters (although I also have a hetero cousin who IS one of those, but I digress)...

Paul may have known Christ, but he was NOT Christ. Christ's apostles' frequently were not on the same wave length with him, and he often had to admonish them. He frequently used parables to try to get them to understand things were which were beyond their ability to comprehend. While I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit was often with Paul, I don't trust that everything Paul taught was consistent with Christ's own teaching. Paul was Paul and Christ was Christ. They had different ministries.

Additionally, there are so few passages that even talk about homosexuality in the old or new testament. If it was so crucial, why didn't Christ speak out about it directly, as he did about divorce? (And contextually, Christ was calling a husband to be responsible - to abandon a wife was to basically leave her to die.)

Where is the sin in love?

If you think that all RC couples around the world only have sex to procreate, you are either very naive or willfully ignorant. The church may teach, and a handful may practice it, but in this country I suspect there are very few Catholics who only have sex to have a baby. They use it as the delightful toy God gave them to feel release, and to feel intimacy. As a matter of fact, most of my adult friends are practicing RCs. All of them have three of fewer children. All of them have sex. Most of them use birth control (some use basal body temperature, but that's a minority).

Let's just say I've read enough things to be very convinced that the RCC has very unhealthy views on sexuality that have more to do with men and doctrine than with God.

Or am I self-righteous because I disagree with you, Peggy?

Quoting canon to me is pointless,because I don't buy it. Canon was created by man. It's done nothing but divide the church since the beginning, and that wasn't what Christ wanted. He wanted a whole Church. So in that way, we've all failed him.

Anyway, this gets back to my original point: You aren't going to change my mind, and I'm not going to change yours. We both know that.

It would just be nice if you could be more respectful and less condescending to Michael, whose beliefs and life experiences are different then your own. He lives with homosexuality, and unless you are a lesbian, chosing to live a celebate life, there isn't much you have to say on the subject that is worth hearing.

If you are a lesbian living a celibate life, because you believe stongly that is what you should do, then kudos. That IS a choice you can make.

But I don't believe that people choose to be homosexual - I think they are born that way. (It is seen in other mamamalian species). Who are we to mess with God's design?

Just because a minority of Christians believe GLTB people are not automatically disqualified to be Christians, doesn't mean that it isn't a sign the Holy Spirit is at work. Christ started small - 12 men. He shook things up and changed the way people saw the world.

In a generation or two, I think it will be a mute issue anyway - at least in first world countries. Most of the college students I work with don't flinch if they have a friend who is gay, and they don't think it's an awful thing.

I can agree to disagree with you, and I understand where you are coming from, although, I disagree. I was taught the same things, and believed some of the same things at one time.

But if you are going use poking a beehive tactics to get your argument across, don't be surprised to get back what you dish out.

Peggy said...

The Holy Spirit is a person, not a force.

From the OSV Catholic Encyclopedia:

Among the sins against the Holy Spirit are: "(1) despair concerning the possibility of salvation; (2) presumption of God's mercy and forgiveness; (3)denial of the truths of the faith; (4)final impenitence and refusal to turn to God. Sins against the Holy Spirit are most grave because they reject the dignity of the One sent by the Father to sanctify us and restore us to full union with Him. While other sins might be against one's neighbor, sins against the Holy Spirit are immediately and proximately against God; because of this, sins against the Holy Spirit undermine the entirety of Christian life, for neither faith, hope nor charity are possible when God is directly and immediately rejected through these sins."
"Ultimately, sins against the Holy Spirit are sins against the faith, and prayer for the gift of faith is the best means of avoiding them."

May I lose my life before I lose my faith!

Au revoir...

Eileen said...

Au revoir!