The Red Couch: Take This Bread Introduction

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F_REDCOUCH

I have a complicated relationship with communion.

I wish I didn’t feel compelled to be this level of honest while introducing this month’s selection Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles. When I started thinking about how to sum up the themes in Take This Bread, there was no escaping communion. It takes center stage in Sara Miles’ conversion story and subsequent mission to begin a food pantry at her church. It is a beautiful, unconventional memoir and it all—all—circles back to the Table.

There’s no getting around it.

While I have many friends who have a complicated relationship with the church, many of them say the Eucharist is the reason they’re still Christians. I envy what communion means to them and yet I can point to my own reasons for still being a Christian. We all have our linchpins.

The linchpin for Sara Miles involved wandering into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church one Sunday and going up to the Table for communion.

“The disconnect between what I thought was happening- I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was haappening—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. All the way home, shocked, I scrambled for explanations … Yet that impossible word, Jesus, lodged in me like a crumb.” p. 59

A powerful moment, one I read with longing. I’ve been diligently working through my church baggage with a trusted few the last couple of years but we haven’t yet found the root to my communion angst. It’s been a long-time struggle but not for the reasons you might assume. 

While I have had meaningful experiences with communion in the past, they have never come close to what Miles experienced. We’re very different people and it’s not fair to compare our experiences. But still.

At the same time, I can’t think about the communion offered at a church without thinking about the role community plays in our lives.

I first read Take This Bread a few years ago, when San Francisco was an abstract place I’d never visited. No one was more shocked than me by the set of circumstances that led me to move here four months ago. 

San Francisco is unique for many reasons, chief among them how, in spite of gentrification, income disparity, food deserts, and housing bubbles, we cannot escape each other. City dwelling provides us with the opportunity to rub shoulders with the marginalized and glorified alike.

We’re in it together. We all want to be seen and heard. We’re all searching for community and, yes, communion.

But as Sara Miles shows us, nothing about this is easy. Her first experience with communion became the foundation of her mission: to feed the hungry. The food pantry she started is rooted in her faith: all are welcome, regardless of zip code, language, hygiene, faith, and culture.

I don’t know if many of us would have the same courage and willingness.

This has huge implications if we’re willing to listen. Who is our neighbor? Who is welcome at our literal table?

When I read Take This Bread, I am inspired and bewildered by and hungry for the vision she paints.

Join me this month in considering what Miles’ conversion and mission can teach us about our work, our calling, and the local church. Let’s bring our honesty as we reflect on our response to her story. Let’s be the Body of Christ to one another.

Come back Wednesday, Nov. 25 for our discussion post.  We’ll be announcing the entire 2016 line up on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Join the Facebook group to discuss the book throughout the month.

Our December book is A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnationedited by Luci Shaw.

The Nightstand at SheLoves Magazine

Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead– Sara Miles

City of God: Faith in the Streets– Sara Miles

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People– Nadia Bolz-Weber

Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint– Nadia Bolz-Weber

The Meal Jesus Gave Us– NT Wright

The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door– Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon

Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition– Christine D. Pohl

Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission– Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl

Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating– Norman Wirzba

Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer– Rowan William

Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church– Rachel Held Evans

Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God– Lauren Winner

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith– Barbara Brown Taylor

*Recommended by Leigh Kramer, Kelley Nikondeha, Antonia Terrazas, Cara Meredith, Sarah Caldwell, and Annie Rim

Are you reading Take This Bread with us? Share your thoughts so far in the comments.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Leigh Kramer
Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee, followed by San Francisco, quit steady job as a social worker to chase her dreams of writing, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.
Leigh Kramer

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  • I’m picking up my copy today! I think communion is my favorite of the sacraments. Even when I’m feeling off and grumpy, coming to the table is a reset. Looking forward to this discussion.

    • Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, Annie!

  • Sandy Hay

    I just read the Prologue for the second time. I’m there with her at that communion table. Years ago I started to attend a charismatic Episcopal church in Destin, FL. We celebrated communion each Sunday, walking to the front, kneeling and taking as the bread and common cup were offered to each of us. Many years (and several moves ) later I attend a church that offers communion once a quarter. I miss it. I was there with Sara .

    • So interesting to hear about your old church, Sandy!

  • I read this book last year and also found it really inspiring and challenging. Great choice!!

    • I look forward to hearing your thoughts, Brenda!

  • I’m afraid that I get your unsettledness about communion — maybe my reasons are different. For me, the fact that we’ve worked so hard in Protestantism to assure ourselves that this is “just a symbol” leaves me feeling very “careful” about it. One thing that has salvaged some mystery for me is introducing it four different times to my boys after their baptism. Oddly, saying things like, “No, this is not just a snack for grown-ups during church,” anchoring it for them in the deep mysteries of incarnation, resurrection, anticipation of another advent and then the incredible privilege of identification with Christ’s death as part of the body of Christ has also helped to anchor its significance for me.

    • Thank you for sharing, Michele. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who approaches it this way.

      • Diving into the book this weekend. What a roller coaster ride!

  • Erin Wilson

    It’s been a long time since I read the book. But I clearly remember how important it was in shaping/confirming where I was headed in my faith and in the world.

    Thinking back on communion too, it has been the odd, desperate, impromptu offerings that have been most meaningful to me. Bread and grape juice on a sandy picnic table at the beach; crackers and water when the need was great but supplies were not. I don’t remember it happening in solitary moments. It’s always been in tiny community.

    Scrambled thoughts, but I’m grateful that you brought it all to mind, Leigh.

    • I love the idea of “odd, desperate, impromptu offerings,” Erin. Thank you for sharing.

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