Raised as an atheist, Sara Miles lived an enthusiastically secular life as a restaurant cook and writer. She was a radical lesbian activist who suddenly and unexpectedly took a bite of the Lord’s Supper and underwent a massive transformation to become a Christ follower. Miles was also the former editor of Mother Jones magazine (1).
Miles’ testimony begins at the age of 46 when she “walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans – except that up until that moment I’d led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything” (2). She says that her personal story is one of “an unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian conversion, told by a very unlikely convert: a blue-state, secular intellectual; a lesbian, a left-wing journalist with a habit of skepticism.” She explains that she’s certainly not the type of person her colleagues ever expected to see exchanging blessings with street-corner evangelists.
Miles then started a food pantry and gave away enormous amounts of fruit, vegetables and cereal “around the same altar where I’d first received the body of Christ.” She organized new pantries all over the city to provide hundreds of hungry families with free groceries each week. She also recruited many volunteers to assist in her efforts while also managing to raise impressive sums of money. However, despite all the good she did this huge change inevitably led to tensions with her family who were themselves atheists, “I had to struggle with my atheist family, my doubting friends, and the prejudices and traditions of my new-found church… My own family never imagined that I’d wind up preaching the Word of God and serving communion to a hymn-singing flock.”
However, refusing to be deterred she instead became even more involved on the ground. She didn’t hand over “the occasional sandwich from a sanctified distance” but instead had eye opening moments in which she took “the firing pin out of a battered woman’s .357 Magnum.” Much of her time also was spent trudging through the rain at housing projects, sitting on curbs attending to the homeless, while also venturing to countless places where she “met thieves, child abusers, millionaires, day laborers, politicians, schizophrenics, gangsters and bishops, all blown into my life through the restless power of a call to feed people, widening what I thought of as my ‘community’ in ways that were exhilarating, confusing, often scary.”
Miles says that “At a moment when right-wing American Christianity is ascendant, when religion worldwide is rife with fundamentalism and exclusionary ideological crusades, I stumbled into a radically inclusive faith centered on sacraments and action. What I found wasn’t about angels, or going to church, or trying to be ‘good’ in a pious, idealized way. It wasn’t about arguing a doctrine – the Virgin birth, predestination, the sinfulness of homosexuality and divorce – or pledging blind allegiance to a denomination. I was, as the prophet said, hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the poor, the despised and the outcasts are honored.”
Miles’ transition is no doubt a brave one given the pressure she felt from her friends, those who were closest to her at the time. She now believes in a God that her “unbelieving friends see as archaic superstition.” She also believes that she had become a Christian at a time in which Christianity had received a tarnished identity, “At a time when Christianity in America is popularly represented by ecstatic teen crusaders in suburban megachurches, slick preachers proclaiming the ‘gospel’ of prosperity, and shrewd political organizers who rail against evolution, gay marriage and stem-cell research, it’s crucial to understand what faith actually means in the lives of people very different from one another. Why would any thinking person become a Christian? How can anyone reconcile the hateful politics of much contemporary Christianity with Jesus’ imperative to love? What are the deepest ideas of this contested religion, and what do they mean in real life?”
These are important questions that Miles leaves for us, and they are weighty topics she has grappled with in her book, Take This Bread. There she gives readers a closer look at the Gospel that both moved her and opened her up to accepting God’s gift of salvation on the cross.
1. Miles, S. Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion. Available.
2. SoulsCode. Sara Miles’ radical conversion to a radical faith. Available.