I just love Sara Miles. I love her like I love Anne Lamott or Nadia Bolz-Weber — as an unconventional, sassy-mouthed Christian woman writer who models for me how to be a Christian engaged with the contemporary world. Miles’s Christianity won’t be for everyone, especially for the more conservative reader — she’s a lesbian member of an affirming Episcopalian congregation in San Francisco, and her mental image of God’s table is one that is radically inclusive and holds a place for everyone, even for those who don’t necessarily wear the label “Christian.” What I’ve always found moving and inspiring in her work is her engagement with people around her, particularly with the everyday people she encounters in her urban neighbourhood. Her first spiritual memoir, Take This Bread, tells about how almost immediately after her own surprising (mostly to her) conversion, she began a food pantry in her local church that reached out the community. City of God continues that story of urban ministry by telling the story of the people Sara Miles encounters on the streets of the Mission district during one Ash Wednesday, when she and several other church people head out into the public spaces to bring ashes to the people.
When I read stories like this I get so excited, and I want to commit myself in radical new ways to serving God’s people on the streets of the city. And while there’s always more I can do in that direction, I have to keep reminding myself that I actually already have a day job where I am daily in contact with people from every imaginable walk of life, many of them in very great need, and that I need to be more open to listening, being present and connecting with the people I am blessed to encounter every day — my students. Like Sara Miles, I’m blessed to already be living right where God has called me to minister: my challenge is to apply what I learn from Miles and other Christian writers that inspire me — apply it not to some imaginary idealized ministry I might be involved in some day, but to the work that I’m called to do right here and now.