Journalist, Author of Take This Bread, and Director of St. Gregory's Food Pantry, Sara Miles
Sara Miles is the author of How to Hack a Party Line: The Democrats and Silicon Valley and co-editor of Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan and the anthology Opposite Sex. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Out, The Progressive, La Jornada and Salon, among others. She has written extensively on military affairs, politics and culture. The founder of St. Gregory's Food Pantry, she lives in San Francisco with her family.
For more information or to contact Sara Miles, visit http://www.saramiles.net.
I was introduced to the work of Sara Miles by a close friend who was very much inspired and moved by her words. I bought her book and I immediately got where he was coming from. Sara has a way of processing that allows for people to exist as they are.
Sara Miles is special.
She has been able to identify her life’s work and purpose and she is doing that work in a very remarkable yet simple way –
She feeds hungry people while opening herself to the possibility of being fed.
Talking to Sara allowed me to quietly access my humanity. I appreciate her work. I admire her heart...
DR: Tell me about your life and your work.
SM: I am doing what I have probably been doing all of my life, which is juggling a number of different things.
I run a food pantry at my church, feeding about 475 families every week now. We just incorporated that I work as the pastor and the director of pastoral care which is supposedly a fifteen hour a week job but it takes more like forty.
I am a writer. I am writing and I am publicizing my book. That is where I am right now. I have a lot of things going on…
What I write about in my book Take This Bread, Dana, is sort of the way that I understood, looking back, how food and bodies and God were connected, for me, in all different kinds of work. Whether it was my work as a restaurant cook or my work as a reporter (I was a war reporter for years, aboard). I think for me that is really at the heart of what my faith is about - feeding other people, particularly feeding strangers. It's been so crucial to my own life and it is out of gratitude for the way that strangers fed me that I started doing this work.
DR: Describe your last really happy moment?
SM: Oh! It was about forty five minutes ago…
I was up in Seattle doing stuff for my book. I came back to San Francisco and took the subway back to my neighborhood, and walked up (it was raining and kind of a cruddy day), and I walked up through my neighborhood early in the morning (I woke up at a "god awful" hour), and I just looked at all of the people standing around on the sidewalk - these little Honduran ladies selling goods out of their baskets, the drug dealer who lives down the block, the woman walking her dog and the kids going to school with their Dads - I just looked at all of these people; my neighbors and I just thought
"I am so blessed to live here."
DR: And why? Why did you feel that way?
SM: Part of it is just familiarity. These are my neighbors and I know them. Part of it is the appreciation of so many different lives, looking at each other and saying "Good morning" in a couple of different languages. It's sweet. I was happy to be home; to be home in the mess of it.
Seattle is beautiful. It is very, very, very pretty. My block has garbage on it and kids throw their candy wrappers on the street but it's my home and I was happy to be back on my block with "my people."
NOTES FROM THE PANTRYBy Sara Miles, originally published in Nyssa News in July, 2006
...The other day two friends showed me an amazing item: a little plastic single-serving communion cup, with a peel-off top...sort of like one of those grape jelly packets you get in a diner. "A safe, convenient, hygienic way," promised the promotional material, "to partake of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for our sins. No refrigeration required, no risk of disease, and no time-consuming, messy cleanup."
I've been noticing recently how much I appreciate the mess of Christianity: a religion in which divinity's revealed by scars on flesh. I like the Biblical parables about grain and wine and figs and pigs. I like the funky stories about Jesus spitting in people's eyes and sticking his fingers in their ears. I like how much everyone eats.
At its unhygienic core, Christianity's all about eating and bodies. So it's not surprising that you might find God all mixed up in an event that features three hundred humans and five tons of food.
That's what happens every week at St. Gregory's Food Pantry: we feed each other, not in some lofty metaphysical manner, and certainly not in a "safe" or "convenient" way. We drink out of the same cup and put our sick, scarred hands on each other. We eat without washing correctly. Like little dogs, we even eat the crumbs that fall from the master's Table, waiting to see what will happen. And sometimes, when we think we're just going to have lunch, we taste God. ...
DR: Do you have a personal definition of success.
SM: I don't really think of success very much.
I think about fear in the middle of the night. When I wake up at three o' clock in the morning and think about all of the things I've done wrong, I make myself anxious. But I don't think that I think about success that much, actually.
DR: Do you consider yourself a successful person.
Let me put it this way:
I am so happy to be doing what I am doing. There are parts of it that drive me nuts and there are times that are difficult…
I was just saying to my wife this morning that we have got the life that we wanted. It is an amazing life. We get to do the work that we want. I feel very conscious that I made a number of choices and I was also incredibly lucky that I stumbled into a lot of things. But I made a lot of choices which I am really grateful for…
DR: What are you most grateful for, Sara?SM: I am most grateful for my daughter, my wife, the people around me and I am really grateful that through this work and what you can call my religious conversion, I get to experience more of the world than I would have otherwise. I didn't just stop at a certain point of development but I have been able to keep learning and I keep having the world open up for me -- more.
DR: What are the qualities that inspire you most in other people?
SM: Honesty, sense of humor and intelligence.
They say to be a real friend you have to be three things:
- 1) Smart
- 2) Nice and
- 3) Funny.
But honesty, kindness and a sense of humor are really inspiring.
DR: What is it about you that you feel most inspires other people?
SM: That I am just willing to do stuff. I'm not very afraid of things and I'm willing to do stuff. The down side is that I am impatient and bossy but the plus is that I am not afraid. I am not afraid of other people. I am not afraid pain. I am not afraid to try new things and -
I like people.
My daughter jokes that I walk around with a blinking sign on my forehead that says:
"If you are crazy or troubled, please talk to me."
It is inevitable that somebody is going to come up to me and tell me their life story.
DR: How old is your daughter?
SM: She's seventeen. She grew up like this. Every crazy person on the block would come and talk to me and I love it! That is why I became a reporter so that I could hear people's stories. That is fascinating to me. I love to be working with other people and be open to them.
DR: What do you think that people say about you when you are not around?
BE A PART OF SAINT GREGORY'S FOOD PANTRY
You can drop by the church any Friday afternoon, to serve and/or be served. We unload the food truck beginning at noon, serve groceries from 3:00-5:00 PM, and then clean up. We welcome all volunteers, whether you can work half an hour or all afternoon, whether you can come once or every week, Contact Sara Miles to find out more (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The food pantry is supported by individual donations, not by the church budget or collection plate. Members of Saint Gregory's, and friends in the broader community, make the Food Pantry possible with their donations of money, time, and service.
Please make checks payable to St. Gregory's Food Pantry and mail to:
- $1 buys 3 bags of groceries for a hungry family.
- For just $50, you can help feed one family for a year.
- $250 buys 3 tons of food - groceries for a week for 250 families.
St Gregory's Food Pantry
500 De Haro Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
Fridays 3:00-5:00 PM
For more information call the office at (415) 255-8100.
SM: I don't know.
I don't get the feeling that people say much about me that they don't say right to me. I don't think that I am intimidating. I think I am pretty approachable.
DR: Is there a contribution that you ultimately want to make to the world?
When you talk about success in that sense I am happy because I get to do what I do over and over again. I get to feed people. I get to feed people literally (I love to cook for people). I get to feed people spiritually and I get to be fed by people.
I get to, over and over again, go to places I haven't been and meet people I haven't met and have some moment of connection with them. That is the contribution that I want to make and I get to do that over and over again.
DR: If you could wake up tomorrow with a brand new ability, what would it be?
SM: In the short term I would like to be able to speak Chinese. In the long term I would like The Constitution of the United States to survive…
DR: And, why is that?
SM: Well because I actually think that the premise of an actual democracy, which is to say that it is about the people, you and me and not in some corny rhetorical way but that we are the people and we get to decide our mode of government, is important.
It is important that we are not being governed by thugs and soldiers and big business and money. That is vital! I have lived in countries that are not democracies and I have seen the violence around that.
I think that America has so many problems and yet it has this promise that the people will govern and I want to protect that. I want that to be protected.
DR: A hundred years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?
SM: I would like someone to pick up something that I wrote and say:
"This makes me understand the way that it was. This makes me understand another human being in another time."
I would like my words to be able to continue to speak to people when -
I can't speak in my own voice anymore.
Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion
"Some books you can’t put down, some you shouldn’t–this one’s both. Sara Miles’s story of spiritual nourishment recalls Patch Adams, but she’s also a writer like John Muir or Jane Addams, a gifted stylist whose passion translates to vivid storytelling. Take This Bread is necessary reading, I would think, for anyone who’s ever taken a bite out of anything."
–J. C. Hallman, author of The Devil is a Gentleman
The story of an unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian conversion, told by a very unlikely convert, TAKE THIS BREAD is not only a spiritual memoir but a call to action.
Raised as an atheist, Sara Miles lived an enthusiastically secular life as a restaurant cook and writer. Then early one morning, for no earthly reason, she wandered into a church. “I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian,” she writes. “Or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut.”
But she ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine, and found herself radically transformed...
Click here to buy Take This Break: A Radical Conversion online.