By Sara Miles
Reviewed by Barbara Melosh
Writing Workshop Participant ’10/’12
Jossey-Bass, 171 pp., $21.95
Even as mainline congregations slump into stagnation and decline, seekers abound. Some of those seekers, self-identified as “spiritual but not religious,” may be found in those congregations; more often, they find nurture in yoga, meditation, 12-step programs, and a wildly eclectic mix of Buddhism, neo-gnosticism, the prosperity gospel, and self-help “affirmations.” Meanwhile, some still-churched or sort-of-churched Christians have taken up the Jesus seminar to craft what amounts to a Deist revival. Writers like Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, and Robin R. Meyers celebrate Jesus as wisdom teacher, recalling Thomas Jefferson’s exercise of editing the gospels for the age of Enlightenment by scissoring out all references to the supernatural.
Sara Miles shares the liberal critique of a Christianity stultified by its preoccupation with doctrine and institutional maintenance. But she comes to this critique through her conversion at the communion table, and the experience of God as “a force blowing uncontrollably through the world.” Her career in journalism is transformed into a vocation to share bread with congregation and community. Her Jesus is “the Boyfriend” (Miles’ winsome update of the biblical bridegroom)—no disembodied wisdom teacher but a God on the move. Though Miles calls the institutional church to repentance, she embraces the sacramental life of St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, her San Francisco congregation, as formation and fuel for discipleship. And unlike many “seeker” spiritualities, hers is grounded in community: the life together where we are challenged to love the people God loves, and where we are fed, healed, forgiven, and raised from the dead.
Barbara Melosh is Pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Baltimore, Maryland. She attended the Collegeville Institute’s summer writing workshop Writing and the Pastoral Life in 2010.