Strangers Bring Us Closer to God

“This I Believe” was a marvelous radio feature created decades ago by legendary radio man, Edward R. Murrow. In the modern era, it’s been revived by NPR and independent producer, Jay Allison. I listen to it faithfully, via podcast, and I highly recommend the series to you. Basically, “ordinary people from all walks of life” submit short essays on their “beliefs” and the best of those are chosen for broadcast.

The one below is a recent submission that moved me because it speaks to my own sense of Christian faith, calling, and social understanding. Her own website says this about author Sara Miles:

“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….”

Below is the text of Sara’s essay, titled “Strangers Bring Us Closer to God.” As I said, a lot of my own theology is embedded in this beautiful essay. I have added emphasis here and there, just because.
Listen to it on iTunes
here. Read it below.

Strangers Bring Us Closer to God
by Sara Miles
All Things Considered, May 5, 2008 · Until recently, I thought being a Christian was all about belief. I didn’t know any Christians, but I considered them people who believed in the virgin birth, for example, the way I believed in photosynthesis or germs.

But then, in an experience I still can’t logically explain, I walked into a church and a stranger handed me a chunk of bread. Suddenly, I knew that it was made out of real flour and water and yeast — yet I also knew that God, named Jesus, was alive and in my mouth.

That first communion knocked me upside-down. Faith turned out not to be abstract at all, but material and physical. I’d thought Christianity meant angels and trinities and being good. Instead, I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honored.

I came to believe that God is revealed not only in bread and wine during church services, but whenever we share food with others — particularly strangers. I came to believe that the fruits of creation are for everyone, without exception — not something to be doled out to insiders or the “deserving.”

So, over the objections of some of my fellow parishioners, I started a food pantry right in the church sanctuary, giving away literally tons of oranges and potatoes and Cheerios around the very same altar where I’d eaten the body of Christ. We gave food to anyone who showed up. I met thieves, child abusers, millionaires, day laborers, politicians, schizophrenics, gangsters, bishops — all blown into my life through the restless power of a call to feed people.

At the pantry, serving over 500 strangers a week, I confronted the same issues that had kept me from religion in the first place. Like church, the food pantry asked me to leave certainty behind, tangled me up with people I didn’t particularly want to know and scared me with its demand for more faith than I was ready to give.

Because my new vocation didn’t turn out to be as simple as going to church on Sundays and declaring myself “saved.” I had to trudge in the rain through housing projects, sit on the curb wiping the runny nose of a psychotic man, take the firing pin out of a battered woman’s Magnum and then stick the gun in a cookie tin in the trunk of my car. I had to struggle with my atheist family, my doubting friends, and the prejudices and traditions of my newfound church.

But I learned that hunger can lead to more life — that by sharing real food, I’d find communion with the most unlikely people; that by eating a piece of bread, I’d experience myself as part of one body. This I believe: that by opening ourselves to strangers, we will taste God.

Independently produced for All Things Considered by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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