In Mark Oestreicher's review of Sara Miles' latest book Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead he describes Sara as one of those rare people who would make conservatives nervous because of her liberalism, and make liberals nervous because she's so dang Jesus-y. Intrigued by his assessment, I decided to shoot Sara a few questions by e-mail.
What does it mean to be a "Jesus Freak"?
For me, it's about actually doing the work that Jesus gives his disciples: feeding, healing, touching the ritually unclean, forgiving, raising the dead. And entering into this work, following Jesus, allows us to believe what seems, on the face of it, ridiculous: that God has faith in us. That God trusts us -- people no better or smarter or more faithful than the cowardly housewives and fishermen he chose as his disciples -- to bear God in our bodies and do God's work in the world.
When did you realize you were a Jesus freak?
I'm a pretty new convert, baptized nine years ago. Converts tend to be kind of overbearing and wild-eyed about Jesus (see, for example, St. Paul). It drives everyone else batty. But my experience is that conversion isn't a single moment: it's an ongoing process that requires a deepening, changing relationship with God. I think it's easy to fetishize an idea about Jesus, to decide that you're "saved," and to think that from now on you just have to follow the rules. But a relationship is a living thing -- and it requires more of you.
Why do you think so many liberals are scared of Jesus freaks?
It's not just liberals who are scared: plenty of people have good reasons to be scared of Christians. I don't have to spell out the whole sorry history, but I think it's not surprising that a religion identified with empire would frighten the colonized; that a religion searching for scapegoats would frighten those of other faiths; or that a religion obsessed with the answers would frighten doubters. My own struggle is to find the humble, searching heart of Jesus underneath the trappings of imperial power and self-righteous correctness, and to extend that to others.
Conversely, how do you extend agape to your more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ?
Occasionally Christians will say they love me but are worried about my soul, since I persist in "unbiblical" practices. The odd and irrational truth is that I believe the most conservative fundamentalist has heard something -- and that I have heard something. And that wherever we are, if we listen to that voice instead of to our own opinions, we're being called to more love.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a man whom I'm currently very angry with, and whose political courage I find lacking -- he said an amazing thing a few years ago, that I wrote down and keep in my wallet to look at and pray about every day. "The irreducible facts about the brother or sister," Rowan Williams wrote, "are that Christ died for them and that the Spirit wants to give something through them. To cling to unity is to cling to those convictions, especially when everything in us cries out for separation. Or, in plain words, unity is a gospel imperative to just the extent that we find it hard/ Unity is a gospel imperative when we recognize that it opens us to change, to conversion; when we realize how our life with Christ is somehow bound up with our willingness to abide with those we think are sinful and those we think are stupid."
How does The Food Pantry at St. Gregory's in San Francisco differ from many other church run pantry operations?
The Food Pantry looks different from a lot of food pantries because it's set up right around the altar, in a spacious room filled with icons and flowers; there are big heaps of lettuce and potatoes and oranges... it looks like a farmer's market in heaven. And, just like heaven, it's meant for everyone: we don't restrict the pantry to the "deserving," but give away food without asking people to prove their address or income or citizenship. Most importantly, The Food Pantry is run by the people who use it: most of our volunteers are people who came to get food and stayed to help out. It's not a traditional charity, but a community of poor people feeding each other.
Follow Becky Garrison's travels on Twitter @JesusDied4This.