Jesus Freak

Jesus Freak: Feeding — Healing — Raising the Dead
By Sara Miles
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010
Review by Carl McColman

Sara Miles and I have something really cool in common. We are both excited about the radical social, political and spiritual implications of the gospel, and we are both flat out nuts in love with Jesus. And, if this book is any indication, Miles shares my experience of sometimes finding it tricky to put those two realities together. “You’re such a freakin’ Jesus freak, Sara,” her own priest tells her. And then he adds, “I mean that in the nicest possible way, of course.”

But Sara Miles understands that Christianity isn’t really about “the nicest possible way.” It’s about being odd, being mysterious, being ironic and revolutionary and passionate and always managing to color outside the lines. In many ways, Jesus Freak serves as a sort of sequel to her inspiring conversion story, Take This Bread. In Take This Bread Miles gleefully connects the dots between the Eucharist, the overall thrust of the gospel, the politics of food, and the pleasures of cooking, and the result is a book filled with miracles and a knowing, smart wonder. Her conversion story ends with her holding on tight as the Holy Spirit blows through her ministry of feeding the hungry, multiplying her original food pantry on a level reminiscent of that day Jesus fed a crowd with just a few loaves and fishes. Jesus Freak revisits the author’s haunts: St. Gregory of Nyssa Church and the Food Pantry — where a Friday afternoon giveaway sounds far more mystical than anything the priests do on Sunday morning. But where Take This Bread is more of a travelogue, as we tag along with Miles’ adventures in New York, the Philippines, and Central America before landing in San Francisco, Jesus Freak has more of a sense of Benedictine stability about it, as most of the action takes place right there in the Bay Area. And while her earlier book was very much a confessional work, this new outing, while mostly just a journey through Sara’s world, feels more relevant as an invitation to all of us readers — to go and do likewise.

Do what, exactly? Consider the chapter titles: “Come and See,” “Feeding,” “Healing,” “Forgiving” and “Raising the Dead.” These are, pretty much, the marching orders of Christ’s followers. And while religion “in the nicest possible way” pays plenty of lip service to these kinds of pious exercises, Miles isn’t very interested in being polite for Jesus’ sake: she’s a Jesus Freak, she’s on fire with the Holy Spirit, and she wants to feed everybody, heal those most in need, forgive even her enemies (!) and… as for raising the dead, I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that there’s a five star pun hidden in that particular story.

What I love about Sara Miles is that she somehow manages to combine the savvy of a veteran political activist with the wide-eyed innocence and wonder of someone who has fallen nutty in love with Christ for the very first time. Indeed, she refers to the Jesus as the “Boyfriend” — a delicious twist on bridal mysticism that just might make you squirm a little bit (she admits that even she finds it really edgy). Like a wild and alluring lover who dares you to break through limits you didn’t even know were holding you back, Jesus — as celebrated by Sara Miles — keeps inviting her, and her priest, and the folks who work with her at the Food Pantry, to keep doing wild and outrageous things to celebrate God’s lavish love and the possiblity of a new world and a new economy that is based on grace rather than profit. Maybe it won’t inspire you to start a food bank, but I bet Jesus Freak will call you to live more passionately for the gospel, in whatever envelope-pushing way is right for you. And that, my friends, is a freaky good thing indeed.

N.B. The publishers have put a short little interview of Sara Miles up on Youtube, with a little bit of footage from St. Gregory’s and the Food Pantry. Here it is:

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Yewtree

    I particularly liked that she emphasised the social message of Jesus, not doctrinal belief. I expected to be made uncomfortable by the video, and I wasn’t.

    But I’d want to add that Jesus wasn’t the only teacher spreading that message; and that there would be an imperative to forgive, heal, and feed people whether Jesus had existed or not. He represents these ideas for many people, but he didn’t invent them. Something is good and right and true because it’s good and right and true, not because Jesus said it. Otherwise people end up taking on board uncritically everything he said, and that can be problematic.

  • Tommy

    Great review- looking forward to reading this soon!