During this past season of Lent I found myself in an engaging group study of Sara Miles' Take This Bread at a Disciples of Christ congregation in Tennessee. Working through Miles' story of conversion to the Christian faith through the witness of the Eucharist provided food for my soul while I labored through a demanding budget and public policy season as an attorney in public service. The study frequently returned to Miles' coming to faith leading her into a ministry of literally feeding the hungry at St Gregory's Episcopal Church in San Francisco.
Throughout the study I could not separate Miles' feeding the hungry as a natural Christian response to the Eucharist from thinking about what Eucharist and such feeding mean for living a calling in public service. Living out of the biblical stories and Christian practices of Eucharist and baptism can say something about how Christians practice public life. Does a practice of generosity and broad inclusion inspired by the example of Jesus and the food pantry witness of the church of a leftist lesbian single mother say anything to the politics of a diverse community?
I think so. Merely having to respond to that example can change society's conversations by forcing folk to look that example in the face. By God's grace, a witness of service that proclaims practices and values of indiscriminate compassion and justice that includes those at a community's margins might even work its way onto a city's or a nation's public agenda.
This ethics of practice goes beyond the public conversations of Jeffrey Stout's Democracy and Tradition and Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue toward the practices, and even the trickster politics, of Stanley Hauerwas and Romand Coles' Christianity, Democracy and the Radical Ordinary. The practice of the Lord's Table or baptism or foot washing has political lessons for the broader society. Far from stopping a conversation, perhaps it can start a lively public conversation—as did Take This Bread.
If faith practiced like Miles's of pantry and congregation can work into public conversations and agendas, then perhaps these practices of generosity and broad inclusion can build participation in democracy and our civic life. These practices can enter our public deliberations about not only the poor and homeless, but also our deliberating the justice of health care or foreign policy. In the authenticity of such an embodied and practiced witness, we might find a deliberative democracy enlivened by an embodied democracy of bread shared.