Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Breaking Bread and Boundaries

I am co-leading a feminist spirituality group in my faith community, along with two remarkable women whose life stories are quite different from my own. Apart from traditional women’s circles and auxiliaries, I wonder if there has ever been a class limited to women only, devoted to thinking about women, their faith journeys, and their life stories in this congregation before. It has been a rich experience, drawing women from all stages of life—20’s to 80’s, gay, bi- and straight, every marital status, with no kids, young kids, and grown kids, from a surprising array of faith and non-faith backgrounds, and an array of political perspectives for a largely progressive community.

We are reading Sara Miles’ Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, a memoir of her sudden, radical conversion, as a leftist, lesbian, atheist journalist, to Christian faith manifested in feeding others, especially the poor and those most unlike herself. One of her central, evolving tenets is that we must rub shoulders with those who are not like us to truly make a difference in the world. I tend to take a pretty traditional approach to lesson preparation, and I really didn’t know what to expect from this group. But the discussions have been delightful, wide-ranging, and deeply questioning. I should have known that we could count on a group of engaged adult women to come together to talk, having done the reading, with many reflections to share, in a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance, and safety.

I am still processing a February 11 column in the New York Times by Bob Herbert, in which he stated: “As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.” I actively grieve recent political developments and devolutions, and sometimes despair of how we, at the local, grassroots level, can work to repair and rejuvenate our societal fabric despite the torrent of partisan hatefulness that rains down from our national “leadership.”

This class renews my faith, in a number of senses. Other uplifting examples of “good works” I am buoyed by in Bloomington include: the Interfaith Winter Shelter, staffed by believers and non-believers alike and supported by a wide range of faith communities and political perspectives; the November 2 passage of a local referendum to support our schools, and the ongoing community conversations, some more contentious than others, on how best to use those funds to educate all kids; WWF(a)C’s ArtsWeek “Day of Writing and Art” for girls grades 4-12, which brought together writers, teachers, and artists of all stripes to interact with a patchwork of girls from many corners of our community; the Bloomington Farmer’s Market, where everybody and anybody is drawn together by a common love of food and festivity.

We are lucky to live in this community. Let’s increase our good fortune by supporting and participating in efforts like these that bring together folks who don’t necessarily see eye to eye, on common ground, where we can extend and break down our boundaries, “presuming good will.” What are you doing, or what can you do, to widen your world?

Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse


  1. I enjoyed reading this, Mary. I, too, have been really appreciating Bloomington lately. It hit me when we were at the Auditorium listening to Spike Lee. Bloomington is a great place to live. Your church community sounds wonderful, too.

  2. Do you have a copy of this I could borrow? The library does not have it for some reason.