City of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles is an intriguing book. Sara, an avante garde Episcopalian minister, writes in great detail about one day in her ministry: Ash Wednesday. We accompany Sara from the time she wakes up to the time she ends her day on Ash Wednesday as she ministers to the crazy, wild and wonderful people of San Francisco.
The book detours into the lives of the people she meets, and her history with them. For example, a homeless man the staff at St. Gregory’s has dubbed “Mr. Claws” for his long, unkept fingernails comes to services every morning. Today of all days, Mr. Claws stumbles to the church, gravely ill. Sara and her colleagues drive him to the hospital and help him, only to never see him again.
It’s these haunting stories, and others about the parishioners at St. Gregory that makes the book worthwhile. From the lives of the men and women in her neighborhood to her own unique vision of the gritty city as the City of God promised in the Book of Revelations, Sara’s writing is crisp, often sparse, and sometimes frighteningly brilliant in her insight of the nature and character of the followers of Christ.
Sara takes ashes to the streets on Ash Wednesday, seeing ashes as a symbol of death and mortality. She anoints her neighbors and ladies at the local beauty salon sitting under hair dryers. She describes in vivid detail the gangs, the lunatics, the freaks, the hard working immigrants, the yuppies she meets during her day. I’m not a huge fan of San Francisco, nor of any major city, but Sara clearly loves her adopted town, and I love it too through her eyes.
Some of the complains I’ve read about this book on Goodreads just seem silly. Someone complained about the few swear words in the book. I’m not in favor of swearing, but people need to get over the fact that a minister swears in the text. Guess what, folks, ministers, priests and rabbis DO occasionally let out the F word. I’m not saying that’s a good thing but it’s REAL, and that’s what this book is all about – the real, the true, the gritty. It’s not sugar coated. Just because Sara is a minister doesn’t mean she isn’t a person.
All in all, I enjoyed this book even though some of the theology conflicts with my beliefs. It is that love affair, that lens through which the author sees the real city of San Francisco behind the daily life that made me like this book. God is in the streets of San Francisco, among the homeless, the crazy Mexican lady who gives Sara lemons, in the old men playing chess in the park. God isn’t in neat cathedrals only; he takes to the streets. Remember this, and you’ll probably like this book too.
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