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City of God: Faith in the Streets
City of God: Faith in the Streets
Sara Miles
Jericho Books, 2014
224 pp., $20.00

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Wesley Hill

A Vast Horde of Souls

Sara Miles and "Ashes to Go."

On a recent weekend trip to New York City, I bolted from Ground Zero over to Wall Street, wanting as little time in the numbing cold as possible, and took refuge in the warmly lit interior of Trinity Episcopal Church for a service of Evening Prayer. Immediately on arriving, I noticed a large advertisement for an upcoming lecture by Sara Miles. Her crinkly, makeup-less smile brightened the banner, eliciting an involuntary smile from me in return, and her name was written in a conspicuously large font. Trinity Wall Street, as it's popularly called, is one of the wealthiest churches in America (its assets are worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion). It is—not to put too fine a point on it—the last place on earth Sara Miles would have been seen a few years ago.

Working as a journalist in Nicaragua in her young adulthood, Miles had turned her back on her own country's red-state politics in the Reagan years and embraced an itinerant life. As she describes in her 2007 memoir Take This Bread, she did a stint among Central American revolutionaries and their underground networks, documenting their lives and relentlessly questioning the ease with which her fellow North Americans applied labels like "communism" or "imperialism" in order, as often as not, to be spared the messy business of grappling with genuine human complexity. When she wasn't living in barrios and sharing the fear and physical hunger of her journalistic subjects (their food "always tasted of dirt [or] cheap grease," she said), she worked as a cook in New York. Hers was a life in which she "never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord's Prayer," never had occasion to see or care about stained glass or crucifixes or fonts. And yet, here she was at Trinity Wall Street all those years later, being advertised as a figure of the Episcopal establishment. Or so one could be forgiven for assuming. What gives?

Miles' newest book, ...

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