In their own words

TakeThisBreadWe tend to look at mainstream media religion reporters rather than mainstream media religion columnists, but there's a new religion column in the San Francisco Chronicle that's worth a look. David Ian Miller writes the column and he came to religion coverage quite recently, after covering city hall, personal finances and technology news. He decided to interview one person each week about their religion. This week he spoke with Sara Miles, a local writer, lesbian and former restaurant cook. More interestingly, she was a "happy atheist" before converting to Christianity. Now she runs food banks for the hungry. A former editor at Mother Jones, she wrote a book (well designed jacket pictured) about her new life:

In your book you describe your conversion to Christianity as "terribly inconvenient." How so?

It was inconvenient because I hadn't been raised as a Christian. I had a lot of disdain for Christians, the sort of litany of complaints that people often make about the bigotry of the church, its narrow-mindedness, its collusion with empire, its willingness to impose its received wisdom on everybody else. This was particularly true for me as a woman and a gay person. And so I stayed away.

Conversion wasn't what I was planning to have happen. I liked my life just fine. I wasn't searching for a new one.

He has spoken with tattoo artist Madame Lazonga about her work's religious implications, Indian untouchable Dharmachari Kumarjeev, who converted to Buddhism to escape the caste system, cemetery owner Tyler Cassity and Sady Hayashida, designer of the Berkeley Jodo Shinsu Center.

Miller's questions are thought-provoking, resulting in interesting answers from each of his subjects. As the column develops, I hope that we see a wide variety of perspectives. I think a column such as this is one of the best ways to flesh out subtle differences within each religion.

Another thing I'll be curious to see is how the column treats traditional Christianity. One of the things I've enjoyed thus far is the way that Miller seems to have a very sympathetic conversation with each of his subjects. Will that tone be maintained with a subject whose religious views are less acceptable in that community?

Miller shared a bit of the thinking behind his column when it began earlier in the month:

I realize this is a subject not frequently addressed in the mainstream media. Perhaps the old saying about religion not being fit for polite conversation still holds true in the popular consciousness, even as sex and politics have long ago shaken off their taboo status.

Yet, increasingly, it seems clear that spiritual matters form the subtext for much of what's happening in America today, from your house to the White House.

With that in mind, I will make these conversations as personal and revealing as possible while getting to the heart of what people are thinking and feeling.

I rather think he's succeeded thus far, and I look forward to future installments.

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