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City of God: Faith in the Streets

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  355 ratings  ·  69 reviews
Paradise is a garden...but heaven is a city.

From the acclaimed author of Take This Bread and Jesus Freak comes a powerful new account of venturing beyond the borders of religion into the unpredictable territory of faith.

On Ash Wednesday, 2012, Sara Miles and her friends left their church buildings and carried ashes to the buzzing city streets: the crowded dollar stores

Hardcover, 224 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Jericho Books (first published January 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  355 ratings  ·  69 reviews

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Christie Alicea
Jan 04, 2014 rated it liked it
I appreciate what I think Sara Miles was going for in this book, but I did find it hard to follow at times. Like some other reviews I've read on this site, I found that the author jumped around from past to present quite frequently, without clear transitions many times. There were points where I wondered why she even told the story from the past that she chose. I found myself craving more of what I thought the book would be about from the description - her experiences on one Ash Wednesday, meeti ...more
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The kind of Pastor I want to be. Only Pagan. Same same. Whatever your path, this woman speaks of a faith I can relate to.
Don Watkins
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love Sara's books. This is no exception. It's well written and uniquely Sara. If you have a vision about how the church ought to be more inclusive then this book is for you ...more
Marisa Gonzalez
Apr 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, religion
True story of a member of the Episcopalian Church distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday on the streets of San Francisco. I have mixed feelings about this book. I read it during Lent hoping for some inspiration but it sort of fell flat. I liked how it showed how the Church doesn't exist only in a building but throughout our communities and how churches need to reach out to those who will not go into a church. I didn't like how those receiving ashes seemed to treat it as a novelty. Ashes are not onl ...more
Oct 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I liked Jesus Freak in places, but this book really hit home. Anyone who has gotten to minister Ashes To Go out on the street will relate to this book. I found it refreshing, it's raw, there's cursing, there's love anger and frustration. It's one day behind the scenes in a Episcopal church as a lay employee on Ash Wednesday, and as a lay employee in the Episcopal Church myself I have to say location and regional differences aside- I work in a small parish in a small town, not a major city, there ...more
Jan 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sara Miles' powerful, moving account of one Ash Wednesday in the Mission District of San Francisco is exactly what Pope Francis is talking about when he says he "prefers a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets." ...more
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this. I love the way that Sara Miles lives out her faith in such physical ways. Perfect for people who want something to read during Lent.
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Sara Miles is an Anglican in San Francisco who felt challenged to take her faith out on to the streets. While a lot of people I know feel that they meet God in the natural world, she clearly recognises God at work in all the dirt and bustle and mess of the city. With other members of her church and others in the district, she takes ashes on Ash Wednesday out to the public squares and streets, into the shops and businesses, and offers to sign people with a cross of ashes on their foreheads with t ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Mar 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Do a study of memoirs by urban female clergy and I suspect you will find some common themes: the diversity of their parishioners, the wry humility of the author, the wisdom of eccentric personalities, the chaos of events, the difficult destitute poor and homeless, the surprising moments of grace in the city. Nevertheless, each memoir is filled with insight and Miles’ is no exception. Miles is a lay leader at an Episcopal Church in San Francisco’s Mission District. I read this memoir to learn mor ...more
Keith Beasley-Topliffe
This is a beautiful love letter to the Mission District of San Francisco and its amazingly diverse people (and their many expressions of religious faith) and to the reminders of the loving and forgiving grace of God and the inevitability of death symbolized by the ashes of Ash Wednesday. It's a memoir of one particular Ash Wednesday and of others before it as well as before it and a bonus discourse on the Virgin of Guadalupe. And it all fits together in a wonderful book. Only to be expected from ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book every year during Lent. To remind myself what this whole thing is really about.

“I knelt. I bent over and pressed my forehead to the sidewalk, the whole rush of this neighborhood, it’s crazy beauty and apparent hopelessness, flooding my heart. I’d walked through the plaza the day two teenagers were shot a block away. I just seen someone OD in the subway entrance. I’d come here busy and distracted on the way to the library with my lover and five-year-old daughter; I’d eaten tacos
May 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to Evelyn by: Lib Caldwell
My Company of New Pastors (CNP) read this book in order to discuss it at our recent retreat. While it did generate some good discussion about repentance, the role of the church in our current society, and how we go about doing mission in our world, we agreed that it took Miles a very long time to get to the premise of the book (aka the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday). While liberal Christians might enjoy this book, it may not appeal to many other groups, especially more theologically conse ...more
Catherine Hicks
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
The person who recommended this book to me suggested that I read it in out in public instead of at home, so I read it on a train trip to and from Philadelphia. I imagined what it would be like to bring ashes to the people on the train, and how that experience might be different than bringing ashes onto the streets of the Mission. Sara did convince me that Ashes to Go is more than just a fad that will run its course. To connect people to one another through the cross sums up all of ministry.
Jul 15, 2018 rated it liked it
This was a lovely read, and I am a huge fan of Sara Miles and her story. This book is written in the same thoughtful, hospitable and grace-filled way that I've come to love in her writing, but some of the storyline wove in ways that was difficult to track with, or remain interested in. Because I loved 'Take this Bread' so much, I think I'm unfortunately comparing my reading experience of that book with this one. In short, this is a good book, but 'Take this Bread' is incredible. ...more
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed the way Miles wove the story of one day in with many stories of her life in the Mission. She balances a very down-to-earth tone with a perceptive and awed view of the world around her. I loved the way she saw her neighbours, friends and strangers. And this was a fascinating look at what it means to be church in a diverse community.
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I started this a couple years ago during lent and couldn't manage to finish it then. I'm glad I did. it has some great stories about being present and authentic in the moment, something I really struggle with, and how we see God there. ...more
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Sara Miles has written a beautiful book about Ash Wednesday in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. I love her writing and her perspective.
Elizabeth Cantrell
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
About one Ash Wednesday in the author’s life. I found her experiences and points to be inspirational and touching. Thoughtful and thought provoking.
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved the story of being the church rather than the idea of simply going to church.
Oct 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was so compelling to read and so moving. It made me see Jesus more.
John Heiskell
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoy reading about other people's faith journeys... ...more
Mar 11, 2017 rated it liked it
It wasn't exactly what I thought it would be based on the premise but I'm glad I read it. ...more
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An almost relaxing book to read, while feeling energized about taking church out of the building. A beautiful journey through Ash Wednesday and through memories of neighbors, the presence of God and the meaning of love thy neighbor.
Jason Lilly
Nov 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Is wish it were possible to give a book 3.5 stars.

Let me begin with the writing. Sara Miles is a talented storyteller, comparable to similar memoir writers like Anne Lamott and Augusten Burroughs. And her love for her city and the people in it is evident on every page of the book... mostly, anyway.

There is something beautiful going on here. I commend Sara Miles for her candor and her courage, and especially for her love for people of all kinds, all walks of life. There is much of the work of Chr
Cathy Sweeney
Jul 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
For those who are looking for a combination of Anglican and cultural approach to Ash Wednesday, Sarah Miles brings us City of God: Faith on the Streets.

Miles, Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, shares experiences from Ash Wednesday services over the years, as she and others share the experience on the streets of the Mission neighborhood.

Miles writes in similar ways to Anne Lamott, as she almost talks to herself in the pages. At times questioning the e
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I loved Sara Miles’ memoir of unexpected conversion, Take This Bread, so I was excited to get her latest, City of God: Faith in the Streets from Netgalley. The central narrative of City of God is set on Ash Wednesday 2012, when Miles and other local Episcopal ministers take to the streets of their neighborhood – the Mission area of San Francisco – to impart ashes to anyone who wants them. Along the way, she tells backstories of her relationships with the other residents of the Mission and people ...more
Jan 01, 2015 rated it liked it
I have a fair amount of fondness for this book, particularly the open and engaging faith that Miles displays as she writes about her community and the Ash Wednesday service at the heart of the book's narrative. Miles has a clear affection for her community, having grown to become an integral part of it in her long years there. And as she recounts the various personalities, shops, and locales in her Mission community, the reader is introduced to her willingness to be present in (and to) the world ...more
Dec 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
City of god is Sara Miles' proclamation of love for God, God’s people, and the Mission District of San Francisco, “a place so mixed, so layered, and apparently impure that it proclaims a love vaster than humans can come up with on our own.” In beautiful poetic language, she tells the story of bringing Christianity out of church buildings by marking friends, neighbors and strangers with the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday. I love how Sara Miles doesn’t run from the sad and difficult parts of C ...more
Mar 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Julie by: Byron Borger
The book explores the author's experience of taking faith to the streets of San Francisco's Mission District and connecting with the diverse people there. Personally, I've never chosen to receive ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday, so I was surprised to learn how many people on the streets welcomed the mark for themselves and their loved ones. Do people really want to be reminded of their mortality? "Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return." One woman even asked for ashes for her o ...more
Mar 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
I recently read the perfect book for the Lenten season, The City of God. It’s a warm, human and uplifting encounter with the author and her neighborhood in San Francisco over a forty eight hour or so period preceding and including Ash Wednesday. If you’re looking for a walk on the other side to deepen your understanding of the world we live in and our calling as our brother’s keeper this is a book you’ll enjoy.

Here is a very insightful and experiential account of a personal encounter with humani
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Sara Miles is the founder and director of The Food Pantry, and serves as Director of Ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Her other books include "Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion," and her writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Salon, and on National Public Radio. ...more

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