Lamott is a talented and polished writer. She is entertaining, witty, and one of my favorites. As a writer, I consider her ability to bend words to her will inspirational.
The note on the inside flap of the book jacket describes Lamott as, “Wise and irreverent, poignant and funny.” And she is.
But the topic of this book is faith and grace. About which, the author offers an interesting perspective that challenges me as a Bible-believing Christian.
Wise is good. Irreverent isn’t normally a word I’d associate with faith and grace, and poignant a gift. Funny is always a tight-rope walk between humorous observation and heresy.
Truth According to Anne Lamott
The thoughts on faith expressed throughout are strictly the author’s. Period. Not her interpretation of God’s Word or comparing Christianity with other religions. This is the truth according to Anne Lamott. Her faith in her truth. That’s a critical distinction to remember. If this was a book of Christian doctrine it could earn a failing grade.
But it isn’t a book of doctrine, it’s memoir. Lamott shares her experiences and insights with readers in a way I cherish, even when we disagree.
The book isn’t a story per se, but a compilation of (mostly) pre-published essays connected by their personal nature. Everyone will see something of themselves in at least one of her stories.
I did. Yet I wouldn’t draw the same conclusions from the vision Lamott did.
Lamott’s Jesus is a Failure
To Lamott, Jesus was a failure in many ways. And a rotten teenager, although passionate about ecology and social justice.
“God sent Jesus to join the human experience, which means to make a lot of mistakes. He had the same prejudices as the rest of his tribe. If he hadn’t, the Incarnation would mean nothing.”
“You’ve got to wonder what Jesus was like at seventeen. They don’t even talk about it in the Bible, he was apparently so awful.”
Lamott had issues with her seventeen year old son. That’s pretty normal, But I guess it’s easy to excuse a kid’s bad behavior if Jesus was equally flawed.
The Questionable and the Sublime
The Los Angeles Times Book Review wrote, these “essays … are howlingly funny mini-sermons, reminding us of what’s important in life… For readers trying to live a kind of faith that’s centered on social justice.”
Witty, indeed, and the foundation of social justice is obvious. The book is humorous in places. As for self-deprecation sparring with self-justification? I’ll let others draw their own conclusions.
It’s difficult to assess whether Lamott’s ability to view herself is more objective than anyone else’s. She certainly writes about them well.
Flawed With No Intention to Change
What’s important is which standard we use for comparison. And whether, once we become of aware of broken or bent places, we intend to change. Some choose to challenge God to accept them as they are. In several instances, the author admits she has no intention of changing.
Published in 2007, Lamott excoriates George W. Bush and anything connected with him. Bush obviously bugged the tar out of her because she uses him as her whipping boy for many social, national, and global ills.
Unexpected in a self-described liberal, Lamott profiles people based on the way they look. For example, she met a man dressed in black on a hiking trail and worried that he might have killed someone. Because he looked like the type.
That kind of honesty is refreshing. Who among us hasn’t had the odd judgmental thought fly across our mind? Yet refreshing ends when it’s bookended with rants against conservatives, fundamentalists, and people who believe that abortion is wrong. Her writing is amazing, but she and I walk different paths of belief.
Perhaps the take-away is that passionate prose is effective and worthy of admiration, even when you don’t share the underlying opinions.
Lamott is passionate about abortion
Lamott attempts to justify her two abortions (though she might not read it that way), yet still pens these beautiful words about Jacob’s Ladder, “… in the junction between heaven and earth, between the quick and the dead and the not yet born, the invisible beings here to help, moving to and fro, coming to help others move to and fro.”
About her non-aborted child she writes, “I thought about him every few minutes during my pregnancy, talked to him, imagined our conversations as he grew, and lived for his arrival.”
We Can Agree on the Problem
Good and evil are more universal than many believe. Anne Lamott and I would agree on most everything.
In one less than half-hearted attempt to create change, Lamott writes about those,
“turning in their graves with horror about contemporary life in their beloved America. They were passionate in their fight against fascism, Joseph McCarthy, and litterbugs. The were committed to civil rights, to libraries, and to good manners. They raised their children to be polite, as honest as we could manage, and to live as if the word fair meant something, which all sounds a little Amish now. A renewal of these values would be the major plank of this revolution.”
Without Agreeing on the Solution
I’m on board! Although our idea of who is or is not a fascist would differ. And that children aren’t accountable to be as honest as they can manage, but to lie, cheat, and steal? NOT.
While we agree on what many of the problems are, we part ways when it comes to the fix we prefer.
Lamott believes people shouldn’t be hassled about rules. And that lying is a reasonable method to escape responsibility for doing what you know is illegal or wrong.
Unless it’s her kid in her house. That’s different. This curious inconsistency runs throughout the book. Which makes it human.
Lamott shares her experience with a dear friend with a terminal illness. She offers to help him die. Eventually he accepts. She researches the method and obtains the controlled substances to accomplish the act. She prepares and administers the drug – and would do it again.
I’ll let you consider that without comment.
Accountability is Obscene?
In the world of faith according to Lamott, holding people accountable is akin to victimization. In some instances she considers it “obscene.” And, of course, the fault of George W. Bush.
“George W. Bush and John Ashcroft had tried for years to create a country the East German state could only dream about.”
Throughout the book, Lamott professes a great love for Jesus Christ. I wondered, which Jesus?
But then, faith is a mystery. Faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. No one knows the true relationship between another human and his or her Maker.
To Read or Not to Read
If you admire amazing prose, read the book. I hoped to glean something from it, and perhaps I did. I am reminded to check my opinions against God’s Word before offering them. There is much about Lamott that’s appealing, but what about matters of faith?
When in doubt, open God’s Word instead.
Rationalization and humanistic gospels are rampant today. And sometimes they’re best-sellers.
Grace (Eventually) was published in 2007.
Anne Lamott’s Ted-talk
UPDATE: One attribute of humans is our ability to change. My life in 2020 isn’t the same as it was in 2007; my insights and understanding continue to refine. I no longer work in a barn but on an iMAC.
Perhaps Anne Lamott has softened and reconsidered life, truth, and God in similar ways.
Her 2017 TED-talk reveals the voice in “Grace (Eventually)”. Lamott and I remain separated on faith issues, but I don’t know how close or far apart our positions fall on the spectrum.