Books — Another diehard liberal for Jesus

Another diehard liberal for Jesus

By Lisa Parsons

Further Thoughts on Faith makes you think


Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott, Riverhead Books, 2005, 320 pages.

The two most striking things evident in the essays of Anne Lamott are that she’s a fervent liberal and that she’s a devout Christian.

It’s hard to tell which she’s more ferocious about, the Jesus thing or the liberal thing, but despite her ferocity — by which I mean a focused and sometimes fiery determination — Lamott is clearly also small and fragile and still learning self-regard. And she knows it, and she talks about it, and she is really real, right there on the page, secure in her insecurities.

“It’s only been in the last 10 years that I learned how beautiful my hair and I are,” she says to an 8-year-old who makes fun of her dreadlocks, “so please don’t say critical things about me. It hurts my feelings.”

Very touchy-feely, yes, but the equanimity is hard-earned; it’s a disciplined second choice “rather than hit him over the head with the Wiffle Ball bat, which was my first impulse.”

What makes Lamott’s writing special is that, as you read, you can feel her feeling her way around life. She admits to her resentments, her judgmentalness, wanting to hit something or yell at someone and finding it barely possible to love thine enemy. But she keeps putting one foot in front of the other on the path she discerns via her spiritual faith — and she talks freely about that, too. It’s a faith that invokes Jesus a lot but is quite roomy. As in “I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.”

In fact Lamott’s faith is so roomy that it even leaves room for George W. Bush, whose policies she loathes but whom she knows Jesus would want her to love. She openly struggles with her own belief that Jesus in fact loves George W. exactly as much as he loves everybody else; it’s a struggle you don’t see in most liberals’ musings these days, particularly not the musings of those as vehement as she is.

You can tell Lamott  —  now 50-ish and living in California — has been beaten around by life, or done her share of beating around with it; she drew a bum deal when they were handing out mothers, she’s had friends die and lovers leave and raised a son on her own, had abortions and addictions and now has created sobriety for herself. But all this is so much grist for the mill. An essay on starting a preschool becomes an essay about love and patience, not in a Hallmarky way but more in a “scruffy aging Birkenstock type” way, as Lamott categorizes herself — yet how many scruffy aging Birkenstock types are fanatical Sunday school teachers at their local Presbyterian churches?

Lamott is a fine writer and a model for us all of the possibilities of stretching stereotypes.

Her work is hard to pigeonhole, which makes it hard to review but a joy to read. And if nothing else, every parent should read her hilarious essay “Heat,” which sublimely addresses being a parent—and being a child.

This newest book, subtitled “Further Thoughts on Faith,” follows 1999’s Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. It is currently a bestseller — nestled in the Amazon Top 100 and holding on the NYTimes Bestseller List top ten for the past six weeks. Lamott has also written three novels and two other nonfiction books.

- Lisa Parsons

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH