I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith. I read some of Bird By Bird, which was recommended to everyone attending the Willow Creek Arts Conference several years ago. That was a book about writing, and it had some sensible advice in it. Reading it did not prepare me for the mixture of vitriolic bitchiness and grave splendor in Plan B.
Anne Lamott is a Christian. She loves Jesus and follows him to the best of her ability. She’s also a liberal Democrat who hated President George Bush. She swears. She refers to God with feminine pronouns. She lets us see her dirty laundry.
Several years ago when I was still single, I was visiting some friends who had a young girl. While I chatted with my friends in the kitchen, their little girl played with another little girl who was also visiting. The two girls were both about four or five years old. After a while, her parents became concerned that they had not heard from their girl in quite a while. They went looking for her and found her with her playmate in the closet in her bedroom. She had pooped on the floor. She and her little friend had taken the poop and smeared it all over themselves and the walls of her closet. I decided it was a good time to excuse myself and go home.
Reading Lamott’s book is a little like discovering those two girls playing with poop. It is at once funny, cute, disturbing, and disgusting. And I’m so relieved that I don’t have to clean any of it up.
Some of her entries—the book reads like a blog—are touching and sweet, like the one about having a dog. Others, like the one about her son’s adolescence, are painful. A few, such as the one describing a peace march in the rain, are infuriating.
Which brings me to why I recommend this book.
I like to think of myself as calm and steady, not easily ruffled. Sure, I have occasional bouts of rage when I yell at my son in that stentorian voice reserved for righteous indignation and motivating teenagers, but I’m a reasonable guy even when others are unreasonable. Yet I have come away from reading Plan B seething with anger and indignation. What’s going on?
It turns out that I’m offended at Lamott’s liberalism. Despite claiming that Christians need not be Republicans, when I’m confronted with a genuine, liberal Democrat, who is obviously a genuine Christian, I am affronted. I want to deny her a place in the kingdom—which is an innocuous way of saying, “She can go to hell.” Not a very charitable response.
Instead I keep reading. I try to see her point of view. I try to imagine living next door to Anne Lamott, borrowing a cup of sugar, inviting her to a barbecue, making small talk about the weather and maybe eventually working around to politics with great caution and deliberate care. I wonder if she will hate me for voting Republican. I wonder: Can we be friends? I hope we can. Because I like her. She’s my sister.