Peering into Anne Lamott's Weirdly Joyous World

Anne Lamott is a rare bird. A free-styling child of the ‘60s, this California girl could very well go down as one of her generation’s top-prize, blue-ribbon theologians.

Ohhh … I can already hear some of my friends screaming at me, those with Calvinistic or Augustinian tendencies.

Those familiar with Lamott know this best-selling author is not an academic theologian. She’s a confessional-let-it-all-hang-out, how-can-I-get-through-this-day kind. What Lamott is so good at is taking those stuffy religious phrases that nobody understands other than a few academics, rips them open to see what’s inside, and then lays out the innards for us all to see. She’s Frederick Buechner-like in the way she wields the English language as a knife to slit open the meaning of conventional religious talk, except she’s a dash more California-hip with her use of slang.   

I had been hearing about her for awhile before reading any of her works. The first book of hers that I read three years ago was Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. “That sounds straight enough, in fact a little stiff,” I thought before deciding to buy it.

Was I in for a surprising joyride.

Lamott’s background and style couldn’t be further from mine, but there are some striking echoes between our “faith-journeys.” For instance, neither of us woke up to the thinness of our beliefs until our lives crashed on to the rocks of reality. Hers from one too many cocaine overdoses. Mine when my wife Martha was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age fifty.

I’ve decided therefore to make Traveling Mercies the third book I’m giving away. My two earlier ones were Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain and Father Matthew Kelty's My Song Is of Mercy. For those of you just joining us, I hold a free book drawing the last Friday of each month. That is, until I decide not to. You can catch the rules further down.

My writing can’t do justice to Lamott’s take on her life and views. So I’ll share three samples from Traveling Mercies.

In a section revealing her differing views of God when growing up, from pages 7 and 8:

“Looking back on the God my friend believed in, he seems a little erratic, not entirely unlike her father—God as borderline personality. It was like believing in the guy who ran the dime store, someone with a kind face but who was running behind and had already heard every one of your lame excuses a dozen times before—why you didn’t have a receipt, why you hadn’t noticed the product’s flaw before you bought it. This God could be loving and reassuring one minute, sure that you had potential, and then fiercely disappointed the next, noticing every little mistake and just in general what a fraud you really were. He was a God whom his children could talk to, confide in, and trust, unless his mood shifted suddenly and he decided instead to blow up Sodom and Gomorrah.”

When Anne Lamott felt like she was cracking up and going to die, she decided over serious doubts to visit an Episcopal minister named Bill, an old civil rights priest. Pages 41-43:

“I wasn’t remotely ready for Christianity, though. I mean, I wasn’t that far gone.”

“Still, I had never stopped believing in God since that day in Eva Grossman’s class. Mine was a patchwork God, sewn together from bits of rag and ribbon, Eastern and Western, pagan and Hebrew, everything but the kitchen sink and Jesus.”

“(Bill) was about the first Christian I ever met whom I could stand to be in the same room with. Most Christians seemed almost hostile in their belief that they were saved and you weren’t. Bill said it bothered him too, but you had to listen to what was underneath their words. What did it mean to be saved, I asked, although I knew the word smacked of Elmer Gantry for both of us.”

Here’s Lamott’s take on “grace” from page 139:    

“I understand that Auden meant grace in the theological sense, meant it as the force that infuses our lives and keeps letting us off the hook. It is unearned love—the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”

If you're unfamiliar with Lamott, this should give you a taste of her style and wit. If you do know her but haven’t read this book, you may want to put your name into Carlen’s Lotto drawing.

Psst … don’t let Lamott’s progressive politics throw you off. She injects that stuff at unexpected moments. If you don't share her political viewpoint, just do an end run to get to the meaningful insights.

Here are some quick rules if you want to sign up for this drawing:

  • Anyone is eligible, whether you subscribe to my newsletter or not. Simply send an email to between this Friday, March 25, and next Wednesday, March 30, by 11:59 PM EST. Indicate that you would like to be included in this month’s book giveaway. It will help me if you put in the subject line: BOOK GIVEAWAY.
  • One person—maybe you!—will be selected at random from those entering. I will send you a confirmation email on Thursday, March 31. You will have 48 hours to respond to my email. If I don’t hear back from you by then, someone else will be selected at random.
  • For more details, click Book Giveaway.

Thanks for tuning in.


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