Anne Lamott has been described as witty, gritty, quirky, left-wing, down to earth, reverent and irreverent in the same sentence, funny, fast-talking, and an unlikely circuit writer (rider) spreading the word of God's love. In Plan B: Further Thoughts of Faith, she is all of that and more. This collection of essays takes the reader deeper into the world of Lamott and her faith journey, which began in her earlier book, Traveling Mercies. She is unabashed about declaring her love for God and Jesus and for sharing her struggles on what that means in her life and that of her son Sam in today's world. She has said, though, that it is not her intention to convert others to her faith. Rather, she says, readers should understand that "her essays and perspectives on life are filtered through her religious view and accept that it is the way she processes the people and events in her life." (from a Riverhead release on Plan B) And process she does, on varied subjects, in this book.
When not writing on faith, Lamott writes novels—Blue Shoe, Joe Jones and Operating Instructions to name a few. The author also teaches writing and wrote an excellent resource for aspiring writers called Bird by Bird.
Although the essays could stand alone, they have a common thread. Each is an attempt by Lamott to show how her faith and life intersect at every turn, whether it be in grieving the loss of a beloved family pet, in starting a Sunday school at her church, or in dealing with her menopausal body, which she nicknamed the "Menopausal Death Crone." She does not speak in lofty theological terms, but rather in the voice of the common person. She speaks of brokenness and hunger and war and unforgiveness. She speaks of healing and feeding the soul, of peace and of the grace to forgive. She examines and re-examines what it means to be a person of faith. The author invites her readers to do the same in the context of their own lives.
Lamott's honesty is refreshing, although at times her bluntness can seem harsh. Upon reflection, though, she gives voice to the thoughts that many of us may have but don't dare speak aloud. Consider this about her mother, with whom she had a difficult relationship at best: "I have to say from day one after she died, I liked having a dead mother much more than having an impossible one." Later, she adds, "I really loved her and took great care of her. I couldn't, even after she died, grant her amnesty. Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You're done, and I guess I wasn't done." That won't resonate with everyone who reads it, but it certainly did with me.
In the next chapter, about beginning a children's Sunday school class, her observations might move you to tears—and if Lamott had her way, move you to action as well. For her, faith is not abstract; it is a way of life, something to flesh out in everyday existence. She believes in "loving out loud."
In her earlier work, Traveling Mercies, son Sam is a little guy, and she tells often outrageous and always courageous stories of raising him as a single mom through Sam's younger years. Now Sam is a teenager, and she has a whole new set of concerns. She wants him to study, to be successful, to be loving, to work hard at whatever he does. In typical teen style, he usually flies in the opposite direction. Every two weeks, the rule is that he must accompany his mother to church. They argue. He sulks. Does this sound at all familiar? Her words: "Of course, he doesn't want to come to regular worship, but he doesn't want to floss either. He does not want to have any hard work, ever, but I can't give him that without injuring him. It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life." Sam is a major focus of her life, and she wants what is best for him. For now, that means having Sam understand what role an active faith plays.
Nonetheless, Lamott doesn't offer pat answers. In fact, she seems aware that there are still many unanswered questions. She doesn't claim to be an expert. The reader will not be swayed by flowery prose or lofty doctrine. At times, her crude, explicit speech might seem incongruous with a book on faith.
Lamott will not be heard apologizing for either her style or her beliefs. What you see is what you get. Rarely does she get a neutral response, and I think that is just fine with her. Some may be amused, some offended and some just blown away by her particular brand of faith. If what she shares can make us think, laugh, cry, and perhaps even examine our own faith—in God, Buddha, or whatever higher being we connect with— she would, I believe, be pleased.
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