Monday, May 02, 2005

Book Review - "Plan B" by Anne Lamott

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I will admit that I picked up this book really wanting to like it. I had heard good things about Lamott's writing. Sure I knew she was a flaming liberal, but that was part of the reason I wanted to read it in the first place. I think the liberal wing of the Christian church has many things the conservative wing should take notice of. But more on that later.

The book reads like a collection of blog posts, which it probably is. That's fine, as I'm fairly used to reading blog posts! Lamott has an interesting way of telling a tale. She is a great writer who knows her way around a good story. In the book she does a fine job of developing the characters in her life -- her son, her friends and especially herself. She is brutally honest about herself and her own struggles which I can certainly relate to on many levels. Her use of obscene language in the book is simply unnecessary, and I've made my views on that pretty clear also. Lamott is not "sidesplittingly funny" as promised on the back cover, but she has a humorous, irreverent tone which makes her work very readable.

All that said, I almost didn't make it through the first chapter as she began a story by expressing her anger toward President Bush with such hatred that I had to check the front cover again to see if I hadn't mistead the subtitle "Further Thoughts on Faith". I hadn't. And eventually Lamott worked her way toward her point about faith. But that kind of hatred really turns me off. I didn't like reading that kind of stuff toward Bill Clinton or John Kerry, so I sure don't like it being written about George W. Bush. Although the vitriol was there and could have easily been toned down, it was a big part of defining Lamott's character. Her political knowledge seemed to be limited to reading signs at protest marches, but what sparked her anger is a genuine caring for other people. I have no doubt that Anne Lamott cares deeply about the plight of civilians in Iraq. That's what made this book readable to me. She loves those who deeply need our love as Christians. We may disagree on the proper way to show our love, but hers is a genuine love nonetheless. That love is much superior to the uncaring attitude shown by some others who claim the name of Christ.

Lamott has taken the rocky road to Jesus. Hers is the story of a wayward woman who finally is found. She expresses her appreciation for being found very well in several situations. She exhibits Christ's love in her attitude toward a woman dying of cancer, prisoners in San Quentin, even her dog. But the defining relationship of Plan B is the relationship between Anne and her son, Sam. As a single parent, she tries to be a good mother as well as a friend to her teenage boy. She captures the struggles as well as the joys of raising the boy she couldn't turn her back on. I think Lamott captures some of the emotions of God watching His children as she writes about raising her son. And while I might argue with her about parenting methods, her love shines through once again.

The relationship which I truly wanted to see developed further was between Anne and her Creator. Since this book is essentially a second volume to her bestseller, Traveling Mercies, I'll assume that this subject is better explored in that book. But the words of The New York Times Book Review blurb on the back cover kept ringing in my ears: "she never takes herself or her spirituality seriously." What the reviewer meant as a compliment, I found to be a detriment. I wanted to know where she got these strange ideas about God, Mary and Christianity. I hoped to understand how she comes to terms with New Age sprituality. I wanted to see how she has grown in the faith. Unfortunately, we get to see only a little about that journey. Perhaps one of the more revealing chapters was about her effort to forgive President Bush -- something which she is still working on. In it, we read about that process we all go through, desperately holding on to our self-righteousness and anger all the while knowing that it has to go eventually for forgiveness to take place. It's just that we're not ready to stop being angry.

The book is yet another illustration to me of the vast expanse and the small crack which exists between liberals and conservatives in Christianity. The clash of worldviews is a major weakness in the Church today. While I agree that the liberal side is usually caring and loving toward those Jesus said, I think their methods are often mistaken and ineffective at best; like the methods of Job's friends. And while the conservative side is sound in doctrine and how to love, they are often lacking in doing the loving. This is the vast expanse which must be bridged. The expanse becomes a small crack when our common love of Jesus Christ is taken into consideration, but there is still that crack which needs repair.

Over on the Wesley Blog, Shane has an interview up with Beth Stroud, who last week won an appeal to be reinstated to the pulpit of her United Methodist Church. Speaking as a liberal Christian, she said that "My experience is that many liberals find it very hard to admit that we can't fix everything ourselves." Stroud was speaking specifically of the need for a Savior instead of trying to save oneself, but I think the point applies elsewhere as well. In the drive to fix things, the best possible solution is not found. The road is paved with good intentions, to a certain extent. Yet are there enough good intentions on the conservative side, or actions to prove the good intentions? I think both sides fail on this count.

Which brings me back to the original reason for picking up Lamott's book. I wanted more of that caring in myself. I wanted to see how a San Francisco area liberal dealt with loving others. In some cases, like with a friend who was slowly dying, I saw that spark -- seeing that person as Jesus sees her. In other cases I saw the same foolish, uninformed partisanship I see on each of the extreme ends of the political spectrum.

I suppose to be completely thorough, I should pick up Traveling Mercies and give it a read as well. But I don't think I'll do that. I'll look to others in the Christian world for their input instead. Certainly there are plenty of left-wing voices out there. But I do know that we sinful human beings certainly don't have this "love your neighbor" thing down pat just yet. And those of us on the right wing can learn from the left. And vice-versa. And the sooner we begin listening without all the name calling and the hatred, the better.

Update:

There's a great discussion going on at various blogs on a related topic. Start with this post at Plaidberry and work your way through the links. (Hat tip to John at Blogotional)

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