Plan B – Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott is a collection of mini essays that pours all of life through a sieve, and concentrates on the flecks of gold that are left behind. That is Lamott’s gift to her readers – she holds up treasures of her experiences to the light and lets it shine through. I found myself thinking, this woman knows all the most wise, profound people. By the end of the book, I recognized that Lamott simply happens to see the treasure in her friends.
Plan B is comprised of the thoughts and reflections of a religious woman. She talks about Jesus a lot – the way in which she is baffled by his love for George Bush – but she doesn’t engage in common evangelical rhetoric associated with American Christianity. She often will turn religious anecdotes on their head, not to be explicitly subversive necessarily, but because she sees the character of God (of whom she refers to as He or Her) in it. She writes: “the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely” (257). While representations of Christianity in pop. culture show religious practice as rigid, archaic and hateful – at times drawn from concrete, real-life examples – Lamott seems to point to a God who is a person, a God who is a mystery. She delights in describing God as “a real showoff”.
Lamott engages earnestly in demystifying her neuroses; she manages to say everything while avoiding being obnoxious or causing the reader to feel embarrassed for her. She offers to us her disappointments with her body as an aging woman, the complications of identifying as a feminist while being disappointed with her body, the utter panic she feels in the sun as the daughter of a man who died from cancer. Pieced together with these confessions, however, is the practice of what Timothy Keller (an American theologian) refers to as “blessed self-forgetfulness”. She calls it ‘looking up’: “it’s not that I think less of myself, but that I think of myself less often. And that feels like heaven to me” (176).
What I love about this book is that it engages with any experience that makes us human. Lamott manages to speak of the grief of losing her dog with as much care as she does when describing her response to the horrifying war in Iraq. She dignifies an old knotted log with a beautiful description: “[it] had a certain eminence, the majesty of age – there was rot, and hairy sprouts, the kind you see in a grandfather’s ears. It was furniture, a barrier, sculptural and grave, not the sort of thing you could argue with” (97). Lamott is motivated by the inherently subversive nature of love and an ethic of care for those that are unlike us, whoever ‘us’ may be. This book is a call to love, not just the stinky man on the bus: your problematic uncle, the street canvassers after your money, the parent that you are angry with.
I think often of a time when I was surprised by love. I was angry, banging things around in the washroom, yelling at my husband about something that was disturbing me. It was the night before he was to leave on tour for a month; it was my birthday in two days. I stomped to the kitchen, throwing my hands in the air, rallying him to join my cause when he turned around to present the birthday cake with candles he had lit; he sang Happy Birthday to me quietly, alone and we both cried, remembering that he would be leaving the next day. We looked at each other blurry and tearful and began to laugh. My disaster was disrupted by love. When I think of treasures that I could have missed if I wasn’t paying attention, this birthday cake comes to mind.
Featured image via TED.