“Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith” by Anne Lamott

If you’re familiar with Anne Lamott or have read some of her more intentionally theological pieces like “Traveling Mercies” before, you know that she’s quite the eccentric writer but that, just when you think her story couldn’t have anything less to do with God, she levels you with brilliant spiritual truths.

If you’ve never read Lamott before, she’s dabbled in fictionhas offered great guidance and assurance for novice writers like myself, but she’s at her best in her autobiographical vignettes.  Here’s a quick review of  “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith,”  a book chock-full of insight, wit, humor and profound spiritual meaning.  *warning – “profane” language used throughout*

Lamott’s book weaves in and out of various periods and moments of her life.  By her sort of stream-of-conscious approach, she similarly weaves in and out of ideas.  Grace and beauty; life and death; love and loss; race, religion and politics — Lamott covers the spectrum of human experience in an emotional rawness not often found in other pieces of “theology.”

For those with children, the stories of life with her son capture the essence of a relationships with children — lots of good but, sometimes, just as much bad. She and her son, Sam, both have alter egos — “Phil” and the “Menopausal Death Crone” — and the interactions between the two of them are priceless.

She tells of how she mourns both life and death: living relationships affected by her “f****** things up” and those with the dead that she can never reconcile. For example, she keeps the ashes of her recently deceased mother in her closet for over two years as post-mortem punishment for years of agony that she blames on her mother.  But, later in the book, in a beautiful display of forgiveness and “letting go,” she releases her mother’s ashes to wind with those that she holds dear.  

She also celebrates life and death in an “Easter People” sort-of-way that connects to a “Good Friday world.”  One recurring theme is her hatred of George W. Bush and his campaigns in the Middle East and her struggle with that feeling.  Distraught by military campaigns and the thoughts of death of Iraqi children, she protests and foments and moans about the Bush presidency.  In Chapter 17, she knows that Jesus would love him, too, and that he is her brother no matter how much she hates it.  

It drives her crazy that “God has no standards” when it comes to love.  

God’s love is also demonstrated in the life of her cancer-stricken, one-handed church-sister who’s outlandish love and compassion for all becomes more visible and palpable in the final days of her life.  Or the story of her friend who views his life-long facial deformity as a “disguised gift from God” which has allowed for him to have a “militant self-acceptance” of himself.  This self-acceptance allows him to transform the way that other see him and his face but also themselves becoming away of the fears they have within themselves.

A similarly recurring theme and philosophy throughout the book is “Don’t be an a**hole.”  This is the philosophy of her father, the strategy she employs when interacting with her son, and how she understands a key element of the words and life of Jesus.

Somewhere in Lamott’s colorful book, any reader will find a story or vignette that touches their heart or their funny bone.  Like her practice of transcribing silly or wonderful things her son says onto postcards and then decorate her walls with them, Lamott’s book is interspersed with many quotable phrases like “Nobody gets into heave without a letter of reference from the poor” and “Jesus never would have been elected to anything.”

She also lends inspiration to those who would write reminding us that, as authors, “we see the spirit made visible” and it is our job to make that spirit known.  It is known when we are kind and when we love and when we share this with and amongst others.

While it’s certainly not a short read, Plan B’s style allows the reader to fly through it.  If you’re looking for a wonderful coffee table or night stand book or something to read a single-chapter for some reassurance or laughter, pick up Anne Lamott’s “Plan B.”  Experience the divine through Lamott’s writing the same way that you experience it in your own world: through human experience, as messy and beautiful as it can be.


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