Saturday, April 10, 2010

Anne Lamott at Borders: A Gathering of Imperfect Birds

I'll start off by being direct: I have never known what to make of Anne Lamott.

Several years ago, a good friend of mine (who is a priest in the Episcopal Church and godmother to our youngest daughter) and I were wandering through the bookshop at Washington National Cathedral when she picked up a copy of Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith and said, "You should really read Anne Lamott. She's great." This friend had never steered me wrong before - despite our spirited political discussions, which we approach from opposite ends of the spectrum - and so I cracked open the book. One paragraph into the first page, the thought "What the hell?!?" flashed through my mind, for there in stark black-and-white I was greeted with, "Better to go out by our own hands than to endure slow by scolding at the hands of the Bush administration."

My friend - the friend who had never steered me wrong - had put in my hands a book by a Bush-basher!

Giving her the benefit of the doubt, however, I purchased it, along with a few others, and took them home for a read. It was a struggle for me, however; I couldn't, no matter how hard I tried, get past her political musings. I was angry with Ms. Lamott, that much was certain. And I wasn't going to be very forgiving.

It was then I found the other Anne Lamott: the single mother, the recovering alcoholic and drug addict, the woman who in the midst of one of her darkest moments felt the presence of Jesus as he knelt by her in the corner. The self-professed flawed Christian who said, "You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." THIS was the Anne Lamott to whom I could relate, the woman you wanted to hug and tell that everything would be alright, and that people loved her as much as Jesus loved her.

This was the Anne Lamott that I went to see this past Thursday evening at Borders, where she was promoting her newest book, Imperfect Birds. It goes without saying that I was in the demographical minority in the crowd, with lots of women and perhaps 10 men, but it didn't detract from the event by any means. Surprisingly, it started with her doing part of the signing, and she wandered throw the rows of people chatting, signing, humorously chastising those who hadn't purchased her book, and genuinely seeming to enjoy being in the midst of a crowd like ours on an otherwise stormy evening.

And then she got to where a friend of mine and I were seated - what to say to her? Do I say anything?

Of course I say something - and I tell her the story of the first time I saw page one of Plan B. I tell her about the anger and frustration I felt at seeing her political views, and then of how I just wanted to give her a big hug and pull everyone together after getting to the faith side of her life. She paused for a moment - oh, geez, here it comes! - and then said with a smile, "Thank you for telling me that. And I do have some friends who are Republicans!"

With credit to Stewie Griffin, "Victory is mine!" I had won her over! Quickly, though, I figured that that ego-filled thought was wrong; I hadn't won her over, nor had she won me over. It became clear during the Q and A session that we were both victims of something else - for as she said, even among Democrats and Republicans and all of their differences, there is one common factor we all share: faith.

She spoke of her son and grandson, of the difficulties she has experienced in her life, of the rejection that she has received from some Christians (being told once, "If this is your view of Christianity, then I wonder how you'll feel one day when you are burning?"), of writing and solitude and friends and Sunday school ("I teach young children in Sunday school because, well, no one else really wants to do it."). And she read excerpts from her new book, the title of which was taken from a quote by Rumi: "Each has to enter the nest made by other imperfect birds."

And on this evening, this is what we all were: imperfect birds, flawed Christians, scarred humans, who were all sharing the same nest with a woman who as she says "gets it." It was a warm, funny, lively conversation, the kind you would have sitting around your living room on a Friday evening with a group of friends.

At the end of the night, Anne Lamott had a new fan - one who is still slightly disturbed by her political views, although much more forgiving because my own views have moderated in recent years. This is a woman I could see sitting around in a group with my wife and clergy friends and others for a long discussion over wine or drinks (which in itself is flawed since Anne is a recovering alchoholic and addict, albeit one who talks about how great it felt to be high).

What a conversation it would be!


Kansas Bob said...

"there is one common factor we all share: faith"

Love that Matt! I also have moved to the middle these past few years.

Privilege of Parenting said...

I followed you over here from a comment at Design So Vast and found that although our politics and our views on faith probably differ, there may be yet another factor we have in common: a wish for the good of our country, our world and all its collective children (that in the end must include both you and I).

Namaste (which means "the light in me recognizes the light in you")

Maureen said...

I'm glad you had the chance to hear Anne Lamott in person. I'm also pleased you can see that one has to beyond the surface, even of words, to see the real person, to get the real meaning.

Thank you for visiting my blog today. I appreciate the comment you left about my post on Lamott's reading Thursday night.

P.S. I think those men (and women, too) who don't come out to hear her miss something important.

rdl said...

I love Annie Lamott, but then i hate Bush too - both of em. glad u were able to get past that and appreciate her.

Emily said...

Matt, thank you for the comment on my blog about Anne. I relate very much to your background and upbringing and life experiences could not be any more opposite than Anne's and yet I feel such a kinship with her heart. It's the honesty and vulnerability that I so appreciate. She gives me hope that there is room also for me in God's family. Thanks again for the comment...I'm grateful to find others on the journey.


Emily said...

Matt, I also wanted to say how happy I was to explore your blog and find that you also have an appreciation for Frederick Buechner. I read something of his daily and cannot seem to get enough!