Anne Lamott: Funnier Than Phyllis Diller But Not As Pretty (III)
Lest you think I’m being mean, this is a name that Ms. Lamott has given herself in chapter 7 of her latest book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. If you’re like me, then you’ll come to realize just how important a name like this is for true spirituality. Right. In chapter 7, “Adolescence,” of Ms. Lamott’s book, we find ourselves bogged down in another quagmire—kind of like the U.S. troops in Vietnam or Iraq. Towards which crisis in Ms. Lamott’s life are we lurching this time? She willingly informs us. Her son, Sam, just turned thirteen.
Granted that the teenage years can be somewhat traumatic, hormonal (now there’s a good new word for the Emergent Church Movement: hormonal), it is not the end of life as we know it—close, but not quite. Teenagers actually can be a lot of fun in the midst of all the work. They are enjoyable but also certainly a challenge. Ms. Lamott chose to name Sam’s hormonal “significant other” Phil. Phil is Sam’s “dark side,” which means that Sam is the oxymoronic normal teenager. So Phil and the Death Crone occupy one residence—along with Ms. Lamott’s live-in stud. Actually, he’s an artist, which seems to make sin less of a sin. Being an artist seems, somehow, to excuse immorality. No doubt he is part of the white wine, brie, and culturally hip tribe.
Anyway, Ms. Lamott wants Sam to be happy and “to find an authentic spirituality.” That’s an admirable goal, but given Ms. Lamott’s consummate confusion about Christianity and her constant red-alert crises over nothing, you can only wonder how Sam even manages to find the front door, let alone authentic spirituality. Since Ms. Lamott is not defining what she precisely means by the phrase “authentic spirituality,” both for us and for Sam the search could take a while. One of the problems of the ECM is that they bandy words like “authentic spirituality” without giving us a precise definition of what they mean. Did the Apostle Paul, for example, manifest an authentic spirituality? Did Peter? John? What is the standard by which we come to know that we are manifesting authentic spirituality?
To help her over the tough spots of raising a teenager, Ms. Lamott taped some pithy advice to her wall on 3x5 cards that, in her words, gave her some light to see by. I might have suggested Psalm 36:9, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light,” but then again, I’m not a postmodern and I’m actually married. Her “wall advice” goes like this: “Breathe, Pray, Be kind, Stop grabbing.” More than her passionate dislike for President Bush, Ms. Lamott is really into this breathing thing. It’s an obsession with her. So far she seems to be doing okay. She’s still vertical. But, the wall advice didn’t really help, but screaming in the car did. Okay.
Now I want you to pay close attention to what follows, because Ms. Lamott is going to give us some insight into her ECM methodology as well as her view of Scripture—just in case you didn’t already know. Neither the wall bullets nor screaming in the car helped, but walking did. She tells us that she began going on a walk on Mount Tamalpais and spending time praying. The origin of this exercise was that she heard (didn’t read) that Jesus did it too. Her Roman Catholic priest friend, Father Tom, clarified the entire matter for Ms. Lamott, however. His explanation to her gives new meaning to the saying, “the blind leading the blind.” What did the well-educated purveyor of indulgences have to say? Just listen. “He said that we are not sure whether Jesus actually did this; people had to explain Jesus’ absence by saying he was going up to the mountain to pray, but for all we know, he went off and had a few beers. Then he may have gone bowling, slinging the ball bitterly down the alley until he felt better.”
For all of you who are so in love with the ECM, I want you to read this blasphemy over and over. If we are not certain about Jesus’ prayer life then we’re not certain about much of anything. We do know, of course, that he was a good bowler. This is the kind of utter nonsense that we find in the representatives of the ECM. Granted not all of them are this far over the top, but it’s pretty cookie-cutter with its denial of real biblical sovereignty and its denial of the plenary inspiration of the Word of God.
So Lamott asked the illustrious Father Confessor what Jesus would have done with Sam. Are you ready for his reply? “In biblical times, they used to stone a few thirteen-year-olds with some regularity, which helped keep the others quiet at home. The mothers were usually in the first row of stone throwers, and had to be restrained.” Isn’t this brilliant? At least Lamott has some flimsy excuse because she’s in a goof-ball “tribe” called the United Presbyterian Church (USA). Father Tom ostensibly attended some form of seminary. He desperately needs to get a refund.
Would it be asking too much to analyze this gross misinterpretation and misrepresentation of Scripture? The text to which Mr. Hermeneutic is referring is found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21. We are not told there precisely how old the son had to be before he was a candidate for stoning, but we do get some inkling of the accusation brought by the father in verse 20: “This son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” It’s conceivable that Sam is rather frequently drunk at the age of thirteen, but we’re not told by Ms. Lamott. This Old Testament procedure was also not in place for a kid struggling to grow up. This is a matter of repeated stubbornness and rebellion, not that he didn’t clean up his dirty socks from the floor.
Finally, the moms are not even mentioned. It seems that the Old Testament punishment was not to be meted out by a Menopausal Death Crone. The 21st verse is highly instructive not only with regard to who is to carry out the death penalty, but also why. “Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (Emphases mine). Nice try Tom, but you were just a little off, kind of like when Bob Uecker announces in the movie Major League, “That pitch was just a little outside.”
My point is how grotesquely Scripture is misinterpreted by some in the ECM. They don’t know Scripture and want to convince us that we can’t know much of anything spiritually either, even though the Bible records Jesus and others saying that we can. If I have to choose between McLaren, Miller, and Lamott and the Bible, that’s like having to choose between chicken salad and chicken situation. My real quandary, however, is trying to decide who is more irrelevant: Lamott or Father Tom. It’s a genuine toss-up.
Apparently, Father Tom’s precise interpretation lacked any real practical force because almost immediately afterwards the Death Crone and “Phil” had another blowup. This time they were in the car so Lamott pulled over at a secluded place (“A few feet away was a rock that looked like an altar, a huge mottled stone head, like a happy Buddhist god with leprosy.” Isn’t this helpful?) and “tried to breathe beatifically.”
I only wish I could have been there. As gullible as she was to Tom’s nonsense, I could have offered to sell her an anointed prayer cloth that somehow had a picture of the Blessed Virgin on it. I could explain that at one time it was just a generic, garden variety handkerchief, but that a person full of the Holy Spirit blew his nose on it and the picture mysteriously appeared. I would have thrown the in the lessons on “beatific breathing” for free. Since no one seems to know precisely what “beatific breathing” is, I could have followed Father Tom and Ms. Lamott and made it up as I went along.
In this sacred place Lamott thought of Father Tom and wanted to ask him, “What on earth did Mary do when Jesus was thirteen?” The answer is obvious. She paid for bowling lessons. But no, here’s Lamott’s conclusion: “She occasionally started gathering rocks.” Again, a little theology: Mary was gathering rocks to give to the men of the city to stone the sinless Son of God. That way they would purge the evil from their midst.
Lamott is convinced—according to the Luke 2:41-52 account, which she never mentions by chapter and verses—that as Jesus was “blowing the elders away” when he was twelve, he was also treating Joseph and Mary shabbily. According to her, he was making his parents crazy and he also “ditched” them. You might have missed that the first few times you read that text. Just a quick note Ms. Lamott: not every household is as dysfunctional as yours.
She continues and says that when Jesus’ parents finally found him he started mouthing off to them. You probably missed that part too. Then he dresses Joseph down in this manner: “Like, Joseph, you’re not my real father—you’re not the boss of me. I don’t even have to listen to you.” Isn’t this helpful scriptural interpretation? And the folks at ECM wonder why others have questions about their movement. We should be surprised that, according to Lamott’s eisegesis, Jesus didn’t call Joseph Dude, like, you know, like Jesus was a 21st century postmodernist. You might have missed Lamott’s venture into fantasy land when you read those verses—somewhere between the lines that record his reply as this: “Why were you looking for me? Did you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49). And then in my funky Bible like, you know, it says this: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (vv. 51-52). Far out, dude. But to Ms. Lamott’s mind, “Mary’s got a rock in her hand.” Forget the bowling lessons.
So once we have demythologized all of this in a Bultmannian fashion, what have we learned? We need a Youth Pastor to inform us. Lamott’s friend, Mark, works with church youth groups. You just know intuitively that this is really, really going to be good. Mark reminded Ms. Lamott “that Sam doesn’t need to correct his feelings. He needs me to listen, to be clear and fair and parental. But most of all he needs me to be alive in a way that makes him feel he will be able to bear adulthood…”
According to the 5th commandment, Sam does need to correct his feelings. Part of sanctification is having our feelings sanctified as well. I agree with Ms. Lamott that by the time a child has reached the age of thirteen parents need to shift gears slightly and spend time listening. But that is not the end of the story. My God-ordained duty as a parent is to teach my child the things of God; to teach them to take every thought captive to Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). Yes, I need to be both fair and parental. But “being parental” is not something that hangs in the air. There is a distinct biblical pattern of what being a Christian parent entails. Ms. Lamott might consider beginning by kicking the live-in artist friend out of the house and give her son the example that fornication is unbiblical and displeasing to the Lord.Next week Ms. Lamott takes us on another exciting excursion into the ECM world of postmodern claptrap with a visit to David Roche, the monologist and pastor of the Church of 80% Sincerity. I promise; I am not making this up. Just wait and see. Isn’t this a scream? Tom Cruise might even show up. We could go for a few beers and some bowling. Maybe Father Tom would join us.
 Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, (NY: Riverhead Books, 2005), p. 94.
 Ibid., 95.
 Ibid., 98.
 Ibid., 99.
 Ibid., 102.