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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Anne Lamott: Funnier Than Phyllis Diller But Not As Pretty

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
One of the Female Gurus of the Emergent Church Movement
In case you missed the ludicrous era of the 1960s I’ve got good news for you. A number of people are trying—really hard—to bring it back. Ms. Anne Lamott is one of them. She is one funny dude-ette. The problem, however, is that she is serious and is taken seriously, even though periodicals like The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New Yorker, Newsweek, and The Seattle Times think otherwise. One example must suffice.
The good folks at Newsweek added the following blurb to the dust jacket: “Lamott writes about subjects that begin with capital letters (Alcoholism, Motherhood, Jesus). But armed with self-effacing humor and ruthless honesty—called it a lowercase approach to life’s Big Questions—she converts potential op-ed boilerplate into enchantment.” She’s an authentic person. Plus, she is not afraid of using the “f” word. Cute and funny for sure. The very thought of a woman swearing is endearing. The couple in the picture just finished reading Ms. Lamott, so you can see what kind of effect she has on normal people.
I saw Ms. Lamott’s latest book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, on a recent outing with my family to the Barnes & Noble across from Main Place Mall, in Santa Ana, CA. At first I decided that it was such a goofy book that I’d just have a designer coffee (a form of networking) and skim through the book, assured that by the time I was finished I’d be a more authentic person.
Much to my surprise, as I started skimming selected chapters I started laughing so hard that one of the sales people (or persons) came by to ask if I were okay. I assured her that I was, but that this was a really funny book. The young sales girl (who was probably taking an overload of feminist courses at one of our state universities in the area to augment her English lit major) informed me that it wasn’t supposed to be a funny book. It was a religious book. I told her that I knew that, which was the very reason I was laughing so hard.
Ms. Lamott is definitely very funny. Her religion—faith—is rather unique, even for northern California. The opening chapter sets the stage for all the hilarity that will follow. It’s called “ham of god.” I haven’t yet quite figured out the lower-case thing, except that McLaren does it too, so it must be somewhat trendy; fashionable. Anyway, the chapter opens on Ms. Lamott’s forty-ninth birthday. For whatever reason, she concluded on that day that “life was hopeless,” so she decided to eat herself to death.[1]
That’s not entirely true—not the eating herself to death thing, but the reason why she was going to attempt that. The real reason is that she would rather kill herself through self-inflicted obesity than “to endure slow death by scolding at the hands of the Bush administration.”[2] Someone should call off the Gestapo! But the good news is that Ms. Lamott could not and did not commit suicide on her forty-ninth. She had bigger fish to fry. What could be bigger than suicide? It seems that Ms. Lamott had already promised to get arrested the next day and didn’t want to renege on her word to “an ecumenical bunch of religious peaceniks, people who still believe in Dr. King and Gandhi.”[3] Isn’t that funny? Besides, her back was out and even though it might be painful to protest with back pain, that’s nothing compared to pulling your back out further through overeating. Her final reason was that she had no food in the house. That will definitely slow you down when you’re attempting to gorge yourself to death. And women sometimes wonder why men think they’re so silly!
Actually, that’s not fair, but I wrote it to make a point. I am privileged to know an inordinately large number of highly intelligent women; my wife leading the list. My problem is that most of the women I know are normal. They tend to keep food in their houses. In differentiation to the women I’m acquainted with, Ms. Lamott runs with a very different crowd (tribe). She explains, “Everyone I know has been devastated by Bush’s presidency and, in particular, our country’s heroic military activities overseas.”[4]
You see, we traffic in an opposite circle of friends. Most of the people I know are all on mega-doses of industrial strength Prozac, so they’re not devastated by anything, let alone the Bush presidency. Moreover, my friends actually are proud of our men and women in uniform, even when their backs are out. Ms. Lamott needs a change of venue and some new friends. That way, she can extricate herself from her “crabby hope.”[5] She sounds more like Lucy in Peanuts than someone proposing an alternative form (Plan B) of faith.
But Ms. Lamott’s struggles would only be masked by Prozac or Paxil because “So much had been stolen from us by Bush, from the very beginning of his reign, and especially since he went to war in Iraq.” [6] Nothing like a reign of terror to steal your joy and give you back pain—or maybe pain in another part of your anatomy. All of this works in a synergistic fashion so that Ms. Lamott wakes up “some mornings pinned to the bed by centrifugal sadness and frustration.”[7] This translates into: after a heavy night of protesting and believing in Gandhi you’re too tired and sleepy to get up at a decent hour.
Her friend Peggy once read an article in Vanity Fair about Hitler having an affair with his niece. That’s pertinent. Anyway, Peggy was so disgusted that she said, “I have had it with Hitler!” Good thing he had been dead a long, long time. That way Peggy didn’t have to die by obesity. But there is a connection. Just as Peggy has had it with Hitler, Ms. Lamott has had it with Bush.[8] Why, “Hadn’t the men in the White House ever heard of the word karma?”[9] If you called the switchboard at the White House, they could probably tell you, but I must admit that whether or not Bush, Rove, Rice, or Rumsfeld have ever heard of the word karma—which I suspect that they have—is not high on my list of important political items. Partial birth abortion, abortion on demand, and the illegal alien problem rank substantially higher.
By this time, I had tears of laughter running down my face. Karma? Maybe they heard that instant karma’s going to get you—instant karma can be microwaved, but doesn’t begin to compare to stovetop karma. Plus, it’s high in carbs. But the karma thing has to do with the way the White House lied their way into taking America into war, crossing another country’s borders “with ferocious military might, trying to impose our form of government on a sovereign nation, without any international agreement…”[10]
A few comments are in order for clarity’s sake. First, in case you hadn’t noticed, our military is capable of operating in both a ferocious and non-ferocious mode. Ferocious military might includes such things as real bullets, MOABs, M1A2 tanks, fighter jets, A-10s, and smart bombs. Non-ferocious attacks involve shooting marshmallows from a 155mm howitzer and covering the enemy with rose petals—while he fires his AK-47 at you or explodes the C-4 in the trunk of his car or strapped to his body. In case you haven’t noticed, Ms. Lamott, most attacks that the military is involved in are somewhat violent.
Second, the last time I looked, the Iraqis seem to be pretty happy about not having to be a participant in a mass grave or rape cell. Most of those liberated from Hussein’s brutal regime seem pretty pleased with democracy. But if Ms. Lamott is convinced that the kind of republic we have here in America is so distasteful and mean-spirited, she could try living in Somolia, Saudi Arabia, or even Russia to see how others actually have to exist.
Finally, recent events that came to light before Ms. Lamott’s book was published pointed out that one of the essential reasons the “international community” was hesitant to give its approval to the Iraqi War was because it was in bed with Hussein in the oil-for-food scam. Hadn’t the men in the United Nations ever heard of the word karma? I suppose not. They were too busy looking up the definition of “windfall profits.”
Oh yes, one final postscript. The guys (and girls) in the White House also “set about killing the desperately poor on behalf of the obscenely rich.”[11] They must have failed miserably in killing the poor because here was Ms. Lamott in northern California with nothing to eat in the house—so poor that she couldn’t even kill herself by eating what she had purchased with her food stamps—and she managed to survive. Again, the last time I checked—and this was a few months back—the desperately poor in Iraq had more food, water, schools, and electricity than they had ever had under the Hussein administration (You must pay attention and get this right: It’s the Bush reign and the Hussein administration. Stovetop karma.). Obviously, the “obscenely rich” to whom she refers is Kofi Annan.
But I digress. When we last left Ms. Lamott she was in dire straits, what having to live under democratic terrorism. It’s a tough life. Her Jesuit friend, Father Tom called in the midst of this grief and agony to cheer her up. She informs us that Father Tom is a few years her senior (which means that he didn’t eat himself to death during the first Bush reign) and, like Ms. Lamott, “gives lectures and leads retreats on spirituality.”[12] Thankfully, Ms. Lamott doesn’t give lectures or lead retreats on eating habits.
Father Tom calls Ms. Lamott on other days as well “to report on the latest rumors of [her] mental deterioration, drunkenness, or promiscuity, how sick it makes everyone to know that I am showing all my lady parts to the neighbors.”[13] Now there’s a lecture on spirituality for you! No wonder she’s such a sought after lecture-person. She appears mentally frazzled and drunk, has sex with someone or something at the lectern, and, as a grand finale, shows the audience, eager with anticipation, her “lady parts.” Ladies and gentlemen, please give it up for Anne Lamott!
Father Tom merely called to wish Ms. Lamott a Happy Birthday this time, though. He probably wasn’t even aware that she wanted to die. She asked him the hard question: “How are we going to get through this craziness? There was silence for a moment.”[14] Father Tom must have missed her last lecture, because I know what I would have answered immediately. Just go get drunk, be promiscuous, and show your neighbors your private parts.
Father Tom apparently is ex-military or watches a lot of the Military Channel because his answer was, “Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe.”[15] Tears of laughter are streaming down my face and the casual buyers at Barnes & Noble are starting to get nervous. The sales girl is clearly piqued. I picture Ms. Lamott, actually knowing her left foot from her right, getting three steps into the exercise before she remembers to breathe, but then leaves her right foot suspended in air while she takes a much-needed breath. The neighbors, being subjected to yet another “lady part” quietly closed the blinds.
The advice Father Tom proffered was quite practical, however. He reminded Ms. Lamott that “We start by being kind of ourselves. We breathe, we eat.”[16] Sound advice for sure. He also reminded her of this crucial piece of information: “Kids hit by U.S. bombs are not abandoned by God.”[17] He didn’t mention those who were killed by Syrians, Iranian whack jobs, and other jihadists, so we are only left to speculate about what the Almighty does in those cases.
After all of this heavy-duty intellectualism, Ms. Lamott hung up the phone and ate a few birthday chocolates. That seemed to help. “Then I asked God to help me be helpful. It was the first time that day that I felt my prayers were sent, and then received—like e-mail.”[18] One can only hope that the Lord has spam blockers. Ms. Lamott, even though a lecturer and retreat leader on the topic of spirituality, finds God at times—well, annoying. She writes, “The problem with God—or at any rate, one of the top five most annoying things about God—is that He or She rarely answers right away. It can take days, week.”[19] This is a problem, especially when you’re an “instant messaging” person like Ms. Lamott.
With such an annoying God—make certain you tell the people at the retreat just how annoying he/she can be—what can you do but go grocery shopping, which is precisely what Ms. Lamott did. She went to the store and flirted with everyone in the store, especially the old people, none of whom apparently asked to see a “lady part.” But in the check out line, the cashier informed her that she was the gazillioneth shopper in the store and she had won a free ham. Apparently, the Almighty is benevolent after all. Well, not quite, because Ms. Lamott explains that she had asked for help and not a ham. Besides, she rarely eats ham. “It makes you bloat.”[20] And when you bloat you rarely feel like getting drunk, being promiscuous, or any of the other fun things lecturers and retreat leaders do.
The store manager was a little slow that day, which added to Ms. Lamott’s irritation. She was already annoyed with God and then she “waited ten minutes for what I began to think of as ‘that f***ing ham.’”[21] Just another annoying thing about God. When you’re in a hurry, he makes you wait for an intercoursing ham. Well, the God of Great Annoyance finally showed her where to put the ham. No, it’s not where you think. She encountered an old friend in the parking lot. “She has dark black skin and processed hair the color of cooled tar.”[22] For the rest of us: She’s a black woman.
Ms. Lamott gave her the ham, which was genuinely a fine, benevolent gesture, as well as some money for gas. I didn’t mind her giving away the ham, but I was saddened by the fact that Ms. Lamott also thrust folding money into the woman’s hand—money that could have been used to napalm kids in Iraq.
This first hilarious chapter ends with these words: “Later, thinking about her, I remembered the seasonal showers in the desert, how potholes in the rocks fill up with rain. When you look later, there are already frogs in the water, and brine shrimp reproducing, like commas doing the macarena; and it seems, but only seems, that you went from parched to overflow in the blink of an eye.”[23]
By this time, I’m lying on the floor right in front of the “New Arrivals” section of the Santa Ana Barnes & Noble holding my sides. The young girl asked me if I had ever watched brine shrimp reproduce and I was smitten because I had missed out on that in life. “They really do look like commas doing the Macarena! They’re just so precious,” she said in her valley girl accent. But my thoughts drifted off to the notion of commas doing the Macarena, which I concluded was a far better image than one of Ms. Lamott’s lady parts. I can hardly wait until her next retreat on spirituality.
[1] Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, (NY: Riverhead Books, 2005), p. 3.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 4.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid. Italics mine.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid. Emphasis mine.
[11] Ibid., 4-5.
[12] Ibid., 5.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., 6.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid., 7.
[20] Ibid., 9.
[21] Ibid., 10. Ms. Lamott did not use asterisks. I inserted them for the “family atmosphere” of this newsletter. By the way, for the uninitiated, swearing is really cool in the Emergent Church Movement. Just ask Don Miller.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid., 11.


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