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Plan B

| 1.3.06
Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott

In this short, rambling, yet entertaining book the reader is treated to an inside view of one middle-aged west coast liberal's attempt to make sense of life as a Christian, parent, Sunday school teacher, writer, and citizen under the Bush Administration.

Yes, I kid you not. A big subtext in this series of autobiographical spiritual musings is the despair that liberal types feel when the right wing is in power. I suppose anyone with strong political leanings is subject to this kind of despair. While most of the electorate are probably somewhere in the middle --with something to like and dislike about anyone who might occupy the White House-- those on either fringe fear the worst, braving the current Administration like a raging storm, hoping it will end without destroying everything in its path.

I couldn't help but think, "this must be how Christian conservatives felt during Clinton's eight years in office." As someone with a very conservative extended family, I'm constantly hearing ranting from that end of the spectrum. I can only hope that I don't rant like that myself. Lamott definitely shows that ranting isn't the sole property of one political party.

Part of me wondered, why put so much partisan politics into this book? Lamott has a lot of down-to-earth wisdom to share, wisdom gained from her own rocky experiences, wisdom that could be even be useful to certain Republicans. However any self-respecting Republican will probably toss this book after reading the first few pages of Bush bashing. Here are some nuggets of her wisdom. The tone is quirky, pithy, and down-to-earth:

". . .when you pray, you are not starting the conversation from scratch, just remembering to plug back into a conversation that's always in progress." (p. 25)

". . .if you want to change the way you feel about people, you have to change the way you treat them." (p. 143)

"This drives me crazy, that God seems to have no taste, and no standards. Yet on most days, this is what gives some of us hope." (p. 222)

"She said you could tell if people were following Jesus, instead of following the people who follow Jesus, because they were feeding the poor, sharing their wealth, and trying to help everyone get medical insurance." (pp. 222-223)

"If I were God, I'd have the answers at the end of the workbook, so you could check as you went along, to see if you're on the right track. But nooooooo. Darkness is our context, and Easter's context: without it, you couldn't see the light. Hope is not about proving anything. It's about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak shit anyone can throw at us." (pp. 274-275)

"Every single spiritual tradition says that you must take care of the poor, or you are so doomed that not even Jesus or the Buddha can help you." (p. 307)

Great stuff.

On the other hand, maybe politics and religion do go hand in hand. For years I was a left-leaning parishioner in right-leaning churches. This gave me no end of consternation while I told myself I was holding out hope that church could transcend partisan differences.

Now I attend a church that more closely matches my political views, and I feel like a decades long hangover has finally ended! While it is nice to imagine that church can transcend politics, the reality is that everything is political, and the only way you can be represented is to be part of a group that shares your interests. That, and you can come out of church without fuming and bitching for days on end about what you just heard from the pulpit.

Lamott has the guts to be completely honest, even when it doesn't make her look good. She's comfortable enough about who she is that she can trash the Bush Administration yet also question her own motives for doing so. She just lets it all hang out, and then she attempts, albeit mostly unsuccessfully, to heal from the hatred. I can't help but admire her honesty and her struggle, which comes to a climax about two-thirds through the book:

"The sermon ended; people were crying. Veronica [Lamott's pastor] asked if anyone wanted to come forward for special prayer. . . I struggled to keep in my seat, but I found myself standing, then lurching forward stiffly. . .I whispered that I was so angry with and afraid of the right wing in this country that it was making me mentally ill.. . and the church prayed for me, although they did not know what was wrong." (p. 224)

This wound up being a very interesting read! Not what I expected and well worth my time. In a way Lamott's ranting is redeemed because it leads to a deeper insight into her own hopes, fears, and insecurities. This makes the book unlike anything I'd read before in this genre. Anyone can attack their political opponents, but it is a rare person who can also admit their own vulnerabilities at the same time.

PUBLISHER: Riverhead Books, New York, 2005. ISBN: 1-57322-299-2.

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