May 2005 Archives

Note: This is my fourth attempt at this post, as I try to find the right approach to the topic. I've never been comfortable playing the role of a "critical critic," especially when dealing with so personal an issue as faith. Even now, I'm not sure how this will turn out, but as Ms. Lamott herself might say, I'm willing to throw it out and trust that God's grace will cover it. He's really good at doing that, you know.

Anne Lamott's Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith is essentially a sequel to Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, published a little more than five years ago. Both books are collections of essays drawn from Ms. Lamott's experiences and observations, and most of those essays deal with her spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus Christ. Both are well-written and often brutally honest accounts of her struggles to find peace in a life that has been made difficult by a long series of bad decisions on her part.

Unfortunately for Ms. Lamott's readers, the past half decade has not been particularly kind to her political leaning, and the degree to which she shares this fact colors almost every chapter of Plan B. She makes no effort to disguise her contempt for George W. Bush, Republicans and "right-wingers," apparently seeing no irony in the fact that those with whom she aligns politically are often the ones who hold her faith in equally open contempt.

Think I'm exaggerating about her displeasure with our President? The slams begin in the third sentence of the book. Here's an excerpt:

ìI know that Bush is family, and that I am supposed to love him, but I hate this-he is a dangerous member of the family, like a Klansman, or Osama bin Laden. In heaven, I may have to sit next to him, and in heaven, I know, I will love him. So I will pray to stop hating him, and that he will not kill so many people, today.î [Ch. 10; p. 144]

And another:

I felt addicted to the energy of scorning my president. I thought that if people like me stopped hating him, it would mean that he had won. [Ch. 17; p. 217]

And, finally, this:

But then-a small miracle-I started to believe in George Bush. I really did: in my terror, I wondered whether maybe he was smarter than we think he is, and had grasped classified intelligence and nuance in a way that was well above my own understanding or that of our eraís most brilliant thinkers. Then I thought: Wait-George Bush? And relief washed over me like gentle surf, because believing in George Bush was so ludicrous that believing in God seems almost rational. [Ch. 24; pp. 314-315]

Of course, many people have equally strong feelings about President Bush, but I suspect that not so many of them profess to be born-again believers, claiming to share the President's faith. But, doctrinal correctness doesn't fare much better in Ms. Lamott's essays.

The far-left Social Gospel leanings that she displayed in Traveling Mercies are brought into full bloom in Plan B. E.g. God has extremely low standards. Pray, take care of people, give away your money-you're cool. You're in. Nice room in heaven. [Ch. 10; p. 129] Of course, her pastor isn't much help in this regard. She [her pastor] 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. [Ch. 17; pp. 222-223]

Then there's her view on sin. Well, that's my word - and God's - for it. That's not really an operative concept for her purposes, though. She falls into the usual liberal paradigm (is that diplomatic enough?) of choosing to emphasize God's love while ignoring the reality and implications of His holiness. Jesus was soft on crime. [Ch. 14; p. 183] Well...no. It's a nice turn of phrase, and something we all wish was true, in our human and selfish and fallen way, but there's nothing in the Bible to support that view. He is "soft" on criminals, but He detests "crime."

In the end, if you can get past her political rantings and her skewed and New Age-y version of the Gospel, you're left with stories that are, by turns, hilarious, heart-rending, infuriating, depressing and encouraging. If you're easily offended by vulgar language, especially when used in conjunction with spiritual themes, you might want to take a pass. (After all, it was Lamott who described her conversion experience in Traveling Mercies thusly: "...I stood there for a minute, and then I hung my head and said, 'F**k it: I quit.' I took a long deep breath and said out loud, 'All right. You can come in.'")

Anne Lamott remains one of my favorite writers because her narrative and observational skills are superb. She writes from her heart, and I give her credit for that. But the skewed doctrine and caustic political attacks leave me wishing that I didn't know her heart quite so well.

Dancing Machines
May 10, 2005 4:57 PM | Posted in:

You may note that I've elected to categorize the following in "Ballroom Dance." I chose that category simply because I lack one called "Personal Disasters of Epic Proportions."

At 5:55 p.m. last Friday evening, we were full of enthusiasm and hope, eager to conquer the romantic and brave new world of ballroom dancing.

Two hours later we were shambling, twitching, sweating (well, MLB was merely glowing) step-counting robots whose fantasies were as shattered as our dance "moves." My wife later confessed that her dreams were filled with the mantra, "itty-bitty step...itty-bitty step..." For my part, all I managed to retain was that I, being the man, always start with my left foot. Everything thereafter is a blur; may God have mercy on my partner.

We arrived at the dance studio precisely on time, only to discover that everyone else was early. It reminded me of a junior high function (except for the male-female pairings); each couple stood in their own circle of personal space, sizing up the others ("yeah, I think I take him in the waltz; not sure about the mambo, however"), hoping to find someone who looked klutzy enough to divert attention from themselves. The demographic was pretty consistent...middle-aged WASPish, like us, with a single GenX couple who seemed to be second-guessing their Friday evening plans. There were about ten couples in all, plus two women without partners (and I gave them extra credit for their courage). MLB and I were fortunate in that we were friends with one of the couples; they had, in fact, provided us with the motivation to sign up for the class, and it remains to be seen whether forgiveness will be forthcoming.

After a five minute introduction by our instructor, a tall brunette named Bernadette, the guys were told to line up across the room and we launched immediately into the first steps of our dancing careers. We started with the foxtrot, and I encountered my first humiliation of the evening (I got used to them, by the way).

Apparently, in ballroom dancing it's considered to be the suave and gentlemenly thing to keep your knees together with feet pointed straight ahead ("pretend you're wearing corduroy pants, and the ribbing rubs with each step," Bernadette helpfully suggested). Well, that ain't happenin' with yours truly. I'm 6' 1" but I'd be 6' 4" if I weren't bowlegged, and one foot pretty much refuses to point straight ahead, if given a choice. We all had a big laugh over that, and I'm sure the others were still laughing later after I sneaked out and let the air out of their tires.

Despite my apparent physical shortcoming, I managed to get through the evening with a minimal amount of damage to either my partner or the other students. The least comfortable moment of the class was the one time we had to switch partners and I ended up with the GenX girl, who was about 4' 11" and had that deer-in-the-headlights look as she contemplated my size 10s next to her (very fashionable) size 2s. That encounter is now, thankfully, a blur; all I remember is her saying at the end, "you take really big steps, don't you?"

As this class is entitled "An Introduction to Ballroom Dancing," we went wide but not deep. We covered the foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha, rumba, mambo, tango and merengue. My personal favorite is the merengue, as it was the last one we tried and thus the only one I remember. Also, the merengue seems to consist basically of walking, and while my carriage is not a thing of beauty*, I mastered that skill a number of years ago and it's finally coming in handy.

Lessons learned? First, ballroom dancing isn't for wimps. Those who do it well are working harder than I ever imagined, especially with the latin steps. We used muscles that apparently lay back on a chaise lounge and sip iced tea during cycling and running workouts. Second, it's fun, even if you're really bad at it. In fact, for a while anyway, I think being bad at it is part of the fun. Expectations are low; everyone's messing up. I'm not sure how long I'll be able to capitalize on that situation, but it's the best plan I've got at this point.

We're facing three more lessons, one each Friday evening in May. But the only light at the end of this tunnel is an oncoming freight train, as the ladies have discovered that Midland has, of all things, a Ballroom Dance Society, where members get all gussied up once a month and go to the Petroleum Club for a couple of hours of gliding across the floor to the accompaniment of live music. The ladies think it all sounds very romantic and cultured. I can't repeat what the guys think.

*Extra credit to anyone who can identify the culturally iconic source of that phrase.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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