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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Book Review - Anne Lamott - Plan B

Anne Lamott is a San Francisco Bay Area native down to the cellular level not only in her preferences, but in her political and social views. She is unabashedly a lefty, the daughter of lefties, and she want everyone to know it from page one of this volume, where she serves notice of her identity by beginning with a diatribe against George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. She is saying, "Look, Sweetheart, this is who I am, so let's get this straight. If you can't take it, then back up, close the front cover, and get the hell out of my book!" I am one of the people who stayed, and glad I did.

Unlike her earlier "Traveling Mercies" which began with a sequential biography of her journey towards God, or perhaps His journey towards her, this book is a non-chronological collection of essays gently demonstrating the fragile yet invincible grace of God evident in the friendships, conflicts, disasters, and tangles of the human condition--her own, that of her teenage son Sam, those of her friends and family, those of her church, and the people she encounters as a lusty, narcissistic, radicalized leftist, mellowing with age, experience, and grace.

Lamott places a poem before Chapter One that subtly but unerringly foreshadows the theme of this collection of twenty-four portraits of life and grace. By Lisel Mueller, it is titled "Monet Refuses the Operation," and chronicles and contrasts the painter's view of reality with that view defended by more "rational," less artistic people. Of course, Lamott is Monet as well, and his words might as well be hers as he says, "The world is flux, and light becomes what it touches, becomes water, lilies on water, above and below water, becomes lilac and mauve and yellow and white and cerulean lamps, small fists passing sunlight so quickly to one another . . ."" The point is, the world is not simply what it seems, and as with Emily Dickinson' poem, "All the earth is crammed with heaven and every bush aflame with God, but only those who see take off their shoes." Lamott sees. She sees the pain, the sorrow and the darkness, but she also sees the burning bush, and invites us to draw near and to take off our shoes and join her there.

It is obvious to me that she wants not only to sensitize us to how God moves amidst the ordinary, but also to comfort the wounded hearts of readers bruised by life, and longing for the soothing touch of God, whether they realize it or not. Lamott succeeds in this without being preachy, superficial, or simplistic.

She never loses sight of life's ugliness, instead finding the grace of God shining brightest in the darkest places. "Without all the shades and shadows, you'd miss the beauty of the veil. The shadow is always there, and if you don't remember it, when it falls on you and your life again, you're plunged into darkness. Shadows make the light show" (162).

This book is mellower than "Traveling Mercies," written five years later. Here we see a Lamott coming to terms with her life, finally content, but still radical, still disturbed by life's injustices, still struggling. But she is coming to terms with life as it is, and herself as she is, feeling just a little bit safer in the arms of God. She knows better than before the strength of the everlasting arms.

This is not a tightly organized book, but a collection of snapshots of life as she finds it. Some people will be impatient with the gentleness of the book. She paints miniatures, not murals. Nevertheless, upon her small canvases, she paints with great artistry and sensitivity.

Prepare to be changed in how you relate to older relatives, to the sick, to the downtrodden, to social justice issues, to undesirable tasks. As for me, I was more than once moved almost to tears by her integrity and intensity of relationship with her son. Her transparency enabled me to look more deeply at my own parenting. Of such glimpses, tears are born.

Anne Lamott teaches all of us here about how to live with ourselves, with God, and with each other. Who can afford to miss the lesson?

At 12/23/2006 4:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review! I read plan b this summer. It was so interesting that I read it in a few brief sittings. I could barely put it down. She's coming at things from a direction I'm not used to, but after reading it I felt like something had shifted inside me; like I'd become a little more...open I suppose.


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