Friday, August 31, 2007

Anne Lamott: Good News or Sad News?

I don't usually post during my retreat, but I found myself praying about my mixed feelings about Anne LaMott, believe it or not, and then happened to see one of Amy Welborn's recent posts. So, I took a little time for reflection and wrote down a few things. It'll be a few days before I get to managing comments on this, but maybe some of you are feeling similarly.

Several years ago a good friend sent me a copy of Traveling Mercies, by Anne LaMott. I’m not sure any other book has inspired in me such emotion as that one. I laughed. I cried. Indeed, somewhat embarrassedly while reading it on a plane. It remains one of the best spiritual books I have ever read—brutally honest, sad, funny and inspiring. I continue to recommend it, and am currently without a copy because I insisted that someone go ahead and take mine.

I enjoyed her follow-up to Traveling Mercies, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, though not as much. Her frequent digs at President Bush in essay after essay were distracting, despite the fact that I in large part agree with her opinion of the president. However, there was still many of those unexpected, disarming and deep spiritual insights that made Traveling Mercies so good. I admire her greatly as a writer as well, and count her Bird by Bird among the best books on writing that I know.

However, I must admit being taken aback when I heard about her outburst regarding abortion at an event last year featuring her, Richard Rohr and Jim Wallis. Her angry pro-choice rant didn’t sit well with her co-panelists or the largely Christian audience. Her later remarks, explaining that she didn’t realize that the audience was largely Catholic (or maybe she may not have come?), also struck me as somewhat anti-Catholic.

So, when her new book, the follow up to Plan B, was published this year, I was not sure I wanted to read it, and still haven’t. There are many lines she has stepped over in her writing which I have been willing to accept, even appreciate, because of the faithful insights which accompany them, but I’ve had a hard time with this one. The president Bush-bashing I found a distraction, but one that I could overcome, wishing the editor might have had a bit of a heavier hand, but her strong conviction that the person of faith’s belief in civil rights should include belief in a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion is, I admit, a stumbling block for me.

However, despite opinion to the contrary, I find it difficult to greet as “Good News From Creighton” (as advertised on Amy’s blog) that a planned appearance by LaMott has been cancelled there for this reason. Knowing how much Anne LaMott has to offer I can only regard it as sad news, even if I understand and even support the reasoning. I find such an occurrence especially sad because it brings out the worst in people. Suddenly, people forget about all the good a person has done, all the people that someone like Anne LaMott has introduced to the reality of forgiveness and inspired to faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, we get comments like “It was never a closely guarded secret what she was” (my emphasis, the what in this case clearly not meant as a compliment) and, of course, the requisite “wow, a Jesuit university standing up for/adhering to Catholic principals, it’s rather novel . . .” (as the comment is rather tired).

No, it has not been a closely guarded secret who Anne Lamott is because for years she has courageously shared with us the best and worst of herself, all in hopes of showing us how important it is that we, at our best and worst, are loved by Christ, and hopefully he by us. So, while I lament the fact that something has gotten in the way of me loving Anne LaMott the writer, I also lament the fact that it seems to have gotten in the way of some of us loving Anne LaMott, our sister in Christ. Maybe all this gets in the way of inviting her to come speak at a nearby Catholic university, but I’d still like to sit down and have coffee with her one of these days and talk about her love for Jesus. I know that would be a grace.


Blogger Julie D. said...

I never read Traveling Mercies but really enjoyed Bird by Bird (if I am remembering the name correctly). The person I met in that book seemed increasingly different from the public persona Anne Lamott was presenting and I found that troubling. I never read another of her books after picking up Plan B and seeing what seemed to me like a vicious dig at Prez. B. (who I like better than many do). Not so much that she didn't like him. Many of my friends don't. But it hit me as so "angry" that I couldn't get over it (as with Garrison Keillor ... whose gentle humor was spoiled for me by the one-sided political digs). Your essay spells out many of my problems with this author who can be so inspirational.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Steve Bogner said...

This all brings up a good question, I think: How do we deal with those around us with whom we have differences, but from whom we can also learn much and profit from? I hope that makes sense. It's not an easy balance, or a straightforward proposition. And I mean that as much on the personal level as on the corporate.

We have a lot to learn from those who disagree with us, and that starts with engagement in the issues and ideas. We need to be able to dislike an idea without disliking the person who holds it. But it appears to me that this capacity is in very short supply these days.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Susan Rose, CSJP said...

This post illustrates why I am glad you are in the Catholic blogosphere, Mark. Thanks for a dose of sanity and a dash of our common humanity.

Prayers and blessings are coming your way a you finish your retreat time.


2:04 PM  
Blogger Moonshadow said...

However, I must admit being taken aback when I heard about her outburst regarding abortion

her strong conviction that the person of faith’s belief in civil rights should include belief in a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion

It's a civil right in so far as it's usually legal in America, like contraception, capital punishment, self-defense with deadly force, Bush's war.

Christians amongst themselves and others of good will may disagree on any one of those latter issues.

What sets abortion apart, the innocent life defense? It would seem that some Christians are no longer able to maintain that distinction.


10:49 AM  
Blogger Bex said...

The thing that troubles me most about this entire thing was not the university's response, but the Archdiocese's response. As a academic institution, Creighton has academic freedom. As Anne Lamott was invited to give a lecture on a specific topic, and had already agreed not to touch upon certain areas where her views diverge from Church teaching, I have a very big problem with the Archdiocese stepping in and threatening to force Creighton to remove the Catholic distinction from the university. Having gone to Creighton, and having had the privilege of working with the current president, I am proud of the way that Creighton (and Anne Lamott, for that matter) responded. If she were coming to give a lecture on the wonders of abortion, it would be appropriate for the Archdiocese to intervene. However, when an academic program is sponsoring a lecture that falls within Church teaching, even if the speaker holds some divergent beliefs, there is no justification for Archdiocesan interference.

And I'm glad that others in the Omaha community have made sure that Anne Lamott will still be coming to Omaha, but she will also be speaking at a larger venue for a bigger crowd of people without the Archdiocesan watchdogs breathing down her neck.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

My work bookclub is going to be reading Grace Eventually. I hope it doesn't want to make me hurl.

9:41 AM  

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