Book Review: “Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith”

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.