Jesusy' Anne Lamott
She came to Jesus just as she was—a foul-mouthed, bulimic, alcoholic drug addict. One week after having an abortion, she surrendered to him in her very own version of the sinner's prayer, punctuated with the f-word.
When I recently called Anne Lamott—the funny, nutty, fast-talking, born-again author whose books include Bird by Bird, Operating Instructions, Traveling Mercies, and most recently Blue Shoe—the same earthy candor came through.
To be sure, Lamott is a hard-core liberal. I disagree with her on many fronts, for example with her belief that personhood doesn't start at conception. Yet, deeper within her than her loud liberalism is a reality that has won her many evangelical readers: a zany ardor for Jesus. Lamott's fascination with all things Jesusy (a term she might as well have copyrighted) must be the reason why she is a mixed bag of hilariously antagonistic affections.
Let me count the ways.
Every morning, before she gets out of bed, Lamott reads meditations by Emmet Fox (1886-1951), the progressive New Thought preacher who is popular in Alcoholics Anonymous circles. "You want to buy his book Sermon on the Mount today; it will change your life. I promise," she says. She looks up daily Scripture passages in Zondervan's Women of Faith Study Bible. The conservative publisher puts out "hundreds of books that I love," including If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat by Willow Creek Community Church's teaching pastor, John Ortberg.
A commentator for NPR and a columnist at the freethinking Salon.com, Lamott shops "all the time" at Christian bookstores. She calls herself a "bumper-sticker Christian." The two bumper-sticker sayings she lives by are: "God loves you just the way you are but he loves you too much to let you stay like this" and "I don't know what the future holds but I know who holds the future."
Meeting Jesus in the Lavatory
Once she gets out of bed at 7 a.m., Lamott watches CNN as she's making breakfast. At 7:30 a.m., when she's cleaning up after breakfast and making lunch, her soul eats a little breakfast: the program of the "very right-wing, greatest preacher of all time" Joyce Meyer. "I wish the order were reversed," she says. "She's hilarious and a wonderful God-fearing mess."
Lamott also adores the humor of author Luci Swindoll (sister of the brother) and others from the Women of Faith movement, whose statement of faith includes belief in the Bible's inerrancy. The love is mutual. "If I told Luci I want to come over to her place," Lamott says, "she'd say, 'Do you need airfare?' "
Some "right-wingers, often with Southern accents" occasionally call her to tell her that she will rot in hell (she received 30 such calls after writing a negative review of a "God-awful" thriller by Pat Robertson). These are strong words for someone who receives hundreds of letters from people grateful for her bringing them back to Christ, never gives a lecture without mentioning Jesus, orders tapes from Charles Stanley, and invited her secular editor and publisher to her baptism ("They were horrified").
Another pair of strange bedfellows: Lamott is nuts about Jesus, but she's okay with dating someone who isn't. "He's not a believer yet," she says about the South African artist who works in advertising. "But he loves God. It's just that he doesn't quite commit. He's been sober as long as I have, and we both have a higher power. I call mine Jesus."
Speaking of which, she says, sometimes he and Lamott's friends "roll their eyes at me because I'm really Jesusy, there's just no way around it." Jesusy is the adjective that endeared Lamott to her mostly evangelical audience at the 2000 Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. "We'll have the Jesusiest time ever!" she cooed. At her Jesusiest, Lamott not only sounds but even looks like an evangelical: "I'll buy a wwjd bracelet to wear for the day so I can forget about me when I'm on a radio or tv interview, and I'll just remember him and ask myself, 'What is his will for me?' " she says.