Anne Lamott, the Accidental Pastor

In the first post, I spoke on the context of seeing Anne Lamott in Bedford MA a couple weeks ago and despite my sarcastic and playful storytelling in the first post, I really do like Anne, quite a bit actually. She’s an extremely gifted writer that pulls you in and she’s among the most charming yet most raw speaker I’ve heard.

Yeah, I find myself thinking she should be more intentional as opposed to the “What do you folks what to talk about?” deal and maybe not begin by announcing her “rules.” But here’s the thing, if she followed normal protocols and proper etiquettes, she’d be less unique and she’d probably feel compromised. You also feel that every night is very unique from the next as nothing is canned and talking about the new book gives her an anchor point. In any case, I can not help but appreciate Anne Lamott from her books and seeing her speak a couple times now and here’s a bit of why.

Anne is Pastoral

My favorite part of Anne Lamott and what I hope to glean from her is she gives people permission to feel what they really feel. Many of us do that for some on some level but she is gifted in allowing an entire room full of people to be at ease in feeling whatever they are actually feeling. Granted the room was filled with her loyal readers but as a pastor, it’s a quality that I would love to keep growing in. People trust there will be no judgement from her and that the room will be full of compassion. There is no denying it, Anne has a very pastoral quality to her.

An example during the Q&A was the very first question was from a young woman whose emotions got the best of her as she asked, “How do I parent my “differently-abled” son?” There may have been a second part to the question but we never got it. Anne was not too quick to answer, it’s ok to cry, she told her to take her time, the young woman tried to ask again but couldn’t really get through and soon after Anne started sharing about one of her close friends who has a “differently-abled” teenage son. Here’s part of her answer.

“My friend has spent an enormous amount of time and energy caring for her son who is the happiest person people have met. It’s been absolutely hell sometimes but amazing too. The kid is incredibly happy and everyone wonders, how can he be happy?”
“He knows he’s loved and he tries to make others feel loved and in doing so, he has many friends. And despite his challenges, he has a lot of joy.”
“Grace is spiritual WD40″
“He’ll be the most important student for other students.”

Anne Has a Bigger view of God Than Most Preachers

My second favorite quality of Anne is that she has a big view of God. It’s a dominant theme in her writing as she does not underestimate His love, His understanding or His compassion. I think some preachers tragically miss this and caricaturize God as too petty and too easily frustrated with us fallen creatures. I realize I am at risk of caricaturizing the caricaturizers but I hope you get my point.

One of the criticisms of Anne is that she is “Bible-lite” and risks making God a bit too lenient to be faithful to Scripture. Despite how she likes to come across as overly-casual and sarcastic, she is a reader of good theology and I think this is why she has a big view of God. If you get what she’s trying to do, it doesn’t help her work if she quotes legit theologians as much of her audience is so frustrated with organized religion, that any link to it would risk tuning her out. You don’t read her books for theological perspective but rather for her spiritual gift of intellectually informed mercy-giving (but again, don’t underestimate her understanding of theology and her subtle and not-so-subtle push-backs).

Anne’s Simple and Profound Wisdom

She may be an over-sharer, she may choose to intentionally be “rough around the edges” (or it has become the pattern of her life that she it’s no longer a decision) but she is wise. Further, being so authentic in the open has become very natural to her and it’s allowed her to have these free-for-all Q&A’s “What do you want to talk about? You over there, go ahead …”
Questions ranged from writing, forgiveness, upbringing in England (by someone being raised by Englanders) and while I doubt she thinks she has the the answer for everything, she does see herself as a guide and she’s a really good one and I think that’s what good pastors do.

Here’s what she said about forgiveness:
Forgiveness is the hardest thing we’re called to do.
“I like to think of our time here on earth as forgiveness school.”
“Let go” yeah that’s nice but not always helpful. She said she made the radical choice of holding on to her anger towards her father. Sometimes you need to hold on to it so you can answer it (of course better to be released sooner than later but not before it’s time). In the meantime, you do your best to keep the “patient comfortable.”

Rage, grief, and grace will lead you home.

Crying reminds us that not everything is ok. Tears hydrate the soul and makes you grow.

She paraphrased Mary Williamson, “I thought when God came into my life, He was going to help fix me my life. I looked out my window and saw a wrecking ball.” (Loved that).

For me as a pastor, I tend to draw from more obvious pastor types (like Eugene Peterson) but in looking back on this night and her writing, I think Anne is quite an incredible pastor to some, even if it is accidental and so there’s a lot to learn from Anne Lamott.

Lastly, even if you’re not a pastor-type, Anne is a great writer to read, so if you’re looking for a start, check out her two most recent books Help, Thanks, Wow/Stitches as “The Hope and Renewal Collection.” (packaged by Barnes and Noble). And if you want to fill your Amazon wishlist, consider Traveling Mercies and Plan B (it’s where my wife and I started).

Anyone have a thought on Anne Lamott? Would love to hear it.

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