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Plucking Bird by Bird -Why I Don't Recommend These Books: Part 3: On Writing and Living


Adriaen van Ostade. Cutting the Feather
Early this summer I came across a quote by Anne Lamott that disturbed me greatly: "If you want to make God laugh tell her your problems."  And one of the many reasons it really disturbed me was that it was quoted by a professing Reformed Evangelical Christian.* At that time, I had not read any of Lamott's books or articles, so I  decided to do some research and one of the first things I found out is that Lamott, a very good writer indeed, was highly popular among many Evangelical Christians who admired her not only because of her writing advices, but also because of her theology and approach to life, which sadly to say, is very far from the Biblical Historical Christianity. Albert Mohler had also seen this problem before, and in 2006 he even wrote an article exposing Lamott's support of euthanasia and abortion.

Normally I would just stop there and I would keep calm and carry on with my life enjoying a cup of freshed brewed coffee along with a good book. This time, however (for some personal reasons that I cannot share here), I decided to get a couple of her books and read them. Yes, I know my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, at times it seems that if you have not read the entire book, or if you have not read more than one book of the same author, you have no right to write a serious review. And as you can imagine, I want to be taken seriously.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is the first book I read and is the book from where the quote that started all this happens to be (it appears more than once). It is a book with some excellent advices on writing, on how to develop your characters, on how to start a piece, and on how to keep a good plot among other things. But to read this book trying to find those great writing advices without getting pretty dirty in the filth is not an easy thing.  Keep in mind the title of the book: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Living. Did you get that? That is where the danger is. Lamott purposely writes to teach us about writing and living. She wants the reader to embrace her approach to life, her worldview. It is not as simple as some would say, "C'mon, just take the good writing advice she gives and spit the rest." You cannot do that easily when the writing instructions are deeply interwoven with her worldview and theology; with her instructions on living this life.

So let's take a closer look at her worldview, at her life instructions, at her faith.

Lamott professes to be a Christian and in her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (the second book I read), she tells the story of how she came to live a spiritual life, to have a "deep sense of spirituality." In this book she shares how the singing in a church attracted her to it, how she loved singing too, but did not want to hear about Jesus until one day she had an experience and became a "Christian" (a type of Christianity that is not defined by any kind of Biblical standards):

"After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there -of course, there wasn't. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this...

This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss f blood. But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever."
"I began to cry and left over before he benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels... and then I hung my head and said, "F*** it: I quit." I took a long deep breath and said out loud, "All right. You can come in.

So this was my beautiful moment of conversion."
As the author continues to grow in her spiritual life, and after her friend Pammy dies she describes how she feels:
"I was terrible erratic: feeling so serene some moments that I was sure I was going to end up dating Dalai Lama..." Traveling Mercies
Lamott never speaks of sin, of repentance, of the gospel. Not even a hint.  The Word of God is clearly nowhere there. It is all about having an experience, about being better people.

"Most of the people I know who have what I want—which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians—people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful." Traveling Mercies
"[B]oth feminism and Christianity have taught me that I am my spirit, my heart, all that I have survived over the years and all that I have given.." Traveling Mercies

One of Lamott's main advisors and from whom she gets her most of her theology (she mentions him several times in both books) is Tom, a friend whom she describes as a "slightly overweight alcoholic," who also happens to be a "gay Jesuit priest." In Traveling Mercies, she describes him as "an extremely funny Jesuit and sober alcoholic, who drank like a rat for years and smoked a little non-habit-forming marijuana on a daily basis. He also did amyl nitrate, although he adds that this was just to get to know people." Yes, and I am sure some would say, "But, Becky haven't you forgotten that Jesus was friend with the sinners? He sat and ate with them? What is the problem with you here?" Yes, yes. But there is a big difference here, Jesus did not learn from the sinners he sat with, they learned from Him. He was not influenced by them, He influenced them. He did not get his theology from them. Jesus did not open a support group for gays and prostitutes who were feeling rejected by the rest (I am getting a little bit off track here, I know. Sorry, but I just couldn't help it...).

In these two books, and in a consistent way, Anne Lamott shows many times through her words that she is a woman with no fear of God. She makes fun of Jesus and takes the name of God in vain. A few examples:

"I worry that Jesus drinks himself asleep when he hears me talk like this..." Bird by Bird
"If we can believe in the Gnostic gospel of Thomas, old Uncle Jesus said..." Bird by Bird
"If you want to know how God feels about money, look at whom she gives it to." Bird by Bird

Her god, even though she capitalizes his name, is not the God of the Bible. It is a god of her own making.

Now, let's move on. What is it that she teaches about motherhood? Read and consider a passage in which she speaks of her relationship with her son, a toddler at that time:
"And the next day Sam was treating me like I was the bunny at his own private Playboy Club and he had run out of drinks half an hour before." Bird by Bird
"Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world's worst roommate, like having Janis Joplin with a bad hangover and PMS come to stay with you."  Bird by Bird
"I would have felt so relieved if there had been a book written by another mother who admitted that she sometimes wanted to grab her infant by the ankles and swing him over the head like a bolo. So I went ahead and started writing one myself, as a present, as a kind of road map for other mothers." Bird by Bird
Really? Can we really spit all these and keep on reading and learning from her?

Now, what do we do when you want to use a real life person as one of the characters in your story without defamation? Here is her advice:
"I tell my students that they should always write of vengeance, as long as they do it nicely." Bird by Bird
"If you disguise this person carefully so that he cannot be recognized by the physical or professional facts of his life, you can use him in your work. And the best advice I can give you is to give him a teenie little penis so he will be less likely to come forth." Bird by Bird
There are through out these books many, many, many more examples of the profanity and crudity of the language Lamott uses, of the way she lives a life far from what the Scriptures teach. How can we learn from her to live a godly life? If she follows a god of her own making, how can we quote her in theological issues?  I still don't get it, and it burdens me to see that some brothers and sisters do.

I pray God will help us grow in discernment. We need it so desperately.

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*I am assuming that I won't have to explain to my readers the reason why theologically, Bible in hand,  this statement is a lie that goes against the way God has decided to call and manifest himself to us. If you still want to read more about this, I strongly recommend Douglas Wilson's book, Father Hunger. In the first chapters he deals in a brilliant way with the theology of God as a Father.

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If I am happy it is because of God! God, in His sovereign grace, has called me out of darkness into His Admirable light. He has opened my eyes and has shown me the way to Eternal Life. He has set my feet on a journey, and now I am walking Daily on My Way to Heaven. I did not find Jesus, He found me. I did not seek Him, yet He called me. I did not love Him, yet He loved me. I deserved death and He gave me Life. This is the place where I keep a journal of my life under His sun and by His grace!
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