“My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another.” So begins Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies, one of the most honest books I’ve read. She didn’t start off very close to God. “Looking back on the God my friend believed in,” she writes, “he seems a little erratic…God as a borderline personality.” Her parents had no time for God, and her youth was characterized by both a spiritual longing and lots of drugs, alcohol, and guys, as well as some friends who saw past her junk. “When Pammy and I returned to school in the fall of my junior year, terrible news unfolded: our English teacher Sue had become a born-again Christian…I told my father that night, and he was deeply sympathetic, since no one disliked Christians more than he.” And so her life went for a very long time – more drugs, more guys and motels, very little sobriety. “Then one afternoon in my dark bedroom, the cracks webbed all the way through me.” She found herself calling a pastor. She doubted God could love her, but he said, “God has to love you. That’s God’s job.” She reluctantly began to attend church, always leaving before the sermon, but the music started to get to her. “Something inside me that was stiff and rotting would feel soft and tender.” Finally, one day she did stay for the sermon, “which I just thought was ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape.” She ran home to her houseboat and prayed a version of the sinner’s prayer I’ve never heard before:
I stood there a minute, 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.
Lamott’s life didn’t become tidy all of a sudden. You’ll either love or hate her account, but I love how simply and beautifully she writes. On sitting beside someone on an airplane, who was reading “a book by a famous right-wing Christian novelist about the Apocalypse,” a book she had previously reviewed for a newspaper:
“How is it?” I asked, pointing jovially to the man’s book, partly to be friendly, partly to gauge where he stood politically. “This is one of the best books I’ve ever read,” he replied. “You should read it.” I nodded. I remembered saying in the review that the book was hard-core right-wing paranoid anti-Semitic homophobic misogynistic propaganda – not to put too fine a point on it. The man smiled and went back to reading.
You’re either mad or smiling as you read this. I’m smiling. Later on the plane:
“Are you born again?” he asked, as we taxied down the runway. He was rather prim and tense, maybe a little like David Eisenhower with a spastic colon. I did not know how to answer for a moment. “Yes,” I said, “I am.” My friends like to tell each other that I am not really a born-again Christian…They think I am Christian-ish. But I’m not. I’m just a bad Christian. A bad born-again Christian. And certainly, like the apostle Peter, I am capable of denying it, of presenting myself as a sort of leftist liberation-theology enthusiast and maybe sort of a vaguely Jesusy bon vivant. But it’s not true. And I believe that when you get on a plane, if you start lying you are totally doomed. So I told the truth: that I am a believer, a convert. I’m probably about three months away from slapping an aluminum Jesus-fish on the back of my car, although I first want to see if the application or stickum in any way interferes with my lease agreement. And believe me, all this boggles even my mind. But it’s true. I could go to a gathering of foot-wash Baptists and, except for my dreadlocks, fit right in. I would wash their feet; I would let them wash mine.
I’m still only partway through, but I’m enjoying the grittiness of her account. If you like what you’ve read so far, you really should pick up a copy and enjoy the entire book.