Having been raised in churches all my life, having done the double, triple, renewing salvation genuflect that Baptist kids do over their lives, knowing the plan of salvation in scripture form, calling card form, bracelet form, code form— you’d think that I was duly saved. You don’t really have to do it so many times.
Until your life is at stake.
Coming out to myself really hit me hard. It threw my sense of what I could believe in the Bible. Waking up to the idea that I had been misinformed at such a deep level about who I was, and what I was, made me wonder if the Bible (or Christians) could get wrong how God felt about being gay, what else could they get wrong? It threw me, too, into a world where I felt pretty lost.
But then one day, I found Anne Lamott. Actually, she was given to me, and the man who gave her book to me said, “Many people who have lost their faith have found it again after reading this book.”
He was a pastor in Oyster Bay, Peter Casparian, 1988 Quatrofilio Alfa Romeo-driving liberal Episcopal pastor preaching in an historic church, Christ Church, the church of Theodore Roosevelt. Over croissants and jam outside of a French Bakery, I came out to him. Because I was shaking, because I cried, and because I didn’t know what I wanted to believe any more, he said I should find a copy of Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, that it would restore my faith, or at least calm my nerves. I was frightened of churches, a little scared of the Bible…as if it were now riddled with land mines. If I go to Romans, bam! If I head to Genesis, boom!
Traveling Mercies is Anne Lamott’s honest memoir of trying out church. It’s not written like anything you’d find in a Christian bookstore. It’s refreshing. It comes at faith from a non-churched point of view. God is surprising, he’s real, he’s around the corner; Anne is the kind of believer who questions God, gets upset with him, does things wrong! does things surprisingly well! She is fearless in her attempts to believe in God, and in a quirky group of believers. Thank God she didn’t go to a stuffy, we-have-all-the-answers church.
I’ve heard people come away loving this book–and I certainly did. It renewed my faith despite having had it trounced by well-meaning folk. She provided a way back to the parts of faith that I loved and remembered. Faith is not Religion, but Religion can be made of Faith. For her there are only two prayers, “Help me, help me, help me!” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I think that sums up most prayers well.
Anne Lamott allows herself to be so vulnerable, to be, as she puts it, “such a mess.”
It allows the rest of us to be imperfect, to approach God as people who don’t have it all together, who aren’t doing everything right, who don’t sometimes believe in every unbelievable thing, but we’re trying. Traveling Mercies reminds me of that Tim Allen show, Home Improvement. Tim’s marital problems are given the best advice by Wilson, who seems to embody Robert Bly and Joseph Campbell and God all rolled into one. But Tim, as he tries to carry that advice in his cupped hands back to his wife and family, spills most of it, and always blurts out a tainted version of that wisdom, a splattered, messy version of wisdom that somehow works–mostly through the forgiveness of his wife. Anne Lamott is messy in that Tim Allen way. She wanders into the same kinds of sermons and wisdom we all do but the application is messier than she thinks. And wow, it’s messy for all of us, but none of us admitted it.
Anne allowed my faith to be messy, and allowed me to approach church in a different way–not of trying to regain some shallow perfection I thought I had, but in trying it out in whatever way I could muster. She allowed my approach to God to be a little wobbly, a couple of bounces and skids, and sometimes I circle the runway for days… It was never a perfect landing. Faith is trial and error not a performance.
If Anne Lamott can be human again, then so can I. If she can be a Christian, outside of perfection, then so can I.
Churchiness takes the humanity out of you. Traveling Mercies somehow puts the humanity back into Faith.
Here’s an excerpt from Traveling Mercies on someone else’s page.
Thank you, Anne Lamott! I know you’ve probably saved a lot of lives before–and perhaps you don’t even know that you’re doing it, but honest memoir saves lives. We may write it only to save ours, but it ends up having multiple life-saving effects. Resonance. Mercy.