Journey to faith: Writer Anne Lamott shares her life lessons this weekend

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Writers flocked to Anne Lamott's "Bird By Bird" in 1994, finding a keen eye, a great wit and an ally. But "Bird by Bird" was more than about writing.

With her third book of essays about faith, "Grace (Eventually)," the self-described "fierce, hard-core left-wing activist who is also a Christian" has earned a rung among Christians who like that sort of person. But "Grace (Eventually)" is more than about faith.

By now, readers of Anne Lamott know that it's always about more than one thing. Religion and writing are categories in a bookstore. The lessons she has learned and shares owe to the messy swirl of stuff, from everyday minutiae to heavy stabs at survival. Grace is sometimes the payoff -- eventually.

Anne Lamott
  • Where: Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, Oakland.
  • When: 7:00 p.m. Saturday
  • Tickets: For tickets, call Pro Arts, 412-394-3353 or visit They are also available at the door: $10 for students, $20 for balcony seats, $30 for seats on the floor, $50 for the center and $150 for the first rows.

She will discuss events on her journey toward a graceful life Saturday at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. Her appearance is sponsored by the Community of Reconciliation Church, a liberal, inclusive and activist congregation celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Lamott writes about the process of getting through emotional squalls, sometimes by the "slog, bog, scootch" method, with the pull of what God would expect of you. Her stories include the process of teaching her son to sleep in his own room in a big house, finding her own humanity in her mother's struggle with Alzheimer's disease, assisting in a friend's suicide, making amends to friends she had mistreated and simply keeping quiet during an old friend's pauses.

Now her life is on a path of "trying to be radically kind," in recovery from dysfunction.

"You do not have to be good," she said in a phone interview this week, citing the first line of Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese." "It's about trying to find your place in the natural order. The Dalai Lama said kindness is his only religion. I think that's enough."

In a previous book on faith, "Plan B," she writes of David Roche, the pastor of the Church of 80 Percent Sincerity.

"He says 80 percent of anything is amazing. Eighty percent goodness is a triumph. Eighty percent faith is a miracle."

Lamott, 53, says she came to faith 32 years ago, the year before she got clean of alcohol and drugs.

"When I got clean, I felt like my windows got washed, and after that, little by little, I started seeing more and more," she said. "Reading Kierkegaard, I took a leap of faith. I leapt into becoming a seeker, and then everything I read, whether it was Eastern Mysticism or Hasidic, everything seemed to say that we are here to give and receive love. Every tradition talked about the 'now' as being all that exists, opening your heart and your eyes to the mystery and expansive beauty of this earth."

In her writing, she reveals many frailties. Among them, she beats herself up, and the interior voices of criticism remain.

"We have so many internalized critical voices. My head is like a bad jukebox. I have two voices that think I'm semi-OK."

She said she does not debate God's existence, nor does she defend. She has been on the other side, as a teenager. At her "hippie high school," she said, a favorite English teacher became a Christian and led Bible studies under a tree. At that point, his status shrank in her eyes. "My best friend and I were apoplectic. They seemed so self-aggrandizing and exhibitionist. We felt fiercely that it was ludicrous."

Today, she said, some of her friends think her faith "is my little blind spot."

When people who do not believe hear people talking about God, she said, "it sounds like such happy horse poo. It sounds like denial and makes a mockery of the human struggle."

She attracts people to her readings who "are not on a spiritual path," but are not hostile to those who are, she said.

Everybody, or most of us, "are deeply terrified and materialistic and raised to think we are being taken advantage of. We are raised to believe that a lot of energy and power is good, and that personal power can protect you. When you learn that it doesn't, maybe you turn to something bigger.

"You can have faith and fear at the same time. The world is a scary place, and awful things happen to people you are pulling for."

Correction/Clarification: (Published Mar. 1, 2008) Writer Anne Lamott's talk Saturday, Mar. 1, 2008 starts at 7 p.m. The time was incorrect in this story as originally published Feb. 28, 2008.

Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at or 412-263-1626.


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