- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New York Times best-selling author Anne Lamott is known for her candor and honesty, as well as her outspoken political beliefs and devout faith. Olsson’s Books and Records, 418 7th St. NW, will be hosting a book signing and discussion at 7 p.m. tomorrow for Miss Lamott’s latest reflections on spirituality, “Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.”

Wiry and witty dispatches on aging, familial relationships and falls from ski lifts, “Grace” colorfully but tenderly tackles difficult moments, such as assisting a friend’s suicide, and happier ones, such as when to overcome a dancing phobia and join in for the Electric Slide.

The following are excerpts from an interview:

Question: This is your third book on faith. How did you choose these particular stories for inclusion?

Answer: They were really just the next batch that came along organically. I love being a little bit older. I really do think you grow up as you go. In “Grace,” I am kind of dealing with the reality of who I am now and that I am probably not going to be too much different than this. And how I can be more graceful about handling the things I don’t get.

Q: How has your faith evolved during these past 20-25 years? How does your work reflect that?

A: I didn’t mean to become a Christian — my father hated Christians and especially Presbyterians. He was the son of Christian missionaries in Tokyo, and he just found them lacking a certain deep human quality. He called Presbyterians “God’s frozen people.” So I accidentally wandered into a mostly black Presbyterian church when I was 31, when I was still drinking. I didn’t mean to go to church. I went in because I didn’t have any more good ideas, which I think is where spirituality really begins.

Little by little, I started to follow Jesus, without knowing what that meant. I had been living fairly successfully with a good career, and I had lots of loving relatives and friends. But I just thought I was the most screwed-up person on earth. I thought one day the phone would ring, and I would be busted as a fraud. I would have to get a real job, and I would get kicked out of the tribe.

Jesus took me just as I was. I got sober and learned who I was. I needed to let go of this baggage that I had been carrying, this identity that I thought I needed to be a writer — suffering, narcissism and self-loathing.

Q: That’s an interesting idea the perception of a writer. How would you say your faith has impacted your view on suffering and self-loathing and that in turn has impacted your writing?

A: I was raised by a writer, and most of our friends were alcoholic writers also. I sort of bought into that whole thing, that somehow the suffering and the chaos you created in the world and in your own life just came with the territory. I think that has killed a lot of people.

I really did worry if I got sober my gift wouldn’t be there, that my gift was dependent on having this kind of edge of despair and of being larger than life, which you certainly feel like when you’re drinking. You also feel as small as a lentil, so failing as a creative spirit, as a human in your own family.

When I got sober it took me a really long time to be able to write again — months — and then it felt like somebody had come by and cleaned the windows. Everything I have written since I got sober has been much better than the earlier stuff.

Q: How does aging affect your views on grace?

A: Being a parent really grows you; so does beginning to be old enough that a number of people in your life die. It shakes you up and forces the issues of who you are and how are you going to live. How much more time are you willing to waste doing stupid stuff that doesn’t matter?

Q: You mentioned joy earlier.

A: I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.

Q: You have very strong political beliefs, which are influenced by your faith. In America today, there are religious people who hold equally strong, but opposite, beliefs also because of their faith. Your work has managed to attract a following among both sets of people. Why do you think that is?

A: I just tell people to write what they want to come upon, what they’re really like on the inside. I love it when people are real, and I love it when people are silly, and I love it when people grapple with issues of life.

I really have a different way of encouraging people, which is much more toward who they really are and not who they agree to be for their families or their churches, but who they deeply and truly, authentically are. It’s a relief for people that someone who can be funny is also really trying to tell the truth about what it’s like to be human and a woman and an American and a Christian.

Q: Where do you think the role of shame comes into all of this?

A: Deciding to heal the toxic shame from our families and cultures is the single most important thing we do, the incredibly difficult work of abiding self-love. I was all but defeated by shame. Our family didn’t ever have enough money. I didn’t have enough money when I was raising Sam [her son] for a long time, but I had this terrible combination of shame and self-loathing, narcissism and grandiosity — it’s all the same thing.

Toxic self-consciousness is really part of the enemy of shame, as is perfectionism. We were raised to think we can do better; we were raised thinking we were almost OK. To me, it’s the great fight we are called to do, to stand in our truth. Instead of doing what our mothers would do, clean up the living room and make it nice for others, to say to God, “I picked up the living room, but I know I won’t heal if I just show you the living room. I want to show you the closet and the drawers. I am very sad, and I am very terrified because I know it’s bad.” That’s how I experience Jesus, Him getting how deep the suffering and the shame is — and standing in the truth of you being a child of God.

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