'Like a puppy in a Christmas stocking'

Culture | INTERVIEW: Novelist Anne Lamott discusses her family, her work, and her unorthodox view of Jesus

Issue: "Arafat: The devil you know," Sept. 20, 2003

SINCE PUBLICATION OF HER spiritual memoir Traveling Mercies in 1999, Anne Lamott has become a favorite of many Christian college students who relish passages such as this one:

"I did not mean to be a Christian. I have been very clear about that. My first words upon encountering the presence of Jesus for the first time 12 years ago, were, I swear to God, 'I would rather die.' I really would have rather died at that point than to have my wonderful brilliant left-wing nonbeliever friends know that I had begun to love Jesus. I think they would have been less appalled if I had developed a close personal friendship with Strom Thurmond. At least there is some reason to believe that Strom Thurmond is a real person. You know, more or less.

"But I never felt like I had much choice with Jesus; He was relentless. I didn't experience Him so much as the hound of heaven, as the old description has it, as the alley cat of heaven, who seemed to believe that if it just keeps showing up, mewling outside your door, you'd eventually open up and give Him a bowl of milk. Of course, as soon as you do, the next thing you know, He's sleeping on your bed every night, and stepping on your chest at dawn to play a little push-push.

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"I resisted as long as I could, like Sam-I-Am in Green Eggs and Ham. I would not, could not in a boat! I could not would not with a goat! I do not want to follow Jesus, I just want expensive cheeses. Or something. Anyway, He wore me out. He won.

"I was tired and vulnerable and He won. I let Him in. This is what I said at the moment of my conversion: I said, 'Okay! Come in. I quit.' He started sleeping on my bed that night. It was not so bad. It was even pretty nice. He loved me, He didn't shed or need to have His claws trimmed, and He never needed a flea dip. I mean, what a Savior, right?

"Then, when I was dozing, tiny kitten that I was, He picked me up like a mother cat, by the scruff of my neck, and deposited me in a little church across from the flea market in Marin's black ghetto. That's where I was when I came to. And then I came to believe."

Today, Ms. Lamott occupies a unique place in publishing: She describes herself as a left-wing pacifist who is also a born-again Christian. Her books-including five novels and several works of nonfiction-have sold millions, and her views are worth exploring because of her large following, particularly among Christian young women. Many enjoy her honesty but struggle to make sense of her unorthodox theology. WORLD interviewed Ms. Lamott by e-mail.

WORLD: I love your description of becoming a Christian. It (along with your essay about the "aunties" in Traveling Mercies) is one of the reasons I love your work. But you also write with incredible hostility toward conservatives, which most WORLD readers are, and embrace a lifestyle that many evangelical Christians would see as contrary to the Bible. I'd like to explore some of these tensions in this interview.

I'm struck by the line above-"He loved me, He didn't shed or need to have His claws trimmed, and He never needed a flea dip. I mean, what a Savior, right?" It's a completely different image than that presented by C.S. Lewis when he describes Aslan as not safe, but good. What do you think about that?

AL: I never actually read those C.S. Lewis books, only the nonfiction. My life was permanently changed by Mere Christianity. For me, Jesus is my cleft in the rock. He is my safest friend, my safe totally loving accepting big brother. I am not writing to try and convert people to fundamental Christianity. I am just trying to share my experience, strength and hope, that someone who is as messed up and neurotic and scarred and scared can be fully accepted by our dear Lord, no questions asked.

I do not have deep theological understanding or opinion, but I do not read the Bible as the literal word of God. I try to share my own resurrection story with people in the hopes that some of them who have left churches or been kicked out because of their beliefs or sexual orientation, will find something in my words and humor that make church safe for them again. That gives them the Holy Spirit nudge to try and find a spiritual community where they will be freely given, what I have been so freely given. I have never said that I am a good Christian. I just know that Jesus adores me and is only as far away as His name. I say, "Hi, Lord," and He says, "Hello, darling." He loves me so much He keeps a photo of me in His wallet. If I were the only person on earth, he still would have died for me.


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