Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Right and Left: Daly and Lamott
The conservative head of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, made a lot of sense to me as he reflected on conservative election losses in his recent interview with columnist Mitchell Landsberg.
He said, “I think what we’ve got to do in the Christian community is be far more humble.and not call it a war, a culture war.”
He also said, “Frankly, after the election, I felt sorry for President Obama in one respect: He’s got a tough job. We need to pray for him, as the Christian community.”
I’m guessing that Jim Daly and I don’t define the Christian community in the same way, since the organization he leads invested lots of money in anti-gay initiatives, and I see myself as a gay Christian.
I appreciated his reflections on the current state of politics and the Christian right, though. About immigration policy, he said that the evangelical community should have been considering immigration reform years ago, “but we were led more by political-think than church-think.”
Jim Daly started sounding a lot like the progressive Christian writer Anne Lamott, a comparison that surprises me and would probably surprise each of them.
He started sounding humble and thoughtful, down-to-earth and kind.
Last night my partner Ann and I attended Anne Lamott’s reading at Queen Anne’s United Methodist church. Our friend Ellen, who is Jewish, attended with us, and we saw lots our progressive church friends there.
Lamott is an open kind of Christian, though she too (like me) is political. She opened her talk by saying, “No offense to any Republicans in the room, but…Yea!!!” With “yea!” she raised her hands in the air and danced in a circle.
Lamott talked about her new book: Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.
She says that “Help” is the first prayer, a prayer she uttered 27 years ago when she converted. “If you’re very, very lost,” she said, “just say, ‘Help?’ Someone asks, ‘What if you don’t believe in God?’ Just say help.”
About her conversion, she said, “I converted by accident. I was drunk.”
Twenty-six years ago, she had her last drink, and her prayer turned to gratitude, the second essential prayer: “Thank you,” or really “ThankyouThankyouThankyouThanyouThankyou.”
She said, “If somebody is grateful and funny, I want to sit by them.”
I thought, “I’m grateful and funny. Maybe she’ll sit by me. I would say thank you.”
The third prayer, “Wow!” is “when we’ve run out of words to express the stunning wonder and beauty of the natural world.”
If there were a fourth prayer, she said it would be “Hi.” She said, “I believe that when I say ‘hi,’ and someone hears, that’s prayer.”
Lamott is down-to-earth and funny. My favorite quote of the night was from her friend Pammy, who had cancer and was in a wheelchair at the time and has since passed. Lamott was trying on a dress and asked, “Does this dress make my hips look big?” Pammy responded, “Anne, you don’t have that kind of time.”
Lamott’s thinking about how she wants to spend her time now. “I just want to sit by someone and talk about God,” she said.
Lamott’s honest about her shortcomings in the Christian lexicon. (“I’m not one of those Christians who’s heavily into forgiveness,” she said.)
One of my favorite themes of the night was the impossibility of naming God. She likes the name “Howard,” as in “Our God, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name.”
She also likes “Chris” but I’ve forgotten why—maybe because a gender neutral name is a good one for a father-mother God.
Her best name for God, I thought, was “not me—not Anne.” She would pray, “Oh help me, not Annie,” meaning a being bigger than she is, a being outside of herself.
Lamott has a transcendentalist’s concept of God as a kind of oversoul, a great being.
Maybe one hope of this election is that the Christian right and the Christian left (yes, there is a Christian left) will talk to one another again.
One of the gifts in my family—some conservative folks and some liberal ones—has already been that we are talking to one another in ways that we haven’t before.
A couple of cousins and an aunt and uncle are ultra-conservatives, but they have always been loving to me, even when I came out as a lesbian.
(My cousin Lori sent me a membership to Focus on the Family, which I believe she meant as a kind gesture.)
They shared with me their thoughts and feelings about the election, and I appreciated their respectfulness and their honesty.
As I consider Lincoln’s famous observation before the Civil War, an observation that is still true, "a house divided against itself cannot stand," one of my hopes is that this divided country may heal.
I feel hopeful.