Tuesday evening I had the privilege of hearing a talk by Anne Lamott as part of the Indianapolis Spirit and Place Festival.
As a big fan of Anne’s for years, I have to admit that I went to the lecture with a bit of trepidation. I have a bad habit of idolizing authors so much based on their very polished and edited written work, that when I finally hear them speak more informally or actually meet them I am vastly disappointed. Regretfully, this happened to me last Spring at a conference I attended where a favorite author of mine gave a VERY bad answer during the Q&A session. I’m still recovering from that one.
Thankfully, this was not the case Tuesday. To my great joy, Anne Lamott was as funny and exceptional in person as on paper. She tried really hard to hold her tongue about politics (although she “slipped up” a bit during the Q&A section by mentioning Dick Cheney disdainfully a couple of times and shouting “we won!” when someone asked about last week’s election); she talked about drug addicts as someone might nostagically discuss her high school classmates; and she wove the evening together brilliantly, telling us “everything she knows about everything” in 45 minutes.
She said things like “Rest and laughter are the most spiritually subversive acts we can engage in,” which I heartily agreed with. She read a portion of a commencement speech she had given, which ended along the lines of “And don’t wear pants that have an opinion about how much you’ve eaten,” which made me laugh out loud (the laughs kind of burst out of me, in fact). And she closed her prepared talk with thoughts on failure: “Everything I know that turned out worth sharing has sprung from failure, mistakes, and false starts.”
At the end of the evening, some friends and I were discussing what it means to be really honest and authentic, two words a lot of people use to describe Anne. One friend said she doesn’t hear people talk like that very often. Even though I understood what she meant, I countered with, “Most people don’t have the opportunity.”
I guess what I meant is that the kind of raw, gut level honesty that Anne shares in her books and lectures doesn’t feel very sustainable on a day to day basis when there is laundry to do, errands to run, jobs to show up for, house repairs to coordinate, etc. I always wonder if people like Anne, who seem to be so real and authentic, always saying exactly what’s on their minds, really feel the freedom to share this way when they are with their friends or at home with their family and not directly addressing an audience?
Also, I think a lot of people are being authentic and telling the truth. They just don’t happen to agree with me, or express my version of the truth. This is actually the case with Anne. While I heard more than one person Tuesday night say when they read Anne Lamott they feel like they are not alone, when I read her work, I often am amazed that people actually think this way. And my little ideas about what it means to be a Christian get blown out of the water because here’s someone with whom I seemingly have no common ground who also follows Jesus.
Finally, baring my soul is not always what other people need, or what I need, for that matter. Too many times I have been so eager to share my opinion or to be brutally honest about a situation only to have proceeded too roughly. Maybe what others need from me more than anything is to listen to what’s on their heart. If I only speak and don’t listen, what I have learned? What have we accomplished?
In fact, if there was one moment in the evening when Anne nearly slipped off the pedestal it was related to this very thing. She said she never has a conversation about abortion, stem-cell research, gay marriage, etc. with someone who disagrees with her. “I just don’t want to hear it,” she said.
I am certainly not slighting Anne Lamott for her bold expressions. In fact, I am happy to have her voice as part of the larger conversation of what it means to be a person of faith. Even when I don’t agree with her, I learn a lot. I guess this is the point: when we tell it like it is but refuse to hear the other side, rather than speaking the truth, we actually become less authentic, a caricature of our own ideas.
I have a lot to learn when it comes to be straightforward with others about my weaknesses and opinions. Anne Lamott has taught me a lot in this area. But I have even more to learn about about listening to others, especially those with whom I disagree. And Anne has taught me a lot in this area as well.