God gives us a much-needed face-lift | VailDaily.com

God gives us a much-needed face-lift

Rev. Jack Van Ens

Saucalito charms visitors as a free-spirited waterfront village that lies across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. This community delights in its saucy, scandalous 1960s reputation. The Beat Generation admired this picturesque hamlet hugging the sea. Here Allen Ginsberg howled against middle class mania for acquiring tons of toys.Author Anne Lamott grew up doing her own thing near Saucalito in Tiburon. Recently, my wife and I hiked into Saucalito, soaking up its casual atmosphere, like a 1960s hangover. Near this groovy hamlet God gave Lamott a spiritual face-lift.In “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith,” which is quickly becoming a contemporary spiritual classic, Lamott admits to messing up life. She punctuates her writing with irreverent twists. Aren’t you sick of blase conversion testimonies of how Jesus rescues a lost soul, trapped in sin’s quagmire? Every day becomes sweet and light. Those rescued predictably describe their lives after sin in paternalistic tones, as if Jesus rubs all the wrinkles out. They spout tidy answers for messy times. Lamott spices her writing, using tart, cussed language the faithful usually jettison when God rescues them. She laces some of her speech with the F-word. She admits repeated lapses into drugs. Anne isn’t a prim and puckered Church Lady, even after trading in LSD for her Lord. Anne wouldn’t be a smash hit on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club.” There, those who testify to how Jesus turned them around describe it as somewhat akin to getting a perfect face-lift. Wrinkles magically disappear. Anne, however, can’t avoid wrinkles in life. Her trek on salvation’s road is rutted with unfair tragedies, heartache and questions God forgets to answer for us. Anne still shows wrinkles, even after God gave her a spiritual face-lift.She writes of her Christ-nurtured turnaround in such fresh, honest ways that readers establish a smiling rapport. Her self-deprecating humor mercilessly attacks vain Christians who habitually put on nice faces. Some people hate wrinkles so much they get a bevy of Joan Rivers face-lifts in which a perky smile seldom disappears. Stretched skin across the face makes frowning impossible. Eyebrows are always brightly arched. The upturned mouth is frozen. Eyes appear more like slits because from lids to temples skin is pulled so tautly it looks like Saran Wrap minus crinkles.Lamott hated the wrinkles in her life. So she perfected the art of putting on new faces. On the outside her life growing up seemed decent, like a castle’s walls distantly seen. The closer a traveler comes to an ancient castle, the more she sees walls crumbling. “We lived in a marvelous castle,” Lamott writes, “but things were not going well within its stone walls. My parents’ marriage was not a happy one, and everywhere you looked in the ’60s there was too much alcohol, too much pot and too much infidelity.”Her dad liked the Allen Ginsberg crowd but detested God. He got too much religion early on. She relates that “my father’s folks had been Presbyterian missionaries who raised their kids in Tokyo, and my father despised Christianity. He called Presbyterians ‘God’s frozen people.'” Her mom disliked domestic chores. Being a housewife in the ’60s was dull. The feminine mystique converted her, so she enrolled in law school. Her studies didn’t allow time for some parenting when raising Anne. Her parents divorced.Troubles filled Anne’s growing-up years. Her dad died of a brain tumor. Then a married fellow with whom Anne shacked up ditched her. Anne got pregnant, but an abortion solved this unlucky accident. When life hurt so much that its wrinkles deepened, Anne put on her best face. But she indulged in casual sex. Guzzled too much booze. Hugged drugs in bed to anesthetize the pain and became bulimic. On a Sunday she found herself woozy with a hangover, juiced with drugs and ready to throw up in the sanctuary of a small Presbyterian church in Marin County. The sanctuary lacked a fresh coat of paint. A black woman preacher wouldn’t back off on how Jesus wants us to practice God’s justice in an often-unfair society. Old hymns touched Anne. She stayed in the rear of the sanctuary and hightailed out before the sermon.Jesus started growing on her. Not the cosmic cosmetician who promises a wrinkle-free life if we follow him, though. But the sufferer fitting the description of Isaiah’s mysterious Suffering Servant who didn’t wink at pain. “I hid not my face from shame and spitting,” Isaiah 50:6. The early church saw Jesus in this enigmatic Suffering Servant.God pursued Anne like a cat that jumps on a shoulder from nowhere. Hearing hymns sung and people loving to worship together was as if, she relates, “this little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: You let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.” God didn’t come easy for Anne.One Sunday Anne stayed through the sermon at the Presbyterian church. The hymns got to her. They held her “like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling – and it washed over me. … I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then hung my head and said, ‘F— it: I quit. I took a long deep breath and said out loud, ‘All right. You can come in.'”Everybody wants to be in the Palm Sunday crowd. Few desire to join sufferers around the Cross at Calvary. But at the old rugged cross, we get a face-lift. Not the wrinkle-free kind. Our faces are lifted to Christ, who binds our wounds but doesn’t bust in. He persists like a cat we can’t rid ourselves of, even when we slam doors on him.The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the tax-exempt, nonprofit Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado

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