by ANN M. COLFORD & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & nne Lamott may be a Christian and a writer, but that doesn't mean she's a "Christian writer" in any traditional sense of that label. In fact, there's little that could be considered traditional about the dreadlocked columnist for, who has six novels and five nonfiction books to her credit. And yet her last three essay collections -- Traveling Mercies, Plan B and recently released Grace (Eventually) -- all carry the subtitle, Thoughts on Faith, and end up getting shelved in the Spirituality section. She'll be at Whitworth on Saturday night.

Lamott writes about her Christian faith as a lurching two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of dance that will be recognizable to anyone who's ever tried to journey along a spiritual path. Like most seekers, she practices her faith daily -- the kind of practicing that acknowledges its imperfections in the face of an all-loving and ever-patient deity. Lamott's God is endowed with a wry sense of humor and an appreciation for the quirks of irony -- sort of like the author herself. But just when you think she's all about an easy feel-good brand of vague inspiration, the story of a god made in the author's image and likeness, she turns the story inside out and opens into transcendence.

Much of that transcendence emerges from her relationships -- with her son, her longtime friends, and her faith community at St. Andrew Presbyterian in Marin City, Calif. Amid the give and take of personalities and the everyday neuroses, she finds the presence of God. She writes achingly of losing loved ones, but she's at the top of her game when she tackles the radical forgiveness called for in the Christian tradition.

Like a lot of believers, Lamott carries her faith into the world, following her convictions into public protests and private interactions. She has "these tiny opinions" on issues ranging from everyday courtesy to the foreign policies of the Bush administration. Her frank discussion of God sometimes makes progressives uncomfortable; her progressive perspective often puts her at odds with others who call themselves Christian. In her newest book, Lamott risks the disapproval of other Christians by writing about her perspectives on abortion (she's pro-choice) and assisted suicide. ("I believe that life is a kind of Earth School," she writes, "so even though assisted suicide means you're getting out early, before the term ends, you're going to be leaving anyway, so who says it isn't okay to take an incomplete in the course?")

She also delves deeper into her own woundedness in Grace than she has since telling the story of her conversion and her journey into sobriety in Traveling Mercies. But it's not self-obsessed navel-gazing; in the end, what comes through in her confessions is mostly gratitude.

"Sometimes I act just as juvenile as I ever did, but as I get older, I do it for shorter periods of time," she writes. "I find my way back to the path sooner, where there is always one last resort: get a glass of water and call a friend."

Anne Lamott speaks at Cowles Auditorium, Whitworth College, on Saturday, May 12, at 7:30 pm. The event is free. Call 777-3253.

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