Monday, November 20, 2017

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

Book: Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy
Basic Information : Synopsis : Thoughts : Evaluation : Book Group : New Words : Book References : Good Quotes : Table of Contents : References

Basic Information:
 Author: Anne Lamott
Edition: eBook read on Overdrive from the Mountain View Public Library
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Read: November 20, 2017
176  pages
Genre:  Christianity, Philosophy, Essay, Personal Growth
Language Warning:  Medium
Rated Overall: 3  out of 5
ISBN: 9780735213586

Religion: Christianity
Religious Quality 3 ½  out of 5
Christianity-Teaching Quality: 3 out of 5

A series of essays about the role of mercy in Anne Lamott’s life.


Title comes from a song by Candi Staton, Hallelujah Anyway.

  • The mercy workshop
    • The prophet Micah is the star which guides Lamott: What does God require of you, but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. She understands that she is not at this point in her life. Such as humbly is not in her vocabulary yet,  I think she understands that she is on a road rather than arrived at a destination.
      • She also understands that the humbly thing is going to be hard to do, isn’t it for all of us?
    • What is mercy? The attributes which Lamott comes up with are:
      • Radical kindness
      • offering/being offered aid
      • Not deserved
      • absolving the unabsolvable
      • apology-both giving and accepting
    • She says that mercy, grace, forgiveness and compassion are synonyms.
      • Are they? I suspect that mercy and grace are different sides of the same coin, while forgiveness and compassion are legs to mercy.
    • “It’s not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.”
    • Maybe mercy starts with a softening of the imagine we have of someone.
    • Both the story of Jonah and the prodigal son are stories of mercy. That is pretty basic. But the kicker is that both Jonah and the elder son are bothered by mercy. They both feel that the object of mercy should be made to suffer while they are exalted. Interesting take on these stories.
  • Life cycles
    • The secret is, if what we need and want is missing, we begin by going back to where we last saw it. In this cause, Lamott feels like she has been missing mercy.  So she took stock of where she last had it.
      • Unclear if she means mercy towards her or her having that quality towards others.
    • Frederick Buechner wrote that perhaps the main job of the teacher “is to teach gently the inevitability of pain.” Teachers, like food, came in many forms.
    • A miracle, but who knew miracles could also be boring at times, frustrating, nerve-racking and costly?
      • Lamott is on a point here. I sort of think that a miracle is a blinding light where we get an awesome display of God’s power. But what if the miracle is something in the ordinary? Something which now causes us more work? Some sacrifice? Some pain, instead of freedom? In this case, Lamott is talking about a baby. But it can be anything else which God gives us. While the gift is free, it can be costly.
    • ...mercy is a cloak that will wrap around you and protect you; it can block the terror, the dark and most terrifying aspects of your own true self. It is soft, has lots of folds, and enfolds you. It can help you rest and breath again for the time being, which is all we ever have.
  • Gold leaf
    • She begins the chapter with a Rilke quote about being folded and the need to be unfolded. How do we get folded in a the first place? Lamont talks about the expectations which are placed on us by others and ourselves as folds in our cloth, the places where we crease.
      • Is there good expectations? Things which help us along? My thinking s yes! We need expectations to help us develop, to help us form. Without these, we would be 60 year old babies.
      • I think as a child, our parents expectations guide us toward maturity. But as we grow into maturity, expectations need to be mutual with those whom we are in relationship with. Co-workers, friends, spouse, and yes, parents.
    • The book really presents parents badly. You get the feeling all parents are evil, working on deforming their children.
    • Definition of mercy:
      • Comes from miserei  to pity and cor, heart
      • Compassion
      • Empathy
      • A heart for someone’s troubles
    • We find it, get it revealed, cultivate, access it.
      • She says it is not something we do. I disagree. Unless something manifests itself in an action, how is it something we are. It may not be overt, but more discrete, part of our character.
    • It is pointed out that the Good Samaritan story happens in the context of going to Jerusalem to die in an act of mercy. She also talks about that at one time or another, those who needed to get sober was the man in the ditch.
      • I think, if we are honest, we have been the person in the ditch needing help. That is a definition of being a Christian.
      • There are times which we are the ones who have soiled our pants and are in need of mercy.
    • Silence is not allowed in our culture-it is a bad sign.  But as one enters the holy of holies, there is silence before God.  Since can be peace a space where sometimes in our culture it is a mercy.
  • Destinations
    • Maps can change a life, a person, returning us to dreams, to our childhood, to the poetic, to what is real. They can move us forward to what we didn’t even know we were looking for.
      • So true, at least in my life. I can look at a map and just wonder what is it like there, imagining the land, the place. Where I want to be, or in some cases, stay away from. That piece of paper has the ability to transport me away.
    • The point of life, a friend said, is not staying alive, but staying in love.
      • So easy to forget. Love gets beaten down in so many ways. Need to remember to stand back up.
      • Lamott says that Love, nature and maps can take us out of time. Not sure I agree with her. But I think there is an element where each can transport us to a different place and time in our minds.
    • ...even I know that real things take real time.
      • If we want to see results, do not snap your fingers, but go through the process. I think that short-cuts to a goal, rarely have the results we want.
    • hardest part of mercy is not the taking, but receiving it.
  • Impatiens
    • Dual passports-attributes from both worlds.
      • We sometimes forget about the heaven one and only are focused on earth. That means that I get muddied and ugly from the day to day of living on earth.
      • I think the more correct way is how Paul Little talked about it. We are ambassadors who are sent from that foreign country called Heaven to represent it here on earth.
    • It’s stunning how a great trauma can also be so ordinary.
      • In some ways, I felt this with my dad’s death. It was a long time a coming, so it was not unexpected. It was a great trauma since it felt like he would always be there. But his ending was so ordinary. Like it was just another event. Still it was my event.

  • Planes
    • [Mercy] looks like people saying hello, making eye contact, letting others go first.
      • In other words, we can be merciful with little effort.
      • In some ways, mercy, according to this is treating another human being as a human being. But I suspect mercy is more than this. What lamott is describing is the start of being God-like.
  • As is
    • Krishnamurti said “I don’t mind what happens”.
      • This is one of those true/but not true statements. If you don’t mind what happens, you will have serenity. On the other hand, shouldn’t you mind what happens to others? to you?
    • Truth out loud is almost always medicinal, …
      • Not sure what this means, but it sounds like it should be something I do understand.
  • Mostly
    • She says there are two ways to learn to live a merciful life: get cancer or get a teacher.  (Endure hardship or be lead)
    • When all else fails, follow instructions. (Lamott on the road to sobriety. Her teacher guiding her).
      • The instructions in this case was to pray for people she could not forgive the things she wanted for herself.
      • The teaching is you can get better by taking the right action. Or as I like to think about it, your mind will follow where your actions are. That is why it is so important to do right.
    • Not sure where CS Lewis taught “we are souls” rather than having souls.
  • The open drawer.

Lamott takes from the title of a book by Pope Francis, The name of God is Mercy. I have started reading this book (Nov 26, 2017) and I am finding that it is a worthwhile book, providing depth which Lamott’s book does not.  I may revisit this statement when I have finished his book.

The first several chapters were interesting. But after awhile, they started to be repetitive. Such as in the first chapter, she talks about the prophet Micah and how he says that what is required of us is humility, mercy and justice. Lamott does a good job working us through them. But towards the end of the book, it sounds like “more of the same”.

What Lamott does best for me is to cause me to think from a different perspective. She accomplishes this : where has there been points of mercy in my life? Where can I be merciful? Also, she presents stories we have heard before and think we know the meanings in a different light. For that, it is a good book. But maybe not one which you need to read every word to understand what she is saying.

Notes from my book group:
  • Why do you think the Lamott wrote this book?
    • What would you ask her if you had a chance?
  • What does the title, Hallelujah Anyway have to do with mercy?
    • Did the book title seem fitting?
    • Was the book satisfying?  Predictable?
  • How does Lamott define mercy?
    • How do you define it?
    • How does she say mercy works? 
      What did you learn about mercy?
      How to apply mercy?
  • Sometime Lamott talks about mercy, grace, forgiveness and compassion as synonymous. Are they? Where are the places of overlap? Differences?
    • Does it matter how Lamott uses these terms?
  • Lamott talks about mercy through 9 chapters. Which chapter was the most meaningful to you? Why?
  • Several Bible stories are used in this book: Jonah, Lazrus, Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son, ...
    • How does she use these stories to illustrate her points?
    • Are they appropriate uses?
    • Are they how you thought of these stories before?
  • In the Prodigal Son and Jonah telling, she talks about how resentment strikes them.
    • how does Lamott portray them>
    • Why are they resentful?
    • Are there places which it is improper to show mercy?
  • In the chapter called Gold Leaf, she talks about expectations. How does expectations mix with mercy?
    • When she talks about parents in this chapter did you identify? Or wonder what she was talking about?
  • Being silent can be a form of mercy. How?
  • In the Destination chapter, Lamott talks about maps, staying in love, and real things.  What do they have to do with mercy?
  • What concrete things does Lamott suggest as mercies? (making eye contact, letting someone cut in front of you,... this is in Planes). How are they a form of mercy?
  • Lamott says that there are two ways to learn to live a merciful life: get cancer or get a teacher. How so? Or do you disagree?
  • What “take aways” did you have from this book?
  • Every author has a world view. Were you able to identify this author’s world view? What was it? How did this view affect her view of mercy?
    • How did this book affect your view of the world?
      • Of how God is viewed?
      • What questions did you ask yourself after reading this book?
  • Talk about specific passages that struck you as significant—or interesting, profound, amusing, illuminating, disturbing, sad...?
    • What was memorable?
How would you improve the book?

New Words:
  • Chanting kirtan (Gold Leaf): a Sanskrit word that means "narrating, reciting, telling, describing" of an idea or story. It also refers to a genre of religious performance arts, connoting a musical form of narration or shared recitation, particularly of spiritual or religious ideas.
  • koan (Planes): a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.
  • Varanasi (Planes): Varanasi also known as Benares, Banaras or Kashi is a city on the banks of the Ganges in the Uttar Pradesh state of North India,
Book References:
  • Famous, a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Brave New World 
    The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: There are times in our lives-scary, unsettling times-when we know that we need help or answers, but we’re not sure what kind, or even what the problem or question is.
  • Last Line: Or you can take the risk to be changed, surrounded, and indwelled by this strange yeasty mash called mercy, there for the asking at the frog pond, the River Jordan, the channel that flows between the lagoon and the sea.
  • I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.   Famous, a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Reading helped us get blissfully lost in resonant worlds where we could rest or gape or laugh with recognition, …  Chp Life cycles
  • A miracle, but who knew miracles could also be boring at times, frustrating, nerve-racking and costly?   Chp Life cycles
  • was not lost-it cannot be. All that we gave remains.  Chp Life cycles
  • The path away from judgement of self and neighbor requires major mercy, both giving and, horribly, receiving. (Gold Leaf)
  • Forgiving is to set a prisoner free and discovering that the prisoner was you. Lewis Smedes,  Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve
  • ...shared silence also creates harmonies….holy silence is spacious and inviting.  (Gold Leaf)
  • Maps can change a life, a person, returning us to dreams, to our childhood, to the poetic, to what is real. They can move us forward to what we didn’t even know we were looking for. (Destinations)
  • The point of life, a friend said, is not staying alive, but staying in love. (Destinations)
  • No matter how low you may have fallen in your own esteem, bear in mind that if you delve deeply into yourself you will discover holiness there. Thomas Merton,  Thomas Merton in Alaska (Prelude to the Asian Journal)
  • If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, where you stop your story. Orson Welles
  • God doesn’t give us answers. God gives us grace and mercy. God gives us Her own self. (Impatiens)
  • God makes a way out of no way. Lamott’s pastor (Planes)
  • Don’t try harder--resist less. Lamott’s priest friend, Terry (As Is)
  • Forgiveness and mercy mean that, bit by bit, you begin to outshine the resentment. (The open drawer)
Table of Contents:
  • The mercy workshop
  • Life cycles
  • Gold leaf
  • Destinations
  • Impatiens
  • Planes
  • As is
  • Mostly
  • The open drawer.