Why I Make Sam Go to Church, from Traveling Mercies


Lamott, Anne


Book Excerpt


Novelist and essayist Anne Lamott is known for her candor and humor on subjects such as addiction, religion, and motherhood. "Why I Make Sam Go to Church" is taken from Traveling Mercies(1999), a collection of autobiographical essays on faith. In this selection, Lamott describes the role her church community played as she undertook single motherhood and raised her son. She reflects on the meaning of spiritual community, saying of her relationship with her faith and her son, "I want to give [Sam] what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by." What sorts of gifts does Lamott receive from fellow parishioners? How does she receive them? What is her gift to Sam, and what response might he have?

Full Text*

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Lamott, Anne. “Why I Make Sam Go to Church. Hearing the Call Across Traditions: Readings on Faith and Service . Ed. Adam Davis. Skylight Paths Publishing, 2009. 102-105.




Connection and RelationshipExclusion and BelongingFaith and BeliefGiving and ReceivingIdentity and CommunityKnowledge and UncertaintyLove and CompassionMotives and Values

Big Questions

What do people gain from joining a group? What do they lose?What do people gain or lose from joining a group or a community?How much do we need to know in order to act?Where do our values come from? Why do we care about what we care about?


Hearing the Call Across Traditions

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Who is Sam and why doesn't he want to go to church?
  2. Why does Lamott make him go to church?
  3. Do you think the narrator's reason(s) for making Sam attend church are good ones?
  4. What do you think Lamott means when she talks about “spiritual chemotherapy”?
  5. Who is Mary Williams? Why does she stealthily give Lamott money?
  6. Why does Lamott feel shame when her fellow churchgoers give her money and how does she handle this feeling of shame?
  7. What do you make of the part where Lamott writes about the inner toolbox she thought adults had and the “rusty old bent tools” they actually got? What tools, if any, did you imagine you would get as a child? What tools shape your life today?
  8. Why do you think Josh changes his mind in Lamott's car and what do you make of Lamott's behavior throughout the whole episode?
  9. After the episode in Lamott's car, why is the “one thing [she knows] for sure” that she and Sam are going to church the next morning? What role does this knowledge play in her relationship to church and to faith?
  10. What role does Mary Williams play in Lamott's decision to make Sam go to church?
  11. What does parenting have to do with future giving, community, or service? Do you think Sam will grow up to be a church-goer as an adult?
  12. What does Lamott gain when she joins the church and maintains her connection to that community? Is there anything she loses?
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