In his memoir, Frank Schaeffer describes what it was like to grow up within the L'Abri ministry and explores his later spiritual journey. The memoir's title—Crazy For God—hints at how Frank now feels about his parents' version of Christianity. Because I was so taken with Frank's parents, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, and their ministry, books, and films during the 1970s, I find myself fascinated with Frank's perspective on L'Abri. Here, I will look at insights I've gained from Crazy For God.
MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES. Frank's memoir reminds me of the many angles from which it is possible to view a given situation. In the case of L'Abri, we have these views:
- The philosophical underpinnings of L'Abri, the ideas on which the ministry stands, the careful working out of the intellectual consistency of the Biblical view—in Francis Schaeffer's books, especially The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason, and He is There and He Is Not Silent.
- The personal side of L'Abri, the people who passed through the Schaeffers' doors, the lives that were changed—in Edith Schaeffer's books, especially L'Abri and The Tapestry.
- The shadow side of L'Abri, the sometimes upsetting underbelly of the ministry, Francis Schaeffer's mood swings between anger and depression, Edith Schaeffer's workaholism—in Frank Schaeffer's memoir, Crazy For God.
Which is the true L'Abri? All of them. We can always turn the lens, examine a given situation from another angle, and see a different picture.
I think of a story I once heard about Merlin and his Tower of 70 Doors and 70 Windows, each showing a different perspective on the world. I like to think of God as the Tower of 70,000 Doors and 70,000 Windows, the God of Infinite Perspectives. I can ensconce myself within the Divine Tower at any time:
- To see a situation from new angles—What might be some other explanations for an illness besides "God wants to punish me"?
- To understand how someone else views a situation—Let me put myself into the mindset of someone who has hurt me to better understand what happened and how I might best respond.
- To see a fuller picture of what is—Mardi Gras has different meanings for the social elite, for middle-class New Orleans families, for tourists, for police officers, for African-American Mardi Gras Indians and Skeletons and Baby Dolls, for members of marching bands, for maskers at the MOM's Ball (Mystics, Orphans, and Misfits)—and all contribute to the fullness of what Mardi Gras is.
FOLLOW YOUR PASSION. Frank Schaeffer examines how and why his parents felt unable to follow their passions. Francis and Edith Schaeffer believed that God's call on their lives precluded doing what they truly loved to do. Francis Schaeffer was passionate about art and popular culture, yet he felt obliged to keep these interests secondary and to center his life around presenting the Bible to the young people of the 1960s and the 1970s in ways they could grasp. I would love to see what Francis Schaeffer might have done as an art historian and popular culture scholar. Edith Schaeffer loved to dance but believed that dancing was not God's will for her. I find this tremendously sad.
I think, too, of Jane Stuart Smith, who, upon accepting Jesus Christ as her personal Savior, gave up a fantastic career as an opera singer to become a L'Abri worker. I know a married couple who are opera singers and committed Christians, and I remember once mentioning to a Methodist minister how this husband and wife had made very different choices from Jane Stuart Smith's as regards God's call on their lives. The Methodist minister said that the opera singer couple perhaps had a wider view of Christian ministry. I would say that the opera singer couple connect us with God through the beauty of their music, and they even more directly touch the lives of their many voice students, too.
Frank Schaeffer was eventually able to leave the Evangelical Christian career path and step onto a path directly connected with his life passions of writing and painting. Crazy For God shows how debilitating it had become for Frank to continue on with religious work that had lost its meaning for him and how refreshing and energizing it was to follow his passions.
I would say that God calls us through our passions. How do we know what we are meant to do with our lives? By listening to what we deeply love to do. Following our passions releases tremendous energy. We need this kind of energy in our world. It increases love, joy, and beauty on our earth.
NUANCE. Frank Schaeffer shows the need for nuanced views of moral issues rather than absolute views. Frank gives the example of abortion. Many people prefer an absolute view of abortion because it’s so simple. Abortion is absolutely wrong in all cases—no exceptions. Or abortion is the absolute right of any pregnant woman—if she wants an abortion for any reason at any time before birth, this is her absolute right—no exceptions. And no thinking is needed.
Frank says that a nuanced view would require struggling with the issues in each case. Frank believes that we can deplore abortion while recognizing that, sadly, there are times when it is the most compassionate course of action, such as in the case of rape. Nuance involves wrestling with the questions of right and wrong, searching for the most just and compassionate answer, not following a set formula.
I can see that absolutism avoids this active engagement. It makes laws more important than people. It even crushes people in order to uphold the law—Sorry, you’re thirteen years old, you were raped, you’re pregnant, you must bear the child, it’s the law.
MATCHING OUTER LIFE WITH INNER CONVICTION. For Frank, it is very important to match outer actions with inner truth, to speak and act in ways that conform to deeply held convictions, to be the same person with everyone—no pretending.
LIFE AS JOURNEY. Frank grew up with a view of Christianity in which the most important event of a person’s life was the moment when that person accepted Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior and thus attained eternal salvation. Frank is now much more interested in the salvation journey, the process of growing in one’s relationship to God, the ups and downs of this process (which is hardly linear), the place of doubt in a life of faith. Frank is now a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. He feels more at home with the way Orthodoxy uses liturgy, opens to the Mystery of God, and emphasizes salvation as journey.
I find it far healthier to see life as a journey, and a spiral one at that. When I’m in a “down” place on my journey, I can rest assured that this is part of the process—it is not a failure. The “failures” are necessary to get to the “successes.” It’s like the writing process: often one has to go through a lot of “bad” writing to produce an effective piece. Without a lot of messy drafts, it’s often impossible to get to the final polished essay or poem or story.