Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Mother Irma Mary--Early Years

My mother Irma Mary was a woman of strong creative energy. She was the kind of person who sets a goal and pursues it with tenacity and single-minded--sometimes almost fanatical--determination. When she met my father Mike in a human anatomy course, she had recently graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and zoology, and was preparing to enter medical school. She saw herself as a career woman, and thoughts of marriage were far from her mind.

Irma Mary and Mike began to study with each other and to see an occasional movie or have a casual meal together. These weren't "real dates," they told themselves, for Irma Mary made it clear that she was focusing solely on her medical career, while Mike declared that he intended to complete his studies, open his dental practice, and establish a firm financial base before ever considering marriage. Nonetheless, despite their best intentions to the contrary, Irma Mary and Mike did "fall in love" and decide to marry.

For Irma Mary, marriage meant a re-channeling of her energy from medicine into home-making. During the early years of her marriage, she contributed to the family finances by working as an assistant at a medical clinic (where, she later told me, two people had to be hired to replace her when she left) and by using her public speaking skills to do an occasional radio or television commercial. But as children were born into the family, beginning with me in 1950, she gradually ceased working outside the home.

I remember that my mother was full of ideas for entertaining me as a child. Sandwiches with faces made of curly fruit or vegetable snippets. Apple elves with marshmallows on toothpicks for head, hands, and feet. Treasure hunts leading my friends and me from clue to clue and from room to room until we reached the treasure--a snack of chocolate chip cookies and milk, or a box of multi-colored beads to string, or a beautifully illustrated story book that my mother would read to us. Sewing circles, where my mother taught my friends and me to do cross-stitch embroidery with colorful thread and large, easy animal patterns. Our own family neighborhood Mardi Gras parades, for which we decorated our little red wagon and tricycles with crepe paper streamers of purple and green and gold, dressed up as clowns or ballerinas or Martians, and threw trinkets and strings of beads to friends and neighbors.

Throughout her life, this single-minded focus on a particular goal was evident in Irma Mary. After her children were grown, she became a Direct Distributor for Amway products until the business became so overwhelming that she had to shut it down. She created an exercise program for women and taught both land and water exercise classes for approximately ten years during her fifties. She took up sewing and made darling pastel dresses for her granddaughters. Finally, she earned a Master of Education degree in Early Childhood Education in her mid-sixties and taught nursery school until her death from breast cancer at the age of 72. When a deaf child entered Irma Mary's nursery school class, she learned sign language, used both signing and spoken English throughout the nursery school day so that all the children in her class learned to sign, and published the results of her research, which showed the benefits that hearing children receive from learning to sign as well as to speak.

When I examine what I know of my mother's past, I realize that Irma Mary entered marriage not only with great energy, creativity, and determination, but also with emotional needs. She was born in 1924, the daughter of Irma, a full-time wife and mother, and Fred, a lawyer and later a judge. Irma and Fred had five children: Irma Mary (the third, or middle, child) and her four brothers (two older and two younger than Irma Mary).

Putting together various things I heard my mother say, I gather that three primary interests dominated her family: food, Mardi Gras, and sports. Food was extremely important in Irma Mary's family, perhaps because it was so limited during the Great Depression years. Irma Mary's family always had enough to eat during the Depression, but the food choices were often monotonous, centering largely around bananas, which were cheap and easy to get. Irma Mary's mother prepared bananas in as many ways as she could think of--plain bananas for breakfast, banana sandwiches or banana salad for lunch, fried bananas for supper with banana pudding for dessert. Irma Mary got so sick of bananas that, once the Depression was over and wider food choices were available, she never ate another banana!

In fact, after the Depression years, Irma Mary's family became mildly obsessed with food. Breakfast consisted of fried or scrambled eggs, buttered grits, bacon or sausage, biscuits with jam, and maybe a stack of pancakes or a bowl of oatmeal on the side. For dinner, there were large helpings of the main dish (fried chicken, roast beef, pork chops, broiled trout, stuffed crabs), a couple of vegetables (green peas, sweet carrots, corn on the cob, fried eggplant, baked squash), mashed or baked potatoes, maybe a salad or a gumbo, French bread, and cake or pie--sometimes with ice cream--for dessert. A meal with Irma Mary's family was delicious and unforgettable, but quite heavy and overwhelming.

Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Carnival Season also occupied a great deal of energy in Irma Mary's family. In New Orleans, it is a social honor for a man to belong to one of the older Carnival organizations, called Krewes, each of which puts on an annual Carnival parade and ball--and an even greater honor to reign as King of the ball or to have one's daughter reign as Queen or serve as a Maid-of-honor or one's son serve as a Page. Proper preparation for this requires year-round work. As my mother explained to me, "The day after Mardi Gras, the Krewes meet to begin planning for the following year."

Irma Mary's father, Fred, aspired to Carnival honors for himself and his children, and he was able to obtain membership in the prestigious Krewe of Rex. After some years in Rex, however, it became apparent that Fred did not have the elevated social status necessary for his family to become Rex royalty, whereupon Fred and several friends from his lower social plane withdrew from Rex and founded the Krewe of Hermes, thus assuring that their daughters and sons would become Queens, Maids-of-honor, and Pages for an evening. Indeed, Irma Mary reigned as Queen of Hermes, largely to please her Carnival-smitten parents.

The third preoccupation in Irma Mary's family--and probably the preoccupation that most affected Irma Mary's self-esteem--was sports. All four of Irma Mary's brothers played sports, and talk of football practice, basketball trophies, baseball games, and track meets dominated family conversations at meal times. Irma Mary and her interests were largely ignored--not scorned or ridiculed--simply ignored. My mother once told me that she would sometimes write poems and leave them around the house in hopes that her father would discover them, but that her father never mentioned finding or reading her poems. In fact, my mother told me that there were only two times in her life that she could ever remember her father noticing her or expressing pleasure in something she did: the day she reigned as Queen of Hermes and the day of her wedding.

Poem: Maria Maria Sangria

By Karen Ashley Greenstone

Maria Maria Sangria,
dancing through life
in a grass skirt
under an elegant hat
crowned with ganja.

Maria Maria Sangria,
Lover of Jamaica, drums, and purple.

Maria Maria Sangria,
Moon Beam and Sun Splash,
Pagan Saint and Wise Fool,
Merry Mermaid and High Priestess,
Virgin of fierce sexual appetite.

Maria Maria Sangria,
Creator of high magic,
turning dreams into reality,
her heart into a home,
and strangers into friends.

Maria Maria Sangria,
unboxed and untamed,
Well of boundless energy and Source of courage.

Maria Maria Sangria,
the Center of the circle,
the Star of her life,
the Life of her party,
a constant Surprise.

Maria Maria Sangria,
beloved Sister,
cherished Friend.

My Parents, Sisters, and Brothers

My immediate family consists of my parents and my sisters and brothers. My parents had six children (four daughters and two sons), in order of age, Karen (me), Michael, Sandra, Danny, Maria, and Janet. All six of us were born in the same decade, the 1950s. The eldest (me) was born in 1950, and the youngest (Janet) was born in 1959. Our parents, Irma Mary and Mike, have died. Actually, Sandra and Michael have also died. I guess you could list the family members like this.

Mike, 1921-2000
Irma Mary, 1924-1997
Karen, 1950-
Michael, 1952-2009
Sandra, 1954-2002
Danny, 1956-
Maria, 1958-
Janet, 1959-

Mike, our father, was an only child. He was a dentist and then an orthodontist. He served as a Captain in the Dental Corps of the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

Irma Mary, our mother, had four brothers (two older and two younger than she). She had a Bachelors degree in chemistry and zoology from Louisiana State University and was on her way to medical school when she met and married Mike. She then became a wife and mother. She was a highly creative person. In her fifties, she became an exercise specialist and gave land and water exercise classes for women. Later, she obtained a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education and taught nursery school.

Karen is next. That's me. I teach English to international students at the university level. That's all I'll say about myself for now.

Michael came into his own after serving in the U.S. Navy in the 1970s. He then attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and obtained a Bachelors degree in Sociology. He was passionate about music and worked as a disc jockey at WTUL radio station in New Orleans and WRFG in Atlanta. Michael suffered a devastating stroke in 2001 and died on December 9, 2009.

Sandra, also, has died. She was cute and vivacious. She worked as a Licensed Practical Nurse until she and her husband John started their family. They have three daughters: Kristin, Lindsay, and Allison. Sandra was a devoted wife and mother. She was one of those people who truly enjoy motherhood. Sadly, she died of cancer in 2002.

Danny is an entrepreneur. From an early age, he has run an antiques business. He has two daughters, Ananda and Zia. Ananda designs and makes jewelry. Zia has just obtained her Bachelors degree in Business and Finance and works for a corporation in New York.

Maria is full of energy and surprises. Before Hurricane Katrina, she worked for Festival Productions, which organizes the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Maria loves to dance and can do so all night.

Janet is a grounded and focused individual. She worked for years as a Registered Nurse in charge of an Intensive Care Unit. In 1996, Janet had an aneurysm. She has made a remarkable recovery, although the aneurysm has left her with some aphasia (she can't always bring up the words she needs to express her thoughts) and some right-side paralysis. Janet and her husband Richard have two adolescents, Lauren and Patrick. Both are talented, bright, independent, well-grounded teenagers.

These descriptions don't begin to express the complexity of my family and our relationships. Perhaps I will return to this subject in future posts.

My next post will be a poem about my sister Maria.

Michael: In Memoriam

My brother Michael died at age 57 in a nursing home in Houston TX on Wednesday, December 9, 2009, of complications from a stroke suffered in 2001.

Here are some facts about Michael, most of which appeared in his obituary. He was a native of New Orleans LA, a former resident of Atlanta GA, and since Hurricane Katrina a resident of Houston TX. He graduated from Archbishop Rummel High School and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He served in the U.S. Navy. He loved music and was passionate about his work as a disc jockey at WTUL radio station in New Orleans and WRFG in Atlanta. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister Sandra. He will be missed by his brother Danny; by his sisters Karen (me), Maria, and Janet; by his brothers-in-law John and Richard; by his sister-in-law Tamarin; by his nephew Patrick; by his nieces Ananda, Kristin, Lindsay, Zia, Allison, and Lauren; and by his many friends.

Michael truly loved music. He amassed an extensive collection of over a thousand LP vinyl records. He worked as a radio disc jockey, knew contemporary popular music inside and out, frequently interviewed musicians for the radio, and was passionate about his work. Michael was also quite versatile. At various times, he took additional work as a record store salesperson, a surveyor, a chef, and a doorman at a bar. He was well loved and had many friends.

Michael suffered a stroke in 2001 that left him physically and mentally impaired. After the stroke, Michael lived in a nursing home in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina. At the time of the hurricane, Michael was unable to evacuate with his nursing home because he had just been hospitalized with a seizure. Thus, he became part of the chaotic hospital evacuations and ended up in a nursing home in Houston, where he remained until his death earlier this month. The state of Texas was wonderful in providing care for Michael after the hurricane.

We had a beautiful memorial for Michael at the Balcony Music Club in New Orleans last Sunday, organized by my brother Danny. My sister Maria created a lovely altar with candles, sculpture, flowers, and photos of Michael. Our friend Rae provided a tossed green salad, a pasta salad, and zucchini bread. Balcony Music Club gave us their back patio and bar, with drinks for only $2.00. My brother-in-law Richard provided a tape of Michael DJing on Atlanta radio station WRFG. Michael's friends Tony and Mike played guitar and sang. Family members and friends came to be together and remember Michael.

Michael had felt trapped in his post-stroke, mal-functioning body and mind. As I see it, his death has set him free. May Michael soar freely and joyfully in the world of spirit.

Why Am I So Fascinated With Frank Schaeffer?

Why am I so fascinated with Frank Schaeffer? I have 23 posts about Frank Schaeffer and his books on my blog. I have read each of Frank's eleven books multiple times. I have corresponded with Frank by email. I have even read one of Frank's novels (Baby Jack) with my university-preparation class of international students and set up a speaker phone conversation for the class with Frank. Clearly, I am fascinated with Frank Schaeffer.

I first became aware of Frank Schaeffer and his writing in December 2008 while I was still living in North Carolina, post-Hurricane-Katrina. Frank was being interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" about his memoir, Crazy For God, which had just come out in paperback. I immediately perked up my ears. Frank Schaeffer? The son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer of L'Abri in Switzerland? (I had been very into Francis and Edith Schaeffer's books in the 1970s and had even visited L'Abri briefly in 1975.) Yes, this was the very Frank Schaeffer. And clearly he now had views that dissented from his parents' version of Christianity. In fact, as I listened to Terry Gross's interview with Frank, it became clear that Frank's memoir was about the shadow side of L'Abri. Whoa! I thought. I HAVE to get this book!

Accordingly, I ordered Crazy For God and Frank's first novel in his Calvin Becker Trilogy, Portofino. Portofino arrived first, so I read it first--and LOVED it!!! It is a very thinly veiled autobiographical novel about Frank's childhood growing up in a fundamentalist Christian missionary family in Europe. Portofino recounts the adventures of Calvin Becker, Frank's alter-ego character, while on vacation with his missionary family in Portofino, Italy--where the Schaeffer family did in actual fact take their summer vacations. Portofino is very funny.

Soon thereafter, Crazy For God came, and I read Frank's memoir. Then I emailed Frank and told him what these two books, especially Crazy For God, had meant to me. Frank answered and asked me to tell him more about myself. This surprised me, but I replied. Then Frank asked me to send him some of my writing. This shocked me! But I did send him "Hurricane Katrina and Refrigerators," to which he gave a nice response.

I then determined to read all of Frank's books and proceeded to do so, occasionally emailing Frank about my responses to the other two books in his Calvin Becker Trilogy, his five books about the U.S. Marine Corps, his book co-authored with Kathy Roth-Douquet How Free People Move Mountains, and his latest book Patience With God. Frank always answered and occasionally asked me to send him another piece of my writing, which was very generous of him.

However, I still haven't answered my question: Why am I so fascinated with Frank Schaeffer?

First, I was fascinated with Frank's father and mother, Francis and Edith Schaeffer. So were my Christian friends. We read and discussed Francis Schaeffer's books, we watched Francis Schaeffer's documentaries How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? and I even spent a couple of weeks at L'Abri in the spring of 1975. We loved Francis Schaeffer's clear, well-thought-out, intellectual approach to Christianity--I guess Francis Schaeffer legitimized the version of Christianity that we believed. We loved the way Francis and Edith Schaeffer lived out their faith in their compassionate L'Abri ministry in Switzerland, where they welcomed young people into their home, served them delicious if simple meals and a spectacular high tea on Sundays, listened carefully to their questions, and provided thoughtful answers based on the Bible. In addition, the Schaeffers welcomed pregnant women who had no place to go to have their babies; the Schaeffers helped them through pregnancy, birth, and the first months with the infant. The Schaeffers were hospitable to all types of marginalized people.

I was also utterly fascinated with the fact that all the Schaeffer children and grandchildren followed in Francis and Edith Schaeffer's footsteps, holding fast to the same version of Christianity. It seemed like a miracle. It also seemed to show that this fundamentalist version of Christianity had a strong intellectual underpinning, led to a compassionate life, and produced a strong family of like-minded and loving individuals. Fundamentalist Christianity really works! Francis and Edith Schaeffer and their family have proved it!

As the years passed, I moved away from fundamentalist Christianity to a broader view of faith and life, and the Schaeffers faded way into the background. In fact, I hadn't thought about the Schaeffers in years until Frank Schaeffer and his books came to my attention a year ago--with the whole shadow side of his parents' version of Christianity. This was way fascinating! Francis Schaeffer had given us the intellectual underpinnings of fundamentalist Christianity, Edith Schaeffer had told us about the human lives touched through the L'Abri ministry, and now along comes Frank Schaeffer with the shadow side of all this.

I had read and discussed Carl Jung's concept of the shadow and the need to recognize, name, and even befriend the shadow. The shadow side is the part of ourselves that we find difficult to accept and that we want to keep hidden, sometimes even from ourselves. This can range from socially destructive murderous impulses to feelings that society finds unacceptable for our gender, such as used to be the case with tender and nurturing impulses in men. The richness to be mined from the shadow, the way the shadow gives greater dimension to a person, the confidence that comes with naming and accepting more and more aspects of one's shadow--I find all of this fascinating.

So I was sure to be fascinated with Frank Schaeffer's bringing this greater dimension to the L'Abri ministry. L'Abri wasn't all light and love and generosity. It certainly was those things. And it also included the Moods of Francis Schaeffer, the wearing lack of privacy, the feuds among the Schaeffers' sons-in-law, and the neglect of parenting that allowed Frank to reach age ten without the skills of basic literacy. In other words, L'Abri was not a Christian paradise but a human ministry in a fallen world (to echo Francis Schaeffer). Fascinating!

I love looking at things from multiple perspectives, and I have greatly enjoyed reading Frank's perspective on events that I had read about years ago in his mother Edith Schaeffer's books. One such incident that stands out in my mind is Frank's polio at age two. Edith recounts this harrowing story (how frightening it must have been for Edith to have her two-year-old son stricken with this dread disease and to have to make decisions about little Frank's immediate treatment all on her own since Francis Schaeffer was away at the time) in her book L'Abri.

Edith tells how the doctor wanted to give Frank an experimental treatment, how conflicted she felt about this, how she allowed an initial dose to be given (of primate spinal fluid, no less--was it chimpanzee or orangutan?), how she spent the night in prayer, and how grateful she felt in the morning to find that the doctor had changed his mind about further doses. Then we have Frank's account in Crazy For God. If I read Frank correctly, he believes that his mother should have been able to discern on her own that primate spinal fluid was an extremely iffy treatment and that she should have been able to say no to the doctor rather than spend the night in prayer and rely on "God" changing the doctor's mind.

Besides my fascination with Frank Schaeffer's parents and with Frank's perspective on their life and work, I'll have to admit that I am also fascinated by the fact that Frank Schaeffer has given me his personal attention. He has responded to my emails, asked me to tell him about myself, and even read some of my writing.

So I feel connected with Frank Schaeffer on multiple levels. His parents influenced my life and faith in my twenties when I belonged to a fundamentalist Christian church. My friends and I almost considered the Schaeffers to be members of our family: Francis, Edith, Priscilla, Susan, Debby, and little Franky. We avidly read and discussed their books and documentaries. They legitimized our way of believing. The Schaeffers' work meshed with where I was, faith-wise, in the 1970s.

Then, Frank Schaeffer comes along with the shadow side of his parents' faith, expressed so beautifully and at times hilariously in his Calvin Becker Trilogy, his memoir, and his most recent book Patience With God. Patience With God even takes us through and beyond the shadow stuff and into Frank's present-day expression of faith. Frank's work adds to the perspective I had already developed on fundamentalist Christianity and the evolution I had already undergone in my own faith. I also resonate to the concepts about service and love in Frank's Marine Corps books. Frank Schaeffer's work meshes with where I am, faith-wise, now in the 2000s.

Added to this is the fact that Frank and I are contemporaries--I was born in January 1950 and Frank in August 1952. So, throughout our lives, we were about the same age at about the same time. There is a certain connection one has with one's contemporaries because contemporaries live through national and world events at the same age. There is a difference, for instance, in experiencing the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in one's 50s, in one's 20s, as a teenager, as a pre-teen, and as a six-year-old.

And to top all of this off, I have a personal connection with Frank through email. Yes, I know, so do LOTS of people. Frank spends a great deal of time answering emails from readers. But it is a personal connection, and it is nice.

SO--Francis and Edith Schaeffer's supporting my fundamentalist Christian faith in the 1970s, Frank Schaeffer's taking me into the shadow side of this and supporting my broader faith in the 2000s, my being a contemporary of Frank, and Frank's generosity in responding personally to my emails--all of this contributes to my fascination with Frank!

Frank Schaeffer's Baby Jack--Reading This Novel with a University Class

This fall semester 2009 I had a wonderful experience reading Frank Schaeffer's novel Baby Jack with a class of international students working on their reading and writing skills in English to matriculate at a U.S. university. It is important that the international students in this university-preparation class read a full-length novel. For many, it is their first experience reading a full novel in English.

Baby Jack by Frank Schaeffer is about a young man, Jack Ogden, who enlists in the Marine Corps upon high school graduation, over the objections of his family, especially his father. After boot camp, Jack is deployed to Iraq and is killed within weeks of arrival. Jack's family then has to cope with the grief of Jack's death, and in the case of Todd Ogden, Jack's father, with the terrible regret of having refused to communicate with his son after Jack's departure for boot camp.

I chose Baby Jack to read with my class of university-preparation international students for these reasons.

  • Timely themes. Baby Jack deals with family, love, service, the military, life, death, sex, God, art, conflict, grief, and other relevant themes.
  • Multiple perspectives. We see the events in Baby Jack from multiple perspectives. Each chapter is written in a different "I" voice. We hear from Jack, his father Todd, his mother Sarah, his sister Amanda, and his girlfriend Jessica.
  • Multiple genres. Within the novel, we find personal narratives, journal entries, poems, emails, letters, newspaper and magazine articles, and flyers.
  • Reading aloud. International students enjoy this, and the multiple voices in the novel make it excellent for judicious use of read-alouds.
  • Breathing room. The novel has what I would call breathing room. The text is not crowded onto the page. There is an inviting sense of space. This is important for international students who could be intimidated by a dense-looking text.
  • Connection with Frank Schaeffer. I have read all of Frank Schaeffer's books and could set Baby Jack within the context of Frank's life and work for the students. I have also corresponded by email with Frank and know that he likes to interact with his readers.

The class was enthusiastic about Baby Jack. I was able to talk with them about Frank Schaeffer's background, Frank's connection with the military through his son John who enlisted in the Marine Corps right after high school, and Frank's other books. We spent a month reading, discussing, and responding in writing to Baby Jack. We also watched the Marine Corps documentary Making Marines, about boot camp training and the philosophy behind it.

The highlight of our work with Baby Jack was a telephone conversation by speaker phone with Frank Schaeffer after we had finished reading the novel. I set up the speaker phone in my office on a table that my nine students and I could just fit around. Each student had prepared a question to ask Frank. Frank was delightful to speak with. He gave an in-depth, interesting answer to each question, and he asked each student about his or her studies and plans and encouraged each one to email him. As a result, although I had planned to email one thank-you to Frank with contributions from the various students, we instead agreed that each student would email Frank individually.

Reading and discussing Baby Jack together and then talking about the novel with the author was a great experience for the class--both for the students and for me, the teacher. Thank you, Frank, for writing Baby Jack and for generously taking the time to talk with us about your novel.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God--Gospel Walnut and Its Implications

In his novel Portofino, Frank Schaeffer writes about the Gospel Walnut. The Gospel Walnut appears as the Beckers, a family of fundamentalist Christian missionaries in Switzerland, travel by train to their summer vacation destination of Portofino, Italy. Hoping to lead a fellow passenger to Jesus, Mrs. Becker pulls out one of her favorite witnessing tools: a walnut with a crank which, when turned, causes a multi-colored ribbon to emerge from the nut--first black for the damned condition of the unsaved sinner's soul, then red for the saving blood of Jesus, then white for the soul's pure state after accepting Jesus as Savior, and finally gold for the streets of heaven where the saved will go upon death. As his mother spools out the ribbon while giving her salvation spiel to the fellow passenger, ten-year-old Calvin cringes in embarrassment.

This is a very funny scene in Portofino, and I laughed out loud for minutes and minutes as I read it--but I assumed that, since this was a novel, Frank had made up the Gospel Walnut as a spoof of typical witnessing tools. Well, you can imagine my surprise upon reaching page 29 in Patience With God, a book of non-fiction, and reading this sentence: "When I was a young child, and to my eternal mortification, Mom used to carry something called the Gospel Walnut."

Oh, my God! I thought. The Gospel Walnut is REAL???!!! You have GOT to be kidding!!!!

My thoughts then continued, and not necessarily in a good direction. To return to my original reading of Portofino for a moment, there is a scene where Calvin's father beats Calvin severely with a belt for drinking alcohol at a yacht party. This scene is truly horrifying. I know that Frank Schaeffer drew heavily upon his own experience in writing Portofino, but Portofino is a novel, and I chose to just let that beating scene be fiction in my mind.

Somehow, though, when I read Patience With God and realized that the Gospel Walnut is real, my thoughts took this turn: Oh, my God! What else is real in Portofino? Maybe that beating scene is also real. Maybe that really happened to Frank. And I suddenly had the sensation of looking over the edge of a mental cliff, being poised above a frightening abyss, where horrible things happen to children, where Francis Schaeffer could have beaten his son Frank with a belt, where you can never ever be safe, where life is a horror and every moment is a terror, where . . .

And then the voice of sanity welled up: Stop. Just stop. Now back up. Back away from that cliff edge. Good. Now think about this from your adult perspective.

And, of course, I was able to do so. Maybe Frank Schaeffer was beaten with a belt as a child. Far too many children are beaten with belts and abused in other ways.

Although it's ultimately not my business which parts of Portofino actually happened and which are fictional, I nonetheless have some thoughts about this. I absolutely think that Frank was working things out internally by writing Portofino. Yes, he was also writing a novel and telling a marvelous story and hoping to earn his living as a writer. In addition, I believe he was doing some important internal work.

I haven't seen any reference to Francis Schaeffer beating his children in any of Frank's non-fiction works, though Frank does write non-fictionally about his father's abuse, both verbal and physical, of his mother. If Francis Schaeffer did beat Frank, probably the only way Frank can write about it is fictionally. It's probably too painful for him to include in a non-fiction book, such as his memoir. In fact, I heard Frank say in an interview with Terry Gross on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" that there are things that were too painful to include in Crazy For God and that readers can draw their own further conclusions from what is there.

I conclude that Frank Schaeffer is an inspiration. He grew up in a fundamentalist Christian enclave that was in many ways crazy-making. He tells us that he witnessed his father's abuse of his mother and that he and his sisters used to huddle together in one bed as his father raged. I'll bet, too, that Frank sometimes suffered beatings from his father. Frank has also had to contend with severe dyslexia, depression, and his own anger. He grew up in an environment where all of the above had to be covered up for the sake of the ministry.

Yet Frank has turned out to be a truth-teller, unflinchingly honest about his own faults. He has become a marvelous writer and story-teller. He has found a way to be a Christian with integrity within the Greek Orthodox Church. He has grown in humility over the years. He loves his parents and chooses to emphasize the many good things in his up-bringing. I admire him.

Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God--Reaching Out to Fundamentalists

Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God raises this question for me: How can we reach out to fundamentalists?

Some of what Frank says makes this seem almost hopeless. On page xviii, Frank says, "Appeals to facts get nowhere with these folks because they don't trust any sources but their own and listen only to what emanates from an alternative right-wing universe. Arguments become circular. The more impartial the source, the more suspect it becomes."

The thing that seems almost hopeless here is that, when people believe that they represent the one right way sanctioned by God, there doesn't seem any possibility of building a bridge to talk with them. Anything that differs from their one right way is dismissed out of hand. So how can any conversation take place?

However, I do see hope in Frank's description of the intolerable conflict he himself felt when he was working as a fundamentalist--a severe conflict between his stated beliefs and his actual experience of reality. At a time when anyone observing Frank from the outside would have said, "This Frank Schaeffer is a hard-core fundamentalist," the truth is that Frank was extremely conflicted within himself and that it wouldn't be long before he would leave fundamentalism. Since fundamentalism IS so out of sync with reality, might this not be an increasingly intolerable conflict for some fundamentalist leaders, even though they APPEAR hard-core, just as it was for Frank. Could we not speak to that part of those leaders, those who feel (however dimly) this conflict?

Here are some of the things that fundamentalists, even hard-core fundamentalist leaders, must be feeling.

  • The inability to have and express their own experience. Fundamentalism dictates what their experience should be, and they dare not contradict the fundamentalist declaration of truth.
  • The pain of suppressing so much of their experience. It takes an extraordinary amount of energy to suppress the ever-present mis-match between reality and their beliefs.
  • Fear. How can they continue to live if everything they have said they believe turns out to be a lie? And what will they do to earn a living when all they know how to do is to preach fundamentalism?
  • Shame. They dread the shame of being shown up as wrong in the core areas of life and of being revealed as incompetent in finding meaningful work.
  • Isolation. They must always project an image of being a correct fundamentalist. They can't say what they really think. Thus, they can't have an authentic conversation because they have to support the party line with fellow fundamentalists and to use all conversations with non-believers to find openings to witness to them.
  • Loathing. I can imagine that they absolutely hate having to be so certain of totally crazy things about God. They must hate, on some level, having to make excuses for God's tyrannical behavior in the Bible.

I wonder if we might reach out to fundamentalists with compassion and understanding of this conflict, fear, and pain. I wonder if anyone reached out to Frank during those days of inner turmoil when he seemed so entrenched in fundamentalism yet was actually so conflicted about it? Did anyone say anything that helped him to leave? Is there something that helped or would have helped Frank that could also help other fundamentalists to acknowledge the conflict between fundamentalism and reality and to find their way out of fundamentalism and into a more open expression of Christian faith?

Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God--Fundamentalist Separation from Experience

On page xiii of Patience With God, Frank Schaeffer speaks of "the 'certainties' of the religious fundamentalists who claim their way is the only truth, which is another way to attack faith because it drives people away from experiencing God." To me, one of the most devastating consequences of fundamentalism is the way it cuts people off from their own experience. I was certainly cut off from my own experience in my fundamentalist days.

When you already know what God is like, you won't experience God. You already know, so what is there to experience? What you know determines your experience because there is absolutely no room for any divergent knowing in the fundamentalist system. Your experience of God MUST fit in with what you know of God as a fundamentalist. In other words, God is already determined and defined. Don't contradict what we already know about God with your experience!

I found this to create huge problems. As a Catholic child, I knew that God was male, witnessed everything that I did or said or thought, would send me to hell for eternity if I died with even one unconfessed mortal sin, and--oh, yes--this God loved me and I had better love this God back if I knew what was good for me. What a recipe for disaster! I experienced God as a cosmic tyrant whom I was commanded to love. I didn't trust God.

It wasn't until years later, after I had left fundamentalist beliefs behind, that I was able to hear how people from different belief systems experienced God and then to experience God on my own. I actually had to hear other ways of experiencing God before I was able to have my own experience. Then, I began to experience God as Mother as well as Father and as Opener of multiple perspectives.

Different perspectives, though, are absent from fundamentalism. Fundamentalism creates a homogeneous and monotonous world.

Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God--Problems of Integrity with Fundamentalism

In Patience With God, Frank Schaeffer goes to great lengths to illustrate the problems of integrity that plague fundamentalists. Frank understands these problems very well because he experienced them himself. In fact, the problems grew so intense for Frank that they eventually propelled him out of the fundamentalist fold. I also understand these problems because of my childhood experience on the fundamentalist side of Catholicism and later my membership in another fundamentalist Christian church some years ago.

Frank's message in the novels of his Calvin Becker Trilogy (Portofino, Zermatt, Saving Grandma), his memoir Crazy For God, and his most recent book Patience With God is that fundamentalist Christianity will drive you crazy. This is because fundamentalism does not match reality. The real world is based on paradox. Fundamentalism demands a certainty that is impossible. Thus, fundamentalists are constantly butting up against reality.

One huge problem is that fundamentalists are required to believe crazy things about God. The one that caused me the most problems in my Catholic childhood was trying to twist my mind inside out to hold these two ideas together--to believe that God loved me and that I loved God, and also to believe that God would clamp down immediately with harsh punishments for small infractions. After all, God demanded that a man be stoned for gathering sticks on the Sabbath as the Israelites wandered in the desert, God killed Uzza instantly for reaching out to steady the Ark of the Covenant on its way to Jerusalem, God would send me to hell for eternity if I missed Mass on Sunday or ate meat on Friday or had impure thoughts and then died before making a good confession, God sent people to hell for eternity if they denied God even in the face of excruciating torture. God was terrifying. I was terrified of God. But I had to believe that God loved me and that I loved God because it was a mortal sin not to do so. So I tried to convince myself that God loved me and that I loved God. The strain of trying to believe that a cosmic tyrant loved me and that I loved this tyrant was intolerable.

Another telling problem of integrity for fundamentalists is the way fundamentalists treat those among themselves who begin to question fundamentalist beliefs and who leave the fold. On page 26, Frank asks, "What does it say about the nature of faith in God that when a believer--say, a former evangelical/fundamentalist like me--questions his or her faith or changes it, there are otherwise seemingly sane people so threatened that they take the time to call down God's judgment on the questioner?" Frank points out that fundamentalists see themselves as a minority voice for "truth" in the face of a monolithic secular culture and that any depletion in their numbers frightens them. I also think that deserters suggest the intolerable idea that there may be holes in the fundamentalist belief system. To a fundamentalist, an unbeliever can be seen as ignorant, but a deserter KNEW. If fundamentalist truth is so compelling, how can an insider dissent? Could it be that fundamentalist faith has holes after all? Fundamentalists cannot face the thought that their belief system is not watertight, so they must destroy the deserter, whose very desertion suggests the possibility of holes.

Frank says that fundamentalists, particularly leaders, who continue in their fundamentalist beliefs end up in one of two ways. On page 147, Frank says that "they either go nuts . . . or they secretly quit believing but don't say so." Those who go nuts do so because, as Frank also says on page 147, "they are forced to try to reconcile the irreconcilable." They manage to stay in the fold, though, by strictly limiting their interactions to other fundamentalists, so that their beliefs, however crazy, receive constant reinforcement. Those who secretly quit believing are too frightened of life in the real world to voice their doubts openly. To leave the fold would mean having to find work in the real world and all they know how to do is to preach fundamentalism. Frank confesses that this is what kept him a fundamentalist for so long. Frank did finally leave because he courageously recognized that he was well on the way to losing his own soul if he stayed, for he was preaching what he knew to be a lie.

Tellingly, Frank says on page 100, "Making my final break with my evangelical/fundamentalist past was like turning on some sort of creative tap." On page 147, Frank says, "I started to treat Genie and my children better too. Unhappy men serving a weird, angry God make bad husbands, especially if 'serving God' provides an excuse for covering up (and thus never dealing with) one's faults in the name of protecting one's ministry." Also on page 147, Frank says, "And conversations became conversations rather than evangelistic ploys." In other words, when Frank left fundamentalism, things fell into place in terms of creativity and relationships.

I believe that this is another reason why Frank is so honest about his own failings in his books. I think that it is just such a sheer relief for him to tell the truth. As Frank says on page 105, ""As someone raised on the idea that my loyalty wasn't to the truth but to 'our faith,' writing the simple truth (as I understand it) still feels revolutionary. With my first novels it was such a relief to be writing whatever I wanted to write, where the point was to let the story's needs, rather than the needs of 'Christian' propaganda, let alone the rules of the Church Ladies (or even Orthodox propaganda), dictate the direction of my work."

Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God--Problems with Certainty

One of Frank Schaeffer's primary aims in Patience With God is to UNPACK fundamentalism. On page 147, Frank says, "How does one have faith in God after surviving an evangelical/fundamentalist background? One place to start discovering faith after the craziness is to try and unpack the misbegotten 'foundation' of what amounts to the evangelical madness."

Thus, to unpack fundamentalism, Frank names and articulates the craziness so that we can see it. Then, we can separate the craziness from actual faith in God, so that faith in God is no longer mixed with craziness. Patience With God accomplishes this unpacking.

  • Frank defines fundamentalism.
  • Frank illustrates how fundamentalism contradicts reality.
  • Frank shows that fundamentalism is not limited to Christianity but exists across belief systems, including Atheism.
  • Frank explains that fundamentalism is a very recent phenomenon.
  • Frank details the problems of integrity that result for fundamentalists.

DEFINITION. Frank equates fundamentalism with certainty. On page 9, Frank says, "My definition of fundamentalism, religious or otherwise, is the impulse to find The answer, a way to shut down the question-asking part of one's brain. Fundamentalists don't like question marks. Fundamentalists reject both Christian humility and postmodern paradox."

OPPOSITION TO REALITY. Fundamentalist certainty is completely at odds with reality. As Frank says on page 8, "We are specks on a tiny planet and our concept of truth, time, and place is related to our limited perspective." We simply cannot have certainty. Ideas that we hold with rock-solid certainty may turn out to be untrue. There was a time when people absolutely knew that the earth was flat--only it's not.

Frank explains that the only proper response to a world of paradox, where science indicates that a particle can be in two places at the same time and where we embody contradictions within ourselves (for instance, on page xvi, Frank says, "I find both sides of the faith/no faith debate coexisting within me") is humility. On page 44, Frank says, "Life is too short to know, so religion's most basic lesson--humility--is not just a good idea but also logical. And humility is, I think, also the most basic lesson taught by science, which, by definition, illumines the vastness of our ignorance."

In addition, the devotion to "The answer" precludes thinking. Christian fundamentalists claim to take the whole Bible as God's word, with no picking and choosing. On pages 147-148, Frank points out that "picking and choosing is what thinking is." To refuse to pick and choose is to refuse to think. Frank also points out that Christian fundamentalists must pick and choose anyway: most Christian fundamentalists do not worry about wearing clothing of mixed material, nor do they stone adulterers, though the Bible prohibits mixed-material clothing and prescribes stoning for those who commit adultery.

EXISTENCE WITHIN ALL BELIEF SYSTEMS. Frank shows that the New Atheists are fundamentalists every bit as much as Christian fundamentalists are. In fact, every religious system can have a fundamentalist group. Frank illustrates parallels between Atheist fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists.

  • Atheist proselytizing tools, such as the conversation-prompting Scarlet A Lapel Pin offered for sale on Richard Dawkins's website
  • Lists of answers to Christians' most frequent objections to Atheism, also on Dawkins's website
  • After Atheist lectures, calls by the event organizer for those wishing to proclaim belief in Atheism to declare themselves, reminiscent of church altar calls
  • During Atheist lectures, cries of "Yes!" and "Right on!" reminiscent of "Amen!" and "Preach it, Brother!" heard in churches

RECENT PHENOMENON. Frank speaks of two strands in Christianity. The more ancient strand is the mystical, questioning, community-oriented strand. The more recent strand is the factual, certain, Bible-oriented strand. Frank calls the former the apophatic strand, which recognizes that God's fullness is ultimately unknowable to us and that we can more profitably speak of who or what God is not rather than who or what God is. In other words, God cannot be defined but remains a mystery. The latter strand is the fundamentalist strand, which believes that God has revealed Godself to us, once and for all, through the Bible. Since God has told us exactly who God is in the Bible, we can have certainty that our knowledge of God is correct and that any differing views are wrong.

Here are some of the differences between the apophatic strand and fundamentalist strand.

  • A living faith that is open to change versus a faith that is set in stone for all time
  • A mystical view that opens to the mystery of God versus a dogmatic view that captures God
  • Openness to myth as embodying deep wisdom versus confinement to factual truth
  • Openness to questions and doubts as a path to growth versus a view of questions and doubts as sins against faith
  • Emphasis on compassionate relationships versus emphasis on correct belief
  • Living in love versus obeying rules
  • Authority invested in the community of faith versus authority invested in the Bible
  • Salvation as a process versus salvation as crossing a line at the moment of praying to accept Jesus as one's personal Savior
  • Faith as a journey versus a sharp distinction between the saved and the damned
  • Openness to nuance versus a black-and-white view of life and faith
It is important to add that faith is a continuum, not a polarity. Any given Christian will be at some point on the apophatic/fundamentalist continuum. There are extreme fundamentalists as well as fundamentalists with apophatic leanings, and vice versa. Frank Schaeffer points out that his parents were far more compassionate than their stated fundamentalist beliefs would lead one to think. On page 144, Frank says, "Mom and Dad were much better than their theology; in fact, they were nicer than the 'God of the Bible' they paid lip service to."

Furthermore, the point at which a given Christian finds him- or herself on the apophatic/fundamentaist continuum will change at different stages in that person's life. On page 19, Frank says of his father Francis Schaeffer, "And if you ask me, 'What was Francis Schaeffer about?' the only true answer would be for me to ask you what stage of his life, thinking, and work you were talking about. There were several 'Francis Schaeffers.'"

Even more, the whole apophatic/fundamentalist continuum exists at once within a given Christian, and his or her point on that continuum can change from moment to moment. Frank describes his own frequent movement on the faith/no faith continuum. Even though the faith/no faith continuum is different from the apophatic/fundamentalist continuum, the parallel is strong. Thus, on page 228, Frank says, "Some days I know that life has no ultimate meaning. Other days I know that every breath I take has eternal meaning. I also know that I'm crazy to believe these two opposites simultaneously. I'd feel even crazier denying them. I believe that both statements are true. Like that particle in a physics experiment, I am in two places at once."

Finally, Frank points out that the fundamentalist over-emphasis on factual truth to the exclusion of mythical truth is a modern aberration. From ancient times, people understood that God was a mystery and that myths told important universal (not factual) truths. Early Christians understood this, too. It has been only very recently that the fundamentalist strand has developed, with its insistence on limiting truth to facts.

PROBLEMS OF INTEGRITY. Fundamentalism results in problems of integrity for the fundamentalist. I will discuss this in my next post.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God--More Thoughts on Writing and Words

In my previous post, I responded to passages in Patience With God where Frank Schaeffer discusses writing and words. Doing so has now inspired me to write this post, where I will explain some of the wonderful things I experience through writing.

KEEPING MEMORIES. This seems fairly obvious: writing is a way of preserving memories by recording them in words that I can return to time and again. But beyond that, writing accesses memories. If I start writing about something I remember vaguely, I often find that the act of writing brings up more and more detail. Writing also brings to mind entire memories that I had forgotten.

LIVING MY LIFE TWICE. This is a wonderful benefit of writing. I can live my life twice. I live it first as lived experience. Then I live it again by writing about it. The writing causes me to delve deeply into my experience, to mine its richness, to live my life more fully. Donald M. Murray, a long-time columnist for the Boston Globe and a writing professor at the University of New Hampshire, wrote a memoir titled My Twice-Lived Life, based on this very idea. Through his writing, Donald Murray has been a great inspiration to me as a writer and a teacher of writing. He died at age 82 in 2006.

CLARIFYING MY THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS. If I want to know what I think or feel about something, a sure way to find out is to write about it. The very act of writing freely about a subject pulls up my thoughts and feelings and spills them onto the page. I can gain greater clarity by reading what I have written, perhaps writing further and reading again, doing this a number of times, and then organizing the material into a coherent piece. Taking the time to articulate my thoughts and feelings makes them clear to me. I have placed my thoughts and feelings onto a page, where I can see them outside of myself. They are no longer roiling about vaguely and namelessly inside me. It is important to add that such a piece of writing is a snapshot of my thoughts and feelings at a particular moment in time, so I need to hold them loosely, realizing that my thoughts and feelings may well evolve and that I can then clarify that evolution with additional writing.

MAKING MY EXPERIENCE REAL TO ME. To name and articulate something, to put it into words, makes it real. Unnamed experience is often vague. Here is an example. As a child, I sometimes had a feeling of blackness that sat in my chest. I believed that this was an aberration that marked me as defective and that nobody else had such a deviant feeling. The whole thing was vague and shameful to me. I couldn't "see" it clearly, but I knew it was bad. When I was able, as an adult, to name this blackness as depression and to describe it in words, this made a huge difference. My experience became real to me and I could do something about it. Likewise, Karen Armstrong in The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness describes what a relief it was to name and describe the symptoms of epilepsy, which had caused her anguish for years because these symptoms were so frightening and incomprehensible.

For me, it has also been hugely helpful to name and describe the Adult Children of Alcoholics syndrome, to see some of those characteristics in myself (as I grew up in a home with an alcoholic parent), to make this experience real to me and to do something about it. Janet G. Woititz's book The Self Sabotage Syndrome: Adult Children in the Workplace has been very helpful with this. In addition, Sonia Johnson in From Housewife to Heretic: One Woman's Struggle for Equal Rights and Her Excommunication from the Mormon Church helped me to name and articulate the previously vague experience of breaking a taboo, something I had done in leaving the Catholic Church.

Betty Friedan helped women to name and understand their vague malaise in The Feminine Mystique and then to take action. Patricia Evans helps anyone suffering from verbal abuse to name and understand it in The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond, so that one can "see" this abuse in a concrete way and take action.

PUTTING MY EXPERIENCE OUTSIDE MYSELF. Writing takes my experience outside of myself and puts it onto the page, where I can look at it more objectively. I can "see" my experience more clearly on the page than I can when it remains locked within me. This often has a calming effect on me when I write about something troubling. Just the fact that I can look at the experience in written form, outside myself, makes any inner turmoil far less intense.

ENTERING MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES. Writing opens a kaleidoscope of perspectives. I can explore how a situation appears to someone very different from myself by putting myself into his or her mind, so to speak, and writing from that place. For example, if I have a disagreement with my sister, I can "become" my sister and write about the situation from her point of view, thus giving me greater understanding of where she is coming from. I can also converse with someone on paper, speaking as myself and then as the other person. I can even do this with someone who has died. I can explore what the world looked or looks like to a Neanderthal person, to a Druid in Britain 2000 years ago, to a woman arrested as a witch during the Spanish Inquisition, to a Union soldier during the Civil War, to my grandmother during the Great Depression, to Adolph Hitler, to Mother Teresa, to Bill Clinton, to George W. Bush, to God.

PULLING UP INSIGHTS. Writing is a way to access my unconscious, to know consciously things that I didn't know I knew. As I write, I sometimes find myself pouring insights onto the page, insights that I would not have accessed otherwise.

FINDING SOLUTIONS. Likewise, if I write about a problem, I often find myself writing through to possible solutions. Those solutions come to me through the act of writing.

HEALING. Writing heals. Because writing clarifies my thoughts and feelings, makes my experience real to me, puts my experience outside of myself, allows me to view an experience from multiple perspectives, pulls up insights, and finds solutions--because writing accomplishes all these things--writing heals.

BONDING WITH OTHERS. Naming and articulating one's experience connects one with others. When a writer shares his or her writing, readers connect with the writer's experience and even connect more deeply with their own experience. Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia helps me to understand something of the depths one can reach in meditation, even though I have not had that experience myself. Nancy Venable Raine in After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back helps me to understand what it is like to be and to have been raped, insofar as one can understand this without the actual lived experience. Frank Schaeffer is one of many writers who connect me to my own experience and help me to understand myself more deeply.

CREATING. In writing, I create. I produce a piece of written work. Creating is deeply satisfying and increases my joy.

ENERGIZING. Writing energizes me. Sometimes when I write, I feel actual currents of energy flowing through my body.

FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD. This is extremely important. The act of writing causes me to study my subject closely. I look deeply into the person, place, object, or idea that I am writing about. This close study opens my subject to me in greater fullness and glory and increases my appreciation for my subject. In fact, writing causes me to fall in love with my subject. I can say that I love my sister Maria more deeply because I have written a poem about her. I love Cafe Luna on the Levee more deeply because I have written a piece about it. I love my Vermont rock more deeply because I have written about finding it and about what it means to me. I dare say that Frank Schaeffer loves his wife, Genie, more deeply because he has written so beautifully about her. The more subjects I write about, the more I fall in love with my world.

Frank Schaeffer's Patience With God--Writing and Words

My previous post gave an overview of Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism), which came out in October 2009. This is the first of several posts that explore ideas raised for me by Patience With God. This post will examine thoughts about writing, about expressing experience in words--a subject very dear to my heart.

Frank writes about the inadequacy of words in Patience With God, making the point that experience trumps words about experience. I think I understand what Frank means--that experience is key and that we can get so caught up in what others have said about God, for instance, that we fail to honor our own experience of God. Yet, when I read these passages about words in Patience With God, I want to say, "Frank, Frank, Frank--wait, wait, wait--but, but, but--there's a whole missing piece in what you're saying about words."

So--below are some things that Frank says about words in Patience With God, along with my response to Frank.

FRANK: Speaking of God, there are thousands of books hanging around my house worrying me. In those books are tens of millions of words. None of those words (including these) explain why the greatest pleasure that I experience during any given day is when I lose myself in the small yet overwhelming presence of my granddaughter. (Page x)

ME: Frank, your words may not explain to your satisfaction why your greatest pleasure is to lose yourself in your granddaughter Lucy's presence, but your words do capture your experience of Lucy, at least to some degree. Here is what I think your words do.

  • Preserve the memory of your experience of Lucy
  • Allow you to live your experience of Lucy a second time, to probe its meaning, to dive into its richness and depth, to make it clearer to yourself--to enjoy this experience more fully for having lived it twice, once through the lived experience, and again through the written experience
  • Bring up insights about your experience of Lucy that you might not reach if you didn't write about it
  • Experience the joy of creation in writing
  • Connect you with your readers through the sharing of your experience in words, for words are the only way I can share your experience. Obviously, I don't have your lived experience of Lucy, but your words do allow me to share the beauty of your experience to some degree.
Frank, you do use words so beautifully to convey and deepen your experience.

FRANK: In this game--the meaning game--it's all about intuition, hope, and the experience of life, a letting go of all concepts, words, and theologies because they can only be metaphors and hinder our experience of the truth as it is--not as we desire, believe, or hope it might be or should be, but as it is." (Page xii)

ME: I agree that others' words about God can hinder my own experience of God. This can happen if I let others' words determine my experience, if I brush my own experience under the rug or even refuse to have my own experience because I already "know" what the experience of God is like, since others have told me.

However, when I have my own experience of God (or of anything), I do believe that it is well worthwhile to put that experience into words. When I do this, the act of writing about my experience clarifies the experience and makes it more real to me. It is important, though, to hold my experience loosely, always being open to additional and even contradictory experience. I can then go on to make this new experience deeper and more real through words and yet hold it, too, loosely, always open to yet other experience.

FRANK: Are unnamed things meaningless? Do we have to understand something in order to experience it? (Page 56)

ME: I would say that unnamed things are vague. My experience is clearer, fuller, richer--more real, actually--when I can name and articulate my experience.

FRANK: None, be they Dawkins's atheistic sermons or religious tomes by men such as Thomas Aquinas, capture the empathy between Lucy and me, let alone describe one second of the actual reality. (Pager 57)

ME: Frank, I get that Dawkins's and Aquinas's words do not capture your experience of Lucy. But your words, Frank, do capture that experience. Your words even connect me with my own similar experience and help me to understand and deepen my experience. Your words do this for your readers. You are a writer who bonds closely with your readers through your words. That is why you receive so many emails in response to your books.

FRANK: I still bring Genie a cup of coffee in bed. I still say "I love you" to her and believe that those words have a deeper meaning than my genes fooling my brain. I still say "I love you" to Lucy, too, even before she can understand those words. I believe those words represent a choice. I also believe they embody a mystery that I'm not ashamed to enjoy rather than try to explain. (Page 58)

ME: Frank, I can't help but think that describing your experience of Genie in words actually heightens your enjoyment. I'll bet that when you write about your love for Genie, as you do so beautifully in Chapter 12, it causes you to fall in love with her even more deeply. (In fact, Chapter 12 causes me to fall in love with Genie!) This is because writing about a subject necessitates a close study of that subject--be it a person, a place, an object, or an idea--and that close study coupled with putting the result into words can't help but deepen your love. I think that writing about your wife causes you to fall yet more deeply in love with your wife and that writing about other subjects causes you to fall yet more deeply in love with the world.