Sunday, December 27, 2009

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!

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