Monday, May 30, 2011

Frank Schaeffer's Sex, Mom, & God: The Blessing in the Shadow Part II

In this post, I will try to show something of how Frank Schaeffer moves from revealing the shadow side of L'Abri in Crazy for God to revealing the blessing within that shadow in Sex, Mom, & God. First, I will zero in on the way Frank tells the story of his mother's almost love affair with a sensitive young poet in the two books. Then, I will compare the shadow within Edith, the blessing withing Edith, and the blessing for Frank.

I will begin with Edith's almost love affair. After reading the two accounts of this in Crazy for God and in Sex, Mom, & God, I would describe what actually happened like this. A sensitive young poet, twenty years younger than the very youthful-looking Edith, showed up at L'Abri and began to pay Edith special attention. Edith and this young man spent time in the woods together and prayed together. The young man collected ferns and flowers for Edith's artistic table arrangements. He understood Edith on a soul level in a way that Edith's husband, Fran, simply could not. He also asked Edith to marry him, but he and Edith never went so far as to have sexual intercourse. In the end, though, he went away, and Edith remained married to Fran.

In Crazy for God, Frank tells us the story of this almost love affair in a way that emphasizes Edith's failing. Here is what Frank says on pages 216-217:

On some days, Mom was hiding bruises on her arms; on other days, she was flirting shamelessly with Roger, a handsome "sensitive poet" from San Francisco, twenty years younger than her. This was the source of my parents' biggest fights.

Mom would take Roger to pray with her in the woods, to her prayer trees--a great and unique honor!--where he would collect moss, twigs, and flowers and make lovely Japanese-style arrangements. Dad was reduced to glaring fury by these activities. He never so much as picked a bunch of flowers, and now here comes this Roger, writing poems, empathizing with Mom's "if-only" wistful remembrances of opportunities lost, and endlessly seeking her spiritual advice.

In Sex, Mom, & God, Frank tells this story at greater length and with far greater sensitivity to his mother. Here,
Frank emphasizes Edith's longing for someone who understood her deeply and Edith's brave and selfless ultimate choice of her husband, her family, and continuity. On page 91, Frank speaks of his mother's need with sensitivity and understanding:

I think she also ached for someone in her bed who understood her flower arrangements soul to soul.

For Edith to contemplate a relationship with this young man--something so out of keeping with her professed beliefs--shows how deep her inner ache and longing must have been. For Edith to choose her family in the end shows how deep her sense of what is right must have been. Edith's ache and longing and her commitment to what is right--not Edith's failing--is what comes across in Sex, Mom, & God, where Frank recognizes not only the shadow but also the blessing within the shadow.

In Sex, Mom, & God, Frank describes the paradox that was his mother--a woman deeply committed to a narrow Christian fundamentalist worldview and to what she understood as God's restrictive call on her life yet also deeply committed to beauty and creativity. Within this paradox are shadow and blessing. The shadow is emphasized in Crazy for God, the blessing in Sex, Mom, & God.

THE SHADOW IN EDITH. The shadow predominates in Crazy for God. Edith drives her family crazy with the way she practices her faith. She prays long prayers before meals. She turns every conversation into an opportunity to witness for the Lord. She invades her children's privacy by sharing their private moments with others as illustrations of how God works. She overloads her children with sex information. She neglects Frank's education because she is so busy with the L'Abri ministry. She subtly criticizes her husband and his working-class background. She flirts with a sensitive young poet who visits L'Abri.

THE BLESSING IN EDITH. The blessing predominates in Sex, Mom, & God. Edith welcomes marginalized people to L'Abri; in Edith's mind, there should be no such thing as a marginalized person. Young pregnant women, for example, are welcomed and guided through their pregnancies. Edith loves literature and reads nightly to her children from the great literature of the world. Edith loves music and takes her children to concerts and operas. Edith loves art and nature and prepares beautiful artistic flower arrangements for the home. Edith is a wonderful and beloved grandmother to Frank's children. Edith gives up her opportunity for a soul-mate life-partner in favor of faithfulness to her husband and family and of providing continuity for them. Edith has the soul of a dancer and an artist. I should mention that the blessing of Edith also comes through in Crazy for God, but the shadow predominates in that book, while the blessing predominates in Sex, Mom, & God.

THE BLESSING FOR FRANK. In Sex, Mom, & God, Frank shows that his mother has been a great blessing to him. On page 91, Frank says, "I simply chose to follow the 'other' Edith Schaeffer, the one whose heart was elsewhere than in the lifeless theories she paid lip-service to." In following the "other" Edith Schaeffer, Frank has been greatly blessed. Here are some blessings that I see in Frank's life, stemming from his mother's legacy:

  • AN ARTIST'S LIFE. First, Frank loves art and derives great pleasure from art--visual art, music, film, writing. Second, Frank practices art and enjoys the flowering of his own creativity. He does this in writing, painting, cooking, and gardening, to name a few fields of his creative endeavors.
  • PARADOX. Although Edith espoused a one-right-way-only view of Christianity, she herself was a paradox in that she professed belief in a narrow version of "truth" yet practiced a wide love of people, the world, and art. Frank picked up on this paradox in his mother. The fact that Edith herself embodied paradox may have helped to pave the way for Frank to embrace a different version of Christianity, one that emphasizes life as paradox and God as Mystery. It is worth noting that Frank was able to see paradox within Christianity itself--he did not feel that he had to reject Christianity and move into some other belief system. While it is certainly fine to move into a different belief system, it is also good to recognize the many possibilities within one's own. Frank moved from the evangelical fundamentalist version of Christianity to the Greek Orthodox version. Christianity itself embraces the paradox of those who hold to a rigid and literal interpretation of the Bible with very exact and certain ideas about God as well as those who interpret the Bible more selectively and welcome the Mystery of God.
  • FRANK'S WIFE, GENIE. Frank married a wonderful wife, Genie, whom he loves deeply. Frank seems to have found in his marriage the depth of love that his mother craved. An important factor is that Frank chose Genie with his heart, not his head. Ideas of God and God's will or God's call were not part of Frank's choice of Genie, as I think they were in Edith's choice of Fran. When Edith chose Fran, she was (I believe) coming from the Christian fundamentalist side of herself, causing her to see Fran as a man with a firm dedication to God that matched her own and a strong intellect to support his beliefs. Edith's passionate artistic side would have chosen Fran as a friend but not as a husband. Frank, in contrast, chose Genie because his heart leaped toward her from the moment he first saw her. Clearly, this was a strong physical attraction, yet Frank's descriptions of his now forty-year marriage and his ever-deepening love for Genie indicate that the attraction went beyond the physical to the soul level. Frank shares with Genie the type of love that Edith craved to share with her husband. In choosing Genie, Frank was following the "other" Edith Schaeffer.

No comments:

Post a Comment