Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crazy For God, A Critical Review

“Great men, even during their lifetime, are usually known to the public only through a fictitious personality. Hence the modicum of truth in the old saying that no man is a hero to his valet.” ~Walter Lippman

This past summer I wrote a blog entry about the autobiography of Mark Twain in which I praised certain features of his approach to autobiography. Chiefly, I was impressed by his sensitivity to the feelings of others around him whom he might injure through excessive candor. Because he was not interested in couching his words and suggesting things between the lines, and he really wanted just to be totally open, he chose to request that the most honest version of his life be withheld from being printed till 100 years after his death. This liberated him from any concerns about hurting people he knew because they would be "dead, and unaware, and indifferent."

How liberating! And how contrary to today’s method of tell-all journalism and tell-all autobiography in which it matters not how many people we lacerate, but only that we are authentic and earnest.

So here it is only a few months past and I’ve recently finished Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy For God, an autobiographical tale that is much more because Schaeffer is the son of world-renowned evangelical author and defender of Biblical veracity Francis Schaeffer. The Schaeffer’s L’Abri Retreat Center had a profound impact on countless lives with its intelligent approach to Biblical scholarship while remaining open to the meanings and impact of modernism. But this idyllic community was far from a Paradise in the Alps, and the younger Schaeffer dispels any myths a reader might have by giving his own inside take.

Frank Schaeffer, who grew up as Franky Schaeffer V, saw the inside story on his famous family and it was no doubt troubling, since like so many a famous family there are feet of clay. The world’s brokenness leaves no family untouched, hence the Lippman quote placed atop this blog entry.

Frank Schaeffer claims no ill will in this airing of dirty laundry which includes his mother’s ambition and control and the many difficult, noisy conflicts between his parents which even included a measure of domestic violence. But to be honest, I just don’t get it. Is this a book about his coming of age without losing his faith in spite of immersion in the insanity of Fundamentalism. Or is it an attempt to scratch the veneer off the Schaeffer reputation and distance himself from his earlier accomplishments with Franky Schaeffer V Productions which included directing How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

I think back on how I met his mother once. In the 1980’s when Francis Schaeffer was being treated for cancer at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic there was an ecumenical anti-abortion rally in a baseball field across from an abortion clinic in St. Paul, MN. Dr. Schaeffer was one of many in a panoply of speakers that included rabbis, Catholic, Episcopal and Protestant pastors.

For me personally, one of the most striking memories of that day was what happened in the aftermath. The following day's Pioneer Press did not even carry a story about the rally. 5,000 had gathered and not a drop of ink spilled. Yet, the front page of the paper carried an article about 8 people protesting a nuclear warhead-related technology company in Boston.

The second significant memory for me that day was my getting a chance to speak with Edith Schaeffer, Franky's mom, the husband of Francis Schaeffer. She was milling around on the sidelines while her husband was preparing to address the crowd. When I found her she seemed disarmingly warm and I was made to feel quite comfortable and unimposing. She shared with me briefly about her husband's battle with cancer and the prospects. I asked about her son because I'd read Franky's A Time For Anger and Addicted To Mediocrity. Her eyes glowed, her face beaming as she said, "We're really proud of Franky."

She was a mom. And a writer. Her book Hidden Art I also owned and read, so I liked her. I appreciated that she made me feel like I was welcome to share those minutes with her, that I was not intruding. I snapped her picture and made my way over to where her husband was preparing to address the gathered crowd.

In light of these moments, Frank Schaeffer's book feels like such a betrayal. His mother was still alive, in her 90's, when this book appeared in print. If she is too insensible to be hurt by it I don't know but it had to have been painful to one of his sisters. But the critics loved it. They now had their dirty linen.

De-Converting.com wrote: “A must read for the de-converting…It is brutally honest, eye-opening, at times laugh out loud funny, and heart breaking.”

And from the American Authors Association: “A story that needed to be told…A very personal and brutally honest memoir, that opens up and exposes the underbelly of the evangelistic movement…Gives the reader a rare and different look at some of various leaders of the fundamentalist moment...The book may open some eyes and minds about the dangers of politics and religion…A must read book for serious seekers looking for their own authentic path to enlightenment, or at least some inner peace.”

Frankly, is nothing sacred any more? I agree whole-heartedly with the dangers of politics and religion. I just feel uncomfortable seeing people hurt loved ones for personal gain. I mean, Frank is making money off this expose, right? Whereas there many be some important insights here, my opinion is that a lot of this book should simply have been left in the hands of his therapist.

So be it.

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