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FDL Book Salon Welcomes Frank Schaeffer: Crazy For God

< frank-schaeffer-crazy-for-god-_.thumbnail.jpgThe three-part subtitle to Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God sums the book up very well.

How I Grew Up as One of the Elect . . .

One of the most engaging aspects of this book is the fact that Frank has lived and moved in several very different worlds. He grew up in what sounds for all the world like a 1960’s fundamentalist retreat center/commune in Switzerland. L’Abri was founded by his parents Francis and Edith Schaeffer in the mid-1950s, not so much to get away from the world as to figure out how to engage it. From the Alps to the seashore, from prayer sessions to discos, from the kitchen to the living room to traditional museums to contemporary artists’ studios, the story of Frank’s growing up bounces and moves from one world to another. The world also comes to L’Abri via a procession of artists, musicians, filmmakers, poets, writers, and others looking to sit at the feet of his father, the evangelical version of a guru.  Says Frank (pp. 208-9):

The ethos of the sixties suited my parents perfectly. Dad had dropped out of the mainstream evangelical missionary environment in the late 1940s and then discovered the world of art. In the 1960, he was swept up in a subculture of rebellion when he began to listen to artists like Bob Dylan. The times mirrored Dad’s individualism. He was "into" big ideas; and, suddenly, so was everyone else. Dad knew how to "speak to young people so they understand," and suddenly other evangelicals wanted to know how to do that, too. Born-again Christians were confronted by a rebellious youth culture. Suddenly they needed Dad’s pop culture expertise.

They did indeed. And they also needed Frank’s.

. . . Helped Found the Religious Right . . .

In evangelical circles, Frank’s parents were a big deal. By the 1970s, Francis was a real draw on the evangelical speaker’s circuit, with Frank at his side and eventually stepping out as a leader on his own. As a 19 year old, Frank was the producer of a film series called "How Then Shall We Live?" built around his father’s lectures, and two years or so later he created his own production company called Schaeffer V Productions, which came to dominate the evangelical film landscape. By the 1980s, Frank had become a golden boy among evangelicals. He helped create a new way for evangelicals to be active in the world, working with and among folks like Bishop Fulton Sheen, Jerry Falwell, James Kennedy, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson from the religious world and folks like Jack Kemp, Henry Hyde, Bob Dole and others in the GOP political world.

After a while, though, it made him sick:

There were three kinds of evangelical leaders. The dumb or idealistic ones who really believed. The out-and-out charlatans. And the smart ones who still believed — sort of — but knew that the evangelical world was shit, but who couldn’t figure out any way to earn as good a living anywhere else. I was turning into one of those, having started out in the idealistic category.

(Have I mentioned that Frank is . . . ahem . . . plainspoken?)

. . . and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of it Back.

After a day of doing television and radio interviews, feeling more and more hypocritical about his role in all this, Frank came home to his wife Genie, raving about the Christian right and the political battles being fought: "If we win, the first person they’ll put up against the wall and shoot will be me!" After some back and forth, Genie pointed him toward what Frank called "my door back to sanity." Her advice was simple: "Why don’t you just quit and write a novel . . ."

It didn’t happen right away, it certainly wasn’t easy, but that’s just what Frank did. He left the evangelical world behind — the speaking, the religious film making, the political organizing, all of it — and into secular writing, publishing, and film making. Today, Frank has joined the Greek Orthodox church (which stresses the mystery of God as much as the fundies stress having all the right answers about God), and he writes regularly at the Huffington Post.

And the story is obviously not over.

After Dr. George Tiller’s murder, Frank spoke with Rachel Maddow about his role in helping to build up the religious right. As you can see from the interview below, Frank is not content with merely saying "I’m sorry," but is stepping up to help unmask and undo what he helped to build.

There’s no "if anyone was hurt . . ." nonsense to Frank’s apology, as we see all too often when public figures try to walk back their earlier actions.

Like many writers of moral/political/religious theories my father and I would have been shocked that someone took us at our word, walked into a Lutheran Church and pulled the trigger on an abortionist. But even if the murderer never read Dad’s or my words we helped create the climate that made this murder likely to happen.

Read the whole piece at the link, and you will find a refreshing candor about it — the same candor that comes through in the book — and a desire to reshape things for the better.

While I was reading Crazy for God, various words kept running through my head. Honesty. Hypocrisy. Integrity. We learn about a son growing up in the shadow of his famous father, and now see that son as a father himself who wonders what he’s putting his own kids through. We hear of the struggles of connecting personal belief with public action. The story swings wildly between episodes of poverty and scraping by as well as times of wealth and abundance. Along the way, we see the inside workings of the evangelical media world, the Hollywood studio world, the world of GOP politics and DC operatives, and more.

Crazy for God is a richly painted picture, laid out in vivid and engaging detail. From beginning to end, Frank does not appear to hold anything back, especially when talking about himself. There is deserved pride in his talents and accomplishments, as well as shame in his failures and shortcomings — and both get described in equal measure.

Please join me in giving a big FDL Book Salon welcome (and best wishes for Father’s Day!) to Frank Schaeffer.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.