Imperfect Families, Truth, and Sadness

aa-schaefferI have appreciated reading three Edith Schaeffer books in the past year or so.  Schaeffer especially loves creativity and articulately writes about the intersection of faith and creativity, as Creator God is the author and instigator of all things beautiful and magnificent in this world, and because He created us in His image, we can emulate Him in this area.

What is a Family? is a book about what the Christian family means and what it should be.  I read it to discuss with a friend and we thought it was a good book to introduce concepts of how Christian families should operate and work.  The book is full of tidbits of wisdom.  Schaeffer opines about how the family is the formation center for human relationships, a shelter in times of storm, a place for moral instruction, a place to build a museum of memories, and so on.   These are all good principles to bring to mind.

Of course, the problem with a book like this is, although these are good principles, no one should be boxed in.  I don’t think cookie-cutter families are the point, or even something that is desirable.  So, I think this book is a good reference for general insights, and not an exact prescription.

Also, Schaeffer put forth strong opinions a few times, about things I don’t think are clear in scripture, and this was a little off-putting.  One example pertained to working moms and a story about her being available for her children.  Schaeffer wrote about how her kids would come home from school and she would be making fresh orange rolls and give them a ball of dough to play with.

This seems idyllic and desirable—and I think being available for your kids is very important—but, I’m sure there are a lot of stressed out, frenzied stay-at-home moms and also there are working moms who are able to find balance who are really good moms, even if they are not always home to greet kids with fresh dough to play with after school.  I don’t think orange dough balls are all that important, although the story was sweet (no pun intended).  Other than that, I thought the book, overall, was a good read.

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So, then, I asked my friend who was discussing these Edith Schaeffer books with me, if she would read a book written by her son, Frank Schaeffer.  I knew that Frank Schaeffer strongly disagreed with his parents on matters of faith.  I wanted to get inside his head and see what he was thinking.  My friend was a good sport about it, and agreed to read it with me.

After reading Sex, Mom, and God, I have conflicting feelings about it.

Frank gives an intimate portrayal of some of the less-proud moments in the Schaeffer family.  If even a portion of what he says is true, yes, there was dysfunction.  But, it’s a sinful world and no one is perfect, and that doesn’t rock my life too much.  I believe that even sinful people (because all people are sinful) can speak truth and have theological insight.  I don’t think the Schaeffers ever claimed to be perfect.  I was, however, disturbed to read about Frank’s claim that his dad physically abused his mom (“hit” her).  Edith herself indicates that Francis had a periodic anger problem in her book What is a Family?

If this was truly the case, then Francis should have stepped down from Christian ministry to focus on his personal issues and make sure things were right in his family, before proceeding in ministry.

I think there is a problem any time there are Christian Superstars.  We should not put people on pedestals.  People are flawed.  Only Christ is perfect.  He deserves our worship, not humans who appear to have special insight.

The biggest thing that grabbed me when reading this book is the fact that Frank is bitter about his odd, missionary family, who often abandoned him for what they insisted was God’s work.  He just wanted to be a normal kid.  He wondered why his mom didn’t pursue her first love, ballet.  She was so creative and loved art so much.  Why couldn’t she stop worrying so much about her missionary obligations?  Why couldn’t she spend more time with him, instead of leaving so often to follow his dad around the world?  Why did they have to witness to heathen Italians at the beach instead of just enjoying their holiday?  Why couldn’t they be average?  This book, more than anything, is the mourning of lost normalcy.  

It seems the Schaeffers instilled in their son a lot of phrases and terminology about Jesus—which he later grew to resent and think was illogical and weird—but not a heartfelt love of what the bible is ultimately about: redemption and hope for imperfect people.  The bible is a love story about God saving mankind and wanting a relationship with them.  Frank grew up with a lot of knowledge about the minor things but not a transformative knowledge about the important things.

As a woman, I was also interested in reading how Schaeffer believes the God of the bible is anti-woman.  I thought his understanding of Old Testament stories were distorted, and I’m sure you would get other views of those stories and verses from true bible scholars, which Frank is not.  If anything Jesus was an early feminist because he had a high view of women and interacted with them like intellectual equals.  The Apostle Paul states in Galations that “there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  So, in my mind, gender distinctions are not the point of the bible and women are not demeaned in the bible.  But, that’s a topic that could be a whole blog post, or book, all by itself.

Just because the Schaeffers were imperfect people doesn’t mean they didn’t have truthful things to say.  But it is truly tragic that the Schaeffers witnessed to the whole world but lost their own son.  

That’s what the book left me feeling the most: sadness.

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