Sunday, July 1, 2012

pondering wild goose: frank schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer is a name I’m well familiar with - not only from my years growing up as a member of Thomas Road Baptist Church and a graduate of both Lynchburg (now Liberty) Christian Academy and Liberty University (Jerry Falwell's, for those that don't know).  His influence was even more prominent at the Calvinist, Reformed Baptist church my husband and I attended for several years as a young married couple.  Frank is his son, and he's become famous (or infamous) in his own right:  to conservatives, he's considered a traitor - to progressives, a bit of a hero.  But it turns out, he's just a man - a husband, father, and grandather who writes for the Huffington Post from time to time and has several books out (Patience with God was especially good).  He is one of many post-evangelical, post-religious-right, next-generation voices that I find (whether I agree with them or not) that I can relate to, given our shared background.  Jay Bakker is another.  Frank's tone hasn't always been what I’d call kind, but I must admit there's a certain appeal to someone who shoots straight and doesn't leave you wondering what he really thinks.

Frank Schaeffer, Wonder for Cynics
I’d only highlighted a few sessions in my copy of the Wild Goose schedule, ones I intended to make certain not to miss: Friday afternoon's "Wonder For Cynics with Frank Schaeffer" at 1:00 was one of them.  The kids and I shared lunch at the campsite, then hurried back to catch his talk. The youth/kids activities didn't pick up again until 2, so I tried to play it off positive: "You can rest in the shade with your hand-held fans while I listen".  They were less than enthused.  Still, Frank's dynamic style held their interest, and his occasional use of four-letter-words kept their ears perked.  He even made them laugh out loud a few times!

As we arrived , Frank was passionately recommending the movie Hellbound, which many had seen in a premiere screening the night before; unfortunately, I missed it (by the time it started at 11, we were sound asleep).  It comes out officially this fall, and Frank seems to think it will be a “game changer”. I’d like to hope it will help open honest conversation on the matter, but I admit I’m pretty jaded.  Love Wins by Rob Bell had great potential for opening up conversation, too.  That’s not exactly what happened, though - most folks responded by retreating further into their prospective corners.  Maybe he’s right, though ... maybe this time it will be different.

For those who watched that preview and are still willing to read further :) I’ll share the raw version of my notes from Frank’s talk before elaborating further.  He reviewed his background, then explained that he now worships at an Orthodox Church with his family, including grandaughter Lucy.  Much of his talk had to do with her - so much so that, after praising President Obama for a bit, he joked, "Now, you may ask, what - is he God? No, of course not! He's not even Lucy!"


exile, experience of leaving – get to other side – but what’s next?

what comes after cynicism?

true understanding of GRACE

talking to his granddaughter = talking to Jesus

“words that now have greatest spiritual impact on my life are words of love from family”

recalls weight of doubt - Christopher Hitchens asked, “But why aren’t you an atheist?”

book Patience with God

child looking on you with love is the face of God: sees you as you wish you were, doesn’t know your history (or care to know)

unconditional love

intersection between faith and doubt for burnt out cynics is LOVE

for him now, comfort doesn’t come from a book, comes from love every day right in front of me

seems oversimplified

what’s left? pass on compassion

granddaughter Lucy “Are you upset with me?” “No, there’s nothing I love more in the world than you”

kind word to stranger could literally save their life

science tells us energy came before matter – that energy is LOVE – that energy is GOD

Lucy healed him to where he’ll now give a clear cut answer after years of mistrust – she asked “who made the rock?” and without blinking he said “God did”

“someday I want her to come to a kind of faith like this" – "let’s fight for the witness of the gospel”

when in season of doubt, ideas will not save you, you’ll never figure it out – love someone unconditionally, let them love you unconditionally, show compassion for all, treat someone with decency and you will feel decent

As I copy the above words from pencil-scribble-in-a-notebook to official-looking-type, I feel a familiar sensation.  Anxiety whispers, “this is heresy”.  But here’s the thing about Frank – he’s not afraid of heresy anymore, he's too invested in what has real value.  He has nothing left to lose, and nothing more to prove - not to himself or anyone else.  He doesn’t feel the need to make the words sound “correct” or “safe”. 

Now, me - I could rewrite every phrase above in “Christianese”, then support each one with proof texts.  They’d say pretty much the same things, but sound more acceptable - less risky.  But I’m not going to do that, and I’m glad Frank doesn’t.  Because someone else refused to play that game.  He spoke so plainly, with words so true but so shockingly human that the religious leaders literally tore their clothes in response.  We don’t talk about faith that way anymore, most of us.

Is Frank Jesus?  Not hardly.  But I liked the earthiness with which he spoke.  Thirty years away from evangelicalism have clearly freed him from the need to filter every word phrase through a mental doctrine-detector before uttering them.  This realization, on my part, was probably the biggest take-away from his session:  I gained a fresh appreciation for courageous clarity, along with a determination to develop more of the same in my own words, whether spoken or captured in print.

Frank in the dunk tank
Frank also said that last year’s Wild Goose sent him home a kinder, gentler man.  This made me smile. I’d never met the young right wing evangelical poster-boy Frank, or the cynical reactionary Frank who came later.  But I have met the “kinder, gentler” Frank.  We walked together for a bit, sharing a private conversation which I enjoyed immensely.  Tiny things, from his concern that I not be run off the road by a passing golf cart, to his genuine interest in each of my children, to his intense attention for the details of my own story, impressed upon me the beauty of a life lived (as Richard Beck describes) ex curvitas se, outward toward others.  And that's sweet fruit, if you ask me.

I left touched by the (yes) miraculous, healing power of experiencing the gospel of grace - minus its false baggage – amongst a community of bravely honest people.  It's changing Frank.  It’s changing many of us Wild Geese.  And that is why we cannot shrink back when others warn “heresy!”  What's at stake is worth the risk. There exists a pearl of great price… a Kingdom not built with human hands, where Justice and Peace kiss and Love does indeed win.  We’ve caught a glimpse of it, and we’ll not be the same.

The Spirit of Wonder still woos the most jaded of cynics.


sxmmmm said...

blown away by Frank. We were at that first session as well. honest. raw.

so many valuable tweets from his talks:

The great heresy of the evangelical movement is that they do not follow God, they follow a book about God.
~Frank Schaeffer #WildGoose12

Believers should worship God, not the books about God. Seek out mysterious truths that words can't describe. ~Frank Schaeffer #WildGoose12

Frank Schaeffer said...

Thanks for the very kind note on our time together at WG. It really is an honor to be included in your writing.

Pam Cain said...

Weeks after Wild Goose and what Frank said is still very much with me (and this from a person who rarely remembers what she did yesterday). It was a powerful talk.