Monday, March 10, 2008

Why (You Can’t Ask Me Why) I Am A Feminist: Some Frank Thoughts

Fly, fly, fly, my baby gets me high
I spent too much time in taxicabs,
Please don't ask my why.
We'll honeymoon in Haifa and have lunch in Galilee,
Hitchhike up through Switzerland and drop in at L'Abri
We'll spend our winters in Laguna
And our summers on the farm
And the rest of life in heaven locked in each others' arms.

--Larry Norman
So Long Ago, The Garden

A family may place undue pressure upon a child of the family by expressing abnormally high expectations of behavior or achievement—just because the child is a child of their family. . . Some people are totally caught in this, but all of us have something of it within ourselves, swinging pendulum-like between conceit and despair.
--Francis August Schaeffer
True Spirituality, page 135

There is that within us that tenaciously wants to remain on the throne of our lives, our sense of omnipotence and egocentricity. In our words, attitudes, feelings, and behaviors we can hear the infant, “his majesty the baby,” inside sometimes shouting, “I want my way. I want what I want. I want to be in control of all that has to do with my life, and I will prove that I am.”
--Harry Tiebout
Alcoholics Anonymous, page xxii

I wish you could join us for my birthday party this week. My wife has invited her birth parents and mine over for dinner to celebrate at our house.

I wish you’d ask yourself why you’re (not) a feminist. If it helps, you’re invited into my story.

The first time I ever heard my birth-father apologize to my birth-mother was when I visited them in their home at the winter break of my freshman year of college. Dad, a professional minister, was as excited as a new Christian. He just kept finding moments in our conversations to repeat a certain expression of another pastor who’d led a conference in the USA they’d just returned from, a conference for pastors and missionaries “and their wives.” My Dad kept confessing this expression: “We practice daily what we believe; all the rest is religious talk.” And one day, and when she really needed it, for the first time I ever heard it, he told Mom he was sorry. That was the beginning of the transformation of my father, their marriage, and our family, in many ways.

The changes have been painfully slow but wonderfully steady. And yet, by the time practice and religious talk met belief, I’d already as a little kid made many “never land” promises to myself and my future spouse and our children. In sum, I’d vowed this: “I will never treat you that way!” I'll turn 46 this week, and I'm still getting to know and listening to and learning from my wife and children. (You know, a change’ll do you good.)

These are hardly speakable things, but why should they be left to your imagination? You tell me. (I’ve already told you some of my story; and have let you meet some of my mothers; and some of my teachers. And you may have already imagined that I began learning something new in Professor Charlotte Hogg’s first class day in the Rhetoric of Women Writers, a course that wasn’t my first choice in the Ph.D. my first semester, when she had us students talk those very first fifteen minutes about what “feminism” means to us—though it meant less to me, at the time, than even the rhetoric of women writers, who are writers that can think and write so much differently than the men I’d been reading at the time; Professor Hogg had the audacity, the second quarter hour, to make us write privately who it was we were reading, and I so had to confess then and there to myself that I’d read mainly men, including Francis A. Schaeffer a good bit once upon a time, but thought much less of the writings of his wife Edith Schaeffer, and probably because she is a woman).

Francis and Edith begot Franky Schaeffer. I want to talk now about this young man. He represents in some ways Why (you can’t ask me why) I am a feminist. (You see, or maybe you don’t: Frank and I wear some of the same labels, and that might help you with your own story).

Some labels you can choose: feminist, Christian, postmodernist, atheist, modernist, agnostic, Greek Orthodox, linguist, academic, ESL teacher, rhetorician, student, novelist, autobiographer, and biographer of your son, and biographer of your father. But other labels are chosen for you: man, woman, missionary kid, preacher’s kid, red (skin), yellow (skin), black (skin), white (skin), and your native speaker status for all the languages you learn before puberty.

When people talk about you or the labels that are chosen for you, then you (especially if you’re Jacqueline Jones Royster) can write an article entitled, “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” She says her Mother told her (and so she tell us her readers) to watch our manners—remember your home training.

When you share the labels chosen for you, and when you share those labels with someone else, then it’s a family conversation. If you’re not in the family, then you’re an eavesdropper.

You have my permission to overhear some of the things I talked about with Frank when he was blogging nastily (at Huffington Post) about his mother and father. He wrote:
“Those of us with evangelical/fundamentalist backgrounds are doomed to a lifetime spent trying to re-imagine the divine.”
and I replied:
Yes, we’re doomed; and yes we're blessed. Re-imagining is no bad thing. Neither is this irony: your father's writings have actually helped me escape from “anti-worldly, don't-think-for-yourself” evangelical/fundamentalism. Now I'm an in-process-in-the-moment-substantially-feminist-academic-anti.modernist-evolutionist whom Jesus seems okay with embracing. And like you (and your own mother), Frank, I'm a missionary kid (with evangelical-Christian parents). I'm also married to a (recovering) fundamentalist-Christian preacher's kid. Like you and your spouse, we have children too. (Now they get to experience their parents’ recovery from captivity to evangelical/fundamentalist parents. Can you imagine what they'll blog some day about us? By the way, my son has your son's name and your dad's: he’s the kid at the end of David Hopkin’s online article, “Francis Schaeffer: The Last Great Modern Theologian.”)

I'm glad you’ve co-written things with your dad and with your son. I mostly love what you’ve written. But just I’m puzzled that you feel you have to save your God from your father. Why announce, for example, that his friends were people like Falwell (as if these were his main companions or the only ones he influenced)? Are you really so black and white (like a fundamentalist)? Re-imagining the divine is no bad thing, unless we’re really doomed to a lifetime spent trying to re-imagine the (more-than-fundamentalist) shadows of our fathers (as simple, simply unimaginative evangelical idiots).
Then one of my good friends sent me the rather unChristian Christianity Today article on Frank’s latest book reviewed by Os Guinness (who confesses he—Os G—is not a “family” member). So you can hear my response (and notice Os hasn’t used the f-word, and see how I also don’t use the “feminist” self label with this friend because he tells me he doesn’t like the word, and I want him, otherwise, to hear my disdain, to hear some of the pain). So I whine:
Is Guinness's saying that Frank's view is “overwhelmed by a blindness and bitterness that cannot be excused” excusable? Os goes on with his enumeration of the flaws of the book, the flaws of the more favorable responses to the book, and the gravest of central defects--Frank's ostensible “neglect, guilt, nepotism, and spoiling.” Who better to make such claims than the “best man” in Frank's wedding? What are members and close friends of the Schaeffers to do with the book and now with the review? What are members of the larger family of God?

True, how can Franky read Paul to Timothy with any conviction at all? “Do not sharply rebuke an old man but appeal to him as a father”

Franky Schaeffer's blogging at Huffington Post has been malicious for some time. He's railed against both his father and his mother, and has caught flack from readers. I even sent in a comment which he posted, comparing him with his mother, also a missionary kid. No longer a little Napoleon in his parents home, he's been writing as a father of his own son (two books, one with his son) and writing seris of novels (in which the protagonist is a "fundamentalist"-missionary-kid son). Does he know what a father is?

An MK, a PK, a son, a Christian, a postmodernist (who reads with amusement Os Guinness's CT phrasal grenades, “postmodern sneer,” “the postmodern disease,” then “Our postmodern age is a free schooling in cynicism,”), a writer, a reader, and a father who's named his own son “Schaeffer” after Francis, I've got a few more thoughts on this. But I'm not able to take more time in this email to say anything else, as if you want or need to hear any of that. So thank you for sending the book review!
So if you’ve stayed with me this long, then you’re beginning to see that I must leave much to your own imagination why I’m both a Christian and a feminist. Imagination is good. Yours is very good, I must say! Some things are unspeakable.
Now let’s just end with three good and imaginative and related things:
1. Larry Norman imagines this tragedy:
if we could live in shakespeare’s day
i wonder who we’d be
if people then could live today
i wonder who we’d see. . .

would henry viii use etiquette
in a busy new york luncheonette?
would cleopatra die when when bit?
or save herself with a tourniquet?
would beethoven join a jazz quartet?
would ben hur drive a blue corvette?
would aristotle be an acid head?
would cain kill abel with a bayonet
nothing really changes
everything remains the same
we are what we are, till the day that we die
3. You adults who struggle with imagination may want to read Edith Schaeffer’s autobiography for children in which she’s really, truly named Mei Fuh.

4. Anyone (listening in to family conversations and) still bitching and moaning about Frank breaking one of the 10 commandments (i.e., that one about honoring mother and father) may want to read Edith’s book, 10 Things Parents Must Teach Their Children (And Learn for Themselves).

There still are a few things to learn for ourselves, and I speak for myself. Thanks for stopping by.

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