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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »

Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »

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Powell's Q&A

Frank Schaeffer

Describe your latest project.
My memoir, Crazy for God, is an attempt to stop lying. I wanted to try and come clean. I wanted to admit my mistakes. I wanted to try to be the same person to everyone I met. You can be the world's biggest hypocrite and still feel good about yourself. You can believe and wish you didn't. You can lose your faith and still pretend, because there are bills to be paid, because you are booked up for a year, because this is what you do.

One morning in the early 1980s, I looked out over several acres of pale blue polyester and some twelve thousand Southern Baptist ministers. My evangelist father — Francis Schaeffer — was being treated for lymphoma at the Mayo Clinic, and in his place I'd been asked to deliver several keynote addresses on the evangelical/fundamentalist circuit. I was following in the proudly nepotistic American Protestant tradition, wherein the Holy Spirit always seems to lead the offspring and spouses of evangelical superstars to "follow the call."

At that moment we Schaeffers were evangelical royalty. When I was growing up in the religious community of L'Abri (founded by my parents in 1954 in Switzerland ) it was not unusual to find myself seated across the dining room table from Billy Graham's daughter or President Ford's son, even Timothy Leary. Only later did I realize that L'Abri attracted a weirdly eclectic group of people who otherwise would not be caught dead in the same room. My childhood was, to say the least, unusual.

Crazy for God charts my journey from being born the son of cultic religious leaders to the present, with detours into Hollywood and the movie business, art and (at last!) the lucky stumble into writing fiction and nonfiction — in other words what I do for a living today.

It turns out it was easier to move beyond my parents' beliefs intellectually, than to abandon my gut responses. So who instilled those responses? In other words, who were we? It depends on what moment you choose to become a fly on my wall. People are not as one-dimensional as the stories about them. There is no way to write the absolute truth about any family, much less my family or me. The only answer to "Who are you?" is "When?"


  1. Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back
    $15.50 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "Interesting glimpses into the burgeoning religious right folded into a deeply personal memoir." Kirkus Reviews
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
I was an evangelical "leader" for a while. Sometime in the early 1980s I was with Pat Robertson in a secret meeting Pat called to help John Whitehead set up the Rutherford Institute, a (then new) group that was going to be the "Christian answer to the ACLU."

While I was with Pat, I was going to be on the 700 Club — again. So after the closed-door meeting ended I was standing in the green room before the show in a circle of prayer, in other words squeezing some stranger's sweaty hands with our heads bowed. We all held hands while people shouted out this and that to God, or whispered heartfelt prayers, until a very cute girl in a tight pink dress opened the door, quiet and prayerful and oozy as Liquid Plumber, and the producer murmured a last, "Amen and Aaaamen!" and the oozy cute girl whispered, "Pat's ready, praise the Lord!"

Pat was sitting in a big old fashioned barber chair with his makeup and hair girls fussing around him doing last minute touch-ups. He still had the paper make-up ruffle tucked around his neck. It made him look like a stripped-down Dutch seventeenth century pastor in a Rembrandt, only under Pat's neck ruffle he had on a cashmere tan jacket rather than black robes.

Suddenly Pat said, "I went out to my garage this morning and a snake was curled up right next to the passenger side door of my car. So I got a shovel and killed it. Then I go outside to throw its body into the woods and there's another snake sitting on the path!" (Long goofy chuckle) "Well, folks, you need to know that I've lived in that house ten years and never seen a snake before! I knew the Lord was trying to tell me something! Would you believe it but everywhere I turned there were more and more snakes! My arms got tired smiting them! Finally God spoke to my heart and said, 'Pat, no matter how many serpents you smite I'll send more so trust in me, Pat, not in your own strength!' I'll tell you what, ladies and gentlemen," said Pat, swiveling the make up chair to survey us all, "the snakes are the sins contaminating the Body of Christ! The Secular World's not our only problem ladies and gentlemen it's our own sin that's grieving the Lord's heart and delaying His return!"

How do you relax?
I cook, I garden and I build things — and sex, of course. Mainly I've lived in one house long enough — 28 years — to feel like I'm home.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
Jane Smiley emailed me after she read a piece of mine in the Huffington Post. We began corresponding and she told me that one of the stories in her latest book was based on something that happened to my brother-in-law. I ran out and bought Ten Days In The Hills. Great book.

What makes your favorite pair of shoes better than the rest?
I had polio when I was two. One leg looks like road kill. My left foot is a mess and no shoe likes it. But vanity prevents me from wearing a special boot. So when I find shoes that fit I tend to carry them on flights in case my luggage is lost, and know where they are in case I have to choose just one thing to save from my house if there is a fire. The best shoes I have are an Italian pair of boots that were originally $500 but that I got on sale for $130 about five years ago. As of this summer (while walking around Napa) the leather finally cracked along the crease above the toes on the right foot! I'm planning on trying to find a shoe repair place that will patch them.

Describe the best breakfast of your life.
Champagne and caviar shared with my wife Genie while we were in bed (sometime in the 1970s). We were in our early twenties and my art teacher had advised us on the menu, gave us the champagne, the caviar and told me to try it for breakfast. The fact that he had once worked as a cameraman for the Nazis didn't spoil the meal. Genie is beautiful and was naked. The mountains in the background were themselves: the Rhone Valley with its patchwork of fields, orchards, roads and villages miles below, up to the flower-studded hayfields and steep forest-clad hills behind our village topped off by the peaks towering over everything. The champagne was dry, and Genie tasted like caviar when I kissed her.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?
Cooking for my children and grandchildren and seeing them gathered at our table.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Every November in the Metropolitan Museum of Art a group of volunteers — mostly middle-aged and elderly ladies working under the direction of the museum's conservancy department — put up the "Angel Tree" and decorate it with Neapolitan eighteenth- and nineteenth-century terracotta and wood silk-clad figures; beautifully painted faces gentle and innocent; swirling robes of silk, rich as thick smoke curling heavenward — a nativity scene to break even my cynical heart.

Off to one side is the entrance to the halls holding the Byzantine collection, a glittering reminder of how Greek and Roman art merged seamlessly into the Byzantine world, carrying forward a message of beauty and civilization. People are coming up from the cafeteria downstairs buttoning their coats, getting ready to leave and intending to hurry past the tree. But they linger. I linger.

An art purist might call the seasonal tableau sentimental. But the Met and museums everywhere, fight to preserve the human meaning found in our most precious artifacts, and many of those artifacts — from Syrian gods to Italian Virgin and Childs — reflect the fact that we humans take hope in the irrational.

Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.

Five Great Books About the Eastern Orthodox Church:

Bible, Church, Tradition: An Easter Orthodox View (Collected Works Vol. I) by Georges Florovsky

The Sprit of Eastern Christendom 600–1700 (The Christian Tradition Vol. 2) by Jaroslav Pelikan

The History of the Church by Eusebius

The Great Church In Captivity by Steven Runciman

The History of the Byzantine State by Dimitri Obolensky

÷ ÷ ÷

Frank Schaeffer was born in Switzerland. He is a survivor of polio, an acclaimed writer who overcame severe dyslexia, a home-schooled and self-taught documentary movie director, a feature film director and producer of four ("pretty terrible") low-budget Hollywood features, and a best-selling author of fiction and nonfiction. Frank and his wife, Genie, live in Massachusetts and have three children. spacer

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