I first heard about Frank Schaeffer's newest book, Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics -- and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway (Da Capo Press, May 2011) a year ago when my wife, Anne, our friend, Gene, and I took the author out to dinner at one of the better Italian restaurants in San José. Frank was in San José to address a fundraising event for the Santa Clara County Council of Churches, and it was my job, on behalf of the Council of Churches, to host him during his visit to Silicon Valley; so Anne, Gene, and I decided to make an event out of the opportunity to share a meal with an author we admired.
It was a memorable meal (Frank and I had oso buco, Gene had risotto, Anne had pasta primavera, and the four of us sent two bottles of a particularly nice Dolcetto into San José's recycling program), and, like all good meals, the conversation was delightful. We shared stories and opinions, we grappled with complex issues, and we laughed -- at ourselves, at the world, and for the sheer joy of being happy together. Some friendships are wonderful because they have stood the test of time and have been freed from assumptions and preconceptions (my friendship with Anne is like this), some relationships are wonderful because they are maturing, blossoming into the beauty of a life-long, life-giving association (my friendship with Gene is like this), and some friendships are wonderful because they are new and promise the joy of discovery and an ever-growing sense of connectedness to the human family (this would describe my friendship with Frank). For me, the meal we shared that night was infused with three kinds of wonderful.
As we ate, Frank told us about his (then) forthcoming book, which, as he told it, was going to be about the twisted ways in which people like his mother understand sex and the Bible. Around that table, in the context of that meal's magic vibe, it sounded like it was going to be a most excellent and timely book.
So it was with a tinge of trepidation that I opened my copy of Sex, Mom, and God. I was a little bit afraid that the book wouldn't live up to the meal. But it did. From the opening words to the last paragraph, I felt as if I were back in the restaurant with Anne, Gene, and Frank. The book is written in a style that is, at the same time, intelligent and easy to read; it transitions smoothly back and forth between story-telling and point-making prose as Frank uses his experiences as a child and as a young man to inform the reader about the toxic brew of bad religion and regressive politics that has poisoned America's public life.
Frank Schaeffer's many fans will be familiar with much of the territory covered in Sex, Mom, and God; the great addition this latest book brings to Frank's other work, however, is the honesty and tenderness with which Frank addresses his mother, the influential and much-revered Evangelical writer, Edith Schaeffer. She is, at once, a Great and Mighty Woman of God, a talented artist, and someone burdened with lifelong frustration and sadness. In his portrayal of Edith Schaeffer, Frank is able to call out the nuttiness of the religious right and to humanize conservative and Evangelical Christians in the same narrative. It is the deft work of a talented writer practicing his craft.
What I like best about Sex, Mom, and God, however, is not what Frank says but how Frank delivers his message. Most of us currently writing about religion in America resort either to bombastic diatribe or to dry, monochromatic rhetoric. Frank invites us to sit down at his table and talk -- to share stories, tell a few jokes and to offer up our opinions in a way that is humble and kind without sacrificing the force of conviction. It is a bit of wisdom our entire nation -- hell, the whole world -- needs to hear.
So this is my recommendation: if ever you have the opportunity to share a meal with Frank Schaeffer, jump at the chance. Short of that, be sure to read Sex, Mom, and God.