I recently finished reading Baby Jack by fellow-Huffington Post blogger and author, Frank Schaeffer. This is a novel where God is one of the characters and he's not terribly likable. Of course, there are instances in that other book titled simply The Bible where I don't find him so endearing, either. What made Schaeffer's novel even more interesting for me is knowing the author's background. I was initially stunned to realize that Schaeffer is the son of Francis Schaeffer, author of How Should We Then Live?, a book I'd read years ago.
See, in 1974, I came to the Lord and ten years later, I came to my senses.
Nevertheless, that engrossed decade in between was filled with reading many books with evangelistic and fundamental teachings and How Should We Then Live? was one of them. Back then, I longed to have had the opportunity to sit with Francis and his wife Edith in their Switzerland home they called L'abri and discuss my many questions regarding the Bible, which wasn't a bizarre desire, since the couple opened up their home for just that purpose. At the time, it seemed both bohemian and spiritual. So while reading Baby Jack, I couldn't stop wondering about Schaeffer, the son, and his own spiritual journey. I wondered, too, after having been raised in such a single-minded home, what gave him the freedom to write the way he did about God, who comes across as distant and uncaring, his language coarse. It's one thing to break from one's upbringing, if one is raised out of the limelight; however, to be the "wayward" son of a famous evangelist, must be something else altogether. For myself, I nearly had a breakdown when my reasoning began to pull me out of the influence I was under in the name of religion. I was sure that I was going to hell for questioning what was supposed to be unquestionable. Eventually, though, I was able to give myself the freedom to explore the myriad questions I had in my yet-to-be-published novel, Of Little Faith. The story would most certainly disappoint many fundamentalists since it addresses the variety of abuses that occur in the name of Christianity. My novel shows how people interpret their God's will while Schaeffer's lets God speak for himself. Interesting, but neither interpretation is radically different.
However, Baby Jack, stands on its own, even if the reader is not aware of the writer's background. On one hand, it is a simple story about a family dealing with issues many families have and on another, it is a very complex story that forces family members to look at each other in a different light. Much of this novel had to have been inspired by the author's very real life, since Todd Ogden is an artist, as is Schaeffer. Ogden has a son who joins the marines, as does Schaeffer. Ogden is none too happy about the decision, and I'm guessing that Schaeffer felt the same way, if only initially.
When I think about what it must take to be a marine, I view it as losing oneself, just as I lost myself when I became immersed in a fundamental-teaching church. The more I learned from so-called spiritual leaders, the more I was taught that I had to yield myself over to a Supreme Being. Jack's boot camp experience was similar, except, admittedly, Jack's was physically more grueling. However, even now, I struggle with a lack of understanding when people must sacrifice his or her beliefs in order to be reshaped. I suppose that is why when I look back on what I thought God wanted me to be, I was nothing more than an automaton having the control buttons to my life pushed by those interpreting their version of the Bible.
It's understandable that protagonist Todd Ogden, who has rejected his fundamentally evangelistic upbringing, was vehemently against his son Jack joining the marines. After all, being a marine and a born-again Christian means yielding to a higher power without question. If a marine is called to war, the marine must go, no matter what his or her personal opinion is; no matter if the war is questionable. If a Christian is called to make sacrifices, as deemed by a spiritual leader, they too must obey. Both callings first require a broken spirit, a dying to oneself, in order to be resurrected new.
Baby Jack provides a lot of food for thought and in true Bible lesson fashion, the author ends the novel with a list of suggested discussion topics for book clubs. The one difference is that unlike boot camp or Sunday school, there is the freedom to agree or disagree without being under the influence of a drill sergeant or preconceived notion of what God wants to hear.
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