Wednesday, January 16, 2008

L'Abri and me

Machines make snow

Frank Schaeffer (author of Crazy for God and son of Edith and Francis Schaeffer) would be mortified to see where I ski. He skied Alps. Swiss ones. Those Alps. My little patch of mid-winter bliss is located off I-275 in Indiana on the only hill trying to be a mountain in the entire state. It's always a surprise when you drive up to it. Not a hint of snow, barely a bump in the terrain and suddenly an eruption of pointy white. Today the proud peaks greeted us with snow blowers at full blast like giant white spray paint cans.

Snow! If God won't make it, machines will!

Frank Schaeffer said his favorite times of year were his two week vacations in Portofino, Italy in the summer, and his family's annual trip to Zermatt, Switzerland in winter to ski. Those would work for me.

My favorite day of the week in winter is the alliterative Wednesday. It's my escape from computer screens, washing machines, and the pervasive greyness of Ohio in January.

Crazy for God takes me to lots of familiar places, both physical and metaphysical. There's the Chalet Lez Melezes where I took many of my dinners at L'Abri (the ministry to college students and twenty-somethings in Switzerland), there's the little rickety bus that winds you up the mountain side from the train station in Aigle to Huemoz, home of L'Abri. I remember the wooden shutters over big windows, the long sermon-like prayers of Edith and the well stocked tape cassette library where I listened to Francis lecture on predestination and the sovereignty of God while gazing on daffodils sprouting on green hillsides, huge craggy peaks of white in the distance.

I loved my two stays at L'Abri, though I arrived for the first time in the spring of 1982 after Frank had left in 1980. I met his sisters and parents, but never met him. In 1983, I visited again in the summer for a longer two week stay. But something had changed. The atmosphere of L'Abri felt crumbly, like a cake left out too long on a counter. It had become a memory of itself, a tourist stop to see a by-gone era of young adult free-love hippie soul seekers, now replaced by Reagan-fans who raced through Europe to shop, not to find themselves.

Worse, perhaps, one of the workers introduced me to heresy.

I never have gotten along well with reformed theology. (Just ask my friends.) I worked hard to "get it" in the early days - asking the Holy Spirit to impart the doctrine to me in terms I could grasp, tolerate (I didn't expect to understand it all, I just needed to be able to respect and worship the God I was telling people about).

So after failing to appreciate the doctrine, even after the literally dozens of hours I spent in conversations, reading, and listening to cassettes, I made an appointment with one of the "workers" to have a one-on-one appointment ("workers" often turned out to be those people who got lost in the tulips, loved the alpine lifestyle, and stayed on to talk theology for the benefit of other seekers).

I unburdened myself to this poor nearly 30 year old guy.

What is the point of missions if God has already picked who will or won't go to heaven?

How can God be called loving and only choose some for salvation, since we're all sinners, since none of us deserves heaven? If the choice is random, doesn't that make God a capricious God?

Why don't all Christians accept this theology?

Ah. That was the ticket. That's the question that uncorked the months of bottled up theological fizz-turned-high-pressure-spray. For the next hour and a half, I listened to all of his doctrinal complaints, the way a nurse might listen to an 80 year old woman's body ailments: "I have a creaky knee, and my ankle pops, and yes, that doctrine makes God capricious!"

He had the same problems with predestination I did (and the "years of study and debate" chops to back it up). He had a problem with the trinity. He had issues with the Bible. And all of these he planned to resolve in the most heretical place known to humankind (and L'Abri): Fuller Seminary (the bastion of all things slippery slope to hell). I know. You're shaking in your boots.

Once this worker had declared his seminary destination, his worker status was terminated. While a diversity of seekers were welcome, apparently a diversity of conclusions were not. I happened upon this worker while he was clearing out his books to move to California. He wrote down several titles for me to read. I read one: Grace Unlimited by Clark Pinnock (Bethany, 1975).

I loved it, tried to talk about it with my Campus Crusade friends and staff. Instead, I was told I had exposed myself to heresy. So I put Pinnock's ideas on the back burner and redoubled my efforts to be a good evangelical. Ironically it would be Clark Pinnock's writings again that led to the renewed examination of my faith in the 1990s (and also would become the source of much painful online communication with new friends).

Yesterday, though, was all about skiing for me. Riding up my little mountain, I thought about Frank's strange life in the Alps and what Jan and Stan Berenstain (authors of "Too Much Birthday") might have called "Too Much Theology."

Since May, I've been on an accidental theology fast. It's been good. Skiing even better.

Look at the way the snow blower gets the trees even though everywhere else is green. The snow is an illusion we buy into while we ski. Surreal, isn't it?

Ski day


Ampersand said...

I love reading your thoughts and connections to the book.

The photos are amazing. You have such a good eye for composition.

Dave said...

That's a nice tasty morsel to savor, Julie. I like the parenthetical ski pics/story around the L'Abri recollection...

Gregster said...

Clark Pinnock's "The Openness of God" was the last book I read before beginning my journey out of evangelicalism.

Bilbo said...

Love the pics Julie, and the walk down L'abri memory lane. I can relate to being introduced to some unorthodox or left leaning things while I stayed at L'abri. Mardi Keyes, one of the leaders of L'abri near Boston introduced me to Egalitarian theology and Mardi's son, whom I have forgotten his name, introduced me to the music of U-2 and he let me borrow his cassettes while I did my work at L'abri...

Dalissa 365 said...

Really cool photos.

Kansas Bob said...

Your thoughts around L'Abri reminded me of the cult-like experiences of the Bill Gothard conferences.. narrow.. hard-nosed.. a bit arrogant.. appealing to the "Christian thinker" but damaging to the seeking heart.

These places seem to be ones focused on externals.. ones that embrace mental gymnastics and gloss over the diffcult issues of the heart. Small wonder that evangelicalism is so messed up.

On a brighter note.. I loved the pics Julie.. how do you manage to carry your camera with you so much? Small camera, cell phone camera or big purse? :)

julieunplugged said...

Bob, I shoot with a Nikon Coolpix which is purse-sized. It does the job. :) I put the little camera in my zip pocket of my ski pants (fits just right) and pull it out when I need a photo.

I got in the habit through 365 and really hate it now when I see a shot and haven't brought the camera with me. So now I just keep it with me all the time.


Agree about Bill Gothard's seminars. And I think you'd enjoy Crazy for God. Good writing.

carrie said...


I'm reading Crazy for God right now. It's been an eye-opener for me, and yet I'm not really all that surprised by some of the revelations. I was at Swiss L'Abri in 1976. I remember my dad bought one of Frank's paintings. I wonder where it is now.

Can you believe I've never been skiing?

julieunplugged said...

Carrie, I knew your family was friends with his. That's wild that your family owns a Frank painting. What do you know?

Sounds like you were there in the hey-day. I was not. I was there as it broke down.

You need to go skiing!!

Haley said...

I was at Labri in 1983 and was wondering who this heresy guy was - one of my favorite people there was an older single man(60's?) who often (or always) wore overalls and had close cropped hair, maybe shaved - and he explained very sincerely his theory of why we laugh. I don't remember his name and was just thinking of him, thought I might be able to google a "1983 Labri Workers"
and find something - I came to your blog which I enjoyed - anyway do you remember him and was he the "heresy" introducer. By the way as I remember Labri then it was after Dr. Shaeffer's death and everything was a bit broken, though I did enjoy diggin potatoes out of the ground while staring at the Alps.