Thursday, December 6, 2012

Portofino . . . the Mirror

I'm in the middle of my second reading of Portofino. I almost never read a book twice, but, something drew me back.  I've told people that I put this novel in my personal top 10, if not the top 5.  It is up there with The Way of All Flesh, and oddly for the same reason. I will get to that in a minute.

In case you don't know this book, and its popularity is modest at best, it is by Frank Schaeffer, son of my personal hero Francis. The book is the pretense of a novel with the unpretentiousness of a autobiography. Sure, the particulars are probably an invention of Frank's mind, but the context is without question from the real-life experiences of the man.

Part of the fun of the book for me is the fact that I, at least at one time, knew personally the unpretentious characters of the book. Not closely, but at arm's length.  I observed the family enough to know when he is talking about fictional character x, he is really talking about his sister Susan and character Y, is his sister Deborah. I spent several nights in the same room as his mother and all he says about the fictional mother rings true of the real woman.

I really think the book is a must read for all evangelicals who one day have this strange feeling deep in their soul that something isn't right. It is like a torch lite taking them out of the cave to the sunlight. At first it is like that proverbial chill up the spine while alone in a deserted old mansion, but no one is present in the room. You just can't describe the feeling.

While both books (including Butler's) are certainly not instructional manuals or even have a deliberate purpose to add clarity, they certainly do and seem to do it inadvertently.

Portofino (along with the other two books of the Becker trilogy) unpeels the layers of evangelicalism, one by one, and it is a bit brash like fingernails on the caulk board.  Not only do you get this Deja vu feeling, but the absurdity of the subculture at the center is like the Emperor's striptease in reverse.  Okay, enough tangential metaphors for one paragraph.

I think the book is key first step in moving from the 30th floor of the masquerade back towards the reality.  Maybe it is just distinguishing the 30th floor from the ground floor. I can see an evangelical reading it, and then one night the light bulb goes on. "It is just pretend after all."

But, to quote from the real angry dad, "He is There and He is not Silent," but I will add, He resides in reality . . . or He doesn't reside at all.

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