Discussion Questions, “What is a Family?” by Edith Schaeffer

This month we wind down our reading of What is a Family? I hope these questions are useful to guide personal reflection or to use in your reading group.  Let me know your thoughts!


1. In her book Edith Schaeffer looks at the family through various lenses, she describes a family as:
A changing life mobile
An ecologically balanced environment
The birthplace of creativity
A formation center for human relationships
A shelter in the time of storm
A perpetual relay of truth
An economic unit
An educational control
A museum of memories
A door that hinges and has a lock
Blended balances

Were any of these descriptions/lenses new ideas for you?

2. Which one of these roles of the family is something you already practice/value?

3. Are there any of these ideas you would like to focus on in your own life?

4. In chapter one (pg 18) Schaeffer talks about the family being, “an art form that takes years to produce but is never finished.” How does this idea mirror The body of Christ throughout history? Does living in a human family help us to understand God’s work in the world?

5. In chapter two (pg 40) Schaeffer describes the family as “the basic atmosphere for people” and goes on to say that communities of families then create the social environment for the whole world. What are some tangible ways (your own ideas or Schaeffer’s) that we can demonstrate the value of family to the world around us? How does cultivating the atmosphere within our family affect our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual lives?

6. Chapter 3 (pg 54) Schaeffer describes the family as the birthplace of creativity? What do you do in your home to encourage creativity? What could you do better? Does a home that encourages creativity draw us closer to God? Does it help us to be more true to ourselves?

7. In Chapter 4 Schaeffer talks about working as a family to become more understanding with one another. She goes on to say that this often requires coming up with “imperfect solutions”(pg 70). What have you learned in your own life by accepting a family member as they are and working through difficult situations? Has this process drawn you closer to God?

8. Schaeffer values time with family saying, “time can never be brought back,” (pg 74)? Where are you using time well right now and where do you think you should use it differently? What have been the best uses of your time with family in the past? What about the worst?

9. In Chapter 5 Schaeffer writes about a family being a “shelter from the storm.” She focuses on caring for each other during illness, saying, “this is a time that counts” (pg 95) emphasizing that both the suffering through illness and the caring for others during illness are valuable and useful times of life even though they are unwelcome. How has personal illness or caring for someone during illness affected your spiritual walk with God and/or your relationship with your family?

10. In Chapter 6 Schaeffer writes about the family being a, “perpetual relay for truth,” she says “consider your place in the family as central, not just in this moment of history, but as part of the “relay.” Don’t let a gap come because of you.” Do you think about the role that your family has and will have in relation to the history of the world? Does taking this perspective change our priorities regarding how we spend our time in our family?

11. In Chapter 7 Schaeffer writes about the family as an, “economic unit.” Emphasizing the importance of families working together through economic hardship. She encourages families to make their time together a priority over saving money? Where has your family’s financial practices helped you to draw closer to each other and to God, where have they drawn you away?

12. In Chapter 8 Schaeffer discusses family being an, “educational control.” What are the educational priorities in your home? How have you used your home to balance the education that your child receives in the world?

13. In Chapter 9 Schaeffer describes the family as, “Museum of Memories.” How have you been intentional about creating memories with your family?

14. In Chapter 10 Schaeffer describes a family being a, “Door that has hinges and has a lock.” How has your family been a protection for each other from the world? How do these experiences help us relate to God’s protection over us? How does your family practice keeping the door open? How does participating in hospitality as a family draw us into deeper relationship with God and the Body of Christ?”

15. In Chapter 11 Schaeffer writes about, “Blended Balance.” How do the differences in the people in your family enhance you personally?

16. At the end of her book Schaeffer talks about “putting the most important thing first and being willing to lose everything materially” for the sake of your family. Do you agree with this idea? Where are you doing it and where could you do better?


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Discussion Questions: The Death of Ivan Ilyich Liturgy of Life Reading Group

Liturgy of Life Reading Group
This happened! The first physical meeting of the Liturgy of Life Reading Group. We had a small but mighty gathering and we are looking forward to more. If you are thinking about a book club consider gathering a few friends to read along with the Liturgy of Life Reading Group.


For those of you who are reading along in Tolstoy’s, The Death of Ivan Ilyich with the Liturgy of Life Reading Group, I wanted to share the questions we used in our discussion.  Please share your thoughts in the comments.


1. Is the moment of Ivan’s death a triumph or a failure? For example, he declares: “Death is finished. It is no more.” Is this a positive or negative statement?
2. Discuss the significance of the title. If the work professes to be about Ivan’s death, why is it almost entirely dedicated to Ivan’s life?
3. Is Gerasim a type of Christ? What do we learn about caring for the dying from him?
4. What did you think of the black bag as a symbol?
5. What has been/is/should be the Christian response to an illness that can not be cured?

6. How does our society view/treat those at the end of life is this consistent with the Christian faith?
6. Do you think Ivan would have reached the same conclusion at the end of his life if it had not been for the suffering that came with his dying? Is suffering good? Is it bad?
7. How does this story inform our approach to suffering among the living? Among those who are in their last days? Do you think the last days of someone’s life can be meaningful/valuable even if they involve suffering? Does this inform our response to the movement towards physician assisted suicide?
8. Was Ivan’s suffering primarily physical, spiritual or emotional? What about in your own experience or in watching others, what type of suffering is most significant or is this an impossible separation?
9. How does suffering when it does not result in death affect our spiritual life? What should the Christian response be to suffering?



For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.





Accidental Poetry: Tolstoy and Me Liturgy of Life Reading Group

I haven’t intentionally written a poem since graduating high school. While I have come to love reading poetry aloud with my family it remains mostly a mysterious art. So it took me by surprise when I was preparing for the Liturgy of Life Reading group and looked down to see several poems on my page.

As I read our latest book Tolstoy’s, The Death of Ivan Ilyich I jotted down phrases and ideas that seemed to characterize each chapter as I went along.  I enjoyed seeing how my highlighted phrases told the story of Ivan’s progression.  Liking what I saw I narrowed the words and phrases down even more to create a simple summary. Unexpectedly  what appeared on my page looked like several simple poems which had originating in Tolstoy’s words and had been edited down by me.

If you are a real poet I don’t know that this process is much to get excited about, but I felt like I had discovered an entirely new way to interact with my reading material and as if I was collaborating with the great mind of Tolstoy on a new project.  I am sharing a few here not because they are great works but rather as an encouragement and a hope that new ways to love learning will sneak up on you. And that this book in particular would challenge you in some new direction.

Chapter 4

It was his own rage killing him,

it was his fault,

edge of destruction


Chapter 6

Constant despair

all is exposed

face to face

staring at death

it could penetrate anything

stare at it and go cold

Chapter 8

Hateful death

dirt disorder



terrified of being alone.

Chapter 9

Tears like a child,



pleasures melted to something disgusting.

Maybe I didn’t live as I should have?

Chapters 10, 11 and 12

What is this?

Life is a series of increasing sufferings.

Have I really been wrong?

all wrong?

Struggling against the black sack,


What is the right thing?

It could still be put right.

Instead of death there was light.


For more from Liturgy of Life you can subscribe here for monthly emails, like me on facebook, or join our facebook discussion group. Thanks for reading friends I look forward to connecting with you.





7 Reasons to Join the Liturgy of Life Reading Group A Year on the Body and Spirit

Our bodies have become a political battle ground.  We are rattled with concerns of pornography, sex trafficking, abortion, racism and refugees. And then there are the more subtle issues of divorce, promiscuity, human cloning, and transgenderism just to name a few.  If we call ourselves Christians then the way that we understand our skin and bones and the life that dwells therein informs our conversation in nearly every controversial issue of our day.

If we want to be informed or engage in a thoughtful discussion on any of these issues we must first deal with the body, the human form where these issues are played out, and we must examine what it means for Christ’s body to be broken for our bodies.

Is the body simply a collection of cells, like algae? Is it an inert container for a soul? Or is our physicality essential to our spirit? Is it a source of disdain for not being as strong or thin or capable as it should be?  Are eating and sleeping and having sex pleasures to delight in or are you eager to be free from the body’s sensuous provocations and base impulses? Is Christ dwelling in us a physical reality? Can He really be found in the flesh of our neighbor or a beggar or a child?

Enter in the 2017 Liturgy of Life Reading List. I have no promises that this reading list will answer all of those questions but I do hope it will give us a start. In 2017 we will look at death, care-giving, family, at sexuality, then at the sacredness in all things as experienced through the act of cooking and eating and finally at how our bodies are connected to other bodies through social justice.

We will do this through the lenses of two Catholics, an Anglican, a Russian Orthodox, a Presbyterian and one of our founding church fathers, from texts that were published as recently as 2012 and as distantly as 329.

I have tried to make book choices that are manageable in length and in difficulty (i.e you don’t have to have a college degree to get through this list)  each offering a unique perspective on the body.

As you read along I hope you will be challenged and will end this year with beneficial insights into the realities of body and spirit.  So on to the seven reasons,

1. The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy (February)

Don’t be intimidated by the name Tolstoy. This book is short and the style is straightforward. Ivan Ilyich will be our introduction to the body. We will be reading this as we approach lent which is traditionally a time of reflection on our own mortality (I got you excited huh? Betcha can’t wait to start thinking more about dying . . . sorry, but I think in the end it will be good for us).

2. Our Greatest Gift, Henri Nouwen (March)

Nouwen packs big ideas into simple stories. This book will take us from death into care giving and help us to explore the meaning and purpose of our physical life and death.

3. What is A Family?, Edith Schaeffer (April and May)

I’ll admit that Schaeffer’s style can be a bit tedious but Schaeffer, in her unique fashion, will help us look at the family through different lenses. She will transition us from thinking about our individual bodies to our bodies in more complex relationships. Family is our initial and most essential connection to the physicality of others. On the surface she gives advice and perspective on family life but she will also build a bridge to the deeper ideas of our bodies being indwelt with Christ and our ability to minister to the people closest to us through Him.

4. At the Heart of the Gospel, Christopher West (June, July and August)

Three months for this one. It has some deep and essential ideas about the sacramentality of the human experience, specifically in the context of sexuality. I figured since we will be reading it over the summer we will probably move at a slower pace. Of all the books on the list I think this one is the most important to read given the issues facing our modern world. If you don’t happen to be Catholic don’t let West’s multiple references to Catholic documents and officials confuse you, he is digging into some great ideas that have value for all of us.

5. The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon (September and October)

In some ways this is the lightest but also the most tedious read especially if you don’t share Farrar’s love of cooking. It is 98% cooking and 2% theology. And yet the 2% wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn’t for the 98%. This book could have been written about any type of work, more than being about cooking (though it really is mostly about cooking) it is about the value of paying attention. When we put forth the energy to work with care, whatever interaction we are having with the world leads us to experience God.

6. On Social Justice, St. Basil the Great (November)

This book was written only 300 years after Christ walked the earth in the days when the Church was still newly established. It is perhaps the founding document on Christian social justice. You will be amazed at how readable and also how applicable this book is to our modern life. If Christ in us then we are truly His hands and our work is to extend Him to the rest of the world.

Well I couldn’t come up with a 7th, but still I’d love to have you reading along.

We will plan on kicking off the first book in the beginning of February and I’ll be posting about twice per month specific to our current read.

To follow along in discussion make sure to check in out our facebook discussion group.

Looking forward to hearing from you.


linking up with some other quick takes today, check them out.