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Interesting Parents

Chalet Mon Abri
CH - 1882 Gryon, Switzerland
(**41 24) 498 1656 UDODEBCH@AOL.COM

Dear Reader of Footnotes:

This issue of FOOTNOTES will add to your summer reading. It consists of two sections. The first one will, I hope, encourage you as parents to your children or as a child of your parents. It is a reflection on the need to be “interesting” parents. In the second section I report our activities over last year and the start of 2008. This will make it easier for you to be a part of our work through prayer and in your financial support. I ask you to use the enclosed envelope for any contribution you way decide to make.

Twice during a recent lecture trip in the US I spoke on the above subject. The title fit the lecture into a whole series on the family, given in the East Valley of Los Angeles throughout the spring. (Previous lecture titles were “The Need for Fathers”, “Problems of the Urban Families”, and “Extended Adolescence”.)

In response to it I was asked to write up for FOOTNOTES what I recollected. You find it here now to read and to consider.

As always, I trust that you find FOTNOTES thoughtful. I invite you to respond to it. I like to hear from you.

Please make a note as well of the small but necessary change in our email address. 

With warm greetings,  Udo Middelmann

The suggestion to be interesting parents will startle many people. It implies that we owe something beyond simply being parents, who care for the food, shelter and safety of our children. We have a responsibility to become something more, requiring an effort on our part. Teaching obedience, or any additional item on a list of obligations, is not the core of what is involved. We are the generation before our children and need to be parents to them. We have taken on the responsibility to open paths of discovery of the real world.

We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and the closest neighbors are our own children. Loving them surely involves helping them to understand the world in its past and present state.

Children are not primarily our little people to mold, so that they can perform for us, and others. We have chosen to give them life and identity. Along with that comes an obligation to help them through life by example and explanation, by instigation and discernment, by opening to them a larger world of people and ideas, of human life outside of Eden and God’s word in history.

My father often quoted part of a poem that told how easy it is to become a parent, (i.e. to have children), but how much more difficult it is to be responsible, decent and acceptable parents. We readily speak of their adjustment to us. Sadly many adults assume that the children have to adjust and fit into the lives, schedules and moves of the parents. I mean, however, our adjustments to the needs of the children at each stage of their development and discovery.

Children need examples, an introduction into the workings of the real world; they also need explanations of the world around them, covering both the factual reality and the moral/social context of life. They need explanations of what happened before, in the past, as well as the realization that choices have consequences into the future. 

Young children learn at first by copying the world around them. We set an example; they want to do the same things, learn our words and by and large follow our ways. They learn our language. It is a path of discovery of things, people and situations in the context of physical contact and loving words.

Soon the growing awareness of a child’s separate identity requires more than a parental model. It is then essential that we become interesting people; that we do more than feed, smile, protect and keep the child clean or dry. We must initiate further exposure of the child to a wider world and participate in its discoveries. Reading, playing, pointing out things is part of explaining the world. That world consists of things, of people, of minds, where relations between cause and effect, between choice and consequences demonstrate enormous power and bring to light hideous folly. 

We are helped in this by the fact that we live in the real world of interesting situations, events, people, colors and shapes, or, simply put, creation. There are all kinds of things and people. You find them in the family and at school, in stores and among neighbors. There is now and the history that led up to it. There are present choices with later consequences. There is wisdom in seeing things in their connectedness, and folly, when sensual drives decide without further reflection.

There are good and harmful choices. There are people, whose character will not be immediately obvious. They will appear friendly or grumpy and they may be reliable or nasty. There is life and death, joy and sadness. There is a limit to what each person can put up with before they have had enough…and explode.

That world in all its variety needs to be discovered, pointed out and explored to see not only what is normal, but also how abnormal much of it is in light of the Bible. Parents should not shelter their children from life, but teach them the tools for wise and necessary distinctions. 

This emphasis on explaining the world to the child follows first the Biblical example of God writing prophetic letters to us about the “what, whence and whither” of the life we take part in. In this we are all like children, who need an explanation of what is the real world, why it is so and what can and should be done in it. This is not a story line, but real history.

On a second point, it also responds to the realization that human beings gain different insight through verbal means than through visual stimulation. Learning through language requires understanding, logical discovery, sequential reasoning. In fact, the brain develops differently from visual information, which gives motion, color and sensation, but requires no reflection. 

Jane Healey’s work (Endangered Minds) reports the flawed development of the physical brain, where the various synapses have been stimulated and therefore develop the brain differently when information is received visually rather than verbally. A visually stimulated brain will never quite develop what is necessary for sequential analytical skills. They are required to understand rational thought, how things fit together, what is a reasonable explanation or action.

Consequently, such an “underdeveloped” person will act more on sensual stimuli, on momentary attraction and distraction, on emotional suggestions. This is highly risky, even dangerous, in a fallen world of good and nasty people, where sensuality leads to spontaneous action, frequently with irresponsible results.

Giving an explanation, not merely commands; developing responsibility, not mere obedience; sensibility, not sensuality; and mastering spontaneity with wisdom are the various focuses of the Bible. Culturally they have laid the foundation for an open, creative, critical and self-critical society.

The heart of the matter, of growing into a person, fulfills the image of God in Man, able and encouraged to live the mandates of creativity: dominion, invention, love and, after the fall of Man, repentance and repair! It brings out an obvious contrast to religions, which in their core proposals demand submission, obedience, repetition and resignation. Generally they tie the person to a larger whole, urging him or her to become united to what has been around forever, whether that be god, nature, history or ancestral ways of doing things.

The ‘imago dei’ also opposes a culture of passive consumers, who value mostly the power of their money and the excess of their time. They have little selective taste. Lacking a context, they rarely treasure things as such. They know no association between the things they own and the minds, emotions, thought, skill, and/or sacrifice put into producing them. 

They are like the Californian guest we once asked to fetch carrots from the garden. She found none, as she had only ever seen them packaged on the shelf. She did not know that carrots do not grow on any of our trees or bushes. She knew the thing, but not the context, the item, but not its origin.   

We become interesting as parents when we have something that interests us first and then also our children, friends and colleagues. Unfortunately that gets often limited to activities like sports, shopping or church, all limited activities, often only programmatic forms of entertainment. They involve us, bring people together in time and place, but do not often relate to needed answers to basic questions of life. 

Beyond those events, we should create occasionally a meeting of the minds, more than sensual stimulation. Even when it brings trouble to the mind: a quest for wisdom, discernment, a curiosity to discover, are all signs of a healthy vulnerability, an admission of ignorance, which exhibits a hunger to know, to understand and to enjoy. Such seeking leads to finding.

Being interesting involves more than activities and shared concerns. It requires substantive conversation, real enjoyment, new discoveries, and a teaching style that opens doors of perception through conversation and shared wonder. There is more to life than work and leisure, here or elsewhere, more than mere generational differences.

Human beings do not, for the most part, live by instinct. Willard Gaylin’s work in Being and Becoming Human gives great insight into the particularities of human beings. We are so very different from animals in the way we acquire knowledge, how we love and speak.

Unlike animals we learn not only what is, but also how things and events relate, and how we must cope with them. Our minds do not just absorb impressions, but reason about them, their context, history, and their consequence. We do not only notice ‘what’, but also ask ‘why’, ‘who’ and ‘when’.

Human beings are transcendent, unable to merely exist. We also wonder, question, imagine and invent things and ideas that are more than responses to immediate impressions.

The Bible provokes and encourages such mental activity, and Western literature grew on its example to expand our fields of interest. The Bible first, a history of the fame and foibles of human beings like us, whom God created, loves, teaches and wishes to redeem; then literature, its creative expansion, lay out what is and ought to be, the lives of wise and foolish people here and abroad.

Together they bring into our thoughts explanations and distractions, good and bad choices, and the reality of life in an imperfect world. By their account we learn to weigh what is good, true and just, what is beautiful and reprehensible, what better choices we should consider in our lives.

By the word, or language, we see further than the present, because God and other human beings tell us: the past is explained, the context of the present enlarged in all directions and the future is left in our hands.  Additionally, by means of giving a text, they teach the pleasure of abstract thought, i.e. the ability to imagine situations that could exist if only.., or that should by all means be prevented. “Transcendent” again: the root of all art and science, of progress, repentance and change, of a developed imagination to drive us to creative and moral responsibility.

In both Bible and good literature we see how significant our choices are, what weight they carry in subsequent history. No choice can be undone, no moment relived differently, no sin made up by good works. We create, for better and for worse, what we then own, until God alone is able to make all things new.  And that makes all reality so weighty, so interesting, and so unfinished, so in need of being carefully explained to each new generation.

Explaining reality to our children happens quite naturally when we spend time together, not just moments of “quality time” previously arranged by mutual consent. The context must be life, not school or schedules. We create security by sensible patterns, physical contact and regular times for eating, reading, taking walks, for bath and bed. Later, we explain where and how food is grown. We talk about harmful bacteria in a fallen world when we brush our teeth and wash. We talk about the work we do and how it fits into the bigger scheme of things.

‘Daddy’ and ‘Mommy’ are private names to the child, indicating trust and identity, dependence, home. Our first names may be common to anyone outside the family. We explain how babies are made by adults, whom God made in his image to live, think and create. We talk about the mind and the body, of before birth and after death, of reality and pretend. We teach the difference between politics and morals, between social behavior and moral law. (The former is a variable convention to make us likable, the latter, grounded in the unchanging created reality, to make us realists and trustworthy.)

We must not only focus on ways of fitting in, on having personal and public patterns. Obedience in any form is only the tail side of a coin. The head side is that marvelous freedom and creativity, that significance and responsibility, which set us apart from all else as human beings.

Caesar asked for the coin, but God receives the heart and mind that bears His image. Parents can set the tone, but God, and from him reason and reality, demand the whole person of the child.

You want children to discover their creative powers. You also want to alert them to the riches and the tragedies that result from creativity. Parents need to plan expeditions, journeys to a wider world: into new recipes at home, talk about taste and fashions, visits to museums and libraries, opening ways to history and seeing other people caught in their respective, yet not always very respectable, cultures and religions. 

Our contemporary life makes all this much easier and more difficult. A lot more knowledge is available to us than to people in the past, but with our way of life we make less use of it. That should be reviewed. For we live largely fragmented lives, disjointed bits and pieces that add up to a day, a week and a month. There is much highly specialized know-how in very narrow fields of interest. Some of that may be unavoidable. But a life is also a whole. Some patterns, pursued without reflection about their consequences, are morally, personally and socially very destructive.

Few families eat together regularly, yet sharing a meal is one of the most beneficial times to share a life with others. It signals a hospitality around food, creatively prepared with love, during time set reserved for people and their thoughts, their concerns, their struggles and joys across ages, abilities and interests.

In its intimacy are practiced patience and respect, fears and accomplishments are shared. Words are spoken and ideas tried out, without embarrassment, ridicule or shame. It is the setting of a home, not merely a house; a welcome, not just a roof and a place to raid the fridge, to hang one’s posters and one’s clothes.

Eating together limits the fragmenting habit of personal schedules. It requires conformity, limiting the ‘rights’ of the self. It emphasizes that a family is into ‘it’ together and the bachelor life is past.

Shared meals demonstrate a pleasure to serve one another. Deliberately prepared and not just taken out or called in, laid out with purpose and style, they are the first fruits of a mentality of embellishing life for each member of the family. They reveal a living memory of what one person likes or dislikes, what another one needs. They show respect for each person.

For years Debby brought breakfast on a tray in bed to one or our children, who had a hard time getting up for school. Another child later was gently adjusted to each day of school by being read to in semi-darkness for an hour. Debby regularly made the children’s beds to welcome them at the end of busy days. Occasionally I would prepare the meals to give her more time with each child.

We also never went on vacations alone during the almost forty years we had children at home, or read a book without sooner or later talking about it. Both were a pleasure, not a constraint. We have rich memories of the times and the delight of shared lives, views and close interests.

It was an effort to create stability in a time of increasing motion; to live deliberately in the midst of constant distraction; to maintain a focus in a world of attention deficits; to create a historical life, when everyone reduced their actual life to a personal ‘narrative’. Others try to excise the parts of themselves they do not want to include. ‘They move on, away or aside with airy ease, they shift jobs and depart suddenly’. But people, places, events do not just fade or move off-stage. A beautifully written novel about such lives is “Consequences” by Penelope Lively.

Fragmentation is created through ‘gated’ communities, whether in children’s church or childfree retirement centers. It is found in sermons that reach the heart, but not the mind as well. It surfaces when children are urged to leave home and to relish their independence. Frequent moves from job to job, from one neighborhood to another, or from church to church undermine any sense of place, any continuity of self. One can run away from them all, but never really from one’s past or problems.

Fragmented education prevents children from putting together what they learn. There is little effort to integrate classes or to put pieces from various subjects together. History should not be separate from geography, science from economics and literature from worldviews. Yet a good life requires more than series of impressions, bits and pieces of knowledge.

When I was young it was helpful to always be sent to the encyclopedia to read up on the things my family discussed on Sunday morning around the table. After I became a Christian I began to see the need to tie things together, to weigh arguments with each other, so see life as a whole, to recognize a flow to history, from source to consequence, and different reasons for true and false religions. Learning was then no longer pain or amusement, but a project to understand things better in their relationship to the whole. 

We continued that, from self-interest to creating a life context for our children. Through conversations, much reading out loud, our work with people, my travels and reports about how people lived in other places and why so differently, we all continued to be interesting, stimulating and unfinished adults to our children. Together we now laugh about the crazy things we did, what situations we got into, what conflicts we weathered.

The continuity of our relationships exhibits vividly a continuity of life, learning and love. There is a lot we have learned from our children’s very divers interests and careers. We are neighbors to them and they to us, in an emotional, spiritual and intellectual sense, not always in geography. We help one another in the experiences of a fallen world, of frustrations, of pain and sorrow. We encourage what they discover and own in their lives, by their efforts, skills and interest.

We continue this now also with our eight grandchildren. For, the family is the context of protection, love and stability. Here we are born, learnt to think, question and discover. That is the reality of the matter, not a chosen social arrangement. The Bible reminds us of it with the command to honor, not necessarily to like, our parents. That is an elaboration of the great command to love our neighbor as ourselves. It also includes the command not to drive our children up the wall.

Such uniqueness of the family, such dependence, such security has been systematically undermined by outside authorities. The Marxist state there and the socialist state here, the tribal village and other forms of social manipulation want to dissolve the central need of a person, i.e. to know who I am, who my parents are, where I started as a human being. They are attempts to make all things common and to break the bond of identity, love and trust.

It takes much more than a village to raise the next generation. A village gives a geographical and social context, but no identity, purpose and encouragement to stand out in leadership and servanthood.



We look back over a varied and busy year.  I want you to share this you, asking you to continue to pray for wisdom in the use of our time and the Foundation’s resources. We have been busy in various settings, following up opportunities, teaching a good number of people along the way. They have brought us much in terms of encouragement, provocative comments and stimulating exchanges.

We have, however, not been able to meet the financial needs of the work sufficiently.  Regular contribution from more friends of the Foundation and other people are urgently needed. The dramatic fall of the value of the US currency, in which much of our support comes, has had very serious consequences in our account.

The bright side is that whenever I have been able to preach, teach and lecture, or hosting students in Gryon, the reception has been very positive and encouraging. Francis Schaeffer’s influence in the thinking of Christians remains remarkable. His ideas are largely timeless and relate to the reality of both individual people and society. They are proven helpful in the consideration of Man, Meaning and Morals in the midst of the challenges from religions, ideologies and various fanatics on the right and left.

In Switzerland, the Institue Biblique de Genève requested my teaching once again a course on ‘Postmodernism’ to mostly Swiss and French pastors and Christian workers. Later in the year I taught there again for an intensive week the third year students on ‘Apologetics’. These courses are stimulating for me, and are appreciated by the students. In their ministries they have largely faced a public that is often unaware of the thought patterns in the surrounding culture. They have good training in Biblical knowledge, the stories, the commands. 

Yet they have little experience or prior instruction about truth as a reality in the real world, and therefore something that one can talk about without having to shift into religious language, signs and symbols. The students’ experience has been mostly within their own church circles with little exposure to the undercurrent of ideas that have insidiously crept into their lives and those of people outside the church.

Many times during the year I preached in the International Evangelical Church in Lausanne. The audience is mixed, a good cross section of multi-cultural families, individual students and some refugees. A few times I also preached in Leysin. On such occasions we take everyone with us, including Edith Schaeffer and whoever is taking care of her.

In the summer we welcomed number of students the US, Germany and Israel. Three couples joined us to study, talk and reflect for two weeks in February. 

Debby continued her two weekly Bible classes for the children of Gryon. They have lively discussions about a Biblical view of life on the real world of multiple religions, at times quite difficult home situations, the real temptations of drugs, an insecure world and, of course, their own questions. The children are eager to come and hard to send home at the end. They remember much of what they learnt from week to week. For most it is the only time they will ever have to learn what the Bible teaches us, as the church no longer teaches what the Bible tells us about God and life. 

At the end of March I spent a long weekend with about 30 German students and adults in Giessen, Germany, organized by two of our former German students, in the facility their parents run for youth camps. They had themselves earlier been encouraged by Schaeffer’s teaching. Four lectures were followed by discussions and a sermon. We repeated the format again just a month ago with much benefit.

There were many invitations for lectures and seminars in America, which I accepted on three different occasions in 2007. In April we had two of our regular lecture evenings in New York. We went on to St. Louis and back to DC to address a number of people. Next, I spoke and preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Amarillo, Texas, during a long weekend. Marla McGill had organized this with the pastor and her friends. I then spent three days in Chicago, including a visit to Wheaton College and talks about some form of cooperation. I benefited from Marvin and Jean’s kindness and welcome and lunched with former colleagues Gary and Cynthia. Gary has been able, at my suggestion, to use his great experience and work for Food For The Hungry.

The next week I was handed about all over Los Angeles for a faculty development seminar for three Christian Community Colleges, a talk at Trinity Church in Redlands, a lecture entitled “Taming the Beast” on the need to take personal ethics more seriously, when public accountability is weakening under the guise of tolerant multiculturalism. I taught a class at The Master’s College and met with faculty members for a long evening of debate. A meeting at Pepperdine University related to their new study program in Lausanne, Switzerland. A breakfast was organized with men of Lake Avenue church, where I also gave an evening lecture to a substantial crowd.

The week closed with a key-note address during an elaborate banquet for Vishal Mangalwadi’s “Millenium Project” at the Paramount Movie Studios. The movie will show how the Bible is the Foundation of Western society, and that the loss of biblical views and practices will inevitably lead to a decline of reason, purpose and the concern about human life.

In Dallas I gave a talk on the “Islamization of Christianity”, spoke to two Sunday School classes to encourage an active, not passive life. On another day lunch with lawyers, all Christians from various denominations, proved interesting and stimulating.

In September Debby and I traveled privately to Kelso, Washington, to meet with about 85 former classmates for a reunion. I had not met any of them since graduation 50 years before. I was able to tell them bits about my life, work and reasons to become a Christian. It was touching gathering of very friendly folks, who welcomed us with love and admiration. On the way back we taught Mrs. Kemp’s “Schaeffer Classes” in DC.

October saw the launch of The Innocence of God on the occasion of a lecture for the MacLaurin Institute. It was well received for the most part, with a good discussion. Meetings with various people in town followed. I also spoke at an Episcopal Church in Edina, MN. A similar talk about the book was presented at the Rochester L’Abri a few days later. In Colorado Springs, in the next week, I preached three times on Sunday in an Episcopal Church in Colorado City in connection with the John Jay Institute. Then I spent a day and three meetings at Colorado Christian University in Denver. Bill Armstrong, former Senator from Colorado, who is the president, had invited me to address various issues, and having my book gave a provocative focus to the discussion, also on questions about development, market policies and valuing individual people and their place in history.

Work on another book, “Christianity versus Fatalistic Religions in the fight against poverty” was finished and Paternoster Press will publish it in August 2008. FOOTNOTES as well as our long letter to describe what we have done, continues to be sent out to about 1000 addresses during the year. In them I can address current issues and my reflections on trends, view - points and practices in our culture. The response is welcome and produces much follow-up. The help in time and skills and donations of Diana Notaro and her friends at ISP, of Marla McGill in keeping the records and address list, and others is much appreciated.

We have since handed Innocence of God to many people and sold it to others. There have been some very good reviews and some critiques. We are glad that it contributes to an important discussion that touches all of life, attitudes andpractices.

We are thankful for the various ways we have been able to fulfill the purpose of the Foundation this past year. We continue to be amazed about how much gets done to remind people of, and to introduce many others to, the ideas, books and life of Francis Schaeffer. We are grateful that the books continue to be available in print. His perspective was quite unique, seeing the truth of Christianity on the same plain as the truth of reality, without a final conflict or irrational, mystical faith in an upper story of the mind. Always open to new insights and different people, he never replaced rationality with psychology and did not see love of others apart from the need of people to bow intellectually and morally to the truth of the universe, to God, the created world and his Word.

There is only one reason to be a Christian, he said many times, and that is, that Christianity is the Truth, and not merely a personal perception, of the truth of the Universe.

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