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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

Long Letters


Udo and Debby Middelmann:

Dear Friends,

September 11 has brought us face to face with the unrolling horror of the terrorist attacks on human lives, on human freedom, on our view of work and law, on the right for protection and other facets of a civil and open society. The places were New York and Washington, but could have been or might soon become other centers in which a view of man in the circle of reality has been formed by more Biblical ideas than any others.

Thank you many who have asked about Hannah and Sebastien, our children, who moved to New York very recently. They are safe, as are all those whom we know and care for from our discussion groups in the city in the past ten years. We are greatly relieved, but grieve with those whose lives have been torn apart.

We join you all, our friends, in grief and shock, in horror and fragility that such evil can be committed in such a way. There is no justification for it, no state of war preceded it, no program of religious hate provoked it. These were not the poor taking money from the world of trade nor the weak attacking military might in some form of moral resistance. This was no revenge here for the bomb in Hiroshima nor resentment of the poor in the world for the success of a free society. Anger is the problem of the angry, not of those who are made the object of it. The tenth commandment speaks against that mentality. What envy and resentment are restrained here is sadly a daily pattern in many other societies.

It is the plain face of evil. To such activities can reach the rage of men! If there is a fault in us it is that we have been unwilling to acknowledge that evil can take such a form, that men and women are capable of such inhumanity. Unprepared to dismantle its seeds in countries that harbored and trained terrorists for more than 20 years we have now been unprepared to prevent the terror when it came. It was easier to reject Israel's need for defensive action as long as we were not in the middle of it, though if we had supported it more then we would perhaps have less of it now in our own lives.

It is easy to suggest some symbolism in the WTC and the Pentagon as two areas of America's powerful presence. But it would be a mistake to see them only as American. They are rather, if anything, the symbols of what allows us to be free, to work and to achieve, to travel, speak and sell and buy anywhere in the world. They arose from a determination to give human beings dignity, to share the preciousness of life, law and the pursuit of individual responsibility. That they can be misused as well is no reason to abolish them, but rather to protect them from evil.

The contemplated response is now not a matter of revenge, of Goliath against David. It is the question of justice, of deserved punishment, of responding to a declaration of war by terror. Government has an obligation to use the sword against evil in order to protect its citizens. It is encouraging to find such wide agreement between the nations of the world today.

This is not a new religious war. Crusades were and are wrong, whether in the name of the pope or Allah. People are free to believe in their mind what they wish. Even Adam was allowed to walk away from the Creator. But the consequences of different worldviews and religions will lead to different results. To our own peril the modern world thought itself able to disregard this. There is no justification for hating Muslims in response to the events of September 11. But there is a need to understand what factors have contributed to the anger towards America as representative of the whole western world. It is not the Muslim poor who have risen up, but rather the wealthy, who use the poor for their own ends. (We know that Mr. Arafat has for 40 years used the poor of Palestine to feed his political end; a far greater number escaped him and now live in Kuwait, Jordan, and the US, where they have benefited from a freer life.)

American dominance is deeply resented by those who drive our cars, drink our beverages, and watch our movies. They used to fly our airplanes to get to our hospitals when they fell ill. Now they use them also to sow terror and destruction. They never experienced that the cover of American military power brought freedom from tyranny. To them that kind of freedom is blasphemy. They do not acknowledge that industrial power is present because of the decisions of free persons to drink, smoke and drive what they want.

Much anger is directed towards us because we are not Muslim, yet present by various means in their lives. We represent a different view of man and woman, of life and of knowledge, of intellectual curiosity and public responsibility. In the past Israel was the root and now continues to be the outpost of that thinking and life in land formerly conquered by Islam. We are resented, as she has been for centuries, for the mere fact of encouraging free minds, rigorous debate and intense research for a better life.

There was no cry for an independent Palestine before 1948, because there never was a land called Palestine. Under Turkish rule from 1517 until 1917 there were no Palestinians. Before that there were Arab tribes and wandering Bedouins. Along the coast Greeks, Venetians and Egyptians traded. After 1917 British and French interests ruled the Near East. The turmoil started against these colonial powers. Israel, with Western backing, is regarded as a prolongation of colonial rule by non-Muslim powers in land that was once under Islam.

Sayd Nassr wrote that there is no room for secular thought in Islam. The blasphemy of the West, of Judaism and of Christianity lies in the fact that we understand man to be responsible to subdue the earth and to have dominion. All debate about law, all science and technology, all freedom to be human runs counter to the essential spirit of Islam, which demands submission to the unquestionable will of Allah.

When we marry the accusation of blasphemy to the resentment of the millions who experience poverty as a result of religious and governmental policy in Islamic countries in spite of the wealth of their leaders we begin to see perhaps the flame of anger, the lust for terror, the attraction of Jihad to the millions.

We pray for our leaders, for missionaries, for compassionate leaders in business. We long for wisdom in the search for justice.

With warm and personal greetings, Udo

My apologies are due to you right off the bat for the lateness of this letter to bring you up to date in the work and lives of our family. Ten months ago you last heard from us to share in our activities and thoughts, unless you are part of those who receive the more detailed monthly descriptions with the receipt for a gift and support of the Foundation.

Apologies, for I often thought about having to get back to this letter which I started in March, continued in May and then somehow left unfinished until now, when it needs adjustments. Somehow time flew, work was interrupted, other priorities were selected and you were left out. I am sorry. Please come and join me for a bit to tell you what we have done. Your interest and support, your friendship and notes are a part of our lives and help us much in our work.

There were of course times of great pleasure as well which freed us for a while from the urgency of getting the student house ready for the summer program this year. It also prepared us for the days of preparing Hannah and Sebastien's wedding at the end of May. Debby and I took some days in April to go south into France, while Isaac visited with friends and Naomi and Micah in New York.

We found spring, flowers, old walls and warmth and vineyards. We stayed in bed and breakfast farms, discovered Huguenot communities and followed their persecution, their courage and their desperate defences. We visited the Museum du Desert in Mialet, a center of Huguenot life and a refuge in their time of "desert wanderings" or clandestine existence after the revocation of the edict of Nantes ("Paris is worth a Mass",1685). They often had to flee, hide from or attack the royal troops with their camisards (because of the shirts or ‘chemises' they wore) army, while carrying their portable pulpits through the forests for regular Sunday services.

We visited a number of Romanesque churches, markets and mediaeval villages. Repeatedly, as in Conques, we walked on the old pilgrim road to Santiago, along which thousands went in faithful pursuit of the things of God in the midst of often hostile environs. What a far more complete view of Christianity they had, when it is portrayed for instance to the public in the tympanum of the church, that arched entry space between the outside world of love and hate, good and evil and the world of faith and hope represented in the church building.

What an area rich in culture, personal effort, human tragedy and a battle for a good life. It is the country of van Gogh and Lawrence Durrell, of Cézanne and George Brassens. But at what cost at times, and with such resulting beauty! Oh what glory and horror is associated with our kind! What grace of God is required and given! What riches Man, who bears the image of the Creator, can create!

That was the pleasure part to report since our last letter to you in November. Of course we had Christmas together as a family, while Edith was with Susan and Ranald in England. Isaac and I skied for a few days during his school break, when the weather permitted it, while Debby struggled with the increasing pain in her hip. She did find out eventually that it is arthritis caused and will probably need a hip replacement, which is now scheduled for November 7.

That kind of sequence of events should not be surprising. You also know from your experiences bow much our lives are frequent interruptions of interruptions, when the unexpected occurs and lets us know that life is more than an unrolling of events. There is no program, no final certain coherence except in the things that are unmovable: The rest is situations to face and tackle, choices to be made, priorities to set and then to determine what we should do with the gifts and times we have in life. Comfort and certainty come from the knowledge that our God reigns and is faithful to his promises and work; human beings are always much the same, different from all else, made in the image of the eternal God, father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are a mixture of both wonderful and disappointing efforts.

Of the work I report that I spent the whole month of March to lecture in many parts of the US. What a pleasure it often was so see you or another in the crowd, to meet old friends again and to be able to continue at times the discussions we had started earlier and in a different place...and with a host of new people, who gave me much warmth, good discussions and many valuable insights.

I started out in Minneapolis with a discussion amongst a group of men with serious questions about how we can know the truth of Christianity and its relevance to questions of our time. The next day I was able to make a presentation to a group of social workers during their lunch hour in Stillwater, MN, on dealing with "Evil in Family Situations." I briefly saw Edith in Rochester, who had gone there to visit friends and to see her doctors and then rushed back for a talk at the Borders Bookstore that night on the subject of "Evils in Enlightenment Utopian Ideologies." I referred to Robert Conquest's book "Reflections on a Ravaged Century", another work on the dual faces, Janus-like, of a similar inhumanity in Stalinist and Nazi socialism, and to Ignatieff's excellent biography of Isaiah Berlin. Of course there is relevance through this also in considering our present utopian visions, whether in private or public expectations of perfection.

You have received a similar presentation in the last issue of FOOTNOTES just a little while ago.

I met with several individuals the next morning and then flew to Montgomery, AL, for the weekend. A lecture in the Art Museum on "The Continuing Relevance of Francis Schaeffer" was almost washed out by tornado warnings and thunderstorm rains. ON Sunday I spoke first to the combined adult education classes on "The Importance of a Christian World View" and then in the evenings in an second Presbyterian Church on "Worldview Perspectives in World Missions." There was a radio interview and an evening gathering in which I talked on "How to prepare our Children for the World around us."

In Lincoln, NE, I was quickly taken to the Evangelical Free Church for a lecture on Worldview issues, followed by a lively discussion. The next day I gave a talk to a Senior Class in Advanced Calculus: that does not hint at the subject, but the calibre of the students. I also spent some time with a group of lawyers from the office of a friend, where we talked about capital punishment.

On Thursday I flew to Tacoma for a weekend in Mike and Carolyn's church, with many of their friends and in many discussions with people who had been students also with us in Switzerland. I addressed the Junior and Senior High school classes, who had watched a tape I once made in Russia on "Christianity and History." That was followed by addressing quite a crowd in the evening on "Truth in a Post-modern World" and a brunch the next day in the Tacoma Club for about 85 people on the subject "Working our your Worldview." There was a Sunday school interview on Schaeffer's ideas and our own work in the Foundation and a sermon in the evening service on our obligation to be an aroma of Christ wherever we are. That aroma of Christ, the fragrance of the knowledge of God (2nd Corinthians 2:14ff), is more than just a pleasing thought, a positive attitude. It also has something to do discernment between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong. It is to contain a proclamation in word and deed of what difference the existence and character of God make to our lives, thoughts and work.. .

From Tacoma I drove through Kelso and saw my old Latin Teacher from 45 years ago, when I was in that small town as an exchange student in the High School of that town before it became famous as the county seat, where Mt. St. Helens erupted. It was a sweet visit, though the town had gone the way of many others, when shopping malls replace homegrown stores, when people leave for other places and the sweet houses of the GI area are no longer taken care of. The old school building had been torn down. Only the sloping floor of the former auditorium was still visible in the rubble and landscape. Children now used it to practice their art with roller blades between puffs on forbidden cigarettes.

The local movie house was still there, but the sign was falling down. The grocery store had become a Good Will store. The Rexall Drugs place was still there, but the shelves were virtually empty. Only the courthouse showed signs of continuing busyness. I wondered how many of my classmates had left town for other places and who had stayed behind.

I flew from Portland to Cleveland, where Bob Baldwin took me to see several different faith based ministries among the poor. We had lively discussions in each of what the change in federal social programs might mean, facilitate and hinder. I found a widespread hesitation about another program, which due to its size and publicity may well cause more problems than it sets out to solve.

For if ‘faith' is the criterion of selection, will any faith apply? Does it not matter what the faith contains about life and work, individuals and authority, effort and attitudes? There seems to be a host of unconsidered areas, which like a half-baked loaf of bread, might give more stomachaches than nourishment.

The third weekend in March I flew to Amarillo, TX for a time of lectures and discussions with the friends, who send out this letter from time to time. They had asked me to speak on a variety of subjects, with meals and discussions interspersed. On Sunday I preached again. The discussion on God's sovereignty came out short when a man from an extremely reformed congregation, who is also a bankruptcy lawyer, held forth with the view he already expressed ten years ago of the total determining place of God in history. I must write about this again, though I would rather not. But it seems that this subject troubles many, as it should, and not others, where it in fact should give them fear.

For a God who does not explain the origin of evil or who claims to rule over, control it and decide it with sovereignty is not the God of the Bible. What is lost is the unique content of the Gospel, which distinguishes Christianity from all other religions and philosophies, in which all of life is controlled by fate or destiny and where finally there is no real distinction between good and evil. Both are in and with God. Only in the Bible are we told how God can be good and yet evil be real, how God can be gracious and yet just.

I spent four days in New York, with a lecture on ‘The Incredible Lightness of Faith' to our friends there, before heading out to Wheaton for the fourth weekend and going home. In Wheaton I spoke to an Adult group on Worldview issues and to a College group in the evening, where a lively discussion into the night kept us alert, helped along by good coffee. A dinner with Debby's good Italian friend from university days (Maria Dellu, now Walford, in Edith Schaeffer's old family letters) and her family was sheer delight.

In the morning I addressed the Wheaton College chapel with a message that was well received, though I must admit I was somewhat awed to begin with. Even I have to tell myself that the audience is still only human, college kids for the most part even. The sheer size of the group and the associations are intimidating. But it went well, I am told.

Not all of life is so glamorous, and I find it good exercise to be kept in the real world by other tasks. Much time I spent on working on the student house here in Gryon, making it ready for the summer students and guests, who arrived just after Hannah's wedding at the end of May. When the first ones came, we had up to nine at any one time, the library had shelves and books, the tapes had been moved there and were in order, the bathrooms were ready and the carpet was laid. With much and careful help of the students we painted the hall of one apartment white and two older kitchen cupboards a Scandinavian blue. The electric stoves work and the fridges are in place.

Our students this year came from Texas and Ohio, from Washington and Wisconsin, from Germany and Canada and Brazil. For two of them it was part of a preparation for more work during the summer in Uganda and Russia. We had church services in the little chapel in Les Posses. In July and August I preached in the English church in Villars for them and to a good number of summer guests of that town. We enjoyed seeing Darrow and Marilyn Miller again after many years as well as a pastor and his extended family who had studied with us already 30 years ago.

Besides the regular studies for the students each morning, the two meals daily with them to talk about their questions and to introduce them to readings, history and art, there was the practical help around the place, making jam and hanging wash. We also undertook several day trips to spread out our interest in the truth of Christianity. Once we went through the villages north of Lausanne to the Roman mosaics near Orbe, walked on a bit of the Roman road across the Jura and stopped at the Benedictine Abbey of Romainmotier Another time we took everybody to the an organ concert in the Cathedral of Lausanne. Then again we spent a day in Geneva, climbed the tower of St. Pierre and returned with stops at Nyon and then the Roman harbor of Lausanne, followed by another organ recital in its beautiful cathedral.

We find it so helpful to be able to point out the cultural results of Christianity through the centuries, the centrality of Christian teaching in the past, the lasting ethic of community and measured privacy. While they do not indicate personal faith of the people today, they illustrate that faith in the past always had an external, cultural and public dimension. The statue on the market fountain shows the figure of justice with sword and blindfolded eyes. At her feet are bishop and peasant, lord and lady, merchant and clients: all equally under the same law. The cities are places to live and work, the public spaces are cared for with the same love of detail and color and refinement as the private homes of citizens.

Certainly their understanding of the Christian faith encompassed more than what we today would call a personal relationship. Their understanding must have included the awareness of personal responsibilities as well, which reached out into the fuller circle of life, from trade to law, from art to life in the community. Probably it resulted from a fuller reading of Scripture and a real dependence on that book to explain life, its origin, purpose and future judgment.

Outside of the summer program for students and guests we have again worked in the larger community. Before Christmas we organized and held a service in Champery, from where the Schaeffers were evicted back in 1955. About 50 tourists came and sang through the service of carols and Scripture readings and then followed the sermon. In January we had a number of visitors who dropped by, encouraged us and spent time with us in serious discussions. In February I taught a course on Apologetics in a Bible Institute in Vevey, where my ideas and experiences seem to be appreciated. In April I was at the Geneva Bible Institute during two separate weeks to teach a course on ‘Apologetics' to second year students and on ‘Postmodernism' to third year students and young pastors, both times in French. Students return for these refresher courses after having been outside in actual ministry work. They come with questions from real life, real people and situations.

As I complete the letter I am in Kharkiv in the Eastern Ukraine on the straight train line from Moscow to the Crimea to speak for two weeks to students of a Leadership Training program. During the first week they came from the town itself. In the second week a number rode the overnight train from Kiev, the capital. There are 12 or so in the seminar which is held in a sanatorium for pregnant women outside of town. The weekends are busy with about 25 additional students. Their interest is wonderful, their questions show how serious they are about their studies. They are also rather innocent of the confusion we often find in our own church settings. They know nothing about liberalism, though quite a bit about the confusions created by market evangelicalism.

I just invented that term to describe the tendency to create the kind of setting in churches that would appeal to a market driven public, i.e. to compete not so much in quality as in quantity, not substance but format, not edification but entertainment.

Besides the lectures and discussions we watch segments from "How should we then live?" and also "Babette's Feast", "Pleasantville" and "Amistad". These add spice to the discussions and open the door for all kinds of additional comments.

‘Amistad' is a powerful story that ends with the insistence of the rule of law over the rule of power and prejudice in the midst of the lengthy discussion in our society over the rights of men, the evils of slavery and the building blocks of the American republic.

‘Babette' reveals the gradual affirmation of life and creativity over spiritual seclusion. It juxtaposes a caring, imaginative and gracious life on earth with the failings resulting from too spiritual and heavenly focus that does not prevent nasty human realities of gossip, envy and back-stabbing in a colorless life.

‘Pleasantville' describes for us two opposing dangers in our society. On one hand is the black and white sharpness of social conformity, assumed roles of people in life ("Honey, I am home. Where is dinner?") and even the expected and standard behavior on ‘lovers' lane'. Opposite this we see a world of color, spontaneity, of art and feelings and love, which however leaves you also with a divorced couple, who miss appointments with their child care obligations and run after new relationships with unsuitable partners a long drive away and out of town. The form was deadly, the freedom produces a different kind of death.

These films, and there could be any number of thought provoking alternatives, lend themselves to discussions on current issues, to which only the Bible with its realism gives real answers. Here we find no religious escape, but a refreshing openness about life in the real world. For most of the students that kind of subject matter, this way of reading the Bible, even the manner of discussion is a whole new experience. They participate readily and often with good insight. Unfortunately they, like most of us, even with the better insight afterwards fail to transform our lives. We readily recognize that something has to be done differently, but then we wait for someone else to show what that might be.

On the last leg of this trip I am in Moscow for four days. A friend organized six lectures at Moscow State Linguistic University and at the Economics Department of Moscow State University. Between these I follow the reports and proceedings of a large international brokerage firm, which our friend started in the early days after 1990. At the universities we talk about the need for honesty in business and that this is sound business advice, profitable in the longer run and essential for the survival of a business. I place these concepts into the larger philosophical framework of Christian ethics. Of course I also point out how and why this is a new concept in a society that has been more guided by personalities than law, by fear than reason, by double standards and bullying rather than by transparency and self-governance.

But the insights gained from the bankers and managers of companies confirm the wisdom of these ethical norms and realities from the Bible. It is curious anomaly that much of what the Bible says on these subjects in the larger context of creation, the fall and redemption is being taught and implemented by the business community from sheer necessity to do well, to make a profit and to handle the most precious commodity of all enterprise, the human being, motivated, honest and purposeful.

What the missionary used to bring to people and what is so strongly opposed in our climate of cultural relativism, national sovereignty and personal faiths is increasingly recognized as necessary and beneficial when it comes from business interests. Of course it is not the story of salvation and does not replace it. But it is still an ethical and cultural transformation required for people to talk, work and live together in relative freedom.

Many of you will remember how shocked and saddened Dr. Schaeffer was when he found out that missionaries to Italy had often never visited a museum, knew little of the Roman culture that helped shape the past of the people they were eager to minister to. They invited him back, and for one week he took them through the museums of Florence between lectures on the artworks they would see for the first time, which however had been part of the almost daily diet of Italians.

I am reminded of this when I rarely see little appreciation of the link between the truth of Christianity and the truth found in reality, in creation, in the realms described by the Bible. There is of course a need for a personal relevance, but that personal relevance is grounded in a much larger picture of things and people, of reasons and facts. God made a world of a determined shape.

Thus, when businesses speak about transparency, self-governance, accurate accounting, loyalty and staff participation they say the same things as what Christians should talk about. We use different terms, but cover overlapping areas when we talk about truth and reason, self-discipline, lawfulness, commitments and community.

Of course business has a flat, Christians a more dimensional interest. They talk about efficiency, we about truth. They talk about benefits, we about salvation. But in essence we both reveal the fundamental Biblical affirmation that we live in a created, defined and personal universe that is not being defined by the religious or personal preferences of each person.

Thank you for making our possible through your prayer and also through your gifts.

Udo and Deborah Middelmann

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