Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon

Editor's Note: Beginning today and for each subsequent Friday for a while we are running a new feature. Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the first letter we were given.  

 

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Transcription provided for easier reading:

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

Dear Uncle Apollyon,

I had not anticipated the extent to which the influential job you procured for me would translate into "spiritual capital."  People in the Broad Way Church have opened their arms to me, evidently because I told them I was transferred in to take over a responsible management position which requires professional training and pays big money.  Such high standing in my secular job seems to qualify me for important positions in the church, without too much attention to the depth of my commitment to Christ.  Already I have been invited to join the finance committee and to be captain of the bowling team, and I am being mentioned as a nominee for deacon when the next appointments take place.  You're right about the worship committee, however; I won't get on that anytime soon.  I'll have to be content with subtle complaints about the worship services that will keep the pot of controversy and suspicion boiling without my being a visible part of it.

Isn't it marvelous what our fellow-agents have been able to do with the television evangelists recently!  Everybody here is talking about it, some with real sorrow, but more with relish.  Igneus is going to have to be careful with that preacher who seemed to repent, though.  If the old sinner really does take the Enemy's medicine and go through a period of self-evaluation, surrender, and rebuilding, his latter state will be worse than the first for us.  He will be much less susceptible to having his head turned by money, power, and people's adulation of him than before, and he will embody a kind of persuasive beauty  that enables people to "see right through him" in a quite different way, for they will perceive the Enemy's Son, rather than the preacher.  But praise be to our Infernal Father that the sins of most preachers are never revealed to anyone until they've gone far enough to create a scandal.  Some of our glorious victories could have been nipped in the bud by regular frank sharing sessions between the preacher and some mature prayer partners.  Thank Hell that most preachers are either too proud or too busy, or both, to avail themselves of that kind of support group.

I'm not quite sure about the soundness of your repeated advice that I scrupulously try to lead an exemplary life.  Do you mean that I should really live according to the Enemy's standards, or only appear to do so?   Should I avoid sin, or just avoid being found out?  Isn't a facade of righteousness sufficient for my purposes?  I'm finding it rather frightening to be reaching out for real righteousness, because that seems to bring strange incursions from the Enemy.  Please elaborate and advise.

I have indeed noticed the strange ambivalence these people have about unity.  They seem to think that it depends on their relationship to the Bible; rather than their relationship to the One whose Name they profess and wear.  Thus, they purport to desire unity and to be working assiduously for it, but then they base their efforts on a kind of intellectual quibbling that assures the more division the more vigorously it is carried on.  In the name of Lucifer, I hope they never discover the unifying power of the Enemy's Holy Spirit.  If I can keep them playing their carnal games (in the name of religion yet!), they never will.

In detestation of the Paraclete,

Ichabod

Photo: "Spies" by J. Zeldman. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #2)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the second letter we were given.

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Transcription:

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

Dear Uncle Apollyon,

Thanks very much for your exellent advice in the last letter.  And thanks especially for the help on my bowling!  Imagine my amusement when some on the opposing team commented that they would "sell their souls" for a perfect game. They may have a chance sooner than they think.  The publicity and admiration I received for my feat was entertaining, but I was amazed at how people gushed (and envied) over such a trivial matter.  I mean, I could have understood it if I had successfully fomented a gang war or enabled a drug lord to escape prosecution--but for a 300 score in bowling?  It was especially satisfying to see how it puffed up my teammates with pride and made them spend almost an entire Bible class the next Sunday discussing their standing in the league. Dare we hope that worship services might be cancelled if the championship playoffs are held on Sunday night?

Yes, I recognize the great power of the "pride of life," even though the lusts "of the flesh" and "of the eye" are a lot more fun to work with.  That's because the latter two are much more palpable than the first; but by the same token, they are more easily spotted and challenged than the pride of life.  In fact, the more aware people are of their vulnerability to the inordinate indulgence of their appetites, the less likely they are to succumb to pride.  It's the ones who think themselves free of the "grubbier" sins (e. g., sexual misconduct, gluttony, open mistreatment of others) who are most likely to find satisfaction in whatever image of virtue they are able to maintain.  I've been on the lookout, as you suggested, for opportunities to use flattery as an insidious reinforcer of both pride and envy.  How's this for a potent thrust:  "Brother Smoothtongue [an elder];, that was an inspiring talk last Sunday on our missions program.  To be honest, I'd rather listen to you than to the preacher.  I do wish they would let you speak more often."  Or this: "Sister Snugrug, I think Sister Outreach must have been sniping at you last Wednesday in class when she said that we ought to be willing to give more than money to the poor.  And after the thousands you contribute to charity!"  Both people to whom these comments were made were deliciously torn between self-satisfaction and resentment at those who didn't appreciate them.  How am I doing, Unc?

With the minister himself, I have not had much success so far.  He's only in his thirties, but if something isn't done he's going to become one of those really tough nuts for us to crack.  He spends an inordinate amount of time in prayer (how one can spend more than thirty seconds at that deadly activity--especially alone--I'll never understand); he understands the real nature of the threat we pose, and he knows how to use the power of the Word and of the Enemy's Spirit against us; and he assesses himself rather accurately, even sometimes confessing his weaknesses to the congregation.  The only opening I see right now is his zeal itself; he tends to get impatient with the apathy and the preoccupation with comfort in his brothers and sisters.  I shall try to persuade him to rely on his own persuasiveness or his own virtue to overcome that.

And finally, as to the "game" of gossip:  subtle misconceptions are the more easily spread because the people in this church don't really know each other very well.  They're so busy with their careers, their personal hobbies, and even with "church work" that they don't make the effort to really be in touch with each other at a spiritual level.  Consequently, they don't offer one another the edification and the mutual assessment that would forestall some of the half-truths that I have promulgated about particular fellow-Christians.  I feel like Shakespeare's mischief-making imp, Puck: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

Impishly yours,

Ichabod

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #3)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the third letter we were given.

 

Transcription

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

Dear Uncle Apollyon,

Thanks for your advice and commendations.   I think I'm getting the feel of my assignment.  One kind of pattern seems to be developing: people will finally respond to the most preposterous and dangerous of our suggestions if they can be brought along bit by bit through a series of seemingly harmless but progressively more perilous steps of compromise.  It is especially satisfying to hear someone use the "Well, I've come this far . . ." justification; as in "Well, I've already spent $25,000 on this car; I might as well go ahead and get the imported leather seat covers and the power back-scratcher."  Or how about this one: "I've already spoiled my perfect daily Bible reading record; another day won't hurt."  Strangely enough, these humans seem to be more ready to add to their sin if they're already in the hole, instead of being more cautious and dependent on the Enemy when they realize how weak and frail they are; and they don't seem to realize that this attitude is the first step on the path to despair, at which point they will conclude that their case has gone beyond their Master's ability to remedy.  Casual guilt breeds carelessness, and that in turn can lead to the delicious obsession with guilt that serves to justify complete surrender to our suggestions and their own desires.

I'm sorry my high visibility in bowling no longer serves your purposes.  I was beginning to enjoy the supernatural advantage.  I even bowled a few frames with my eyes closed to see what would happen.  Those weekly trips to the bowling alley will be less exciting now.  Still, I see the necessity of setting up Elder Striker for his temptation.  However, I don't relish the gloating he'll do over my diminished performance.  He was rather unhappy about a newcomer's getting so much attention, after he'd been a steady member of the team for twenty years.

The current political campaign has raised some issues in the church that I'm trying to exploit.  It seems that some of the members feel very strongly that the church is not politically active enough, and that we should identify ourselves with candidates who have the right position on certain limited but very visible issues, like allowing prayers in school.  On the other hand, some members believe that all political activity is a part of the corrupt world and should be shunned by Christians altogether.  Yet a third group believes that helping to get the right social policies adopted in government is the supreme Christian responsibility, and these people seem to be so absorbed in pursuing the righteousness of their "cause" that they are oblivious to the part that sin plays in the problems they're combating.  It's comical to see how these groups castigate each other as misguided, or even heretical.  I certainly want to keep the carping alive, or else they might discover that the Enemy wishes to use all of them, in different ways, to attack the divorce we've been so successful in implementing between "social" problems and "spiritual" solutions.  Once let them get to exploring how they can harmoniously combine prayer, piety, and protest, and we're in trouble!

I thought I was getting somewhere with Brother Whitesoul, the minister, when, after one of his occasional bland sermons, I encouraged Brother Smoothtongue to tell him about an opening in one of the small churches in a town close by.  Brother Whitesoul seemed very downcast and subdued for about a week after that, but then I heard that he got together with some of his support group for a prayer session, and that they helped him put it all back in perspective.  They, too, advised him to go away, but only for a few days to be "recharged" by a relaxed and meditative change of pace.  His next Sunday's sermon was a sickeningly effective blend of real humility with confidence that the Enemy was using him even (perhaps especially--it's unfair!) in his times of weakness.  Boy, did that gambit turn sour on me!

The weather here has been as hot as . . . , well, I can't bring myself to use that word as lightly as most humans seem to.  I have enjoyed seeing how unpleasantness in the elements can bring out varied types of the worst in people.  Some get perverse pleasure out of blaming the drought on certain kinds of wickedness (like political corruption) that they feel completely separated from.  They think, of course, that such an accusation highlights their own righteousness and puts the spotlight of God's judgment on others.   Here again it's greatly to our advantage that they don't have the slightest understanding of the Wrath they're so blithely invoking, nor do they realize that they're sacrificing some of their protection from it by wishing it on others.  People hurt directly by the drought (farmers and yard-tenders, for example) fall easily into grumbling about God's mistreatment of them, an attitude which can be deepened into rebellion and unbelief if they don't get distracted from hugging their self-pity.  People who somehow profit from the drought will of course tend to assume that they are reaping the rewards of their own virtue or cleverness and will therefore have little compunction for those who are hurt by the same weather conditions.  They will forget that if it rains on both the just and the unjust, it can with the same impartiality fail to rain.

Must close and find some water to cool the tip of my tongue.

Yours in the hope of gaining souls,

Ichabod

bowling 1

Brother Smoothtongue 2

Brother Whitesoul 2

drought 3

political campaign 1

Elder Striker

Photo: "Industrial Spies" by Lionel Martinez. CC Licence. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #4)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the fourth letter we were given.

 

Transcription: 

Dear Uncle Apollyon,

You should have seen Elder Striker's face when the twelfth ball (after eleven successive strikes) went into the gutter.  Did you get carried away and go further than you intended, or did he just get over-confident?  Whatever caused it, he obviously thought the last strike and the perfect game were in the bag.  He was wavering between whether to attribute his success to skill or to a divine reward for virtuous living, but the disastrous gutter ball shattered both illusions at once.  What did he say?  I am delighted to report that he ripped off an expletive which revealed a far from spiritual response to his sudden and embarrassing disappointment.  He immediately stalked out of the building, and I understand (from some gossip, which I have already passed on with suitable juicy adornments) that he vented his wrath on his wife in the biggest row they had had in years.  She evidently had the temerity to suggest that her husband had allowed his concern with being admired to obscure the only justification for bowling or any other activity in the church--that is, to foster an atmosphere where mutually supportive fellowship is more important than competition.  Luckily for us, he wouldn't listen to her.

The "Pray-ers" in the congregation (I'll report on the Pietists and the Protesters in a moment) have decided to meet together weekly during the presidential campaign to put their concern for the outcome before God and to seek His guidance about assessing the candidates.  I consider this group the most potentially dangerous of the three groups, because while the Pietists can be truly pious and the Protesters truly crusading and still be a long way from God, the Pray-ers have to be diverted from really praying if we are to prevent any good coming out of their activities.  I have observed that Christians who really do pray to the Enemy regularly are soon involved in doing something to help people--charitable deeds, counseling with those who are troubled, volunteering to help in the teaching program or some other outreach.  That's because in some mysterious way that I don't understand, real prayer takes people's attention off themselves, so that they come to feel that they are neither too good nor too bad to do God's work.  An attitude like that will never do for our cause!

Now the Pietists are usually easier prey, because the more they concentrate on being recognized for observing the right set of "Do's" and "Don't's," the more they tend to define the most important rules as those which they feel most comfortable in observing.  That means their own inclinations, rather than the Enemy's Word, become the primary standard, and that confirms them in their self-centeredness.  Unless they get carried away with seeking through real prayer to know what God really wants to do with them, they will settle down quite comfortably in the conviction of their own righteousness and a sense of their superiority over others.  The Pietists in our congregation right now are caught up in putting certain movies on everybody's proscribed list (and I must admit that some of them could make impressions to our Infernal Father's advantage); but what I don't understand is how they can strain out the movies at the theaters and swallow the television programs they watch every week.  Nevertheless, you can rest assured that I will not point out their inconsistency.

I have encouraged some of the Protesters in the congregation to the sorts of extreme actions you advised in your last letter.  One group has been picketing a particular movie now playing in town and has managed to be so offensive in confronting the people attending the movie that those who go in are convinced that if a group like these protesters opposes it, it's probably worth seeing.  I saw one individual, however, with a sign that said "Free Cup of Coffee, Piece of Pie, and New Testament to Anybody Who Will Sit Down and Talk With Me About the Movie You've Just Seen."  He stayed well away from the yelling Protesters, and the last I saw he was having an earnest but quiet chat with several people who had just emerged from the show.  You'd better find out what church he's from and get one of our people to work on him.

I'm taking another tack on the preacher, Brother Whitesoul.  He is a very compassionate man, and there have been several deaths in the congregation lately, some of the victims being rather young, and all of them being godly people valuable to the work of the congregation.  Brother Whitesoul has been greatly troubled and tremendously drained by consoling the families and preaching the funerals.  He finds it very difficult to understand why these righteous people should have been taken while some of the reprobates remain around to cause trouble for everybody, or at least to be of no apparent good to anybody.  I'm still developing my powers of mental suggestion, but I've been trying to get him to use this discouragement as the jumping-off place for questioning God's goodness and justice, and even His power.  Now of course, you and I know that in the normal course of things, death comes whenever the impersonal physical realities of a (I hate this word) "fallen" world converge to bring it about.  We are chagrined when the Enemy exercises His right to intervene at times, but I have been glad to observe that on the whole--and I try to exploit this to the full--He lets things run their course, which manifests no regard for whether people are good or bad, old or young.  What I am trying to torture the preacher with is the idea that every death--indeed, every "bad" thing that happens on earth--is directly and actively willed by God; that God could make things immediately better, and He just refuses to do so.

I must admit that I myself am puzzled as to why the Enemy has not yet overwhelmed our forces with His superior power, and as to why He allows this wretched and corrupted earth to continue.  But all of our side should be thankful that He "endures it in patience" (as I think I read somewhere), for it is the only possible arena for us to do battle with Him.  Certainly if our Infernal Father had been in His place, he would not have been so soft as to tolerate the pain and humiliation that we have brought to the Creator and His Son.

I must run now and turn the screws on Brother Whitesoul.

Yours in hellish dedication,

Ichabod

Photo: "Secret Gates" by Artur. CC License.

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #5)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the fifth letter we were given.

 

Transcription:

Dear Uncle Apollyon,

Thanks for your advice in the last letter.  I will, as you suggest, be on the lookout for opportunities to bait Elder Striker into further outbursts of profanity.  For the moment, I must say that he seems much more subdued than in the past.  Let us hope that he is stewing about being embarrassed, rather than meditating on how he set himself up for looking foolish.  And I have already gone over to Mrs. Snugrug's for an after-church snack.  She has spotted me as someone who has a knack for gathering scandalous tidbits and has included me in her crowd.  I try to stay on the edges of that group, however, because most people in the congregation are aware that it is an incubator for gossip, and I don't want to damage my influence by being identified as merely one of Snugrug's hangers-on.  Besides that, the woman is so self-centered that she offers me little challenge.  Of course, she has to be that way, or else she couldn't so complacently build herself up by tearing others down.

I read the passages you suggested about the Pharisees.  Talk about piety becoming a vice!  Reading about them did give me some ideas.  I have noticed that Brother Silvertone's eloquent prayers are much admired in the assembly.  You can see him beaming after services in the midst of compliments on his beautiful speeches to the Almighty.  I am going to encourage the tendency he already has to avoid grubby specifics in confession, thanksgiving, and petition and to dwell on the grand generalities and self-congratulations which bring the greatest applause, such as, "We thank you, Lord, that you have bestowed upon us a spirit of hospitality toward those who grace our portals"; and, "Forgive us, Dear Father, of those times when the frailties of the flesh cause us to slip from the standard of righteousness which it is our custom to maintain."  Even grand phrases might be dangerous if uttered in humility and sincerity, but when they are uttered for show, there are chuckles in Hell.  Tripping up the "Pray-ers," however, will be more difficult; they concentrate on private prayer, and they do not relish the frequently schedule-bound limitations of public prayer. When they do lead in prayer, there seems to be a power at work in their heartfelt simplicity that goes beyond eloquence and absorbs everybody, including the prayer-leader, into a sense of the Presence of God.  It's frightening when that happens!  Thank Lucifer it's comparatively rare.

I liked that stuff in Matthew 23 about "whited sepulchres" and "dead men's bones."  The Broad Way church has great potential for that kind of discrepancy between appearance and substance.  There is an influential set of members who make all sorts of noises about whether the image of the church in the community is what they want it to be (dignified, friendly, doctrinally correct), but whose private lives are so devoted to material gain and getting ahead that they come close to being "dead men's bones" inside.  And then, of course, there's the beautiful church building, the debt for which will take up the bulk of the church's resources for several years yet; so while it seems to represent the good health of the church, I suspect that the building actually covers up a failure to give priority to the spiritual--rather than the social and organizational--purposes of the church.  The bitter arguments and broken relationships resulting from the church's sinking so much into a physical plant are a delight to behold!

That brings me to some observations on how decisions are made in the church and how these methods lend themselves to our cause.  If a bad program once takes hold, it has a very good chance of lasting forever, since in the church's decision-making process the basic questions of why an activity is necessary and on what grounds it ought to be continued are rarely asked.  It is merely taken for granted that what has been done long enough to become customary and expected ought to be done year after year.  And these customary things usually carry with them the necessity of staff, committees, and money to support them.  Is there a position designated as "senior minister," to be filled by someone who will preach us a prescribed number of sermons each week?  Then it has to be filled, and his salary and home have to be provided.  No questions are asked as to whether God's present purpose for the congregation includes such an arrangement, nor whether the pressure to have two sermons every Sunday, resulting from the presence of someone on the staff designated to do it, is actually the best way to approach the worship services.  Is there a music director, and is there a special musical group?  Then it must be necessary to have a regular spot for them to sing in and to have special programs to make use of such a group and its director.  The beauty of all this is that one thing requires another, and only by a great corporate act of faith, spearheaded by wise and spiritually sensitive leaders, can a congregation engage in what might be called (Far be it from me to put it in their heads!) spiritual zero-budgeting.  The ordinary practice is to go on doing these things (or going through the motions) without even making sure that the spiritual purpose and justification for them is continually reaffirmed.   So long as people are unthinkingly comfortable about what they are doing, and the only serious discussions (or rather arguments, let us hope) are over who does it, it seems to me that my job is pretty easy.  Once let these people start, through earnest prayer, laying themselves open without reservation to what the Enemy wants them to do together, and we've got problems.  I'm happy to report that people seem for now to be fairly happy with the unexamined status quo.

Brother Whitesoul is perceptive enough to see all these vulnerabilities of his "brothers and sisters" (how can he be so uncritically inclusive?), and on that perception I think I can build.  The inertia resisting the power of the Enemy is tremendous.  If I can convince him that the congregation is hopelessly mired in enervating mediocrity, perhaps he will give up, or even lose his faith.  (In his case, I wish that the church would decide it doesn't need a minister.)  He must be getting unfair help from the Enemy, or he wouldn't have held on this long.

So you see that I have many good (should I say "bad"?) opportunities here at Broad Way for promoting hypocrisy, disillusionment, and complacency.  What more could a devil ask?

Yours for eternal hate,

Ichabod

Photo: "Royal Typewriter" By A. Myer. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #6)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the sixth letter we were given.

 

 Transcription: 

My perversely esteemable Uncle Apollyon,

The concluding comment of your last letter (about mankind's free will being to our advantage) set me thinking about how to use that fact to make people question the goodness of the Tyrannical Almighty.  It is clear to those of us who serve the Father of Self-Centeredness that it was cruelly inconsistent of the Enemy to make humans able to reject Him, and then to punish them when they did so.  We in the Kingdom of Outcasts have had to pay a tremendous price for exercising our privilege to go our own way; but we continue to fight against divine injustice because we accept our Infernal Father's central doctrine that the only real freedom is the absolute right of each created being to exalt and enjoy itself.  If we could just arouse in humans the same sense of logical indignation that we feel at the Creator's oppression, they would break themselves free of the tug of His "love" and thus prove their freedom in the only way that really counts.  Teen-age children and young adults find it very easy to see this point, and they frequently assert their personalities by rejecting the authority of their parents and pitting their boundless ignorance against the stifling experience of their elders.  How we rejoice in these rebellious youngsters!  No matter that they often destroy themselves by asserting their freedom; they at least have proven that they have the right to do so--and they can curse God into the bargain for His patronizing insistence that He knows what's best for them just because He created them.  Let us hope, however, that mature adults do not see any similarity between their indignant rejection of the Heavenly Father and adolescent rebellion against earthly parents; such a comparison might deter them from proving how absolutely free they are.

I have found your suggestions for the use of the telephone extremely helpful.  I have planted several useful suspicions during the course of conversations merely by asking questions and then dropping them.  For example,  when Brother Cecil Sharp (we all call him "C. Sharp") commented that he had not been called on lately to lead singing or participate in any quartets, I merely inserted the query, "I wonder if some people in the congregation have told the music director that you're getting too old for that sort of thing?"  Now Brother Sharp can be seen eying people whenever they comment on the music to see whether they might in some way be indirectly evaluating him.  Another time, I was able to administer a shock to Brother Silvertone (as you suggested) by observing that I had seen a group of people whispering together after one of his longer prayers, and I wondered out loud whether they were complaining about him, since he twice mentioned our preacher's "thrillingly thoughtful and therapeutic theology" in the sermon of the day.  He mumbled something about not knowing how he had slipped up in reading his notes and cut our conversation short.  Sister Snugrug, of course, always has open ears, but one's own ears have to take a lot of punishment in order to get anything said.  Sometimes I wonder whether it's worth the trouble to feed her my garbage, even if she is the most unbridled gossiper I've ever known.

I have begun my campaign to get appointed to the Worship Committee.  I think even that process may be the source of some entertaining contention.  Since I have made a great effort to comment on everything without committing myself to anything, both factions in the Worship Committee (the "Stick-in-the Muds" and the "Rip-Roarers" ["Stickers" and "Roarers" for short]) have approached me about joining the committee to bolster their side.   I have said encouraging things to both factions, and consequently some of the moderates think I'm of their frame of mind, too.  Brother Whitesoul has made a sincere effort to both preach and practice variety in the worship and to teach people to appreciate different styles of expressing their ridiculous adulation of the Heavenly Father and their love for His sickeningly approachable Son.  I try to mute that dangerous doctrine by emphasizing to each side that God, being a rigid opponent of imagination and variety, is bound to share their particular taste in worship style, and that they must be on their guard against any worship that challenges what they already think they know, lest they be swayed from their commitment to what they're familiar and comfortable with.  If I can get them to adopt that attitude, I should be able to cut them off from both the profound pleasures of the classical forms of worship and the joyful rewards of spontaneous praise.  At any rate, I think I can be sufficiently all things to all people to put myself in a position to lead most of them astray.

The vacation you offer would certainly be welcome, especially if it could be spent with some of my companions from the Demonological Seminary.  I need some relief from the strains of trying to keep up my pose as an "angel of light."

Deceitfully yours,

Ichabod

Photo:  "Typewriter" by A Fragassi. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #7)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the seventh letter we were given.

 

Transcription:

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

My dear uncle, mentor, and model of perfidy,

What a lovely, agonizing week it has been at Broad Way--agonizing for the members, that is!  To begin with, one of the teenage girls was found to be pregnant (now that you've alerted me to "Scooter" Barton I suspect him as her partner in this development, but of course, no one else is on to that).  One of the prominent businessmen of the congregation has been hauled into court for income tax fraud, and a delightfully acrimonious debate broke out in one of the Bible classes about whether the church should give back the indicted gentleman's last generous contribution to the building fund.  Luckily for our side, all of the discussion so far has been from a safely self-righteous distance (even by some whose own tax returns would hardly stand a close audit), and no one has taken the bold step of seeing whether the fallen brother would like some supportive prayer and counsel in this hour of his culpability.  Even Brother Whiteside seems to have been cast for the time being into ineffective despair by all of this, but I've seen too much of him to count him out too quickly.  He is one of those people who often come out of a time of stress and doubt stronger than before.  But it seems to me that we have the saints on the run for the moment.

Thank you for your response to my comments on freedom of will.  I have enjoyed the appeal to this absolute right of choice in the matters of abortion and the possession of firearms.  Does not a woman have the right to choose what happens to her own body?! (thus goes the kind of indignant cry that I cherish).  I have to make sure, however, that such people are deaf to the challenge that perhaps an elementary exercise of free will a bit earlier in the game might have forestalled the necessity of having to decide whether to terminate an embryonic life.  It's wonderful how humans in American society are able to see moral decisions as a matter of private choice, even those that cheapen human life both physically and spiritually.  And often those who are adamant--nay, militant--about preventing abortion show little concern about the carnage made possible by the easy availability of weapons in (and from) this country.  It matters little to us, of course, whether life is cheapened by beginning it casually or by ending it casually, nor whether it is ended clinically or with a gun.  After all, we have an enviable record of bringing death to this world of God's silly creatures, so we find equally rewarding the proliferation of all abortive procedures, whether they  are performed before or after the victim traverses the birth canal.  Therefore, let both guns and suction tubes abound!

I am trying to play it cool in regard to the Worship Committee.  I am concentrating on saying things that are so neutral they can be construed however one desires, such as, "I think one should feel good after worshiping"; or, "As many people as possible ought to be involved in the worship services."  I have found it wonderfully detrimental to any spiritual satisfaction in worship to keep harping on purely human objectives for it.  I try to steer any conversations about it away from talk of its being for the purpose of glorifying God--and that's not hard, since most people are uncomfortable with much concentration on God, anyway.  Even I know that if one glorifies God, he exposes himself to divine scrutiny, and no self-respecting sinner wants to risk that.  So I'll just continue to emphasize worship services as opportunities for people to be seen and for their talents to be displayed and admired, and for those who don't perform to be entertained and made comfortable.  I find a great deal of unconscious corroboration for the idea that one should not get too stirred up by a worship service, or that if one is, it should be a superficial "high" that soon wears off.  The Devil forbid that people should learn anything, about God or about themselves, from participating in worship!

I shall be alert to making young "Scooter" as advantageously admired as possible.  It's amazing how well he has developed the art of duplicity at his young age.  Even though he is probably responsible for the embarrassing condition of the young lady I mentioned earlier, he has been in the forefront of those apparently concerned for her spiritual welfare (out of her hearing, of course!).  His devotionals for the youth group are devoid of real substance, but they are wonders of style and clever gimmicks.  He is always nattily dressed (his folks are well off and indulgent), and that makes him doubly attractive to the girls.  How can you beat being both holy and handsome?  One of the youth leaders seems to be worried about a certain hollowness he detects in all of this virtue, but his cautionary notes seem to be pious pettiness in the midst of all the adulation Scooter is receiving.  Things certainly seem to be ripening for our big kill.

You continue to inspire me to greater depths of hypocrisy.

Double-mindedly yours,

Ichabod

Photo: "Spy vs Spy" by T. Fischer. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #8)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the eighth letter we were given.

Transcript:

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

Greetings, my tutor in deceit!

Things here are still going well for our side, and despair is rampant.  "Scooter" Barton's duplicitous activities continue unabated, the families of both the dishonored girl and the tax evader are in ruins, and I am now officially on the Worship Committee.  A delicious malaise permeates the congregation, and Brother Whitesoul speaks with great somberness from the pulpit.  My only misgiving at this point is that somebody may suggest resorting to repentance in sackcloth and ashes (as it were) and letting the Enemy get a fresh hold on them.  I must at all costs keep them from being reminded that their irritatingly patient Lord is always ready to make a fresh beginning, especially when people are at the end of their self-respect.

I've really been getting into this matter of how to make devilish capital out of despair.  At first glance, our design of fomenting rebellion would not seem likely to flourish when people are down on themselves, but I've found that in certain personalities, our plantings grow best in a bed of dark moods.  After all, the object is to make them forget or resent God, and when is that more likely to occur than when they have given up on accomplishing anything significant or satisfying?  Brother Tenebrae is an interesting case in point.  He is a withdrawn and moody person, and although he has at times experienced a sense of purpose in service to the Enemy, the state of the world as we have been able to make it is always food to his pessimistic moods.  In a person of this sort, the secret to destroying him is to cover up his rebellion with the lie that his failure and worthlessness (and that of others) have exceeded both God's concern and God's power.  In this state of mind, even his respect for ideals and his sensitivity to personal relationships contribute to his sense of despair, for they heighten the contrast between expectation and reality.  It is quite vital, however, that I make him oblivious to every memory of the Enemy's care for him and keep him blinder-focused on mankind's failures, especially his own.  Some of these days, when he is in that frame of mind, I shall persuade him that he no longer deserves life--or else that life doesn't deserve him--and he will do away with himself in the conviction that such is the consequence of his taking an unflinchingly "realistic" view of things, and that he is saving God and other people some trouble by choosing his own time to quit the scene.  How marvelously perverse it is to get someone to be rebellious and self-destructive at the same time!

The contrast between Brother Tenebrae's vulnerable spot and that of "Scooter" Barton got me to thinking about those twin poles of sin, the intellectual and the sensual.  People who have a tendency toward one pole or the other find it difficult to understand or sympathize with the vulnerabilities of the other pole.  (I sometimes wonder why the Creator made humans able to sin in so many different ways.  I can't imagine our master, the Adversary, allowing such messy diversity if he could have controlled things in advance.)  The differences between the two temperaments seem to hinge on their attitudes toward pleasure.  The spontaneity of sensual people leads them to assume that the height of pleasure is connected with stimulation and indulgence of the body and the emotions, whereas the reserve and the analytical habits of intellectual people push them toward contempt for spontaneous pleasures and cultivation of the more "cultural" satisfactions.  The sensual set generally characterize themselves as romanticists, the intellectual set, as realists.  At neither extreme do people seem to realize that it takes more than mere avoidance of the opposite extreme to assure virtuousness, and it's the false security of people at both ends of the spectrum that makes them ripe for falling into our traps.  I'm glad these creatures find it difficult to accept the fact that sin lies more in their attitudes than in precisely what they decide to avoid.  Indeed, the toughest nuts for us to crack are those who fall for the Enemy's schmaltzy line that all good things are from Him, and are to be enjoyed by His "children."

You would be proud of my clever hypocrisy on the Worship Committee.  The losers at the moment (whom I am supporting, as you advised) are what might be called the "Gimmick-Mongers," since in the wretched mood of the congregation at present, people are tending toward a sober, meditative style of worship (which is all right, so long as it is pursued as a kind of dreary penance, rather than provoking real self-examination and cries for help).  The Gimmick-Mongers are saying that we need to pull off some neat tricks to push the audience out of the doldrums, such as a handbell and kazoo number during the offering, or having the preacher appear for the sermon in a loud shirt and Bermuda shorts to preach on not forsaking our responsibilities during summer vacation.  Now stuff like that really turns my stomach, but I realize its potential as a distraction, and for the time being I'm swallowing my preference for more tasteful forms of evil to push the Gimmick-Monger party line.  But I'll be saved if I'm going to be one of the kazoo players!

Yours in double-mindedness,

Ichabod

Photo: "You've got mail." Eddy Van. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #9)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the ninth letter we were given.

Transcript: 

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

Dear Uncle Apollyon,

Thank you for your usual good advice and your commendations.  I submit myself to your chastening instructions, even to the point of kazoo playing, if it becomes necessary.  Right now, that development would be preferable to what has actually transpired.   I'm afraid the somber events of the past few months, about which I was exulting in my last letter, have driven the people at Broad Way to include both confession and praise in their services on a regular basis.  This paradoxical combination provides a double whammy against the directions in which we would lead them to think, since both activities inspire gratitude toward the Enemy.  It surely shows our Infernal Father's shrewdness that his first principle regarding what the Enemy is pleased to call "sin" is "Never admit any wrongdoing," for that naturally results in submitting to His arbitrary will, which seems inevitably to be followed by purgation in the fires of discipline and possession by a simpering thankfulness for His "deliverance from sin."   And then they go right out of the frying pan into the spire with their praise-worship!  They've chucked out most of the dull, lifeless stuff that used to characterize their services.   It's bad enough that they have started using some of these uninhibited, hand-clapping little praise songs--if that were all, we could merely persuade them to cut out everything else and feel super-spiritual for doing so; but they've also begun to sing some of the best old songs with a realization of what they mean.  This has got to stop!

I'm happy to report that this new approach to things did Brother Tennebrae no good.  He took an overdose of sleeping pills last Saturday night and is no longer among the living.  The darkness we put in his mind finally prevailed and persuaded him that the sinfulness of mankind--his own included--was greater than God's power and mercy.   Whether his last act was sufficient to damn him I can't tell, of course; but at the very least he has removed the possibility of his life being used for the glory of the Enemy, and he has inflicted great pain on those who loved him.  You and I know that the Great Transformer will probably bring some good out of even this horrible event, but I shall try to make sure that the congregation sees only the umbra of futility that covers it now.

Curses on it!  Brother Whitesoul has recovered from his depression and now preaches and (what is more distressing) leads with greater power than ever.  Having endured with the congregation through its low time, he speaks with that strange spiritual authority that comes from accepting the suffering servanthood so ridiculously recommended by the Enemy and so maddeningly exemplified by His Son.  He has encouraged the congregation in its current binge of self-examination and prayer, and he has made a concentrated effort to give the silly little communion service a special place in their spiritual "recovery."  He tells them that they are in a better frame of mind to experience that ceremony now than they were when they thought everything was all right, because it was first instituted at the very point that Jesus was about to be betrayed and killed.  I used to be able to participate in that ridiculous exercise with no discomfort at all, but now I keep remembering that our Diabolical Leader had one of his own people at that first Supper, and that the very worst the betrayer could do was instrumental in the Enemy's doing the very best that He could do.

But let's talk about more pleasant things.  Summertime offers its special set of opportunities to mislead the faithful.  Vacations upset the regular schedule and provide perfect excuses to neglect habitual acts of spiritual exercise.  I am delighted to see people take trips that encourage them to overeat physically and starve themselves spiritually, often while unwisely increasing their indebtedness and reducing their contributions to church and charity.  Also, the warm weather brings out preoccupation with boats and other recreational vehicles, bodily exhibitionism, and burnt offerings to the sun (euphemistically called sun-bathing), all of which constitute the kinds of distractions we find easy to turn to our purposes.  And I like the general assumption that churches, like water heaters, are to be turned down to "vacation low" for three or four months.  Imagine, the Enemy's troops unilaterally declaring a cessation of hostilities!  It makes me feel like a scavenger on a battlefield, walking around looting dead bodies.  I might observe, too, that the after-effects of vacationing are often as fertile for us as the time spent away; people who are exhausted and not very positive about getting back to work should be easy to use to make everybody around them miserable for a while.  Too bad the summer doesn't last longer; but then again, we heed the Enemy's admonition better than many of His own adherents do, since we work both "in season and out of season."

Don't worry about "Scooter's" cover being blown.  The girl has gone to live with an aunt, and she'll stay there to get a job and finish her education.  She didn't squeal on "Scooter," and I think she still hopes he'll come around to marrying her someday.  The baby will be born and put up for adoption, in spite of a great deal of pressure from the girl's peers to get her to have an abortion.  I'm proud to say at least that the congregation's new-found humility and conscience has not enabled them to deal with "shameful" situations like this in any way that would be a threat to our objectives.  I happen to know that a certain young man in the fellowship has developed AIDS, and he didn't get it from a blood transfusion, either.  I can't wait to get the gossip going about that!

Infernally yours,

Ichabod

Photo: "Got mail" by M. Bellucci. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #10)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the tenth letter we were given.

Transcription:

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

My dear Model of Malevolence,

My apologies for not answering your last letter right away; I will explain in a moment the reason for the delay.  First I want to let you know how devilishly happy I am to have received the promotion you informed me of.  The pin with secret Satanic symbols has already occasioned several comments and questions.  I have decided, however, to be cautious about wearing it to church gatherings.  There are several people in the congregation who are spiritually sensitive enough to be made uncomfortable when they see it; they haven't really identified what makes them respond that way, but I don't want them getting suspicious.  In fact, I try to avoid them when I'm not specifically on the attack.  They make me  uncomfortable, too!  I have noticed that for some people, on the other hand, there is a kind of fascination with the pin that reflects a submerged bitterness and rebellion in their souls.  Thus, your gift has served as a touchstone to identify some vulnerable prospects for future manipulation.

That brings me to the reason for my delay in answering your letter.  There is a movement afoot to establish weekly prayer groups throughout the congregation.  The minister, Brother Whitesoul, preached a powerful sermon about the need for constant awareness of "our" spiritual foes.  You can bet I was squirming inside.  Unfortunately, several people were really moved by the sermon and took his suggestion about forming regular prayer groups.  I have joined the one with the most inexperienced and undeveloped Christians in it so that I can try to derail at least one of these dangerous cells of opposition.  Consequently, I've not only had to attend the meetings regularly, but I've taken extra time to raise questions with people about whether we shouldn't be devoting this time to our families or to some benevolent project.  (I try my best, of course, to make these "active" things and regular prayer meetings mutually incompatible.)  At the meetings themselves, I've found it relatively easy to get people to talking about their problems, their gripes, or even trivial matters like sports, after which there's not much time left for serious prayer.  And lest anyone get into self-examination and confession (which usually means that effective prayer is just around the corner), I try to insert some tidbits about somebody who isn't there, so that people will be afraid of what word might get around about themselves if they drop their heavily protected self-images and are frank about their failings and needs.

It's certainly not helping my work any that a number in the congregation are reading Frank Peretti's novels on battles between spiritual powers.   I've been hoping that some will be turned off by the graphic literalness of his depiction of demons and angels, but he presents so grippingly the interaction between the prayers of the saints and the victories of the forces of God that most who read these stories are being made more sensitive to what it is they're up against.  That's definitely bad news for us!  Much better that "devils" be referred to only in jokes and cartoons.

I have begun to look into the workings of political power in our community.  Evidently the trick to success is to espouse principles without the attendant drawbacks of actually practicing them.  That strategy will not work consistently, of course, unless the electorate themselves have become hardened to dishonesty and cynical about corruption.  One wonderful side-effect of the current emphasis on the relativity of values is that people find it harder to articulate effectively what public standards of behavior ought to be.  I have received some good training in this kind of applied hypocrisy in some of the struggles for power at Broad Way Church.  The difference in their way of going about it and that of businessmen or politicians is that church people seem more often able to convince themselves that they really are acting out of pure and principled motives, rather than out of a desire to gain prestige and exercise control over others.

I must go now and do some heel-dragging by phoning the other members of my prayer group and suggesting that we cancel the next meeting.   Besides depriving them of power to discern what we're doing, cancellation would relieve me of having to sit there and be spiritually assaulted by my "brothers and sisters" if they really do get down to effective prayer.  I'm almost ready to renounce my damnation at the end of one of those sessions!

Yours in resistance to prayer in the church,

Ichabod

Photo: "Before Email 1" J. Atherton. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #11)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the eleventh letter we were given. You can find the others here.

Transcript:

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

My Dear, Devious Uncle,

This missive will be somewhat shorter than previous ones, because I have been exceedingly busy trying to pick up the pieces of my work after the recent orgy of repentance and revival at Broad Way.  Fortunately, as you indicated, much can be regained in the anticlimactic aftermath of all this emotional rededication.  I'll be quick to pick up on those who slip back into their old habits of sporadic Bible reading and prayer (or none at all), since they'll be ripe for insinuations that the glow they felt when the Spirit of the Enemy was revivifying them was no more than a foolish giving in to their desire to be a part of what was going on.  It will be a delight at the same time to make them feel self-righteous for having gone forward when some of their neighbors didn't.  I think the damage to our cause will prove to be minimal when things have died down; it's a good thing for us that most of these fickle humans don't build themselves any defense against a let-down from their spiritual highs.

You may laugh at this, Uncle, but I've just discovered that the contrasting and sometimes misleading uses of the word "sacred" furnish us with a wealth of opportunities for inculcating misplaced values.  For one part of the population, this word, and those akin to it, are used only derogatively and sarcastically.  Nearly everyone, for example, tries to avoid being accused of protecting a "sacred cow," a label pasted on any idea or conviction which a group of people considers basic and non-negotiable.  Consequently, one who affirms any foundation item of faith (that God exists, that He is the sovereign Creator, that His love was uniquely shown in the death of His Son) is immediately put on the defensive for blindly defending his "sacred cow" and being closed to reasonable arguments.  On the other hand, in the precincts of believers, what delightful rows have been generated over the "sacraments"—what are they, and how many are there, and who is authorized to administer them?  Then there are special vessels and images and places that are regarded as “sacred” by some.   And I was delighted to learn that a while back, the words "sacrilege" and "desecration" were applied to the disrespectful destruction or mutilation of a country's flag, confusing disrespect for the flag with blasphemy; if a flag is regarded as holy, people won't pay so much attention to the things that really are holy!  I'm hoping I can goad a lot of the people in my jurisdiction to get exercised enough by some of these controversies that they will concentrate on "sacred" objects, rather than on the terrifying Source of anything that is truly sacred.

The summer is over and church activities are back in full swing now.  That's another reason that I'm busy.  Because it's been noticed that I talk to a lot of people (they of course don't realize that it's in the line of duty), I've been added to the Fellowship Committee.  Between that and the Worship Committee (and oh, yes, the church bowling team has started up again), I'm in danger of being sucked into one of my own traps--being too busy to attend to the damnation of souls!

Yours in the Spirit of Error,

Ichabod

Photo: "mail box" by M-louis. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #12)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the eleventh letter we were given. You can find the others here.

Transcript:

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

My dear, esteemed, unscrupulous Uncle,

I have little to report on my connivings in the Worship and Fellowship  Committees, except to say that I have been successful in keeping both committees from seeing any need for them to work together.   That is to say, the Worship Committee has very little concern with fellowship, and the Fellowship Committee gives very little attention to worship; in fact, if they think of each other at all, it is as a source of competition.  People in Worship Committee meetings often say things like, "We could get more people out to worship if we didn't have so many social gatherings competing for their time"; and "That Fellowship Committee bunch think their activities are the only ones that matter in this church; they took ten minutes of the worship service to announce the next pot-luck-- and did you see how many of them got up and left early last Sunday morning to get to the park for the picnic?"

Fellowship Committee people, on the other hand, usually see worship as something to be endured so that we can get down to the real business of the church, which is to have a good social time together.  I am happy to say that very few persons on either committee realize that true worship is a fellowship of believers and true Christian fellowship is bonded by genuine worship together.  The few who do have such ideas are quickly shouted down by the majority, who resent any implication that their particular set of programs and plans is not the most vital thrust of the church.  (By the way, one advantage of my being on both committees is that each sees me as its spy on the other one.)

Your mention of covetousness got me to thinking about why it continues to be so effective as one of our "Seven Deadly Sins."  As I write this, we are about to begin the end-of-the-year holiday season, and I assume that we shall once again have marvelous opportunities for promoting both open and concealed covetousness.  Although I rejoice in open covetousness, which causes people to hate those who have more than they do, and to justify all sorts of wrongdoing in the process of getting more material things for themselves, I get the most exquisite satisfaction out of seeing someone who assumes he can't be covetous, because he merely wants to hold on to what he has.  Most of the people in our congregation are fairly comfortable, and a good number never deprive themselves of anything they have cash or credit to buy.  I do my best continually to assure the comfortable that they deserve what they have and that God expects them to enjoy it to the hilt--else why did He give it to them?  Most of the time they don't need my reassurance and are quite happy to coast along living with more possessions and income than three-quarters of the rest of the world.  The holiday season, however, presents many emotional appeals to help the needy, and I have to be on my toes to prevent people's response from being any more than a temporary sop to their consciences.  Fortunately for us, even those who contribute somewhat generously in November and December give little thought to sharing their wealth with others during the rest of the year.  I believe that attitude qualifies as covetousness, don't you?  After all, it enables one to enjoy a disproportionate share of the world's goods without giving a thought to whole groups of people whose poverty unwillingly underwrites the prosperity of others.  It is especially gratifying and ironic to see this blithe insensitivity in a season that begins by emphasizing thanksgiving and ends by celebrating the coming of One who (foolishly, of course, in our view)"made Himself poor" for the sake of these deliciously ungrateful vermin.  How we anticipate the anguish of many at the end when they realize where their casual riches have gotten them!

Some strict Christian people, I understand, object to Christmas as a religious holiday.  Well, it is true that over the years we have worked a good deal of paganism into it, even if some of that effort was lost when a few of the pagan symbols (like the evergreen tree--life in the dead of winter) became "baptized," so to speak and got partially absorbed into the larger Christian picture.  On the other hand, we've had eminent success in turning an originally Christian figure, "Saint" Nicholas, into a legend thoroughly detached from Christ and surrounded with its own entirely secular mythology.  On the whole, I think I rather like Christmas; it is for so many the season to be greedy, frustrated, and debauched that we may well gain more from it than the Christians do.

Sacrilegiously yours,

Ichabod

Photo: "Mailbox" by Tanakawho. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #13)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the thirteenth letter we were given.

 

Transcript:

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

My dear, insidious Uncle Apollyon,

Greetings in the name of the Great Roaring Devourer!  I have been busy preparing souls for ingestion, though I have been keeping my roar quiet, so as not to alarm the prey.  You are right, of course, about the naïveté of these poor sheep.  They are so easily sweet-talked, especially when they think it is in their interest to listen.  Just the other day I put it into the ear of Brother C.  Sharp that he needed to assert his seniority in the singing group by speaking up more often with his opinions (which are ignorant and appalling) and singing louder (often a half-tone flat, in spite of his name).   The leader of the singing group, an earnest, talented, but inexperienced young man, has been put quite at a loss by Brother Sharp's obstinate loud-mouthing, and whatever ministry the group had before has been soured by the rest of the singers' resentment at his uncontrolled boorishness.  One or two of the older members of the group had an inclination that could have ruined the whole game for me; they wanted to take Brother Sharp aside and speak to him lovingly but firmly about the effects of his behavior.  Fortunately, I overheard them talking about it, and I persuaded them that enduring the wayward one's discordant anger was too high a price to pay for the rather slim chance of helping to restore good spiritual order.  Besides, he might bring up some embarrassing items in their own behavior, and they were not ready to deal with that.  You will be happy to know that the special singers are now one of the most disharmonious groups in the congregation.

You asked about the member who has AIDS:  it has now become generally known that Brother Tristan has contracted the disease, and the knowledge has evoked the same kind of delicious and malicious gossip as is produced by an illegitimate pregnancy--who is the other party?  Brother Tristan is a quiet young man whom nobody noticed very much before this.  I daresay that he would be very happy had everybody continued to ignore him within the church, since the notice he has received recently has hardly been of the supportive kind.  Those who used to speak to him casually have for the most part avoided him, casting stares of opprobrium and apprehension to discourage him from approaching them.  I must say that the spontaneous, fearful distancing of most of the congregation from him has made me feel rather superfluous.  However, I am keeping watch on a few who have been nosing around the library trying to find some information on AIDS.  It would be disastrous to our cause for them to find out that in this situation there is infinitely more danger of contamination from their own spiritual insensitivity than from Brother Tristan's physical disease, or even from his sin.  Any Christian understanding shown toward him at this point could undermine the discouragement which we are counting on to damn both him and those who are responsible for it.

I was encouraged the other day, by the way, when I watched a television program which I was afraid might pose a threat to our dominance of the fare coming over the boob-tube.  It was one of a series which is gentler and more sensitive than I am at all comfortable with (some of the stories have, I am afraid, made people think about loving acceptance more than I would like); but this episode finally turned what is at base the Enemy's message of love into such a glorification of human goodness as to eliminate any place for a divine definition of sin.  Tolerance, not the divine standard, was being touted as the absolute virtue.  I was delighted at the minister's words at the end of the program: "God does not require people to believe in Him, or to know about Him; He just wants them to be good [definition left pleasantly vague], and to accept each other's best and sincerest efforts.  The first and only essential commandment is, 'No judging.'"  I couldn't have said it more subtly or seductively myself:  the defining standard is not God, but the much more comfortably low common denominator of human behavior.  Though I am still uncomfortable with it, I believe the program might do sufficient theological and spiritual damage to offset its lack of the more obvious vices.

In the spirit of vagueness,

Ichabod

Image: "Mailboxes" by B. Froberg. CC License.  

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #14)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the fourteenth letter we were given.

Transcript:

The Most Reprobate Apollyon Pitts

Undercover Coordinator

c/o Special Assignments Division

Dear Unscrupulous Uncle,

As always, I welcomed the malevolent advice in your last letter, and I stand in awe of your marvelously perverted experience.  I am glad to know that I am receiving such efficient back-up services in regard to the promiscuity of Brother Tristan and his anonymous "fatal attraction."  The fact that this partner was a female was a surprise even to me, since it is generally believed that Brother Tristan has little sexual interest in women.  But a quiet exterior often hides a tumult of complexity within.  The key objective in this case is to keep the "showcase sinner" isolated from the “ordinary” sinners (who don't think of themselves as sinners at all).

There was no need for me to prod Sister Snugrug, by the way.  I saw her talking animatedly in a corner last Sunday with Brother Lingaflap, and since I caught the words "dangerous," "irresponsible," and "disgusting" in regard to what they still quaintly term "social diseases," I'm sure that neither Brother Tristam's reputation nor his chances at salvation will be improved by their confab.

I have quite enough other matters to keep me occupied.  I have been doing some reading and listening lately on the vague set of ideas which has come to be termed the "New Age" movement.  Some of the members at Broad Way are quite taken by it, since it seems in some ways to be benevolent and life-affirming.  It often decries materialism in favor of "spiritual" development; it speaks fervently of our need to respect and preserve our environment; it deplores militarism and violence.  Indeed, since these are positions that could be dangerous to our cause, it is fortunate that what they implicitly deny in their view of mankind--its sinfulness--outweighs the seemingly humane tenor of their rhetoric.  With that denial, of course, necessarily goes the rejection of the Bible as having any special authority, for their concerns fit right in with the rejection of authority and the increasingly inbred conviction of this society that truth is not something by which we are tried, but something that we try to find within ourselves.  the "New Age" objective seems to be to unify all mankind under the banner of making the most of its potential, with a blithe ignorance of the flawed quality of the foundation on which they seek to build this benevolent utopian unity.  I find much in the church to complement this line of thinking, based on the supposedly enlightened standards of tolerance, privacy, and the warm fuzziness of truth.  Consequently, I encourage all comments that question the objectivity of God and His Word; that place all affirmations on an equal footing, subject only to personal feeling and opinion; and that set every person up as his or her own definer of truth.  A wonderful concomitant to this "new" doctrine is the careless disregard that most church members have for knowing the Bible.  That kind of negligence creates a wonderful vacuum into which the New Age vagaries can be sucked with little if any resistance.

I continue to work on Brother Whitesoul, but it seems that crises and adversity put him more to prayer, and when he stays close under the wings of his Master in that way, I can't get at him.  It's a good thing for us that most "Christians" don't really seem to believe in that kind of protection, and that they're often too proud to acknowledge the destitution of their own resources and thus hold back from relying entirely on the only power that can defeat us.  Hurrah for both pride and fuzzy-mindedness!  May they never be recognized by humanity for what they are.

I have been promoted where I work, by the way.  It seems that my methods are much admired in the business world.  A natural next step would seem to be politics.  I might note that I have been in my apprenticeship here for over two years.  Is there any chance of an infernal promotion in the offing?

Yours in contempt of mankind,

Ichabod

Image: "seal"  by J. Henry.  CC License.

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #15)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the fifteenth letter we were given.

 

Transcript:

Dear Uncle Apollyon,

Your last letter was sobering.  I shall certainly try harder to see the bad side of everything and I will review my notes on the Great Falsehoods of our calling.  In particular, I need to be continually reminded that the only guaranteed rewards come from the single-minded exercise of power.  Accordingly, you will see this devil devoting himself from now on to carving out a prominent place in the Infernal Kingdom!

Now to my reporting.  The political plans are coming along very well.  Several prosperous and ambitious people in the congregation have latched on to my campaign as a means of boosting their own fortunes, along with the influence of the congregation in the community.  And my standing in the church adds a certain aura of moral concern to my image.  Of course, I have to be careful to refer only vaguely to any actual religious beliefs.  People get nervous when they hear a politician talking too openly about his religious convictions, especially when they might dictate the way he acts.  I want to be seen as having enough religion to be respectable, but not so much as to make me odd or quirky.  I'm happy to observe that Brother Whitesoul is getting left out of this enthusiasm at having a budding politician in the congregation.  He is regarded as rather naive and simplistic about politics, since he preaches that no particular political system or party is given God's special endorsement, not even the ones that seem to champion certain church "positions."  Nor does he think that the church's objectives should necessarily be promoted by political power.  I'm using the situation as deftly as I can to undermine his credibility in the congregation, by speaking seductively about the attractions of being able to legislate a "Christian society" (with special places of influence, of course, for those who support my campaign).

I've gotten acquainted with someone who is turning out to be as good a source of "juicy" information as Sister Snugrug.  His name is Horace Linguaflap, and although he is more subtle than Sister Snugrug, he is quite as effective in spreading unsavory news as she is.  He especially delights in bringing in a hypocritically regretful sour note on someone who is being lauded and openly admired.  "Yes," he will say, "Brother Eddie Fyer is good at teaching classes, but it's too bad about his troubles at home.  I understand he and his wife haven't been getting along lately, and that their teen-age son was picked up drunk one night last month.  I don't know that a man with those problems ought to be teaching at church."   I happen to know that in reality Brother Fyer found he had to pull back on some of his activities because his wife was under too much pressure, and the son had a brief run-in with the police because he was picked up with a bunch of rowdies one night (after which he ceased to hang out with them).  But I was delighted that Brother Linguaflap was able to put serious doubts in some people's minds about the quality of Brother Fyer's Christian life.

Another insidiously malevolent story I got from the lips of Horace was about Rosie,  a married woman in the congregation, who was found to be having an affair with her best friend’s husband, Ralph.   Naturally the scandal occasioned contrasting responses from the Sanctimonious and the Sorrowful.   The Sanctis urged the elders to “purify” the congregation immediately by reading a declaration of disfellowship from the pulpit the next Sunday.  The Sorrowers, who seem not to know how to enjoy a good public shaming, advised the elders to speak with the offenders and seek to bring them to “repentance and restoration.”  I will, of course, do all I can to promote the expulsion of the erring couple from the congregation, lest they be tempted to turn their backs on the immediate pleasures of romantic “love” which now enthrall them.  For good measure, if separated from the congregation, they are likely to become bitter about the harsh treatment they have received at the hands of a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites.  And with the contention within the congregation about how to deal with these sinners, there is the prospect of an all-out split in the fellowship, if I play my cards right.  I couldn't have arranged it better myself!

Yours in unholy glee,

Ichabod

 

Image: "Mailboxes" by S. Ganapati. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #16)

  Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the sixteenth letter we were given.

Sorry for the delay. Our drop by our agent this week was complicated by his being followed by somebody in the Adversary's Secret Police.

 

Transcript:

My Dear Mephistolic Master,

 

Thank you for your latest marvelously malicious advice.  The political gambit is still bearing fruit, especially in view of the recent resurgence of hostilities in the Middle East.  (How delightful to use righteous indignation as an avenue to unrepentant hatred!)  Loose tongues and tender egos continue to further our cause at Broad Way.  But there is another development that both puzzles and gratifies me: two congregations in a town close by, one of which split off from the other years ago, have opened fire on each other again, competing for the allegiance of a young couple who have been visiting the "stricter-than-thou's" instead of the "mainstreamers."

What I find puzzling is that, after years of not speaking to--and hardly thinking of--each other, these two groups can with such alacrity and zest reopen the wounds of the original split,  which was over some issue like whether it's permissible to have a kitchen in the church building or whether the church can render benevolent aid to those who are not "members of the church"!   But who am I to question a situation that so excellently furthers our cause?

The young couple for several months tried the "mainstreamers" (a term which I use merely to convey the fact that their particular brand of narrowness is in the majority in the denomination), and they found them to be so dead that they wondered if they had stumbled into some bizarre morgue with piped-in sermons and songs.  The couple decided then to visit the other congregation (the "stricter-than-thou's"), hoping at least to find some warm fellowship.  They were, indeed, treated cordially and were invited to dinner with some of the members.  Now here's another source of my puzzlement: these people in the break-away congregation have great affection for each other, being a close-knit minority among their brethren; but (luckily for us) their hard times have not generated any great love for people with whom they disagree.

Well, the "mainstreamer" elders got wind of the young couple's having "strayed" to the other congregation and mounted an all-out campaign to inform them of the great peril of fellowshipping those church-splitters on the other side of town.  I hope that by now the couple  are either thoroughly confused and uncomfortable at both congregations, or that they are moved to decide that if this is an example of religious zeal, they can do without the church altogether.  You'd better instruct our agents to keep an eye on that "stricter-than-thou" church, though.  If they ever figure out that their love for each other and their warmer worship atmosphere are incompatible with their narrow self-righteousness toward “erring” brothers and sisters, they might be vulnerable to being taken over by the Enemy's Spirit.

Back to the lovely war we've stirred up over in the Middle East.  I don't like the increased amount of praying nor the enlarged concern about life and death that these troubles have brought about.  There is some hope, however, of turning the differences of opinion about the war into conflict within the fellowship.  Not only are there "hawks" and "doves," but some of the self-appointed eschatological sages among the saints are having a grand time helping God to clarify the obscurest passages of prophecy in His Word.  Some people seem to think that Armageddon is going to be a kind of Super Bowl, even better than the Second Coming, and that their role is to advertise, and maybe even sell tickets for it!  Some of them had better hope it's put off a lot longer than they think.  I know I don't have any hankering to see it come; I prefer the kind of war where the results are open-ended, but equally destructive to both sides.

Your partner in unholy war (foreign and domestic),

Ichabod

 

Image: "Mailboxes" by M. Zappa.  CC License. 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #17)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the sixteenth letter we were given.

 

Transcript:

My Dear "Badder-than-thou" Uncle Apollyon,

Although I recognize your malevolent intentions in urging me to exploit the "hate the war / support the troops" sentiments, the way some of the people in my territory have been saying this doesn't make it easy to exploit.   They view the war as a necessary evil in a world marred by sin.  They also point out that the soldiers themselves (on both sides) are not responsible for the decisions that put them in harm's way.  And they pray in such a sickenly benevolent way for everybody on both sides that it's hard to get through to plant the kind of anger and hate that (directed at either side) would make irrelevant any determination of which side is right.  It seems to me that I stand a better chance to bring about harm if I concentrate on convincing people that the solutions are simple, and that anybody who doesn't agree with a facile answer to it all (in any direction) is unpatriotic, irreligious, or a macho warmonger.   I am disappointed that there were not more casualties among the Americans, since that is always an opportunity for fomenting bitterness, despondency, and recriminations against God and man; but perhaps I can get some satisfaction out of cultivating callousness to the tens of thousands killed, injured, and unhoused on the other side.

Meanwhile, the local wars go on apace.  It's amazing how well people use psychological "smart bombs" to injure those who are objects of their contempt or envy.  Only last Sunday in Bible class, we were discussing the Christian's responsibility concerning alcohol.  Brother Sausbaum, whom everybody knows to be a recently reformed alcoholic, spoke up and said that those addicted to alcohol need supportive and sensitive friends who can both encourage and confront them.   Brother Upstrait replied that he had been very supportive on one occasion, when he had had to practically carry a tipsy man out of the worship service after he got too loud.  Bam!--a bomb right down the hatch, since everybody knew that the drunkard referred to was Brother Sausbaum; he hasn't been seen in Sunday School since, and  if our side is lucky, he'll soon be back on the bottle and out of church altogether.

Then in the war between the churches, there was Brother Lottenirv's remark, in the midst of a supposed reconciliation meeting, concerning a harsh word spoken by Brother Tenderheart ten years ago, and ever since remembered by the latter with great sorrow and self-recrimination, especially since Brother Lottenirv had continued to hold it against him.  Wham!--another unforgiveness bomb, zapped in through the open channel of a tender conscience.  The meeting broke up with the two sides more hardened against each other than ever before.   It's amazing what consummately effective damage people can do sometimes with nothing but their fallen instincts to guide them!

A group of young leaders in our congregation has gotten together to instigate greater variety and energy in our worship services.  I wormed my way into their confidence, because this movement could pose a severe threat to the spiritual apathy of those who want nothing more than to be soothed and lulled by a thoroughly predictable and lifeless worship service.  Rightly handled, however, this initiative could result in putting the apathetic bunch even more firmly in control, as well as thoroughly discouraging the young activists.  Accordingly, this is the advice I gave them: (1) Make sure that everybody understands the virtue of your progressiveness, and reject any song that is more than ten years old.  (2) Stage your innovations carefully, giving the worship a "show biz" atmosphere that will attract the younger generations.  (3) Don't clutter up your services with awkward silences; people like continual stimulation.  (Of course, I didn’t mention that this is so that they don't have to engage in uncomfortable meditation on the state of their lives before God.)  (4) Make it clear that you have no concern with the old fuddy-duddies who don't appreciate the style of worship you're trying to introduce; don't waste your time trying to explain what you're doing--just do it!  The ones who don't like it can go elsewhere.

Easter is almost here, so I must devote some time to drumming up enthusiasm for the Easter Bunny (we wouldn't want anybody thinking too much about You-Know-Who and his empty grave).  Perhaps I could bolster my political visibility by sponsoring an Easter Bunny Hop for the kids.  I wish I could give them poisoned eggs for prizes, but we must remain subtle, mustn't we?

Yours in hoping for the worst,

 

Ichabod

 

Image: "Good Companion Typewriter" by I. Samarajiva. CC License. 

 

 

 

 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #18)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the eighteenth letter we were given.

 

Transcript:

Dear Uncle Polly (Yes, I know how you feel about that nickname),

It's a beautiful Sunday here (according to my taste, anyway): sort of dark and gloomy, with a cutting kind of dampness in the air that weighs on human spirits and makes them depressed.  I went around church this morning bringing up as many terrible, sordid events in the recent news as I could think of and suggesting that it might be a good idea just to go home and find relief in some mindless television program (an absurd movie, or a situation comedy rerun).  Now what better combination than that could be found to suit demonic purposes?  Not only does it foster murmurings against the Almighty for letting the world get into such a mess, but it ushers the individual into a fantasy world where evil doesn't even matter--or if it does, it is reduced to a kind of perversely fascinating magic.  It was a fine day to sabotage any experience at church that might cause people to look beyond the wickedness of the world (and of themselves) for any hope to counteract these splendid "downers" in human emotional experience.  There was not much joy in the worship service this morning, so the faces of the people coming out of the building after the worship were as gloomy as the skies above.  That sent me home whistling a happy little dirge!

Whatever doubts you may have about the dependability of money as a deterrent to holiness, I continue to see its delightfully deleterious effects.  It's wonderful to observe the chain of erosionary stages in turning people's attention from the spiritual to the material--and all the while they think they're being more realistic!  First they voluntarily put in overtime at work, taking time away from both their physical and their spiritual families; then they are preoccupied with the process of buying the goods they are convinced they must have; and finally, when they have acquired their material goods, they have to spend even more time making use of them or taking care of them.  On top of all this, there is the contradictory set of worries about the dangers of losing what they have and the need to add yet more to the collection.  Once we get our clients in this state of mind, Brother Whitesoul can say all he wants about "treasures in Heaven," and it will not get past their earlobes.

Our singing group is getting another presentation ready, and it seems that this exercise will once again prove a good antidote to any spiritual lift that might come from the music.  Brother Cecil Sharp ("C. Sharp" to most of the singers) is leading the complaints again about how disorganized the rehearsals are.  Of course, his being the last to quit joking and carrying on before rehearsals start has nothing to do with the difficulties the director has in getting down to work.  Nor does the fact that he has not the slightest hint of the meaning of what he is singing.  Brother Sharp is blissfully (and disruptively!) unaware of any connection between his attitude and the improbability of constructive results from this kind of special music.  Of course, I keep hinting to him that the director is entirely too serious about the whole thing and should realize that this endeavor is more for fun than for worship, anyway.  My objective is to insure that the singers expend maximum effort depending on themselves, then develop maximum resentment at being expected to work so hard, and finally experience maximum frustration from the overall pressure of being stretched so thin by all their obligations.  If things work out that way, the director (who is really a distressingly earnest, sincere, and talented woman) will vow never to work with a church group again.  We can't afford to let Christians start thinking that music in church can boost anything except egos.

Yours in the spirit of disharmony,

Ichabod

 

Image: "A Typewriter" by T. Hososhima. CC License.

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #19)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the nineteenth letter we were given.

 

Transcript:

Dear "Puncle" Apollyon,

 

I do appreciate your continued help and encouragement in my attempts to corrupt my charges through language.  The advantages of getting people into the habit of using crude, blasphemous, or injurious language are obvious, but I enjoy the more subtle perversions of the tongue as well.  The "holy-talkers" believe they will be saved by their TC ("theological correctness").  If you don't refer to a "born-again experience" in your life, your maturity as a Christian is suspect; if you don't use the latest pop-praise phrases enough, you're not really spiritual; if you refer to the "choir" instead of the "singing group," you have used the language of Ashdod; and Heaven forbid (excuse my language) that we should refer to the Lord's Supper with such papist terms as "Holy Communion" or "Eucharist."  There are, of course, different schools ("high" and "low") of "holy-talkers," each with its own set of prescribed and forbidden terms; but none of them, I have observed, has any qualms about speaking harmfully of those who disagree with them.

The subtlest language perversion to me, however, is to persuade people not to speak when really they should.  A withheld word of encouragement or commendation can be almost as damaging as an insult in some circumstances, and a failure to speak up in the face of a great wrong being done to someone else or to the honor of God is tantamount to participating in the wrong oneself.  Sometimes a brother's or sister's holding back from a word of "tough love" is a crucial factor in somebody else's falling away.   It makes no difference to me whether people actively misuse their tongues as garbage-pushers, whips, and prim self-glorifiers, on the one hand, or alternatively bury the edifying potential of words fitly spoken underneath cowardice or unconcern.  I just don't want to see the Enemy get hold of those tongues and use them for His purposes.

In regard to your comments on physical and spiritual torments, please do not assume that I am insensitive to the differences between them.  One of the students in our congregation was telling me the other day about reading Dante's Inferno for one of her classes (little suspecting how relevant to me was the subject matter!), commenting on the horrible physical torments depicted there.  I did not disabuse her of her tendency to dismiss any relevance the work might have to her theology, since it was written by a medieval Catholic who had his own bones to pick with a number of the people he placed in Hell; but neither did I point out to her what I all too terribly discern running through Dante's depiction of damned souls: the utter futility and hopelessness of their plight.  However horribly the pains of Hell may be depicted in physical metaphor, they cannot match the incipient vision we carry within us of being forever cast away from light and life.  This is an agonizing understanding which must be hidden, at all costs, from those we seek to deceive.

 

Morbidly yours,

 

Ichabod

Image: "Typewriter at this awwwweome stationary shop at Brunswick" by P. Mak. CC License. 

Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)

Leaked Documents: Ichabod to Apollyon (Letter #20)

Editor’s Note: Administering a website like this occasionally makes editors privy to some exotic and intriguing correspondence. In light of the particularly dark nature of some letters we have stumbled upon—we can’t reveal exactly how—we thought it our duty to share this series of missives. We appear to be in possession of only one side of the exchange of letters—from a nephew to his uncle. The nephew’s name is Ichabod and his uncle’s name Apollyon, who seems to be in an advisory position of some sort. It’s not our intent to demonize anyone by divulging what we have seen, but we feel we are performing an important service by bringing this devilishly cunning correspondence to light. Here is the twentieth letter we were given.

 

Transcript:

My dear Model of Malefaction,

Thank you for all of your encouraging commendations.  I must say that much is going our way at the moment.  Brother Whitesoul is under attack by several in the congregation for his presumption in telling people how they ought to act toward fellow-Christians for whom they have contempt; Sister Snugrug has stirred up suspicion about one of the male youth workers who has been counseling a female teenager in danger of being hooked on drugs; and my presence on the City Council (yes, I won!) has brought pressures on the church to exult in its newly-found prestige as a power in the community.  In reference to the last situation, I naturally try to focus the congregation's attention on such issues as whether the uses of the property around the church building are likely to increase or decrease the value of church property.  If I can get them preoccupied with the purely material side of their "stewardship for the Lord," they aren't likely to be very receptive to the presence of any land usage that will be of benefit to the poor and disadvantaged, such as low-cost housing, foster homes, or half-way houses for people released from institutions.  Fancy shopping malls, expensive housing, and a golf course, on the other hand, will not only increase the value of our property but assure us of the right kind of clientele for the church.  After all, if things were to deteriorate too much around the church property, we'd have to move out, wouldn't we?

As to the maligned youth worker (a married young man in his late twenties), no one thought anything about his sessions with the drug-threatened girl until I put a bug in Sister Snugrug's ear about their sitting together in the auditorium to talk a couple of times after services.  He has been doing this work long enough to be cautious about meeting with young women alone and in private, and no question has ever been raised about his morals or his sincerity.  But the girl has responded to the obvious empathy which he exhibits toward her and other wayward young people, and the combination of her distress and his earnest concern in their contacts with each other are easily misconstrued by those who have nothing better to do than stir up scandal.  I had only to raise the possibility with Sister Snugrug that these fairly public conversations between the two might be indicative of a cozier-than-proper relationship between them for her to take to the phone to spread the images spawned by her quite productive imagination.  I am happy to report that not only have the young man's efforts to help this particular young woman been aborted, but his entire ministry with the youth group has been seriously compromised by the loud complaints of a number of parents who were already not too happy with his emphasis on the responsibility of the church to show compassion toward those in embarrassing kinds of trouble.  His "entanglement" with this soul in danger merely confirmed their argument that one should not encourage such people to hang around the church.

And, finally, there's the delightful trouble of Brother Whitesoul, the preacher.  According to his detractors (scum with whom even I would not associate, by the way, were it not necessary), he has the gall to urge from the pulpit that no member of the congregation is to be regarded as inferior.  Really, now!  Doesn't that fly in the face of common sense?  What satisfaction is there in attaining social, economic, or intellectual superiority if one can't be condescending toward others?  Doesn't God expect us to be the best we can be, and doesn't that mean that some are going to be better than others?  And how can we maintain quality in the work of the church if inferior people are to be treated in the same way as those with more to offer?   Even though I encourage the preacher's detractors to consider these  rhetorical questions to be unanswerable, I laugh behind their backs at the pompous hauteur with which they dismiss people who are a much more serious threat to the Infernal Objectives than they are.  I try also to offer the preacher some "comfort" in his troubles by observing that such haughty people are themselves the contemptible ones, beneath his concern and beyond the pale of his pastoral responsibility; but I have heard from some of his close friends that the foolish man insists on praying for his tormentors, invoking some silly doctrine of Jesus the Invader about its being the sickest people who ought to get the physician's most solicitous attention.  I think we'd better get a Job-attack going on this man.

Yours in the spirit of detraction,

Ichabod

 

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Comment

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)