The Early Years, From Gutter Sandpile to First Grade: Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 3)

The Early Years, From Gutter Sandpile to First Grade

A Twilight Musing by Elton Higgs

If we stay long enough in one place, our personalities are affected by where we have lived.  I spent my first 24 years in Texas, and Texans absorb certain outlooks and perspectives.  For example, we smarted from Alaska’s joining the Union and becoming technically the largest state.  After all, one can travel 1,000 miles from border to border and still be in Texas.  The sky itself is bigger in Texas.  Everybody’s your neighbor in Texas, and we are a generally friendly bunch in casual interactions with each other.  Texas is so big, it has at least four distinctive topographies within its boundaries: “piney” forest in the east; flat, semiarid plains in the west and north; “hill country” in the central part, and hot, humid coastland in the south.  I grew up in the part of the plains called West Texas, mainly in a town called Abilene (named after the one in Kansas), in a region of cattle ranching and oil production. 

I lived with my family in Abilene the first four or five years of my life  My earliest memories (late 1930s, early ‘40s) are connected with the little house my family owned on Locust St. in Abilene.  A couple of them were traumatic, like getting into a red ant bed, or waking one morning to find that the city had cleaned the gutter outside our house, thus depriving me of the sand pile I had delighted playing in.  I was greatly offended by the maintenance workers’ arbitrary decision to take away my sand pile!  I flew in to tell my mother, with indignant tears, about this abuse of municipal power.  But in a happier vein are pictures of me in my overalls playing outside the house, or sometimes posing with my brothers.  One showed me in a little cart pulled by a goat, so there must have been enough money to give me a treat once in a while.

A couple of vivid memories from the house on Locust St. had to do with my paternal grandmother.  She was a wizened little lady who sat in her chair chewing snuff and spitting nastily into a receptacle at her feet.  When she died sometime around 1940, we went to the funeral and burial in Nugent, TX, a little town north of Abilene close to the family farm where my father had worked until he got married.  It had rained heavily the day before, and we had to drive carefully through a creek flowing high enough to cover the running board in order to get to the burial site.  As we sat in the car at the graveyard, my father wept freely, the only time I ever saw him do so.  

While we were at Locust St., my mother suffered a complete psychological meltdown (what was then described as a “nervous breakdown”).  I remember her spending whole days in bed, unable to get up and function normally.  I was sent to stay with my uncle Oby and Aunt Sarah, out in the country in the little village of Nugent.  This was rather fun for me, a change of pace from town life.  I enjoyed my aunt Sarah’s home cooked meals and going with my uncle on his rounds in a pickup to check on the large oil pumps that took the crude oil from the ground and pumped it into big tanks nearby.  I remember the cigar that he kept in his mouth most of the time; he must have put it out when he went to check the oil pumps, since we never experienced a conflagration on those trips.

As I look back on these earliest remembered experiences, I realize that in the midst of feeling secure with my family and feeling that I belonged, I was also being forced to deal with the realities of pain and loss.  Indeed, introduction to that mix of pleasure and unpleasantness is typical of our early years, and the places we have lived form a significant context for that stage of our education, both informal and academic.

We moved to Stamford, TX, when I was about 5 or 6, because of my mother’s felt need for some change in our situation.  My dad hoped that moving to Stamford would help her, and he was able to continue his bread delivery route from there.  Mother was a lifelong hypochondriac and was much pampered by my father, according to my brothers.  She was certainly focused on her illnesses and seemed always to be under physical and psychological stress. 

My earliest memories in Stamford were associated with the fact that my brother Otho had joined the Army Air Force and was stationed in Delaware, with the result that his wife, Lucille, came to live with us while he was away.  While there she gave birth to my oldest niece, Linda, and I had my first opportunity to observe an infant first hand.  That was my introduction to the anatomical differences between the sexes and my first lesson in sex education.  I knew nothing, of course, of the implications of those differences, but it made a deep impression on me nevertheless.  Socially, I was informed that I was now an uncle, and I was told later that I was very proud of the fact.  At some point we went to an event involving the Red Cross (related to war time, I imagine), and I was given one of their little pins.  So now I bragged that I was an uncle and a member of the Red Cross!  My sister-in-law was much amused.

Lucille was attended by a Dr. Metz, who sported a little mustache (rather resembling Hitler’s), and she drew a caricature of him on one of my Tinker Toy pieces (all wooden, no plastic) that gave us both a chuckle.  Lucille took a special interest in me at that time, and we continued to have a special relationship until she died many years later.  I was to her like an adopted son.

My memories of those early days in Stamford include playing on the sidewalk outside our house (a quite safe thing to do in those days) and encountering a girl with golden curls as she walked home from school with her mother.  Her name was Gwendolyn Rogers, and she was the object of my first crush.  I evidently had an early attraction for older women!  To her I was no more than a little boy on his tricycle whom she walked past on her way home, but she was my chosen one.  The attachment must have come to an end when I started to school, but I remember no trauma attached to the separation.

I have other memories of Stamford during my pre-school years.  We were within walking distance of the town square, and my brother Thavis took me sometimes to the drugstore, where we would drink a limeade at the fountain.  On the way there and back, I remember going by a shop that had a partially assembled small airplane, probably a military one, visible through a big window..  I don’t know the function of the shop, but the image of the plane stuck with me.  The town was evidently safe for kids to play in, even a little way from home.  I remember going down to the railroad tracks to watch the engines go back and forth, switching cars.  I have a vague recollection of meeting another little boy in that area, because he allowed me to read his Captain Marvel comic books, and I tried to see if the magic word that turned little Billy Batson into Captain Marvel (“Shazam!”) would work for me, but it never did.

On perhaps my fifth or sixth birthday, my mother made me a cake that lasted a few days after the party.  On the day when only one piece was left, my dad wanted to share it with me, but I said I wanted it all for myself.  That little act of selfishness haunted me for years afterward.  I’m not sure when the guilt faded, but the memory has stayed with me all this time.

I have vivid memories of playing indoors at our house in Stamford during my pre-school years.  My toys reflected the context of wartime.  I had a bomber model that dropped marbles, with which I destroyed imagined enemy installations.  One Christmas I was given a model electric train by Otho and Lucille, and it engaged me many hours with its electric engine and circular track.  It was operated by a transformer box with a lever that made the engine go backward or forward, and I often derailed it with my rapid changes in direction and speed.  I can still smell the oil with which I lubricated the wheels of the train.

Most of our news came from the radio, supplemented by the newspaper, and though I don’t remember listening to any of President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, the family must have listened to some of them.  One program that I do remember my mother listening to faithfully was the commentary of Gabriel Heater.  I can hear even now his soft but confident voice, delivering his opinions on the news of the day, particularly of the war.

My first-grade experiences in Stamford were dominated by respiratory illness.  I was sick so much during my initial enrollment that my parents decided just to pull me out so that I could concentrate on getting well.  Consequently, I started again from scratch the next school year.  Since I had learned the basics of reading in my first enrollment (including phonics, an exercise in audial perception that has helped me throughout life), I spent much of my convalescence time developing my reading skills, and consequently, when I went back to school, I had a head start on the other students.  In fact, I read so well that the teacher asked me to listen sometimes to students reading and to correct them, while she worked with still another group. That spotlight on my advantage was, I fear, unhealthy food for my ego—I enjoyed it overmuch.  However, being one of the oldest in all my classes thereafter contributed materially to my academic successes.  Being held back in early primary school is often a good strategy for an initially struggling child.

I should note several other memories of my first-grade years.  My family bought a milk goat because someone had said that drinking fresh goat’s milk is good for ailing children.  The nanny goat my father milked became a pet, and it was great fun to play with her baby when he was born.  We took the goat with us when we moved back to Abilene around 1944 and created a shed and pen in back of the house.  I remember going out with my dad to milk the goat, and he taught me how to do it, though I never became really proficient at it.

I had significant interactions with my brother Thavis (eight years older than I) during our stay in Stamford.  He was a builder of model airplanes, and he spent hours meticulously cutting out parts of the plane from sheets of balsa wood and gluing them precisely together.  His room was off-limits to me, but I sneaked in when he wasn’t home and looked over his work.  I don’t remember seriously disturbing anything, but when he caught me in his room, his displeasure was strongly expressed.

Another of his wartime activities was to collect tin foil from chewing gum wrappers and roll them into a ball to convey to a recycling center for the war effort.  I can still see and feel the process of starting at the corner and carefully peeling back the foil from its wax paper base. I helped with building some of the balls of foil, and they became rather large, say about the size of a hardball or larger.

While we were in Stamford, Thavis got a job at a little grocery store owned by a man named Earl Stagner.  He and Thavis became good friends and remained so for years after we moved back to Abilene.  Another of his jobs in Stamford was working at a little café, where he learned to cook some of the dishes he served.  As a result, he introduced me to an egg and jelly sandwich which was made with three pieces of bread, with a hole cut in the middle of the middle slice to fit over the fried egg resting on the bottom slice.  Jelly was added to make it a memorable taste experience.

My most traumatic experience with Thavis was his trying to teach me to swim.  After a few rudimentary instructions, he decided that it was time literally to let me sink or swim, and I sank.  I was very frightened and swallowed some water, I think.  The swimming lesson failed, and much to his disgust, I refused to try any more.  It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I made any progress in learning to swim.

Thavis decided to run away from home after we moved back to Abilene, in order to finish his senior year in high school at Stamford.  Our time together in Stamford created a bond between us, and he continued to be a special big brother to me even after we were separated.

These scattered memories attached to places lived make me aware of how important seemingly insignificant details of experience can be.   Being stung by the red ants and being deprived of my gutter sandpile were my introduction to loss, but it took the brief, isolated event of watching my father weep at his mother’s death for me to have my first limited understanding of the grief attached to death.  I had the dawning of conscience in the small incident of not sharing my birthday cake.  Early experiences with my sister-in-law and my brother Thavis were not dramatic, but they were the foundation for more mature relationships later on.  My illness as a little boy actually resulted in my having an advantage when I finally started school.  So it was that my early years in Abilene and Stamford contributed significantly to who God has enabled me to become.    

 


Elton_Higgs (1).jpg


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.)


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.)

Assessing One’s Parents: Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 2)

Assessing One’s Parents

Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 2)

  

          Not all people have siblings, but we all have parents, and their presence (or absence) in our lives exerts an irradicable influence on who we turn out to be. I once heard of a college counselor who regularly told his undergraduate counselees that “We all have to come to the point of forgiving our parents.”  That is to say, whatever our relationship to our parents, to some degree or other, usually by the time we become adolescents, our parents’ faults will have become obvious to us, and we have to deal with our perception of their failures. 

            That may seem an ungenerous introduction to talking about my relationship with my parents, and I must make clear at the beginning that I suffered no abuse at their hands, and indeed they loved me and provided for me as they were able.  But their age when they were raising me, the last of their brood, meant that they did not have the energy or the health to be very actively involved with me.  Nevertheless, I received some significant guidance and nurture from them.  Sorting through this mixture of influences from my parents challenges me to honestly identify and evaluate their effect on me, being thankful for the good things they gave me and gracious about any deficiencies I thought they had.  It takes God’s help to review one’s upbringing clearly and to take responsibility for what we have become, whatever the advantages and disadvantages of our early home life.

I remember my father as a generally kind man.  He certainly went extra miles trying to make my mother happy, and he seemed to be well liked by his customers and fellow workers during his long employment as a bread delivery man.  Women responded well to his gentleness, and one of my sisters-in-law adored him as a surrogate father, having lost her father early in her life.  Dad was a Bible-reading man and a steady Christian, qualities that led to his appointment as an elder in our congregation of the Church of Christ we attended in Abilene.  He had strong convictions.  I remember that when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible came out in the 1950s, he was adamant in upholding the greater authority of the King James Version because the RSV rendered the quotation of Isaiah that “a virgin shall conceive” a child (Jesus) as “a young woman shall conceive.”  To him, that was changing the very Word of God; he had no conception of such a rendering being justified by a scholarly appeal to the meaning of the original Hebrew.  Neither he nor my mother went past the 8th grade in formal schooling, and neither of them had traveled beyond Texas, so they had no experience that exposed them to any culture except what they had grown up with.

My father and I didn’t share much at a deeply personal level.  When I was small he took me along with him on his bread route sometimes in the summer, but I don’t remember hanging out with him just to engage in some mutually satisfying activity, like attending sporting events or making visits to a park.  He was a hard-working man, and our only regular family activity was going to church and having an occasional extended family meal with my brother Otho and his wife and children.  Things were financially tough for my father and mother and me after he became ill with throat cancer.  After his employment with Mead’s Bakery came to an end, he took up selling Watkins Products from door to door, and I would sometimes go with him on his deliveries and his trips to the warehouse to purchase products to sell.  That ceased when I began to have jobs of my own to pay for my personal purchases and to add to the household income. 

My mother’s health was always precarious, and she had several operations to correct internal problems, including a hysterectomy.  Sometime during my early childhood, she had an emotional meltdown, or what was then referred to as a “nervous breakdown.”  For a period of weeks, she was unable to take care of household chores; I think I was sometimes taken care of by some of my aunts and uncles during this period.  She frequently felt bad, and though there were some real physical problems, my brothers and I, and several of our close relatives, I think, considered her to be a hypochondriac.  From the time I was aware enough to make an evaluation, I responded to her perpetual health problems by wishing that she could be more stoic in enduring them.  I can remember overhearing her telephone conversations with her female friends discussing clinical details of her ailments and medical treatments.

Merely by token of my being at home alone with her after she had sufficiently recovered from her meltdown to be active again, she exerted a kind of environmental influence on me.  I was a rather sickly child up through my primary school years, often having to stay home from school.  Indeed, I had to drop out of school during first grade, starting again the next year.  (Incidentally, this gave me an ongoing advantage in my subsequent years in school, always being a year or so older than my classmates.)  My mother took good care of me when I was ill and was very solicitous of me when I was well, insisting that I always wear a cap in cold weather.  I have some very vivid memories of being treated when I was ill.  As I recovered from upper-gastral problems, I was fed mashed banana and saltine crackers as soft food to re-accommodate my stomach to eating solid food again.  When the problem was constipation, the remedies were always unpleasant and awkward, involving either milk of magnesia or non-orally administered water to loosen things up.

All of this care could have established a close emotional bond, but my mother’s wearing her emotions on her sleeve actually effected a determination in me to repress my emotions, and that early development has been manifested in my adult life.  It took me years to learn to share emotionally with others, including my wife.  Even now, I remain governed more by rationality than by emotion.  That has probably been good for my scholarly pursuits, but less so for my personal life.  I was especially turned off by my mother’s frequent appeals in my teen years for me to tell her that I loved her.  The more she appealed, the less inclined I was to respond in the way that she wanted.  I loved her dutifully, but not fervently or deeply.  I honored my mother according to the commandment, and I saw to her needs to the end, but I did not weep when she died.  Indeed, I rarely weep at all, which is probably a deficiency in my life.

I remember being envious of one of my closest friends during my post-high school years.  His mother had heroically continued as mother to her two sons and a daughter as the family tried to make a go of their farm after the father had left them.  She was a warm, affectionate woman, who welcomed guests and always had a treat ready when her children’s friends visited.  I admired her for her combination of strength and warmth, and I wondered why my mother was so different from her.  I can’t remember my mother ever acting with that kind of spontaneous hospitality toward my friends.

More than balancing out any deficiencies in what my parents gave me was our religious life together.  We went to church three times a week and took it for granted that all of us would be there if not hindered by illness.  We lived close enough to the church building to walk there, which took about 15-20 minutes.  The routines of our household also reflected commitment to serving God.  I remember vividly our custom of praying together every night before retiring.  My father and I would kneel, and he would lead the prayer.  This time was called the “family altar,” and my parents told me that it had been their custom to do this from the beginning of their marriage.  Prayer came naturally in our family.  We gave thanks at every meal, and that’s where I first learned to pray aloud.  My mother was especially dedicated to prayer and had great faith that prayer was a spiritual privilege that produced results.  Her great faith and readiness to pray anytime conditioned me to see prayer as a natural part of everyday Christian living.

My Christian walk, then, was undergirded by the example and teaching of my parents.  Their lack of bitterness and their strong faith in the face of my father’s illness and loss of income encouraged me to work alongside them to supply the family’s needs.  I might not have learned the value of hard, honest work if we had been better off financially.  Their faithfulness to one another during over 35 years of marriage was another powerful working out of their desire to honor God and one another.

On the other hand, my lack of strong personal connection with my father and reaction against my mother’s excessive emotionality resulted in my taking a long time as an adult to learn emotional sensitivity to others, particularly my wife.  I am by temperament strongly inclined toward a rational outlook, and my upbringing did not contribute to tempering that inclination with appropriate emotional expression.

In sum, God gave me parents with both virtues and flaws, like most people.  I thank God that the benefits I received from them outweigh in significance those things I wish they had been able to give me.  I can’t blame any of my deficiencies on them, for I am responsible before God for what I have made of their gifts and how I have compensated for any disadvantages they might have passed on to me.  I must be as charitable and merciful toward them as I hope my children will be toward me.


Elton_Higgs.jpg

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.)


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.)

My Family: Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 1)

My Family

Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 1)

Elton Higgs

Prologue

          In February of this year, I did a Musing justifying writing an autobiography.  My reasons were that every life has a story that will be interesting to somebody; that if one has lived as a Christian, his or her life will reveal what God has done in that process; and that people should have access to a record of their forebears’ lives.  My own notes for an autobiography were experiencing a long pause when I had a lengthy conversation with the manager of this site, David Baggett.  He encouraged me to get back to the notes and the drafting of the treatise because (bless his heart!) he wanted to see it come to completion.  And he had the concrete suggestion that I use material from the autobiography to do my Friday Twilight Musings.

          I will try to comply, but I don’t want these very personal Musings to be the undisciplined ramblings of a garrulous old man, and I want them to have something of take-away value.  I trust that my wife and David and his wife Marybeth will prevent my using this venue for mere self-referential satisfaction.

 

My Family

          My life began with my being different from my three older brothers.  I was born in Hendrick Memorial Hospital, Abilene, Texas, on June 14, 1937, the youngest of four sons and the only one to be born in a hospital; the other three were all born at home. There were eight years between me and my closest sibling, so I was raised pretty much by myself, and some of my brothers saw me as rather pampered, which may have been true.  At any rate, I avoided the kinds of problematic development that made things difficult for my brothers.  I believe that God’s hand was in my being born the youngest of the four and in my coming as late in my parents’ lives as I did (I doubt that my arrival was expected).  Let me expand on how my life was significantly formed by my being last in the birth order.

The oldest son, Ordis, was born with cataracts on both eyes and was sent off at an early age to a school for the blind to learn how to make his way in the world.  He engaged in some rebellious behavior at the school, resulting in his being sent home before he graduated.  In spite of that rocky beginning, he eventually married, had children, and became a responsible Christian citizen. Although he was designated as legally blind, he was able to transcend his limitations through learning braille (which he used mostly to read the Bible) and taking advantage of jobs for the blind supplied by the state he lived in.  For many years he operated a stand selling newspapers, snacks, and other items in the state capitol building, and he was able to take up a similar job when he moved to another state. 

The two middle brothers were also rebellious. The second in line, Otho, got married before he was out of his teens, and he and his wife had to live with our family for a while—a complicated beginning to an enduring but troubled marriage.  However, he managed to achieve some stability by joining the military during WWII, gaining enough G. I. benefits to fund some training in watch repair and electronics.  He eventually had his own store selling home electronic devices and repairing watches.

The third son, Thavis, ran away from home when the family moved back to Abilene from Stamford, because he wanted to finish high school in Stamford.  He ended up joining the army so he could finance his college education after he finished his army stint.  Having played an instrument in an Army band, he determined to get a degree in music education. He was ambitious and determined to have a life with more opportunity than had been available to him at home, and he wanted the same for me.  He had a variety of music-based jobs after he graduated: teaching band at the high school level, being a traveling sales representative for a band instrument company, and owning a music store.  He earned extra money during most of his life playing the saxophone for dance bands.  His vocational life was rounded out by a decidedly non-musical job, doing rural mail delivery.  That gave him some retirement benefits, along with a bit of social security income.  

All my brothers, then, worked at a number of jobs, and the middle two were very entrepreneurial. I was the only one of the four who led a fairly normal and conformist life.  I was a “good” boy and unduly proud of it, I fear.  Perhaps the lack of adventuresome activity in my early life was attributable in part to my parents’ being already in their decline by that time; they were less restrictive with me and and I was less dependent on them than my older siblings had been  It was also true, however, that my temperament was more sanguine than that of my older siblings, particularly the middle two.  Whatever was the cause, my upbringing was more peaceful than that of my brothers.

The lesson that I draw from these circumstances in my childhood and teens is that they laid the groundwork for my later life going in more conventional directions than my brothers had.  I also had the advantage of being encouraged in my development by the two closest to me in age: Thavis urged me to equip myself intellectually and socially to have a better life than my parents had, and he furnished me with the model of completing a college education.  And during my senior year, Otho gave me some hands-on instruction in basic service to electronic devices.  However, after seeing my ineptitude for applying what he had taught me, and seeing that I excelled in academics, he gave me the memorable advice to “stick with your books.”

So it was that God helped me to avoid the difficulty of a rebellious early life and provided a push toward my pursuing an academic career.  But more about that in another Musing.


Elton_Higgs (1).jpg

 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.)


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.)

Be a Zombie for Christ!

Be a Zombie for Christ!

A Twilight Musing

By Elton Higgs

 

          O. K., I have your attention.  What could the guy be thinking.?  Isn’t a zombie a dead person inhabited by some alien life form?  Well, the idea of a Christian application of this bizarre concept came right from the Apostle Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).  And further, “. . .  if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:10-11).

          Let’s think a few minutes about the implications of this jarring metaphor of Christian “zombies.”  None of us would desire to become like the zombies in movies, who move about mindlessly, controlled by an inhabiting animation or by some magical power.  But in reality, unless we have accepted Christ as Lord, we are in a similar state of being, for we are governed by what Paul calls “the flesh,” by which he means not just the meat that covers our bones, but our fatal attraction to putting our slowly dying bodies in the driver’s seat of our lives.  We are urged by Jesus not to invest in that which is temporary, but in that which is eternal (see Matt. 6:25-34).  If we hold on inordinately to these decaying bodies we live in, we submit to a truly terrifying kind of zombieism, which Paul describes in more detail. 

In our natural condition, Paul says, we are “dead in [our] trespasses” (Col. 2:13).  “For while we [are] living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, [are] at work in our members to bear fruit for death” (Rom. 5:5).  But does not God’s law direct us how to live for Him in moral perfection?   How then can it be the source of our being controlled by sin?  Because in trying to keep that Law perfectly, we find ourselves in a battle that is unwinnable using only our natural resources:

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.  For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  (Rom. 7:13-17)

We are not fully aware of the horrors of this captivity until we have been “crucified with Christ” and thereby delivered from our sinful slavery to these dying carcasses.  “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Rom. 6:6-7).   

Here is a kind of take-over of our bodies that we can embrace just as a captive rejoices at being delivered from prison.  What a scandal it would be if we were to act as if we were still incarcerated after being freed from jail.  Rather, we are told,

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.  (Rom 6:12-14)

Or, as Paul sums it up in Romans 8:2, “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

          Far from being a threat to our welfare, being a “zombie” for Christ offers us freedom from the “death in life” that we are born into as fallen creatures.  If we are to be taken over by an outside force, much better to be inhabited by the Holy Spirit than by the decaying spirit of the flesh.

 

 

 

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.)

On Sin as a Corruption of Language

On Sin as a Corruption of Language

A Twilight Musing

By Elton Higgs

 

 

          From the beginning of creation, God manifested Himself as a user of language, One Who spoke things into being and then named them.  Each act of creation was a result of His Word: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3).  His next act was to separate the light from the darkness, and to name them, Night and Day (1:4-5).  God continued this process for the next five days of creation, speaking into existence the Heavens, the Earth, and the Seas and giving them their generic names.  In the process of creating plant and animal life, God designed each species to reproduce “according to their kind,” thus giving each of them unique characteristics that enabled them to be identified by name.  Finally, on the sixth day of creation, God had a conversation with Himself (i.e., between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit): “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).  Thereby, the pinnacle of creation, human beings, were to be sentient, aware of themselves and of God, and, unlike the beasts of the field, capable of speech.

          The first man, Adam, was given mastery over all the rest of God’s creation, and a part of that responsibility was to name the various animals (Gen. 2:19-20).  In doing so, he manifested a key characteristic of his bearing the image of God; that is, he used language to define what had already been created, as God did for the Earth and the Seas and the Heavens.  It was also by verbal commands that God informed Adam of his responsibilities and warned him against eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:16-17).  In the unfallen state of the original creation, language was an emanation of the nature of God, with a direct, unambiguous, perfect relationship between speech and the referents of speech.  There was no need for symbol or metaphor.  God spoke and material things came forth exactly as He spoke them.  Adam named the animals and that was their distinctive nomination.  God gave His commands to Adam and Eve, and His words were fully comprehended and happily followed.  Truth reigned in creation and gave perfect balance and coherence to the new world that God had pronounced good (Gen. 1:31).

          All was well until by Satan’s power a lying serpent was introduced into the Garden of Eden.  With his deceptive speech, he tempted Eve.  “He said to the woman, ’Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the Garden”?’” (Gen. 3:1b).  When the woman replied that God forbade only eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Serpent made a direct assault on the veracity of the Word of God, so that the woman accepted the Serpent’s word rather than God’s Word.  Satan used corrupted, lying speech to sow doubt about God’s perfectly truthful speech.  After she had eaten the forbidden fruit, Eve in turn persuaded Adam to partake of the fruit as well.  As Eve was condemned for listening to the Serpent rather than to God, so was Adam condemned for listening to his wife rather than to God (Gen. 3:17).  As a result, humankind’s communion with God was broken because they accepted the perverted language of their evil Adversary rather than God’s truth.

          It is significant that from then on, sin was compounded by the failing of humans to listen to, believe, and obey the Word of God, and by the continued corruption of language through lying.  Cain ended up slaying his brother Abel because he would not listen to God’s warning against being angry with him (Gen. 4:6-7).  Cain “spoke to his brother Abel (Gen. 4:8) and lured him into the isolation of the field so that he could kill him there.  Mankind became increasingly evil afterward, leading to God’s sending a flood to drown all the sentient life He had created except for Noah, his family, and selected animals.  Several generations after Noah, mankind pridefully used their unity of language to raise an idolatrous tower to “make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4).  In response, God went down and confused their language, “so that they may not understand one another’s speech” (11:7).

          What follows in the Old Testament is the sordid account of God’s Word being rejected, even when He issued it in great detail in the form of the Law issued to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  It is significant that two of the Ten Commandments explicitly address sins of the tongue (taking the Lord’s name in vain and bearing false witness); in addition, implicit in honoring one’s parents is the obligation to listen respectfully to their words and not to speak ill of them (see Mark 7:10). Throughout the O. T. books of poetry and the Prophets, false speech is at the root of people’s rebellion against God.

A good number of the Proverbs inveigh against sins of the tongue, such as “crooked speech,” and “devious talk” (Prov. 4:23-24).  Another proverb points out that

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Prov. 18:19-21).  The prophets also regularly detail sins of speech among the wicked acts of the people.  Isaiah excoriates those who tell such blatant lies that it’s like turning things on their head and despising the Word of God.

 

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! . . .  Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.  (Isaiah 5:20-24)

 

          Jesus warned in his teaching that sinful speech is at the root of alienation from God and is subject to His judgment.          

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.   (Matt. 12:34-37)

The epistle of James makes even more graphic the peril of the tongue as an untamable source of evil:

6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.  7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

 

When God finally sent the remedy for all of this sinful disease into the world, His Son Jesus Christ, He was described as the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . .  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  

(Jn. 1:1-4, 14)

 

“The Word became flesh.”  The Word that created the world in the first place--the essential and pure language of God if you will—brought light and salvation to the fallen creation that was corrupted by humans listening to the wrong word.  Only by this supreme and ultimate sacrifice could the consequences of thousands of years of corrupted hearing and perverted speech be eradicated.

          The book of Revelation presents a picture of perfectly restored language in the Kingdom of God.  The book begins with messages from God the Spirit to seven churches (chapters 2 and 3); each message is introduced by the phrase “the words of” and ends with “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Chapters 4 and 5 depict the words and songs of praises to “him who is seated on the throne” (4:9) and to “the Lamb who was slain” (5:12).  After a cascade of catastrophes to be brought by God on a wicked earth (chapters 6-18), we are ushered into the concluding chapters of Revelation in which God’s original purposes for the world He created are finally brought to fruition.  Chapter 19 begins with more words of praise to God and preparation for the great wedding feast between the Lamb and His bride, the Church, those have been faithful to their redemption by the blood of the Lamb.  But the Lamb of God is also a conqueror, and He is depicted in Rev. 19:11ff as the righteous Judge who makes war.  We know this is the Son of God who lived, died, and conquered death, because His unique name is “the Word of God” (19:13).

          We do well to remember the power of words for good and ill, and to realize that the gift of language we take for granted is God’s tool for communicating His will and our tool for spreading His Word about that will.  We even have the power to share in God’s creative power of words by shaping language into beautiful poetry or narratives of history or imaginative fiction.  In a practical way, we use language to share our understanding of God and the world He created.  But like all gifts from God, language can be used responsibly only when sanctified by His Spirit.  Like Isaiah when he saw God and heard His command to speak to the people (Is. 6:1-7), we are “of unclean lips” and are in need of an application of God’s purifying fire to our lips so that we may speak not merely our words, but His.  Our enablement is incomplete now, but we have the hope of being eternally in the presence of the Very Word Himself.

 


Elton_Higgs.jpg

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.)

         

1 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.)

Holy Fear

Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant  by  Benjamin West , 1800

Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant by Benjamin West, 1800

In Christian Bible classes we sometimes hear people discuss the meaning of the biblical admonition, predominantly found in the Old Testament, to “fear God.”  Does not the New Testament present God as our loving Father, whom we are privileged to address familiarly as “Papa”?  But the Old Testament clearly sees fearing God in a different light.  The “Preacher” of Ecclesiastes, for example, sums up his treatise by asserting that we are to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14 [ESV]).  But in the New Testament, disciples are frequently told not to fear, and in I John 4:18 we have a radical negation of fear: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  How do we get from the O.T. fear based on God’s judgment to the N.T. saying that Christians (the new Israel) should have no fear of judgment?  The fear of God still has its place in the N.T., but it is a fear embedded in the fact that Jesus Christ has bridged the gap for us between the austere fear of God and the joyful trembling that comes from being in the Presence of an awesome, loving, and gentle Father who accepts us as brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus.

Those under the Old Covenant were acutely aware that to be in God’s Presence was dangerous because of His perfect holiness and His fearsome judgment on human sin.  Three passages from chapters 6 and 8 of Isaiah and chapter 33 of Exodus illustrate this reaction, even in men who were being called by God.  In Isaiah’s vision of God “high and lifted up” in all His glory and holiness; the prophet’s immediate reaction is fear that he is going to die because he has “seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Is. 6:5).  Even though he is a prophet of God, he is terrifyingly aware of his sinfulness, and in order for his life to be preserved and for the conversation with God to continue, Isaiah has to be purified (depicted figuratively by the application of a burning coal from the Temple altar to his lips), so that his “guilt is taken away, and [his] sin atoned for” (v.7).  Moses has a similar experience (Ex. 33:18-23) when he asks God, “Show me your glory” (v. 18); whereupon God allows him only a glimpse of His back, and even that could be granted only with God’s protective hand covering Moses, for “man shall not see me and live.”  Human beings do well to fear the Presence of God, for the fiery holiness of that Presence will consume them unless God Himself offers protection.

          The transition between the O.T. fear of God’s judgment and the N.T. casting out of fear by Love is provided by the visitation upon the sinless Lamb of God of all the wrath of the Father deserved by rebellious mankind.  With God’s judgment satisfied, we can be empowered to serve and obey Him without the fear engendered by our sinfulness.   As Paul expresses it, when we accepted the liberating blood of Christ, we “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but . . . received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"  Thereby we have the liberty to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).  As Paul points out in Gal. 3, the final deliverance of mankind from sin was not to be accomplished through obedience to the Law, as necessary as that obedience was.  As he concludes in that chapter, “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:24-26).  God’s love, fully manifested toward humankind by the sacrifice of His Son, is the instrument for transmuting human fear into effective fear of God. 

And so we come back to the statement in I John that “perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (I Jn. 4:18).  What a glorious privilege is granted to us who live under the New Covenant, that we may glory in standing before God without fear of punishment for our sins.  Although we no longer tremble in physical terror as Moses and the people did when they encountered the fiery Presence of God at Mt. Sinai, we are nevertheless admonished to approach Him in Mt. Zion, the Heavenly Jerusalem, “with holy fear and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb.12:28-29, NLT).  We still need the protective covering of the blood of Jesus to keep from being consumed by the Fire of God’s judgment.  Thus we are able under the New Covenant to fear God perfectly and joyfully.


Elton_Higgs (1).jpg

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.)

         

 

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.)

Cardio-Circumcision

          We are used to seeing various kinds of body piercings and skin adornments displayed in public, but have you ever seen anyone with circumcised lips?  Or circumcised ears?  Probably not, since we have trouble even visualizing what such physical alterations would look like.  The source of this terminology comes from Scripture (Ex. 6:12; Jer. 6:10), but it is obviously intended to be interpreted metaphorically, along with the often-repeated references to circumcision of the heart (e.g., Deut. 5:16).   This turning of circumcision into metaphor is bold, even a bit shocking, but it is a revealing instance of using physical reality as a bridge to spiritual truth. 

Like any metaphor, figurative circumcision is rooted in physical circumcision.  Although the practice of excising the male foreskin, particularly for newborn infants, is now a common medical procedure, its religious significance has its origin in God’s Covenant with the Jewish people, first instituted by God as a sign of His Covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:9-14) and later reinforced under Mosaic Law (Josh. 5:2-6). Since the ritual inherently applies only to males, the question arises as to how it signifies God’s Covenant with all His people, male and female.  I would suggest that seating this procedure in the male reproductive organ carries significance in two ways.  First, in the patriarchal society of ancient Jews, men bore the primary responsibility for seeing that the meaning of the Covenant was passed on to the next generation; the circumcision of their male sons at eight days old was a commitment to teach those sons what it means to serve God.  Second, circumcision of the foreskin betokens a dedicated channeling of male libido under the Lord’s discipline.  The man is not free merely to pursue his own lust, but is to dedicate this intimate part of himself to honoring God, through marital fidelity and self-control, thus assuring the perpetuation of a pure line of God’s Chosen People.  So we see that the rite of circumcision betokened much more than the physical marking that took place in infancy.

Scripture actually places more emphasis on circumcision of the heart than on physical circumcision.  Even in the Old Testament, where physical circumcision is required, there are more references to inner circumcision than to physical circumcision.  Circumcision of the heart, as presented to the children of Abraham, involves above all submission to God’s will and obedience to His commandments.  “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn,” Moses tells the Israelites in Deut. 10:16.  He also tells them that “God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6).  What begins as a command for outward obedience to God’s law ends up as a challenge to go beyond the outward process of being physically marked for the Covenant to being spiritually marked by the Covenant.

Under the New Covenant instituted by Jesus’ death and resurrection, the requirement of circumcision was laid aside, along with the rest of the ritual laws about animal sacrifice and Temple worship.  Nevertheless, some Jewish Christians from among the Pharisees insisted that circumcision was still necessary for those accepting Christ and the New Covenant.  This issue came to a head in the Jerusalem Conference of all the Apostles and leaders of the church (see Acts 15:1 ff.), at which it was determined not only that circumcision was not required of uncircumcised Gentiles who became Christians, but that the core of the New Covenant was salvation by grace, not by meritorious works of law-keeping.  Peter testified how God had shown him that the Good News was as much for the Gentiles as for the Jews, and God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.  Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will" (Acts 15: 9-11).

Thus, under the New Covenant of salvation by grace, not only was circumcision not required, but it actually became a stumbling block to new Christians, for it came to represent a dangerous emphasis on salvation by works.  Paul thundered against this heresy in his writings, as in Gal. 5:1-6:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 

Nevertheless, the figurative, deeper meaning of circumcision is still very much in evidence in the New Testament, as in Col. 2:11-15:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

 

In this passage, baptism, like circumcision under the Old Covenant, marks one as a participant in the New Covenant; and though it is a physical act, it signifies and expects an inner change that equates to “circumcision of the heart.”

          We conclude, then, that even a God-ordered ritual has no spiritual value within itself; it becomes significant only when it represents, and results in, an ongoing ordering of the mind and heart toward God.  The Lord wants to make His mark not just in our bodies, but in our souls.  The command to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart” is still relevant.

 


Elton_Higgs (1).jpg

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.)

 

           

 

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.)

Take Heart, Be of Good Courage

Take Heart, Be of Good Courage

A Twilight Musing

 

          A while back a friend who spends part of each year in France responded to some great difficulties I was having with the French word of encouragement, “Courage” (pronounced “koorage,” as in “garage,” accent on the last syllable).  Recently I found that a similar sentiment (“take heart,” or “be of good courage”) is prominent in the Bible, and I would like to consider the theological significance of the idea behind those phrases.

          In the Old Testament we find exhortations to the people to “Be strong and courageous” (Deut. 31:6, Josh. 1:8) and to “take courage” (II Chron. 15:7-8) in going about what God has told them to do.  In the New Testament, Jesus Himself several times encouraged those to whom He was ministering to “take heart” because He was going to meet their need for healing or for the forgiveness of sins (or both).  In the case of the man let down through the roof by his friends (Matt. 9:2-3; see also Mk. 2 & Lk. 5), Jesus said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”  When blind Bartimaeus cried out for help to the Master and Jesus responded, the blind man was told by the disciples to “take heart.  Get up; He is calling you” (Mark 10:49).  To the woman who timidly touched His garment in order to be healed, He said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matt. 9:22).  The point of a parable told by Jesus about a persistent widow asking a judge for justice is that his disciples “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

 Jesus established the principle that “taking heart” is an attitude of trust that God is willing and able to strengthen us and to meet our needs.  Such encouragement (you see “courage” embedded in that word?) urges boldness to replace reticence and assurance to replace doubt.  When Paul is threatened with assassination, God assures him that he will be protected: “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome" (Acts 23:11).  

Paul, in turn, assures the Corinthians that we can be buoyed up even when we are experiencing bodily suffering.  His own suffering is mitigated by the assurance that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence” (II Cor. 4:14).  Consequently, “We do not lose heart.  Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (4:16).  Moreover, God has “given us the Spirit as a guarantee.  So we are always of good courage. . . , for we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:5-7).

We may wonder when we suffer hardship if we are loved by God, but the writer of Hebrews tells us (quoting from Proverbs), “Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,  because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.  Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Heb. 12:5-7).   

          We can draw some helpful conclusions from all of this for our daily living. 

1.    God knows and empathizes with our struggles, and He wants to encourage us not to give up, but to persevere and be strengthened by the experience.

 

2.    God has not engineered us for failure, but for success in spiritual growth.  He calls us to Himself to experience healing and forgiveness.

 

3.    Taking heart and being of good courage consists of consciously choosing the way of faith—complete trust in the goodness of God and confidence in the future if we leave it in His hands.

 

So when we are under stress and feeling discouraged (again, that embedded word), we can remember that God admonished the fearful Israelites to be bold in going in to conquer the promised land: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Josh. 1:9).  And we can recall that Jesus tenderly raised a man paralyzed by his sins by saying, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2).  Strength and healing come from the courage God gives us when we need it most.

           


Elton_Higgs (1).jpg

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.)

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.)

A Twilight Musing: The Education of Jonah

 

                  Jonah is well known for running away to Tarshish to keep from having to preach to the people of Nineveh.  We tend to assume that Jonah’s flight from God’s command is a spontaneous reaction.  But actually, the author reveals at the end of the book that Jonah’s refusal to go where God sent him was based on deep reservations about God’s mercy: “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2, ESV).  Essentially Jonah is saying to God, “I knew you were setting me up to look ridiculous: I go in there full of fire and brimstone, and then you go soft and don’t zap them after all.”  So it’s obvious that Jonah needs an education, and God sends him to school through the journey to Nineveh.

          Jonah’s conscience is quite bothersome as he boards the ship to Tarshish, for he is fleeing “the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3).  God responds by saying, in effect, “You want to hide?  I can do you one better than the hold of a ship.  How about the belly of a big fish?”  From that place Jonah cries out to be restored to the Lord’s presence, and he is cast up on shore by the fish, ready to hear again the Lord tell him to go preach to Nineveh.  He’s now turned around to do God’s bidding, and he dutifully walks the three days’ journey through the town warning the citizens of their impending doom.  But he evidently does not have the heart of his merciful God in delivering his message, and, perversely, he is even chagrined at his success in turning the Ninevites from their wickedness!

          We then see the last unit of Jonah’s course acted out in the last chapter of the book.  First, we see the compassion of God contrasted with the vindictiveness of Jonah as God “relented of the disaster he had said he would do to them” (Jonah 3:10), and Jonah was angry at God’s mercy.  God asks him, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4), and Jonah’s lack of an answer is an implicit “Yes.”

          The next step is for God to show Jonah how sinful is his sense of values.  When Jonah builds a little arbor for shade as he self-righteously waits to see “what would become of the city” (Jonah 4:5), apparently without much charity in his heart for the inhabitants of Nineveh, God makes His final point with Jonah by supplementing the prophet’s shade with a vine, for which Jonah is glad.  But as quickly as it came, God caused it to wither, once again making Jonah angry enough to want to die.  God asks a second time, “Do you do well to be angry” over the loss of such an insignificant thing?  God drives home the absurdity of Jonah’s feeling more for the loss of a trivial comfort than for “a great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11).

          We are not told whether Jonah took God’s lessons to heart and changed his attitude toward those he preached to, but we would do well to heed God’s lesson to His prophet: don’t be more wrathful toward sinful people than God is.


Elton_Higgs (1).jpg

 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.)

 

         

         

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.)

Why Write an Autobiography

A Twilight Musing  

Recently I felt moved to write an autobiography.  You may ask why I think an account of my life is worth recording and who I think would (or should) read it.  Those are questions worth asking and answering, so I will proceed to do so.  (Perhaps we could call it my apologia autobiographica.)  My basic reasons for undertaking this task are three: (1) Everyone has a story, and the best time of life to tell it is from the vantage point of advanced years, and my four-score and one qualifies.  (2) An account of my life, if written from a Christian perspective, should be a testimony to God’s goodness and faithfulness, so it has the potential of being an encouragement to others.  (3) Recording the events of my life will provide some documentation for our children and grandchildren to understand better their relationship to the past.  And in a more personal way, I want to leave some information about myself that enables them to know me after I’m gone.

One of the stereotypical characteristics of older people is their being inveterate story tellers who patch together episodes in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner.  I want to tap into this inclination to look back and recall events, but give it structure and thematic unity.  My theme would be to recognize, acknowledge, and give thanks for the many people whose lives contributed to the formation of my character and the development of my skills.  Some of these may be obvious and stand out, while others rendered their services so unobtrusively as to be easily forgotten.  A carefully written record will assure that even my quiet benefactors are recognized.  I remember, for example, the loving attention given to me and others by “Miss Addie,” my first Sunday School teacher.  She never drew attention to herself, but she introduced scores of little children to Bible stories and the love of Jesus over the years.  In contrast, my mentor and sponsor in college days was a larger-than-life professor named James Culp.  Dr. Culp took me under his wing and held out the vision of pursuing an academic career.  I worked as his student assistant in my senior year, and he nominated me for a graduate fellowship that paid my way for the first year of a doctoral program.  After I completed my Ph.D. and was employed as a college teacher myself, he continued to be interested in what was happening to me and rejoiced in my successes.  Miss Addie and Dr. Culp differed greatly in their visibility and the sophistication of their help to me, but I owe them both a significant debt of gratitude.

It has taken a full lifetime for me to come to the state of confidence I now have in the absolute reliability of God.  He has, so to speak, rolled up an overwhelming “track record” of meeting my needs and giving me the strength and resources to do the tasks to which He has called me.  Some account of these experiences is appropriate to share with others—not to brag about, but to give praise to God.  Some of my examples were epiphanies of God’s goodness and dependability, but others were more diffused blessings, like having godly parents who taught me the Word of God and moral responsibility, and having educational opportunities that fostered my intellectual development.  Prominent among the notable instances of God’s provision was His identifying an adult foster care home for our daughter, Cynthia, whose Huntington’s Disease-generated behavior had exhausted our mental and spiritual resources.  Thanks to our being unexpectedly connected by a politician with some influential people, Cynthia was placed in a foster care home within a week of the initiation of procedures.  I hope that more examples of both kinds of God’s good gifts will be of benefit to others and bring Him praise.

Nobody has requested that I write this treatise, so there is no guaranteed audience for it, but I hope that my children and grandchildren, in particular, will see its value once it’s done (a point in time that seems to recede farther the more I write!).  My efforts will have been rewarded if their eventual personal interest in this record morphs into a broader appreciation for the larger history that concerns us all.  Valuing the records of the past is a much-needed perspective in the present Western culture of chronological snobbery.  Our society places so much value on the present and on the supposed advancements of the future that the past seems irrelevant.  Whereas the truth is that we don’t even know who we are without some serious attention to understanding the past.  Even more important for Christians is the fact that their faith is founded in the history of God’s work with His people, and that history is the substance of the Gospel message.

In writing about oneself, it’s difficult to strike a balance between egoistic projection and transparent honesty.  I hope there is something to be gained in reading about both my supposed successes and my failures.  I will do my best neither to exaggerate the one nor to gloss over the other.  Beyond the mere relation of events, I want to present to potential readers some sense of how I see my life experiences and how my understanding has changed over the years.  Of one thing I’m sure: For my having reached this point in my long journey with mind and body pretty much intact, God is greatly to be praised.  I hope that my account of that journey will supply more evidence of His goodness.


Elton_Higgs (1).jpg

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.)

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.)

Finding God in the Darkness: What I Learned in the Hospital

A Twilight Musing

          I recently went through nine days in the hospital being treated for severe pneumonia. It was the longest hospital stay of my life, and it was extremely stressful, both physically and spiritually. But it was revealing as well. I learned that Satan will take advantage of us when we are most vulnerable, and that God can and will cause us to grow spiritually when we are subjected to unavoidable interruptions to our comfort.

          The onset of my crisis was quite sudden. Although I had already had a visit with my primary care physician and received an antibiotic to combat my infection, a return visit quickly turned into a fast trip to the emergency ward and immediate application of measures to keep me from lapsing into a life-threatening condition. I was subjected to an intense regimen determined by the medical professionals, and I was merely carried along on its tide. Needles were inserted, and IVs attached. I was pumped with fluids and antibiotics, subjected to prescheduled vital sign checks, and perpetually tethered to a bunch of tubes that had to be hauled along whenever I got out of bed. Had I been knocked out, I would have not known what was going on, but I was awake most of the time and had to grab naps when I wasn’t being waked or poked or prodded by nurses and their aides.

          The first two nights after being admitted were the most trying. Because of the medications being administered, I was hypersensitive to physical and psychological stimuli, so that during those two nights I felt a palpable presence of Evil, and I had to battle fear by calling out to God to deliver me from it. During the initial nights I had a frightening sense that I was being subjected to the equivalent of an endless loop of bizarre dreams, like clips from a horror movie. Something was messing with my mind. But God answered my prayers and gave me the strength to regain some spiritual equilibrium after a couple of days. During that first part of my stay, I felt myself enveloped in a kind of heart of darkness (a la Joseph Conrad). I didn’t feel God’s Presence, but I kept hanging on to my intellectual conviction, reinforced by long experience, that God was present and that His Love was working on my behalf. In that situation, I could exercise choice only in how I reacted to the medical regimen I was being subjected to.

          Strategically, I had to be content with short naps, rather than extended periods of sleep. Once I accepted that process, I found peace in not expecting more. One of the nurses talked to me in the middle of the night, after I had complained about being unable to sleep because of all the sounds and activities around me. She explained how my (and other patients’) expectations in a hospital stay need to be brought into line with hospital objectives and practices. “Most people come to a stay in the hospital expecting to rest, whereas the purpose of a hospital stay is to be cured of your illness. Once that is accomplished, we send you home to rest.” That would seem to be analogous spiritually to the instruction of Jesus (see Matt. 6:25-34) not to worry, to trust God for sufficiency in all that we need, and to experience the peace that that trust brings.

My encounter with Darkness during these nine days in the hospital was unique in my experience, and I want never to repeat it. Nevertheless, it gave me a new perspective on the Christian’s struggle with Evil. Darkness can be a very effective teacher, but its lessons require a radical sacrifice of our comfort.


Elton_Higgs (1).jpg

 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.)

 

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.)

Three Poems on the New Year: Perspectives on Time

Photo by  Alex Guillaume  on  Unsplash

          The measurement of time is so ingrained in our society that we take it for granted.  On a daily basis we have schedules that mark the beginning and ending of assigned or chosen tasks.  On a larger scale, we track the progress of each week, month, or year.  Our annual celebration of the transition from one calendar year to another invites a summary and evaluation of what has been accomplished or merely taken place in the past year.  In a more personal way, we celebrate birthdays as milestones in the progress of our lives.  Underlying all of this measurement of time is an awareness that we humans, along with our social and political institutions, have limited lifespans.  We are all on the path to death.

          It has not always been so.  When God created the Earth to be an environment for living things, especially for his ultimate creation, human beings, there was no sense of limited life, and so no need to measure time.  But all of that changed when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, thereby incurring the promised penalty of death.  Very quickly after the two of them were banished from the timeless Garden of Eden, the narrative about their offspring began to be marked by the passage of time: how many years between the births of their children and how old each person was when he died.  How different the human and divine perspectives on the passage of time had become.

          I have imagined in “Adam’s first New Year” how he might have ruminated about his new perception of the passage of time on the anniversary of his and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. In this monologue, Adam, though keenly aware of the sad new world he and Eve have brought about, realizes that God is still with him, transcending His own edict of judgment, just as He had done earlier when He clothed the just-realized, sin-conscious nakedness of the pair. 

Adam's First New Year

 

Adam paced the field

Made rough by tilling,

Unwilling ground since God

Withdrew His Presence from it.

The sun itself, now cyclic,

Gave only partial beams

To warm the stubborn soil.

 

"No need in Eden's bounds

To think of ebb and flow,

Of patterned change

Which gives us markers

For the progress of decay;

But now each day reveals

That something more of what we were

Is lost,

And nights accumulate

Until the sun comes back

To mark the point where death began.

 

"That day, I made a world

Where beginnings add up to ends,

And cycles are incremental.

Can God be heard in such a place?

Can timeless Love be found

Where time feeds hateful death?

I know only that breath,

Though shortened now,

Is still from Him;

And though I sweat for bread,

He feeds me yet."

 

            The next two poems show the same paradoxical way that God goes beyond our

time-limited understanding of the flow of events.  He sees without the restrictions of past, present, and future.

Tying Up Loose Ends

 

Accumulating year-ends is a purely human occupation:

Piling up tinsel monuments

And stacking shards of shattered plans.

Only the illusion

That things which matter have beginning or end

Spurs mortals to wrap up one year

And open another.

 

Celestial perception

Tolerates imperfection,

But gently urges us not to mistake

Our clocks for absolute.

We will accept, then,

The fragmentation of experience,

And search for the splices of God

By which the worst of the past

And the promise of the future

Are always joined.

           

            Finally, I offer a poem that reflects the perversity of our fallen wills in opting so often for the immediate, but temporal, pleasures of our mortal world, rather than the eternally significant treasures of God’s grace.

Bankrupt

Borrowed time

Is what we all live on.

Profligate spenders,

We purchase the gauds and trinkets

Of Vanity Fair.

We prefer our own

Purchased pain

To the gift of suffering

Which is beyond our means;

Our own indebtedness

To the solvency of Grace.

 

Kyrie eleison,

Christe eleison!

 

Lord, have mercy!  Christ, have mercy!  Grant us the eyes of eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.)

Incarnation: The Intersection of Two Universes

Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_(1622).jpg

A Twilight Musing

The word “incarnation” gets a lot of use this time of year, and like most frequently-used terms, its full meaning tends to get lost in its commonness. Literally, it means “being manifest in bodily form,” and it can refer to any disembodied entity assuming physical shape. However, when Christians say “The Incarnation,” they are of course talking about the Son of God being born and living out an earthly life as a human being. That bare fact would be astounding even if God had taken human form in the perfect world of the Garden of Eden; but His being incarnated in a world corrupted by sin betokens a cosmic intersection between changeless Divinity and the ever-changing sin-diseased heavens and earth. When the apostle John wrote the prologue to his Gospel account (John 1:1-18), he called the part of God that took human form “the Word,” which “was God” and was “with God” (v. 1) before He “became flesh and lived among us” (v. 14). Deathless Eternity was enveloped by mortal flesh, locking them in a battle from which either Eternal Life or endless Death would emerge victorious. Praise be to God, we know the outcome of that battle won by the Savior Jesus, whose incarnated flesh suffered death, but was raised in glory, the firstfruits of the victory over Death.

Both of the poems below reflect the process of the Word being encased in flesh, but then also emerging from flesh to become the Eternal Word again, having triumphed over Sin and Death. In the first poem, I have assumed a symbolic correspondence between the “swaddling clothes” in which Mary wrapped Jesus at His birth and the customary shroud in which His crucified body was buried. Although there was great rejoicing at Jesus’ birth because of the promises associated with His Advent, the lowly circumstances surrounding that birth indicated that His earthly existence would not fulfill the conventional expectations of powerful king and conquering hero. Just as His birth hid the death embedded in it, so His death was the womb of the Life embedded within it.

The second poem traces the same cycle of progress from the absolute and timeless Presence of God, to the extension of His Essence into the original creation of Earth, and finally to that Essence taking on human form, but without the corruption of sin. Through that Birth, Earth will be delivered from its corruption once again to embody the Essence of God’s original purpose for it, thereby empowering it to be the dwelling place for God’s eternal Presence.

"And the Word Became Flesh"

(John 1:1)

When Word invested in flesh,

No matter the shrouds that swathed it;

The donning of sin's poor corpse

(Indignity enough)

Was rightly wrapped in robes of death.

Yet breath of God

Broke through the shroud,

Dispersed the cloud

That darkened every birth before.

Those swaddling bands bespoke

A glory in the grave,

When flesh emerged as Word.

Take up this flesh, O Lord:

Re-form it with Your breath,

That, clothed in wordless death,

It may be Your Word restored.

1985

Immanuel

In God's Presence

Is the essence

Of perfect earth;

In one birth

Knows all earth

The essence

Of God's Presence.

Elton D. Higgs

Nov. 12, 1977

May the wonder of the Word becoming flesh be made real to each of those who rest in its redeeming power; and may each of those inhabited by the Spirit of Christ know with assurance that “this flesh . . . clothed in wordless death” is being transmuted to the “Word restored.”

 

Image:"Gerard van Honthorst - Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)" by Gerard van Honthorst - Google Art Project. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_(1622).jpg#/media/File:Gerard_van_Honthorst_-_Adoration_of_the_Shepherds_(1622).jpg

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.)

For a Friend Battling Darkness

A Twilight Musing

I just finished an astoundingly blessed conversation with a dear friend and brother in Christ who is in the midst of a struggle with severe depression.  I am aware of the danger of being presumptuous in trying to help someone negotiate depths of horrible feelings that I have not gone through myself, and I can justify it only by believing that in our conversation God was at work spotlighting truths that go beyond either of us—truths that are the bedrock of the relationship that God has with us through Christ.  In that spirit of belief, I will honor my friend’s request to put into writing the thoughts that God prompted during our conversation, so that both of us can refer to them later.

My friend (I’ll call him Peter, since the apostle of that name also experienced deep darkness when he realized he had denied his Lord) had already in an e-mail told me that he was having a really hard time, so after a couple of days I felt strongly urged to follow up that communication with a phone call.  Peter was more than ready to hear from me and to share more of what he had been experiencing.  It turns out that much of his present darkness hinges on unresolved guilt regarding his long-term attempts to care for and help his brother (let’s call him Andy), who, even now, when the two brothers are approaching the end of their two lifetimes, continues to be recalcitrant, angry, and accusatory in response to whatever is done for him.  Peter feels he is and has been a failure, and he can’t get out from under the guilt.

He said that a counselor had suggested that he, through an act of will, detach himself enough from the situation to imagine hiring someone to care for his brother, not just physically but to minister to his deeper needs.  What would be the job description and statement of expectations?  If the worker did everything imaginable to help Andy, and still failed to get the desired results, would he be blameworthy?  If not, should Peter hold himself any more responsible than he would hold the worker?  We agreed that this is a good technique to use, and that it can help Peter to see his situation more objectively.  But the problem—and the answer—goes deeper than that.  Battling the darkness of guilt and depression requires embracing the Light, even when you don’t see it.

I reminded Peter of two things: the supremacy of God’s Light over the Devil’s Darkness, and the function of darkness in helping us to see the Light.  As to the first, the apostle John, in the first chapter of his Gospel, tells us that through Christ, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).  The Devil is called the “Accuser of [the] brothers,” who “accuses them night and day before our God” (Rev. 12:10).  But even more relevant for us personally is the fact that he accuses each one of us, not merely to bring sin to our attention (the Holy Spirit also does that), but to speak the dark lie that the sin is so bad that we are unforgiven by God.  But Satan is not only the Accuser, he is also the embodiment of falsehood, the great Liar.  And his most effective agent for falsehood is unresolved guilt.  So Peter (both in the Bible and my friend) needed to realize that the darkness of guilt he is experiencing is a direct work of the Adversary, the Father of Lies, the Master Accuser.  It is a bedrock truth that in the Light of Christ the Savior, we are forgiven, and the only function of guilt in that realization is to lead us back to the incredible truth that we are forgiven.

That leads to the final point I felt needed to be articulated: It often occurs that one doesn’t realize the overwhelming beauty of the Light until he/she is enveloped in the darkness.  I think I can do no better than to reproduce a poem that I wrote years ago. It expresses a truth that goes deeper than my wisdom can take credit for.  I like to think that God knew when he gave it to me that it would speak to “Peter’s” predicament.

Shadows

Shadows lengthen, deepen, merge.

Darkness is all, and I am there.

No thought of shadows when

The sun is full, for then

They merely accent the brightness.

When all is shadow, love may thrive,

Though hope be dim; when all is bright,

Shallow bliss holds sway.

Even the Arctic is both night and day.

Darkness gives more to defining light

Than light to the understanding of dark.

I will see the shadow grow,

And dwell in it even, to know

That light is its own verity,

And darkness but an island in its midst.

 

                         --Elton D. Higgs

                           (Dec. 31, 1974)

 

Image: "Wintertime is candletime" by Groman123. 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.)

Waiting on God

Photo by  Ben White  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

A Twilight Musing

Those of my generation may remember a bygone country song that reflects the old southern custom of making kids wait to eat until the adults were served.  In the meantime, they were told to “take an old cold ‘tater and wait.”  That bit of social history reminds me that in general we Americans regard waiting as an imposition, a disadvantage to be avoided if possible.   Being made to wait is felt (and sometimes intended) as a put-down.  An important person often shows his/her superior standing by making other people wait.  Going to the head of the line at the airport check-in is a sign of special status, and being able immediately to see a president or other person in authority shows special closeness to that person.  A restaurant “waiter” is a person who serves others; and an old sense of “waiting upon” someone (e. g., in Shakespeare) is putting oneself at the disposal of a superior.  Rarely is waiting seen as a positive experience.

These thoughts moved me to consider the place of “waiting” in the Bible, where it is presented positively, as a mark of dependence on and submission to God, as in Ps. 25:1-5, 20-21

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  2 O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.  3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.  4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  5 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. . . .   20 Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!  Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.  21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.

This passage shows the nature of biblical waiting: those who cry out to the Lord can be assured of His care for them, and that assurance leads to courageous perseverance in times of hardship.  As another Psalm says, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!  Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:13-14).

Waiting on the Lord is also an antidote to angry despair in the face of unrelenting evil:

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!  Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!  Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.  For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. (Ps. 37:7-9)

In the same vein, when we are treated maliciously and injured, we are not to avenge ourselves, but wait upon the Lord to do vengeance (Prov. 20:22; Rom. 12:17-19).

Failing to wait upon the Lord can have dire consequences.  The children of Israel could not wait in faith for only 40 days until Moses came down from Mt. Sinai to give them God’s Law, but in their impatience they made a golden calf to worship (Ex. 32).

Saul was rejected as king of Israel because he disobeyed the order to await Samuel’s return to make a sacrifice before he went into battle (I Sam. 13).  Abraham and Sarah grew impatient waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to send them a son and brought the servant woman Hagar in to be a surrogate mother for a son and heir, thus bringing Ishmael into the world to set up a permanent rivalry between him and Isaac, the true son of God’s promise who came miraculously when God was ready.  In all these instances, we see that failing to wait is coupled with exercising our own wills instead of submitting to God’s will.

But what are the benefits of waiting?  In general, one can say that willful and purposeful waiting gives time for God’s purposes to ripen and come to fruition, while dampening our strong inclination to chart and pursue our own way.  As the much-quoted proverb says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).  This kind of submission to God brings peace of mind, for it frees one from anxiously worrying about the future, since it is in God’s hands.  Moreover, waiting on God is a time of recharging our spiritual batteries.  As Isaiah says, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Is. 40:31).  It may also be that God is using our waiting to prepare us for tasks and ministries of which we are not yet aware.  Remember how Joseph was sold into slavery, and even when he prospered there he was unjustly thrown into prison. But when he was sufficiently matured by his experiences, God brought him forth to be the deliverer of Egypt from coming famine.  In the end, he was the instrument for bringing his family to Egypt to become established as the multitude called the Children of Israel and to receive the land promised to the descendants of Abraham and Isaac.

In the Christian dispensation, all of our waiting is wrapped up in anticipating the return of our Lord Jesus to take His people to share His inheritance in the New Heaven and New Earth:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.  Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (I Pet. 3:11-14)

Waiting for God is the incubator of patience, and patience enables us to endure suffering in the faith that God is working even through our hardship to bring about His purposes.  The ultimate purpose of God for us is that we “await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).  When that transformation has taken place, we will wait no more, for time is finished, and past and future will be collapsed into the Eternal Now.

 

Image: "Waiting" by Brian Donovan. 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.)

Different Bodies: Part Two

 

A Twilight Musing

Paul begins 1 Corinthians 15 by pointing to the Resurrection of Jesus as the culminating capstone of the Son’s mission on earth, forming an essential part of the Gospel message (vv. 1-19).  He then proceeds to argue that if there is no resurrection from the dead, the consequence is that “in this life only we have hoped in Christ, [and] we are of all people most to be pitied” (v. 19).  In the succeeding verses, he goes on to draw a sharp distinction between the resurrected body of Jesus (the Second Adam) and the “natural body” of the First Adam: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (vv. 20-21).  After an expansion on why “we are of all people most to be pitied” if there is no resurrection, Paul responds to the question, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body do they come?” (v. 30).

Paul goes to nature for analogies to answer these questions.  The resurrected body is as different from the natural body as is the fruit of a grain of wheat from the seed that was sown.  He points also to how the kinds of flesh are different from each other, and how heavenly bodies differ in brightness.  But the difference between our fleshly bodies and our resurrection bodies is even more striking:

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.  It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  (1 Cor 15:42-49, ESV)

What struck me in a fresh way in this passage was Paul’s reference to the first man being “from the earth, a man of dust.”   I had always assumed that the “body of death” from which we are finally delivered in the Resurrection is the fallen body destined for physical death because of sin.  A corollary of this assumption was that the original, unfallen bodies of Adam and Eve were not temporal, but eternal, so long as they lived in obedience to God.  But as I pointed out in Part One, even unfallen mankind was subject to some form of limitation on their physical lives; some kind of development in the context of temporality still remained to be worked out.  Paul’s discourse makes clear that Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and the participation of all believers in that resurrection, constitutes the final working out of God’s eternal purpose for His creation. By giving details of the distinction between the body of Adam and the body of our resurrected Lord, which we will one day share with Him, Paul demonstrates also the difference between our present universe, whether fallen or unfallen, and God’s “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Pet. 3:13).

The core of my new insight hinges on the implications of Paul’s summation in vv. 50-51: “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  It is not just the corrupted, sinful body of the fallen First Adam that cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but even the yet-unfallen flesh and blood with which God clothed him in the first place.  If we accept that the original, unfallen Adam and Eve were “flesh and blood,” then it must also be accepted that they were, in some sense, perishable when they were created.  We have no way of knowing what would have developed in our world if our first father and mother had not rebelled, but it seems fair to conjecture that some form of cessation to their fleshly form would have been part of the picture.

I ran across a statement in C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet that articulates as a general principle of God’s creation what I believe to be true of Earth and the life God put on it.  The major character, Ransom, is talking to a being in the unfallen world of Malacandra (Mars), who has told Ransom about an ancient race that perished from the planet, leaving the area where they once lived cold and lifeless.  Ransom asks where the divine Creator and sustainer of the planet was when all this happened.  Could He not have prevented this destruction?  Ransom’s instructor replies, “I do not know.  But a world is not made to last forever, much less a race; that is not Maleldil’s [God’s] way.”  I present for your consideration the idea that God’s design in creating the world in which we live was not that it would last forever as it was, even if it had not rebelled; but that it was intended to be the stage for a process by which the Devil would be defeated and God’s moral superiority be established.

The eternal, resurrected bodies we will share with Jesus, as well as the eternal home in which we will dwell with Him, are not merely transformations of our present bodies and our present world, but entirely new, spiritually defined bodies and an abode that transcends completely our material universe.  In this eternal state, body and soul and spirit are so bonded together that they are no longer separable nor distinguishable from one another.  History, which by definition records change, will be at an end, wrapped up in God’s eternal “now.”

Image: "Eternity" by Norbert Reimer. 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.)

Different Bodies: Part One

  A Twilight Musing

I have long been intrigued by the question of how things would have developed had Adam and Eve not eaten of the forbidden fruit and been banished from Eden.  One can exercise some inferential imagination by envisioning a world without the known consequences of sin. Attached to those inferences are some questions: Would Adam and Eve and their descendants have lived forever, absent the penalty of death?  Would the innocence of universal nakedness have continued?  If so, it’s hard for us fallen people to imagine there being no sexual desire except for one’s mate.  God arranged the union between Adam and Eve; how would the monogamous coupling of their descendants have been arranged?  Would reproduction be unlimited?  With no need to produce food by the sweat of their brows, would human beings have been engaged in other activities, such as creative, artistic, and scientific pursuits?

These questions may seem to be idle speculation, but I think they lead into matters of some significance.  All of the questions I have posed above are based on the assumption that there existed in the pristine world of Eden an expectation of purposeful and orderly development over a period of time.  God Himself looks in this direction when He tells the newly-created man and woman, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over . . . every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).  Things in the original creation were expected to change in ways designed by God to fulfill His nascent purposes for this new world of His.   Since any kind of change requires the observed passage of time, it seems legitimate to infer that there was a kind of positive temporality in the prelapsarian world that in the postlapsarian world became a degenerative penalty.

Perhaps the best way of getting some sense of God’s original plan for Edenic fulfillment is to consider the implications of the two trees placed in the Garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:9).  We find out after Adam and Eve have eaten from the forbidden tree that God took precautions against their also eating from the Tree of Life.

Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—" 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.  (Gen 3:22-24)

To me, this passage implies that, had Adam and Eve not disobeyed God, there might have been a time for them to partake of both trees under God’s direction.  It seems not unreasonable to conjecture that the Lord wanted unfallen mankind, under His timing and direction, to become aware of the presence of evil in the universe so that He could equip them to partner with Him in the final defeat of that evil, and thereby be ready in the full maturity of their existence to eat of the Tree of Life.

At any rate, I think that God created the physical world as a kind of theater in which to do battle with the Devil.  We have some biblical hints of a battle in Heaven between God and his angels and Satan and his cohorts, in which God by His superior power cast a rebellious Satan down from his exalted position in Heaven (see Ezek. 28:11-19; Rev. 13:7-12).  The most familiar literary rendition of this battle is of course in Books V and VI of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Although his narrative of the epic battle in Heaven exercises the privilege of poetic imagination, it nevertheless presents a drama that may very well have taken place in some form before the creation of Eden.  This was a victory of God’s power, but it remained to provide a setting in which Satan could be confronted with the moral superiority of God, which could take place only in an arena where God’s love could be triumphant over Satan’s hate.  Exactly how that would have worked out if the Creation had not been corrupted by human sin, we don’t know, of course; but it’s hard to imagine how it could have had more dramatic or emotional impact than God’s “backup plan,” in which He participated in the suffering of the sinful world, even becoming a mortal human being and dying in order to redeem the fallen world.

This little essay (Part One) represents a refinement of ideas I have held in rough form for some time.  My central point here is that God’s created world, both before and after the Fall, is in marked contrast to His eternal being, which has no beginning and no end and is perpetually and always the same, yesterday, today, and all possible tomorrows.  As God’s inherent nature is immutable, so is the place where we will dwell with Him in resurrected form for eternity (see the description of the New Jerusalem in Rev. 21-22).  “Heaven” is where all divine purposes have been realized, and there is no longer the need for change toward an objective.  The catalyst for this refinement of my ideas on original and fallen creation was a rereading of Paul’s discourse on the Resurrection in I Cor. 15, in which he details the radical contrast between the temporal bodies of the first humans and the eternal bodies that we will share with the resurrected Christ.  Part Two is an analysis of this passage, with application of the principles Paul enunciates to the larger matter of the radical difference between the temporal earth and our eternal dwelling place with God.

Image: By William Blake - William Blake Archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7735228

 

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.)

Freedom in Christ

A Twilight Musing

As on every July 4, we heard a lot earlier this week about “freedom,” which in the context of the holiday refers to the political freedom gained by the American colonies breaking away from an oppressive British government.  The justification for that action was eloquently and nobly expreessed by a Declaration of Independence.  However, “freedom” is often used more for its emotive content than its precise definition.  It frequently embodies a self-congratulatory attitude, as in identifying the U. S. as one of the nations of “the Free World.”  The term also commonly refers to the rights of individuals to do as they wish, being under no legal restrictions in making their choices, as in the popular catch-phrase, “a woman’s right to choose,” referring to abortion.  However, as the founders of our republic understood, the exercise of freedom requites a foundation of moral law.

The Bible has a great many references to freedom, but they are not primarily (and sometimes not at all) concerned with political or civil freedoms.  In fact, the concepts they convey are often counterintuitive to human reason, for, particularly in the New Testament, they are presenting the paradox of people who are apparently politically or personally free being in bondage, while the freedom that God wants to give His people is spoken of as slavery.  In fact, our fallen human condition means that we are enslaved in our natural state, and that our only deliverance from that bondage is to become slaves to Christ:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.  When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  (Rom 6:17-22)

This is worlds away from the idea of “freedom” as something we have a right to.  Jesus made this distinction clear when he imparted His radical truth to the Jewish leaders:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."  They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"   Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Freedom, Jesus tells them, is not something they can claim as a part of their “rights” as Israelites, children of Abraham.  Rather, it is something granted by the Son of God, completely His to give or withhold.  As Paul says, the only thing we fallen humans can claim as our “right” is death, whereas “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

It’s appropriate to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of our “free” country, with its constitutionally defined Bill of Rights.  But no amount of political or personal freedom in the society of mankind can bring us the freedom that we most need, the God-defined and grace-granted freedom “from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).  Let us principally rejoice in that which makes us “free indeed.”

 

 

 

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.)