Monthly Archives: August 2012

Calvin Miller and the Unfinished Business of Earth

Calvin Miller, author, pastor and professor, died on August 19, 2012. He was 75. His first book, The Singer, published by IVP in 1975, is a poetic, colorful retelling of the life of Christ, flavored with dashes of Milton and Tolkien. In the following years he produced a nonstop flow of novels, non-fiction, apologetics and a memoir, Life is Mostly Edges. His final book, Letters to Heaven, is a series of letters written by Miller, a late-life nod to the now-deceased men and women who positively touched his life, some of whom he’d met, others complete strangers. He begins with this bit of verse:

How shall I finish up the unfinished business of earth?

Letters, I think.

Each of you who will receive these letters is dead

at least in this realm

and I am counting on some courier

whose form of delivery I do not know

to get these words through to you.

Composing 26 entries, he cites individuals from personal and professional spheres, including members from his former pastorate, Westside Baptist in Omaha. He recalls Sophie Smithson, whom he “never much liked” because of her scowling aspect and relentlessly critical spirit. Nonetheless, she provided a beautiful foil to her husband, John, whose patience and abundant kindness demonstrate to Miller the binding strength of the marriage vow: For better, for worse, ’til death do us part.

He expresses appreciation for better-known Christians such as Norman Vincent Peale who “taught me effective pulpit communication,” and C.S. Lewis, whose struggle with doubt in A Grief Observed leaves a somewhat sour taste in his mouth. “Maybe [in Heaven],” writes Miller, “in better light, you will display the customary optimism about God that so marked your life.”

A particularly interesting and somewhat surprising entry is actress Farrah Fawcett, at whose home Miller and his family enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner in 1969, just before she became famous. He recognizes her career-long understanding that “beauty is more than skin deep; it is soul deep.”

Sprinkled throughout Letters to Heaven are several names associated with Wheaton College, whether alumni or donors. For example, he thanks missionary martyr Jim Elliot, the “crisis man” whose dedication forced men to “turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” Miller writes, “My whole life was redeemed by your counsel.” Miller thanks 911 hero Todd Beamer. “The hero you never meant to be became a legend in the world you had to leave.” Again discussing the matter of matrimony, Miller thanks author Madeleine L’Engle, with whom he was a member of the Chrysostom Society, for her strong, long marriage to Hugh Franklin – and her steady continuation with life after his death to cancer. He thanks publisher Harold Shaw, meeting him but once for dinner in 1975 with Luci, “…your dear wife and my only important poetic fan in the beginning…” The Shaws encouraged Miller to continue writing after the publication of The Singer, pushing ever forward.

Now that Calvin Miller has joined the subjects profiled in this book, readers may consider his generous writing, ripe with humor, hard-won wisdom and sanctified imagination, as letters from Heaven addressed to those yet confined to Earth, awaiting passage.

The papers of Calvin Miller (SC-24), Luci Shaw (SC-46) and Madeleine L’Engle (SC-03) are archived in the Wheaton College Special Collections.

The Museum of Lost Wonder

The field of archival science is abundant with manuals, academic courses and web seminars. Though most educational materials deal with the technical specifics of processing and preserving historical items, whether it be manuscript, media or artifact, few books address the more intangible aspect of the researcher’s personal response. How does this item effect my life? What feelings or thoughts does it stir? A notable exception to this is The Museum of Lost Wonder (2006) by Jeff Hoke, previously a curator at the Field Museum in Chicago, now the Senior Exhibit Designer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. Hoke’s book is not Evangelical, but it is deeply spiritual, utilizing alchemical motifs as it explores the analogy between the imaginary Museum of Lost Wonder, with its seven enigmatic exhibit halls, and the development of the human soul. One reviewer says that Hoke’s Museum is “…a metaphysical architectural model of the mind, a kind of cornucopia of hermetic knowledge.” Another calls it “…a soulful delight – an alchemical workbook designed to remap the connections between science and poetry, matter and psyche, philosophy and comic books.”

The grand tour begins with this exhortation:

I created the Museum of Lost Wonder as a storehouse for weathered memories so the wonder they engender doesn’t get lost. It’s a place to collect all the nagging, hard-to-answer questions we’ve had since childhood. The Museum of Lost Wonder isn’t a place of answers – like wonder, answers are always personal…The Museum of Lost Wonder is not a collection of objects, but rather a place to collect ideas and explore the meaning of your own experiences. We take inspiration from the original museums and curiosity cabinets of of the 1600s. Unlike modern museums that try to separate fact from fancy, the Museum of Lost Wonder encourages you to join these seemingly disparate ways of looking at things so you can decide what’s meaningful.

Incorporating a few of these intriguing concepts, the Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections also desires that visitors and researchers to its various holdings and exhibits will discover similar stirrings in their hearts, hopefully aspiring to greater heights of Christian faithfulness and consecration.

Willis Hugh Cork, 1896-1918

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, it is appropriate to pause and remember our fallen soldiers, not only those of the present, but also those of the past. A statue of a doughboy, representing U.S. troops killed during WW I, stands in Memorial Park in downtown Wheaton. Other memorials situated in public spaces around the city commemorate the ultimate sacrifice of our Armed Forces.

The first resident of the City of Wheaton to die during WW I was Norman James Tweedie, but the first Wheaton College students to perish were Russell R. Brooks and Willis Hugh Cork.

A memorial to Cork in the Wheaton College Record declares:

It is not task to bring a rich and sincere tribute to the memory of Willis Cork, who passed away the morning of Oct 2, for memory brings a richer and fuller tribute than mere words can ever express. The past year had been hard for Willis who since the first of last summer had been patiently and persistently trying to get into some branch of the service, so we man feel sure that the last two weeks held a deep happiness for him in the realization that he was at last an active part of that cause for which he was to make the ultimate sacrifice. As a student he was thorough, in business reliable, and with all he was one of those lovable people who win and hold the affection of all who come into contact with them. It seems hard to realize that the charm of his sunny smile and rare good will are gone from us, but for Willis Cork, athlete, student, soldier and Christian, the change is a glorious one and in his own words, “God’s will is best.”

Judge Frank Herrick, Wheaton’s official poet laureate, composed this verse honoring Cork:

We loved him for his sunny soul,
His clean life day by day,
His zeal that would not brook control
To join the worldwide fray!

The sunlight hidden in his heart
Shone in his genial face
Revealing an unconscious art
His wealth of inward grace.

We saw him don the khaki suit
That soon became his shroud
And wear it brave and resolute
With happy heart and proud!

Death has paled the shining star
And dimmed the eager glance
That with longing saw afar
The flaming fields of France!

Farewell, hero-heart that beat
Sweet music strong and brave.
Thine is the sacrifice complete
That Freedom’s flag may wave!