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The Cresset
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All in the Family: Making Over Motherhood for Mutual Flourishing

Agnes R. Howard

I belonged to a swim-practice carpool for a while and I am not proud of it.
When my daughter joined her high school team in ninth grade, I failed to anticipate practices after and before school, which meant leaving before 5:00 am every morning to drive her there. To my surprise, few other mothers were looking for carpools. When I asked, one excellent woman consented. Miraculously, she offered to take mornings if I would do most of the evening pick-ups. I let her do this. Her reasons for wanting a carpool were more compelling than mine.
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The Glory of the Stars: Thoughts on Dreading the New Heaven and the New Earth

Kelsey Lahr

When I was a kid, I only got to see the Milky Way on annual summer camping trips to Yosemite; it was invisible from our home on the coast. Once I began working in the mountains, I was dogged by the feeling that I had to make up for lost time—that I had to gorge myself on the Milky Way now that it was visible so I could save up those views for a time when it might be invisible to me once again. Read More

Winesburg and the Whys of Life

Joel Kurz

When I first read Sherwood Anderson’s story cycle Winesburg, Ohio as a high school student, I was struck by its magnificence but also troubled by what I saw as its heresy. When I read it again in my thirties, I was convinced that every ministerial student needed to read it in order to gain a better grasp on the individual variables present in human community. When I read it again last year, toward the end of my forties, I was simply broken in the presence of truth. Read More

A Dorothy for the Twenty-First Century: Stranger Things, The Wizard of Oz, and Contemporary Dreams of Home

Jennifer L. Miller

For Eleven, our Dorothy of the twenty-first century, running away puts her in contact with social problems that she has not experienced in Hawkins and gives her the opportunity to develop her supernatural powers beyond what they had been. This confrontation with reality and experience of personal growth leads to Eleven’s transformation from a little girl wearing overalls to a “bitchin’” teenager with slicked-back hair, smoky eye makeup, and a leather jacket. Running away for Eleven is much more in line with Joseph Campbell’s idea of the hero’s journey, or the German bildungsroman, where leaving home leads to maturation and growth, and ultimately enables the hero to return home and affect change. Read More

How to Hold On Loosely and Know When to Let Go

Thomas C. Willadsen

Sunday, the 24th of March, 2019, was a big day for processions in Oshkosh. I found myself in four before 3:00 in the afternoon. While each marked a different occasion, their similarities were striking. Walking slowly in single file gave me time to examine our community’s penchant for such events. Read More

Drumming Toward Spiritual Unity:
Mark Lomax II's 400: An Afrikan Epic

Josh Langhoff

What’s the word for twelve albums of jazz, currently available only as a complete eighty-dollar download, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its aftermath? “Epic” may have to do. Representing three years’ work by Dr. Mark Lomax, II, a jazz drummer, composer, and lecturer at the Ohio State University, and funded by his residency at the university’s Wexner Center for the Arts, 400 seeks to convey the African-African experience with scope and heft to match its subject. Read More

A More Perfect Film: The Coen Brothers and the Comedy of Democracy

James Paul Old

Few people would dispute that Joel and Ethan Coen are among the greatest filmmakers working today. Some, however, might be less certain of what their films are actually all about. The brothers’ twenty-some films—from Blood Simple (1984) to their most recent The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)—provoke a variety of reactions. Critics frequently characterize their work as absurdist, existentialist, even nihilist, while viewers are often left disoriented by scenes that juxtapose the best and worst of humanity, veering from shocking evil to sentimental, even campy, decency. Read More

In Memoriam, Alma Mater

George C. Heider

James Albers and I form a set of bookends around one of the most extraordinary institutions of pastoral education in the history of his field, Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Given his last name,...he was the very first to receive a degree from “CSC” or “The Fort,” as its students called the place. For my part, I was student body president of the last class to graduate before the 1975 Anaheim convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) resolved to close the college (two additional classes graduated after the decision). Professor Albers opined that we may well have received a pre-seminary education qualitatively above and apart from anything offered before or since, and that with my retirement, the several decades of the college’s influence on the ministry of the church has symbolically ended. Ere long, all CSC graduates will be retired (or with their Lord). Read More

All in the Cards

Rebekah Curtis

Card games are a regional phenomenon. In the Chicago exurbs where I grew up, the game was Euchre. My mom, only as far removed as Rockford, is a four-point Pitch player. Great-grandma from Wisconsin was committed to Canasta; old timey people in English drawing rooms played Whist; Lutherans still conflate region with religion and play Schafskopf. Children, another non-geographical region, play War. I had to learn ten-point Pitch to marry a Nebraskan. Southern Illinois, where I now live, is Pinochle territory. Read More

Also In This Issue
B. R. Strahan
Joshua Alan Sturgill
Jacob Walhout
Tania Runyan
J. T. Ledbetter
Kathleen Gunton

The Accidental Ecumenist

Lisa DeBoer

At the outset of my research for The Visual Arts in the Worshiping Church, I did not see any need to venture beyond “home” in order to pursue my questions. That is to say, I wasn’t intending to venture beyond Protestant congregations. Wasn’t the distance between an art-committed congregation like Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan—a stand-alone, evangelical quasi-megachurch led at that time by Rob Bell—and an art-committed congregation like St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal in San Francisco—“an intentionally experimental congregation that would press the liturgical limits of the Episcopal Church’s new Book of Common Prayer”—wasn’t that distance enough? Read More

Feeling Our Way Forward: Lessons from a Common Life

Daniel A. Keating

I am what is often called a “cradle-Catholic,” raised in a veritable Catholic ghetto in the western suburbs of Cleveland. Growing up I knew exactly one Protestant family, my next-door neighbors, who were Lutheran. With precocious theological acumen, I grasped quite quickly that the main ecumenical difference between us was that I had to go to church on Sunday, while my friend Andy did not. (It seemed to us then that he had the better deal.) Read More

Receptive Ecumenism and the Reconstruction
of Christian Identity in Christian Higher Education

Steven R. Harmon

Fourteen years ago, the Institute for Faith and Learning at Baylor University sponsored a conference titled “Christianity and the Soul of the University: Faith as a Foundation for Intellectual Community.” Part of its impetus was conflict—both internal and external—over Baylor’s institutional vision for becoming a top-tier research university while strengthening its Christian identity through the interdisciplinary integration of faith and learning. Read More

Potato Chips

Gary Fincke

If all the problematic ingredients, trans fat included, were printed on those bags, we didn’t read them. Of course my mother admitted that potato chips weren’t good for anybody, but this tiny luxury was such a pleasure, and she seldom humored herself in any other way, that she claimed it wouldn’t hurt to have one little sin. For my mother, chips were like cigarettes, something to indulge in no matter their long-term consequences, all of which were uncertain. After all, she said, there were plenty of healthy looking eighty-year-old smokers around, weren’t there? Read More

Betty LaDuke's Great Gifts

John Ruff

The first time my friend Dolores “Dee” Fitzpatrick laid eyes on a painting by Betty LaDuke, she wept. This happened a year ago in the main corridor of the College of Arts and Sciences Building at Valparaiso University. Gloria Ruff and Gregg Hertzlieb of Valparaiso’s Brauer Museum of Art were unpacking the first of twenty-one large-scale, boldly colored acrylic paintings that LaDuke had donated. At the time, of all the university’s classroom buildings, the College of Arts and Sciences Building was the newest, the best lit, and the most unadorned. Read More

Minor Prophets:
Alan Jacobs's The Year of Our Lord 1943:
Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis

Thomas Albert Howard

With good reason Germans refer to 1945 as “Year Zero” (Stunde Null), a year that saw civilization, Jonah-like, spat up from deep darkness. Once elegant cities lay in ruins, millions had perished in the war, displaced persons scavenged for food, knowledge of the Holocaust came into focus. It was a time of desolation, of soul-searching, of rethinking pretty much everything. Read More

Lyrical Inventions: H.K. Bush's The Hemingway Files

Edward Uehling

When Jack discovers that he has only months to live, the oncologist says, “Consider this summer to be your gift. What do you want to do with it?” He realizes that setting things right will require help, which is why he calls on Dean. He concludes his appeal with the first of many quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature” (24). Read More

New Dimenions in Singing and Shouting:
Monique M. Ingalls's Singing the Congregation
and Ari Y. Kelman's Shout to the Lord

Josh Langhoff

Which kind of shovel is best? That’s meant to be a ridiculous question. Everyday gardeners will give a different answer than landscapers, who’ll disagree with fence installers, who’ll answer differently than snow removers or stable boys. The best tool is whatever someone needs to accomplish their task. But change the question from the noble task of shoveling to that of worshiping—“What’s the best kind of worship music?”—and the answers turn more absolute. Read More

My Son Speaks in Hymns

Hilary Yancey


Jesus Christ is risen today, alleluia. Our triumphant, holy day, alleluia. Who did once upon the cr-oo-ooo-ooo-oo-sssss (alleluia), suffer to redeem our lossssss, aaaaaah-le-luuuuu-iaaaaaaaa!

I sing this verse of this hymn at least ten times a day. It makes my son, who is almost 3, laugh and dance. He always commands that I hold the high note in line three and the last alleluia until he swishes his hands down through the air to signal that it’s time to cut the note off. Then, when the silence rushes in to fill the space where my voice had just been, he laughs and signs “again.” Read More

How Big Is Lake Michigan?

Daniel Silliman

Jesus says, “The lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.” But the slave, it’s like he doesn’t hear. He can’t hear over that anxiety in his ears. Because that’s the sound of everything for him. That’s the sound of the universe. Read More

Also In This Issue
Laura Reece Hogan
Maryanne Hannan
Katie Karnehm-Esh

Updike or Moses?
Artists, Intellectuals, and the People of God

David Heddendorf

As soon as I entered the sanctuary I knew something was up. A small electronic piano had been placed to one side of the altar, to the other side a chair in which a woman softly played a violin. A man moved around adjusting microphones and speakers. I’d never seen either of the two before. Read More

On Becoming a Saint

Michial Farmer

There are a number of contradictions—or let’s call them tensions—in the process of becoming a saint. In The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton says that it is fundamentally a matter of asking to be a saint, and he says that this is one prayer that is always granted. In that sense, becoming a saint is a simple thing. But simplicity is not facility, and I think that what Merton is getting at is that becoming a saint involves not a prayer but a long lifetime of prayer—a long lifetime of praying the same grinding, hopeless prayer: “Lord, make me a saint.” Read More

What's OK About Lutherans?

Jon Pahl

I do not want to dismiss the quite real reasons that some might see decline among Lutherans—whether demographic, political, cultural, sexual, liturgical, theological, or what-have-you. Name your decline and hang onto it, if you must. But I want to explore a different kind of question: what’s OK about Lutherans today? Read More

Beyond the Review:
Reading African American Literature and Religion

Peter Kerry Powers

In the normal course of things, we pluck books from the Barnes & Noble bookshelf or the Amazon algorithm as we might pluck up a flower in a field, enjoying (or not) the pleasure of the text. Literary criticism reads the role that flower plays in the field. It considers the ways it depends on or perhaps destroys other features of the field, or perhaps the ways other cultural ecosystems consider it a weed or an invasive species to be eradicated. While reading literary criticism is not always a walk in the park, doing so can make our pleasures more aware and engaged, delivering enhanced or other pleasures, much as we might take pleasure in not only the scent of the air, but in being able to name the flowers and the trees and understand our relationship to them and theirs to one another. Read More

The Social Lives of Hymnals:
Christopher N. Phillips's The Hymnal: A Reading History

Daniel Silliman

A Presbyterian man picked up the hymnal in his pew. He opened it to the first blank page—the flyleaf—and wrote, “What are you laughing at?” He passed the book to his daughter, Elizabeth Onderdonk. The two of them were sitting in a service at the First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica, Long Island, New York, sometime in the years just after the Civil War. It was not a short service, but Presbyterian propriety wouldn’t allow for a whisper, nor the laugh the young woman was trying to stifle. Read More

"Rock" Songs: Larry Norman and the Quandary of Popular Christian Music

Josh Langhoff

With Upon This Rock, Larry Norman invented the Christian rock album. He also invented the practice of giving Christian rock albums terrible dad puns for titles. His songs sounded like mainstream rock but addressed Christian life from a kaleidoscope of perspectives, creating templates that generations of Christian songwriters would use. Read More

On Women's Freedom

Caryn D. Riswold

Remember the first moment we heard Christine Blasey Ford’s voice? It was in front of a bank of cameras on live TV facing down a mostly male panel of U.S. senators. She was there to testify under oath about being sexually assaulted by Brett Kavanaugh. Because she had successfully avoided all media before that day, most of the public had never heard her voice. Read More

Martin Luther and the Renewal of Human Confidence

H. Richard Niebuhr

I propose to you that we look at Martin Luther and the Reformation and at ourselves from the second point of view, with gratitude for the past to be sure, but even more with hope for the future. Read More

Also In This Issue
Lyle Enright
Kim Bridgford
Joshua Gage
D.S. Martin

Seeking the Holy in Everyday Themes: Observing Advent with the Art of P. Solomon Raj

David Zersen

A recent glimpse at the Wall Street Journal wine catalog shows how far marketers will go to twist the meaning of the Advent season. For just $129, you can buy a “Wine Advent Calendar” that offers twenty-four bottles, one per day, presumably to celebrate the “seasonal themes” of relaxation, inebriation, and personal fulfillment. Read More

A Closer Look: Veterans through the Lens of Student Photographers

Aimee Tomasek, Liz Wuerffel, & Students

Taking a photo is the instant you snap the shutter—it entails very little on the part of the photographer. Making a photograph of a person is different. It involves thoughtful questioning and careful listening and looking in order to determine the best way to visually portray a particular subject. Read More

Challah at the Mosque

Thomas C. Willadsen

The irony about the Interfaith Festival of Gratitude is that to make this wonderful, inclusive event a success, I am at my most autocratic. Read More

Prairie Paradise: "NEBRASKA" Exhibit Offers a Breath of Fresh Air

John Ruff

In the photos she takes of people from Clarkson, you can see in their faces how relaxed they are, how they are comfortable, confident, and unapologetically themselves. This is because the person behind the camera is not a stranger. She’s a friend; she’s family. She knows them. Read More

Absurdity at Work: Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You

Josh Langhoff

Sorry to Bother You is a workplace comedy where work threatens to engulf life. “If you lived here, you’d be at work already!” reads one nightmarish company ad. Written and directed by Boots Riley, an Oakland-based rapper, bandleader, and activist, it’s also a dystopian sci-fi fable and an agitprop manifesto, consistently goofy and sporadically funny throughout its 110-minute running time. Few comedies have been smarter about how work tries to stick its grubby mitts into every aspect of our lives, and even fewer acknowledge how often we welcome the intrusion. Read More

A Cloud of Witness: Christian Wiman’s He Held Radical Light

Whitney Rio-Ross

Wiman’s turn to Christianity was a slow, yet long-time-coming move toward the questions and desires that most consumed him. His loneliness, despair, and yearning for something he could not articulate did not so much lead him to finding God as it did to recognizing God’s absence, which is a form of finding. He Held Radical Light delves into those desires that landed him where he is today. From the very beginning, Wiman sets a tone of yearning and wonder, claiming, “Poetry itself—like life, like love, like any spiritual hunger—thrives on longings that can never be fulfilled, and dies when the poet thinks they have been.” Read More

The Restless Self and the Wayward University: Joseph Clair’s On Education, Formation, Citizenship, and the Lost Purpose of Learning

Kevin Gary

The English philosopher Roger Scruton contends that a university ought to be a place where a student, within its walls, is given a vision of the purpose of life, and with this a conception of intrinsic value. The world outside, beset by utilitarian ways of seeing, is incapable of providing this. Read More

Counting Matters: When Elections Are Poorly Run, Citizens Lose

Jennifer Hora

As a political science professor teaching American government and institutions, perhaps my favorite lecture to give each semester builds to the amazingly simple theme of “counting matters,” that is, the system you choose to count the votes impacts the outcome. Read More

Also In This Issue
David K. Weber
Arah Ko
Brent House
Ben Egerton
Elaine Wilburt
Daniel Bowman Jr.
Joseph Chaney

Engaging My Opponent: Spiritual Healing for Broken Public Discourse

Nicholas Denysenko

During the seven years that I studied and worked in Washington, DC, I became familiar with a notorious term: “The Beltway.” If you have ever attempted to drive in or around DC, you have probably been on the Beltway at some point. Read More

“Can Two Walk Together Unless They Be Agreed?” Traditions, Vocations, and Christian Universities in the Twenty-First Century"

Caroline J. Simon

We who teach at Christian liberal arts institutions tend to underestimate their peculiarity. This disadvantages us when addressing the question of institutional vocation, the particular calling of Christian liberal arts colleges and universities. Read More


Gary Fincke

Far more than one early morning Facebook post pleads, “Send thoughts and prayers,” and because so many readers are alone or anxious or accept the power of such comfort, dozens of comments begin “dear God” and “prayers sent,” phrases as familiar as passing traffic, they are erased by a gibberish of wind and starlings awakening, every teeming tree chattering what sounds, at dawn, like an invisible babble of relief. Read More

“A Distinguished Composition of Significant Dimension”: Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. Reminds Listeners that the Pulitzer Prize for Music Can Go to Exciting and Unexpected Works

Josh Langhoff

When rapper Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in April, heads exploded. Not only was his album DAMN. the first hip-hop work to win the award; of the seventy-one previous Prizes, sixty-eight had gone to classical composers, and the other three to jazz artists—Wynton Marsalis, Ornette Coleman, and Henry Threadgill—who sometimes used techniques from European classical traditions. DAMN. seemed a world away from this milieu.Read More

Hope and History: Three Views

Peter Dula

Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn’t make the political critique of Christian hope, he makes what I think of as a psychological critique. In contrast to the false hopes and blind faiths of white, black, and Christian Dreams, Coates offers questioning. Read More

The Night the Beatles Came to Church

Kurt Krueger

I remember the night the Beatles came to the basement of my father’s church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was February 9, 1964, and I was a high school sophomore. Read More

Addicted Selves

Joel Kurz

It was a late Sunday afternoon in autumn, gray and heavy instead of bright and beautiful. I had hit the road after finishing parish duties and was traveling several hours south to visit my mother. Feeling drained and rather out-of-sorts, I decided to make a quick stop at a vintage audio store just in case a long-sought-after CD was waiting for me in the bargain bin. Read More

Making a Difference

Thomas C. Willadsen

I did not recognize the name on the phone message. The chaplain at the county jail called because an inmate wanted to talk to the manager of the local Presbyterian Church franchise location; that would be me. I called back. Read More

Also In This Issue
B.P. Miller
Matthew Porto
Jen Stewart Fueston
Michael Schmidtke
Christopher Lee Miles
John Fry