\ The Cresset
The Cresset
A Review of Literature, Fine Arts, and Current Affairs
Trinity 2018   books   poetry   archive   main site

The Cresset is on hiatus for the foreseeable future. Please enjoy content from our back issues, and be well!

A Tale of Two Tables

Susan R. Holman

Food, whether it is used in religious ritual, therapeutic dieting, or ordinary breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is supposed to be good for you. It is supposed to sustain life, to restore and heal. Even when we misuse it—eat or drink excessively, practice fad diets, suffer eating disorders, or cook and feed others to gain their affirmation and praise—it is still (usually) because we see food as something good, something we want to be happy about, something with the potential to satisfying those deeper physical and spiritual hungers, something to make us better. Read More

The Fluidity of Stone and the Ground of Our Being: Andy Goldsworthy’s Walking Wall

Joel Kurz

On his first visit to Kansas City, Goldsworthy wasn’t sure what he would do on the grounds of Nelson-Atkins. He found guidance, however, in the words of Plotinus inscribed on the museum’s stately stone edifice: “Art deals with things forever incapable of definition and that belong to love, beauty, joy, and worship; the shapes, powers, and glory of which are ever building, unbuilding, and rebuilding in each man’s soul, and in the soul of the whole world.” Read More

Five Challenges from Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments

Christine Hedlin

Atwood has famously said in interviews that no event in The Handmaid’s Tale or The Testaments is original; everything has already happened somewhere. Probably my favorite single line in The Testaments is Lydia’s reflection at one point: “How tedious is tyranny in the throes of enactment. It’s always the same plot” (143). I think about the shock with which readers in the 1980s responded to The Handmaid’s Tale, and I picture Lydia raising an eyebrow. The plot Lydia is living—the plot Atwood is writing—should be familiar to us. It’s as if Atwood is saying, through Lydia, “Shock, really? Have you no sense of history?” Read More

Post-Apocalyptic Hope in When the English Fall and The Road

L. Lamar Nisly

Certainly the two novels have substantial differences. The Road’s profound and provocative prose provides hints of God and raises powerful questions about how to survive and at what price. When the English Fall offers a quieter voice, partly because the story spans the apocalyptic event so that society is still more intact, but also because it focuses on a community grounded in faith. Yet in helpful ways, the texts engage similar concerns of what happens when a society’s structures fall apart as the novels explore their child characters’ seemingly innate connection to the divine, how people should approach external threats, and the possibilities for hopeful outcomes. Read More

Reading Augustine’s Confessions During Lent

Sam Ochstein

The thing about reading Confessions, at least for me, is that it confronts me with myself. It shatters my pious pretensions and the image I work hard to maintain that basically I’m okay and have everything together, spiritually and otherwise. Read More

The Distilled Gospel of Kanye West: The Sunday Service Choir’s Jesus Is Born

Josh Langhoff

Despite that simplicity and the fact that we never hear the rapper’s voice, Jesus Is Born sounds like Kanye West’s handiwork. In some cases, the affinity is blatant: the choir sings three songs from West’s 2016 album The Life of Pablo, changing their sometimes-risqué lyrics so as not to offend. But West’s fingerprints are everywhere, even on the songs he didn’t write. Read More

“Where Do You Get that Living Water?” Understanding the Risks to Water Quality

Julie Peller

Even when we're talking about normal, “acceptable” levels of pollutants in our water, we have serious problems. In northwest Indiana, the chemical pollutants of concern include pesticides and agricultural nutrients, pharmaceuticals, industry-related heavy metals, and plastics. Read More

What Would Heidi Do?

JoAnne Lehman

I would retreat after school to that corner chair to read and reread the story for myself. I would stop, just before Heidi and Peter bit into their lunch up in the mountains, and go to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of milk and grab some cheese and bread to bring back to the living room. Even if I suspected that homogenized, pasteurized cow's milk, store-bought white bread, and Velveeta slices on a plastic plate were not quite what they were dining on in the mountain meadow, I was there with them.” Read More

Also In This Issue

Escaping the Web of White Supremacy:
Our Most Urgent Task in the Work of Character Formation

Richard T. Hughes

When it comes to understanding race in this country, I have been a very slow learner all my life. When Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” I was twenty years old and a college student in Arkansas, living not far from the great, defining events of the Civil Rights Movement. But I might as well have been on the moon. Read More

Strangers in a Strange Land:
A Migration Soundtrack for 2019

Josh Langhoff

Earlier this year, my priest had an inspiration: What if our Advent Lessons and Carols service had a migration theme? What if we skipped the traditional L&C framework—a series of nine or so scripture passages, beginning with Adam and Eve’s disobedience and culminating in that great divine gesture of reconciliation, the birth of Jesus—and instead told the nativity story through biblical accounts of migrant people? Read More

Robert Morgan’s Gap Creek at Twenty

Martha Greene Eads

In early October of this year, Cornell University pulled out all the stops in a daylong celebration of Robert Morgan’s seventy-fifth birthday. Three panels of scholars assembled to praise his fiction, poetry, and prose nonfiction, and three former students, accomplished writers in their own right, expressed appreciation for the generosity and attention he has brought to teaching since his arrival at Cornell in 1975. Perhaps equally deserving of a birthday celebration is Morgan’s breakout novel Gap Creek, which turned twenty in October. Read More

Where the Ground Was the Enemy:
Setting as Character in The Things They Carried

Mikayla M. Zobeck and David M. Owens

In the midst of the nuance and complexities of contemporary literary theory, sometimes the most basic questions about a particular work still yield substantive insights. So it is with Tim O’Brien’s postmodern classic The Things They Carried, a work of fiction over which critics and lay readers alike have written and said much. Read More

A Heavy Heart:
Marjorie Maddox’s Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation

Janet McCann

This collection is a powerful struggle with the question of how a person of faith can live in this world, with its inevitable losses and pain. What gives us the ability to survive? It is hard to imagine how to assimilate into faith such an event as a father’s death after a failed heart transplant. But Marjorie Maddox does it. Read More

Limiting Factors:
Paul Scherz’s Science and Christian Ethics

Tim Grennan

Today’s young scientists face challenges distinct from their predecessors. While not new, these challenges have intensified because of market forces and professional expectations. Paul Scherz’s monograph, Science and Christian Ethics, explores the moral formation of scientists in the current milieu of 1) scientist as entrepreneur; 2) lack of true innovation in scientific research; 3) problems of reproducibility in science; and 4) increasing problems of burnout in scientific researchers. Read More

Weeping for Joy over Fiction:
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843)

Harold K. Bush

I admit it: the endings of Field of Dreams and Shawshank Redemption get me every time, even though I’ve seen each a dozen times or more. So does the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life. And do you remember back when you were a child, when Bambi’s mother died, shot by a hunter? Or when the boy had to shoot Old Yeller, who got rabies from the wolf? Read More

What the “Hell” in the Apostles’ Creed?

George C. Heider

He descended into hell: so ran the clause in the version of the Apostles’ Creed that I learned to confess as a child. Since the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America published its Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal in 2006, the same clause has appeared as “he descended to the dead.” Read More

Also In This Issue
Charlotte F. Otten
J. T. Ledbetter
Luci Shaw
Faiz Ahmad
Daniel Gleason
Devon Miller-Duggan
Mischa Willett
Nathaniel A. Schmidt

Crossed Lines

Peter C. Meilaender

In book XIX of The City of God, St. Augustine reflects upon the many sources of discord in human life, among family members, friends, fellow citizens, and nations. Read More

Human Conditions

Mark R. Schwehn

I recently taught an honors college seminar that included on the syllabus an exploration of the topic of forgiveness. All of the students in the seminar were professed Christians, though they did of course differ from one another in terms of denominational affiliation and theological literacy. Even so, they seemed to agree with one another completely about certain basic features of forgiveness. Read More

Liminal Links

A. Trevor Sutton

The Didache, an influential first century Christian text, offers practical instructions for performing baptism: “Give public instruction on all these points, and then baptize in running water, ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ If you do not have running water, baptize in some other. If you cannot in cold, then in warm.” (Richardson, 174). While the New Testament is rich in baptismal theology, it does not delve deeply into the praxis of baptism. Read More

Ending Badly: Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die

Charles Andrews

George A. Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead is the gory fountainhead from which springs all of our modern zombie pop culture. There were prior films of note, such as Victor Halperin’s White Zombie (1932) and Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked With A Zombie (1943), but it was Romero who gave us the now canonical tropes. Romero’s zombies shamble slowly, crave human flesh, can only be stopped with a shot to the head, arise for unknown reasons, and repeat patterns from their former lives. Read More

The Extraordinary Ordinary: Philip Kolin's Reaching Forever

Luci Shaw

Here is a remarkable collection of new poems, each one starting out within the finite world but extending itself in metaphor and rich verbiage toward the infinite, the eternal. The book’s cover shows a human figure holding up a star as if ready to launch it into space. Likewise, the poet seems to be standing on some sort of beach, a margin where land, sea, and air join in a changeable boundary that represents the fluidities of existence on this God-ordained planet. Read More

The Radical Potential of Aretha Franklin's Amazing Grace

Josh Langhoff

Watching Amazing Grace, the Aretha Franklin concert film released earlier this year, is like opening the door to a secret laboratory. Read More

The Chains of St. Margaret’s

Susan VanZanten

Perched next to Stately Westminster Abbey—site of coronations, royal weddings, and funerals for hundreds of years—sits her humble little sister, the Church of St. Margaret. While Westminster Abbey is “the Queen’s Church,” St. Margaret’s is the church of the House of Commons. Read More

Hope in Lutheran America

Angela Denker

If you've been searching for hope in Lutheran America, I think I found it. I found it one hundred miles southeast of Kansas City, in a rural Missouri farm town. The region’s green rolling hills and bucolic prairie reminded some early Lutheran settlers of the Bavarian farmlands they left behind in what is today Germany, where Martin Luther first hastened the Reformation. Read More

Three Little Words

David Heddendorf

At some point late in his life, the story goes, Karl Barth was asked for his most significant theological insight. He replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I’m almost embarrassed to relate this anecdote, because it’s so often repeated. It’s probably the one thing that many people know about Barth. Yet while the exact words of the exchange are disputed, as well as whether it even happened, it reminds us that the Gospel, even for the author of the massive Church Dogmatics, comes down to a simple truth. For all our complex theological systems, the heart of Christianity will always be “Jesus loves me.” Read More

Also In This Issue
Thomas C. Willadsen
Richard Schiffman
John Poch
Matthew Landrum
Judith Valente
Marjorie Maddox

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.
Read More

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