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The Cresset
A Review of Literature, Fine Arts, and Current Affairs
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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

Consolations

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


Against the Integrated Life

Peter Meilaender

Despite my sympathy for much of Rod Dreher’s argument in The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, I find myself, in reading his book, constantly surpressing slight twinges of misgiving. Read More

Marriage: A Travel Guide

Michael Kramer

One year, the chair of theology at the high school where I taught asked me to talk with his seniors about marriage. I scared the be-jeebers out of him with my proposed title: “The Importance of Pre-marital Intercourse.” I never got to give the talk. I never got to explain that intercourse in that inflammatory title refers to conversation. Read More

Joyce Carol Oates and the Springs of Belief

David Heddendorf

What raises “the search for identity” in Oates’s novels above the level of cliché—what makes it downright subversive in our age of fashionable atheism and survey-response “nones”—is Oates’s refusal to deny her characters a spiritual dimension. They think about the state of their souls—or at least, as in American Appetites (1989), they debate the existence and nature of the soul, even while professing a brittle materialism. Read More

The Return of the Tyrants and the Price of Democracy

H. David Baer

In the past, the great threats to democracy came from rival political ideologies—communism, fascism, Nazism. Today, however, the threat lacks strong ideological definition. The mini-dictators who would destroy democracy resemble not so much the totalitarians of the twentieth century, but rather the self-aggrandizing tyrants of ancient Greece. Read More

The Man from Mars Who Wants to Know

Daniel Silliman

Tom Wolfe died in May at the age of eighty-eight. With the news comes memorials to his prose and power with words. His style is hailed, rightly enough. But when I think back to why Wolfe mattered to me—mattered so, so much to my writing—it actually wasn’t the excess of style. I learned something different. Read More

“When They Question You, Speak Boldly”:
Revisiting the Music of Julius Eastman

Josh Langhoff

Eastman’s music resonates now even more than it did during his lifetime. Before minimalism entered the mainstream, he saw beyond it, making the style's repetitive patterns a home for other musical and programmatic ideas. And what ideas! Read More

Steal Away to Jesus

Martha Greene Eads

I thank my Lord for that great-hearted hostess, who opened her home to wet and dirty strangers, who gave them her best and bore more loss than she had planned. Read More

Also In This Issue
John M Ballenger
Devon Miller-Duggan
Lynn Domina
Evan Gurney
Michael Schmidtke
Nicholas J. Molbert


The Unknowable More:
Contemplation, Creativity, and Education

Stephanie Paulsell

In the spring of 2016, the South African artist William Kentridge created a frieze of Roman history on a portion of the embankment wall that runs along the Tiber. Containing some eighty images, many of them more than thirty feet tall, the frieze stretches for a third of a mile along the river. Read More

Why Mission Matters Today

Susan VanZanten

The year 2017 was not a good year by any reckoning. The earth, our island home, has suffered high winds, earthquakes, mudslides, flooding, record heat spells, and wildfires. Ten hurricanes in ten weeks swept across Central and North America. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2017 was the costliest year on record for natural disasters in the United States. Read More

Dante in the Woods:
The Potential of the Para-University

Christopher S. Noble

I am a scholar in the woods. My classroom, nestled fourteen miles south of a main entrance to Yosemite National Park, is the High Sierra Humanities Program of Azusa Pacific University. My curriculum is composed of “core texts”—Dante, Augustine, Confucius, Teresa of Avila, William James, Dostoevsky, Zora Neale Hurston—even though no one in higher education today seems able to agree about what precisely those texts form the core of. Read More

"Use Nothing Only Once":
Believing Again with Roger Lundin, Emily Dickinson,
and Ron Rash

Martha Greene Eads

Roger read carefully, respectfully, and even lovingly the poetry, novels, essays, and letters of nineteenth-century women and men whose Christian faith often wore thin under the pressure of scientific advances, new streams of philosophy, and the everyday horrors of life.Read More

Also In This Issue
David L. Parkyn
Anthony Easton
Matthew Porto
Rachael Button
Tania Runyan
Cameron Alexander Lawrence
Marjorie Maddox