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The Terrible and Beautiful Panorama
Heather Grennan Gary

This issue marks the eightieth anniversary of the Cresset. One wonders if founding editor O. P. Kretzmann would have imagined his nascent publication reaching such a milestone. The grand, sweeping language in his inaugural column suggests that he might have: “Between us and the final trumpets,” he wrote, “lies the terrible and beautiful panorama of human passions, of sadness and laughter, of beauty and horror, of eternal sameness and never ending change—all of which the Pilgrim purposes to survey…” Indeed, from the column’s first appearance in November 1937 until its final one in June of 1972, “The Pilgrim” succeeded in surveying a vast span of that terrible and beautiful panorama.

The never-ending change he speaks of—or even simply the change between 1937 (or 1972!) and today—is so apparent that it can sometimes be difficult to see much else. From advances in science and technology to the diminishing role of the church in American life to the rise of multi-culturalism to developments in commerce and communication to shifting views on family, gender, race, disability, the environment, and so much else, we are truly in a different world than when the Pilgrim penned his first column.

It behooves us, however, to remember the “eternal sameness” of the human condition that he also cites. Perhaps the Pilgrim was speaking in a spiritual key. Like those before us, we humans in 2017 struggle to respond to each other in courageous, humble, and loving ways. We need forgiveness and hope and grace. But even if he had been speaking about the eternal sameness of more mundane things, the truth of his words would bear out. A surprising number of headlines from 1937 sound as if they could appear in news tickers or social media posts this fall: in late August, a massive forest fire killed fifteen firefighters in Wyoming; a few weeks later, a catastrophic typhoon took the lives of 11,000 people in Hong Kong. News reports from October of that year describe a surge of violence in Palestine that resulted in the death of four Arabs and three Jews. (On a purely superficial level, the website onthisday.com compiles a dizzying list of 1937 movie premieres, sporting events, and pop-culture crazes that rival today’s saturated media landscape). The first few pages of that first issue of the Cresset address current events that deal with bigotry, crime, and the relationship between science and religion—topics that are just as relevant today as they were then.

All of this is to say that despite the never-ending change, there is a through-line of consistency worth contemplating. Several contributions to this issue do just that. In his essay “Homecoming at Middle Age,” David C. Yamada (VU ’81) takes a closer look at his college years—both how his own experience at Valparaiso University in the late 1970s and early 1980s shaped him, and how certain political, economic, and social developments during that time continue to shape our world today. Stewart Herman’s “The Polyvalent Potentiality of Vocation in Net-Zero Construction” tells the story of a massive home renovation project, one which aimed to preserve the beauty, charm, and livability of their 1907 Victorian cottage while introducing twenty-first century green technology. And although the poem “Mid-November” by Barbara Crooker focuses more on never-ending change than eternal sameness, it captures a feeling that our ancestors would surely recognize:

“We’re talking about time, how rapidly it’s pulling away / from us, slippery as a silver fish. How we want to slow things down, / to press the pause button here.”  

Pause for a moment, then, and join me in gratitude for the Pilgrim, along with the many other editors, writers, readers, and benefactors whose dedication to this enterprise over these past eight decades allows us to meet here today.

 

                                                —HGG

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