The Cresset
A Review of Literature, Fine Arts, and Current Affairs
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Inspiring Faith and Engaging Reality

Mark Ravizza, SJ


For the past eight years, I have taught at the Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador and Casa Bayanihan in Manila. The Casa programs are alternative, study-abroad semesters that transform students by immersing them in materially poor communities and then integrating that experience through rigorous academic analysis, spiritual formation, and simple community living. Read More

Civic Virtue Starts at Home

Patricia McGuire


We don’t mind all this diversity. But are they Catholic?”
The Trinity College alumna who challenged me with this question gave voice to what many other alumnae were thinking in the early 1990s as Trinity’s student body underwent a dramatic demographic paradigm shift. Historically hailing mostly from traditional, white, Catholic families in the middle- and upper-middle-class parishes of the East Coast and Midwest, Trinity students in the first seven decades of the college’s life emerged as smart, strong leaders of families, communities, and corporations...  Read More

Purpose, Provender, and Promises

Richard Ray


Church-related colleges today face a difficult challenge: they must address pressures to increase revenue and enrollment in unique and dynamic ways that are true to their intrinsic values. Stated differently, they must find mission-based ideas and practices that will enable them to increase revenue, resources, and enrollment while remaining faithful to their historic missions. My perspective in thinking about these questions and in framing this message is as one who serves as provost of an institution dedicated solely to 3,300 undergraduates, a college ecumenical in character while rooted in the Reformed tradition of our founders and the Reformed Church in America... Read More

A Season for Change

Jennifer L. Miller


It is the time of year when we long for change. As I write this, I look out the window at snow swirling around in mini-tornados, caught in the nooks and crannies of buildings on campus. By the time this piece is published, the weather will have changed. Most of the snow will be melted, and the change to spring will be well underway. The Christian church, too, celebrates perhaps the biggest change of all in this season, the shift from the mourning and repentance of Lent to the joy and exhilaration of Easter... Read More

Also In This Issue
Geoffrey C. Bowden


Dramas of Love and Dirt
Soil and the Salvation of the World

Norman Wirzba


Try to imagine what it would be like to hear your name every time someone uttered the words “soil” or “dirt.” This is what life would have been like for Adam, because his name makes no sense apart from the soil from which he lives. The Hebrew word for soil is adamah. That the first human being was called adam meant that the biblical writer wanted us to understand that human life derives from soil, needs soil, and is utterly dependent upon it for food, energy, building materials, comfort, and for inspiration. Similarly, the fact that soil is called adamah would have had the effect of reminding human beings that soil also depends on us...  Read More

A Conversation with Peter L. Berger
"How My Views Have Changed"

Gregor Thuswaldner


On September 12, 2013, the eminent Austrian-American sociologist Peter Berger visited The Center for Faith and Inquiry at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. The following is a partial transcript of an interview conducted by Gordon College’s Gregor Thuswaldner... Gregor Thuswaldner: When you started out as a sociologist of religion, you had a very different view of secularization than you do today. Can you tell us about the concept, the so-called secularization thesis, and what it’s about, and why you now think it’s wrong?  Read More

A Short History of Infertility and Ducks

Kirsten Eve Beachy


When you are a granola Mennonite couple just getting started on a little homestead, free stuff is gold. So when my father-in-law called us a few days before the 2008 Virginia Mennonite Relief sale and asked, “You want some ducks?” we said, “Of course,” arranged to pick them up at the sale, then hurried to research Muscovy ducks... A few words first for the uninitiated about our relief sale: thousands of Mennonites in the Shenandoah Valley—from bonnet-wearing to Bible-thumping to Global Village to granola to college students—gather for a weekend of eating homemade donuts, potato chips, and Brunswick stew...  Read More

The Political Writings of Martin Luther

Geoffrey C. Bowden


In an era of scholarly (over) ­specialization, there exists a tendency to dissect the thinking of a particular figure of historical note into discreet parts according to our modern disciplinary typology. This tendency sets the framework for our study of the “great books” and writers in the scholarly canon. We allow our disciplines to impose questions on texts that they were not designed to answer. We “extract” theories from a larger theoretical corpus to use for our own purposes, unwittingly damaging those theories in the process of “extraction” from the supporting context. The historiography of Martin Luther’s writings serves as a case in point.  Read More

Also In This Issue
Katherine Kennedy Steiner
Frank J. Colucci

Splendor and Solemnity
Bach at Advent

Andrew White


Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most influential composers in the Western music tradition, and, arguably, the greatest composer of Protestant church music. If the latter is true, it is ironic that Bach’s church cantatas, which represent the heart of his sacred compositional output, are among the least familiar of his works. Alfred Dürr, in the preface to the first edition of The Cantatas of J.S. Bach (1971), laments the “Cinderella status” of the cantatas. In recent years, Bach’s cantatas have become better known due to numerous recordings of complete cycles and exciting projects like John Eliot Gardiner’s “Bach Cantata Pilgrimage...  Read More

Requisites of Love
The Films of Sarah Polley

Fredrick Barton


Near the end of his life, my father had a heart attack that left his brain deprived of adequate blood flow for crucial minutes. He survived to live another three years, but he never recovered his intellectual prowess. A professor, theologian, and writer of prodigious analytical acumen, he was left in his final days unable to do third-grade arithmetic problems. He was embarrassed when I had to help him balance his checkbook. Such experiences with loved ones are sadly common as we age, and certainly anyone who has cared for someone in decline will be a receptive audience for debut writer/director Sarah Polley’s brilliant Away from Her...  Read More

Inflatable Youth

Jeffrey Galbraith

Travel enhances a person’s taste and vision. It can blind and make dizzy. It can cause whiplash and unmoor. I see it clearly. As a college student in Mexico years ago, I am a young adult in enormous sensuous contact with the world. I might look like an ordinary tourist, paying a few coins to photograph a squat woman with an iguana on her head, or holding my nose to drink the milk of an agave plant. More accurately, I am a sensualist. I yearn to close the distance that separates me from my surroundings.   Read More

Through a Pint Glass Darkly
Edgar Wright's The World's End

Charles Andrews


D. H. Lawrence’s final book Apocalypse was a uniquely Lawrentian commentary on the biblical book of Revelation. Part political treatise, part avant-garde poem, part scriptural exegesis, and part erotic fantasy, this work provides a fitting conclusion for a writer whose ambition was no less than a revitalization of all humanity through an expanding spiritual and sexual consciousness... Lawrence’s glance backward at his youth through a heady mixture of nostalgia, embarrassment, and apocalypse is intoxicating, much like the blend served up in the latest film by Edgar Wright. With The World’s End...  Read More

Also In This Issue

“Ah, yes. Yes. It Has Come Again.”
Technology and Human Renewal in
Wendell Berry’s Port William


Eric Miller


Wendell Berry, that marginal man, has over the past decade become a mainstream presence, if not quite a mainstream force. Giving the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Jefferson Lecture this past spring, Berry joined a membership—to borrow a term from his own lexicon—of considerable heft, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Saul Bellow, Robert Penn Warren, Toni Morrison, and Tom Wolfe. The previous year’s lecturer was Drew Gilpin Faust—the president of Harvard University. When President Obama awarded Berry the 2010 National Humanities Medal, among his fellow honorees were ...  Read More

The Smartest Zombie Novel
You'll Never Read

Christina Bieber Lake


Since most of my childhood was lived in the 1970s, it took me a long time to believe that a zombie narrative could be anything but B-grade camp. And unless it is deliberate and terribly smart camp, like anything done by Joss Whedon, I’m not interested. At all. This is why no one was more surprised than me to find myself on the postapocalyptic zombie bandwagon.  Read More

I Remember, Therefore I Am

Jennifer Miller


In his work commonly called Discourse on the Method, French philosopher René Descartes searches for a source of incontrovertible truth. He methodically rejects anything that could potentially be doubted. Our senses, for instance, can be deceived; human reason is prone to error and thoughts might hold no more truth than dreams. However, he goes on to state, “...I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat.”  Read More

A Meditation on Mice and Rats

Gary Fincke


There was good reason for me to learn the habits of mice and rats. My father owned a bakery. The adjoining building was a feed store. Even though the feed store patrons did not much care whether or not they noticed mice and rats as their trucks were loaded, my father’s business depended on vigilance, killing every intruder and disposing of them while hoping nobody ever saw one while they purchased bread and rolls.  Read More

Also In This Issue
David Lott

A Church of One's Own:
John Patrick Shanley's Woolfian Project

Martha Greene Eads

Doubt   Playwright John Patrick Shanley’s op-ed essay in the February 11, 2013 issue of the New York Times leaves no doubt about his attitude toward Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down from the papacy. Good riddance, harrumphs Shanley, charging that Benedict “was utterly bereft of charm, tone-deaf and a protector of pedophiles. In addition to this woeful resume, he had no use for women.” After launching his essay with that provocative and highly personal attack, Shanley articulates his more generalized complaint about the Catholic Church:  Read More

From Commodity to Community:
Churches and the Land They Own

Gilson A. C. Waldkoenig

raingarden   A number of churches, camps, and other religious organizations recently have begun to take care of land in ways that express ecological vision. Turning from human-defined assessments of place, they are reorienting themselves toward God’s continual creativity in the earth and carving out a place for God’s creation in settings otherwise defined wholly in terms of human demographics. These congregations are developing practices that express greater awareness of human interrelatedness with creation and of how their properties are thresholds to the presence of Christ in all creation.  Read More

The Development of Liturgical Artist
Ernst Schwidder

Joel Nickel

crucifix   In September of 2011, the archives of liturgical artist Ernst Schwidder arrived at Valparaiso University, after hitchhiking all the way from Seattle/Tacoma in the back of a semi-trailer loaded with organ pipes. The archives consisted of 240 three-foot mailing tubes filled with rolled-up architectural drawings and sketches, plus boxes of files, records, photos, and slides. Since Schwidder’s art is installed in approximately three hundred churches across the United States, the only actual work in the collection was a six-foot crucifix of carved mahogany, a gift of his daughter, Anna, to the University’s Brauer Museum.  Read More
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