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New Issue of The Cresset

The Cresset: A Review of Literature, the Arts, and Public Affairs

Vol. LXXXII, No. 5

Trinity cover

On the Cover: Corey Hagelberg (1983-). Birth of Christ in Bethlehem Steel, 2016.  Woodcut on mulberry paper, AP, 34 × 20 inches (image), 39 1/2 × 25 1/2 inches (paper). Gift of the artist. Brauer Museum of Art, 2017.11.001.

Welcome Back!

The latest issue of the Cresset was published over the summer and features writing from  Valpo’s Agnes Howard, James Old, George Heider, and many other contributors. All content is on our website and listed below.

If you are not currently receiving a print copy but would like to, please let me know. And if you are interested in writing for the Cresset, please be in touch! Our guidelines are here.

Happy reading, and best wishes for the fall semester.

Heather Grennan Gary


All in the Family: Making Over Motherhood for Mutual Flourishing
Agnes R. Howard

The Glory of the Stars: Thoughts on Dreading the New Heaven and the New Earth
Kelsey Lahr

Winesburg and the Whys of Life
Joel Kurz

A Dorothy for the Twenty-First Century: Stranger ThingsThe Wizard of Oz, and Contemporary Dreams of Home
Jennifer L. Miller

How to Hold on Loosely and Know When to Let Go
Thomas C. Willadsen


Dissertation on the Art of Flying
Chris Harold

B. R. Strahan

I’ve Made Plans to Sail
Joshua Alan Sturgill

On Being Asked What Would Jesus Do in IKEA
Matthew Landrum

Any Tree, Incredibly
Jacob Walhout

I May Not Look Anxious
Tania Runyan

Pond Dream
J. T. Ledbetter

Night Holds Its Breath
Kathleen Gunton


In Luce Tua
On the Poets


Mark Lomax II’s 400: An Afrikan Epic

Josh Langhoff

Sara MacDonald and Barry Craig’s The Coen Brothers and the Comedy of Democracy

James Paul Old


In Memoriam, Alma Mater
George C. Heider

All in the Cards
Rebekah Curtis

The Cresset, a journal of commentary on literature, the arts, and public affairs, explores ideas and trends in contemporary culture from a perspective grounded in the Lutheran tradition of scholarship, freedom, and faith while informed by the wisdom of the broader Christian community.It is published by Valparaiso University five times per year.

Posted by Joseph S. Goss

From the Colloquium

In the first half of the spring 2019 semester, the Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows at Valparaiso University focused primarily on questions around the meaning of education: what does it mean to teach and learn, and how does the Christian tradition help us consider the purposes of education within the context of a whole human life?

In the second half of the semester, the Postdoctoral Fellows have turned to the question of vocation. They read John Williams’ novel Stoner, which tells the story of William Stoner, a young man born on a farm who is sent to the University of Missouri to study agriculture. At the University of Missouri, Stoner is taken with the study of literature, ultimately pursues a PhD, and becomes a professor of English there. The novel follows Stoner throughout his career at University of Missouri.

Stoner, as well as the Lilly Fellows’ own reflective essays, inspired thoughtful consideration of the question of vocation. Particularly in light of the shrinking availability of tenure-track opportunities in the humanities, and more generally the difficulties that colleges and universities are facing at this time, we asked what it means to have a vocation in the humanities. Could a vocation be something broader than a particular job? Instead of a vocation as “a college teacher of English,” maybe someone like Stoner’s vocation was “an interpreter of literature,” and perhaps college teaching was one avenue to pursue that vocation, but there are other avenues that fulfill that vocation as well.

We concluded the spring 2019 semester by discussing the thought-provoking poem, “I Don’t Want to Be a Spice Store,” by Christian Wiman, which explores the idea of usefulness.

From the Colloquium

During the spring 2019, the Lilly Postdoctoral Fellows at Valparaiso University have thoughtfully considered the meaning of education, and what constitutes teaching and learning. Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass are guiding the discussion around the question: How does the Christian tradition help us to consider the purposes of education and the vocation of an educator within the larger context of a whole human life?

The discussion began with a film: The Wild Child by Francois Truffaut, which considers the story of a feral child in the late 18th century in the south of France. Later named Victor, the feral child is found by hunters and captured. Dr. Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, a young physician, takes custody of him and tries to teach and socialize him, with the help of a nurse. Throughout the semester, we have considered, to what extent is our teaching similar to and different from Itard’s education of Victor. How are our views on education different from and similar to those of Itard and his nurse?

We then move to two selections from Everyone a Teacher, edited by Mark Schwehn, Eva Brann’s “Depth and Desire” and Philip W. Jackson’s “Real Teaching.” Brann explores the questions around how to awaken desire within students. Where should a teacher or curriculum begin? Do students bring a certain amount of “freshness” with them when they begin?

Jackson considers what constitutes teaching. He considers whether a salesperson could have a good day without anyone buying anything, and likewise whether a teacher can be a good teacher without students learning anything. In the current landscape of both K-12 and increasingly postsecondary education, student learning outcomes are increasingly being used not only to guide instruction, but also to measure teacher quality. This is a trend that can be both helpful and problematic; however, we went on to consider, what kinds of student learning are most important, and how do we know whether students have attained them? We also asked what it means to have “had a good class” on a particular day, and how our interpretation of our teaching changes over time.

We then went on to read excerpts from Linda Zagzebski’s Exemplarist Moral Theory, which suggests that people admire moral excellence and that the emotion of admiration awakens a desire to emulate that moral excellence. Not all exemplars have all virtues, but a particular exemplar, for example one who demonstrates great courage, would move us to be more courageous. An exemplar who demonstrates great compassion would move us to be more compassionate, even if that exemplar did not also demonstrate courage. We discussed the role of exemplary figures, both historical and fictional, in teaching, and whether a complicated figure can also be exemplary.

Additionally this semester, the postdoctoral fellows will have the opportunity to attend the Bach Institute’s performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” performed by the Valparaiso University Chorale and Bach Choir, with the Ft. Wayne Children’s Choir. Christopher Cock, who holds the Duesenberg Chair in Lutheran Music and is the director of the Bach institute, came to lead a discussion preceding the performance. The discussion was most enlightening, and gave the Lilly Fellows a number of contexts—musical, historical, and liturgical—for better understanding the performance of the “St. Matthew Passion.”

They will conclude the semester with readings from Leading Lives that Matter on the topic of whether it is possible to lead a balanced life, and whether a balanced life is preferable to a life that focuses on work, and with John Williams’ novel Stoner. Stoner tells the story of William Stoner, a young man who grows up on a farm in rural Missouri. Stoner is sent to the University of Missouri to study agriculture to help his family, but there he is taken with the study of literature, and eventually pursues a PhD and becomes a professor of English at the University of Missouri. The novel follows Stoner throughout his life and explores, among other things, the role that Stoner’s work as a college teacher plays in his life.

Posted by Jenna Van Sickle

From the Colloquium

This semester, the Postdoctoral Fellows’ weekly colloquium has been led by Senior Fellows Thomas A. (Tal) Howard and Agnes Howard, while Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass are revising their book Leading Lives That Matter at the Collegeville Institute in Collegeville, MN. The discussion led by Tal and Agnes has been lively, and also challenging. As we reflect on current trends in higher education, and the callings to which we respond, we see a need for disciplined work and the importance of continual re-evaluation of our places in and the purpose of the academy.

How are we called and to what ends? This is the question that led off the semester. Two famous pilgrims spurred our discussion: Jonah and Dante. These two figures are helpful for “compare and contrast”: to whom do we relate? Do we ever feel tempted to ignore or resist the call? What “dark woods” must we pass through in order to achieve what we are called to do? And what counts as a successful response to the call? Some of these questions, illuminated by Jonah and Dante, also were addressed in the Fellows’ ensuing narration of some of the “awakenings” encountered in their own scholarly, teacherly, writerly, and artistic journeys.

Two important, foundational texts for the Lilly Fellows Program then came to the fore: Max Weber’s “Science as a Vocation” (Wissenschaft als Beruf) and Mark Schwehn’s Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America. The latter, of course, provides much of the intellectual capital for the LFP itself. As we read Schwehn’s response to Weber, we consider the nature of our work as Christian scholars—the “Christian-ness” of our scholarship—and its relation to the overall ethos of the modern university. To what extent must we adapt to the institution? What exactly do we seek to achieve through the distinctiveness of our Christian academic work?

The tension between secular and religious academic concerns remained in view through the discussion of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s “Tertullian’s Enduring Question”—What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? Or, put another way, what obligations do Christian academics have to non-Christian scholarship and texts? Which ones should we read, and how should we honor them? The question rises in importance as the disciplines themselves generate ever more scholarly material, not all of which is sympathetic to Christian thought and practice. Wolsterstorff’s pedagogy enjoins care and respect even for authors outside our traditions.

Josef Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture provided further challenges to the Christian academic. Arguing for the importance of festival, even in academia, Pieper stresses that academics should not fall victim to the idea of “total work,” according to which intellectual work becomes subservient to the market. The quest for employment, and tenure, place imperatives on academic work. Pieper’s work reminds us not to leave aside leisurely, contemplative work that takes place outside the economic realm.

After attending the LFP’s National Conference at Hope College, the Fellows engaged with a young writer’s existential angst as described in Flannery O’Connor’s “The Enduring Chill.” Her main character, Asbury, presents as unworthy of our sympathy, in his childishness, snobbishness, and inability to engage in true communion with others. The group wrestled with diagnosing Asbury’s true illness, and whether or not his form of suffering was redemptive, and even, sometimes, characteristic of academic work, with its ups and downs, misunderstandings, and failure of imagination. But the other characters provide examples of pedagogical insight, and we are left, at the end of the story, wondering if this young writer has learned something important about himself, and might even begin to live differently.

Asbury’s existential crisis is personal, but the “crisis of the humanities” is institutional. Articles by Justin Stover, Ross Douthat, and James Turner provided an entry into this broader issue. The group analyzed several controversial claims about the humanities, including whether or not there really is a crisis, such that humanities disciplines may be endangered, or at least diminishing in their cultural impact. Is the argument about instrumentalism, or technology, or class divisions? Is there a purpose to the humanities—and is such a thing necessary? Moreover, if there is a crisis, can we defend the humanities from attack? This session brought us face to face with important institutional questions.

Many important questions in academia also arise from the importance placed on “scholarship.” Susan VanZanten, Dean of Christ College at Valparaiso University, led the group in a discussion of parts of her work Joining the Mission: A Guide for (Mostly) New College Faculty. One main concern of new faculty (including our Fellows) is the way in which scholarship is defined and valued. Among other things, Joining the Mission argues for the validity of Ernest Boyer’s 1997 definition and division of scholarship into four categories: the scholarship of discovery; of integration; of application; and of teaching. VanZanten suggests that new faculty need to understand their institutions’ priorities and work within them, but maintain a sense of calling by reflecting often on what brought them to the academy in the first place. Moreover, VanZanten reminds her readers that Sabbatarian practice is essential for staying healthy in a place where it all-too-often happens that faculty simply work too much. Scholarship has, in different places, several different, valuable varieties, which can help us not feel overly constrained by the scholarly imperatives. However, young faculty need to remember life outside of scholarship, too.

Future sessions this semester will take the group into new territory, with a discussion of the situation of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, led by Orthodox theologian Prof. Nicholas Denysenko and Prof. Tal Howard; a discussion of new academic work on boredom, led by Prof. Kevin Gary, of Valparaiso University; and a screening and discussion of Joseph Ceder’s satiric film Footnote (2011).

Posted by Joseph Goss 

The Cresset, Vol. LXXXII, No. 1

The Cresset: A Review of Literature, the Arts, and Public Affairs

Greetings from Linwood House!

Need an antidote to the anger, fear, and polarization gripping our country and our world? The Cresset has you covered! Check out the latest issue online. Contributors include Valpo faculty member Nicholas Denysenko and alumni Josh LanghoffCharles Andrews, and Kurt Krueger.

If you are not currently receiving a print copy and would like to, please contact us at And if you are interested in contributing to the Cresset, take a look at the guidelines and please be in touch. I’m glad to answer any questions or discuss ideas.

Happy reading,

Heather Grennan Gary



Essays & Columns


Engaging My Opponent:
Spiritual Healing for Broken Public Discourse

Nicholas Denysenko

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

Caroline J. Simon

Gary Fincke

“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

Hope and History: Three Views
Peter Dula

The Night the Beatles Came to Church
Kurt Krueger

Addicted Selves
Joel Kurz

Making a Difference
Thomas C. Willadsen




One Time
B.P. Miller

Dove Sta Memoria
Matthew Porto

Responsive Reading of the Sadduceean Creed
David Wright

Desert Parable
Jen Stewart Fueston

Michael Schmidtke

Christopher Lee Miles

How I Saturday in the Suburbs
Bill Stadick

The Night the Pastor’s Wife Loses Her Salvation
Jill Bergkamp

John Fry




Tania Runyan’s What Will Soon Take Place

Reviewed by Nathaniel Lee Hansen

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

Reviewed by Charles Andrews




In Luce Tua

On the Poets


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