Cincinnati Ballet: The Nutcracker

I have never seen a show I liked less from this company.

The party scene featured an ugly set and costumes that might have looked okay if the colors had been pretty, but the palette was mud. It seems to me it takes work to make a Christmas scene unattractive, but even the tree was unappealing. The action was a hot mess of visual confusion. Everyone just seemed to be going at each other – all demanding attention and none deserving any – so busy that it was hard to know where to focus. More like a mob than anything choreographed.

Drosselmeyer was lost in a crowd of people all milling about. He was goofy rather than impressive anyway. At one point I got him confused with the grandfather. My memories of nutcrackers past always had Drosselmeyer as my favorite part. He should have stood out. He should have made much more of an entrance. He should have been grand.

The rats looked like dancing Hershey Kisses (unwrapped), or maybe dancing figs from an old Fig Newton commercial. The rat scene was another scene where everyone just ran at each other, too cluttered to be easily watchable.

Things got better when the prince showed up (because what isn’t better with a handsome prince?). The ugly set gave way to a snowflake and icicle scene – the only beautiful set the show would feature, as it turned out. Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, the Snow Queen, and the Snow King were enjoyable to watch, and the best moments were when they were allowed the stage to themselves. The music was good. Ornaments and a balloon came down at the end of each act. When Clara and the Nutcracker Prince floated away in the balloon, waving as they left, kids in the audience waved back, which is awesome.

Throughout the show, when there were lots of dancers onstage, they just didn’t seem to be working together to create something beautiful the way it usually goes. It felt like disorder where there should have been order. I also didn’t like how much of it was played for laughs: there should have been something dreamlike and beautiful, and‌ instead they went the cheesy route. The derpy dancing poodles were particularly irritating: if you’re going to go comic, be funny. I don’t mind slapstick or laughs (at least when well done) but I want it in addition to, not instead of, visual spectacle and beauty.

 

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a paradoxical standard

Here’s a real argument I encountered:

A Christian did something

!

This proves that Christianity is

!

The worst is when this comes from someone who is quite sure he’s got excellent critical thinking skills.

It’s the same fallacy racists make. Someone erroneously assumes that what is true of a group must be true of each member of that group, or, conversely, that was is true of a member of a given group can be used to make assumptions about the group as a whole.

An individual X did something Y, so therefore all Xs are Y.

Imagine if X were any group other than Christian – a Jew, a scientist, an environmentalist. Wouldn’t it be self-evident that there’s something dreadfully wrong with anyone suggesting that a single bad example proves something about all of them?

I mean, the existence of a single bad atheist would prove the need for religion, but what religion has no imperfect people? Your brain would be getting a ‘blue screen of death’ just trying to work that one out.

If it were true.

Wang Yi’s Declaration of Faithful Disobedience

Powerful.

Written to be released in the event of his arrest and detention (which has now occurred):

http://www.chinapartnership.org/blog/2018/12/my-declaration-of-faithful-disobedience

On the basis of the teachings of the Bible and the mission of the gospel, I respect the authorities God has established in China. For God deposes kings and raises up kings. This is why I submit to the historical and institutional arrangements of God in China.

As a pastor of a Christian church, I have my own understanding and views, based on the Bible, about what righteous order and good government is. At the same time, I am filled with anger and disgust at the persecution of the church by this Communist regime, at the wickedness of their depriving people of the freedoms of religion and of conscience. But changing social and political institutions is not the mission I have been called to, and it is not the goal for which God has given his people the gospel.

For all hideous realities, unrighteous politics, and arbitrary laws manifest the cross of Jesus Christ, the only means by which every Chinese person must be saved. They also manifest the fact that true hope and a perfect society will never be found in the transformation of any earthly institution or culture but only in our sins being freely forgiven by Christ and in the hope of eternal life.

As a pastor, my firm belief in the gospel, my teaching, and my rebuking of all evil proceeds from Christ’s command in the gospel and from the unfathomable love of that glorious King. Every man’s life is extremely short, and God fervently commands the church to lead and call any man to repentance who is willing to repent. Christ is eager and willing to forgive all who turn from their sins. This is the goal of all the efforts of the church in China—to testify to the world about our Christ, to testify to the Middle Kingdom about the Kingdom of Heaven, to testify to earthly, momentary lives about heavenly, eternal life. This is also the pastoral calling that I have received.

For this reason, I accept and respect the fact that this Communist regime has been allowed by God to rule temporarily. As the Lord’s servant John Calvin said, wicked rulers are the judgment of God on a wicked people, the goal being to urge God’s people to repent and turn again toward Him. For this reason, I am joyfully willing to submit myself to their enforcement of the law as though submitting to the discipline and training of the Lord.

At the same time, I believe that this Communist regime’s persecution against the church is a greatly wicked, unlawful action. As a pastor of a Christian church, I must denounce this wickedness openly and severely. The calling that I have received requires me to use non-violent methods to disobey those human laws that disobey the Bible and God. My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws.

But this does not mean that my personal disobedience and the disobedience of the church is in any sense “fighting for rights” or political activism in the form of civil disobedience, because I do not have the intention of changing any institutions or laws of China. As a pastor, the only thing I care about is the disruption of man’s sinful nature by this faithful disobedience and the testimony it bears for the cross of Christ.

As a pastor, my disobedience is one part of the gospel commission. Christ’s great commission requires of us great disobedience. The goal of disobedience is not to change the world but to testify about another world.

For the mission of the church is only to be the church and not to become a part of any secular institution. From a negative perspective, the church must separate itself from the world and keep itself from being institutionalized by the world. From a positive perspective, all acts of the church are attempts to prove to the world the real existence of another world. The Bible teaches us that, in all matters relating to the gospel and human conscience, we must obey God and not men. For this reason, spiritual disobedience and bodily suffering are both ways we testify to another eternal world and to another glorious King.

This is why I am not interested in changing any political or legal institutions in China. I’m not even interested in the question of when the Communist regime’s policies persecuting the church will change. Regardless of which regime I live under now or in the future, as long as the secular government continues to persecute the church, violating human consciences that belong to God alone, I will continue my faithful disobedience. For the entire commission God has given me is to let more Chinese people know through my actions that the hope of humanity and society is only in the redemption of Christ, in the supernatural, gracious sovereignty of God.

If God decides to use the persecution of this Communist regime against the church to help more Chinese people to despair of their futures, to lead them through a wilderness of spiritual disillusionment and through this to make them know Jesus, if through this he continues disciplining and building up his church, then I am joyfully willing to submit to God’s plans, for his plans are always benevolent and good.

Precisely because none of my words and actions are directed toward seeking and hoping for societal and political transformation, I have no fear of any social or political power. For the Bible teaches us that God establishes governmental authorities in order to terrorize evildoers, not to terrorize doers of good. If believers in Jesus do no wrong then they should not be afraid of dark powers. Even though I am often weak, I firmly believe this is the promise of the gospel. It is what I’ve devoted all of my energy to. It is the good news that I am spreading throughout Chinese society.

I also understand that this happens to be the very reason why the Communist regime is filled with fear at a church that is no longer afraid of it.

If I am imprisoned for a long or short period of time, if I can help reduce the authorities’ fear of my faith and of my Savior, I am very joyfully willing to help them in this way. But I know that only when I renounce all the wickedness of this persecution against the church and use peaceful means to disobey, will I truly be able to help the souls of the authorities and law enforcement. I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority, and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

Regardless of what crime the government charges me with, whatever filth they fling at me, as long as this charge is related to my faith, my writings, my comments, and my teachings, it is merely a lie and temptation of demons. I categorically deny it. I will serve my sentence, but I will not serve the law. I will be executed, but I will not plead guilty.

Moreover, I must point out that persecution against the Lord’s church and against all Chinese people who believe in Jesus Christ is the most wicked and the most horrendous evil of Chinese society. This is not only a sin against Christians. It is also a sin against all non-Christians. For the government is brutally and ruthlessly threatening them and hindering them from coming to Jesus. There is no greater wickedness in the world than this.

If this regime is one day overthrown by God, it will be for no other reason than God’s righteous punishment and revenge for this evil. For on earth, there has only ever been a thousand-year church. There has never been a thousand-year government. There is only eternal faith. There is no eternal power.

Those who lock me up will one day be locked up by angels. Those who interrogate me will finally be questioned and judged by Christ.  When I think of this, the Lord fills me with a natural compassion and grief toward those who are attempting to and actively imprisoning me. Pray that the Lord would use me, that he would grant me patience and wisdom, that I might take the gospel to them.

Separate me from my wife and children, ruin my reputation, destroy my life and my family – the authorities are capable of doing all of these things. However, no one in this world can force me to renounce my faith; no one can make me change my life; and no one can raise me from the dead.

And so, respectable officers, stop committing evil. This is not for my benefit but rather for yours and your children’s. I plead earnestly with you to stay your hands, for why should you be willing to pay the price of eternal damnation in hell for the sake of a lowly sinner such as I?

Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever. I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.

First draft on September 21st, 2018; revised on October 4th. To be published by the church after 48 hours of detention.

Appendix: What Constitutes Faithful Disobedience

I firmly believe that the Bible has not given any branch of any government the authority to run the church or to interfere with the faith of Christians. Therefore, the Bible demands that I, through peaceable means, in meek resistance and active forbearance, filled with joy, resist all administrative policies and legal measures that oppress the church and interfere with the faith of Christians.

I firmly believe this is a spiritual act of disobedience.  In modern authoritarian regimes that persecute the church and oppose the gospel, spiritual disobedience is an inevitable part of the gospel movement.

I firmly believe that spiritual disobedience is an act of the last times; it is a witness to God’s eternal kingdom in the temporal kingdom of sin and evil. Disobedient Christians follow the example of the crucified Christ by walking the path of the cross. Peaceful disobedience is the way in which we love the world as well as the way in which we avoid becoming part of the world.

I firmly believe that in carrying out spiritual disobedience, the Bible demands me to rely on the grace and resurrection power of Christ, that I must respect and not overstep two boundaries.

The first boundary is that of the heart. Love toward the soul, and not hatred toward the body, is the motivation of spiritual disobedience. Transformation of the soul, and not the changing of circumstances, is the aim of spiritual disobedience. At any time, if external oppression and violence rob me of inner peace and endurance, so that my heart begins to breed hatred and bitterness toward those who persecute the church and abuse Christians, then spiritual disobedience fails at that point.

The second boundary is that of behavior. The gospel demands that disobedience of faith must be non-violent. The mystery of the gospel lies in actively suffering, even being willing to endure unrighteous punishment, as a substitute for physical resistance. Peaceful disobedience is the result of love and forgiveness. The cross means being willing to suffer when one does not have to suffer. For Christ had limitless ability to fight back, yet he endured all of the humility and hurt. The way that Christ resisted the world that resisted him was by extending an olive branch of peace on the cross to the world that crucified him.

I firmly believe that Christ has called me to carry out this faithful disobedience through a life of service, under this regime that opposes the gospel and persecutes the church. This is the means by which I preach the gospel, and it is the mystery of the gospel which I preach.

The Lord’s servant,
Wang Yi

First draft on September 21st, 2018; revised on October 4th. To be circulated by the church after 48 hours of detention.

 

Landscape of Fear

Landscape of Fear: Stephen King's American GothicLandscape of Fear: Stephen King’s American Gothic by Tony Magistrale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am rounding up to 4 stars instead of down to 3 because my reason for picking up book involved a hope that I might learn what makes a haunted house. I think I got something of that out of this book.

This is an older book, but written after most of what I think of as Stephen King’s best stories. I would be interested in reading a later book by this author.

What I like most about this book is how accessible it is. I could see a teacher giving this book to any group of students old/literate enough to be reading Stephen King & having a nice discussion, one that includes not only King and the other authors this book mentions (the author sometimes compares or contrasts King with Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville) but also, from there, other authors that came to mind.

My issue with this book has to do with depth. King’s stories (at least the ones I have read) lack the quality I value most highly: more enjoyable/new revelations and insights on subsequent/repeat readings, and that makes me feel like he’s sort of stretching, somehow.

Maybe I’m wrong: this book emphasizes (intentionally or not) how much King’s stories reveal the concerns/anxieties of the baby boom, and also their beliefs, assumptions, and solutions. History is full of generations rejecting the preoccupations of the generation before them, and maybe I’m no exception to that. (Also, I stopped reading Stephen King after watching the movie “Pet Semetary”…right after moving with my spouse & young’uns to a lonely house with only a single neighbor, right on a state highway frequented only by speeding trucks….)

View all my reviews

divinity argument

It seems to me there are two arguments in Christianity that people get most hung up on. By this I mean: these two issues seem to me to be the biggest obstacle to belief (as far as I know, nobody has ever done proper study. How would one go about doing a proper study?)

The first: calling God “Father”:

How ‘manlike’ is God?

Is there an actual sentient being? Is that being humanlike? Or is there only a ‘higher power’, more like energy?

The second:

Should everything in the Bible should be taken literally?

How literally? (“All of it”, say the folks at one extreme, but I seriously doubt they want us to imagine that the church is literally the bride of Christ, with Jesus the bridegroom: most people would say “obviously” that’s figurative. Ditto Song of Solomon.)

I was struck today was the realization that neither of these two questions has anything to do with why hostile atheists hate Christianity. The relevant question there is different:

Is there such a thing as the divine (and therefore are some things sacred)?

If one answers “yes” or even “maybe”, it becomes logical to conclude that Christians must oppose much of what atheists hold to be not only true but dear (one might almost say sacred) and that atheists are being inappropriately aggressive in trying to impose their beliefs as universal values in communities where Christians dwell.

If one answers “no”, it becomes possible to conclude that atheism leads inevitably to dystopia, because there’s no logical way to hold life (or any other human right) as sacred, and thus there cannot legitimately be anything wrong with violating what is not sacred.