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Imagine a great theatre. To call it “great” does not do this theatre justice. It was immense, stunning, beautiful, impossible to fully appreciate.

The exact origins of the theatre are murky. It was generally supposed to be the venture of a great patron of the arts.

While the wonder and design of the theatre were unmatched, the theatre was also gravely flawed. At some point, before any of today’s artists were around, the theatre had been irreparably damaged. No one remembered exactly what happened, but it must have been cataclysmic. Everything about the old theatre was affected. The whole thing was slightly off kilter, decaying and worn.

Still, the theatre troupe could stage wonderful productions there. The public was amazed and appreciative. Yet every play, concert, and even every artist was somehow — sometimes obviously, other times subtly — affected by the theatre’s tilt and deterioration.

Needless to say, no efforts were spared to try to restore and put right this magnificent theatre. All sorts of experts were brought in — historians, architects, and engineers. Most recommended research back into the original intent and design of the theatre.

Countless hours were spent trying to decipher what the theatre had been like in the beginning, before the cataclysm. Enough reproductions and scale models of the hypothetical original theater were made to stock a small museum. Amazingly detailed and profound theories were put forward about what the theatre was originally like. What could be deduced about the builder’s understanding of art by studying the theatre? How should today’s artists perform based on what could be inferred from the design of the theatre? A cottage industry developed among those studying the theatre and theorizing about its implications for all of art.

Simultaneously, fleets of plumbers, electricians, and carpenters were on the job. Yet, if they would fix one thing, something else would go on the fritz. All sorts of tradespersons came and went, doing their small part to keep the theatre in working order.

A new repairman appeared one day. Because repairmen were so frequent and so plentiful around the theatre, most people didn’t pay much attention. Some did notice that he seemed to really know what he was doing. A few people said that there was just “something different” about him. The repairs he made were not especially remarkable or large scale compared with many previous projects. Or maybe they were.

It wasn’t that the theatre suddenly became perfect in every way. But after a while it seemed that whatever small-on-the-face-of-it repair he had made had monumental repercussions throughout the theatre, the troupe, and the productions they staged. Although the theatre was still beset by problems, many people believed that something essential had shifted.

Over time memories and exact details about this repairman receded into the mist of history, but his reputation only grew. Many fondly recalled him as the repairman par excellence. Some lovingly gave him the title of “The Fixer.” All sorts of stories arose about who he was and what exactly was the repair he had made.

There were some, however, who wondered if perhaps he was not really a repairman at all. Instead, they claimed, he was an artist, the consummate artist, whose performance in that theatre had been so beautiful, so complete, so graceful, it had somehow righted the entire theatre.

He hadn’t really so much made a repair, as he had been the star, although so few had caught his performance. To consider him as a repairman, to call him “The Fixer,” missed the point, and failed to grasp who he was. Instead of trying to learn about art by looking at the theatre, they began to suggest that it was actually this person who revealed true art.

Why, there were even a handful who surmised that the whole grand theatre had in fact been made precisely to be the stage on which this unsurpassable artist would perform.


Originally, this was a portion of an essay, Reformed Intramurals: What Neo-Calvinists Get Wrong from Perspectives, February, 2008.

Photo by Derrick Sugden on Unsplash

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is a recently retired minister of the Reformed Church in America. He has been the convener of the Reformed Journal’s daily blog since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Sophie, reside in Des Moines, Iowa.

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