Christian magic?

cheat

I am a Christian.

And I am a magician.

To some Christians those two statements are incompatible. I had a conversation yesterday with someone who was extremely upset that magic was being performed at their church and rang me to complain. They didn’t know before they rang me that I am a magician and we were able to have an interesting conversation. The conversation was useful (to me at least) because we reflected on whether being a magician is incompatible with being a follower of Jesus. So let me share my thinking with you in response to the concerns that were raised. This is not a transcript of the conversation from yesterday but includes some of the points raised and others that I have been asked about in the past. I have reflected on what was said yesterday and it has helped me, I hope it might help you:

  1. Magic is prohibited in the Bible. Yes it is. But that is not the magic that I perform. When magic and magicians are mentioned in the Bible it is referring to something completely different to what I do. In the Bible the magic that is mentioned is either seeking to use the dark side of supernatural life to influence, deceive or gain power; or it refers to people to seek to replicate miracles to boost their own standing and gain political power or influence because of their apparent ability; or sometimes “magicians”, is better translated as ‘wise men’ and refers to advisers and what we might call senior civil servants. What is commonly referred to as magic today has nothing to do with tapping into the dark side of supernatural life and is not used to gain political power or influence, although I suspect that government advisers might like the ability to bamboozle others (and some may do that with rhetoric along the lines of Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes (Prime) Minister). If I ever look like I am heading to the dark side please tell me.
  2. But you call what you do ‘magic’ and that may lead more impressionable (young) people to dabble in the dark arts. This is not about the nature of magic, but the nature of words. There are many words that have two different meanings (Homonyms), such as: ‘net’ – net gain, internet, fishing net; ‘point’ – point of a pencil, making a point, pointing something out. I understand that ‘magic’ as performed by magicians today may appear similar to magic that invokes the dark arts and that some performers like to create the illusion that they have special powers but they are different genres. The Bible is not talking about magic in the same way that we use the word today.
  3. Yes, but someone who is interested in what you do as magic could go down the wrong path. If you didn’t do magic then that would not be so likely. It’s possible. But then would we have to stop married couples from having sex because it might lead people to have sex with prostitutes; or stop people from driving cars because it might lead some people to drive recklessly; or stop actors from pretending to be other people because it might lead some people to steal someone’s identity for fraudulent purposes? Would you ask a musician not to play their guitar in church because some other songs are vulgar or misogynistic? Would you say that a computer can’t be used to project words or images in a church service because some people use computers for salacious purposes? Would you ask your preacher not to illustrate their sermons with incidents from current events that help us to understand how to apply what the Bible says because some newspapers are politically biased?
  4. Now you’re just being facetious. You may be correct. Sorry. But I was trying to point out that just because you do one thing does not mean that it will or could lead someone else down a very different path, and I was trying to show how distant the possible connection is between magic in our culture and magic referred to in the Bible.
  5. But when you perform illusions you are deceiving people deliberately. Isn’t that ‘bearing false witness’? Only in the same way that children are pretending to be someone from the Bible they perform in nativity plays, or actors in soap operas pretend to be another character when they perform. We know that child with the tea-towel on their head is not really Mary or Joseph, we know that the actor is not really the character they are playing. We also know that the entertainer who is a Magician does not really have magical powers. Magic as performed today is entertainment and audiences have an implied contract with magicians – the magician will try to entertain the audience by amazing and fooling them with illusions while the audience will be happy to be fooled in order to be amazed and entertained (some will try to work out how it happened, but that’s part of the entertainment for them).
  6. I’m not convinced. But even if you are right, why do we have to use magic in church? I can’t speak for all Christian magicians. But speaking personally I do explain that I have no magical powers and am not in league with the devil, and that all that people see is an illusion. I use my illusions to try to illustrate a point in a memorable way. It’s a bit like Jesus telling a parable to illustrate a point – the story is not true but because it’s a good story we remember it and hopefully his message gets through. I hope that my magic is good and remembered and hopefully the associated message gets through too. I am NOT suggesting that my magic is on a par with Jesus’ parables, by the way, but it’s a similar principle. If people enjoy something they are more likely to remember it.
  7. But why do you have to call it ‘magic’? If you called it something else you could avoid the confusion.  Maybe so. If it is a real problem for some people that I call it ‘magic’ I would be content to call it ‘illusions’. But all that does is change the name of what I do. If you’re telling me that you’d be happy with magic if the name was changed it does rather undermine a lot of your arguments doesn’t it? We’re back to semantics and homonyms.
  8. But can’t you just tell stories to make your point, why do you have to use magic? I believe that part of the way in which God made me is with the ability to perform magical illusions. That’s not a power: it’s an aptitude that I enhance with practice. When I create and perform illusions to me it’s similar to what Eric Liddell said when asked why he ran: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” When I perform my illusions I do so to the best of my ability – as a tribute to my Creator – it’s an act of worship. My thinking about this is based on what Paul wrote to the church in Colossae: And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him…Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” (Colossians 3:17, 23).
  9. But I find it difficult and shouldn’t you avoid doing things that cause others to stumble? Well played, good argument. However I am not convinced that my performing magic tricks is causing you to stumble. It might make you uncomfortable but it’s not going to make you lose your strongly-held faith, which is what the ‘stumbling’ refers to. And I would also suggest that performing magic for the purpose of people coming to understand more about Jesus is not a bad thing. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23) When he was in Athens Paul used ideas and objects and themes from their culture to get people interested in Jesus (Acts 17:16-34). I dare to suggest that it’s also what Jesus was doing with his parables. It’s what I am trying to do with my magic.
  10. Thank you, I think I have taken up enough of your time. You’re welcome. Bless you. I think we will have to agree to disagree, but we can do that as followers of Jesus without falling out. I understand where you are coming from and I have heard what you have said. I will reflect on it and see if I need to change my opinion.

You may or may not agree with me, that’s up to you. However, before we Christians get hot under the collar and start lobbing Bibles at each other perhaps we should reflect more and listen to the other person’s perspective for longer: they may have equally good reasons why they believe what they do and there may be things we need to change because we have listened to them.

And please let’s remain fervently committed to the most important thing: following Jesus and making him known to others: Let’s seek to remain united in him and not allow what the less important things we disagree about to divide us.

Be blessed, be a blessing

that moment when your computer needs to update and you need to use it… urgently

I usually prepare my sermons in the first half of a week. That gives me space to reflect on it and adjust things. I usually wait until the Sunday morning to do any final adjustments before saving it as a PDF and sending it to my tablet computer from which I like to preach. This is what works for me.

Yesterday morning I switched my computer on just before 8am and gone to get a cup of coffee. When I got back to my computer I was faced with a message that told me that Windows 10 was installing new updates and that it may take a while.

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Sometimes you have to wait for ages for your windows to update

Oh.

I needed to be on my way soon after 9.30am.

I did research options to see if I could intervene and stop the process but none of them seemed safe enough to attempt if I wanted to be certain of accessing my computer afterwards.

I then prayed. I prayed that the update might finish in time for me to access the computer and get hold of the sermon, or that at the least I might be able to remember enough to preach something close to what I had been working on earlier in the week.

I thought of an update(!) to an old joke that I could tell at the start of my sermon: A preacher’s computer decided to update itself on the Sunday morning so he couldn’t access his sermon. He had to go to the church without his notes. As he stood up to preach he explained the situation to his congregation and finished with these words, “… so today I will just have to rely on the Holy Spirit for my sermon. Next week I hope to do better.”

I posted something on social media via my phone so I could get some sympathy (with hashtags in case Microsoft monitors them) and perhaps some extra prayers. Other Ministers expressed that they were having similar problems – solidarity in frustration.

And I looked again at the passage from which I was preaching and tried to recall what I thought I was going to say.

By 9am I was entirely ready to leave: the car was packed, the satnav knew where to direct me, and I was clean and tidy. But my computer had only reached about 75%.

By 9.30am we were at 96%. But the final 4% seemed to be taking ages.

At 9.38am the computer announced that it had finished installing the updates. I smiled with relief and waited for it to boot up.

Except that the booting up was taking much longer than normal, presumably because it was still updating itself.

I managed finally to get into the computer and print off the sermon (on paper, not high tech tabletty stuff) and leave the house by 9.45am. I got to the church safely and on time and all went well from there…

This morning I tried to find out if there were settings I could change to ensure that this didn’t happen again. I couldn’t find a ‘ask my permission before installing updates’ setting. Instead there was a setting in which I declare my normal working hours within which Windows should not install updates. It had been set to 8am – 5pm. The updating process had happened just before 8am, but it took well over an hour and a half that took it into my declared working time. I have now adjusted that setting so that my declared working hours start earlier and finish later (at least as far as my computer is concerned).

So I offer a few reflections:

Did God speed up the updating process? I don’t think so. But he gave me the patience and serenity to cope in what was a very frustrating time. That often seems to be how he answers prayer – changing me rather than the circumstances.

Will I change the way that I work? Probably. I will transfer the sermon to my tablet earlier in the week so I have a back up I can use, but still do my final preparation on a Sunday morning and if necessary send a newer version to the tablet at that stage. Do we adapt ourselves to others or expect them to adapt to us?

What else have I learnt?

  • That God is more reliable than the other things I rely on to fulfil the calling he has placed on my life and I need to rely on him more and them less.
  • That it’s helpful having some good friends who offer good advice, prayers and (if nothing else) make me smile. I need to be ready to do the same for them.
  • The computer programmers who designed the software don’t appear to have thought through the implications of not asking us whether it is convenient to update at that particular time. How often do I pause to think through any unintended implications of my actions that may inconvenience others, even when they seem like a good idea?
  • It would have been helpful if a pop-up message had told me that they weren’t going to ask my permission to update in future so I knew what to do about that. How often does my failure to communicate fully with others cause them upset?

Be blessed, be a blessing

addidges

Some words start to sound funny when you say them out loud a few times. They may start off sounding fine, but when you repeat them they start to take on a different audio character.

dictionaryTry these (repeat them slowly out loud 4 or 5 times):

Bliss

Grumbling

Indulge

Adage

I hope that you are doing this, especially if you are reading this bloggage in a public place. Hehehe.

Adage is not only a word that starts to sound funny, it’s not even pronounced how it’s spelt. It should be ‘add ayj’ but it’s often pronounced ‘addidge’.

An adage is a saying that becomes accepted as true over a period of time, often observations about life and human behaviour.Here are a few adages:

“My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump

“No peace for the wicked” Isaiah 48:22, Isaiah 57:21

“Pride goes before a fall” Proverbs 16:19

I want to start off some new addidges:

“Life is like eating a box of chocolates on a sunny day. We all come to a sticky end.”

“No peas for those with pea allergies.”

“Gravity goes with a fall”

“When things go wrong there’s not always anyone to blame, but anyone can be involved in making it better.”

“To become a wise old person you need to live a long time and listen more than you speak.”

How does something become an adage – how widely does it have to be accepted? How long does it take before something becomes an adage?

Based on a glance at social media it seems that some people live by adages – they find an apt saying to go with a photo of a kitten and it goes ‘viral’ so that suddenly it’s a new adage to live by.

What are your adages? What is the truth that underpins your life?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

a love story

This Sunday morning in my sermon I will be exploring Hosea (the whole book). Every time I come to Hosea I find myself thinking, “What would I do if I was in Hosea’s position?” How would I feel? How would I cope?

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Hosea’s story is a love story… of sorts. The narrative is fascinating: Hosea set aside his personal preferences and on God’s instruction married a woman, Gomer, who was of dubious reputation (to say the least). This was to be a prophetic symbol to the nation of Israel about how God saw them – promiscuously pursuing other gods. He even named his children with names that spoke prophetically – how would I feel if God told me to name my daughter ‘Not Loved’?! And then there’s the emotional pain and heartache of Gomer’s further unfaithfulness and prostitution.

God not only told Hosea to take her back but he actually BOUGHT her back – perhaps paying off her pimp! Again, this was to be a prophetic sign of how God was going to treat Israel for a season (Hosea bought Gomer back but they were to abstain from sexual intimacy for many days and in the same way Israel’s return would be gradual). It’s only 14 chapters into the book (the final chapter) that there is a glimmer of hope for Israel as Hosea the prophet finishes denouncing them and instead announces the possibility of return to God, forgiveness, reconciliation and a renewed relationship with him. Hosea went through an emotional and reputational wringer in order to give the people God’s message. Some of you may be empathising with him a little! But he was willing to allow his whole life to be a message from God, not only his words. It’s a love story where we are Gomer and God is Hosea.

Ministers can feel a pressure (it may come from within or from outside us) to be a shining example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and not admit to any weakness. We can present ‘supercope’ to our people: nothing fazes us and we are as close to Jesus as it is possible to be this side of heaven (I exaggerate for comedic effect) (I think). But do we really want people to look at us and see a message from God that it’s wrong to admit weakness and that we never struggle? That’s not a message we find in the Bible: read Romans 7 if you doubt me!

It is important for people to know that we are trying our best with God’s Spirit’s help, they need to see leadership from their clergy, and the qualities of a leader are clear in the Bible. But I believe that we also need to admit that we are fallible, that we are not perfect, and that we don’t have it all together. I’m not talking about airing all of our dirty laundry – we have to be sensible about what we share. But how often are we prepared to be vulnerable about our own doubts, failings and struggles? Can we admit to people that we make mistakes – even Ministers who have trained, studied and are set apart for ministry? Do we dare allow the admission of our mistakes to be a message from God  – that no follower of Jesus is perfect but when we struggle, fail or even doubt there is hope because his Spirit is in us? Does admitting our struggles strengthen or weaken the message that there is the possibility of return to God, forgiveness, reconciliation and a renewed relationship with him?

What message from God do people get when they look at you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

view from my pew 10

pewsDear Internet

Mr Grenville-Stubbs here again. It has been a while since I wrote on Nick’s blog and the main reason for that is that he has been blocking what I wanted to write. In the end I told him that by not allowing me to write he might be stifling God’s Spirit. He relented on the condition that he could add a ‘PS’ at the end. So here goes...

I have been getting more and more irritated by people in our church who insist on criticising me behind my back. My friend, Mr Capel, told me that Mrs Higginbotham has been complaining to everyone about me and my wandering hands (it’s all explained here).

Mr Baumgarten has apparently been working on an amendment to the Church Constitution to limit the number of ‘points of order’ that one person can raise at a Church Meeting – apparently I do this too frequently and he says that everyone is fed up with me. I sense that I will be making a few more points of order if that ever comes to a Church Meeting.

Mrs Barnard has apparently been speaking to the Minister about how negative I am about other people and told him that I am the reason she has stopped coming to Church Meetings.

Me?

Negative?

I can’t believe she had the nerve to say that – especially given that she has not attended the last three Church Meetings and has never spoken up in one of them when she was there!

And then there is Mr Bolder, who is taking a preaching course, and who got upset with me when I told him that the pews were not comfortable enough for the length of his boring sermons. I was just telling him the truth – if nobody tells him he won’t learn.

And Mr Davenport apparently has been grumbling about the way I dealt with his questioning the appropriateness of a lack of footwear in church (you can read about it here).

These people just don’t understand me. Their negativity and critical attitude is undermining and discouraging (not that I am going to give up). When we are having coffee after a service I can see some of them glancing in my direction as they talk and when I go up to them it’s as if they weren’t talking about anything, or it’s clear that they have just changed the subject.

This cannot go on. I went to see our Minister, Rev Philip Inneck-Tucker. I told him what was happening and about all of the bad attitudes that existed in the church. None of them have ever spoken to me directly about these things they have just gossiped about it between themselves and it’s got to stop. I said that he needed to preach against it, and if he wouldn’t then I would stand up in a Church Meeting and name these people publicly.

I also told him that Jesus had a lot to say about this and pointed him to Matthew 7:1-5. Rev Phil just looked at me and asked if I had had my eyes checked recently. I think he’s losing the plot – this is not about my eyesight, it’s about how everyone else is so negative and unkind. He then told me that he would not allow me to speak about it in the Church Meeting, so since I am being censored in the Church Meeting I have been lobbying Nick to let me write about it on his blog.

And now I have done so I feel better. At least now you know how awful everyone else is.

Yours faithfully

Mr QR Grenville-Stubbs

PS (from Nick): it seems that Mr Grenville-Stubbs does not have a sense of irony.

PPS (from Nick): I have changed the names of those mentioned by Mr Grenville-Stubbs in order to try to preserve a modicum of respect for them, however as he had already named Mrs Higginbotham I did not feel it made sense to change her name.

Be blessed, be a blessing