audience participation

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Regular bloggists among you will know that I have been dropping very subtle (!) hints about the magic show I performed with my friend Richard Jones on Saturday. I really enjoyed the evening, and it went really well (apart from one card illusion that didn’t work). The audience was really receptive and got involved, and their feedback afterwards was very encouraging. If you want a sense of what it was like, have a look at this YouTube clip of our last illusion. My favourite moment is the audience reaction half way through – you will have to watch it to see what I mean.
One of the things about performing (comedy magic in my case) is that you feed off the audience. If they respond warmly to you, it encourages you and you perform better, which then makes the audience more excited… and so on. It was quite a shock to me when the card illusion didn’t work and I struggled to know how to recover from it, but the audience lifted me and kept me going even though it must have looked a bit naff.
I have often remarked how, in life, we live for an audience of One. He responds warmly to our every positive activity, and responds with grace when we get things wrong and have turned back to seek him again. That is part of what Christians celebrate at Pentecost (yesterday) when the Holy Spirit was poured out in a new way so that he is within us. His presence within Christians. God’s Spirit lifts us when we fall, comforts, encourages, inspires and renews. If you want to know what he does, look at what Jesus did with people – his Spirit does the same things.
And Jesus shares that task with us and invites us to do the same for one another. Whom can you encourage, lift, inspire and bless?
Be blessed, be a blessing

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prestidigitating (look it up)

ahem, don’t look up my sleeves…

Tonight is the second of three magical evenings for me this week. The first was on Tuesday, where I took part in the Mid Essex Magical Society’s annual Stage Show Competition. I didn’t win, but I was pleased with my performance. The other performances were great too, especially those that beat me – they were amazing!

Tonight I take part in a ‘Magic and Curry’ night for South Woodham Evangelical Church. I am looking forward to both parts of the evening, especially making curry disappear. There will be a series of mini routines interspersed with much curry consumption. In a moment I shall be preparing my set list and finalising my routines. That involves rehearsing my patter as much as the tricks themselves – so much magic is accomplished by sleight of mouth as much as by sleight of hand!

Tomorrow I will be performing some walk-around magic at a fundraising event for International Justice Mission –  an international human rights organisation that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

Each of these evenings has ‘magic’ in common – although there is no actual magic involved. No witchcraft, sorcery or other dark arts are used, I have not attended Hogwarts, everything that I do is down to skill and practice! But each of them requires a different approach for a different audience. The competition had time limits within which I had to operate (last year I over-ran, this year I was ‘in time’) and there were four judges whom I had to impress as well as an audience to amaze and amuse. I had to try to keep people’s attention and focus on me.

Tonight I have been asked to include some thoughts to make people think about life as well as trying to entertain them. So I hope that the focus will be on Jesus at the end of the evening.

Tomorrow I am part of the background hum that will hopefully mean that those who attend the fundraiser will enjoy themselves but the focus will be (rightly) on IJM and how people can support it.

For me each of these different events is a great opportunity to share one of my passions – learning and performing magic tricks. I am not naturally an extrovert, but put an audience in front of me and I am more than happy to prestidigitate for them (look it up, it’s not rude!) for as long as they can bear it. (I need to remember the adage ‘leave them wanting more’!)

So a few thoughts from these ramblings:

Thought the first – we need to make sure that we are appropriate to the needs of those around us. The magic club competition was not the right environment to be making people think about life in anything like the way I hope to tonight.

Jesus face-planted as Nick got it wrong again
Jesus face-planted as Nick got it wrong again

Thought the second – there’s nothing wrong with enjoying ourselves. Churches used to make a virtue out of boredom, with an almost pharasaical fanaticism about making sure that people didn’t smile or laugh in case it was linked to a sin. I suspect there were many faceplants in heaven when we did that in the name of holiness and purity.

Thought the third – God can use whatever gifts we are willing to offer him – even magic tricks!

Thought the fourth – make sure you are not the focus of attention when someone or something else should be.

Thought the fewth – whatever you do, do it for an audience of One.

Be blessed, be a blessing (especially if you will be in one of my audiences!)

graduation

Yesterday afternoon was spent at Essex University attending two graduation ceremonies. No, not for me, but in my capacity as Baptist Chaplain at the University. It was inspiring watching the hundreds of graduates and hearing the joy and excitement of their friends and families who had supported them through the process.

In congratulating the Graduates the Chancellor of the University commented that the hard work starts here. This life is not a dress rehearsal – you only get one shot at it.

Acclaimed songwriter Annie Lennox and London Olympic star Laura Trott were awarded honorary degrees at the University of Essex todayTwo inspiring women were awarded honorary Doctorates. Annie Lennox was awarded a Doctorate for her campaigning and work for human rights and many other causes. The University’s Dr Pam Cox spoke about Ms Lennox’s support for a wide-range of humanitarian projects which have made vital, practical, life-saving differences – above all in South Africa. Dr Cox also mentioned Ms Lennox’s ‘SING’ campaign which works with women and children with HIV – raising awareness regarding preventing the transmission of the virus from mother to child.

Annie Lennox’s speech was inspiring, humble, humorous and uplifting. At least it lifted all of us to our feet in a standing ovation. I stood as much for what she is doing to make a difference in the world as for her speech. You can read her speech in full here (click ‘see more’)

The second Honorary Doctorate was awarded to Laura Trott. She is a phenomenal cyclist who won two gold medals at the 2012 Olympics, holds world records and is also a multiple world champion. She took up cycling because her mum wanted to lose weight (honestly) and to try to control her asthma. The idea that she is asthmatic and still hurtles around the track at such phenomenal speeds is astounding.

Her speech was shorter and of a different style to Annie Lennox’s speech, but it was nonetheless also inspiring – especially considering that this 21 year old is not a trained public speaker. I do like her simple tweet after the ceremony: “Just call me Dr Trott.” Simple, yet I suspect revealing a degree (pun intended) of pride with a big smile.

So what was most inspiring: graduates and their families; Annie Lennox; Laura Trott? Actually it was a conversation I had with someone who simply introduced theirself with their first name and surname. I later discovered that he was Lord … and is very influential and important. The humility was most impressive on a day when people were being honoured with awards.

It reminded me that I should seek to impress an audience of One. His approval and joy is more than enough, keeps us humble and reminds us that we all need to be cautious to keep humble when others praise us and seek to pass on the glory to the One who deserves it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

sneaky shopping

you never know who’s watching you

I have been undercover today. I have been a ‘mystery shopper’. I can’t say where or for what, but it was quite a strange experience. I had to pretend that I was interested in a particular purchase and then ask the assistant to help me with it. (On the whole the assistant did well, but was let down by a lack of stock).

You may be aware of the Ship Of Fools Mystery Worshippers. They visit different churches and write a review, which is then posted online. I am fascinated by them and at the same time worry about what might happen if one visited our church. Would we be as welcoming as usual? Would the service be up to its usual standard? Would they like the sermon? And so on. It is a very subjective process and I suspect that if someone came to our church who preferred a church that is much further up or down the candle than we are they may not enjoy the experience as much as if their preference was for our style of church. And there have been some Mystery Worshipper reports on churches I know that have been somewhat devastating in their analysis. How would that feel? A one-off visit and your church is slammed?

I have decided not to worry about it though. The reason is that our services are not put together to please mystery worshippers, or even to please the regulars. First and foremost they are prepared and delivered for an audience of one: God (okay, perhaps three if you are being theologically pedantic!) What we do is an act of worship to God, not an exercise in consumer satisfaction. Yes, we hope and pray that people will feel welcome, comfortable, be blessed and be enabled to worship God, but that should not be the way in which we evaluate our services. Was it an act of worship to God where we gave our best?

And the same question can be asked of the rest of our lives, all of which can be an act of worship as we seek to be the best ‘us’ we can be.

Be blessed, be a blessing.