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:

  • 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.
  • 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. People called Jesus ‘teacher’ in the Bible but while we use the same word today we mean something a bit different by it. The King James Version of the Bible uses ‘charity’ in 1 Corinthians 13 (more modern versions use ‘love’) but ‘charity’ means something different today.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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

so ronery

I miss regular, meaningful human contact. That is one of the down-sides of locking myself away in my study to read, pray and reflect for 3 months. It is one of the reasons why I am really enjoying going off to visit other churches to talk with them about how God has used and blessed them in their mission and ministry.

It reminds me of a shameful episode in my past. When I was a student at the vicar factory that trained me (Spurgeon’s College) I had very long summer breaks. My wonderful wife, Sally, was working in order to keep us afloat financially. My friends and colleagues at College had dispersed around the country. I got lonely.

Our house was just off Beckenham High Street and on a particularly lonely morning I left home in order to stroll around and just be near people. But I wanted more. I wanted human conversation.

There were lots of shops around, but we had very little money, so I hit on the idea of going into the shops and asking the assistants to demonstrate different products. It was great. I found out about the merits of different TVs and video recorders (ask your parents kids); I found out about different sorts of light fittings and dimmer switches; I tried on different items of clothing (male); I think I even got the relative merits of different sports equipment explained to me.

In the end, however, I had to stop. I felt that I had exhausted the plausible reasons for going into different shops. I felt that I knew all it was reasonable for a shopper to know about the different products on offer (especially to those on a tight budget).*

Little did I know that years later God would call me to a church that is located in a town centre, surrounded by shops. Now if I am honest we have not had the best relationship with the surrounding shops. Some of them, I think, get a bit frustrated by the number of cars that come and go on a Sunday morning, nudging their product stands and A-boards outside (there’s no pavement). In the past I think some of them have been a bit put out by the loud activities that have taken place outside our church without warning.

But I have taken my experiences born of loneliness and applied them to the different shops in the immediate area around us. A couple of them are hairdressers, and it’s a bit difficult for me (see photo in ‘about me’) to justify going in there as a customer. But I have tried to start up conversations with any of the shopkeepers I have met. I go around them all at Christmas and give them a card from our church. When we did ‘Get In The Picture’ last year I spoke with those opposite it and asked if they minded and discovered that they loved the idea (as they also like it when the Salvation Army band play on our forecourt) because it attracted people to the area. I have got to know some of them quite well (and have even had some product demonstrations), and use them in preference to other stores when I need something they stock.

I am still acutely conscious that we could do more.

And I know they are not exactly what Jesus had in mind when he spoke about neighbours (Good Samaritan and all that) but they are our geographical neighbours and we need to be good neighbours to them. Who are your neighbours? Who is near you today? How can you serve / bless them?

Be blessed, be a blessing

see, buttons and knobs on the front of a telly – and nobody was HD ready!

*There was a bonus to this. Later on, when we had a small amount of money and wanted to buy a colour TV I was able to go back to the electronics store and they remembered me. I bought a 14″ portable TV from them that was an ex-display model for a very good price. It had buttons on the front to push to change channel, and knobs to turn to change the volume, contrast and brightness. (Yes, that’s what we used to have in the olden days).

But I was lazy. I wanted a remote control. I think it was around Christmas because we had some long cardboard tubes that had been surrounded by wrapping paper before we surrounded some presents with the wrapping paper. I had a brainwave and joined two of them together to make a very long tube, and put some tape over the end. Onto that tape I stuck a blob of BluTack (other sticky non sticky stuff is available). This was perfect for being able to sit in a chair or on the settee and reach the TV to push the buttons to change channel, or twist the knobs to change the volume.

Shame it was before the days of Dragons’ Den!