s l o w m o t i o n . . .

snailI had an interesting experience yesterday. I was preaching at a church where I had previously done a magic show for their leaders and their partners. Yesterday one of them told me that he had taken a video of some of the show, and in particular had a slow motion video of a ‘knife throwing’ illusion that I performed with Stew the Rabbit. Initially I was a little bit alarmed as I thought he would say that the slow motion video showed how I had managed to perform the illusion.

Then he showed me the video.

The video is about 38 seconds long but captures what probably only took about 10 seconds in real time. At first, because the action is slowed down so much, nothing seems to be happening. In fact for the first ten seconds you can’t tell whether or not the video is running – other than by watching the counter at the bottom of the screen tick over.

Then, slowly, imperceptibly, the illusion unfolds and (I am rather chuffed about this) even in very slow motion you can’t see any of the sneakiness I employed. Sadly I can’t post video on my blog site as I am too cheap to pay the extra needed to be able to do that, but if you are interested you can watch it on youtube (spoiler alert you will see part of one of my illusions).

Watching the video reminds me of how, because we live life at a fast pace, we can sometimes think that nothing is happening when what we really need to do is wait patiently. We hear about negotiations between parties who are at loggerheads (nations, employers / employees, partners) and because we don’t hear how things are going we think they are failing when significant progress is being made behind the scenes. We make plans and because we don’t see instant results we think that the plans have come to nothing. We pray and because we don’t get an instant answer (or the one we want) we imagine that God’s not bothering to respond this time.

But just because, from our perspective, we can’t see any visible results it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening, or that nothing will happen. Patience is a virtue for a reason (it’s something God’s Spirit enhances within us – slowly)! Perseverance is commended in the Bible because we see things in real time on a linear space-time continuum rather than from God’s perspective beyond time (and yet with us in it too).

Don’t give up just because it looks like nothing is happening, be patient, watch and pray. (This is also good advice if you have lit a firework and nothing seems to be happening!!).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

innovation is the daughter of invention

mind boggled logoI am feeling quite chuffed with myself because I have invented a magic trick. It is not something I have seen anywhere else: the only way to see it is to ask me to perform it for you. [pauses to wait for stampede of requests that doesn’t actually happen].

I call it ‘Mind Boggled’.

Now when I say I have invented a magic trick, I should say that it uses a pack of cards and they have been around for centuries. And it involves finding a spectator’s chosen card. Which is the basis of most card tricks. And it also involves a word game that I didn’t invent.

So to say, “I have invented a magic trick” may not be strictly accurate. Pedants (and I know a few) might say that I have created a new method of revealing a chosen card using a pre-existing word game rather that having invented a magic trick.

Innovation and invention are interesting concepts. They almost always build on someone else’s innovation or invention. For example the person who invented the motor car relied on the invention of the wheel, which in turn (pun intended) relied on the invention of the chisel (stone or otherwise) to carve the first circular rock and make a hole in it (assuming the Flintstones  Generation invented the wheel), and that relied on the invention of the chisel-making tool… It is rare that anyone invents something completely new.

Before we get puffed up with pride and self-importance about our own greatness and achievements perhaps we should take a moment to reflect on those who have helped us. [cue award ceremony acceptance speeches]. Perhaps we should reflect too on the Creative One who has given us imaginations, cognitive ability, problem-solving skills and the materials on this planet to be able to make these things a reality.

So perhaps my ‘chuffed’ level should be downgraded from ‘quite chuffed’ to merely ‘chuffed’, or perhaps even as low as ‘a bit chuffed’.

But I will still perform the trick for you if asked!

Be blessed, be a blessing


playing cardsI have been working on a new magic illusion. If I am honest, I am quite chuffed with it, and used it when I auditioned to join the Mid Essex Magical Society. It can’t have been that bad because they accepted me!

It’s a card illusion with a twist. It’s a combination of existing techniques and a new (I think) reveal. I am not going to give away the secret, but if you ask me nicely I might perform it for you.

One of the things I love about magic illusions is the innovation that is involved in creating new ones. But most of the time they are drawing on existing basic principles that have been tested over time. Things like misdirection, the art of making the audience look where you want rather than where you don’t want, underpin most illusions. You could almost say that there is no such thing as a new magic illusion.

The same is true of Christmas. For over 2000 years people have been telling and retelling the story of the baby born in the manger in Bethlehem. How can there be anything new to say about it? It’s a challenge that vicars and ministers face every year: how do we say something innovative about the story that is so well known?

One option is to re-use material you have used before in the hope (or probability) that few people will remember, or at least that repetition will aid retention.

Another option is to use material that others have created. The danger with that is that someone else down the road may have done the same thing and you get caught out.

A third option is to seek fresh inspiration each year. It’s safest, because nobody will be able to say that you used that talk the previous year, or that they heard it at the church down the road. But it’s hardest because it requires more preparation and each year you have done something reduces the possibilities of coming up with something fresh.

And yet…

Just as magic tricks build on basic principles and come up with different permutations, so there are many permutations of the Christmas story that are based on the basic facts. There are more than you think. For example, there are 52! (52 factorial) different ways of arranging a deck of cards. That may not seem much, but it looks like this: 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000. I am told that that’s considerably more than the number of seconds that there have been since the Beginning of time! There’s lots of scope for variation and imagination.

And there is so much depth, richness, diversity, meaning, God-with-us-ness in the accounts of the birth of Jesus and what it means for us that I reckon 2000 years of re-telling has only just scratched the surface. There’s lots of scope for God-given imagination and variation.

And to see if you think I have anything new to say (setting myself up for a fall) I’d like to invite you to our Service of Lessons and Carols on 23rd December at 6.30pm. Come and hear the familiar story retold through the words of the Bible. Come and sing familiar carols. I reckon even in them you will find something new! You can find us here.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

It was a few days before Christmas. The trip went reasonably well, and he was ready to go back home. The airport had turned a tacky red and green, and loudspeakers blared annoying elevator renditions of cherished Christmas carols.

Being someone who took Christmas very seriously, and being slightly tired, he was not in a particularly good mood. (Almost a Scrooge) Going to check in his luggage, he saw hanging mistletoe. Not real mistletoe, but very cheap plastic with red paint on some of the rounder parts and green paint on some of the flatter and pointer parts, that could be taken for mistletoe only in a very Picasso sort of way.

With a considerable degree of irritation and nowhere else to vent it, he said to the young lady who was checking people in: “Even if we were married, I would not want to kiss you under such a ghastly mockery of mistletoe.”

“Sir, look more closely at where the mistletoe is.”

“Ok, I see that it’s above the luggage scale which is the place you’d have to step forward for a kiss.”

“That’s not why it’s there.”

“Ok, I give up. Why is it there?”

“It’s there so you can kiss your luggage good-bye.”