Call Me Hypocritical
Pardon me, I think my hypocrisy is showing. I was sent a link to an article in Mother Jones, Jesus Is Magic on the "Fellowship of Christian Magicians, where Scripture-quoting puppets and flaming Bibles win souls for the Lord."
The article begins
As the annual convention of the Fellowship of Christian Magicians kicks off on a hot July afternoon, the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University is awash in displays of irreverent reverence. Ventriloquists converse with Scripture-quoting puppets, unicyclists pedal through the halls, and a man plays "Amazing Grace" on a turkey baster. In the gym, vendors sell mysteriously materializing Communion cups, paper that dissolves in water (perfect for making sins "disappear"), and fire-spouting Bibles ($50 each, they open "with or without flames"). Visitors to the auditorium are greeted by a Noah's ark and Jesus, life-size and complete with cross and crown of thorns, made from balloons by a group of self-described "balloonatics." Outside, preteens wearing gold crosses and short shorts practice high kicks: The five-day event coincides with a gathering of the Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders.and goes on to say
Gospel magicians are confident that they're following a higher calling, but they worry about how to respect—and illuminate—the line between illusion and bona fide miracles. Nobody wants to be accused of stealing the spotlight from Jesus. Not that He wasn't something of a showman: Turning water into wine, walking on water, producing loaves and fishes to feed the multitude—the Son of Man certainly knew how to bring the wow factor. In his book, What a Fellowship, one of the fcm's founders observes that "the surprise ending in magic is indeed very much like the effect that Jesus's parables had on His audience." The fellowship's Christian Conjurer magazine recently ran a cover article titled "Jesus—Magician or God?"I was asked what I thought and what I think is that the message can be lost in the medium. The hypocrisy is that I once started an Easter sermon by doing "magic rings" seemingly connecting and disconnecting solid rings of metal as I gave the sermon. I went on to talk about the different between "magic" which involves controlling perceptions and "miracle" which involves trust and letting go of control. My barometer for deciding how an illustration goes is whether the comments on the sermon are about the illustration or about the point being illustrated and I was pleased that Easter to hear comments on the nature of miracles, but received no questions about the rings. That felt successful.
That's a trick question, of course. For some gospel magicians, the very fact that their powers aren't supernatural is proof that the biblical miracles were real. "I carry tons of equipment in order to do my shows," says André Kole, a famed magician who consults for David Copperfield and has mastered an illusion where he appears to walk on water. "If Jesus was a magician, you'd have to visualize 2,000 years ago Jesus and the disciples walking through the dusty streets of Galilee wearing sandals, with three diesel trucks behind them carrying all their equipment."
Cleary, I have done something that can be called dabbling in the very thing this convention was designed to promote—Christian magic. But even that term bothers me. So is it just that I trust myself to talk about the difference between slight of hand and miracles. What's wrong with a whole group of folks looking to do what I was doing that Easter? There shouldn't be anything wrong with it and yet, I wonder. I often struggle with that line between making the Gospel come alive on one side, and merely be entertaining on the other. I don't even want to walk that line. I want to open people up to hearing the enduring Word of God with fresh ears, and even to do so in an entertaining way, but without being merely amusing.
And as you read all this, there is a picture of me in clericals and a mullet wig doing magic rings for the kids at King of Peace Episcopal Day School. So who am I to throw stones? As I am way too close to this to make an objective comment on "Christian magic," I need y'all's clarity. What do y'all think about Christian magicians?
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor
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