NOTE – The articles on this page follow one another. Just keep scrolling down.
New article – “Twenty-Five Years…”
Article #2. Where Have We Been
Article #3. The Gospel Is Not An Excuse For Doing A Magic Trick
Article #4. When Humor Makes A Message Memorable
Article #5. In Defense Of The Hippity Hop Rabbits
Twenty-Five Years or One Year Twenty-Five Times?
My wife Mary and I recently attended a church where we heard a sermon that was quite boring. Actually, it was really boring. The preacher lost my attention almost immediately. I wanted to listen and tried to listen, but my mind wandered soon and never got back to whatever it was he was talking about.
After the service, as we were driving away, Mary asked me, “What did you think of the sermon?”
I said, “I had a really hard time listening.”
Mary said, “Me too.”
Mary added this comment. “About the only thing I really heard him say is that he has been preaching for more than thirty years. I wondered why someone who has been preaching so long still isn’t much good at it. You would think, after thirty years, he would really know how to do it well.”
Mary’s words brought back to mind something I heard a motivational speaker say many years earlier. He was talking about the need to set goals and make sure to keep on learning.
He said, “Some people brag about having twenty-five years of experience, but that is not actually what they have. All they have is one year of experience which has been repeated twenty-five times!”
(The preacher’s sermon was “first year in the ministry” quality, even though he was more than fifty years old. His presentation did not suggest a passion to master communication skills.)
The motivational speaker was emphasizing the need to recognize the tendency to become comfortable in a new situation, then cease to move forward. Rather than making progress, a person’s walk through life becomes like a treadmill. Activity takes place without new territory being entered.
The speaker’s challenge was to couple this recognition with an effort to resist it. It is better to be learning and growing than only repeating.
I have seen this often in the world of magic and performance. An magician, who views himself as experienced and knowledgeable, still does the same act, and tells the same jokes, he learned in his first year in magic. What he learned “back then” is about all he knows. Over time he has picked up a few additional insights. Nevertheless, after his first year as a magician, he has made little progress in skills and understanding. He has not experienced twenty-five years of growth and improvement. He has not experienced twenty-five years of crafting techniques to become better and better. He has stayed the same, as time has kept moving on.
This is not something a normal person would choose to do. It sneaks up on us. Motivational speakers remind their audiences of this concern because of the tendency to slip into it. It comes on us subtly. We do not want it to happen, yet, if we do not pay attention and keep ourselves motivated, it will happen.
The words of the speaker had a strong impact on me. As a young man, I made up my mind to personally keep moving forward in life.
Here are a couple of the decisions I made to ensure I would do so. (This primarily relates to my life as a magician.)
#1. Each year I would set goals and force myself to learn several new things.
Every year I try to master at least two new tricks/routines. I put these routines into the show and take a couple of the old routines out. I do not allow myself to do the same show nor the same tricks year after year.
As well, relating to technology, I try to master something new each year. Last year I learned how to program computerized lights for a show. Several years before I learned how design my own websites. This year I am learning how to work with email marketing and “live-streaming” digital events.
The attitude of, “I’m too old to learn that” is unacceptable. I force myself to take on new challenges.
#2. I would read.
The one thing I want for Christmas every year is books. In particular, books that relate to my work. When I get them, I read them. My bookshelves are full, but there is not a book on the shelves I have not read.
I also read books not directly related to what I do. There is a need to pay attention to a variety of things that affect society and business.
There are some who might say, “This won’t work for me. I don’t like to read.”
Whether or not you like to read, somehow and someway you must give yourself ongoing education. Listen to podcasts. Watch YouTube. Do what you can to acquire information and expand your understanding.
#3. I would participate in training events.
From the time I was in my twenties I have seen the value of going to conferences and conventions. I need to keep on being exposed to new ideas and ways of thinking. For me, this is extremely important. It may be that conferences and conventions have more to do with my development as a performer and minister than any other one thing.
I’ve learned a lot from books. I’ve learned even more from people. I’ve especially learned from people who are more experienced than I. Listening to them gives an edge and head start for moving down the road of personal improvement.
I think it wise, every year, to attend at least one major conference or convention, directly relating to one’s special interest and line of work. Beyond that, I think it wise to commit oneself to fellowship with like-minded people. Find ways to brainstorm and “think together” with people who care about the same things as you.
#4. I would compete.
This does not mean I enter contests and competitions, although such can be a great thing to do. (I recommend it for those who are young or new in magic.) It does mean I identify challenges and determine to excel relating to them.
An example: Many years ago (I’ve lost track of how many years ago) a writer in Genii Magazine made a statement about “Gospel magicians being awful.” I did not take offense to it. He was correct. Many gospel magicians at that time were sloppy performers with ineffective programs. I had seen them and knew this to be true.
Upon reading the remark I made up my mind to prove him wrong. I decided to involve myself with non-gospel magicians and secular performers in a way that would make me credible as a Christian. I was determined to be seen as a very good magician with credits which stand on their own. I did not want people to say, “He is pretty good for a gospel magician.” I wanted them to say, “He is a very good magician” while also knowing I am a Christian.
For me, this was a competition. I set out to earn the right to be on stage with world-class performers. I pursued this until it happened. Career-wise Mary and I have come a long ways. We started with our little magic and puppet show in South Dakota. We ended up working on prestigious stages around the world and receiving numerous honors and awards.
My choice, as a Christian, to be accepted and appreciated in the secular arena, may not be the right choice for other Christian magicians to make, but I think all of us should ask ourselves, “Where is it I need to excel?” and “What is the thing I should relentlessly pursue with the intent of becoming extremely good at it?” Compete with yourself to stay in the game and see this thing achieved.
Make it personal. Do you really have twenty-five years experience, or are you just twenty-five years older? (Apply this to whatever age you might be.) Are you the same place where you have been for years, or are you one who has been constantly learning and improving?
Make plans and set goals. What new things will you learn before 2018 is over? What events can you attend that will help you stay out of a rut? What books should you read or courses should you take? Is there a new challenge you can face?
Do not give up on yourself. Do not allow yourself to be left behind as the world keeps moving ahead.
Where Have We Been?
For many years, actually several decades, Mary and I were fixtures at FCM (Fellowship Of Christian Magicians) events. Whether regional conferences or the international convention, we were always on the scene with our performance, lectures and large dealer display. Then we nearly vanished. We did not entirely disappear. On rare occasions we would surface at an FCM event, but most of the time we have been absent. It has been about ten years since we have attended an annual conference. It has been more than eight years since I have written anything for the VOICE. (The publication of the Fellowship Of Christian Magicians.)
What happened to us? The best way to answer the question is with the words, “a personal journey.”
In 1991, when Mary and I made the decision to go full time with magic, we quickly realized we had put ourselves in a precarious situation. We were excited about entirely devoting ourselves to magical performances and creative ministry, but anxious about finances. As pastor of a fairly large church, we had been enjoying a good income, medical insurance, and paid vacation. Once a self-employed magician, there was no medical insurance, no paid vacation, and no sick leave. (Unlike some in gospel ministry, we had no supporters. Our decision to go full time was “sink or swim” with no backup plan.) It quickly dawned on us that, if anything happened to me, our income would come to a screeching halt. To state it simply, when the magician doesn’t do the show, he doesn’t get paid. There is no money.
In an effort to be wise, we determined we needed a secondary income stream. It needed to be something to help support us if anything were to happen that might take me off the stage. This understanding led us to develop a business selling magic tricks, props and paraphernalia. By way of mail order sales, money could come in from a source other than shows.
This business decision was a good one and flourished. Over following years Laflin’s Magic and Silks (a name eventually shortened to Laflin Magic) became a strong presence in the magic community. Many magicians, gospel and secular, became our customers. Other entertainers did as well.
We were blessed by the success of our business. However, in time, we came to feel it was getting us off track. There is an old expression about life being out of balance. It states, “The tail is wagging the dog.” It seemed such was happening to us.
Our original dream and vision was to be in front of audiences sharing the gospel and the gift of wonder. We were doing that less than we wanted to, and standing behind tables in dealer rooms more than we wanted to. We were busier producing equipment for other entertainers than we were out working as entertainers ourselves.
I will confess, in the midst of this, I started second-guessing myself. I thought, I am doing all these lectures where I talk about how to be a success as a full-time performer, I am presenting all these products as tools to help others find success, but if I didn’t have the convention and lecture sales and only depended on shows as income, could we actually make it? Can I really get enough bookings to not need another income source? I did not want to be one of those teachers who can’t actually “walk the talk.”
Then too, my happiness was compromised. In light of my gifts and personality, working behind a counter as a salesman was not a good fit for me.
While pondering these things, Mary and I realized we had failed to give proper attention to a significant change in our lives. We no longer had kids in the house. When we first went full-time with magic, we had four children at home. It was critical to provide for them. They were one of the biggest reasons, I suppose the biggest reason, why we had not risked trying to make it only on stage-based income. In the midst of our busy schedule we had not paused to consider how this had become a thing of the past. As the business had grown, so had our children. They had moved out, married and started families of their own. We no longer needed to base our financial picture on their needs. Mary and I were free to take different risks than we had taken in the past.
I wanted to get back to full time performing. I wanted to prove to myself and others that the things we believe and teach about full time entertainment/ministry do work. With Mary fully supporting this decision, we passed our Laflin Magic Store (now owned and operated by our son David) on to our children and went back to full-time performing.
Since then, we have enjoyed an amazing ride. For three years we performed at the Magic Beyond Belief theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. For six years we performed in our own Grand Magic Theater in Custer, South Dakota. We’ve developed a five-star rated touring show that keeps us busy in fall and spring months. We were able to work three seasons in a theme park. When not contracted to be in a theater for an extended time, our calendar is busy with corporate and community shows.
As well, there has been much gospel ministry on the schedule. We continue to do programs in churches large and small. When not on the road, I do children’s sermons in our own church. Quite often the opportunity to preach comes our way.
Where have we been? The specific answer is: on church platforms and theatrical stages in many places across the country working as professional entertainers who share their faith. Rather than presenting lectures and selling products, we have been performing.
What is next? We have come to retirement age and wonder, How long can we continue to work at our present pace? How long can we keep up with the physical demands of being on stage day after day and/or touring with a large show?
We are not ready to step away from performing, but do see the need to once again have something else to do along with our work on stage.
This past summer, while fulfilling our Grand Magic Show contract in South Dakota, I was asked to do pulpit supply for a local church. The pastor was on sabbatical. It was a ten week commitment. I felt God’s leading to spend the ten Sunday’s doing a series of messages on the life of the prophet Elijah. The final message was about the passing of the mantle from Elijah to Elisha. Preparing this message personally challenged me. When Mary heard it preached, it challenged her too. Both of us felt the Lord was telling us it was time for us to put attention back to “passing on” that which we have learned. Lectures and teaching need to again be part of our lives.
We felt this so strongly we turned down the offer to return next summer to the South Dakota theater with our Grand Magic Show. We determined not to let ourselves get locked into performing contracts which keep us away from teaching opportunities for long periods of time. Lord willing, we will continue to do shows and tours, but believe conferences and conventions must also be on the schedule. This means we do plan to be back at the annual FCM conference this coming summer!
Where are we now? Our home and studio address is Branson, Missouri. Right next door to Branson, in Hollister, Missouri, we have created a conference center where, along with travel to other events, we can hold special teaching and training events on our home turf.
What does the future hold? We trust and seek God’s direction as we pursue the intention of returning to a mix of performing and teaching/training work.
The Gospel Is Not An Excuse For Doing A Magic Trick
For sake of kindness and grace I will be careful not to identify the perpetrator. However, I am referring to a real situation. A magic dealer advertised a new “gospel trick.” His high-powered claim was, “You can finally do this trick with a spiritual lesson.” He pitched the fact he had found a scripture to be quoted while the effect was performed.” His apparent assumption was this: There were customers who wanted to do the particular magic trick, but could not find a way to justify presenting it to church audiences. He, the magic dealer, had finally thought up something biblical to say in conjunction with the trick. This meant it could be used in church after all.
I know the trick and the suggested scripture. I cannot understand how the trick could possibly illustrate the message of that scripture. What happens in the trick does relate to a key word in the text, but this does not mean a good lesson would be conveyed. It only means there is verbal overlap. It is like saying, “Psalm 7:2 tells us to ‘keep God’s teaching as the apple of one’s eye.’ Now watch me do a trick with an apple.” Performing an illusion which involves an apple, while quoting a verse which contains the word apple, does not suddenly make the trick “gospel.” There is much more to gospel magic than quoting a biblical word, or saying “Jesus” while doing something magical.
Unfortunately, I have seen much gospel magic amounting to little more than this. Doing a trick while saying, “Jesus.” Undoubtedly there were gospel magicians who bought into what the magic dealer offered. They purchased the trick and performed it while saying the suggested verse. They did so with little or no real ministry taking place.
It is almost certain, when gospel magicians do this kind of thing, they are well-intentioned. I appreciate and am blessed by good intentions. Even so “zeal without knowledge” can be a bad thing. Energy and enthusiasm are great…unless they take you strong and fast in the wrong direction!
This matter of “zeal without knowledge” is something I understand from personal experience. When I first started in magic I sincerely wanted to share God’s truth. At the same time, I had recently entered the world of the magician. Like most new magicians, I was exhilarated about acquiring and learning tricks. (Some would say I was “nuts about it.”) When a trick came into my possession I could not wait to show it off. Since I had grown up in church, and had many church friends, church people were an obvious and easily accessible audience. Therefore, with each new trick learned, I immediately tried to figure out something spiritual to say in accompaniment. This would be my reason for doing the trick in a church setting. I was not primarily motivated by a desire to make a particular lesson clear. More often than not, I was motivated by a desire to perform the new trick. It took me a while to realize what I was actually doing.
I became convicted about my pride and shallow thinking. I faced reality relating to my enthusiasm. If my excitement was mainly about the magic, my priorities were wrong and so was my heart. It was fine to use magic to minister. It was not fine to use ministry as an excuse to do magic.
This led to an approach to gospel magic I believe vital for all. Ministry presentations must start with spiritual purpose and message. Gospel magic is not about finding opportunities to do magic. It is about the effort to make spiritual lessons meaningful and memorable.
This means the work of gospel magicians begins with ensuring there is understanding of whatever lesson and Scripture to be illustrated. The message comes first. A desire to share the message will then be followed by a search for means to effectively illustrate the message. Since magicians specialize in magic tricks, for them, a magic trick may be the best illustration.
Once a conclusion is reached about a particular effect being an effective illustration, there should be specific thought about things to say as the trick is presented. The goal being to ensure the message is clear. There will be a seeking of God’s hand on the presentation. The process of combining trick and truth will be a spiritual concern.
Magic tricks are only a tool. Even when Bible verses are quoted as they are performed, magic tricks do not change hearts. It is the Spirit of God and His Word that changes hearts and lives.
In context of ministry, magic tricks are a visual aid. Since they can work to help people comprehend and remember spiritual truth, they have a place in ministry. The place is that of being a means, not an end. Gospel magic is not about finding justification for doing magic tricks in church settings. It is about using creative means to draw attention to Gods’ wonderful truth.
I firmly believe in “winning the right to be heard.” I do not think, even in church settings, every trick or routine must have an accompanying message. There is a place for fun and entertainment in Christian settings. The focus of this article is on situations where the understood purpose is biblical teaching. In such settings, every trick used should have definite purpose relating to capturing the attention of the audience in order that, by the time the program is complete, God’s truth has been plainly and powerfully conveyed.
When Humor Makes A Message Memorable
(A thought about the Laflin Magic gospel trick – What Color Is Your Bible?)
Have you ever learned something without trying to do so? Of course you have. We all do. When I was child, simply by way of television commercials, I learned that the meaning of LSMFT is “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco!” In those days, cigarettes were advertised on television. In the course of a sixty-second presentation, by way of clever wording and brief storytelling, advertisers taught the public to appreciate their products. The makers of Lucky Strike cigarettes did a masterful job of using a short, catchy statement to make a long-lasting impression. They promoted the concept that people needed to know what the letters LSMFT meant. When people saw the ad, they saw the letters and waited to see what they did mean. By the time the ad was finished, they knew and did not forget. Fortunately, I never learned to smoke. I never even once tried a cigarette. Nevertheless, even though barely six years old, I knew what LSMFT meant, and to this day I still know.
It has been proven time and time again. It is not necessary to make a long speech or give a full explanation to convey a powerful lesson. A play on words, a joke, a picture with a caption, and other such things can work their way into a person’s mind in a clear and unforgettable manner.
Somewhere around ten years ago I came up with a simple combination of a magic trick and biblical lesson that conveys a much better message than LSMFT. Apart from being thankful to God for His work in my mind and heart, I cannot explain exactly how the concept came to mind. Another thing I cannot explain is why it happened when it happened, but for some strange reason I specifically remember the occasion. I was in an airport, waiting for a flight which had been delayed. In an effort to make good use of my time, I sat down on one of those gray vinyl-covered benches typical to an airport waiting area and opened up my laptop. I said to myself, “I need to come up with a new gospel magic trick. This is a good time to try to do it.”
Again, I do not understand why this happened, but within moments of staring at the computer screen, a picture came to mind of a time, long ago, when our church had a visiting speaker who asked the congregation, “How many of you own red Bibles?” Not many of the people did. Next the speaker said, “What? You don’t have red Bibles?” The people look at him with confusion. Then he made a play on words. “All Bibles should be red (read)! I cannot believe you do not have read Bibles!” His message quickly dawned on the congregation. No matter what color one’s Bible might be, all Bibles should be read (red). It was a joke. People laughed. Yet I never forgot the joke, and I suspect many others in the church remembered it long afterwards as well.
There I was, sitting in the airport, when that memory occurred. Within fifteen minutes I designed the trick and lesson that came to be known as “What Color Is Your Bible?”
The main effect of the trick is that of the performer apparently making a wrong prediction. An attempt is made to discern the color of a Bible owned by a spectator. Seven Bible cards are shown. Each is a different color. After thoroughly mixing the cards, the performer uses them to spell out B-I-B-L-E. This action leads to a particular card: the red Bible card. The performer says, “This means you have a red Bible.” Normally the spectator responds with, “No. I do not have a red Bible.” The performer looks surprised and disappointed. The performer says, “What? You don’t have a red (read) Bible?” Eventually the audience realizes the play on words and everyone laughs.
This is followed up by showing a prediction card that reveals that the trick really did work. The card says, “You will choose the red Bible.” The prediction card also says, “Everyone should have a read Bible.”
Altogether this is a short, fun experience that makes a mental imprint. Bibles are supposed to be read. The purpose of possessing a Bible is not to be able to say you own one. Having a Bible on the shelf at home is no big deal. Reading the Bible, studying the Bible, and learning the Bible is the big deal.
I should mention that, now and then, a spectator will actually own a red Bible. When this happens the trick is still fun and the message is still made. The performer says, “Great!” Then the performer looks out at the audience and asks, “How many of the rest of you have red Bibles?” The question is repeated until the audience gets the joke. Finally the prediction card is shown to indicate the trick did work.
The trick is a good one. How it happens mystifies the audience, but the thing that pleases me the most is how such a simple bit of humor results in a memorable lesson. Beyond knowing the fact that “What Color Is Your Bible?” is a trick available to those in creative ministry (find it at laflinmagicstore.com), we all can take on the challenge of doing what the makers of Lucky Strike did, but with a truly helpful and even eternally beneficial message. Let’s find ways to quickly and directly present wonderful truth! (What Color Is Your Bible is available from Laflinmagicstore.com)
In Defense Of The Hippity-Hop Rabbits
This really is about the Hippity-Hop Rabbits, but the following needs to be considered first…
Lupe Nielsen is an experienced magician who was seen and known the best of the best. Her insights are worth careful attention. In her blog/review of a magic convention, she made the following comment: The weakest part were the stage shows. The first show was good and better than the second show. These could have been improved through better transitions and the order of the show. Also, remember that just because an act is new and no one has seen it, it doesn’t mean that it is outstanding. My suggestion is that we should introduce new acts in the same way that we introduce new material into our shows. You can always have a core of “oldies but goodies” type of performers – two or three classic acts that we all know, love and that we are not tired of seeing. Around this core, we can add a few new performers. It the new acts work out, great! If not, at least we still have the old classics that can hold a good show together.
Give special consideration to several of Lupe’s statements…
Several of her statements need to be looked at more than once. Consider again: Remember that just because an act is new and no one has seen it, it doesn’t mean that it is outstanding.
This is vital for magicians to understand. New and different does not equal better and superior. The fact that something has already been seen many times does not mean its quality is weak. To the contrary, the fact that something has been often seen may be a statement to its superior quality. It is repeated because it is good.
Lupe also said, It the new acts work out, great! If not, at least we still have the old classics that can hold a good show together.
I do not know who first said it, but long ago someone told me, “There is a reason why classics are classics.” There are certain tricks in magic which, when well done, I always enjoy seeing. There are certain performers in magic whom I can watch again and again and…each time a new opportunity comes to see them yet again, I am as excited as I was the first time I saw them. (Lupe’s husband Norm, when he was still performing, was in this category. I never tired of watching him.) A great act is a great act. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t a new act. It is still a great act.
The general concept to keep in mind…
The lesson is, “Do not discard the old as you pursue the new. Yes, new can be interesting and exciting, but old too can be wonderful.”
Now..about the Hippity-Hop Rabbits!
This brings me to the classic kid-show trick; Hippity-Hop Rabbits. Not long ago, on Facebook, a magician asked me, “What is your favorite trick for children ages four through seven?” When I answered, “Hippity-Hop Rabbits,” he seemed disappointed. I’m not sure what he was thinking, but the impression was he needed to think my answer over because it was not the impressive/innovative response he expected.
In spite of his apparent disappointment, I stand by my answer. It doesn’t matter that the trick is an old one. It doesn’t matter that many other performers have used it. When performing for a group of children, I have yet to find anything that creates more magical fun than the Hippity-Hop Rabbits. The trick is a true classic. I use it constantly.
Moreover, I have taken the concept of the trick and tailored it for audiences of all ages. In our full-stage illusion show we do Hippity-Hop Elephants. For an audience of adults, I have a Hippity-Hop card trick which, although the presentation is handled differently, is essentially identical in plot and concept to the Hippity-Hop Rabbits.
I once heard the magician Jay Marshall (one of the most informed minds ever to come on the magic scene) say, “Any magician worth his salt should be able to entertain any audience with a Change Bag, Thumb-tip and a set of Hippity-Hop Rabbits. If a magician cannot entertain with those props, he isn’t a real magician.” I do not remember what prompted the comment, but I do know Jay was an advocate of mastering the classics. I think he believed all magicians should work on the fundamental tricks of magic before moving on to the “latest greatest” things. As well, I think his comment was about apparatus and gimmicks not being that which makes a great magician. A great magician can make magic out of any apparatus and gimmicks, old or new.
Lupe’s comments were about the acts in the shows she saw. I am writing about tricks. Not only is Lupe’s advice good for a show, it is also good for props and routines. She said, You can always have a core of “oldies but goodies” type of performers – two or three classic acts that we all know, love and that we are not tired of seeing.
I say, “You should always have a core of oldies but goodies type tricks, two or three classic tricks that the audience will not grow tired of seeing.”
If you don’t have a good set of Hippity-Hop Rabbits, you might consider putting the trick at the top of your list of future magical investments. Remember, some of the “latest-greatest” things really are wonderful. Others are not. Classic tricks, done well, are always wonderful.