While I was unemployed one of the things I liked to do was mathematical card tricks, much to the amusement of my friends. I was always counting out playing cards and working out mathematical tricks that could be done with them.
It was a chance encounter with another former Royal Marine that led me to learning more about sleight of hand. John had a passion for sleight-of-hand card tricks and explained that with practice I could quite quickly perform some really exciting sleight-of-hand card routines. I was transfixed by his skill and ability to tell a story through card tricks.
I was not a Christian at the time but had a strong sense that I needed to explore this more – that somehow it was important for me to learn from John. Very soon I had learned all I could and John recommended I learn more from a full-time professional, Steve Johnston. I eventually became Steve’s student and studied with him for three years. He taught me how to present sleight of hand with coins and cards in a way that was funny and put people at their ease. He said that the tick must never become more important than the person. His desire was to connect with people, to make them laugh and to entertain them. I quickly got bookings with companies as an ice-breaker, to help people relax at private functions and events. The work came flooding in and I moved onto cabaret and after-dinner speaking. Television followed, but then I became a Christian.
Should I give up a skill that God had equipped me in before I was a Christian? My instinct was to stop using my gifts and sell all my props. However, I was urged by several Christian leaders, including J.John, to reconsider. After much debate I was strongly advised to keep using my skills but to use them for God’s purpose.
I developed ways of sharing the gospel message and using illustrations from my years of communicating as a creative sleight-of-hand artist. I often get asked, ‘How do you reconcile being a Christian and performing illusion?’ I see it like this: Jesus used his skill as a communicator in different ways. Sometimes he used miracles, sometimes stories, sometimes teaching; sometimes he listened and sometimes he challenged people’s thinking and perspectives. People who knew Jesus were transfixed and in awe of him. He did things that took their eyes off themselves and pointed them towards God. He showed people that life as they knew it was only part of the whole truth. Heaven was real and God was real, even though they could not see or feel them. Jesus showed that when something is redeemed by God it can be used for God’s purposes.
There is something magical and exciting about being with Jesus. He is enchanting and wonderful and makes us believe that we are worth more than we think of ourselves. He helps us see that we have incredible value to him. He tells us that we all have a part to play but that at times we will neither fully understand what we are doing nor understand the outcome of our actions. He tells us to believe and act in faith.
We love the magic of Disney, theatre and film because they take us out of ourselves into wonder and amazement and to a place that we long for: In God, we discover a place of joy and happiness and connection with One who knows us more that we could ever know ourselves. My aim is to bring people into the presence of God. To help people connect with the wonder that is around them and to use my skills to point to a God who placed a longing for wonder, excitement and awe in the heart of his creation. I try to use my skills to draw people’s attention to the fact that they don’t understand everything but can turn to God for answers to the deeper questions. I want to use my skills to show people that there is a creative God who speaks to them and they only have to look with the eyes of their hearts to see and sense him. I know that God does not need gimmicks or tricks or sleight of hand. Jesus didn’t have to tell stories or teach – he could have done miracles everywhere – but he knew what he was doing and there was a reason for it.
I want to share the gospel message with every skill and gift I have. Everything I do is done in the hope that Jesus is glorified. Hours are spent patiently making illustrations clear, precise and relevant. Sleight of hand seems to work alongside a good story, it gives accessibility to hearts and minds that might otherwise be closed. Should I stop when people want to know God and are coming to Christ because of an illustration that creates curiosity and gives new perspectives in their search for the truth of who Jesus is? My hope is that I can continue to do the work that God has called me to do, using illusion to communicate reality.