The first few years out of high school I was a part of a ministry internship program. The first year I lived in a tiny town in East Texas working in an office helping set up logistics for the Youth Rallies they held across the country. The second year I was a part of the ministry team that traveled to these events each weekend. I was actually a part of the drama team that got to perform on stage each weekend. I played a high school mean girl. ha.
As we spent early mornings and late nights in rehearsals and pre-productions we heard little snippets of what the rest of the entertainment for the weekend would be. We expected the typical speakers and bands, but when I heard we were going to have Christian Magicians I was really surprised. I didn’t expect that from the organization I worked with, but I was excited to see it. They were called MAZE. I remember the first time I saw their show. I don’t think I blinked at all. Floating canes, smashing guitars, swallowing razorblades… They did it all.
They were never out to just perform a good show, though they did that every time. They wanted us to realize how easy it is to be deceived into accepting cultures definition of truth, rather than searching it out on our own. They wanted every person who watched their act to walk away asking themselves “How can I know what is True?” While they were there to reach out to the teens in the audience, I couldn’t help but search within myself. I would say watching their performance and hearing their story was one of the most life changing things that happened to me during my internship. I grew up being told about the bible and what to believe… but never why to believe it. I never bothered to ask the hard questions. MAZE encouraged me to do just that. Not everything is actually how it appears.
The thing about the guys behind MAZE, Jim and Tennyson, is that they were just captivating offstage as they were onstage. It became no secret throughout the tour that I was the #1 MAZE fan of all time. I literally never missed a show. I watched each weekend for 8 months straight and never got tired of it. Some of my tour mates may say I was a little obsessed (mostly because I was
not so secretly in love with Tennyson)
One time in Albuquerque, NM they were performing a trick where they guessed a phone number out of the phone book. Each weekend they would have a “decoy” phone number they would guess so the audience would think they messed up the trick and then reveal the actual number hidden under a tablecloth that had been there the whole time. That weekend I was standing by the sound board, like normal, as they were performing that trick. I was told to make sure not to miss this one (like I’d miss any of them…) when they opened the “decoy” phone number I couldn’t believe it… they put MY phone number up there. AND they told the whole auditorium to call the number and tell that person they ruined the trick. They listened. I got tons of phone calls… that lasted for like the next week. Hilarious.
After the tour ended in May I didn’t really keep in touch with them besides my facebook stalking. It had been about 5 months since our last event in Des Moines, IA and I was newly married and living in St Louis. One of my friends from the tour called and told me that Tennyson had passed away. I couldn’t believe it. The world lost a beautiful shining soul. While I was devastated to hear about this, my thoughts immediately went to Jim. I couldn’t imagine what he was going through, him and Tennyson were like brothers. I followed him closely on Facebook. I was glad when I saw he decided to continue with MAZE. Just over a year after losing Tennyson, Jim fought Leukemia. It all seemed like so much to handle. I had no idea how he did it. A few years later I had the opportunity to go to a show he was putting on at Missouri Baptist University. As I sat watching some of the “classic” tricks him and Tennyson performed while we were on tour together there was something different about it this time. The words he spoke about truth were so much more… piercing. The passion for communicating his story burned in his eyes. He spoke with painful conviction as he explained that his life was literally saved by someone giving their blood to him. This story about Jesus and redemption and hope was real to him, because he physically lived it out.
Jim just recently released a book about his journey. It is called The Charlatan: The Skeptical, Mysterious, Supernatural True Story of a Christian Magician.
I bought this book a few days ago and couldn’t put it down. I never knew his back story, but after reading it I am even more amazed at how he ended up where he is today. This book is painfully honest. One of my favorite things about this book is that he doesn’t shy away from sharing his struggles and questions. I think so often we just want to sit back and accept what we are told, because questioning it takes guts. Asking hard questions and getting hard answers is painful. In the wake of learning his parents were getting a divorce and realizing his perfect Orange County family was falling apart he shares:
“And once you have everything, and then realize it’s nothing, somewhere deep down, you start to lose hope there’s anything truly worth having.”
and I wonder… How many of us have felt that way? I’ve been there. It’s a painfully dark place to be. But from that place you can begin to search for what it is that does matter, what is it that is really worth having. And Jim has done that. I dare you to watch his performance, talk with him for a few minutes, or read this book… and try to tell me that he hasn’t lived through hell and back (several times) and come out with such a fire to share these revelations of truth with anyone he comes in contact with.
A few more golden nuggets from The Charlatan:
“Most Christians refuse to engage with the honest questions atheists, skeptics, and followers of other religions wrestle with. I’m not sure if they feel guilty for asking or if they’re afraid where their questions might take them”
“Love’s not magic- you have to work at it. You have to choose love every day. You have to put the other person’s needs ahead of your own, over and over and over again.”
“I began to realize how pain, adversity, and tragedy create an opportunity to connect with others in a powerful way. The mysteries in our own lives make more sense when we hear about the wonder and awe in someone else’s”
“Life isn’t fair. It often doesn’t make sense. It leaves you with scars, bruises, and a limp, if you can walk at all. It’s not neat and tide. It’s messy, difficult, challenging, and painful, and yet, there’s beauty in every moment.”
Please, read this book. You will not regret it.