Insights through Illusion for Daily Living

Posts tagged “Thurston

How to Make an Impact by Embracing Your Strength


You’ve just done something that no one has ever seen before.  In fact it might be the most impressive thing in your career, or any of your contemporaries.  5,200 people are watching live as you vanish a giant elephant in the middle of an open stage.  You wait with baited breath, as you make the motions to display that the elephant is in fact gone.  You then hear it.  The sound you have been building to for the last 10 minutes, the reaction of 5,200 mouths, 10,400 hands.

But instead you hear what sounds remotely like mumbling….shrugging….and polite failing applause.

You are Harry Houdini, and you are the worst magician of the 1920s.

Now to most people what I just described sounds like an alternate universe, but to Houdini, it was real.

The New York Hippodrome was home to the grandest entertainment available.  Not pompous or pretentious like Broadway, but the working man’s entertainment.  Acrobats, magicians, Vaudeville.  It was the stage to perform on for variety entertainers.

What happened?

Why was Houdini the worst magician, yet the one that everyone still hears on a regular basis nearly 100 years later?

It’s because Houdini, discovered his weakness, and in doing so discovered his strength.  Houdini’s memory lives on today as the greatest magician of all time. That’s only because of the technicality that magicians and escape artists are now synonymous. Houdini was famous for escaping from everything they could put in front of him.  Prison cells, handcuffs, straight jackets, and anything else made to restrain, couldn’t hold Harry Houdini.

The problem is though he wasn’t happy with that, he wanted to be known as a magician. He had zero showmanship, which was vital to an illusionist during the era.  He was brash.  He wasn’t elegant like his contemporaries.  The question remains though, why has every household in 2012 heard of Harry Houdini, and not T. Nelson Downs, or Harry Keller, or Howard Thurston?  The reason is that Houdini recognized his weakness, and played to his strengths.  Escapes.

Houdini left a legacy because he put aside his weakness.  He embraced his strengths.  The things that he could do that others couldn’t, the things that made him different.

We are not Superman

Weakness.  It’s something we don’t like to talk about because we are invulnerable. We have no weakness, we can’t be touched.  Weakness is for…..the weak, and we are strong…..right?  I’m not weak am I?  This insecurity, it’s not weakness is it?

We all have weaknesses that we can embrace and attack, or that we can embrace and succumb to.  The thing is though, no matter what our weaknesses are, God has given us strength.  He has blessed each of us with abilities and gifts that we can use for His glory.  Too many times we hear people say, “I have nothing to offer.”  The problem is that we have told ourselves that lie so many times that we believe it.  Think about it for a minute what are you good at?  What is a way in which God can use you?  We gloss over strength sometimes because we think of physical strength.  That’s not what it’s about at all.  You have a gift that you can use to glorify God.

Use Your Strengths

We all have strengths, but we all have weaknesses.  Ways that we can be attacked and led to a place where we do nothing positive for the cause of Christ.  I think of Hebrews 12.  Lay aside the weight and the sin which so easily entangles us or holds us back, and run with endurance.  Use your strengths to run this race.  Use your strength to make an impact for the kingdom.  Put down the weight of sin and weakness that holds you back, and get to running.  I don’t want the reaction from God to be a shrug and a groan.  I want to hear, “well done, good and faithful servant”

Well done, that’s what I’m racing for, what about you?

What strengths do you have?

What weaknesses?

How can you put away the weight of that weakness?

For more info on Harry Houdini:

Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear

by Jim Steinmeyer

Bad Example=Bad Followers

Shaky Hands

The most famous illusionist in England, David Devant, took his name from a French painting about David and Goliath. He became England’s premiere magician from up until 1920 in which he retired. Some of the best illusions still performed today were created by David Devant. He performed the levitation of the woman made famous in America by Howard Thurston, (which Thurston’s mentor, Harry Keller, stole the secret from Devant’s mentor.)

Devant was a house-hold name that brought great images of a fantastic evening of wonder. He took illusions to the next level by creating the most incredible vanish of all time known as “The Mascot Moth.” Aside from large illusions, Devant was an accomplished sleight of hand performer. Using small objects he would wow hundreds in an English theater.

He had a staple in his act that involved bringing a small boy up on to the stage. Devant gave the boy a handkerchief and told him to imitate his motions. Devant would begin to do incredible things with his, while the boy stood there watching with his handkerchief. It would be torn, burned, shredded, and then miraculously restored. The audience laughed and loved it.

The last night he performed this act changed his life forever. Devant brought the boy on stage and like always asked him to imitate his motions. The audience looked on a bit uneasy as the boy stood there flailing his hands with the handkerchief. Devant looked at the boy bewildered, until he saw his own hands. They were shaking uncontrollably. He ended the performance, and retired that same year.

Imitate me. Do what I do.

Those are instructions that are very straight forward. Devant found out though, that they can bring unforeseen results.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

Those are some powerful words. If you are telling someone, “hey follow me if you want to know how to follow Christ,” you better have yourself together. Paul obviously did. I know that in my life personally, I have let people see my hands shaking, and they have followed suit.

I think about the impact that we have on the people around us who know that we are Christians. Whether we like it or not, Paul’s statement hangs around our necks. When people see that we are followers of Christ, they naturally learn from our actions. Whether that’s good or bad. Devant had no clue that his hands were shaking uncontrollably. He had no clue that his example was terribly flawed. He didn’t examine himself to see this flaw.

That’s where the issue comes in. We have to examine ourselves daily, to make sure that we line up with what a true follower of Christ looks like. You may think that this is old hat advice, but guess what, the moment we start to feel comfortable is the very moment our hands start shaking.

Keeping Your Hands Still

Daniel 1:8 gives a picture of daily devotion to purity that we should follow in our own lives. He chose not to defile himself with what the king had to offer. We should choose not to defile ourselves with what the world has to offer.

So the people around you that know that you are a follower of Jesus, do they see Jesus? or do they see you with your hands shaking?


-What things do you do that could be considered “shaky hands”?

-What can you do personally to stop them from shaking?

-How can you repair a relationship with someone who has started shaking too?

—-Again for more on Devant, check out Jim Steinmeyer’s book

Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear

“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”

Being Real=Being Unforgettable

The Last Great Magician

One of my favorite things to study is the history of stage illusions. The golden age was from roughly the 1870s until TV was invented. The most famous illusionist of the time is virtually unknown today, not Houdini, but Howard Thurston.

His masterpiece was the levitation of a woman right in the middle of the stage. We are talking 1920s to 1930s. The amount of trouble he had to go to to produce this effect would stop anyone from performing it this way today. Because of the lighting of the Vaudeville theaters (or lack of) and the general distance from the audience to the stage, Thurston rigged hundreds of wires both above and below the woman to hold her in place.

They were invisible to the audience, but his convincer was bringing a random child from the audience (not a stooge, or confederate) on to the stage. Thurston picked the boy up, and pointed at the woman and whispered with a smile something only the child could hear. The child’s eyes went wide and his mouth gaped. Truly a miracle had taken place……well obviously not.

In the 1980s all grown up, a boy lucky enough to see Thurston’s show and be brought on stage said what actually happened was that when Thurston whispered in his ear he said, “if you touch one of those ****** wires….” and then threatened him. The boy having never heard someone talk like that naturally looked amazed. The audience applauded and everyone loved it.

What does this have to do with anything? Am I advocating that we start living obscenely to make our point? Student ministers, should we be shock-jocks? No, not at all, but the idea is that instead of telling the child that it was all an illusion, Thurston was real with the child (albeit a bit too real), but the child never forgot for the rest of his life what Thurston said to him.

When we treat the world with a facade, or student ministers when we sugar coat the Gospel, it becomes forgettable, it becomes weak. The cultural meme is to not offend anyone. This causes a blind eye to everything that we should stand against. It’s precisely this reason that students who have been taught meat of scripture and real lessons instead of fluff, remember and retain, and can use what they have been taught.

What ways are we real with the people we come in contact with? We have the greatest truth known to mankind that God, the creator of the universe, loves us personally so much, that He gave us a second chance. He sent Jesus to die in our place for what we owe, and rise again. He did this for one single reason, and that is because He loves us. Period. There can be no greater news, and yet we keep this to ourselves and try to make everyone smile.

The Gospel might shock people. The Gospel might offend people, but guess what that’s what it takes reach people. To be real. We can give the world what it wants, and not give them Jesus. That is the greatest crime we can commit as believers.

How can you be real today?

What are some ways that we are fake?

How do we eliminate that?

For more info on Howard Thurston, or any stage illusion history, check out:

Hiding The Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear

by Jim Steinmeyer