Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Unmasking the Masquerade with Rod Robinson and Adrian Van Vacto | The Story Behind

As I talked about in this post, I attended the CBA's UNITE 2017 convention in Cincinnati, OH. I'd never been to a convention like this before and, at first, I felt a little out of place. To be honest, I asked myself what I was doing there when I stepped into the vast convention center and felt dwarfed by the mass of people and products.

But then my focus for the convention came back to me with full force: The passion behind the product. 

When I put it in that perspective, I felt my confidence surge back. I was excited to meet with the authors and vendors I did for the simple fact that I get the chance to share their passion with you. And that's what my blog and my Instagram account is all about. Sharing passions! Whether that's for books or products.

Today's interview is the first of many that I took verbally while I was at the convention. It's a new format for me, and a little bit longer than my normal blog posts. I hope you'll enjoy this more personal approach.

Interview with Rod Robinson & Adrian Van Vactor

In the midst of a busy convention center we found a relatively secluded couch to sit on and I waited to see what would happen next. This was the first time we'd met, but learning that Adrian was an illusionist and Rod was a mentalist, I felt like that little kid in The Incredibles that watches Mr. Incredible get out of his car. Bob (Mr. Incredible) says, "Well what are you waiting for?" and the kid responds, "I don't know, something amazing I guess". (see the clip here)

But this interview wasn't so much about the illusions that Rod and Adrian take part in. It also wasn't about the fact that being able to do illusions is amazing and can easily take center stage (no pun intended) when a more important reality is in danger of taking over. The fact that people are easily deceived.

It's not only the truth, but it's also the focus of their book, Unmasking the Masquerade: Three Illusionists Investigate Deception, Fear and the Supernatural.
And this is where the real interview begins, because Rod and Adrian had a lot to say about the passion behind writing this book and their hope for those it will reach!
(I've abbreviated some of their answers for the purpose of keeping the length readable)

 Emilie (E): Why did you guys decide to write this book? 

Rod (R): I started writing it 15 years ago. It just wasn't the right time for it though, so we (Dr Toby A Travis and I) put it on the shelf for about 10 years. Then, about a year and a half ago, I knew now was the time. I think part of this is because there has been a huge resurgence of interest in magic and illusion. Now, turn on the TV and you'll see lots of illusion shows or acts like on America's Got Talent or the Penn and Teller show etc.

Adrian (A): And people have become a lot more gullible toward psychic phenomena. There are popular YouTube videos claiming "demon magic" and other things like that.

R: So we actually started out writing the book to dispel some of those misconceptions about illusion as well as exposing the techniques of psychics and mediums. This is sort of what birthed the book, but as we picked it up again, it felt like there was something missing. To me it was like, What now? So you dispel all of these myths and the thought that Satan is all-powerful, but then what? Is there hope? What's real?

That's why we brought Adrian in on the project. He's an apologist and travels as an illusionist all over the world. He wrote the third part of the book which answers the question: Was Jesus a myth, a magician, or was He the messiah?

E: I love this last part especially because it reminds me of C.S. Lewis! But, it's also so important to have that "application" section. If we point out the problem, we need the solution as well. 

E: Let's get to the passion behind this book.

A: When you ask about passion, well, Rod was raised in a very different background. I was raised in the home of an atheist and my mom is from Mexico and is very superstitious. I was exposed to Quija boards, tarot cards, all this strange phenomena at a very young age and I was a skeptic from the start. I wanted to be honest and have a genuine approach--not to just be an atheist like my dad was, I wanted to have an honest approach to the subject of the supernatural.

First, it was skepticism, but then I met Rod and other Christian illusionists around my home town and they'd also talk to me about their faith. That's ultimately why Rod brought me into the project because in my story I talk about how there came a point when I began to wonder if there was more to life. I had a conversion experience and came to faith at 19 but then I thought, Wait a minute! I'm such a skeptic. How is it that I've come to faith and I haven't taken the time to examine--very thoroughly--what Jesus did? 

So I did. I looked at the miracles Jesus did and, to my surprise, I found that the evidence supported the fact that Jesus could not have been a magician in the first century.

(He explains more on this subject, but I think it would be best understood by reading their book.)

It's taken 2000 years for magicians to finally come to the place (technologically) to duplicate something as great as when Jesus walked on water. Not to mention the other miracles He performed.

My passion has always been evangelism and as I went on in my career I just wanted to be able to show people that Jesus is the genuine thing. There is so much deception and so much fear because of the "unknown" or "dark forces". We really want to bring hope and light to those caught up in this.

E: I really appreciate that background, Adrian. Rod, what drew you to become an illusionist?

R: I didn't really do magic until I was 35. It was like five years ago *insert wink here*. I was at an amusement park in Tennessee and I saw a guy actually do an illusion in my hands. I had to know how it was done. What's fascinated me about illusion wasn't so much the technique as much as the psychology behind it. That's why I tend to go toward mentalism, aka "the mind reading stuff", because it works with the psychology of your audience. Like directing them toward something by subliminally saying certain things. That's what fascinated me, the idea that it seems so real to the audience.

From there, it morphed into a realization that there are others who are using similar techniques to literally deceive people. I would be using it for entertainment and to teach people, but there are others who would be using it to draw people away from the truth.

As an example: I did an investigation of a "spiritualist medium" working out of a "camp" (more like a small town) with all kinds of psychics and mediums there. They hold "church services" there and people come from all over the world to attend. I thought, I want to see if there's any type of deception going on. Are they using magic tricks? Because, if so, I'm going to see it.

And, sure enough, I sat there in a little white, clapboard church, singing hymns that any church goer would recognize (you would have thought this was an evangelical church) then the "preacher" came up and she claimed to have once been an Episcopalian who lost her faith and then found spiritualism. Then she proceeded to do a trick. Ironically enough, I had seen a magician do the exact same trick the night before. He was using the same technique for entertainment, she was using it to deceive her audience. She was able to convince her audience that she was contacting their deceased loved ones. It had a profound effect on the audience.

She even used the technique on me. I had previously written something down, the name Candy. She "divined" (using a magicians technique) that Candy was my second cousin who was happy for me to be at the camp. I didn't say it at the time (though I should have stood up and told them all the truth) but Candy was my pet dog when I was a kid. Everything that she said was on my note, something she was able to see with a magicians apparatus, but she had no actual, spiritual link. She convinced these people that she was contacting the dead.

That was an ah-ha moment to me and I knew we needed to do something. To show that people are using the same techniques that we are, but they are using it to deceive, where as we are using it to entertain. And I also realized that the church needed to see this too. That we couldn't just automatically default to Satan, that it's possible to do what she did without a real spiritual connection.

E: I appreciate that perspective because, while I believe in the spiritual realm, I think it's too easy to "blame the devil" for everything we see. This can create fear! Yes, he's real and he's doing damage in our world, but there are some things he's not responsible for.

Adrian and Rod
A: The important distinction is that, when it comes to the phenomena, we shouldn't give credit to the devil or dark forces. But, when it comes to the content, our world view, how it changes us emotionally, and our way of thinking, we are heavily influenced by the spiritual realm. People can give Satan so much more credit for things that he can't do, but rather we should be concerned about our ideas and our mind. That's where the battle really lies.

R: In John chapter 8 Jesus talks about Satan. He doesn't say Satan is a miracle worker. In fact, elsewhere in scripture it says only God can do miracles. What He does say about Satan is that he's a liar and when he speaks lies he is speaking his native tongue. So the power is in the deception, not in the so-called miracles.

A: Or the effect. His power is in the lie, not in the effect.

E: It makes me think back to Moses time when the magicians would copy something the Lord had done (like with the plagues) but it would always get to a point when they would reach their limit and they couldn't match Him. It shows the power of God. Only God can do these miraculous things.

A: Exactly. It demonstrated the limitations of the magicians.

R: If you go back to Nebuchadnezzar, he came to his magicians and said he had a troubling dream and wanted them to tell him what it meant. But what did they say? They said for him to tell them his dream and then they would interpret. He was on to them--he said for them to tell him the dream then he would know they were real. Anyone can interpret dreams. Psychics call it a "cold reading". But what did the magicians say? "No man can do that." If Satan could have revealed his dream through the magicians, that would have been the prime opportunity, but yet they couldn't do it.

A: If Jesus could do all of the miraculous things that he did but so could the devil, then why would Jesus be unique? Unless the devil is nothing more than a counterfeiter--which means not the real thing--it doesn't mean he's less than God, it means he's not even on the same level.

E: We've talked about your faith and your passion for illusion and working to help people not become deceived. What are you doing to make that connection point with your audience? What drives this?

A: We both just want to see people's lives changed for Christ. Rod found the best way to connect was through his radio ministry. In our journeys, we find ourselves in the places where we think we'll make the biggest difference in the lives of people.

For me, that was overseas. I saw that only 6% of the worlds mission force was reaching the Muslim world. I thought, What do we do about this? We have found that using a platform of entertainment is the most effective way.

I was just in my 4th tour (of 54 total tours) in Turkey and openly sharing the gospel (which is completely legal to share your faith in public there). We would be out there doing shows and handing out Bibles and doing follow up. I remember we handed this guy a Bible and he just grabbed on to it like he had a pot of gold. We thought he was going to hide it, but instead, he just wrapped it in his arms and walked away like that.

Then the promoter of the tour (and many like it) said to us, "I've been in this country for 25 years and no one is doing anything like this." We need to be bold and find a way to share our faith in innovated ways.

E: Because I'm a writer, I'd love to know just a little bit about the mechanics of how you wrote the book.

R: I did the first draft and then did a little bit of work on the other sections by Toby and Adrian, and then hired and editor to go through it. Then we got in contact with Leslie (with Encourage Publishing) which was actually a funny story. One of the drummers for the band I was in back in the 70's was Leslie's husband! We hadn't seen each other in probably 30 years. But I put an excerpt of the book on Facebook, she saw it, and she contacted me and told me about her publishing company. Then my daughter designed the cover.

A: As far as the writing process, we've done a lot of performances and there's just something powerful about story telling. That's really what it's all about. Telling a story. It was easy to write it because I told my story. I had to do a lot of research on the apologetic side of things because this was research I'd done years ago and I wanted to bring it up to the latest trends and articles. So I had to spend months reading articles and books. That part was fun.

R: I also really enjoy research so my section on deception is a narrative about people who use deception or who were deceived and what was behind all of that. Why were they sucked into that deception? As a magician, we look at it and can see that it's false, but what is the psychology behind why people are drawn into deception?

E: Is there anything else you'd like to share with my readers? 

A: One of our big motivations is to get people to "use us". We want to partner with different ministries and local communities and churches. It doesn't matter where they are. We're a donor supported ministry and raise a lot of our own costs, we just want to get the message out there.

Another thing is: Don't be deceived. Be a critical thinker. Make sure that you have a well-rounded, informed world view. It's the backbone of the book. Don't be a skeptic for skeptic's sake, but be a critical thinker. Test all things. One thing that we as illusionists say is to test it all. Not just what you see, but what you hear when it comes to messages, content, and ideas.

R: If you're involved in a church and want to bring us in, our show is called Unmasking the Masquerade Live. The themes of the book are demonstrated on stage. It's a funny show and a lot of fun! It's a great way to outreach into the community.

E: Thank you both so much for this incredible interview! 

We grabbed a few photos after this, but I walked away with a newly formed, unique perspective about illusion, what takes to be deceived, and the reality that I sometimes give the devil too much power.

I really enjoyed my time with Adrian and Rod. Their stories were incredible, but I think it was their heart for what they do--the passion behind their show and their book--that truly captured my appreciation.   

You can check out their website here:
You can schedule them for a visit here:
Make sure you purchase a copy of their book:
Unmasking the Masquerade

Feel free to share this interview with anyone who you think may like this book or who might want them to visit their church!  

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