IF YOU GO
* What: U-Church featuring illusionist Harris III.
* When: 7:30 p.m. today.
* Where: Conn Center, Lee University, 150 11th St. N.E., Cleveland, Tenn.
* Admission: Free (no tickets needed).
* Phone: 961-1823.
The children's message at First Baptist Church in Dayton, Tenn., hooked him. Not only did he digest the simple theological point, but the method in which it was presented intrigued him enough to make it a career.
Harris III, an internationally known illusionist who was called B.J. Harris back in his hometown, will perform tonight at Lee University's Conn Center in Cleveland, Tenn., to kick off the school's spring U-Church season.
"It grew out of that," he said of the children's messages and the present of a magic set from his grandmother at age 9. "When I was 17 years old, I left for Minneapolis to travel with another magician. I've been traveling the world ever since."
Since then, Harris III, 28, has performed before 1 million people in more than 12 nations on five continents.
At Lee tonight and before specific audiences, the illusionist will weave his Christian faith into his performance.
"I don't view myself as a Christian illusionist," Harris III said, noting his father is not a Christian cable installer. "He's a follower of Jesus, and that transforms how he lives his life, how he views [his customers]."
In his own work, he said, "a magic trick cannot be Christian." Still, he added, having faith "changes me. I still believe my show becomes Christian because of who I am. If audience members experience love, joy, peace -- light in a dark place [because of the show] -- they'll know something about me."
For both secular and faith-based audiences, Harris III said, he talks about the amount of deception people experience on a daily basis.
He said statistics show that people see, subconsciously or not, some 4,000 messages a day, whether billboards they pass, radio ads they hear in the background or magazine ads they quickly peruse.
"They're telling us lies," Harris III said, "to drive the right cars, to weigh this [amount], to have a waist this size. That's not good. If we're not perfect enough, we start to believe them -- how we view ourselves, how we view the world."
Instead, he said, we should "learn to not trust everything we see and feel. Everything we see is temporary. The world is constantly misdirecting. The things that really matter -- they're all eternal."
Harris III said he fell for the deceptions just as many other people did, a fact he often shares with audiences. He said he had to have the right clothes, the right house, live in the right part of town.
"Hindsight is 20/20," he said. "I realized I had done all that to control the perceptions of other people. I was trapped by all these forms of deceptions. The truth required me to act on it, to get rid of the stuff. The truth [sets] us free as we act on it."
It's easy for Christians to fall for the simplicity of a deception, Harris III said.
One, he said, is that "Jesus came to save us and make our lives comfortable." Further, he said, we need to remember "church is people, not something we go to. It requires action."
Illusions are like those deceptions, said Harris III, now a Nashville resident.
"The nature of a magic trick is humbling, [the fact that on] that very experience you cannot make an assumption," he said. "You cannot trust your assumptions."
Josh York, director of facilities management at Lee, said the uniqueness of an illusionist and the fact students responded well to an illusionist several years ago made Harris III a good candidate for the program.
"His focus is 'seeing is not always believing,' " he said. "We talked to a lot of people behind the scenes and others who had seen his performance who said he does a fantastic job of taking his illusion act and [making] it ... faith-based."
Harris III said he wants his performances to transcend "just tricks" and their capacity to leave people "momentarily entertained."
As such, he said, he weaves in storytelling, music and other things that contribute to an overall enjoyment of the show.
"I want to take them on a journey," Harris III said. "It's family-friendly. It's like a good Disney movie. There's something there for anybody."