I have been assigned the unfortunate lot in life of traveling to Las Vegas for work every month, and I have quickly come to understand why exactly it has been dubbed Sin City. The more I go, the more this sea of lights in the desert seems akin to Sodom. But in this place I have come to loathe, I recently came across a most amazing thing: truth.
While many frequent the bars and strip clubs only to end up on the casino floor into the wee hours of the morning, I prefer a quiet dinner and a visit to the Jacuzzi before I crawl into those ever-so-comfortable hotel beds.
But this night was different. Due to my recurring jaunts to Sin City, I was comped tickets to Penn & Teller, hailed as the “Bad Boys of Magic.” Self-proclaimed atheists and skeptics, Penn Jillette and Teller, just Teller, have been performing magic together since 1975. But this isn’t just any magic show. They fame themselves “a couple of eccentric guys who have learned how to do a few cool things.” And while they perform more than just a few cool tricks in their act, their show would be nothing if it weren’t for Penn’s politically incorrect and often in-your-face banter.
I have always known about Penn & Teller, but other than a few cameos on Leno, I knew very little about them. I really had no idea what to expect, but the ads didn’t show many scantily clad women, so I thought it couldn’t be that bad.
As I sat down, there were audience members up on stage examining two boxes, one clear and one made of wood and covered in locks. In a sarcastic fashion, the pianist invited everyone up for one last look, prior to the start of the show. Finish introduction. Enter Penn and Teller—Penn: tall, long ponytail, donning the trademark gray suit; Teller: short, thinning hair, same gray suit.
Their show consists of Penn’s narration to a series of complex magic tricks that are really nothing more than illusions. Teller doesn’t say a word, but participates and demonstrates to the audience the behind-the-scenes reality of the illusions. The stark dichotomy between Penn’s loquaciousness and Teller’s silence strangely draws the audience in to listen not only with the ears, but with the eyes.
Shortly after Penn and Teller took the stage, Penn began to explain their first trick. Simple. Teller crawls in to the clear box covered with a lid. The clear box is then placed into the wood box, the locks are secured, and Penn sits atop the box while performing his opening monologue and setting up the trick.
And the trick? Teller will escape from the box while Penn plays a solo on the upright bass. After a two-minute solo by Penn, Teller will have escaped from the box and will begin a solo on the xylophone. Strange, I know. But just wait. Now comes the good stuff.
Penn introduces the trick as nothing other than the cliché “guy gets locked in a box and has two minutes to escape” trick. He then begins to explain that the audience has two options. We can either keep our eyes open and see exactly how Teller escapes from the box, or we can choose to close our eyes and imagine whatever we like about Teller’s getaway.
And then it happened … I heard the most profound thing come out of Penn’s mouth. He said that we, the audience, can either close our eyes and fool ourselves about reality or we can choose to open our eyes and see truth.
In that moment, God might as well have dropped a neon sign in front of my face that said, “I’m speaking to you, Sarah.” Did I really hear this profound truth in a city that prides itself on unimaginably destructive behavior?
But he continued by stating that those who choose to open their eyes and see reality accept the “responsibility of knowledge.” Those who choose to close their eyes create a “special moment” for themselves. By choosing to keep their eyes closed, they will fool themselves into believing any number of crazy and amazing ways that Teller could have escaped.
Now I fully understand that Penn may have had no intention of speaking spiritual truths during his monologue. But in the midst of everything that he said, I couldn’t help but be amazed at these nuggets of truth. We can either choose to keep our eyes closed and imagine our own reality, or we can open our eyes and see truth. Isn’t that how our spiritual lives are? So often we know truth, or at least where to find truth, but we do nothing with it. I suppose we are the irresponsible who are too lazy to discover the very thing that is under our noses.
I left the show amazed, not at the remarkable performance of the peculiar duo on stage, but at the unexpected challenge presented to me from the lips of one unassuming Penn Jillette. Or maybe he had every intention of making me think.
The show was entertaining, but I left with something greater than a few hours of amusement. I left with the conviction that I have to be responsible with the truth I possess. I would be remiss to hold the greatest treasure ever known in my hand and never let anyone else bask in its beauty.
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