It took him three times to accomplish what he announced to be the big finish. It wasn't smooth as silk in other words, twice he fell off the rope. Because it didn't work, he had us all on the edge of our lawn chairs. He'd pulled out a big steel frame maybe 12 feet wide, the kind of gizmo people put up in their back yards if they don't have a couple of trees for a hammock.
I have no idea what kind of rope he had strung between the ends because he wet it down with something akin to lighter fluid. There was going to be fire. Then he got up on that rope, a tightrope walker, and actually climbed an aluminum ladder set ON THE ROPE (I'm serious!) and started into juggling burning torches while a hastily drafted volunteer from the crowd--a young lady!--lit the whole blasted rope up beneath him. Got it? Listen, fire is lapping at him, running up and down the rope and even up the sides of the ladder (how'd he do that?)' and all of us, a whole park full, are guessing he's got asbestos shoes or really, really hot feet.
Twice he failed before he actually pulled this big-time final act, before he finally gets himself and all that mechanism up and moving in what some circus barker would have likely called "a den of fire." Right there on the stage at the Orange City, Iowa, right there in the town's own band shell. I'm not lying. It happened just last night. Took our breath away. Had us clapping like a crowd full of great seals. 'Twas a joy.
The real story yesterday was no magic show. The real story is these ISIS madmen (I'm not sure what they demand to be called today), who'd already a month ago proved they were, what?--animals is too good a word, soulless maybe, men and women whose hearts are little more than shards of cut glass.
"Part of the problem with these conflicts," James Foley said in a forum several years ago, is that "we're not close enough to it, and if reporters--if we don't try to get really close to what these guys--we don't understand the world, essentially." That's why James Foley became a journalist. He'd started his career as a teacher and ended it in that way, trying to help us all "understand the world."
James Foley was murdered, butchered alive.
In so many ways, what these masked killers did was pure, unsullied evil. In beheading James Foley, they murdered free speech. In beheading James Foley, they spit on anything approximating Geneva Conventions. In beheading James Foley, they did everything but behead "the Great Satan," the U. S. And they did it on video they made sure the world could not miss.
Weeks before, they'd killed anyone who didn't believe their version of Islam--anyone. Buried them alive. Beheaded them. Men, women, and children--infidels. Thousands of innocents ran up a mountain with no food, no water. ISIS makes Al Quida look almost peaceable, the Taliban seem choir boys.
They've already slaughtered Christians whole sale, turned those who could flee into refugees, tens of thousands of them.
It rained late yesterday afternoon, but an e-mail announced bravely that people should bring umbrellas because the juggler was going be on stage outside. The act wasn't moving. He was going to be appearing in the park, as advertised. My raincoat stayed in the car. There was no rain.
We went and watched and smiled, laughed, gasped, paid rapt attention, loved it, kept telling ourselves that our grandkids should have been there--that kind of thing. It was great fun.
Maybe it was pure escapism. Maybe the guy was, yesterday, a real sideshow to horror. Maybe no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people--wasn't that P.T. Barnum? Maybe it was ridiculous to be there in the middle of what will now certainly escalate into something that, once more, is going to cost American lives. Maybe I was fiddling while America burns.
But this morning, it wasn't the clown's goofy antics I woke up with. I wasn't thinking of him and his wild, flaming torches. Just before five this morning, it wasn't the juggler I saw before me up there balancing on that rope, everything beneath him aflame.
It was me, the Christian, the one who wants, more than anything, to understand, the one who can't forget Christ's beckoning forgiveness for that jeering crowd who wanted yet more of his precious blood. "Forgive them for they know not what they do," he said.
Forgive? These soulless men in black masks must die. Or we will.
When I woke up this morning, I saw a man's throat cut. And I was the juggler trying to make sense of what was in the air before me, while everything beneath me was in flames in a world in which there was no rain.