Sermon inspires Sword Swallower to use his talent to reach people
Huntsville Times Religion Section
Friday, January 11, 2008
By KAY CAMPBELL Huntsville Times Faith & Values Editor
Did you hear the one about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the preacher and the sword swallower?
No joke would be more unbelievable than the truth: A re-telling of the story of Rudolph inspired a sword swallower to unsheath his unusual ability for God's cause.
A few Christmases ago, Dan Meyer, 50, a blond guy with the buoyant energy of an oversized puppy, sat in church while the preacher in his Hartselle church encouraged people to see Rudolph's story as a parable. The reindeer with the nose he was ashamed of finally realized that his odd feature was his gift and his witness.
"You have to use what makes you unique," his pastor preacher said.
At that moment, Dan Meyer said, he knew he was going to quit his day job as a car salesman to be a full-time sword swallower - and develop a ministry with a memorable point to it.
"Believe it or not, this is my calling," Meyer said, pulling a 30-inch steel sword out of the leather scabbard for a recent demonstration. "I can reach the goth kids, the bikers - I can catch their attention, and I can turn their attention to the Lord."
Meyer puts the tip of the sword into his mouth, tilts his head back, flings his arms wide, and lets the inch-thick blade slide down his throat. Then he bows from the waist, his eyes twinkling above the hilt projecting from his mouth like the last bits of a frog disappearing into a python's jaws.
Goth or not, nobody could turn attention from that spectacle.
Meyer stands and flicks the sword from his mouth with his fingertips, so that it shoots into the air above his head. He catches it with a flourish - he's also a juggler and fire-eater. And he can stick an ice pick into his nose all the way up to really, really disgusting.
"Does it gross you out?" he asks, grinning. "Good - it's supposed to. Not only do I like to comfort the afflicted, but I also like to afflict the comfortable. Of course, I get negative reactions from the adults on that one. But the kids love it!"
His message, he said, is to remind kids how fearfully and wonderfully they are made. That the hobbies other kids might think are weird or gross could become their way to witness for God in the world.
And that they should never, ever try sword swallowing at home.
"I put my life on the line to do this," he said. "But I tell them there is a way they can become a spiritual sword swallower. In Hebrews 4:12, it says, "The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, able to pierce the division of the soul and spirit ... able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
Then, in the show he takes to church youth groups, camps and Upward awards banquets, he pulls out the sword he calls his Pride. It's the first sword he managed to allow into his gullet after a couple years of practice and lots of gagging.
Swallowing their pride and learning to be humble, Meyer tells the kids, is even tougher than swallowing a sword.
Though swallowing a sword is no piece of cake.
Meyer was inspired by the sword swallowers he saw in his early 20s when he was a Lutheran missionary in India. About 10 years ago, he determined to learn to swallow swords when a veteran performer told him there were only about a dozen left in the entire world.
It took Meyer a couple years of daily practice to overcome the natural revulsion of the throat. He learned to slide the blade behind his voice box, to nudge his heart aside where it presses on the esophagus, to insert the steel blade all the way to the sphincter guarding the stomach, and into the stomach itself.
His posture must be perfect, he says. His body totally relaxed.
"If you look closely, you can see the blade beats with my heart," Meyer said. "I'm a living sheath - I put the Word of God in my body every day."
After practicing daily for about three years to hone his act - at night he brushes his teeth and swallows a sword before he goes to bed - Meyer took his show on the road.
He organized the Sword Swallowers Association International and organized the group gulps that got him into the Guinness Book of World Records - twice. Also a musician, he's toured with the Brooks and Dunn's Neon Circus act that opened for country artists Brooks and Dunn.
In May, soon after he quit the car dealership, he swallowed a sword in the shark tank for Ripley's Believe It or Not in Myrtle Beach, S.C. In October, the article he co-wrote with British physician Brian Whitcombe, "Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects," published last year in the British Medical Journal, was awarded the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in medicine at Harvard.
Meyer knows personally about the side effects of introducing inflexible steel into the throat. A trick he did a few years ago, when he was swallowing five swords at once, ended when his belly retched. The resulting cut put him in bed for months.
In the Middle Ages, it wasn't the danger of sword swallowing, but its unbelievable nature that got sword swallowers persecuted by the church during a crackdown on devilish pursuits. "It's ironic that sword swallowers who risked their lives to swallow swords were put to death because of it!" Meyer said. Church officials were sure anyone who could take steel into their bodies and live to tell about it must be in league with the powers of darkness.
That accusation was not unlike what Jesus himself faced, Meyer said.
"A lot of people thought he was just a magician, a charlatan, but he was real," Meyer said. "And people were so impacted by what they saw 2,000 years later we're still talking about it.
"If you want to impact people's lives, you have to be real."
Sword of Truth
Dan Meyer will bring his, um, penetrating witness to Friendship United Methodist
Church on Lucas Ferry Road in Athens Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m.
His web sites include clips of his performances: www.swordswallow.com, www.cuttingedgeinnertainment.com.
Dan can be reached at email@example.com and 256-341-8969.