Last night Nik Wallenda traversed a canyon on a steel cable. My two teens had seen ads for the event and were excited to see what would happen. I remember the thrill of Evel Knievel’s motorcycle stunts when I was a kid, so what could I say? I won’t even attempt to unravel our fascination with watching potential tragedy unfold. But I did wonder why he would put himself at such risk, especially when he has a family history of death by daredevil-ness.
After two long hours of buildup, Wallenda began his almost 23-minute walk. He also began to pray throughout his stunt, which viewers could hear via a microphone he wore. As he walked, he focused on Jesus as his Savior and protector who has authority over the wind and the heavy stabilizing bar he carried. I was conflicted. Why put yourself in unnecessary danger and then call publicly on Jesus to save you? What if you fall? Especially as the Weather Channel reporter kept popping in to tell the audience there was a good possibility of strong wind gusts or random lightning strikes. What if your wife, your children, your father, your network and your world watched you fall 1,500 feet to the helpless paramedics below?
I was not the only one asking these questions. Twitter was alive with queries and quips about the Jesus factor. Some Christians online seemed to see this as a triumph of evangelism, while others predictably found an opportunity for derision. Wallenda is quoted in an International Business Times article as saying, “What I get from my Christian faith is that I know where I’m going to go when I die. And that affects my business, because what I do is risky, and if I die, I have peace... I’m not scared of dying.” It might interest readers to know that Wallenda’s book, Balance: A Story of Faith, Family, and Life on the Line, was released June 4.
That same Business Times article mentioned Wallenda had trained to hang from the cable, and that a rescue crew could reach him in 60 seconds. This added a new dimension to my questions. Why ask viewers to spend two hours worrying about his safety, then call on Jesus continually as he walked, if he felt he was in little danger to begin with?
Jesus was tempted by the devil to throw himself from a great height to force the hand of God, to prove that God would protect Him. Initially, as Wallenda prayed for protection, it felt that he was doing what Jesus refused to do - putting himself in danger to prove God’s protection. But if he felt he was in no real danger, is this just a sideshow act in which the perceived danger is shored up as he calls on Christ’s name?
I’ll confess I did not watch all two hours of the pre-walk show and I don’t know Wallenda’s motivations. Though I found it interesting to read in a Reuters article that he had this to say after the walk was completed: "I knelt down and I thought of my great-grandfather and that everything I do is to honor him."
In the end, we watched him kiss the ground and greet his relieved family. My kids, like me, were impressed that he had made it across safely. However, I also felt a bit as though I’d been shown a very exciting parlor trick. A parlor trick in which the performer asked for God’s blessing and protection. That’s a line I’d be even more afraid to walk.