That SkyWire Thing Was Probably a Bad Idea: Invoking Jesus While Playing With Your Life

Also See: Actually, That Skywire Thing Was Pretty Cool: More Than A Mere Stunt

“You’re looking good, Nik, whether you feel that way or not,” Nik Wallenda’s father, Terry Troffer, told him. “Take your time, it’s all about you right now.”

While traversing the Little Colorado River Gorge on a tightrope, Nik Wallenda constantly uttered prayers to Jesus: “Thank you Jesus for this beautiful view… I command it with the authority of God in Jesus name…  praise you Jesus, thank you Jesus.” Later on, his prayers were more desperate: “Lord help this cable calm down… Lord help me to relax.” Before starting the tightrope walk, Wallenda and his family prayed with Joel Osteen, the pastor of our nation’s largest church. Clearly it was important to Wallenda to publicly praise Jesus as he performed his death-defying feat. Consequently, a number of Christians and Christian publications have taken to highlighting him as an example of “what it means to walk by faith.”

Last year, Wallenda traversed Niagara Falls on a tightrope but that paled in comparison to yesterday’s stunt. Unlike his Niagara feat, Wallenda crossed the gorge without a harness. The Discovery Channel broadcast the event live with a 10-second delay “just in case.” Wallenda’s great grandfather, Karl Wallenda, fell and died while doing a performance in Puerto Rico.

What Nik did took incredible focus, courage, and determination. I do not doubt that he was trusting Jesus with all his heart as he struggled to maintain focus while 30 mph winds whipped across his face and the cable began to wobble so much that on two occasions he was forced to crouch and wait for the winds to calm. That said, I do not think Nik’s stunt was wise or Godly.

Nik has a wife and three children and he said in an interview before the stunt, “If I thought there was even a small chance of losing my life… I wouldn’t be doing it.” Nik said this because he has had a lifetime of training in a family of tightrope walkers that goes back seven generations and 200 years. This tells us something not all that different from what Nik’s father told him through a radio while on the walk: “[I]t’s all about you right now.”

Walking on a tightrope across a massive gorge with no harness is a selfish act. A fall from such a height would almost certainly mean death. We wouldn’t be talking excitedly about his Christian testimony if we had seen footage of his wife and children weeping at his death instead of embracing him as he hopped off the wire.

At the core of Christianity is a God who came to Earth “not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And He calls us to do the same. We are to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3). So I just can’t get excited about all the praise that Nik Wallenda threw Jesus’ way when the feat he was attempting could have very easily meant leaving his wife without a husband and three children without a father. Had Wallenda fallen, no Christians would be excitedly talking about his faith. Instead, we be mourning, unable to shake the images of a such tragic waste of life.

I would join the many Christians who are thankful for Wallenda’s testimony had he simply worn a harness. As it stands, I couldn’t bring myself to praise a fellow Christian for doing something unwise — something that garnered him a tremendous amount of praise from men but did little to bless and build up those closest to him.

About Drew Dixon

Drew is an editor at Christ and Pop Culture and editor-in-chief of Gamechurch.com. He is also a pastor, soccer coach, and writer. Drew also regularly writes for Think Christian, Bit Creature, and Paste Magazine. He has also written for Relevant Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @drewdixon82

  • Andrea C.

    I agree that the whole “walk by faith” comparison is cheesy. But I’m not sure I agree with you that walking the tightrope without a harness was a “selfish act.” Do you think that Christian men who participate in surfing, motorcycling, and any other number of activities that could potentially kill them are also selfish? How does a man know when he’s crossed the “selfish line” in his pursuits? I think we should give Wallenda (and his wife) the benefit of the doubt. Yes, he’s chosen a risky life. Presumably his wife was aware of this when she married him, considering he comes from a long line of tightrope walkers. Many people pursue interests that carry a risk, and that risk alone does not make their choice a selfish one.

  • Drew Dixon

    Hey Andrea,

    You may be right. I think there is a pretty big difference in terms of risk when comparing this stunt and surfing or even motorcycling.

    I would be reticent to say “x is the line by which a man with a family should risk his life” but if there is a line, this would have seemed to cross it. The issue is that whole risk of death thing–that is what makes this so impressive but it is also what makes it foolish.

    If he wanted to prove to himself and the world that he could do it without falling, he could have done so with a harness and not had the risk of falling 300 ft. (or whatever it is) to his death.

    That is why it seemed selfish to me. I am willing to be proven wrong about that, but it seems unwise.

  • Nate Brown

    I think it’s worth pointing out that, by risking his life, the word Jesus was uttered more times on live television in 20 minutes than it has been all year on television. The man risked his life sure, but to him it was worth the risk to proclaim the name of Jesus for 20 minutes straight on live television. I see nothing un-Godly about that, personally.

  • ALS

    Amen!!! It brought me to tears hearing the name of Jesus proclaimed so boldly. It’s a shame that that is unusual. God bless him and his family. To God be all the glory.

  • Brad Williams

    Yeah, but he was basically asking Jesus to help him not kill himself in a situation of his own making. Like, perhaps Jesus would say, “Well, don’t walk across a 2 inch cable over a 1,500 foot drop, son! How’s that for help?”

    I live in a country where it is punishable by law to ride around with your seat belt unbuckled because it is considered too risky. Even if this weren’t the case, would I be considered awesome for riding around without my seat belt saying, “Jesus! Jesus! Help me not die Jesus! I don’t have on my seat belt Jesus!” That’s the best parallel I can come up with for this guy not using a harness.

  • S. L. Whitesell

    Yeah! That’s what I said. Kind of. #selfpromotion #slightshame

    http://bit.ly/16uODC5

  • Matt Davis

    I watched Skywire to see a death-defying stunt. I almost had to mute it. If I wanted to watch a sermon or a religious broadcast, I would have put one on. There’s a time and a place for these things, and this was not advertised as a religious programme in the slightest. Neither myself nor my father expected the amount of proselytizing there was once the walk actually started, but this isn’t our only complaint; the build-up was too long too.

    Basically, I think the guy knew full well that due to Twitter and the worldwide broadcast, millions of people would be watching so it was an opportunity for him to proselytize, like I said. If anything, it was arrogant because you can’t expect non-Christians to appreciate it. It’s “preaching to the choir”; Christians will say how great it is, but everyone else will simply roll their eyes, shout at the TV or mute it.

    I’m not being nasty here; it’s just the way it is. My dad shouted “Shut up!” at the TV multiple times. His best comment was “If you think Jesus will save you, why do all that training and set up all that equipment? If Jesus is omnipotent, he’ll catch you if you fall, surely!” The proof is all over social networks; anyone who was pleased with all the Jesus mentions is clearly already a Christian, and there are plenty who disapprove. A publicity stunt like that will not convert people to Christianity; if anything, it’ll put non-Christians off even more due to its sheer arrogance. How would Christians feel if the guy was a Muslim or a member of some other religion, and he kept praying to Allah and Mohammed?

    It’s especially odd because here in the UK, religion is a non-issue. As the government said, “We don’t do god”. I’m still amazed how different the US is in this regard.

  • hnurgash

    This is what he does for a living. This is what his family did as circus performers. He practiced this same walk for months with the same type of cable and wind conditions. And who knows what seed was sown into good soil, hungry hearts as he was praying. And if you watched this, do not complain about Nik Wallenda. Nobody made you.

  • Gregory

    More than a high-wire artist Wallenda considers himself a Christian first and foremost. He has every right to express that while on national television or in the privacy of his own home. To think that the approval or disapproval of the world should matter or affect a Christian’s glorification of God is misunderstanding the purpose.

    Not to mention expecting him to adjust his life to make you more comfortable is more than a little selfish.

  • Gregory

    I remember watching him cross Niagara Falls and hearing him explain that the tug of the harness made it harder to keep his balance and increased the likelihood of falling.

  • Susan_G1

    I’m not sure I agree with you. For one, Nik *is* a wire walker by profession, and trained extensively for this in places with buffetting winds and with a wind machine, and I have no doubt (unlike you) that he would not have done it if he thought he had a serious chance of failing. His doing so without a harness was something to heighten the suspsene and obtain more viewers. It’s much like a magician, eg. Houdini and the water tank. The risk was much lower than you or I think. Was there real risk? Probably as much as there is for one of us to drive in Boston traffic (which really is risky).

    For another, I think your tearing down of a Christian brother is worse than what he did.

    Finally, as a physician, I think soccer – with it’s repetitive minor head injuries which have been conclusively shown to cause long-term brain injury based on MRIs and autopsy findings – is much more injurious than what the professional wire walker did (he survived without a scratch, did he not?) Why do you, as a soccer coach, feel that your work is more responsible with regards to safety when it is clearly not? (google “scholarly articles for repetitive head injuries and soccer”) What double standard is at work here?

  • Nate Brown

    Nobody made you watch it. It’s free speech so there is no use criticizing it. Do I like it because I also happen to agree with his faith? Sure. But I wouldn’t be wigging out if he was Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist and praying while on the wire. It’s freedom of speech and religion and that needs to be respected.

  • Alan Noble

    “It’s free speech so there is no use criticizing it”–by that logic, there’s no use in your comment, right?

  • Matt Davis

    Completely right. Everyone’s free to share their ideas. I’m free to share my disagreement. That’s how it works. It looks like these people think freedom of speech and religion only applies to them.

    Here’s another thing. Freedom of religion means Christians think they can try to convert everyone but don’t like it when others do it to them. You can’t have it both ways. The minute Christians stop trying to convert me and others is the minute I stop saying it’s bull. I think that’s completely fair.

  • ALS

    Just because you hear someone praying, and mentioning the name of Jesus or God or Savior while doing so, does not mean they are proselytizing or trying to convert you. More and more, it seems that freedom of religion and freedom of speech is fine for everyone BUT Christians. Comedians, tv shows, sitcoms, etc., so often mock and criticize Christians and don’t even bat an eye when doing it. It’s commonplace.

  • Matt Davis

    In this case I agree. He was not trying to convert anyone. But still, others are. Look at the Good News Club and its “shame indoctrination” programme. Some fundamentalists most definitely are, and believe it’s their religious freedom to convert others not of their faith. What about the religious freedom of the others in question?

    About the Good News Club, here are some links. Be very aware of what these people are trying to do.
    http://www.goodnewsclubs.info/
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/06/14/the-dark-side-of-the-good-news-club/
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/30/christian-fundamentalists-plan-teach-genocide


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