Nik Wallenda's successful walk across the Grand Canyon (technically it was the nearby Little Colorado River Gorge), 1,500 feet above ground and without a harness or protective gear, made international headlines on Sunday. In addition to the amazement that the stunning feat inspired, there was also boisterous discussion and debate about the performer's Christian faith and his ongoing prayer during the 22-minute walk across a thin steel cable.
From support to angst, there were a variety of opinions surrounding his mixture of daredevil actions and theological reliance. Naturally, some have charged that Wallenda is, indeed, testing God -- and that his antics border on the inappropriate. Some took a ligher-handed approach, while others more harshly critiqued (and even celebrities got in on the mix):
TheBlaze also asked members of our faith panel to weigh in. To begin, Father Claude Burns, a Roman Catholic priest, provided his perspective -- a mixed bag of positives and negatives to consider surrounding the dare-devil's antics:
Part of me wants to defend Nik because many people in our culture who announce their faith in Jesus are met with tremendous scrutiny. Had he not announced his faith and prayed for help during his amazing feat, we would not be having this discussion. I've seen many comments already of people calling him a Jesus freak and a nut. I have the utmost respect for his prolific announcement of his faith in Jesus during one of the most memorable events in television history.
However, with all due respect to Nik and his family, there is a part of me that wonders if his profession crosses the line into an unnecessary risk, especially when he has responsibilities as a husband and father.
For me there is a tension between these two lines of thought. I admire his courage, passion and skill and I will watch the video of his crossing over and over again with butterflies in my stomach -- and yet the question remains in my mind, "Does God want us to put ourselves in unnecessary high -risk situations?" Again, all the best to him and his family and I appreciate his announcement of faith. Ultimately, the judgement on this historical event and Nik's choices in life reside between him and God.
Aerialist Nik Wallenda near the end of his quarter mile walk over the Little Colorado River Gorge in northeastern Arizona on Sunday, June 23, 2013. The daredevil successfully traversed the tightrope strung 1,500 feet above the chasm near the Grand Canyon in just more than 22 minutes, pausing and crouching twice as winds whipped around him and the cable swayed. Credit: AP
Ian Punnett, an Episcopalian minister and the author of "How to Pray When You're Pissed at God," also weighed in, noting that Wallenda is perfectly fine to be praying so fervently, just as anyone who works in the military, is a police officer -- or drives race-cars would be (these people also willingly encounter risk).
In the end, Punnett argues that there's really no difference and that the daredevil is perfectly entitled to pray so openly to Christ:
People do voluntarily death-defying things all the time. For example, our nation is protected by an all volunteer military -- as our most countries in the world -- and within that, voluntary hazardous duty is rewarded with the benefit of Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay.
As crazy as Nik Wallenda's stunt appears to be to me (as I contribute to this piece I am staying on the 40th floor of [an] urban hotel that makes me woozy every time I get into the glass elevator), this man's business model is a commercialized version of hazardous duty pay. Like police officers, firefighters or race car drivers, Wallenda is compensated for his calculated professional risk and just because these career choices are voluntary, it doesn't mean that anybody should be criticized for praying before their workday starts.
I'll grant that there is the appearance of a certain irony for a guy who is termed a "daredevil" to pray to God, however, that just means his profession might be in need of a name change.
Daredevil Nik Wallenda crosses a tightrope 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River Gorge Sunday, June 23, 2013, on the Navajo reservation outside the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park. Credit: AP
Author and theologian R.P. Nettelhorst mirrored these views, noting that Christians who live out their faith will always encounter some criticism. In this case, he argues that Wallenda is a believer and, despite his profession, his faith implores him to rely upon the Lord:
Nick Wallenda’s job to walk tightropes; he is seventh-generation member of the Flying Wallendas family of aerialists. He is also a Christian. So the fact that his Christian faith informs all aspects of his life is to be expected. Certainly his profession is an unusual one, but that he should pray while he does his job, or that he refers to Jesus is no different than anyone Christian who might pray during the performance of their jobs, whatever they might be.
Some Christians are athletes, performers, and actors. Paul wrote, that Christians should “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Nick Wallenda is simply living his life as a Christian and doing his job as a Christian. His job is remarkable; but to pray or talk about Jesus, or speak about his reliance on Jesus — that’s simply what Christians do every day.
As to how non-believers will react to his talk about his faith and reliance upon God: some will react positively, some negatively. That’s how it always is for any Christian who is open about his faith in God.
Here's Wallenda speaking about the walk right after it ended:
Opinions aside, the 34-year-old Wallenda, part of the "Flying Wallenda" circus troupe and a seventh-generation aerialist who also made headlines in 2012 when he walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope, is familiar with critique over his chosen line of work, especially when it comes to his faith.
"One of the questions I always get is, 'Are you testing your faith [or] are you testing God?,'" he explained in a recent interview conducted before the Grand Canyon walk with Christianity Today. "I don't see it like that at all. I don't believe God keeps me on the wire. I believe God gives me a unique ability to walk the wire, but it's up to me whether I train properly."
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It seems his remarks to Christianity Today help answer a few questions some might have had Sunday night while watching Wallenda's death-defying walk across the Little Colorado River Gorge. Not knowing much about him, critics may have wondered if his prayers indicated that he believed God would definitively and supernaturally protect him, regardless of the risk at which he put himself.
Nik Wallenda speaks at a press conference after he crossed the Little Colorado River Gorge on a tiderope near the Grand Canyon on June 23, 2013. The two-inch (five-centimeter) thick wireline starting from a Navajo reservation just outside of the Grand Canyon National Park is suspended 1,500 feet (450 meters) above the ground (about 50 feet higher than the Empire State Building) and is 1,400 feet long (about the length of five football fields). US daredevil Nik Wallenda became the first man to cross the Grand Canyon on a tightrope Sunday, completing his latest record-breaking feat in just under 23 minutes. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
If, indeed, the performer contended (which he doesn't) that God would keep him safe no matter what, naturally people would decry his comments, especially if he had he fallen and been injured or killed (considering the distance down, it's likely the latter would have unfolded). But in his commentary about his walk, he noted that faith doesn't necessarily mean people have nothing to fear in life.
"There's a lot of people that have amazing relationships with Christ that lose their lives in a car accident. Does that mean they didn't have a good enough relationship with Jesus?," he rhetorically asked during his Christianity Today interview. "No. Life happens and God created us all in his image, but we're all our own people. We're not robots. We make decisions."
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS - Nik Wallenda walks across a 2-inch wire 1500 feet above the ground to cross the Grand Canyon for Skywire Live With Nik Wallenda on the Discovery Channel, Sunday, June 23, 2013 at the Grand Canyon, Calif. Credit: AP Images for Discovery Communications
This faith view was on display during last night's walk, during which it is said that Wallenda was praising God each step of the way.
“Thank you Lord. Thank you for calming that cable, God,” he said about 13 minutes into the walk, as TheBlaze previously reported. Business Insider quotes Wallenda as saying “Thank you Jesus” with each step. “You’re my king, you’re my protector, you’re my shield, you’re my strength, you’re my Lord.”
Here are the final moments of the walk:
What do you think about Wallenda and his use of prayer? Let us know in the comments section.
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