Life Without A Net, Pt.1: Step Out On To The Edge
On August 7, 1974 a man by the name of Phillipe Petit somehow strung a high wire in between the two towers of the World Trade Center, and then proceeded to spend the next 40 minutes dazzling New Yorkers with perhaps one of the greatest feats of high wire derring-do ever done.
Here is a quick video showing some photos of this, and it's set to soothing music:
This forty minute walk took six years to plan.
Petit made scale models of the towers, and even snuck into the life size towers several times while they were being built in order to observe security. Once, he even disguised himself as a contractor to gain access. The 450-pound cable Petit walked on between the towers had to be gradually strung after Petit and his crew shot a line across with a bow and area to a crew on the other side.
The New York City Transit Authority police force was called in to arrest Petit, who mocked them by jumping and dancing on the wire while they watched helplessly. Finally, it started to rain, and he decided to turn himself in. The police, angry at being taunted, responded in typical New York City Police fashion and tossed him down a flight of stairs, resulting in his only fall and injury of the day.
The attention that Petit got for his stunt was massive. Charges were eventually dropped, and Petit was asked to return to the towers where he signed one of the beams on the observation deck near where he began his walk.
Petit is a devout Catholic and is currently the artist in residence at the St. John of the Divine Cathedral in New York, where he lives.
Petit was asked why he performed such an unbelievable stunt. "When I see three oranges," he said, "I juggle. When I see two towers. I walk."
The thought of stepping out on to a high wire, hundreds of feet in the air in the midst of swirling winds with nothing but pavement beneath you is probably not your idea of a good time. Mine either.
But there's something about this that captures our imagination, isn't there? Maybe it's the idea that someone could be so passionate, so driven, so inspired that they would attempt---well, the impossible.
Or maybe it's the notion that there are some things that can't be explained, some risks that are just too worth the risk...
Maybe it's as simple as imagining that if given the right circumstances, even we would be passionate enough to mount our own incredible feat, attempt the impossible, do something that mattered.
But the fact is, most of us are content to stay right where we are. We are content to watch others step out on to the edge, and perhaps ultimately on to the high wire.
Because to take that first step is... terrifying.
Some of us have good reason to believe that taking the first step to the edge might result in a fall. We see the obstacles all too clearly: The winds of change. The rain of tragedy. The voices trying to tell us we can't, we won't, we shouldn't. Perhaps even our own wavering heart, that beats a little too quickly when we see how close to the edge we've strayed.
For the next few weeks I'll be preaching on the life of Daniel in a sermon series entitled, "Life Without A Net." I see the wonderful stories in the book of Daniel as a strategy for living in dangerous times. And for taking a step of faith out on to the edge--and eventually on to the high wire.
For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we are not called into a life lived on the sidewalk. We are meant to walk on the high wire. We are meant to go higher, dance in the air and inspire everyone around us with the kind of faith that can only come from God.
And now... a history lesson.
When the Old Testament book of Daniel opens we find ourselves in the year 599 B.C. The great Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar has achieved virtually a bloodless conquest over the kingdom of Judah, and the city of Jerusalem. The Babylonians and the Egyptians were the two superpowers in the region, and were in constant struggle over the trade routes in and near Judah and it's neighbors.
Jehoiakim, the king of Judah made the mistake of plotting with the Egyptians against the Babylonians. He died before Nebuchednezzar arrived, however, and his son Jehoichin was on the throne. Jehoichin capitulated almost upon the arrival of the Babylonians outside the gates of Jerusalem.
To teach the Hebrew people in Judah a lesson, Nebuchednezzar took 10,000 of them back to Babylon with him. 7,000 of them were linked to the royal family and included the king. 1,000 of them were skilled craftsmen, and 2,000 of them were either the head of families or firstborn sons.
This was the Babylonian way. Gathering exiles was a way of dealing a huge blow to the culture of the nations they conquered, and strengthening their own position for generations.
Daniel was among the exiled captives, and was probably a member of the royal family.
The captives were given new clothes, a new way of life... and new names.
Daniel's name means "God is my judge." This would have been the One God, Yaweh, Jehovah, whom Daniel worshipped and to whom his life was dedicated. This was an honorable name, a name that meant something.
The Babylonians knew this and so they named him something else: Belteshazzar, which means "The Treasure of Baal."
So, not only did they take him away from his home, they told him who he was going to be. And they wanted to remind him every day that they called him by his new name, that Yaweh was not as strong as Baal.
I discovered something interesting a few years ago when I was visiting the Oriental Institute in Chicago. There is a panel on display from the Processional Way that led to the Ishtar Gate in the old city of Babylon. Here's what it looks like:
It's called "The Striding Lion," and this panel was one of dozens that lined the Processional Way on either side. The lion was a symbol of the goddess Ishtar, the patron of love, war and sex. If you were a captive you were walked into Babylon through the Ishtar gate so you would know that you were beaten.
It's like every lion you passed as you approached the looming gate was telling you, "You lost." "Your God is weak." "You belong to us." "We own you."
Have you ever been there... in that place? You know, that place where nothing worked out like you thought it would? That place where you hear the words "failure," echoing in your ears?
Maybe you're feeling beaten right now. You've been told that you aren't good enough. Not healthy enough. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not rich enough.
You aren't qualified.
And maybe right about now, you are beginning to feel a bit like one of those captives walking down that long bridge with Babylonians jeering and laughing at you as you go. And the lions telling you with every step.
"You lost." "Your God is weak." "You belong to us." "We own you."
Right about now maybe you are convinced that "Babylon" is right.
And maybe you are thinking of just giving up and giving in. You're going to accept the name change and the new clothes. You want to be comfortable because the discomfort of where you are is too much to bear.
Let me tell you about Daniel's walk through the gate of Ishtar.
Sure, Daniel saw the lions. Only for Daniel they didn't represent a goddess of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
The lion was the symbol of his tribe, the tribe of Judah.
The lion of Judah was right there. In every panel and with every step.
And as Daniel walked across that bridge of the Processional Way, the lions spoke something else to him. They said:
"I will never leave you."
"Nor will ever I forsake you."
"The Lord your God is with you, withersoever (love that King James language baby) thou goest."
"You. Are. Not. Alone."
"You. Are. My. Child."
"Your identity is in me---not this place."
"I have things for you to do here."
"Don't be afraid... step out on to the edge."
"You don't need a net."
I want you to hear something that should light your hair on fire and make you run around the room like a crazy person.
Are you ready?
For those of us who call ourselves Christians, the One we call the Lion of Judah...
This is what Jesus said to his disciples: "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." "I am with you always." "Abide in me, and I will abide in you."
This world doesn't own you. The voices telling you that you can't walk on thin air don't own you. The wind doesn't own you. The rain doesn't own you.
You can step out on to that wire and dance with impunity.
The Lion of Judah says you don't need a net.
Listen to me, my brothers and sisters.
Do NOT settle for the STATUS QUO. The status quo is for people who have no imagination and very little faith.
Do NOT settle for the WORLD as it is BEING PRESENTED. All of those things that you think will make you happy, and comfy and safe---they won't, not really. Ironically, the only way to find true happiness, true safety and true comfort is in the service of the Lion of Judah, and as C.S. Lewis was fond of saying, "He is not a tame lion!"
Do NOT settle for the inevitability of what is SAID to be INEVITABLE. Guess what? Just because someone says "that's the way things are meant to be," or "that's the way we've always done it," means diddly squat to a God who dreams up the platypus.
WE can HOPE for better THAN THIS. You know what? A better world is possible. Let that sink in for a moment. This world can change. We can do better. There are lost and lonely people who need a word of hope, and that word of hope is stuck in our throats because they've gotten hoarse from complaining. Hope isn't a campaign slogan. Hope is way of life.
WE can live COURAGEOUSLY. When Jesus was walking on water (like he does), Peter asked to do it, too. I don't blame him. He wanted to do everything his Rabbi was doing. But then he started to get scared after he took a few steps and began to sink. Everyone piles on Peter for his lack of faith, don't they? But I bet there were eleven other dudes in that boat that wish they had stepped on that water for just one second. At least he got out of the boat. He stepped up to the edge.
WE can step OUT ON TO THE WIRE WITHOUT A NET.
I want you to hear this...
Nets are for sissies.
They are overrated.
They look like money, things, steady jobs, a nice house, fine clothes, plenty to eat, affirmation from your peers...
But you were meant for more than comfort. You were meant to walk boldly through the gates of the city that claims to own you, and hold your head up high.
Because you, my friend a genuine-high-wire-walker, the kind of Christian who knows that stepping out on to the wire is not a choice, it's a calling. And you don't ever have to wonder or worry about what will happen when you do.
The LION of JUDAH is right beside you.