Having ‘skin in the game’

As a child, I listened spellbound to a speaker describing dare-devil exploits of courageous French acrobat and gymnast, Charles Blondin. Blondin’s bizarre stunts on a tightrope stretching above the Niagara Falls between America and Canada, created an indelible impression upon me.

Over 25,000 spectators crammed vantage points for Blondin’s first performance from the American side in June 1859. A 5cm diameter rope made of hemp stretched out 400 metres – 50 metres above swirling waters.

Wearing special leather shoes and holding a balancing pole, Blondin set out with no nets… believing that hedging disaster only courted its inevitability.

Photo: Adam Khasbulatov. pexels.com

The atmosphere was electric… onlookers even fainted. A third of the way across, Blondin stunned everyone by sitting down on his rope and calling for the ‘Maid of the Mist’, the famed tourist vessel, to anchor momentarily beneath him. He let a line down and hauled up a bottle of wine. He drank and started off again, breaking into a run after he passed the sagging centre.

After reaching Canada, he began the return journey after 20 minutes of rest. The entire walk from side to side took 23 minutes. Blondin immediately announced subsequent crossings, promising each one would be more daring than the last.

Murray Smith

Over time, Blondin completed hundreds of crossings. He somersaulted and backflipped his way across, occasionally pausing to dangle from the cable by one hand. He crossed with his manager clinging onto his back, he carried a table and chair, stopping in the middle to sit down and prop up his legs. The chair tumbled into the water – Blondin nearly followed but regained his balance. He sat down on the rope and ate a piece of cake, washed down with champagne. Another time, carrying a stove and utensils on his back, he walked to the centre of the span, started a fire and cooked an omelet. When it was ready, he lowered the breakfast to passengers on the deck of the Maid of the Mist.

Not everyone was enthralled by Blondin. Critical newspapers attacked his “reckless and aimless exposure” slamming “thoughtless people” for watching “a fellow creature in deathly peril.” Money flowed as gamblers took bets on whether Blondin would plunge to a watery death.

My favourite Blondin stunt was him walking ‘backwards’ to Canada, then returning to America pushing a wheelbarrow to seek a ‘passenger’ from among the crowd – in the audience, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), was restrained from participating by his entourage.

Multiplied thousands affirmed their ‘belief’ (academically speaking), that Blondin could perform this stunt – but would anyone ‘commit’ to that belief and make the crossing? One person found the courage and conviction to climb into the wheelbarrow. This is so like countless people who claim to ‘believe’ in God. Offering mere token mental assent to His existence, is far from true faith which actively pursues relationship with Him! That’s the faith which God commends.

Our expression, ‘having skin in the game’, describes personal buy-in, being ‘invested’ in achieving a result. Truly authentic faith in God will exhibit ‘skin in the game’- a life totally entrusted to Him. That means ’getting into the wheelbarrow’ for the journey.

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