(Yeah yeah, it's been like a month and a half. I've been busy; we bought a house, painted the inside of it, moved, walked and talked in a wedding, and took vacation. Somewhere in there I forgot I was silly enough to pay for a website. Let's get back to it!)
American Ninja Warrior, is weird, loud, and bursting with muscled egos and the most colorful characters outside a Saturday morning cartoon (do they still have those?). It's also my favorite show currently on air.
ANW, a licensed spin-off of the Japanese competition show Sasuke, pits athletes against a series of obstacles that punish fatigue and any slip of hand or foot by dunking the competitor in a pool below. There are three rounds, each held weeks apart and each supplying more (and more difficult) obstacles: qualifying, finals, and "Mt. Midoriyama," a grueling, three-stage test of strength and endurance that has crushed every American to challenge it. The competition draws men and women of all classes and backgrounds: professional (even Olympic!) athletes, hobbyist gym rats, investors and accountants who bankroll their own practice course, and more than few humble souls who train on playground sets and industrial farm equipment.
Therein lies its greatest attraction, I believe. Sports is more than an equalizer; it is a democratizer, giving equal voice to every person that steps up. Male or female, black or white, rich or poor, or somewhere in the middle of any of those, it matters not. The Warped Wall doesn't care who you are. It's a matter of will and discipline, of mastery and refinement of that messy thing we call self. The daredevilry and crazy costumes excite, sure, but it's stories of the athletes that truly inspire. And these stories unfold before our eyes in a way that film and literature simply can't reproduce. The drama isn't realistic; it's real.
In a nutshell, ANW's got all the drama and inspiration of the Olympics without the geopolitical baggage or the network broadcasting That One Stupid Event instead of Your Favorite Event.
At this point, I suppose as a good Christian observer of pop culture I should shoehorn in some obligatory sermon from Galatians 3:28 or 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Fine! "Oh, but sports is only the invention of fallible men, and only in Christ are those boundaries erased. Train your bodies for this world, but train your soul for the next!"
Whew! Now that your heart's been ministered to, let's watch the diminutive Kacy Catanzaro conquer the Dallas Qualifying Course, which vanquished without mercy many men far larger and stronger than she.
It's like watching Rudy, the Natural, and a League of Their Own all at once and condensed into seven minutes and thirty seconds.
The Christian life could be seen as having two parts: knowledge and action. To know that God intended creation for good and that it is redeemed and renewed through his Son is one thing. To go out amongst creation, to clamber over it with these bodies and discover just how alive he truly intended us to be, is another matter entirely.