Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Crash Reel and the quest to be "fully alive"

Svati Kirsten Navala in the Atlantic writes, "Watching the documentary, 'The Crash Reel' is like watching a high-speed train hurtle toward a cliff." The Crash Reel which is currently playing on HBO features 15 yrs. of footage showing the epic rivalry between half-pipe legends Shaun White and Kevin Pearce, pushing each other to attempt even more dangerous tricks in the run-up to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The film cuts to the next stop on that road, Park City, the place where Pearce, a popular X Games medalist and world champion, suffers a bad fall and traumatic brain injury. His friend and fellow snowboarder, Scotty Lago calls it "the perfect storm of all falls; it couldn't have been any worse." Kevin is left in a coma as his tight-knit Vermont family flies to his side to help him rebuild his life as a brain injury survivor. Their first image of Kevin is a broken, bruised body with tubes everywhere. The film shows Kevin's dramatic recovery, re-learning how to walk, speak and eat. 

The film poses the question: "How much risk is enough? How much risk is too much? The filmmakers peel away the sport aspect to reveal a cut-throat business with rewards, endorsement contracts, fame and perpetual celebration. We see an exploitative business where the athletes are uninsured and pushed to conjure up bigger and better and more dangerous tricks.

Kevin Pearce
“It’s very hard to get out of it, you get caught up in it, ” says Simon, Kevin's father and a professional glassblower. “Then there’s the expectations, and all the sponsors, and everybody’s expecting you to do better and better and more and more, and so you push the limits.” The camera cuts to close-ups of his wife, Pia, and children as he speaks. “The only way to be successful in that sport is to push the limit. Everybody’s having bad falls, and it’s just luck whether you have what happened to Kevin or you don’t.” 

The film cuts to another scene where Kevin's parents caution him to rethink his plan to snowboard again, he argues with them, still in love with the old self now lost: “How much longer am I going to have to take this advice?” he asks, “I feel like there’s no trust in this family.” Knowing that another head injury might be catastrophic, his father, Simon, sees it as a matter of risk, not trust. “Is it fair to your mother and your family to be put in the position of taking care of you the rest of your life ?”

Shaun White winning Olympic Gold Medal at Vancouver Olympics
From Kevin and others who engage in extreme sports, you'll often hear something like, "I feel the most alive
when I'm doing this!" "The Crash Reel" reveals the cleverly disguised selfishness that resides in all of us and pushes its way to the surface in any number of ways. Most extreme athletes are very selfish and self-centered. They have to be, and they exist in a world where they are idolized which serves to feed their ego and self-image. Kevin is forced to consider the toll that his accident and rehabilitation has taken on his family.

I couldn't help but think about the words of Jesus in John 11 where he shows up four days late to find his friend Lazarus dead and buried in a tomb. Fighting back the tears, Lazarus' sister, Martha, says to Jesus, "If you had only been here, my brother would not have died." Jesus assures her that Lazarus will arise again. With some resignation, she says, "I know. He will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." Jesus then says to her, " I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She says, "Yes Lord, You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come into the world." 

At this point in the story, her sister, Mary, comes and falls at Jesus' feet and almost seems to be laying a guilt trip on Jesus by saying, "My Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." She then takes Jesus to the tomb where Lazarus is buried and Jesus asks those present to roll away the stone to the protest of Martha who tells him that there will be a horrible stench if the tomb is opened because Lazarus' body has been there for four days. Jesus, after praying to his father (more for the sake of those gathered than for himself) calls out to Lazarus, "Lazarus! Come out!" All of a sudden, this mummy comes walking out of the cave. It's Lazarus bound head to toe in linen strips like a mummy.

Now I can hear your puzzled thinking. What does this have to do with Kevin Pearce and The Crash Reel? Much in every way. Mary and Martha thought that Lazarus would live again in the afterlife, what we call heaven. What Jesus wanted them to know in a practical demonstration of his power over life and death is that he came that we might have a resurrection life right now, today. He is the source of life. He declares, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even if he dies, he will yet live! And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die!" (John 11:25-26)

What Kevin Pearce and other extreme sports athletes seek in terms of feeling "fully alive" is fleeting at best and can only be felt during those moments of great risk. But Jesus said that all of us, including every extreme sport athlete, could know what it is to truly be alive through a relationship with him. Jesus says in John 10:10, "I came that they might have life and have it to the fullest." This is being "fully alive" and you don't have to risk your life doing tricks on a snowboard, skis, snowmobile, dirt bike, free climbing, hang-gliding, or whatever extreme sport you can come up with. Being "fully alive" happens when you take the greatest risk of all, giving up your life to follow Jesus and serve Him. It's in giving up your life that you find life.

From that moment on, your desire is not for self-glory or adulation, but to see Jesus glorified because He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the One who has created us all and the One who is responsible for our very next breath. 

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