David Wise’s “Alternative” Lifestyle

March 10, 2014 at 4:15 am Leave a comment


Credit:  David Calvert for The New York Times

Credit: David Calvert for The New York Times

He’s a husband.  He’s a father.  He’s a follower of Jesus who can see himself becoming a pastor one day.  And, oh yeah, he’s also an Olympic freestyle skier of halfpipe who won that gold.  His name is David Wise.

Recently, Skyler Wilder of NBC Sports wrote a profile on Wise in which he made a special note on Wise’s character:

Wise is mature far beyond his years. At only twenty-three years old, he has a wife, Alexandra, who was waiting patiently in the crowd, and together they have a two-year-old daughter waiting for them to return to their home in Reno, Nevada.

At such a young age, Wise has the lifestyle of an adult. He wears a Baby Bjorn baby carrier around the house. He also attends church regularly and says he could see himself becoming a pastor a little later down the road.[1]

When reading such a description of this young man and his family, you can’t help but envision something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting – except that, as Wilder points out, Wise can “nail two double corks wearing baggy pants.”

What strikes me about Wilder’s profile of Wise, however, is not Wise’s fascinating life, but Wilder’s unique title for his profile:  “David Wise’s alternative lifestyle leads to Olympic gold.”  Wilder calls Wise’s lifestyle as husband, father, and Christian “alternative.”

When Wilder published his profile on Wise with this headline, almost immediately, people raised concerns and critiques.  You can read some here, here, and here.

These concerns and critiques notwithstanding, frankly, I’m okay with the designation of Wise’s lifestyle as “alternative” – not because I like what it says about the values of our society, but because it’s true.  Statistically, there can be little doubt that Wise’s lifestyle at Wise’s age is not mainstream.  As David Weigel of Slate points out:

Wise got married and had a kid at a far younger age than most people. According to data published by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the median age of the American first marriage is 26 and a half. The average age for an American bringing the first child into his/her homes: About 25 and a half. So, yes, David Wise is very good at skiing, and he figured out, as the Internet might refer to it, that whole adulthood thing much faster than the median American or median famous Olympian.[2]

The character Wise has and the lifestyle he lives at the tender age of 23 is far beyond his years.  In this sense, it is alternative.  But it is also hopeful.

Several years ago, sociologist Rodney Stark wrote a book titled, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.  Stark opens his book with some numbers:

For a starting number, Acts 1:14-15 suggests that several months after the Crucifixion there were 120 Christians … Yet only six decades later, Christians were so numerous that Constantine found it expedient to embrace the church … Goodenough estimated that 10 percent of the empire’s population were Christians by the time of Constantine.  If we accepted 60 million as the total population at that time … this would mean that there were 6 million Christians at the start of the fourth century.[3]

The Christian Church grew from 120 to 6 million in just over three centuries.  That’s staggering!  But how did it happen?  Though Christianity’s rise is thanks to multiple factors – not the least of which is the grace of God – one reason Christianity showed such incredible growth is because it offered an alternative.  It was different from the rest of the world.

For instance, in the 160’s, and then again in the 260’s, a series of plagues struck the eastern provinces of Roman Empire.  These plagues were so devastating that during a smallpox epidemic in 165, a quarter to a third of the population died.  When these plagues swept through, most people – scared of becoming infected – took the sick and threw them into the streets to die.  But there was one group of people who, rather than casting the sick out, brought the sick in:  Christians.  Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria during the second sweep of plagues in the 260’s, writes about how Christians responded to these plagues:

Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty; never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and caring for others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead.[4]

While everyone else was casting the sick out, Christians were bringing the sick in – many of them dying because of their efforts.  Christians offered an “alternative.”  And the Church grew.

It is no secret that what Christians teach and the ways in which Christians live is out of step with our society’s Zeitgeist.  We are “alternative.”  But considering the pain, hopelessness, corruption, despair, emptiness, and oppression that our society’s Zeitgeist reaps (for examples, just look here, here, and here), don’t we need an alternative?

So when someone calls us “alternative,” perhaps we should embrace the distinction. For we do offer an alternative.  We offer the alternative of Christ to the mainstream of sin.  And when we offer that alternative, we offer hope.  And hope is an alternative that our world sorely needs.


[1] Skyler Wilder, “David Wise’s alternative lifestyle leads to Olympic gold,” NBCOlympics.com (2.18.2014).

[2] David Weigel, “Will This Young, Happily Married Olympian Start a New Culture War?Slate (2.19.2014).

[3] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco:  Harper Collins, 1997), 5-6.

[4] Dionysius of Alexandria in Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, 82.

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