Posts tagged ‘Culture’

David Wise’s “Alternative” Lifestyle

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.

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

More Than A Little

Apple 1I suffer from calorie creep.  It’s amazing.  If I wake up in the morning and commit to making wise food choices, staying away from sweets, and considering the calories of what I put in my mouth before those calories get there, I can usually keep the number of my calories down and the quality of my calories up.  But if I don’t…

It only takes a little.  “I’ll just have a little bit of ice cream for dessert,” I think to myself after lunch.  But it’s amazing how much ice cream I can cram into even a little bowl.  And by the time supper rolls around, a second bowl of ice cream begins to sound awfully enticing.  The more junk food I eat, the more junk food I want.  A little always turns into a lot.

“It’s just a little white lie.”  “We were just kicking back a little.”  “A little bit of fun never hurt anyone!”  It’s amazing how many times I have heard these statements or statements like these as excuses for sin.  How are they excuses?  They’re excuses because they sanction sin by arguing that what they’re supporting is only “a little” sin.  But a little always turns into a lot.

Solomon makes this precise point when he talks about the sin of laziness:  “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:33-34).  Solomon says that sin adds up faster than you think.  And this means that sin can wreak havoc in your life quicker than you think.

When the apostle Paul is writing to the Galatians, he warns them against tolerating even a little sin with a metaphor:  “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9).  Paul says that just like it only takes a little yeast to make bread rise, it only takes a little sin to make wickedness rise.

The other day, I came across some thoughts from the Archbishop Chaput, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, worth citing here:

We live in a culture where our marketers and entertainment media compulsively mislead us about the sustainability of youth; the indignity of old age; the avoidance of suffering; the denial of death; the nature of real beauty; the impermanence of every human love; the oppressiveness of children and family; the silliness of virtue; and the cynicism of religious faith.  It’s a culture of fantasy, selfishness, sexual confusion and illness that we’ve brought upon ourselves …

As the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb observed more than a decade ago, “What was once stigmatized as deviant behavior is now tolerated and even sanctioned; what was once regarded as abnormal has been normalized.”  But even more importantly, she added, “As deviancy is normalized, so what was once normal becomes deviant.  The kind of family that has been regarded for centuries as natural and moral – the ‘bourgeois’ family as it is invidiously called – is now seen as pathological” and exclusionary, concealing the worst forms of psychic and physical oppression.

My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it.  So it always has been.  So it always will be.[1]

His last paragraph is key.  A little bit of evil will ask you to tolerate it so it can get itself in the door of your life.  But once it gains access to your heart’s hallways, it will grow – gradually, perhaps, but inexorably.  And what it asked for itself in the name of tolerance it will not give to goodness.  For it has come to destroy goodness.  It has come to destroy you.  And that is why Jesus has come to destroy it.

Stand firm, then.  For even a little sin is a little too much.


[1] Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, “A Thread for Weaving Joy,” Voices Online Edition, vol. XXVII, no. 1 (Lent – Eastertide 2012).

August 12, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What We Say (And Don’t Say) About Homosexual Practice

When President Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage in an interview with ABC News on May 9,[1] I knew I would get a lot of questions.  And sure enough, I did.  This is why the pastors of Concordia have prepared a Christian response to same-sex marriage specifically and homosexual practice generally.  You can find the response here.  This response will also be published this week in a booklet along with an appendix which will answer some of the questions we have received in response to the document.

I have found this whole brouhaha (to use a technical, theological term) to be fascinating – not so much because of the common, perennial questions I have received concerning same-sex marriage, but because of the way many prominent Christians have responded to this now top-of-mind topic.

It saddens me that when questions are asked, so many Christian people have responded in a breathtakingly nebulous way.  Take, for instance, popular Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans.  In her blog, “How To Win A Culture War And Lose A Generation,” she decries the way in which the Church has responded to homosexuality:

Every single student I have spoken with believes that the Church has mishandled its response to homosexuality.

Most have close gay and lesbian friends.

Most feel that the Church’s response to homosexuality is partly responsible for high rates of depression and suicide among their gay and lesbian friends, particularly those who are gay and Christian.

Most are highly suspicious of “ex-gay” ministries that encourage men and women with same-sex attractions to marry members of the opposite sex in spite of their feelings.

Most feel that the church is complicit, at least at some level, in anti-gay bullying.[2]

Here, Evans has no problem being sharply specific.  Evans places her finger squarely on the pulse of something profoundly tragic:  Those who are not Christian feel belittled and berated by the way traditional, orthodox Christians have often responded to homosexuality.  They have come across as judgmental, self-righteous, bigoted, and they have even contributed, at least in a complicit way, to the heart-wrenching stories of anti-gay bullying we read in the news.  Tragic.

So what is Evans’ way forward?  Her last sentence, “Stop waging war and start washing feet,” seems to present itself as her proposed solution, but I am still left puzzled.  Though I know there are some bigoted, self-righteous, mean-spirited Christians who delight in waging culture wars, brandishing about the word “sinner” like a weapon of mass destruction while refusing to serve and love according to Jesus’ call and command, I know many other Christians who make it their life’s work to humbly call sinners to repentance while serving them in love.  I see the service part of a Christian’s vocation in her statement, “Start washing feet,” but what about the calling to repentance part?  Are we not supposed to do both?

Interestingly, Evans wrote a follow-up post where she proposes yet another solution:  “We need to listen to one another’s stories.”[3]  People’s stories do matter.  And listening is terrific, yes.  But to what end?  Do we have nothing other than our own stories to share?  Isn’t the glory of Christianity that it is extra nos, that is, “outside of us” – that we have a righteousness not our own to save us from sin all too tragically our own (cf. Philippians 3:9)?  We need to come to grips with the fact that what Jesus says about us is far more important than what we say about ourselves.  His story matters more than ours because His story redeems ours.

There’s an old country song by Aaron Tippin where he sings, “You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”[4]  I fear that, when it comes to homosexual practice and same-sex marriage, we have abdicated our duty of standing – not charging, not belittling, not berating, not politicking – but just standing – standing in the truth and speaking that truth with grace.

The apostle Paul writes, “Stand firm in the faith” (1 Corinthians 16:13).  Notice the definite article in front of the word “faith.”  We are to stand firm not just in any faith, but in the faith.  This means that we say what the faith says:  Homosexual practice is a sin.  It is one of a million ways that humans have invented for themselves to break God’s law, just like I invent for myself a million ways to break God’s law too.  But God loves sinners.  God loves you.  That’s why He sent Jesus to die and be raised for you.  So repent of your sin and trust in Him.  And please allow me to walk with you and love you as do so, or even if you do not.

There.  Was that so hard?


[1]Obama Affirms Support For Same Sex Marriage,” ABC News (5.9.12).

[2] Rachel Held Evans, “How To Win A Culture And Lose A Generation” (5.9.12).

[3] Rachel Held Evans, “From Waging War To Washing Feet: How Do We Move Forward?” (5.11.12).

[4] Aaron Tippin, “You’ve Got To Stand For Something,” RCA Records (1991).

May 21, 2012 at 5:15 am 4 comments

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