A different take on Michael Phelps


Youth culture sees the Michael Phelps pot-smoking incident much differently than the adult world does.  Three Billion, a blog about youth culture, says,

You’ve got to feel sorry for Michael Phelps. A lifetime of training, early mornings, injuries, pain, performing on a global stage to billions of people to ultimately become the worlds greatest Olympian. And then…he’s brought down to earth with a bump after pictures of him smoking a bong are circulated around the world.

That’s a big contrast to the Kellog’s company who terminated their agreement with Phelps this week, saying that his actions did not fit their corporate image.  It’s also a different take than USA Swimming’s suspension that they handed Phelps.

The Three Billion piece explains it this way —

The great thing about being young is that you experiment, you try new things, you do things differently than your parents and teachers. This experimentation means that you sometimes walk with one foot in illegality (would it be as much fun if you weren’t?).

They key is that this doesn’t apply to a small section of the youth population, it applies to pretty-much all of them. Whether that be drugs, sex, climbing buildings, stealing stuff, driving too fast…we’ve all done it and they are certainly all doing it. Young people are not criminals, they are just young people. It’s the universal indiscretions of youth.

In order for those of us in church to even begin a conversation with the younger unchurched, we need to hear their rationale and consider it seriously.  Ed Stetzer’s new book, Lost and Found, is the best resource I’ve seen addressing the issue of 18-29 year olds who are unchurched.

I expressed my views on this subject here earlier this week.  I wanted you to get the view from the other side, too.  What challenges does the prevailing youth culture present to the traditional church today?  How do we deal with that point of view that says, “It’s the universal indiscretions of youth?”

9 thoughts on “A different take on Michael Phelps”

  1. Hi Chuck – yeah, I’ve gotta say, while I don’t have *quite* the permissive attitude of Three Billion, I don’t see Phelps as being anywhere near on a level as Michael Vick. Vick was engaging in dog fighting, which by any account is cruelty, plain and simple. Phelps wasn’t hurting anyone – arguably himself, but there are pro-marijuana arguments too. My prediction is that in 40 years marijuana will be legal in the US, and people (including Christians)will view it the same way we do alcohol – volatile, but okay in moderation. As a 29 year old, seeing Phelps with a bong doesn’t really bother me at all.

  2. I guess I am not a Christian, then, Chuck. I’ve smoked pot. A LOT. Even as an adult. Even in my 40s. I haven’t in a year, but that’s more access issues than some moral stance.

    Thanks for the legalism. I’ll be unsubscribing now, because I know that for all you want to project the “cool” image, you’re just as legalistic as the next Pharisee. Bummer.

  3. Zoe, thanks for your perspective. You may be right about the legalization of marijuana. My concern is two-fold: Phelps’ appeal to young kids, and his previous mistake at age 19. I’m concerned for him and for those who look up to him.

    Jim, dude, nobody said anything about anyone not being a Christian. Go back and re-read what I just wrote because you saw something there that isn’t. Oh, and I don’t know about the cool thing either, but I think Pharisee is a little harsh. I just think that the all-time Olympic gold medal winner shouldn’t smoke dope. Pretty simple. I didn’t even quote a Bible verse, just my opinion. I’m sorry to see you go, man, but go in peace.

  4. I dealt with this mentally when I was a teen. I decided that I didn’t want to be like the rest of my peers. Sports, academics, and summer camp really helped me through it all.

    I know there are other young people out there who want to be different. Maybe we should just tell more stories about them, rather than giving attention to the ones who reinforce the “kids will be kids” idea?

    Thanks for the sharing the different perspective though. Peace.

  5. @Phelps I did not intend to post that last comment under the name ‘Phelps’. Surprising that someone who grew up in the computer age makes these mistakes!

  6. I have been thinking about this for a long time. I am about Phelps age, I’m 21, and I belong to that generation, yet I don’t quite know how to address these problems.

    I think the “youthful indiscretions” are a part of the larger “college culture” that is all about independence and breaking away from the rules of the house. Like Stuart said, there are young people that want to and are different. But, as far as how this relates to the Church, this is just a symptom. It is part of larger issues

    As much as we want independence (whatever that actually may mean) we also want to belong. We sometimes do the same stuff that Phelps did to belong, I know I have in the past. We don’t find that in many churches. In church it is a group of individuals that come together, you don’t really belong unless you make your way into a cliche.

    Usually that is found in the youth groups. That is hard however, because the youth groups usually grew up together and are sometimes exclusive when it comes to new members. For me, I usually stay around the adults of a church because I want stimulating conversation that I honestly don’t find in youth groups – it just seems too watered down.

    But it is not only belonging, it is about authenticity. People my age grew up in the modern age and are belonging to the post-modern age and we are suspicious. We don’t take your word for it and some see the older generation as naive for believing without questioning. When we ask questions we either get a) berated for the gall of asking or b) a watered down Sunday School answer that has no depth. I see it as that many in the Church, even pastors, have lost the ability to engage the unchurched intellectually. Think of the way that Tim Keller addresses the unchurched in New York we crave that. Also, we want deeper faith. For me, many Protestant churches have lost depth for many reasons. I am leaving the Baptist Church because of that. I am going somewhere where I can find depth in worship and in faith that I just don’t connect with in the Baptist Church.

    I can go on and on about the challenges but these are just a few that I have seen and lived that face the Church right now. I am more than willing to give a few more if you want, but I don’t want to ramble on.

  7. Michael Phelps is an American Hero. He stood tall and made America proud at the Beijing Olympics. This is how America treats its heroes, we forget all of the hard work Michael Phelps did to achieve his task, we forget the pride we felt with the each gold medal, we forget how Phelps helped America to be competitive against a Chinese when they planned on winning all of the gold’s, we forget all of those things and hang a man for smoking a glass pipe at a college party. It is time that we as a country stand up for the rights of the individual, it’s time we stand together with our neighbors and take collective control of our destinies. Write a congressman or a senator any of them; imagine the weight of millions of emails calling for a change in policy. In this moment in America anything is possible just Google the email address of you’re representative and send him or her short email. It will take 10 minutes but then you have taken responsibility for change. A senator considers each email as representative of 2 thousand voters.
    SunflowerPipes.com

  8. Call me crazy … He’s 23. That’s not real young in my mind.

    At 23 I was married and had a child. I was running a copy center for an office supply store and meeting family obligations.

    I would agree that he’s no Michael Vick, but that’s not exactly high praise.

    Of course, what do I know? I’m 35, I’ve never done drugs, and still haven’t had that first drink. Square as a Rubick’s cube, I know …

  9. The interesting thing to take from the Phelps story is that he has gone from pothead to olympian. If every teenager was given that opportunity the world would be a much better place.

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