The 2008 Summer Olympics in China were impressive on so many levels. I don't know if we'll ever see an Opening Ceremony quite like the one pulled off in Beijing. And then there was Michael Phelps. I think my household watched every race in which he won a gold medal. Cherilyn would wake me up if I feel asleep just to watch it. He emerged from Beijing as one of the greatest Olympic champions ever. The Wheaties cereal box cover was his. Endorsements from Rosetta Stone software to Speedo swimwear were on their way. People were inspired to swim or at the very least try the breast stroke in the bathtub.
And then like so many heroes, Michael slipped. A picture snapped with him smoking marijuana has not only jeopardized his endorsements but also his standing with the public. While not condoning drug use, one laments that a person who has worked so hard to achieve so much may see much of it diminished by a single act of poor judgment.
I often wonder if that is what keeps many from the Church. I wonder if there is a perceived expectation that one must be as spectacular as Michael Phelps and his 8 gold medals to be an active participant in the life of the Church. Is that what keeps some of us away? Knowing that we will, because of that nagging truth called human nature, slip up and fall short of expectations, we don't want the scrutiny that might come?
I bet Michael Phelps will not be caught smoking marijuana again. I bet he's learned his lesson. But more than anything, I hope he will be given a second chance. I hope he will be shown forgiveness.
The Church calls us to holiness, that's true. The Church also recognizes that we are human beings and that part of being such a creature is making mistakes. I hope our call to holiness is matched by our call to forgive, so that those who see our faith in action will see a people called to live in love and holiness, but also with grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
Fr. Steve Rice
Rector, St Timothy's Episcopal Church