Back when my wife and I used to watch American Idol with her family every week, I had a staunch policy of not supporting any contestants under the age of 18, regardless of talent or the competition. My gut feeling was that 16 is just too young for most people to have that much attention focused on them. If they were good, take a shot at it in another couple of years.

A few years on, a couple of years of college ministry later, my gut hasn’t changed. (Well, my inner gut. We’ll pass over my waist size in silence.) I still think being too famous too early is an unfortunate turn of events.

My evidence? Justin Bieber and Anne Frank:

The controversy stems from the 19-year-old’s visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Friday.

In the site’s guest book, he wrote, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” The tourist site shared the message on its official Facebook page.

After spending an hour learning about the young Holocaust victim’s life and death, Bieber’s last comment is to hope she would have swelled the ranks of the Bieber faithful. Oh dearie.

Needless to say there has been a lot of hoopla about the whole thing. Twitter is aflutter with rage. News outlets are weighing in. Let’s not even start on the vitriol filling the comment section on various news articles. And yet, Bieber his defenders, among whom he can count the Anne Frank Museum itself:

“He’s a 19-year-old boy taking the effort to come and see the museum,” the rep told Reuters. “And we’d like to point that out, and I think it’s quite innocent what he put down.”

For myself, when I initially heard about Bieber’s faux pas I went through various reactions simultaneously: “Well, it is Bieber.” “It’s freakin’ ANNE FRANK!!” “Meh.” But then I stopped and thought about it for a few seconds and realized: “Bieber is a 19-year old college kid.” Strip him of the millions of dollars, clothes, cars, and albums I’ve never listened to, this is a guy who could walk in and sit in one of the small groups I lead, full of angst about what to do with the rest of his life. I shudder to think if somebody had followed me around and recorded every word I said, or found every comment I’d made on Myspace and broadcast it to the world at that age.

I mean, I barely think anybody should listen to me now.

Don’t get me wrong: I work with 19-year-old kids. It’s a great age. I love hanging out with college students. They’re smart, inquisitive, funny, not quite jaded, but not so naive that you can’t have a meaningful conversation about real life. In other words, they’re ready for the wisdom literature.

I know that for myself, that’s when I discovered it. Song of Solomon speaks to my struggles with love, lust, and relationships. Frustration and vanity became a feature of my conscious life, so Ecclesiastes finally started to make sense. In many ways, to be a college student is to suffer, wonder why, and come up empty on answers. At those times, Job comes along to console me.

Most of all, 19 was a time for figuring things out; for asking questions and coming up with surprising answers; for risking, sometimes making mistakes, and sometimes succeeding; for having some space to not have it altogether; for saying things that maybe weren’t the wisest and having someone gently correct you. You know, all that stuff that Proverbs is about.

What I’m trying to say is that 19 is a time for gaining wisdom, for growing to maturity. Not that the process is ever over — it’s not as anybody still above-ground can attest. But in many ways, it’s the beginning of difficult process for anybody much less someone living their life under a microscope.

Fame at any age is difficult, but doing it while your frontal-lobe is still settling is a recipe for dysfunction for some goofiness. But let’s be honest, when your world is filled with either “beliebers” or haters since puberty, that has do something to the way you process the world around you.

That’s why when I find out that Bieber wrote something foolish, I thought: well, honestly, he’s 19. He should know some things, but it’s okay for him to not know everything; to have some space to be 19 and not have the world explode on him; to have a little grace.


  1. We are so very slow to give grace to others, even while some of us know how much grace the Lord has poured out on us. Great job on this piece! God bless you.

  2. We also need to remember that Ann Frank was a teenage girl. Anyone who thinks she couldn’t have possibly been a Beiber fan has either not read her diary or long forgotten it. She could have been in your youth group, too. Maybe Justin really DOES “get” it.

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