I was converted seven years ago. I remember standing in the impressive glass-fronted building alongside other worshippers, overwhelmed by the awe-filled atmosphere. As the music played, and I was surrounded by people from all nations and of all ages, I had a glimpse of the future and I knew there was no turning back. I bought a new MacBook Pro, closely followed by the fifth generation iPod, and before long, I was not only a Mac convert and a Mac evangelist, but a fully fledged member of the Mac tribe. So when I returned to the Apple Store in Regent Street in October this year, shortly after the news that the leader of our tribe, Steve Jobs, had died, it was not without some emotion. With the decaying homage of symbolic bitten apples that mourners had laid outside the shop on one hand, and on the other the business-as-usual hubbub as consumers flocked to buy the iPhone 4S, I was left reflecting on Jobs’ legacy.
Whether your perception of Jobs was as a ruthless business tycoon, a visionary genius or the man who apparently ‘created the 21st century’, there is no question that he will be remembered as one of the most influential innovators of our time. And yet he nearly didn’t exist at all. The product of a ‘mistake’ made by a young, unmarried college graduate student, if his birth mother was in the same situation today, she may have chosen abortion over adoption. I am passionate about adoption because I have experienced the incredible privilege of what it means to be included into God’s family, not by right, but by mercy; and I have also experienced the privilege of passing that gift forward by adopting a daughter into my family.
Rejection by his birth mother was not going to be Jobs’ only experience of betrayal. He first started his geeky hobby of building microcomputers in his parents’ garage with his friend Woz (Steve Wozniak), and over a period of ten years they built up a company worth 2 billion dollars with 4,000 employees. But after releasing the gamechanging Macintosh computer just after his 30th birthday, Apple fired Jobs. We can imagine the dilemma Jobs faced. Would he be destroyed by the distress, driven by revenge, or would he be able to pick up the pieces of his life and move on? Jobs refused to let that moment of betrayal define the rest of his life. In fact, he talked about the heaviness of being successful and the lightness of being a beginner again. He saw the situation as a relief and went on to start two new companies, one of which was Pixar, arguably the most successful animation company in the world. Then when Apple hit a financial problem in 1997, they swallowed their pride and turned to Jobs, who was to be credited with one of the biggest turnarounds in business history. Reminiscent of Job in the Old Testament, after losing everything, he ended up with more than he started with. He took Apple’s revenue from $7.1 billion dollars in 1996 to $65.2 billion this year.
Richard Branson, James Dyson and countless others have been inspired by Jobs’ creativity and ability to innovate. Deyan Sudjic, the director of the London Design Museum, argues ‘Apple products have changed the way we do things: how we write to each other and how we take photographs. Apple has affected how we navigate and see a city, how we share memories and how we conduct our relationships.’ Jobs’ MacBook took on and beat the industrial Goliath of Dell in the laptop market. His iPod took on and beat Sony, creators of the Walkman, in the personal portable music player market. His iPhone took on and beat the ubiquitous BlackBerry in the smart phone market. To achieve this, there had to be, behind the bespectacled, turtlenecked, stubbled visioneer, a ruthless business acumen, and a pig-headedness to pursue his goal whatever the obstacles, whatever the cost.
Despite his ruthless streak, Jobs claimed he was not motivated by financial gain. His vision was to change the world – and change the world he did.
Jobs held onto his convictions throughout his cancer, being one of only a few celebrities unafraid to talk publicly about the subject of death. In the commencement address that he made at Stanford University’s class of 2005 when he was first diagnosed with the pancreatic cancer which would end his life, he said: ‘Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.’
Seeing the positive side of betrayal, striving for the best that is beyond our imagination, changing the world, and challenging others to consider the inescapability of death, their eternal destinies and temporal responsibilities… There are so many aspects of Jobs’ life that would have found resonance in the gospel, but as far as we know he died, as he had lived, a convinced Buddhist.
I wish someone could have told Jobs about the saviour who was betrayed by his creation, the Christ who calls us to imagine a better world and work hard to make it happen, and the resurrected Jesus who didn’t just escape death, but conquered it.
Five Things the Church Can learn from Steve Jobs
1. Technology matters
As one of those schoolkids who argued with fellow geeks about the relative merits of a Commodore Vic 20 and Jobs’ ZX Spectrum, I was brought up to believe technology was for nerds and social misfits. Jobs helped turn me from uncool to cool, taking a minority interest and re-imagining it so that kids today would rather live without their TV than live without their laptops, phones and iPods. This has given the Church many new resources and many a new challenge. Whichever way we see it, how can we take technology seriously in our congregations and communities?
2. Vision matters
The Church can learn from Jobs’ visionary approach to changing the world we live in. What would it look like if we were willing to re-imagine Church, evangelism and discipleship, based not on what people think they want, but based on God’s revelation of a future beyond our wildest dreams?
3. Adoption matters
So many people write off adoption as a last resort for the infertile, instead of seeing it as a ministry high on God’s agenda, giving orphans a home and a hope. Whether we take in intellectual geniuses like Jobs, or one of the thousands of damaged or disabled children waiting for a home, we can help each one reach their God-given potential. Is there space in our homes to play a significant part in changing the world?
4. Social media matters
President Obama commented: ‘There may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.’ As tributes flooded in on Facebook and the tag RIPSteveJobs trended on Twitter, we see that grief, along with every other human emotion, has found a new channel of communication. Christians must engage missionally in social media, or risk losing a generation.
5. Death matters
If Jobs was not afraid to talk about death to a bunch of Freshers on a university campus, why should we be afraid to talk about the one who has defeated death and offer hope and help to friends and family?