Steve Job’s death has come in the middle of my residency at the local crematorium. For me, a tough year for funerals might see me do ten in a year. When this fortnight is over I will have done 5 with a couple more turned down. So as you can imagine, death has been a major theme for me recently.
A key part of the funeral process is sitting down with family and friends (often people you have never met before and probable won’t see afterwards) and coaxing the story of the deceased out of them. At this point people look at you blankly because they are trying to picture something amazing to tell you about their loved one’s life while editing a lifetime of “home movies” in their head into some coherent story for themselves.
“He worked in many of the local mills”. “She was a dinner lady”. “She loved dancing”. “He loved Manchester United”. I am often impressed with how important “ordinary” lives are. People to whom you entrust keys, cats and children. People who volunteer, clean up, maintain and feed. These are the sorts of lives we need to be thankful for along with the giants of our times. At the same time many of these can be sad stories about people plodding through life till they pop their clogs.
The difference between a simple life and a life put on hold can be very thin.
There is a disturbing tendency among church people to see life as something to be got through with faith as a comfort and heaven as a retirement destination. Seeing the bad old world as something to be endured can make us a people of small vision and even smaller expectations. At the heart of this smallness is the truth that God isn’t really what we love the most. If we did, that love would expand our vision and our horizons.
I suspect that Steve Jobs didn’t love Apple or its products the most. I think what he loved most was the freedom to create and enthuse and control. He loved Apple as a place where he could do that. His vision for life was big before he knew he had cancer, facing death just validated it.
Armed with this knowledge he told a graduating class at Stanford University something very biblical:
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. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
The church has been saying this for over two thousand years using Baptism as a living metaphor: we enter the water, we die with Christ. Here we are stripped naked and we emerge from the water with the risen Christ full of freedom and hope and a future. To cover our nakedness we are advised to put on Christ in the same way we would put on clothing.
Just how alive would we be if we took that advice seriously? Putting on Christ is choosing life. The Jesus who touched lepers, went to cocktail parties in the houses of his biggest critics, who spoke to people who were clearly sinners and untouchable, who was at home where ever he found himself. Jesus loved God more than anything else and his world was enormous.
Jesus lived as one who had nothing to lose because he had nothing that could be taken from him. Instead of doing risk assessments and management courses, he wandered into the messiness of life with stories, credibility and the simple mission statement: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is near”.
The church has been inward looking over the last decade as it has obsessed about its own decline. Like a failing bank or local store we discuss it as if the church is separate from us. The church cannot decline if we are healthy because we are the church. If we don’t love God like Jesus did then we won’t be the body we are called to be.
Maybe another metaphor for the church should be a wardrobe. Here the naked can continually find the clothes of Christ and be dressed for going out to live without fear, anxiety, pride and avoidance of failure. Fashionable lives offering the world the must have item of the year: a life worth living.
After all, Steve Jobs invested all that we admired about him in restoring a company producing electronic devices. We are called to restore heaven and earth.