First Third Conversations

Steve Jobs Confirmation Update!

By Hans Wiersma, professor of Religion at Augsburg College, where he also helps oversee the Youth and Family Ministry Program.

Those of you who were part of the "Monkey Business" First Third Dialog on the Confirmation Process may recall that Steve Jobs (Peace Be upon Him) was a recurring character in my two talks.  The late founder of Apple Computer was raised Lutheran. But according to Walter Isaacson, who wrote Jobs' authorized biography, Jobs' involvement with his Lutheran church "came to an end when he was thirteen."  According to Isaacson, Jobs confronted his pastor with a LIFE magazine cover depicting starving children in Africa.  When the pastor confirmed that God knew about the tragedy but didn't end it, "Jobs announced that he didn't want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church" (p. 14f).  Well, it appears that the story may be part of the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field (RDF) that Isaacson documents so well.  More on this in the "Epilogue," below.

But first, let me share a reflection.  In particular, I want to say a word or two about the notion of "Think Different."  I used this old Apple slogan at the end of one of my talks as encouragement for creating effective change for The Confirmation Process.  Thinking through this a bit more, I realize that what we are probably really after is trying to find a way to Think Different about how we might guide young people to Think The Same.  Here's what I mean.

For the churches that use catechisms for teaching the faith, it seems like part of the idea is to get people on the same page, theologically speaking.  That is, whether it's Luther's Small Catechism, or the Reformed churches' Heidelberg Catechism, or the Roman Catholic Catechism, we are talking about literature that spells out a series of articles intended to set out the common beliefs and practices of the community.  In other words, the purpose of a Catechism is to establish basic shared principles--how people ought to Think The Same.  Of course you want to leave room for personalization, elaboration, and nuance.  Think, for instance, about where Luther's Small Catechism explains how the Holy Spirit "calls, gathers, enlighten, and sanctifies" believers in the one, true faith.  There is plenty of room in this explanation for imagining the many ways the Holy Spirit accomplishes these things through the Word. At the same time, the explanation to the Third Article also equips young people to make distinctions.  That is, it's one thing to confess that you cannot believe in Jesus Christ by your own reason or strength, and its another thing altogether to confess that faith rests on your own decision.

So the challenge before those of us working for effective change is to identify, test, and implement effective practices for teaching commonly understood Christian Basics. "Think Different" is, in the end, not a call to invent a new set of essential Christian principles.  It is, when all is said and done, a call to invent a better way to inspire and equip people--and young people especially--for faithfully living out those Time-worn Essentials in the 21st century.  When you think about it, this is not all that different from what Apple Computer did when Jobs took it over again in 1997.  Beginning with the iMac, and continuing with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, Jobs and Apple reinvented the way computers inspired and equipped people for life in the Digital Age.  But to make this possible, Jobs had to get Apple back in touch with its core values. In light of those core values, the company was then led to let go of some products and practices that were no longer serving the mission (does anyone remember the Apple Newton?).

Perhaps there's a clue here for what your congregation's first steps might be as it thinks about re-tooling Confirmation: Identify core values and, in light of those, ask: What can we let go of?

Alright, here's the skinny on Steve Jobs, the Confirmed Lutheran.  The first Apple computer was invented in the garage at the home of Paul and Clara Jobs, 2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos, California.  Not far from this address stands St. Luke Lutheran Church of Sunnyvale--presently an ELCA church, but an LCMS church during the 1960's.  After some investigation, I found someone who not only attended St. Luke with Jobs, but also appears with Jobs in the same confirmation photo!

My informant informs me that the pastor at the time was Harold Mitchell, who served St. Luke's parishioners from 1965-1985. Alas, Rev. Mitchell passed away in 2010, so he is no longer able to personally set the record straight regarding what he told the teenage Steve Jobs about God and starving children.  But there is a portrait of St. Luke's 1969 confirmation class that shows the 14-year old Steve Jobs arrayed in white robe and bow tie.  Yup, that's the young Mr. Jobs in the photo.  Proving, once and for all, that Steve Jobs was Confirmed!  Scoop!

(Btw, if you search around a bit on-line, there are a number of reports--for instance, here and here--claiming that Jobs was catechized at Trinity Lutheran Church in Palo Alto. My informant, however, assures me that Jobs was catechized at St. Luke. So there.)

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