Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Sad news that Apple founder and inspiration Steve Jobs has died. It will also be interesting to see how Apple adapts to a world without him.

The Guardian has published an address Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005. At one point he says this about the ‘mercy’ of being fired from the company he had founded:

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Unfortunately, most people don’t have the luxury of doing what they would like to do in life and the need to do work, earn some money and keep the family together and the kids fed and clothed drives them from one day to the next. Those facing the uncertainty of job insecurity, financial embarrassment and relationship breakdown might envy Steve Jobs’ optimistic sense of adventure. I guess his departure from Apple didn’t leave him destitute.

It’s a bit like millionaire politicians claiming to know what it is like for ordinary people facing the threats of recession.

But, Steve Jobs went on to speak about death. And that’s where the earlier comments find a coherent context.

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.

Heidegger called us ‘beings towards death’ and he wasn’t being miserable either. The fundamental truth of human life is that we shall one day die. Mortality lies at the heart of who we are, how we are and why we are. Coming to terms with our mortality is the beginning of human freedom – the knowledge that we shall one day die sets us free to live. Which, of course, is why Jesus said that “the truth shall set you free”. And, of course, the truth he would go on to demonstrate is that death is not the ultimate threat – not the end of life.

There is a claim that Christian faith is a form of escapism for people who are emotionally incapable of living in the real world. In fact, the opposite is true. In his death Jesus looked the awful and glorious reality of life in the eye and hung on to and through dying and death. Being raised shone a new light on human experience and damned the claim that violence, destruction and death have the final word: God does… and that word is ‘resurrection’.

Steve Jobs clearly made the most of the creative gifts and opportunities he had. He brought beauty and style to the functional. He changed the world with products that have made computing and communication not only efficient, but pleasurable. He learned that life becomes worth living only when we have known loss and confronted the imminent reality of death. He hit on something powerful here – I’d love to know what he made of it spiritually.


This evening I finished a set of meetings with leaders of faith communities in Bradford – where such relationships matter enormously.

A couple of weeks ago I spent an evening as the guest of the Hindus at their newest mandir. Next I met the Council of Mosques. Then, accompanied as usual by my interfaith adviser, Dr Philip Lewis, and the Dean of Bradford, David Ison, we met the Sikhs.

These visits were not simply anodyne, bland meetings. They were not set up in order to tick certain boxes – or simply make me feel that I was doing something useful. They were arranged in order to establish open, clear and practical relationships between resident religious communities and the new Bishop of Bradford.

We were given wonderful hospitality in each case. We were briefly introduced to their worship and culture. We were shown great friendship and respect. And we also spoke frankly, honestly and clearly about our faith, their perceptions of the main issues facing their particular community, and how interfaith relationships can be further developed in Bradford for the common good.

In fact, this was the key point. Each community had its particular concerns about the situation facing its own people, but the major concern was about the good of Bradford as a whole, the whole of the community, the well-being of the city. And each one has great expectations of how the Bishop can influence things for the good of the people: economic, social, political. Common challenges relate to young people, cultural change, changing values and a need for economic regeneration. The common complaint is that the brightest young people are leaving in order to get work elsewhere.

We are going to meet twice each year: one ‘elder statesman’, one woman and one young person from each of the four or five religious communities. These conversations will also be open, frank and constructive. And I will repeat my visits to each community once each year.

This might not seem earth-shattering. But, it is based on the fact that relationship is essential if business is to be done effectively and people of faith are to positively influence the life of the city and district. I am trying to learn what already is… in order to work out where to go from here.

It’s not boring…