Friday, August 10, 2012

The Similarities of Steve Jobs and St. Francis

Is there any doubt that St. Francis would have used a Mac?

"You will see that one day I will be adored by the whole world." - St. Francis
"I want to put a dent in the universe." - Steve Jobs

Last year a BBC documentary compared people who loved Apple products with people of faith.  Researches found that "Apple products are triggering the same bits of (the) brain as religious imagery triggers in a person of faith."  I suspect for some people of faith, especially my ministerial colleagues, that statement would be heretical.  Given that I am a Unitarian Universalist minister proud of our faith's heretical history, it's probably not surprising I don't find this research to be all that surprising or worrisome.  Do I have the same experience using my iPhone or iPad as I do when sitting in meditation in a redwood forrest, praying before a sacred icon or singing in a congregation?  I hope not and I don't think so. But if some of the purposes of religion and faith are to bring joy to our lives, invoke more spirit and creativity in our lives while and opening up possibilities for living in deeper community (and they are), well all that happens when I sit before my Apple icons.


All of this is preface to what some have told me is a heretical exercise - comparing the lives of St. Francis and Steve Jobs.  I met a delightful young woman in Assisi  who hails from Eastern Europe, has an MBA and works for one of the largest companies in the world, is a very devout member of her Eastern Orthodox congregation and a fan of Apple.  When I told her one of the purposes of my pilgrimage was to explore the similarities between St. Francis and Steve Jobs, she said, "but Steve Jobs was a psychopath."  Not knowing what her definition was of psychopath I said, "and so was St. Francis."  

One definition for psychopath is someone with "an anti-social personality disorder."  Steve Jobs and St. Francis, fortunately for us, were both anti-social in the sense that they saw a different way of living and being than anyone else.  And they devoted their lives to inviting the rest of us into their world.  Below is my beginning list of how their lives were similar.  Some are trivial, some are silly, some are profound and inspiring.  Please add to it!
  • Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco.  San Francisco was named after San Francesco - St. Francis in Italian.
  • Steve Jobs died on October 5.  St. Francis on October 4.
  • Both worked a lot in their bare feet and had very austere diets.  (Steve Jobs would go weeks only eating one type of food such as carrots.  Francis would go weeks while eating no or little food.)
  • They both were called to something bigger than themselves.  
  • Retreat and pilgrimage were important to their lives.  Jobs spent seven months in India before starting Apple and was an intense student of Zen.  Francis regularly would go away for prayer and meditation.
  • Both were adopted.  Jobs was adopted at birth and his biographers and friends say it was a critical part of his spiritual and business quests.  (As someone who was also adopted and born in San Francisco I admit a kinship with Jobs here.)  Francis was "adopted" by God when he renounced his father.   
  • Both started new enterprises, left them, and returned after seeing things change in ways they didn't like.  Jobs was fired from Apple, the company almost went under, and he came back much wiser and better equipped to lead the company.  Francis' left the leadership of his order and turned it over to another Brother who eased some of the original rules.  Francis regretted these changes in his later life.
  • Both were college dropouts.
  • Both were "hippies" who enjoyed having a good time partying before they became famous.
  • Both were charismatic and great salesmen.  Jobs was known for his dramatic presentations of new products and Francis was, according to one biographer, "a master of dramatic gestures and visual tableaux, and unsurprisingly representations of these played an important part in this cult."
  • Both had cultish followings.
  • Both died young and were driven by high standards that they demanded from others.  (See my last post for examples.)
  • Both had big visions and dreams for their lives (see the quotes above.)
  • Both wore unique and distinctive garb - Jobs a black turtleneck, Francis a brown robe with a rope tied around it.
  • Both were calltrepreneurs.  Men who listened to the divine whispers of life/God, followed their passion/calling and created and managed something new which made the world a better place.  
Steve Jobs and St. Francis changed the world.  Forever.  Everyone does to different degrees.  What can we learn from their lives to make ours, and others, a little bit better?




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