Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Saints and Sinners

"The saints are the sinners who keep on trying." - Robert Louis Stevenson

I woke up this morning with "write a new blogpost on Steve Jobs and St. Francis today" on my to do list.  I have been planning this post since March when I first realized that I was being called to explore the intersection between Silicon Valley and Assisi, Steve Jobs and St. Francis, business/entrepreneurship and religion/spirituality.  As I began writing I got a call from a friend asking if I had seen the new Wired magazine cover article on Steve Jobs asking, "Do You Really Want to Be Like Steve Jobs?"

The first computer my family bought in 1991 was made by Apple.  I didn't buy my second computer from Apple until 2009.  I tell you this so you know I haven't been an Apple fanatic.  (If I had been my retirement account would probably have a lot more money in it.)  I've always appreciated Apple and respected the innovation Jobs and his company brought to the world but it wasn't until the last few years that I became a convert.  When I read Walter Isaacon's biography of Jobs last fall I was inspired.  Not by Jobs' faults and shortcomings, and there were many, but by his passion, his genius, his calling and the spiritual grounding from which it all sprang.

St. Francis is for many, especially ministers, an easier person to admire.  His selfless life of serving God, renouncing all material possessions and loving all nature and its creatures and creations has inspired millions of people, even those who are not or have never been Catholic.  St. Francis has been one of the people I've included in my "spiritual hall of fame" for a long time.  These are people who I have read about and sometimes will wonder what they would do in a certain situation.  Some people ask what would Jesus do?  I've asked what would Jesus, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Sojurner Truth, Willie Mays, Gandhi, Helen Keller, Dorothy Day, God, St. Francis, Howard Thurman, or Steve Jobs (to name just a few) would do at different times in my life.

Steve Jobs' picture on the Wired cover has both horns and a halo added to it.  Was he a sinner or saint?  Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and MBA from Wharton, wrote a compelling article comparing Jobs to the saints last fall.  Perhaps he, like me, choses to lift up the best of Jobs' life to emulate.

In the last few months I have read lots of articles and books on Steve Jobs and St. Francis.  I've always loved biographies but I don't usually read multiple ones on the same person.  Just as people see different sides of us and would tell different stories about what we have done and what we have meant to them, so do biographers.  I'm not sure why but I find this comforting and inspiring.  Every biography I've ever read has made the person more human, more full of the genius and flaws we all have.

People who accomplish great and wonderful things are bad at things too.  We all have halos and horns on our heads.  It seems to me that one of our tasks, if we are to be calltrepreneurs and more fully live and create lives of meaning, joy and service unique to who we are, we need to accept and maybe even appreciate those parts of ourselves that aren't what we wish they could be.  We need to keep trying.

Tomorrow I'll share my list of how Steve Jobs and St. Francis are similar but one story about Francis, that wasn't probably his greatest moment but, inspires me nonetheless.  Paul Sabatier in his Life of St. Francis tells the story of when Francis was traveling with Brother Barbaro who spoke evil against another person.  Francis ordered him to eat a lump of donkey dung saying "the mouth that has distilled the venom of hatred against my brother must eat this excrement."

Why does this inspire me?  If the great St. Francis can lose his temper and tell someone he loves to "eat shit" there is hope for the rest of us who get mad at the person who cuts us off in traffic or forget our best selves every now and then.

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