Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Absolutely Nothing"

Ikea's a cool place. But I agree with John Schroeder that, contrary to a piece written by another blogger, the Swedish retailer, whose goal is to get us to consume what they're selling, has absolutely nothing to teach the Church.

Many retailers claim to live by the mantra, "The customer is always right." And so, lots of them, from Ikea to Apple, Walmart to Disney, try to give us positive experiences characterized by customer service and faux friendliness. ("Have a magical day," the cast members at Disney are taught to say.) There's nothing wrong with any of that as a business model, I guess.

But the Church, as John points out, is in a very different business. We invite people not to consume, but to be consumed by the love, grace, and power of God. We invite people to accept the idea that God is always right and that we need Jesus Christ to be made right with God and with ourselves.

Great retailers strive to make customers feel important. So do successful politicians, show business impresarios, and others. By contrast, the message of the Church is that we are important not because we give money or votes to those who feed our egos, we're important because God gave His life for us on the cross. He did this because we're so wonderful, but because we're deficient, sinners in need of forgiveness and re-creation.

The message of retailers appeal to our egos and our desire for mastery. The message of the Church is that life, lasting, resilient, joyful life, begins and continues in accepting that we are, in ourselves, incomplete, sinful, and dead, in need of the God of the cross.

No wonder then that the message of the Church daily scandalizes even those who call themselves Christian, even those who earnestly desire Christ, while Ikea only offends us on those rare occasions when one of the pieces of the table we just bought turns out to be missing.

It's too easy for the Church to embrace Ikea as a template. Ikea will never call us to submit to the death of the old self so that a new self, a self purged of sin and made whole by forgiving grace, can rise to newness of life each day. Ikea just wants to help the old self feel comfortable in its sin and self-delusion and self-absorption. The only way to really experience the Gospel message of the Church is to realize, in the worlds of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die."

Ikea is nice. I love going there. But it's no model for the life of the Church. Nothing else is because, unlike Ikea, Starbucks, the Pentagon, or the United Nations, only the Church, the fellowship of believers in Christ who submit to the death of their sin so that they can have the new life only Jesus Christ gives, will last for eternity. Christ is the Church's business model and absolutely nothing else will do.

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