On Three Crazy, Courageous Men
As the world now knows, yesterday brought news of the passing of iconoclastic Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who has been memorialized in countless tweets, blog posts, and Facebook updates, not to mention in the more traditional forms of news reporting. Less heralded but no less important came the news of the passing of two key African-American leaders: civil rights champion Rev. John Shuttlesworth, who worked tirelessly alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in pursuit of racial equality, and Derrick Bell, the first tenured law professor at Harvard Law School (who gave up his position to protest the school’s hiring practices).
I had much less knowledge of both the Rev. Shuttlesworth and Prof. Bell until my more informed friends posted their obituaries on Facebook, but once I read about their lives, I better understood what it was about Steve Jobs’ passing that saddened me so deeply. It wasn’t that I’ll miss his “cool factor,” his brilliant marketing, or his storied creativity. What I will miss about him–and this is a quality reflected in the lives of Shuttlesworth and Bell as well–is his courage to chart a different path, to go against prevailing wisdom, to paint a vision of a new way to live.
Some might say there is no comparison between the value of what Shuttlesworth and Bell stood for and what Steve Jobs created and sold to the world, a realized vision in which computing shifted from complicated to commonplace. Pursuing racial equality certainly carries a moral weight that cannot be denied. Nevertheless, for Jobs to do what he did also required a strength of conviction and will that should not be ignored.
It is never easy to be the “crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers,” as Jobs himself narrated in the famous “Think Different” Apple ad campaign from the late 90s. Most of us would rather just keep our head down, plug away at whatever course of life we are on, maintain the status quo and try to stay alongside the proverbial Joneses. But the world needs more crazies, misfits, rebels and troublemakers. These are the people who make tangible and profound differences in our experience of reality, who imagine a picture of a life we cannot even dream of and then have the tenacity and the perseverance to show the rest of us the way there.
Missional living, in my mind, is all about forging the counter-cultural path, and if there is any one quality that is required when you approach life this way, it is courage. Courage to be able to stand up and say “yes, there is a different way.” Courage to resist the desire to people-please and stay true to what you know you have been called to do. Courage to be able to stick to your convictions when most everyone else around you is pursuing the path of greatest personal gain and glory, or the equally tempting path of least resistance. And missional living requires a little bit of craziness as well, as expressed so perfectly in the “Think Different” ad: “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
In Jobs’ now-famous 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University graduates, he gave the graduates this charge: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
May the lives of these three men continue to inspire us to lives of crazy courageousness.