Earlier this year, on October 5th, an influential and visionary leader died. His life forever changed the American experience, and his legacy will be felt for generations to come. An ability to see a future many thought impossible marked his work even as he inspired others to dream of that future. "No" was an unacceptable answer for this man; the status quo was meant to be shattered. Countless people see the world and its possibilities in profoundly different ways because of his passion and drive.
In a strange twist, October 5th was also the day Steve Jobs died.
The first man, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, was pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabaman, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Rev. Shuttlesworth was a catalyst at seemingly every stage of the movement for racial equality: forming the influential Southern Christian Leadership Conference, participating in sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, joining the Freedom Rides during the summer of 1961, and pushing for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For his efforts, at least three attempts were made on his life. When his home was bombed in 1956, the young pastor boldly claimed, "God made me dynamite proof."
How many people in your church have heard of Fred Shuttlesworth? Too few, surely. How many sermons, in the Sundays following his death, cited his as a life worth imitating? Not many, I'm afraid. In contrast, I have a hunch that the life and death of Steve Jobs was fodder for countless sermon illustrations in the days following his death. This, I believe, is a missed opportunity. Whatever their many accomplishments may be, our culture's heroes—and Jobs was that and more to many—should not always be our heroes.
At least two factors make it difficult to spot saints like Fred Shuttlesworth in a world that celebrates—or, as Skye has pointed out worships—Steve Jobs. First, the huge disparity in media coverage devoted to these men's deaths meant the civil rights pioneer and pastor was barely a footnote to the entrepreneur and CEO. This shouldn't surprise us. Steve Jobs is the archetype of the American dream: an adopted child who grew up in humble surroundings; a non-conformist who went his own way; a self-made man with fabulous wealth; an optimistic prophet whose technological wizardry promised solutions to our greatest problems. Shuttlesworth, on the other hand, was an 89-year-old pastor—a pastor!—whose day had long passed. Even at the height of his influence, far more people were opposed or indifferent to his message than agreed with him when he said things like, "We intend to kill segregation or be killed by it."
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