What goes around, comes around?

/ 10 January 2006

I remember being surprised back in the ‘80’s when Eric became an evangelist for NeXT computers. Using the word “evangelist” in relation to a new computer took a bit of getting used to. But it made sense — he was “spreading the good news” about a product he really liked.

Now that I'm back in the seminary, I find myself thinking about this word, evangelism, again with a good deal of skepticism. There are many ways in which I've encountered religious folk for whom "spreading the good news" becomes something more like "you'd better listen up, because if you don't agree with me you're going straight to hell." That's a form of sharing good news that I find deeply problematic (not to mention not very Lutheran or Catholic, at its core).

But here is an interesting post that Guy Kawasaki, one of the original evangelists for Apple Computer, wrote recently about the key ingredients of evangelism in the product mode -- of spreading the word about a product -- and it made me think, again, about how much of his advice is actually very good advice in the original religious sense of evangelism.

He notes, more than anything, that you need to start with something excellent. He uses the acronym DICEE this way:

"Think: DICEE

Deep. A great product is deep. It doesn’t run out of features and functionality after a few weeks of use. Its creators have anticipated what you’ll need once you come up to speed. As your demands get more sophisticated, you discover that you don’t need a different product.

Indulgent. A great product is a luxury. It makes you feel special when you buy it. It’s not the least common denominator, cheapest solution in sight. It’s not necessarily flashy in a Ferrari kind of way, but deep down inside you know you’ve rewarded yourself when you buy a great product.

Complete. A great product is more than a physical thing. Documentation counts. Customer service counts. Tech support counts. Consultants, OEMS, third-party developers, and VARS count. Blogs about it count. A great product has a great total user experience—sometimes despite the company that produces it.

Elegant. A great product has an elegant user interface. Things work the way you’d think they would. A great product doesn’t fight you—it enhances you. (For all of Microsoft’s great success this is why it’s hard to name a Microsoft product that you’d call “great.”) I could make the point that if you want to see if a company’s products are elegant, you need only look at its chairman’s presentations.

Emotive. A great product incites you to action. It is so deep, indulgent, complete, and elegant that it compels you to tell other people about it. You’re not necessarily an employee or shareholder of the company that produces it. You’re bringing the good news to help others, not yourself. (my emphasis)

Now, obviously I'm not trying to suggest that Christian faith is a "product." Not at all! Anyone who's read almost anything I've written knows that I think education in particular, and religious experience more generally is not something that can be produced. But I think Guy's points have interesting implications for communities of faith. Do we have something that is "DICEE"?

At its best, I think Christian faith, for instance, has a depth and profundity that is endless. But do we teach about it in those ways? Do we really teach the Bible, for instance, in a way that helps people continue to dig more deeply into it, even as they grow and learn and their lives unfold? Do we really teach biblical stories in such a way that we don't have to "unteach" them as people grow older? (I'm thinking here of Megan McKenna's truism that "all of the stories in the bible are true, and some of them really happened").

Is it indulgent? Do you feel special? I know that it is pretty clear that certain elements of conservative Christian community make people feel special to be a part of them, but that kind of "special-ness" is not what I mean. I don't mean something that creates an "in" crowd and an "out" crowd, a group that gets "taken up" and another that gets "left behind." But what about the extraordinary news that comes as part of the notion of grace? That we are each loved in our entirety, in our brokenness, with a love so deep and encompassing that it goes beyond death? I think that part of what we need to convey to people is this deep sense of "specialness" that is so profound that one immediately wants to share it. A love so great that it draws love out of us, rather than sending us into enclosures or enclaves of like-mindedness.

Is it complete? Does it have a "total user experience?" This is where I think a lot of communities of faith in the traditional sense of "church" are falling down, are stumbling. We've been willing to allow our ideas to be compartmentalized into a Sunday morning ritual, rather than a pervasive way of attending to every moment of our lives. Indeed, in some contexts, and I'd list my own community of Roman Catholicism here, we've made it so difficult to get at the core meanings, the good news, that people have the opposite of a "total user experience" -- we have to fight to stay involved IN SPITE OF the church. We have to "dissent in place" to remain deeply connected to core Catholic beliefs.

Is it elegant? Part of why I remain Catholic in the face of so much contradiction and hypocrisy, is that Catholicism is an incarnational practice, and the tradition holds so much elegance. The deep pattern of liturgy, for instance, has an internal coherence and congruence to it, that even really awful priests have a hard time robbing it of all of its meaning (although some come very close to doing so...) What might happen if more of us took seriously this elegance? this beauty? And cherished it as a deep resource to be engaged and shared as an essential element of the good news?

"Is it emotive? Does it incite you to action?" All concerns about works righteousness aside, if religious faith does NOT do this, then we are in trouble! My problem is that too much of the action communities of faith are trying to support is not what I believe is embedded in the deep logics, the elegant fabric, of Christian belief. Going to church on Sunday morning, forcing your kids through confirmation, putting money in a collection box, these are not deep actions, at least not very often. Loving one's enemies, caring for the marginalized, sitting with people as they face death -- THESE are actions that align with the gospel message, and that have an internal congruence and coherence about them that live the good news.

I want to work on being an evangelist in the way that the computer world, or at least Guy Kawasaki, is thinking about it.