“The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness and every one must choose his side.” G. K. Chesterton

Saturday, August 18, 2012

If the Church were like the Apple Store...

The other day I was sitting on the couch, doing I-don't-remember-what (either reading, watching TV, or preparing another scintillating post for you fine people) when my DD (dear daughter) Maggie walked up and stood beside me.  She had one of those expressions that's all too familiar to Dads of teenage daughters everywhere--you know, the "Dad, I'm about to ask you to do something for me that I know you are not really going to want to do but you will because I'm your little princess and you LOOOOVE me" look.

"Daddy," she asked with her best 17-going-on-4 voice.

I stopped whatever it was I was doing.  "Yes Maggie?"

She inhaled, then her request came out something like this--"Dad you know how my iTouch screen cracked a couple of months ago well now it is like completely broken it will turn on but you can't see anything and my friend said if you have had it less than a year and you take it to the Apple store they'll give you one for like $80 dollars or something so can you pleeeeeeeese take me on Friday when you get home from work?"

After many years, I was able to understand what she was asking me.  Since I couldn't come up with a way out of taking her and I wanted to be the Good Dad, I said "Sure, honey, I'll take you."  So that's how I wound up in rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon doing the thing I hate most in the world.

I hate the mall.  I go at most once a year, usually under duress.  I was the kind of person online retail was made for;  I much prefer to shop with my laptop, where there are none of the hassles of shopping in a brick and mortar store.  You have to find a parking place, usually on the other side of town.  Then, there's navigating the walkways filled either with hyperkynetic hormonal teenagers for whom going to the mall is the cultural equivalent of an afternoon in the Louvre, or with elderly people with walkers moving slightly slower than the average sloth.  The mall is designed to prevent one from getting in and out as quickly as possible;  this is always my goal.  Usually, I am the driver;  I drop off and pick up later, or wait in the parking lot and read.  Today, however, I had to go in.  There was no way I was going to let my 17 year old daughter loose in the mall.  More than anything, I wanted this trip to the Apple store to be as quick as possible.

Miraculously, we managed to find a parking space within a reasonable distance of the mall entrance.  Once we navigated through Macy's and got into the Mall proper, then came trying to find the Apple store.  Fortunately, I found a map that indicated that the goal of our quest was right above us.  So, a short trip up an escalator (I know one of these days I'm going to loose a foot on one of those things) later and we were in front of the Apple store.

Now, let me say this about Apple.   I don't own any Apple products, and don't intend to in the future.I'm not a particular fan of Apple.  I don't have anything against the company, it's just that I've never gone all weak-kneed at their products.  To my mind, they always seemed overpriced and overly fragile;  there was also a weird combination of hype and elitism about the products.   All the i-products I've purchased for my children have come from online sources;  today was the first time I ever ventured into an Apple retail store.

I don't know what I expected.  But I have to say, I was impressed.  We walked into the store with one broken iTouch.  We walked out fifteen minutes later with a new iTouch for less than half the cost of the original.  I may buy an Apple product yet.

As I drove home and thought about the experience, I began to wonder what the Church would be like if we were more like the Apple store.  Several came to mind.

1.  We'd be easily identifiable in a crowd.  One of the few things I knew about the Apple store (thanks to an episode of The Big Bang Theory) is that the employees all wore the same distinctive t-shirts.  So when Maggie and I went into the store, I had no trouble separating the customers from the employees.  They stood out because they were clothed in distinctive apparel.

Both as individual Catholics and as a group, we should stand out.  People should be able to pick us out from the crowd as different because of our attitude, because of the way we speak and the way we behave.  We don't necessarily have to wear distinctive clothing or an outward sign of our faith (though we should consider wearing a crucifix when appropriate); but they should be able to tell we are Catholics because of the way we live our lives.

2.  We'd have ready answers to people's questions.  Every Apple employee had an iPad.  With the move of a few fingers, they were able to bring up information and provide answers on any question a person had about an Apple product.  They didn't have to come up with the answers on their own, or wonder where to find the answer; they had authoritative answers at their fingertips.

Now, I'm not saying we have to walk around with an iPad or with the Catechism on our smartphones (though it does make me wonder if anyone has thought of a Catechism app...), but we should know our faith in order to share it with others.  Only by knowing the right answers can we show people that the Church has the answers to any problem they may have.

3.  We'd be clear about our "product".  The Apple store had Apple products.  They had Macintoshes, Macbooks, iPods, iPhones, and iPads.  They were not selling PCs or Microsoft products; if they did, they wouldn't be an Apple store.

The Church first and foremost needs to be the Church.  Our main product is the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.  It is not social and economic justice; nor is it an end to abortion and the preservation of traditional marriage.  We are not a political activist organization; we are not a social welfare organization; we are not a fraternal society;  we are not a social club. We are the Church of Jesus Christ.  All we do for our fellow man flows from our spreading the gospel of salvation.  If we forget that, if we confuse the secondary with the primary, our message to the world gets muddled.  We can be identified as simply another political pressure group, too easily co-opted by those who would seek to clothe their grasping for power in the mantle of holiness.  When this happens, we cease to be the Church.

Now I'm not saying if we do these things the Church will become as popular as the iPad.  The Church has been around longer than the Apple Corporation, and will long outlast her.  But we can do a better job than we have at late in getting our "brand" out.

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