What would Jesus make of IKEA?
"What would Jesus make of IKEA?" This question occurred to me as I was assembling the BILLY bookcase this week. Always a challenge, flat pack furniture.
In fact, for most of my life I have been consciously avoiding IKEA. Many years ago I was in the final stages of assembling one of their units only to discover one single metal fitting was missi’g. Getting through to customer services was a challenge in itself, and how do you pronounce LÅNGFJÄLL and the like? But then I was informed – policy may since have changed – I had to return the entire unit in order to be given a replacement. All for one single metal part which then had, as far as I could ascertain, no English name. Anyway, with each of my four daughters exhibiting BILLY units in their homes, I finally decided to forgive IKEA and make the journey to their Warrington store. Moreover, I couldn’t afford John Lewis prices. And then the challenge, putting it together. This time I decided to do it properly and checked the contents in advance, counting each screw, every small pin. I also decided to follow the instructions to the letter which was a challenge given that they were nonverbal. More to the point, I decided to take my time. And it worked, at least I think so. One completed BILLY unit, just two more to do, hopefully this afternoon. Certainly it looks sturdy enough, even though I put it together. Very much in IKEA’s tradition of modernist design, simple and unassuming. And at a competitive price. No wonder this Swedish company has grown exponentially since its foundation in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad. Today it is the largest furniture retailer in the world with 415 stores in 49 countries. But what would Jesus make of IKEA? Certainly the way the company is run does not seem to follow Kingdom values. It has been structured in such a way, according to the European parliament, to avoid over €1billion in tax payments over the 2009-2014 period. Hardly the teaching of the New Testament: “Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due.” (Romans 13:7). But in terms of its actual products, what would Jesus, himself a carpenter like Kamprad, make of my BILLY bookcase? Would he congratulate me on my brilliant craftsmanship? As a first-century Palestinian carpenter Jesus would be surprised that my bookcase is totally identical to another several million BILLY bookcases through the world, including the four in the other Moughtin households. There is no individual variation at all in IKEA products. That’s why they are so cheap and to be fair, that’s why they can be afforded by all but the very poor. That has to be a good thing. However, it’s not how Jesus himself operates. Every unit he makes is bespoke. He honours our individuality. We are all different. But more, Jesus is different in how he builds, the way he constructs. For when I construct an IKEA unit, I simply follow the diagram; I do what I am shown. I make no decisions. I just do it. However, when Jesus calls us to create, he involves us, each with our own imaginations and creative skills. We don’t simply follow his diagram in every precise detail, we are given choice. There is a genuine partnership with God. In serving Jesus, we learn to think, to create. Just what I am doing now. So the apostle Paul can reflect on his own ministry: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.” (1 Corinthians 3:10). Of course, he is doing what God wants him to do: church building is his vocation. But each church he builds shows his fingerprints, his personality, even his strengths and weaknesses. And each church that Paul founds is different, depending on the people he is working with as well as the local culture and challenges. Hardly a BILLY bookcase. Underlying all this is the amazing discovery that when we follow Jesus, we have individual choice. Our decisions are real, with the Holy Spirit enabling us to flourish. I had only been ordained a few months when I heard the remarkable Bishop Stephen Verney. It seems that the perfect job came up, just right for him in his ministry in the Church of England, ideal in every way. He was all set to go.
But then another perfect job came up, equally suited to his abilities and temperament. So in some puzzlement he prayed: “Lord, which one do you want me to take?” And God replied: “Stephen, it’s your ministry. You decide!”