I do not shop at indoor malls. I am not hating-on those who do shop at malls; I am just saying that for me the experience and aesthetic does not work. But I do like movies and occasionally the mall serves as a conduit to the movie theater. And so I recently found myself walking through a JCPenney’s (or JCP, as it is now known) for the first time in years. I cannot recall the last time I intentionally entered a JCPenney store. I do recall hiding in the center of the clothing racks as a child – to the initial dismay and later irritation of my mother. “Someone took him” quickly changed to “Get out here this minute!” That was a while ago. And so I was surprised to walk through a JCP on the way to the theater because the store seemed empty. Gone were the sections crammed to the edges with clothing. Gone were the narrow aisles forming complex pathways through juniors, men’s and women’s clothing. And in its place an open floor plan with shelves, small racks with just a few items hanging on metal hangers and a modern couches for hanging out. I was intrigued. Another micro-shop inside the JCP housed all things denim. There were bar stools and warehouse lights and pine barn board displays. I decided to dig into this change.
It turns out the JCP board felt that the brand needed to be refreshed. They needed to inject some cool into the stores and attract the – well you know – the young people. And who better to inject cool and relevant than a guy from Apple. Some of you probably know how this story ends so I will just bring us all up to speed in preview. JCP hired an executive from Apple. He changed everything at JCP to align with the Gospel of Apple. It didn’t work. The board fired the Apple executive and brought back his predecessor.
It took a year or so for Ron Johnson – the Apple store executive – to go from hero to zero. A close look at his actions is interesting because it nearly perfectly illustrates the challenge of context. Johnson hired a team of leaders picked from Apple and Abercrombie. The new folks refused to move to the JCP HQ in Texas – so they commuted from California or New York. The existing team and the new team did not mix. And it seems that the new decision making criteria boiled down to “if it worked at Apple or Abercrombie it is good; if it is currently in place at JCP, it is bad.”
Out with sales, out with “unstylish” clothing lines (unstylish according to Apostle Ron), out with coupons. In with flat pricing, in with “stylish” clothing, in with refreshed stores. And, as an unintended result, the changes also resulting in JCP leaving out revenue, customers and profits.
How is it that the gospel of Apple could not bring salvation to JCPenney? And what in the world does this have to do with matters of faith?
It turns out that stories are not always portable. The notion of what “works” in one situation is dependent on a complex set of variables that cannot be simply repeated. And truth has many facets.
What is the gospel?
There are four books in the biblical canon that start with the phrase “The Gospel According to…” What is The Gospel? The word means “good news” or “good story”. The most honest answer to the question – it depends. The classical theological answer:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.
There are four “gospels” or good stories canonized in Christian scripture. There are other ancient texts that use the term gospel in their title (Thomas and Judas each had a good story). Let’s focus on the four gospels in the biblical canon. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each write from different perspectives. Matthew was a tax collector who experienced a radical life transformation as he followed Jesus for several years. Luke was an educated Greek who studied medicine in his day and brings an historian’s perspective to his writing. Mark was not one of the 12; he travelled with Paul and Barnabas on missionary journeys and writes a story of action. And John was, according to tradition, close with Jesus and focused on relationships. Scholars disagree on exact authorship – a modern problem, no doubt. So what if many voices contributed to one work?
Each good story is incomplete.
25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
So where do we come in?
What makes a good story?
Stories have a shelf life. We give a hall pass to some people and allow them to tell and retell the same story. But honestly, when someone launches into a story that you have heard a thousand times it is difficult to avoid the eye roll. A story can evolve – it should evolve. And it can be layered. And new material can blend with old. But like the story of the gospels that extend into the Epistles and Acts, a good story is personal.
What is the good story in your life? What is good news? What was good news when you started to follow Jesus? That story is the start – build from there. What is the story of God intersecting, driving or altering your life, our lives? What is the Gospel According to Us?
4501 46th Ave. N.E.
Seattle, WA 98105
Copyright © 2017