The advent of Blockbuster coincided closely with the arrival of the next generation of Myatts. The company began business the year our son, Toby, was born. I recall days before Blockbuster when we patronized small, independent video stores, but those quickly faded from existence when that new gorilla-sized chain appeared on the scene. I have sort of love-hate memories of Blockbuster. It was awfully fun to go to that store and peruse its shelves in search of either some promising movie we all looked forward to seeing or finding some unanticipated gem. That was the love part. The hate part was going through that entire store and not finding a single movie that was appealing. That happened too many times.
The thing that is strange to me is how quickly and quietly they have vanished. It was almost like we woke up one day and Blockbuster was just gone. What happened to them? It is no secret. The company’s leaders failed to see what was happening in their industry. They had the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million in 2000, but passed. That upstart company did more than any other competitor to stick a dagger in Blockbuster’s heart. In 2002 their leaders were still calling the World Wide Web a “niche market.” Obviously that was some fairly breathtaking myopia. As a result of failing to adapt to a changing world Blockbuster has gone the way of encyclopedia companies and many travel agents.
In an article in New Yorker last week Ben Mauk wrote that Blockbuster’s “thirty year story encapsulates the dangers of resting on prior models of success…by the time you realize your own obsolescence, it’s too late.” Fine, but why is Rick Myatt making a big deal about Blockbuster? In part it is little bit of nostalgia, I suppose. After all, both of my kids have recently gotten married, one of them is moving across the country and I’m feeling the impact of so much change. But I suspect another factor, maybe a bigger one, is Mauk’s comment that “by the time you realize your own obsolescence, it’s too late.” I’d hate to wake up one day and discover that I am obsolete. Yes, I know, there are some who would say that train left the station quite some time ago. Perhaps they are right, but it seems to me that there is a guarantee against obsolescence, both for me personally and for the church. Jesus warned against trying to pour new wine into old wineskins (Luke 5:37). That’s precisely what most of his contemporaries were trying to do. He didn’t fit their preconceived theological notions. They tried to cram him into their long held forms, but he didn’t fit. He came to bring something new. He was establishing a new covenant, a covenant of grace and life rather than one of condemnation and death according to 2 Corinthians 3:6-11. This new thing, bursting with life, simply could not be jammed into the old forms and categories of their system.
It seems to me that both for me personally and for the church the guarantee against obsolescence is to not be tied to “old wine skins.” It is to live in the life-giving fullness of this new covenant of grace that Jesus has purchased for us at enormous cost to himself. The world always will thirst for, will be desperate for life. It longs for grace. More than longing for it, all of us need grace as badly as our bodies need air to exist physically. What the human race needs yesterday, today and forever, is pure, unadulterated Jesus. As long as we don’t major in “prior models of success,” otherwise known as old wineskins, and we drink of pure new covenant grace and offer the same to others we will always be relevant.