I have a hate-love relationship with IKEA. On the one hand, I greatly admire the IKEA-concept and the founder of the worldwide IKEA-imperium. The Swede Ingvar Kamprad established his company in 1943, when he was only 17 years old. The name of his firm—IKEA—is based on a combination of Kamprad’s initials (I and K) and the first letters of Elmtaryd and Agunnaryd (E en A), the names of the farm and the village, respectively, where Kamprad grew up. The company that had a very modest beginning, some seventy years ago, is now a mammoth-concern with 349 blue-yellow super-shops in 43 countries.
So far, nothing but praise. But a visit to an IKEA-store is a mixed blessing. The coffee is excellent and I love the small meat balls (köttbullar). The restaurant is, therefore, a good start for an IKEA-expedition. And in the separate food shop (after the cash register) you can find Europe’s best herring. (Especially the herring in mustard sauce is to be recommended.) However, between those two moments you have to embark on an long walk, through the entire store, even when you know exactly where you want to be and what you want to buy.
This week I had to make the trip to IKEA. We were to buy a TV cabinet, with some adjoining storage space. After inspecting the possibilities we opted for something from the Bestå assortment. Fortunately, there were not too many people around and we could find a very pleasant and helpful IKEA-employee who made a list of all the items we needed, including, doors, hinges, legs, etc. My blind trust in this good man proved, however, to be somewhat premature: when we arrived home and I began to assemble our new piece of furniture, we had only eight in stead of the twelve legs we needed. And so, the next day, I had to take the same extended walk through the entire IKEA-store!
After some five hours of assemblage, the job was successfully completed, but I still feel—three days later—the stiffness in various parts of my body, due to the strange contortions I was forced to experience in performing these activities.
A job like this does, almost automatically, also give ground for some reflections. For, as I was turning the ingenious IKEA-nuts and bolts, it occurred to me that the world of IKEA in some ways resembles the Adventist Church. For one thing: books are very important in the Adventist church, just as they are for IKEA. Who has not seen the annual IKEA-catalogue, that is printed in an edition of tens of millions of copies. In many families it is perused more diligently than the Bible.
IKEA has a very clear profile. All stores look exactly the same, both inside and outside. And all have the same product range. And although Adventist church buildings come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, the Adventist denomination also strives for a clear identity that may be recognized everywhere in the world, and it wants to offer the same product everywhere.
There is, however, an even more striking similarity. When you buy an IKEA-product and take it home, there is nothing you can do to modify what you have bought. The product has been designed for you, with certain measurements and colors, etc.—and you will have to be satisfied with the content of the packages you have brought home. Likewise, when you ‘buy’ a ‘product’ in the Adventist Church, you get a product that has been defined for you by the church, and you are not supposed to use you own imagination to modify it.
Thinking about this, I decided that I, in fact, would prefer a kind of LEGO-approach rather than the IKEA-model. The successful formula of this Danish toy-maker is splendid in its simplicity. Each person on this earth has now, on average, over one hundred LEGO-pieces. As time passed this versatile toy has also received many ‘serious’ applications. The small building blocks have a definite form and size, but you may put them together as you wish.
A church that provides the building blocks that enable you to build your own faith structure has a stronger appeal for me than a church that will only deliver a set range of products. Both IKEA and LEGO are marvelous concepts, but when I link them to the church I prefer LEGO!