Usually, about this time of year, I get really, really jittery. It’s the pre-game Pittsburgh nerves, stress from all the hoopla and build-up. And I’m not talking about the Super Bowl, although the Borger household is uniformly pro-Steelers, so had our share of jitters last weekend. I’m talking about the run-up to Jubilee.
If you’ve read our blog for more than a year or lingered in the Dallastown shop, you’ve heard tell of our bookselling role in the annual Jubilee conference, this event, this amazing, beautiful mess, with over 2000 folks, mostly college students, gathered annually in Pittsburgh to reflect seriously—with raucous joy and all manner of tomfoolery—on what it means to say that our Triune God runs the world for His pleasure, and that we, His servants, are called to join Christ in establishing a Kingdom on Earth. This vision, of course, is not like some theocratic sharia state, not even like Calvin’s Geneva (although that generally was not as bad as some historians suggest.) Jubilee, “the favorably year of the Lord” as Jesus called it in Luke 4, is lived out, as Jesus Himself put it, like leaven in a loaf, salt, light (or, in a particularly vexing analogy) an alternative city on (another?) hill. In/not of is how close readers of the end of John put it. We are a counter-culture, but one for the good of the host culture. We are called–all of us—to explore how our vocation and calling has something to do with this cultural mandate to be busy with good stuff on the Earth. As Andy Crouch puts it in his fabulous Culture Making: Recoving Our Creative Calling, we “make something” of the world around us, which means we must attend to “the power of cultural goods.”
Serve the Lord. Serve the people. That’s how the old Sojourners magazine used to put it, but that is just a start. To adequately glorify God by loving our neighbors, we must attend to institutions, cultural customs, principalities and powers–creational givens and idolatrous distortions. We can’t fully or adequately love sick people without an effort towards a reform of health care. We can’t helpfully love third world poor people without thinking through the implications of canceling international debt or the complexities of global trade. To truly love our children, surely, we have to think about what is broken in public education or youth culture entertainment, say. Our neighbors whom we are called to love are embedded in and influenced by culture. The God we are to honor has made it so. All areas of life, and the cultural forms we’ve created in them, need to be restored to something of what God intends, and in figuring that out “(thy light is a lamp” the psalmist wrote, so we are guided by the Bible) we see the good, the bad, and the possible. (One Jubilee speaker this year, Bill Stickland, who works in the inner city with urban kids teaching practical arts, serious crafts and music, has a renowned book called Making the Impossible Possible. Nice, eh?) Jubilee exists to recruit students into a life-long adventure into the possibilities of authentic and world-changing Kingdom living and to give them the intellectual categories, life stories/examples and mentors and spiritual resources to do so.
For collegiates, especially, this includes “thinking Christianly” and learning to relate faith and studies, piety and politics, worship and scholarship. Just what does it mean to be a distinctively Christian witness in film studies or special education or bioengineering? (You know how we promote Derek Melleby & Don Opitz’s great little book for students, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness. We will promote that there, natch.) How, really, does a Christian person conceive of, reflect upon, and then practice her chops as journalist, business person or traffic cop? If we are to serve the people do we not have to work for the common good, and does that not mean doing some Biblical and theological reflection on our entire worldview, which could give rise to some sort of intentionally faithful philosophy, which could then fund uniquely Christian concepts about things? What is a state, after all, and what should the government do? What is the task of the business enterprise? Is advertising good or bad? Is technology innately idolatrous? Does a family have to be defined in heterosexual terms? Can we really expect to change the corporate culture where we work? With all of these questions, and more, we must help Christian laypeople to think faithfully and then live well in their various spheres of influence. This is the audacious claim of the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO), the campus ministry group who sponsors Jubilee. We are associated with them, and have been involved in one way or another with Jubilee for over 30 years. I do not jest when I say it is part of our liturgical calendar.
I have good friends who have crossed the line of faith at Jubilee and they are able to name that time when they understood that they were born anew. For most, though, it is a vision engendered, a direction refined, a journey begun, books bought, friendships enhanced—the slow boil of influences that can shape a life for a lifetime. I know others who had nearly given up the faith, thinking that God didn’t really have much to say about art or justice, creation-care or poetry; if the church doesn’t seem interested in the passions of my heart, they’d say, why bother? When this worldviewish way of life broke upon them at the conference, this radically costly and yet joyful adventure to change the world for Christ’s sake, starting by thinking Christianly in each side of life, they found new lights coming on and embraced the faith anew. The old, old gospel was explored in stunning new ways. I’ve sadly seen some who got excited about living fully for God’s reign at an event like this, only to drift, or despair. It is easy (and some churches, and our secularizing public lives make it easier) to segregate our faith into a “religious” box, to maintain a private faith experience, go to church, as they say, and yet neglect what Jesus called “the weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23.) Still, most students come back from Jubilee never to be quite the same again. Just the other day, while doing a radio interview about books we will be selling at Jubilee the radio host noted that many years ago as an undergrad she bought a book when she attended the conference—about how all of life is redeemed, including career aspirations—which shaped her in profound ways.
The Episcopal prayer book and my Free Methodist grandma, the Anabaptists struggling with alternative Christ-centered lifestyles amidst a consumer culture and the neo-Calvinists asking about the reformation of ideas, the radical voices of liberation theology and the liturgical worldview
of the Russian Orthodox all in their own way point us in the same direction: “thy Kingdom come, On Earth…” Faith must be embodied in the ways we think, in the formation of our character, and in the lives we live, even in our work and play. Jubilee gathers students to explore, in winsome and culturally-savvy ways, how to live out the meaning of the gospel for the rest of their lives. As Steve Garber puts in, in the subtitle to his remarkable Fabric of Faithfulness, some of which grew out his own involvement as Jubilee conference organizer, we are to “weave together belief and behavior.”
And so, with over 50 speakers, artists, performers and teachers, oodles of booths and mission agencies, and literally more books displayed—we’re renting a truck!— than are in some small bookstores, this is a life changing time. We are exhausted already as we plan for it, and not a little bit nervous. There are over 20 different speakers who themselves have written books (from poetry to books about neighborliness, from research on radical Islam to delightful memoir, from books about vocation to books about technology, books about immigration to books about modern art. You get the picture.) You might guess why we are nervous, getting the right quantities of the right books. And then selling the right books to the right customers. And honoring the authors in our midst, friends like Lauren Winner, Andy Crouch, and Kelly Monroe Kullberg.
Please pray for us. Check out the Jubilee website, and study the credentials of the speakers (scroll on the headshots…and keep on scrolling! It is amazing how much good stuff is going on, and how these speakers represent the best of socially engaged evangelical wholistic ministry.) Pray with us that our bookish work pays off, that the young seekers who attend this exuberant event are not merely manipulated by the moment, but, in the quiet of their own dorm rooms or coffee shops, later, they read what they bought, recall the speakers and workshop, and think deeply in concert with new friends and networks, how to build a new world in the shell of the old. May you, too, think about your life with this grand vision, to see Christ glorified “in every square inch” of His creation (as the old statesmen and public theologian Abraham Kuyper*** put it in the Dutch revival of the late 1800s.) Funny that that slogan has captured the generation of Jubilee leaders, every square inch. May your reading equip you to be that kind of Christian, serving God by loving neighbor, in every square inch of life and culture. Thanks.
***A final quick observation: Father Abraham, as some of us who are pleased to reflect on the rich theological heritage of Dutch Calvinists like theologian journalist-Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper who taught and worked for cultural reformation at the turn of the last century, call him, wrote more than his famous works about “every square inch” and Calvinism as a world and life view. For instance, just this month Eerdmans has released the first English translation of his detailed pieces on worship called, simply, Our Worship (edited by Harry Boonstra; $30.00.) With endorsements from the likes of historian Mark Noll, and a great afterward by Nicholas Woltersdorff, this comprehensive volume has a section on worship in daily life. Leave it to Kuyper to regularly note how mature and solid worship in a Biblically-shaped local church equips us—compels us–to walk out into holy ground. In fact, another fine afterward by John Bolt asks, “Is All of Life Worship?” Father Abe would surely say yes. So would the folks at Jubilee.