Mid-day Friday we still had box upon heavy box stacked all over the beautiful, cavernous pre-function lobby of the spectacular Pittsburgh convention center, with books spilling out on every available surface. The helpful Teamsters had gotten us more tables, CCO friends had lugged in lamps and Beth was trying hard to get our credit card machines to work. The stress was stinking bad. Around us the booths coming to display their work to the thousands of college students who would be attending Jubilee were setting up. Most—from Blood:Water Mission to TeachAmerica, from Bread for the World to Cardus/ Comment, from area church camps to nationally known seminaries—had spiffy and attractive display booths, and most whipped ’em up in under 15 minutes, nicely showing off a few glossy brochures and free pens, maybe a slide show under a bank of small lights. We had pulled and boxed books for days and days, my fingers were bleeding, and now, with only hours to go before the flood of students poured into our portable bookstore, it felt like we had maybe six more hours of work to go. We would never get the thousands of books that were unceremoniously sprawled everywhere into some kind of order for our arriving customers. This was chaos in the primordial Genesis sense. I wanted to crawl up under the boxes and cry.
The miracle happened, we pulled it off, God gave our desperate spirits renewed energy and soon we had a great looking, full-service bookstore set up complete with a few good volunteers (Jason, Justin & Debi) working the registers. Nearly 3000 folks were singing their hearts out in worship being lead by the fabulous Josh Moyer band, and next thing I know I’m under the spotlight glancing over my shoulder at the Jumbo-tron as I told Jubilee participants what they should be reading, plugging a few key books. Three times through-out the event I was given ample time to explain the significance of Christian reading, and about the stuff we had there—including hard to find books of Christian perspectives, resources to help in the integration of faith and learning, books by authors who are world-changers in their own fields of politics or film or science or business or health care.
CCO (the campus ministry that sponsors Jubilee each year) has deep in its history the desire to spread the good news of Christ’s Lordship over life, helping college students enter into Christian faith in robust and faithful ways. That is, they are solidly evangelical, yet considerably influenced by those faith traditions that call us to seek, as Francis Schaeffer used to say, “substantial healing” across the “whole of life.” We call the conference Jubilee because of the profound image of multi-faceted healing–a restoration of shalom—found in the land redistribution and debt cancellation policies at the shofar blow of Leviticus 25, a passage that is poetically picked up by the prophet Isaiah, famous, largely, because it served as the text for Jesus’ first sermon (Luke 4.) The Kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus taught us to say, because, in Him, it is. What good news, what extraordinary, remarkable, exciting, challenging, life-transforming news! God’s reign is breaking into human history and those who are in Christ shall reign with him.
If Christian faith, then, is about more than awaiting death, or only experiencing God’s personal solace, but involves us in a rescue plan for the planet, good news for all creation, then college students, especially, must be helped to see that the lives of leadership they are studying for, the careers and callings they will soon enough take up in their professional lives, are avenues of Kingdom service. They can be more than doctors, lawyers, city planners, journalists, teachers, artists or engineers who also happen to go to church, or who hold a personal spirituality. Rather, they, with the help of mentors like those found in the CCO, and with inspiration from events like Jubilee, can develop a tranformational Christian perspective in their fields, think and live in ways consistent with a Biblical worldview, and learn to be salt and light and leaven in the spheres of influence in which they find themselves. We can help them understand, as one book puts it that Your Work Matters to God as they do the requisite thinking and praying to figure out what that looks like on Monday in the marketplace. It is also why I held up, in a workshop I did on these things, the handsome little book A Mind for God by James Emory White.
This Biblical flow from Leviticus law to prophet Isaiah to Lucan Messianic proclamation is central to the CCO’s historic-redemptive view of the Scriptures, and it makes perfect sense that Michael Goheen, author of The Drama of Scripture: Finding Your Place in the
Unfolding Story of God, did Bible teaching at Jubilee. He gave four small devotional talks before each main plenary session and, as you might guess, they were about the key moments in the Biblical narrative, the high water marks of the story that shape our view of all things: the goodness of creation, the radicality of the fall, the centrality of Christ’s death and resurrection for redemption, and the concrete hope of a final restoration of all things. This is the basis of Jubilee living—Surprised by Hope as N.T. Wright puts it— and learning to live out the implications of this storied Biblical narrative is not only central to the ministry of CCO but is, I presume, the heart of Christian ministry everywhere. I know it is why we stock so darn many Biblical resources and why we are sad that we don’t sell more books about the Bible. We were thrilled, though, when students purchased books like the very brief, but truly helpful A Walk Through the Bible by Leslie Newbigin, The Bible Makes Sense by Walter Brueggemann, The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight or Eugene Peterson’s delightful into to each book of the Bible, The Invitation. And what a thrill to sell Heschel’s classic The Prophets or any number of good books on the life of Jesus (do you know the recent book by Dan Russell, Flesh-and-Blood-Jesus: Learning to Be Human From the Son of Man? Very, very nicely done.) And, you bet we displayed Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by our friends Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat, a book which provocatively honors the postmodern setting of these dangerous times and opens up with great insight this revolutionary letter from the first century.
Jubilee this year was stunning in its creativity, an interesting blend of performance and teaching, improvisation and drama, jazz and testimony. I was not the only one weeping as renowned Philadelphia jazz singer Ruth Naomi Floyd sang her heart out, illustrating the power of the story of suffering and hope, longing and homecoming, guilt and redemption in black music, especially in spirituals, blues and jazz. There are a number of YouTube videos of her (and worth every minute so check ’em out. Here is a brief portion of a documentary about her to introduce you if you don’t know her work.) You can buy her CDs from us, although you should start with the amazing CD Heaven in a Nightclub, the live recording of the show Bill Edgar, Naomi and the rest of Renewal did in New York, which is an extended version of the show they offered us at Jubilee. The instrumentalists are smoking, Professor Edgar’s comments understated and clear and inspiring, and Ruth’s mighty vocals are powerful. This artistic presentation from main stage at Jubilee carried as much truth as a typical keynote lecture and it was a fabulous part of the program.
Another artistic highlight of Jubilee was hearing (and selling books to) our pal Justin McRoberts. In his workshop on songwriting and justice he recommended books like Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination and Mark Labberton’s The Dangerous Act of Worship (I hope some of the many worship leaders from campus fellowship groups were paying attention: we really need liturgy and song and prayers that give voice to these Kingdom dreams and Biblical mandates for justice and cultural renewal.) I know McRobert’s singer-songwriter acoustic vibe caught the attention of a lot of students and his plea for Compassion International was excellent. Later, when the young singer Joy Ike (and her very talented sister Peace) joined him on stage, and New York poet John Walton did his beatbox thing, it was a moment of zany syncopation.
Mr. Bill Strickland‘s amazing story of the success of his classy art school for urban youth, The Manchester Craftsman Guild, just left everyone with their jaws dropped; it was one of the most inspiring moments in Jubilee history, I’d say. The standing ovation was for his guts and care and vision and boldness, insisting that poor people deserve dignity, that the arts should flourish in all schools, and that with a bit of pluck, you can raise money to accomplish extraordinary social betterment. I’ve linked to his website before, and I again recommend checking out his video clips about this great center in a very rough part of the ‘burgh. And then order his book from us, Making the Impossible, Possible. You won’t regret it. Visit his sites, browse around, and thank God for such blessings of uncommon grace.
Much of the conference, time and again, came back to the themes Andy Crouch presented in his sessions on Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, the book which we have pushing since the day it came out! His masterful presentations, his vital insight and gentle hopefulness, his call to serve well and to think through the ways our cultural power could open up new possibilities, are well worth pondering. I’m tickled we sold a lot of his books to the Jubilee crowd, but I pray that this book gets even wider distribution. If you haven’t visited his fascinating website lately, I hope you do. He has a link at his site, Culture-Making, back to Hearts & Minds if you want to buy one. (Thanks, Andy!) One need not be an artist or entrepreneur to want to make a creative difference in the world; indeed, all of us, made in the image of a Divine Creator and Worker, can do little else. As humans, it is what we do. (Our friends at *cino, which stands for “culture is not optional” which is a line from Calvin Seerveld’s Rainbows for the Fallen World, have established a virtual community around this very theme—“culture is not optional” and we love the way they facilitate conversations about all manner of things.) The question, then, is whether we do it faithfully and well. Many of us are quite busy with our culture, family, church, and money-making; I hope we are not too busy to reflect on the meaning of it all, and we commend his book to you. I don’t think you’ve read anything quite like it, and you will ponder it long after you are done.
I was not the only one eager to see Fermi Project main-man Gabe Lyons. Gabe is the co-author of UnChristian, the book that presents Barna’s research on how younger folks in the US think about evangelical Christians. (It is one of the most talked about books of the last year or so and churches who wonder about the lack of involvement of young adults simply must study it. Check out the book’s informative website, but come on back…) He opened the conference with a clear and inspiring call to show forth a meaningful and gracious faith that attracts, not repels, seekers and skeptics. Many are convinced that Christian faith is narrow and nasty, and not particular relevant to real living.
Telling the full “four story” gospel—remember the four talks of Mike Goheen of creation, fall, redemption, restoration?—is one way to counter the misperceptions non-churched folks have of believers. Salvation is more than a ticket out of hell after death, but is a gift of grace for abundant life, for meaning, purpose, joy. Living out the Christ-like ways in practical acts of service is another, and Gabe ended his presentation with some inspiring stories to show that it can be done, in ways that are both relational and public, that touch individual lives and can bear fruit of cultural transformation.
Gabe’s own creative work with others in Atlanta educating doctors how to more graciously speak of Down’s Syndrome was a great example, nicely illustrated with some pictures of his own special needs child, a pretty hip looking 7 year old. (He’s got a haircut just like his not so old man.) There was hardly a dry eye in the house when he invited us to social initiatives to live out the faith showing love, creativity and care as we invite others into the adventure of living Jubilee day by day.
There were dozens of au
thors at Jubilee, and we had a hey-day selling books, getting authors to autograph the pages of their works, of recommending this or that title to go with the move of the Spirit in this or that workshop. Cheers for Matt Bonzo and Michael Stevens work on Wendell Berry! Hey to Lauren—I was charmed when I heard somebody call you “Professor Winner.” I’m glad I promoted Paul Marshall’s excellent handbook for Christian living, Heaven Is Not My Home: Living in the Now of God’s Creation, which captures the reformational worldview perspective across all of life. His new Oxford University Press book on religious blindspots among journalists (Blind Spots: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion) is very, very important, too—what a classy scholar and impressive speaker. And Vincent Bacote—ya gotta love an African American theologian that loves Abraham Kuyper! (It was Abraham Kuyper, you should know, who first coined the expression that was the theme of this year’s Jubilee: Christ’s claims “every square inch” of His creation!) How can we sell more copies of Bacote’s fabulous The Spirit in Public Theology, that’s what I want to know. What a book, bringing together (among other things) Kuyper’s great passion for the Holy Spirit and His broad, public claims about Christ in civic life.
It is always energizing to be around Tom Sine…the title of his recent The New Conspirators could be about the Jubilee gang, I’d say. “Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time” indeed! I think that our biggest seller of a book not by a keynote plenary speaker, by the way, sepaking of mustard seeds, was Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma’s small “road map” collections of brief pieces, Eating Well. Both Doing Justice and Eating Well are compiled *cino titles which we are proud to stock (and, hey, I’ve got a small chapter in each! I didn’t even remember to say that to anybody at Jubilee, not that it would have enhanced sales much. Ha!) Let’s hope there will be more “road map” collections released soon, as they are beautiful little books, perfect for bedside reading or small group discussions.
Many Christian college students inspire us, as they really want to study and learn, honor God, live right. It is a privelege to hang out with them at Jubilee and we give a big shout out to those who asked questions, allowed us to serve them, who picked our brains and bought out books. There is a sense that they are on the bleeding edge of growth, and I very much admire that. Thank goodness that they had the willingness to buy some books; we truly pray that they will read well, learn much, and embrace this “whole life discipleship” that the Jubilee conference promotes. I guess we won’t know the impact of these moments of learning for years to come…our prayer, though, is that these days in Pittsburgh–and their reading of books bought in weeks to come— will help shape the character of tomorrow’s leaders, impact the nature of cultural institutions, and sustain authentic and normative reformation of society. Soli Deo Gloria.
Thanks to those who worked hard at Jubilee, those who spoke, sang, performed, recycled, cleaned up, followed through, and brought us lattes, and served the assembly of students. Thanks especially to the authors that visited with us at the book display…what joy to meet folks whose books we love, authors whose names we’ve spoken but who we’ve never met. Hats off especially to Danny Carroll R, for his great work on immigration (Christians at the Border, which is a must-read for these times, if you ask me), to Mission Year’s Leroy Barber (New Neighbors), to Daniel Siedell (God in the Gallery) and L.L. Barkett (Stone Crossings) for their browsing around. Extra thanks to Jack Swearengen who not only bought books from us several years back as he wrote his book on a Christian look at technology (Beyond Paradise: Technology and the Kingdom of God) but helped lug books around for us as we set up the show. Friends like this, those who write books and those who promote them—-some award should go to Jory Fisher, professional coach and guidance counselor and book pusher extraordinaire—deserve our heartfelt appreciation.
And, to those of you who read about our role in Jubilee, just because you care about what we do, we thank you. May it give you a lift as well, that you, too, will be ever more captured by God’s Jubilee vision, living for Christ’s sake, learning to love the world enough to help make it more of what it ought to be. Call it culture making or social action, revival or reformation, Kingdom living or being Jubilee people, we hope we can somehow assist you in the journey towards faithfulness and hope. As we sometimes said at the conference, “Read for the Kingdom!”