I have a long, drawn out history with the academic world, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed really any part of my experience. I kinda lost my way halfway through and never recovered. I’ve often say that the one thing I gained from the academic world that I am confident I will use, was a belief in God, and that’s it. Wishing not to demean the importance of faith in God, it’s just not what people come to school for. The reason for this belief is the Coalition for Christian Outreach (The CCO). I encountered them at Point Park as a very strict atheist who had been burned by religion one too many times. The group at Point Park was called “The Body”. I was there, just to better understand how Christians thought and when I asked questions, I wasn’t really seeking anything. This was a matter of “I’m going to learn how to take everything you say apart.” You see how well that worked, but stick with me. Eventually, I’d get involved with the team at Duquesne, known as “Crossroads” as well.
I don’t know have much on what I believed back then, there are a few essays, but nothing that I care to share here. I’d later realize that my atheism was less a rational stance and more a concoction of a very vindictive, bitter spirit that distrusted Christians, and looked to bring them out from whatever it was I thought I was saving them from. As the semester got to its midway point, the group, and especially the Atheist in the room were told about this Jubilee conference. Jubilee is a massive, weekend-long conference dedicated to a deeper, theological understanding of God and where someone fits in God’s story. In other words, it is where someone can find how their vocation, what they are ostensibly in college to learn about, matters to God. I, as you might imagine, did not want to go. Because, hanging out with Crossroads and The Body, is fun they’re great people and the situation is relatively contained. Here it is considerably worse, because not only am I going to listen to a weekend of stuff I’m inclined to listen to but not really hear, I get to do that surrounded by hundreds of people and I absolutely hate crowds. So I have to debate whether they are doing their jobs, which is acceptable, or if they honestly believe there is something at a Christian conference for an Atheist. Because they’re friends and they seem smart, I assume, the campus ministers are just doing their jobs, and the leadership team is kind of pushing that as well. It’s not personal, they’re just pushing it because they have to. now I’m wondering if I can outlast these people, from October to February, I’d just listen, refuse and we’d play this game until some other time. In hindsight, I realize I was trying to outlast not only really good friends, but the most patient and persistent people that I have ever known.
So, outlasting such people proves to be quite difficult. I don’t remember when I agreed to go specifically, but I did, and basically rode out the rest of the time between December and February wondering what I had just agreed to. In what I would’ve then called a wild coincidence, I would have a photography assignment the week of Jubilee. This worked in their favor because, even the people who like this city have to admit that downtown is kind of dead in February, so Jubilee is all I have. In the gap between December and February, I’d grown closer to about 5 or 6 of the people in the group so if nothing else, I can finish a photography assignment and spend a weekend with this great group of people.
I don’t have much time to go over what happened that weekend in detail, so I’ll cover two major points. The workshops; they are the part of the conference that can basically tailor to what you want to learn about. Imagine being able to dedicate yourself entirely to what you want to learn, what a concept, right? The first workshop was called “The Basics of Christianity” which spent an hour going over a four-part breakdown of the Gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) Part of that lecture involved the fact that believing something intellectually and believing it are two different things. “If you know God exists and you know he cares, why don’t you trust God and live accordingly?” It was a fascinating opening, and it’s the one that I believe they have every year.
The second point are the gatherings. When you first get to Jubilee, it will be sesnory overload. It begins with a high-energy worship band, and moves to talking about whatever the subject for that gathering is. These are, for lack of a better term, the conference’s “keynote speakers”, and the biggest guns they have to offer. Saturday night covered the redemption of the world through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. There was a talk by Tulian Tchvidjian, a one-time pastor in Ft. Lauderdale who has gone through a catastrophic fall from grace. The crux of his talk was that Atheists are left trying to add meaning to their lives. They know they’re going to die, but as the writer of Ecclesiastees observes in chapter 2 verses 17-21, they will one day lose everything they have, and everything they worked for or taken pride in may be handed to someone else who might not care for it as much as the person did. Which the writer describes as meaningless work. Tchividjian’s point was that Christ’s death on the cross took away the burden of having to justify your existence, or give your life meaning through some big plan that you have to build, fund and maintain, your life is given meaning through the fact that a Christ thought you were worth dying for. In this time, I was stuck looking for something that I felt would make everything I’m doing in a place I don’t want to be worthwhile, and I still struggle to see things from the perspective that what I do here it’s not “unimportant”, but it shouldn’t be primary.
There is a lot more between the first workshop and Saturday night. There was a workshop that reaffirmed a calling, helped me understand a major concern of mine in my life, and in this instance, learn how little control over my life I actually had. There was just a flow to the weekend that was intellectually stimulating and challenged my perspective in a way that it never had before, and that I couldn’t really compete with. When Saleem Gubril had called the CCO staff to the front to pray with people. Michael and I looked at each other, and I basically agreed to meet him halfway of the distance between us. I told him that the entire weekend had made sense intellectually, but not emotionally. At this stage, Michael went on an improvised speech as only he can, seriously the man just has an incredibly powerful gift, saying all that’s left was to let what was in my head resonate to the rest of me. But it would take about 4 months for that to happen.
Jubilee is an incredible event. It turns the people you’ve been working with into a family, it gives you a stronger perspective on God and it is far and away the highlight of the year. IF you’ve supported the ministries that send people to this event, thank you. If you’ve gone, you already know what it is. If you haven’t I would strongly encourage you to look into it. Talk to me, Ben, our other campus minister David Kuehl, it is truly an event you need to go to at least once.