Last summer on summer staff at SharpTop Cove, I read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. An important part of Miller’s life chronicled in the book is his time spent at Reed College in Portland. Reed is not conservative, not Christian– a place that many Christ-followers might consider a threat to their faith. I underlined and rewrote words from this book a lot. But the phrase that never seems to leave me is this:
I felt very strongly that Jesus was relevant in this place. I felt very strongly that if He was not relevant here then He was not relevant anywhere.
This comes after he describes the students running around the quad naked and tripping on shrooms and throwing up on the sidewalks.
When I read this book at camp, I felt he was right. Jesus, who is crucially relevant to the message of Christian camps, working tirelessly to bring kids to the feet of Christ, is equally as relevant at a place like Reed College, where it might not be so obvious that these lives of ours are to be all about Christ. But he’s not relevant at Reed in the sense of “these ignorant kids are such sinners that they need Jesus so badly so of course he is relevant.” I don’t think that’s quite it. We can still need Christ even when it’s not obvious. At SharpTop, I spent a month in morning daily devotionals and afternoon group daily devotionals and long days of cooking dinners so campers could be energized for the activities planned in expectation of an encounter with Christ. There were Chacos, intentional conversations, hearts guarded, highlighted Bibles, Enos, and lots and lots of Young Life shirts.
God is easy to spot at camp. But he is no more relevant at Young Life camp than he is at a school that might seem so outwardly bathed in sin like Reed. There is sin at Young Life camp. Pride? Idolatry? Profanity or fighting or bearing false witness? All those things happen at camp. Gathering a bunch of sinners who love Jesus in a place does not mean they are rid of the behavioral consequences of a sinful state. God is 100% relevant in both places. He has maxed out his relevance and although the sins might look different, both places are in desperate need of the bottomless pits of mercy we find in Christ. Several years following his book, Donald Miller said this about Reed College in an interview:
I think before, my faith was lived inside of church culture, and after Reed College, my faith lives everywhere.
I often forget how radical Christ was. His actions, like healing and raising from the dead and controlling nature, all for good, stand in opposition with the way I so often find myself living my life. They show leadership and mercy and compassion while I mostly just show complacency. I live in the sins mentioned above, surely, but also the sin of being a sitting duck in Christian culture. My close-knit group of friends at school would probably be considered extremely religious by the rest of the world: quiet times, church services, blaring worship music, iPhone backgrounds and Instagrams and blogs that all reference Christ– these are all very common. None of these things are inherently bad, but I often forget that just like Young Life camp and Reed College, Christ is equally as relevant outside church culture as he is in my super focused, oblivious church culture.
This upcoming school year will look different for my year: as juniors, many of us are going abroad, headed to New Zealand and South Africa and France and Denmark and really all over the place. What our intensely Christian group of friends will look like while so many are gone is a toss-up. A few of our friends have already started their fall semesters abroad, and hearing from them about the absence of a strong Christian community makes me both worried and hopeful. So much of my life, and their lives really, has been lived in a place where Christ is obviously relevant. Copenhagen and Denmark as a whole are not Christian places when compared to the Bible Belt culture I find in Nashville. I pray that Copenhagen can be my very own Reed College, where I come to learn Jesus’ relevance all over the earth.
Our lives are a breath in the grand scheme of God’s creation, given to us graciously to know him and sing his praises. I pray that although the tune of the praises may change, the song of those finding themselves outside their comfortable church culture will only grow stronger and more joyful.