Why UTSC Needed a Jesus Awareness Week

Last week, ninety nine UTSC students helped with our second annual JAWJesus Awareness Week.  For two months, students planned the theme (Heart of Relationship), displays/tableaus, and events that made up our week.  Also for the second year in a row, there were questions about whether UTSC needed a Jesus Awareness Week in the first place.  “Everyone already knows about Jesus.  What need is there to raise ‘awareness’ about the largest religion in Canada and the world for that matter?”  Is Jesus Awareness Week in Toronto as futile as having Winter Awareness Week in February? Its a legitimate question and it deserves an answer.

Consider the following:

Biblical literacy is declining (something that even Richard Dawkins laments).  Significant numbers of young people can’t name more than four of the ten commandments, can’t identify a phrase from the Sermon on the Mount, can’t say that “Noah was married to Joan of Arc” is a false statement, can’t name more than 3 disciples of Jesus, and many children can’t differentiate between a Bible story and the plotlines of Harry Potter.  I would suspect that this is even more true on our campus  since much of our population does not come from a Christian background.  Why does this matter?  Living and being educated in the western world and not being even nominally familiar with one of its biggest influences seems disadvantageous.  From our expressions to the development of stable, democratic societies to even our rights-based approach to social issues, Jesus’ influence is well documented.

Our cultural expressions don’t match our reality.  Here are the top twenty five shows on television today.  How many of these shows have10003932_10102455928641392_444998880_n characters that have regular conversations about Jesus (or any other religious figure for that matter)?  I’m not complaining  because television networks are profit-driven businesses.  If people found conversations about Jesus more stimulating than murder, sex and reality show competitions, then networks would surely air them.  There is no conspiracy here but considering that 70% of North Americans identify as Christian, there is a noticeable disconnect between our public, cultural expressions and our personal faith.  My two and four year old children are more likely to believe in the existence of talking animals, flying horses, and witches than the existence of religion in society according to children’s television.  Which cartoons show a church in their imaginary neighborhoods? Any?  I would rather my child learn faith from me than from Treehouse but the silence concerning belief in God, something more than 84% of the world is comfortable with, is deafening.

The university experience is more than the exploration of textbooks.  Many would argue that it is not a public university’s place to raise awareness of any particular religion or worldview.  I would agree.  I would feel uncomfortable if UTSC’s administration attempted to champion a favorite worldview over others and thankfully they don’t.  The responsibility of raising awareness about Jesus falls on individual students who follow him not the administration  That’s why it is important that Jesus Awareness Week always remain a student led event.  Should the character and claims of Jesus be a part of the classroom curriculum? Yes if the context calls for it and no if it doesn’t.   The university classroom is a place to learn but the university campus is a place to experience and those experiences are shaped as much or more by fellow students as they are by professors, policies, and the administration.  Students are the ones who can reconnect personal belief and public expressions using the natural context of social interaction.  Basically, students are supposed to influence each other during these university years.

1979736_10203474487568773_1862300890_nThe real reason students wanted to do  Jesus Awareness Week on UTSC’s campus had less to do with the reasons mentioned above and more to do with a desire to express themselves openly about something they care about deeply.  The relational aspect of God through Jesus is key to understanding, growing and enjoying the  Christian faith.  Everyone on campus should be able to express publicly and collectively the causes they cherish personally.  That’s why UTSC needed a Jesus Awareness Week.  I want to thank the students of UTSC in general for allowing Christians to express themselves in this way.

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