At the close of the eighteenth century the slave trade was a thriving and very big business. Prominent families held slaves and interests in the slave business, a vast swathe of people depended on slavery for their livelihoods, and public opinion was undisturbed by it. When Clarkson threw in his lot with a small group of Quakers in opposition to the trade the odds of success were seemingly impossible.
On May 22, 1787 Clarkson and about a dozen others met in the James Phillip Bookstore for the first official meeting of the Committee of the Slave Trade. They devised a strategy to gather intelligence on the trade, expose it’s inhumanity via pamphlets, posters and public lectures, and build momentum for a banning of the British slave trade. Clarkson became their only full time anti slavery campaigner. He travelled tirelessly throughout England seeking to gather intelligence on the slave trade and to draw people’s attention to its cruelty and inhumanity.
The task was incredibly difficult. Few of those involved in the slavery business would talk to him; he received death threats, and at least one attempt on his life; many mocked him. In that first year he noted
I began now to tremble, for the first time, at the arduous task I had undertaken, of attempting to subvert one of the branches of the commerce of the great place which was then before me…. I questioned whether I should even get out of it alive.
Yet the tide of opinion began to turn. Petitions containing thousands of names started to find their way to Parliament. More people joined themselves to the cause, including the potter Josiah Wedgewood, who crafted a relief of a kneeling slave with the words “Am I not a man and a brother?” that became a popular and influential adornment, and parliamentarian William Wilberforce, who championed the cause in Parliament. Hundreds of thousands stopped using sugar, the major slave produced good in England, and slave-free sugar started appearing. The autobiography of freed slave Olauda Equiano became a best seller and many heard him speak.
Within five years of that first meeting at the James Phillip bookstore public opinion had turned against the slave trade. Parliament however would take longer to conquer. William Wilberforce was the spearhead of the parliamentary campaign.
So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would; I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition
Like Clarkson, Wilberforce met with fierce opposition and derision. Admiral Horatio Nelson for example, condemned “the damnable doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies”. He also found the support of colleagues such as the Prime Minister, William Pitt.
Bills against the trade were moved in 1791, 1792, 1793, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1804, and 1805, all without success, until on February 27, 1807 a bill for the abolition of the slave trade passed the House by a vote of 283 to 16.
The anti slavery activists had assumed that once the shipping of slaves was outlawed slavery would collapse. This assumption proved naive. While no more slaves were shipped, slaves continued to be held on British owned plantations in the West Indies and their children enslaved. This set off continued campaigning. A mass uprising of slaves in 1831 signalled the oppression of slaves was no longer sustainable, and in 1833 the Emancipation Act finally saw the end of British slavery.
It took fifty six years, but who’d have thought that from that meeting of a dozen people in the James Phillip Bookstore on May 22, 1787, armed with nothing but their determination and their voices, would issue such a result?
In 1960, Martin Luther King was imprisoned after leading a civil rights march. His dream seemed a long way off. Criticised by white church leaders, he responded with his famous “Letter from an Alabama Jail”, which included this section:
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.
Faced with injustices like these, it would be understandable if King had become stuck in “the abyss of despair”. His letter oozes a compassion for the suffering of his fellow African-Americans and a smouldering anger at the injustices heaped upon them. But his movement aroused violent opposition. Even the white church, which he had hoped would side with his cause, opposed what he was doing. At times the challenge must have seemed too big, the forces of oppression too powerful, and the future fated to be an endless rerun of the past.
But to his compassion and anger King added hope. He was convinced that his dream was in fact God’s dream; that God too had
What to do with Wally? Wally was an awkward and shy child who belonged to the church kids club. It was time to hand out roles for the Christmas play, but what role should the teacher give Wally? She decided on the inn-keeper. It was an important role, but required Wally only to shake his head and say one line “Sorry, we’ve no room.” Wally grinned from ear to ear when he learned of his important role and he couldn’t wait for the big night.
It arrived soon enough, and the play was proceeding according to plan. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem and come to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked on the door and it opened to Wally. “Please sir, do you have a room we could take?” asked Joseph. Wally shook his head and replied. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room”.
Now the boy playing Joseph was a particularly confident child, and while the script called for he and Mary to turn away at this point, Joseph decided to exercise some dramatic license. “But sir” he said to the innkeeper, “My wife is about to have her baby and we need somewhere to stay. Couldn’t you find us a room.” Wally’s face went white – this was not planned for! – and he paused for a moment before repeating his line. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.”
“But sir” replied Joseph, “We’ve traveled such a long way and we’ve nowhere else to go and my wife is very tired. Surely you can find us somewhere.” Wally bowed his head, shook it sadly and said, “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.” Forlornly Joseph and Mary started walking away. Wally, now fully into his role, felt shamed and saddened. A tear trickled down his cheek. Then his voice was heard calling out. “Wait! Please come back. You can have my room.”
It may not have been according to script, but at that moment Wally gave perfect expression to the Christmas story.
Source: widely repeated story of unknown origins
In February 2012 Cory Weissman led out the men’s basketball team of Gettysburg College for their last game of the season. Four years earlier he had suffered a stroke that left him paralysed on one side. Four years of rehab and he was able to walk with a limp, but was still not able to play competitively. But before his stroke he had been on the varsity team and the Gettysburgh coach wanted to give him a few seconds on court as a senior. So Cory was nominated captain and led out the starting five for what was both his first and last game for Gettysburg, for he was now due to graduate.
Knowing the struggle it was just to be there, the crowd and the players from both teams greeted him with wild applause. The Gettysburg coach gave him a few minutes on court before benching him.
With one minute to go Gettysburg was well ahead and the coach sent Cory back out on court. The Washington coach called time out and instructed his players to foul Cory Weissman. For those who don’t know basketball this was a very generous act, for it meant Cory would be given two shots at the basket.
Cory takes his place at the free throw line, feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. It misses badly. But he has a second and final shot left. Again he feels the weight of the ball in his hands, lifts and shoots. This time the ball flies straight through the hoop, and the crowd breaks out in thunderous applause.
The assistant vice president for athletics at Gettysburg, David Wright, later wrote to Washington College: “Your coach, Rob Nugent, along with his … staff and student-athletes, displayed a measure of compassion that I have never witnessed in over 30 years of involvement in intercollegiate athletics.”
Source: reported by Frank Record, “When there’s more to winning than winning.” NPR Radio, Feb 22, 2012
It was one of the most extraordinary birthday parties ever held. Not it wasn’t in a plush ballroom of a grand hotel. No there weren’t famous celebrities, nor anyone rich or powerful. It was held at 3am in a small seedy cafe in Honolulu, the guest of honour was a prostitute, the fellow guests were prostitutes, and the man who threw it was a Christian minister!
The idea came to Christian minister Tony Campolo very early one morning as he sat in the cafe. He was drinking coffee at the counter, when a group of prostitutes walked in and took up the stools around him. One of the girls, Agnes, lamented the fact that not only was it her birthday tomorrow but that she’d never had a birthday party.
Tony thought it would be a great idea to surprise Agnes with a birthday party. Learning from the cafe owner, a guy named Harry, that the girls came in every morning around 3.30am Tony agreed with him to set the place up for a party. Word somehow got out on the street, so that by 3.15 the next morning the place was packed with prostitutes, the cafe owner and his wife, and Tony.
When Agnes walked in she saw streamers, balloons, Harry holding a birthday cake, and everyone screaming out “Happy Birthday!” Agnes was overwhelmed. The tears poured down her face as the crowd sang Happy Birthday. When Harry called on her to cut the cake she paused. She’d never had a birthday cake and wondered if she could take it home to show her mother. When Agnes left there was a stunned silence. Tony did what a Christian minister should. He led Harry, Harry’s wife and a roomful of prostitutes in a prayer for Agnes.
It was a birthday party rarely seen in Honolulu – thrown by a Christian minister for a 39 year old prostitute who had never had anyone go out of their way to do something like this and who expected nothing in return. Indeed, so surprising was this turn of events that the cafe owner found it hard to believe there were churches that would do this sort of thing, but if there were then that’s the sort of church he’d be prepared to join.
The story of Telemachus is the story of extreme courage in the face of evil. Telemachus was a Christian monk who, in 391CE, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. While there he noticed crowds flocking to the Colosseum to see gladiators do battle. He followed them in, only to witness a sight that repulsed him.
Emperor Honorius was celebrating his triumph over the Goths. Gladiators armed with spears and swords reenacted the battle. After their reenactment the bodies of the dead were dragged from the arena and its bloodied surface covered with a fresh layer of sand.
In came a new series of gladiators. Some were armed with swords and spears, others with nets. The crowd watched with excitement as they sought to outdo each other. When a gladiator was wounded, his opponent would loom over him, waiting for the crowd’s verdict on whether to slay him or let him live. So great was the bloodlust that at times wealthier spectators would climb down to get a better view of the execution.
Telemachus watched with horror as people died, battles raged and the crowds cheered. Prompted into action, this bald headed, robed figure found his way onto the arena floor. He ran toward two gladiators locked in battle, grabbed one of them and pulled him away. He exhorted the two gladiators to abandon their murderous sport. He appealed to the crowd to not to break God’s law by murdering.
The response was anything but favourable. Angry voices drowned out Telemachus’, demanding that the spectacle continue. The gladiators prepared to do battle again, but Telemachus stood between them, holding them apart, urging them to reconsider. Driven by the anger of the crowd and their rage at Telemachus’ interference, the gladiators cut Telemachus to the ground, as the crowd threw missiles at him. Telemachus was killed.
But his death was not in vain. In 405 Emperor Honorius declared gladiatorial battles were to end at the Colosseum. Tradition tells us that it was Telemachus’ brave protest that helped move him to do so.
Source: Reported in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.
It is said that during the Second World War some soldiers serving in France wanted to bury a friend and fellow soldier who had been killed. Being in a foreign country they wanted to ensure their fallen comrade had a proper burial. They found a well-kept cemetery with a low stone wall around it, a picturesque little Catholic church and a peaceful outlook. This was just the place to bury their friend. But when they approached the priest he answered that unless their friend was a baptised Catholic he could not be buried in the cemetery. He wasn’t.
Sensing the soldiers disappointment the priest showed them a spot outside the walls where they could bury their friend. Reluctantly they did so.
The next day the soldiers returned to pay their final respects to their fallen friend but could not find the grave. “Surely we can’t be mistaken. It was right here!” they said. Confused, they approached the priest who took them to a spot inside the cemetery walls. “Last night I couldn’t sleep” said the priest. “I was troubled that your friend had to be buried outside the cemetery walls, so I got up and moved the fence.”
A man tells the story about a special friend he made while just a boy. When quite young, Paul’s father had one of the first telephones in their neighbourhood. Paul was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when his mother talked to it.
Then Paul discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person – her name was “Information, Please” and there was nothing she did not know.
“Information, Please” could supply anybody’s number and the correct time. Paul’s first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while his mother was visiting a neighbour. Amusing himself at the tool bench in the basement, Paul hacked his finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. He walked around the house sucking his throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway.
Quickly, Paul ran for the foot stool in the parlour and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, he unhooked the receiver in the parlour and held it to his ear. “Information, Please,” he said into the mouthpiece just above his head.
A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into Paul’s ear.
“I hurt my finger,” Paul wailed into the phone.
“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.
“Nobody’s home but me” Paul blubbered.
“Are you bleeding?” the voice asked.
“No,” he replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”
“Can you open your icebox?” she asked. He said he could. “Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the voice.
After that, Paul called “Information, Please” for everything. He asked her for help with his geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped him with his maths. She told Paul that his pet chipmunk, which he had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts. Then, there was the time Petey, the pet canary died. Paul called and told her the sad story.
She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but Paul was inconsolable. He asked her, “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?”
She must have sensed his deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow he felt better. .
When Paul was nine years old, his family moved across the country to Boston. Paul missed his friend very much. “Information, Please” belonged in that old wooden box back home, and he somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.
As he grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left him. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity Paul would recall the serene sense of security he had then. He appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.
A few years later, on his way west to college, Paul’s plane put down in Seattle. He had about half an hour or so between planes. He spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what he was doing, Paul dialled his hometown operator and said, “Information, Please.”
Miraculously, he heard the small, clear voice he knew so well, “Information.”
He hadn’t planned this but he heard myself saying, “Could you please tell me how to spell fix?”
There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, “I guess your finger must have healed by now.” Paul laughed. “So it’s really still you,” he said. “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time.”
“I wonder,” she said, “if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.” Paul told her how often he had thought of her over the years and asked if he could call her again when he came back to visit his sister.
“Please do,” she said. “Just ask for Sally.”
Three months later Paul was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, “Information.” He asked for Sally. “Are you a friend?” She asked.
“Yes, a very old friend,” Paul answered.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.”
Before he could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. Is this Paul?”
“Yes,” Paul replied.
“Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you.” The note said, “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”
Application: Listening – Information Please gave Paul one of the most precious yet simple gifts a person can give, the gift of listening.
Application: Hope, Death, Heaven. “There are other world’s to sing in”. Beyond death lies the hope of a new life.
Application: Community, Friendship. This story reminds us that we need each other. Information Please and Paul both had their lives enriched in powerful yet simple ways by the gift of their friendship with one another.
Application: Children. We adults often make the mistake of dismissing the concerns of small children. Yet coping with the death of a budgie or telling someone that you’ve hurt your finger are the things that are important to a small child. Sally reminds us of the importance of being attentive to the needs of children, not expecting them to function as mini adults but nurturing their journey as children.
Chaim Potok’s book Chosen tells the story of Danny Saunders, the son of a strict Hasidic Jew. For many years Danny’s father, though very human, never speaks to Danny, except when teaching him out of the Talmud. One day the mystery is revealed. Rabbi Saunders explains that God has blessed him with a brilliant son, a boy with a mind like a jewel. When Danny was 4 years old his father saw him reading a book and was frightened. The book described the suffering of a poor Jew, yet Danny enjoyed it!
“There was no soul in my 4-year-old Daniel, there was only a mind”
The rabbi cried to God “What have you done to me? A mind like this I need for a son? A heart I need for a son, a soul I need for a son, compassion…righteousness, strength to suffer and carry pain…”
So Rabbi Saunders followed an ancient Hasidic tradition and brought the boy up in silence, for then “in the silence between us he began to hear the world crying.”
Source: J. Stott, The Contemporary Christian pp119-120