Calling

Category Archives: Calling

The end of slavery

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?

Reflecting Light Into Dark Places

During the Second World War, German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme, the islanders met them, bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. The consequences of resistance were devastating. The residents of entire villages were lined up and shot.

Overlooking the airstrip today is an institute for peace and understanding founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous was just six years old when the war started. He home village was destroyed and he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. When the war ended, he became convinced his people needed to let go of the hatred the war had unleashed. To help the process, he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war.

One day, while taking questions at the end of a lecture, Papaderous was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It was such a weighty question. But Papaderous answered it.

He opened his wallet, took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. During the war he was just a small boy when he came across a motorcycle wreck. The motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smooth and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.

He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolise something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.

 I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.

Robert Fulgham, It Was On Fire When I Laid Down On It

St Patrick

At the turn of the 5th century the Roman Empire was on the verge of collapse. With it’s power crumbling, the coast of Britain was subject to attacks by violent Irish slave traders. In 401 a 16 year old boy named Patrick was taken in one of these raids. Stripped from the comforts of his home life and a future which would have included a classical education and career, Patrick was made the slave of an Irish chieftain and assigned the role of shepherd. The life of a shepherd-slave was miserable – isolated for months on end in mountains that were bitterly cold, in a land where he did not know the local languages, and experiencing times of severe hunger.

Such severe circumstances drove the young man to God. His grandfather had been a Christian priest, and Patrick turned to his family’s faith. He spent his bitter days in constant prayer. As he did, a deep love of God and a profound sense of God’s Spirit at work within him grew in the young man.

Six years after his kidnapping Patrick had a dream-vision. In his sleep he heard a voice say “Your hungers are rewarded: you are going home.” He sat up, startled, and the voice continued: “Look, your ship is ready.” Patrick got up and started walking. Two hundred miles later he came to the coast and saw a ship. No ship was about to give passage to a fugitive slave and the captain told the young man to move on. But Patrick knew this was his ship. He spent some time in prayer and before he had finished one of the sailors came after him with the message that he could sail with them.

It takes him two years but finally the young man arrives home to Britain. His overjoyed parents beg him not to ever leave them again. But one night Victorious, a man who he knew in Ireland, appears to him in a vision. Victorious holds a letter with the heading “The Voice of the Irish”. The young man then hears a voice of a multitude crying “We beg you to come and walk among us once more.”

Try as he might Patrick cannot put the Irish out of his mind. The visions keep coming until finally he gives in. He enrolls to be trained for the ministry and emerges some time later an ordained priest and bishop. And so a young bishop by the name of Patrick heads off to become the first known missionary to Ireland. His mission is astonishingly successful. The Irish rapidly embrace the Christian faith. By the time of his death Christianity has been established across Ireland, the Irish slave trade has ended, and murder and inter-tribal warfare have markedly decreased.

One of Patrick’s greatest achievements was the salvation of Western civilisation. After the “barbarians” overran the Roman Empire nearly all the great literary works were destroyed. Hundreds of years of learning literally went up in flames. But there was a place the Latin books were copied and preserved – in the monasteries established by Patrick throughout Ireland. When Europe emerged from its Dark Ages it was to the monasteries of Ireland that they turned to recover their learning.

 

Source: Reported in Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilisation (Hodder, 1995)

Stop Selling Sugared Water

Who among us could live without computers? It seems they’re everywhere – in our studies at home, on our desks at work, in the library, the bank and even the cafe. We get pleasure from them, we swear at them, we need them.

But it’s only a recent thing. Just 3 generations ago the Chairman of IBM declared there is a world market for only five computers. As recently as 1977 the President of Digital Equipment claimed there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home!

The revolution was brought to us in large part by Steven Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers. Steve Jobs was just 21 when he and Steve Wozniak invented the Apple Computer. Until then computers were a monstrous mass of vacuum tubes which took whole rooms. Then the two Steve’s managed to take that mass of tubes and incorporate them inside a box small enough to sit on a desk.

Jobs and Wozniak offered their invention to Atari. They weren’t interested in big bucks – all they wanted was a salary and the opportunity to continue their work. Atari knocked them back. They offered it to Hewlett-Packard, but Hewlett Packard knocked them back. It seemed Jobs and Wozniak alone could see the possibilities. So Jobs sold his Volkswagon and Wozniak sold his calculator, and with the $1300 that gave them they formed Apple Computers. The company was named Apple in memory of a happy summer Jobs had spent working in an orchard.

The rest is history. By all accounts Steve Jobs is a visionary, and spurred on by that vision he built a successful computer company. But Jobs soon discovered that if his vision was to reach fruition they needed greater management expertise. So Jobs approached John Sculley, then President of PepsiCo. There was absolutely no reason why Sculley should leave a highly paid position in a world leading company to go work with a bunch of computer nerds in a fledgling industry. Not unsurprisingly he turned Jobs down. But Jobs wouldn’t take no for an answer. He approached Sculley again. Again Sculley turned him down. In a last ditch effort Jobs passionately presented his visionary ideas to Sculley and he asked Sculley a question that forced him to accept.  The question was this: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Indeed Jobs and Sculley did change the world.

Jesus comes to us with the same question: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” Most of us spend our lives making sugared water, going to work to accumulate more possessions and perhaps finding space for God and the world in our spare time. But Jesus had a vision to change the world. His was the vision of the kingdom of God and he calls us to place it at the center of our lives, to make it our reason for existence (Matthew 6.33).

 

Source: information on Jobs and Sculley from “silicon_valley_story” and “ideafinder” websites.

Henry of Bavaria

In the eleventh century King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made an application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery.

“Your majesty” said Prior Richard, “Do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.”

“I understand” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”

“Then I will tell you what to do”, said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.”

When King Henry died, a statement was written: “The king learned to rule by being obedient.”

Source: told in Leadership Magazine, Fall 1985.

Go to Jesus

Will Campbell was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist and award winning author, based in Mississippi in the 1960’s and 70’s. Campbell’s prophetic ministry earned him death threats and opposition as well as helping others gain insight into what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus.

As a Baptist Will was familiar with the practise of the altar call, where people are invited to indicate a response to Christ by walking to the front of the church and being prayed for. Yet in a sermon Campbell once turned the idea of the altar call on it’s head. “I hope that someday there will be an evangelistic service in which, when the preacher gives the invitation and people start coming down the aisle, he yells back at them, ‘Don’t come down the aisle! Go to Jesus! Don’t come to me! Go to Jesus!'” said Campbell.

“Upon that declaration, the people who were coming down the aisle turn around and exit the auditorium and get in their cars and drive away. He then yells at the rest of the congregation, ‘Why are you hanging around here? Why don’t you go to Jesus too? Why don’t you all go to Jesus?’ The people rise en masse and quickly leave the church, and soon the parking lot is empty.”

“What I imagine is that about a half hour later the telephone at the police station starts ringing off the hook, and the voice at the other end says, ‘We’re down here at the old-folks’ home and there’s some crazy people at the door yelling that they want to come in and visit Jesus, and I keep telling them Jesus isn’t in here! All we have in here is a bunch of old ladies who are half dead. But they keep saying, “But we want to visit Jesus! We want to visit Jesus!”‘

“The next call is from the warden down at the prison. He’s saying, ‘Send some cops down here! There’s a bunch of nuts at the gate and they’re yelling and screaming, “Let us in there! We want to visit Jesus! We want to visit Jesus!” I keep telling them that all we have in this place are murderers, rapists, and thieves. But they keep yelling, “Let us in! We want to visit Jesus!”‘

“No sooner does the cop at the desk hang up the phone than it rings again. This time it’s the superintendent of the state hospital calling for help. He’s complaining that there are a bunch of weird people outside begging to be let in. They, too, want to see Jesus! The superintendent says, ‘I keep telling them Jesus isn’t here. All we have here are a bunch of nuts, but they keep yelling at us, “We want to see Jesus.”

Source: Biographical information from University of Southern Mississippi website. Sermon reported in Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You A Story

Black Robe

Bruce Beresford is one of Australia’s most successful film directors. Among his more widely known movies are Breaker Morant and Driving Miss Daisy. But one of the most difficult films he has ever made was Black Robe. It told the story of French Jesuit missionaries working among the Indians of Quebec.

The bitterly cold winter weather of Saguenay-Lac St Jean created a logistics nightmare.

But Beresferd’s greatest challenge was not the weather nor accuracy of historical portrayal. It was in making the priest’s missionary obsession believable to film-goers today. According to Beresferd: “He had an obsession with getting people into heaven. This is a concept few people these days take seriously. My job was to convince an audience that this is important.”

 

Source: interview with Beresferd at signis.net