Saving a Wretch, Finding a Friend & the Will to Change the World

achievement, Blog Entries, character, freedom, virtue

John Newton, author of the profound Christian hymn Amazing Grace was indeed a “wretch” in need of saving in the year 1748, but it was physical liberation not spiritual he desired. Not yet 24 years of age, he had already experienced impressment in the navy, flogging and forced servitude after being shanghaied in Africa.  Ironically, after his physical liberation from slavery he turned back to the industry that had once shackled him and wallowed in the abhorrent slave trade eventually captaining several slave ship.  After years of participating in this inhumane business, searing pain and remorse opened John’s calloused heart.  He experienced healing through a miraculous conversion to Christianity and entered the ministry where he would have a profound influence on a young man named William Wilberforce.

Wilberforce experienced a dramatically different upbringing, enjoying the advantage of wealth, education and a charismatic, friendly personality.  In great contrast to Newton’s enslaved state in his mid-twenties, at the same age Wilberforce was enjoying the exhilaration of political success after winning his first term in British Parliament.  Wilberforce was the life of the party in social settings and was inclined towards pleasure seeking.  However, while traveling through Europe with his former schoolmaster, Isaac Milner, a shift from his hedonistic tendencies occurred.  He and Milner light heartedly discussed any topic, but when it came to religion Milner would grow serious and reverent.  William chided his friend for his sobriety, but even his whit and charm could not move him to levity on the subject.  Milner acknowledged that he could not  match his gift for debate and persuasion, but told William that when he wanted to engage in a serious discussion about the subject he would be ready.  These serious discussions came and Wilberforce quickly found himself at a spiritual crossroad.

Upon returning to London, he was perplexed by his emotions.  With out his friend Milner, who had returned to Cambridge, he was left to face them alone.  Understanding he needed a spiritual mentor his mind turned to John Newton, a clergyman he knew as a boy but hadn’t seen in some 15 years.  Newton, who had experienced radical personal change in his conversion to Christianity, stood ready to advise William not just on spiritual matters, but on the direction of his career.  He counseled him to stay in politics rather than turning to ministry so he could use his gifts, position and connections to change the world for good.  William left this meeting in peace knowing that he must discover God’s purpose for him.  As part of this process he consulted his good friend William Pitt who would soon become Prime Minister of England.  Pitt assured him either decision would not change their friendship, but he did urge him to stick with politics.  Wilberforce ultimately concluded, “My walk is a public one…my business is in the world… I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which providence has assigned me.”

And what was the post which providence had assigned?  In his own words he wrote, “God almighty has placed before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners (or the moral conduct of society).”  This concise and clear mission statement would drive him through the most daunting opposition for the rest of his life.  To better appreciate the magnitude of this mission, one must realize that he was taking on a centuries old lucrative British industry.  Not only did many powerful people stand to lose greatly, but numerous jobs throughout the British Empire would be lost.  Powerful lobbies therefore stood in his way questioning why Britain should just hand the slave trade over to foreign countries that would perpetuate it anyway.

A man on a mission however does not count the odds, he proceeds with faith, but even Wilberforce with his phenomenal gift for debate and his skill at coalition building could not move this established industry and year after year his bill was rejected. Finally, in 1796 his jubilance at having the votes to end the trade was crushed in the very hour of the vote when he discovered that the critical moderate swing voters he needed had been lured away from the floor by the lobbies with nothing more than free opera tickets.  It failed by just 4 votes. Simple enticements for entertainment had kept the slave trade in operation.

In spite of these set backs and other challenges ranging from severe health problems, bouts with depression and physical exhaustion, Wilberforce pressed on.  He also endured vicious personal attacks which branded him as un-patriotic during the War with Napoleon.  For decades he withstood all this and steadily moved towards his goal with character, tenacity and the support of friends like Pitt, Milner, Newton, his wife and the dedicated members of the Clapham Circle.

Finally, after persevering for 20 years, the momentous day arrived when parliament was poised to pass the bill.  The atmosphere was charged with electricity as Wilberforce stood to deliver a moving speech.  As his final words went silent, thunderous applause erupted throughout the hall.  Sensing it was at last finished he dropped in his seat and wept openly.  As the tears flowed freely the applause grew louder and gave way to an unprecedented three cheers for Wilberforce.  The final vote was 283-16, a decisive victory and an overwhelming show of support.  Wilberforce who had been vilified, ridiculed and  slandered became a national hero because of his unshakable courage, perseverance and character which in the end elevated him above it all!

Today it is nearly impossible for us to perceive the deplorable conditions that accompanied the trafficking of 11 million plus slaves out of Africa or comprehend the conditions that caused millions to perish in the process.  Thankfully we don’t deal with this moral dilemma in the same way today among the governments of the world because inspired men like Wilberforce who surrounded himself with worthy friends chose to fight injustice in his day rather then deferring it to another generation.

Bishop Desmond Tutu said of William Wilberforce, “[He] shows us that one person can make a difference.  Few of us will be in Parliament as Wilberforce was, but all of us are part of community.  Each of us can find ways to serve each other…”  Today, the political landscape appears daunting and people clamor for change but doubt that leadership exists to bring it about.  Whatever concerns the reader may feel about our current condition, remember that legislative bodies have always been slow to act and have been overly preoccupied with intrigue, favor and special interest.  But, before this thought overwhelms you, think of Wilberforce and remember that it only takes one to create positive change in the world.  Are you one who will?

Abraham Lincoln, Truth That Rings True Today

character, perseverance, Uncategorized, virtue

New Podcast– Learn what Abraham Lincoln saw back then that we should see today.  When Lincoln won the Republican nomination as their candidate to run for president of the United States, Southern States began threatening to leave the Union.  His deep convictions created the final blow that split the nation. LISTEN to this podcast and hear a voice that echoes as true today as it did then. The subject isn’t slavery today, but it applies to other current issues.  See if you can see a parallel and a threat to liberty today…

Education or Slavery? It’s a Choice

Uncategorized

Does inflation irritate you?  Do you every think about how to protect yourself against it? After all, it is constantly on the move creeping up all around us.  Even with the massive market correction in housing in the past decade, the U.S. government reports a 357% increase in the average price of a home from 1980 ($ 76,400) to 2010 ($ 272,900) (1).  That statistic far outpaces the 165% cumulative inflation rate the U.S. has experienced over that same period (2). 

If you think housing was bad, consider the massive increase in education costs.  The NationalCenter for Education Statistics reports that the average cost to attend one year of a 4-year college in 1980 was $ 3,499.  Jump ahead to 2010 and the average cost shoots up over $22,000—an incredible 631% increase in cost!  With the exception of healthcare, very few items can keep pace with inflation in higher education.  If a stock increased 631% over that same period, investors would be ecstatic, but can the education sector boast such a dramatic return on investment? And let’s get away from the dollars and cents return.  Is America fundamentally sounder because of the training it’s giving the rising generation?  Put another way, is post-secondary education merely about opening a door to making some money or are we preparing a generation to think, create, improve, uplift and promote freedom?  This question must be asked in determining the true value of our own education and that of our educational system.   

            Years ago a man seeking investment advice from a wealthy Benjamin Franklin received a surprising answer.  Franklin responded that the best return would be realized by investing in himself. He went on to emphasize that an investment in his own education could always be called upon and never lost.  Even though his formal schooling ended at age 10, Franklin realized that the gateway to success was knowledge and personal development.  Thus, he poured time and money first and foremost into a self-directed education and his list of accomplishments seems never ending.

Another figure who recognized the power of a self-directed education was Booker T. Washington, a black slave born in Virginia at a time when state laws prohibited the education of slaves.  That state, reacting to an insurrection among the slaves, realized that an educated slave was more apt to think and fight for his freedom.  As a result they reasoned that controlling their education was the best approach to controlling their behavior—just ponder that statement for a minute

            As a boy slave, Washington recalls sleeping on a pallet of dirty rags with his siblings in a cabin on a southern farm.  He received little attention from his mother who was literally enslaved in household work from early in the morning to late at night.  His chores were relatively light, but he dreaded one chore above all others—taking the corn three miles to the mill.  During the long haul the corn would often shift and fall from the horse’s back.  Helpless to reload the heavy bag himself, long hours would pass as he waited for a willing passerby to do it for him.  With each passing moment, fear of the return trip in the dark and the flogging he would receive for his tardiness drove him to tears.

Though he had no schooling as a slave, he relates an experience that sent a charge of inspiration through his body that he could hardly understand at the time.  Carrying the books for his mistresses to the schoolhouse one day, he recalls being mesmerized by the sight of “several dozen boys and girls in a schoolroom engaged in study…I had the feeling that to get into a schoolhouse and study in this way would be about the same as getting into paradise.” (3)        Not long after this at age 9, a Union Soldier entered the home of his owners and read a piece of paper declaring the slaves free. Overcome by emotion, his mother’s eyes filled with tears that wet his cheek as she kissed him and thanked God for this day of deliverance that she had long prayed for. 

However, their rejoicing quickly turned to somberness as the full weight of independence rested squarely on the shoulders of families who had never made decisions for themselves.  W.E.B. DuBois sums up the former slaves plight as follows, “[He] felt his poverty; without a cent, without a home, without land, tools, or savings, he had entered into competition with rich, landed, skilled neighbors. To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.”

Under those conditions Booker walked hundreds of miles to West Virginia to unite with his step-father.  There he labored first as a salt packer, then as a coal minor before taking a job as the house boy for the mine owner, Lewis Ruffner.  Mrs. Ruffner slowly warmed to the boy and began teaching him to read and write.  There the spark he felt years earlier when staring at the one-room schoolhouse roared into an unquenchable burning passion to become deeply and widely educated.  In 1872 at the age of 16, Washington left his employment to pursue his dream to expand his mind and enlighten others.  He walked over 500 miles to Hampton Institute where he met his mentor and friend, Former Union Army General, Samuel Armstrong, who would have a profound influence on shaping his life. Together they took on the education of slaves and the goal of helping them learn self-reliance, industry and much more.  Within three years he had earned his BA and began a teaching career. 

When all was said and done, Booker’s passion for learning drove him to earn advanced degrees from Wayland Seminary, Harvard and Dartmouth.  He became a powerful speaker and educator whose advice was sought for by President Theodore Roosevelt.  He dined with presidents, had tea with Queen Victoria in London, spent time with wealthy philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and was able to create TuskegeeCollege for the education of black people in America.  By 1915, he had taken it from a school which met in a rural black church to a prominent institution with over 60 buildings and a 3 million dollar endowment. 

Washington embodies the qualities of greatness and the value of pursuing knowledge and wisdom.  From a spark of inspiration, he disciplined himself to pursue his passion for education and in the process empowered countless former slaves to develop the capacity to live free. You see, a piece of paper can’t do that for you, me or our children.  No, not even a degree that costs $100,000 can do that.  Only a freedom education can empower our country today to enjoy the true benefits of freedom.  So what is the value of your education and are you willing to really invest in yourself today in spite of or maybe in addition to the formal education so many us receive and package up never to be used again?  If you would be free, dust off your thinking caps!  Read a book because you want to.  Turn off your TV and turn on your brain.  For we will either discipline ourselves in this fashion…or someone else most certainly will.

 

1. http://www.census.gov/const/uspriceann.pdf

2. http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/

3. Washington, Booker T. Autobiography: Up From Slavery; The Penguin Group, NY, NY, 1986.