Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sub-version! Part III

In the book, Bury the Chains, by Adam Hochschild, he describes a meeting of twelve men in 1787 who gathered in a London printing shop to pursue a seemingly impossible task: ending slavery in the largest empire on earth. “To understand how momentous was this beginning,” he writes, “we must picture a world in which the vast majority of people are prisoners…At the end of the eighteenth century, well over three quarters of all people alive were in bondage of one kind or another, not the captivity of striped prison uniforms, but of various systems of slavery or serfdom. The age was a high point in the trade in which close to eighty thousand chained and shackled Africans were loaded onto slave ships and transported to the New World each year. In parts of the Americas, slaves far outnumbered free persons. The same was true in parts of Africa,” and he goes on to talk about slavery in the Islamic world, the Ottoman Empire, India, and Russia.”

Such a world would, of course, be unthinkable today. But this was the world—our world—just two centuries ago, and to most people then, it was unthinkable that it could ever be otherwise.”

In fact, the era was one when “freedom, not slavery, was the peculiar institution” (Seymour Drescher). Most of us have heard of John Newton, the slave trader who became a very popular preacher, and who wrote the song, “Amazing Grace…” Well, it was 30 years after his conversion before he would even come to see slavery as wrong. He’d captained slave ships, seen the abuse and horror of slavery up close and personal. Men and women and children piled on top of one another. And yet it took him 30 years after his conversion. He wrote a sermon a quarter of a century after he left the slave trade summing up all of Britain’s sins, and guess what? Slavery did not make the list. Which shows how deeply entrenched was that royal consciousness. The empire and most of the so-called church couldn’t imagine a world without slaves. Didn’t even try.

But there was a sub-version being written: Twelve men meet in a dusty printing shop, several of them, of course, Quakers. And listen to this, only five years after this initial meeting of twelve men, more than 300.000 Britons were refusing to eat the chief product of the slave industry, sugar, 300,000 Britons back in the 1700s,. boycotting sugar, and within one life-time, within one century, slavery was, at least on paper, outlawed almost everywhere.

Several weeks ago, Cindy Sheehan, who lost a 24 year old son in the Iraq war, set up a chair by the side of a highway in Texas, right down the street from George Bush’s ranch, where he’s vacationing for six weeks. She said that she wanted to meet with him face to face, but he refused. So she continued to sit there. People came and sat with her. And on Monday, Mike Jupin called me and asked if we could hold a prayer vigil on Wednesday night in support of her efforts. We did, and so did over 1,700 other groups of people around our nation.

The royal story, according to last night’s news, is that we’re going to keep our soldiers in Iraq for the next four years. But there’s a sub-version unfolding: a mourning mother sets up her folding chair on the side of the highway. And even now, the reality that George Bush and other leaders of our nation have created is being re-shaped. God is relentless in God’s purposes, and God desire is peace.

Some of you have been involved in some sub-versions this week.

[Church members] Susan, Dan, Sue and Mike have been exchanging e-mails this week, talking about how they can get more kids at their kids’ school to “opt out,” meaning to sign a sheet saying that the school does not have permission to give their name to military recruiters. We need to put up posters, they’ve said. We need to develop posters, they’ve said. We need to have a workshop, they’ve said. These e-mails may not amount to much. But maybe they will.

Yes, some of you have been involved in some sub-versions this week. In fact, you’re involved in a sub-version right now. Because simply being a part of this community is a sub-version, being a part of any true community is a sub-version in this world that so values individualism. Tithing is a sub-version in this world that so values the accumulation of wealth. Meeting for worship is a sub-version in this world that puts a premium on time. Telling the truth about who we are and where we hurt during joys and concerns is a sub-version in this world that teaches us to mold ourselves to look and act and own like everyone else.

Yes, a sub-version is unfolding, and you and I are smack dab in the middle of it. God is pursuing love over hate, peace over war, justice over oppression, community over alienation, authenticity over falsehood. God is writing a whole new story, and we just might be some of its lead characters. Imagine that!
by Pastor Cindy, a true prophet for false times


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