Went to see African Snow tonight in Bristol.
Very moving, so won't say enjoyable. This is Riding Light's drama of the abolition of slavery, featuring Olaudah Equiano and John Newton. It brought home to me the conditions of slavery (more than the film Amazing Grace did, which I enjoyed), and made me continue to think about the way that slavery continues today in various guises. Bristol and Liverpool were compared to Sodom and Gomorrah. The play was all the more effective because all the actors were black, playing English and African characters, except one.
Most of all it struck me that the very fact for Olaudah of learning English, and the Biblical words justice and righteousness, started a process of examining how well they were (not) applied in the society of his day. The Bible is a subversive document.
A Snow is a particular kind of ship which was used for carrying slaves. The play was partly sponsored by CMS.
I spent today in these gorgeous surroundings enjoying a day of quiet. I have been doing a lot of networking lately, so amongst other things, it was an opportunity to reflect on what I have been Discovering.
I was impressed by John Wraw, Archdeacon of Salisbury, who led the short afternoon meditation. Although a senior leader in the church he came across very much as a pastor. Sometimes who we are says more than the words we speak.
I found myself remembering today that William Wilberforce committed his life to two objects: “the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” Manners in his language may translate better as moral values today.
This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade (although there is still work to be done). What about the second object?
I feel a call to this. In Britain today people moan about bad behaviour, such as “road rage” and “binge drinking” while at the same time struggling to reinvent values to improve British society. I don't see that we need to reinvent values: the core Christian values, that we once inherited and developed, seem to appeal to all “people of goodwill” regardless of what religion they claim. What is sometimes called the Golden Rule summarises part of this, the way that people should relate to one another: “do to others as you would like them to do to you.”
It seems to me that when we note what is good manners, or bad manners, we are well in touch with our own values and the values that our society aspires to. So it would be a good way forward to share Wilberforce's second object as well as his first: the Reformation of Manners.
This is not a crusade to change others: like all good leadership it needs to start with “me” and the example that “I” set. Let's go for it!