June 30, 2007

Amazing Grace

William Wilberforce was a rising young political star when an earth-shattering event altered the course of his life forever: he found God. Or, rather, as he explained it, "I think He found me."

Amazing Grace, a Bristol Bay Productions film, tells his story, one that cries out to be heard by the apathetic world of today.

God didn't leave Wilberforce alone for long. As he grappled with his newly-found faith, Wilberforce was faced with a dilemma.

"We understand you're having problems choosing whether to do the work of God or the work of a political activist", a group of mysterious visitors told him one evening.

"We humbly suggest...that you can do both."

And he did. Amazing Grace is the story of that battle: one man in Parliament versus his country's largest profit machine. A small band of friends versus evil. All of them fighting an impossible battle.

Wilberforce: "No one of our age has ever taken power."
Pitt the Younger: "Which is why we're too young to realize that certain things are impossible. Which is why we will do them anyway."

And so Wilberforce devotes his life to righting a wrong that has plagued him for years - slavery. He gives his brightest years of life to the cause. He gives his health, his sleep, his mind, his soul. His everything. Any hope of a peaceful family life is crushed by the commitment.

But years later, the only thing Wilberforce has won is ridicule. Bitter and depressed, he withdraws to the country to mull over his failures.

"It's only painful to talk about because we haven't changed anything," he says.

The determined Barbara Spooner draws him out, forcing Wilberforce to confront his past. "...If there is a bad taste in your mouth", she scolds him, "you spit it out. You don't constantly swallow it back." And later: "You still have passion! That matters more!"

After they marry, Wilberforce returns to London renewed and once again surrounds himself with his closest friends and confidants, this time a group freshly zealous to end the slave trade once and for all. With a new strategy and revived passion, they continue the fight.

"Your life is a thread. It breaks, or it doesn't break," Equiano, a former slave, comments. Righteousness, however, stretches on - a reality greater than yourself, bigger than anything you could possibly hope to be.

When the slave trade is finally outlawed, there is no doubt: every failure was worth it. As Lord Fox proclaims: "William Wilberforce will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow, and remember the slave trade is no more."

That's not the end of the battle, of course - but it is one glorious victory in the struggle for the sanctity of life. It demonstrates what happens when good men do something.

Amazing Grace reminds us that some things are worth fighting for. Worth giving all you've got - the last drop of blood, the last tear, the last breath. In a world where selfishness is the norm, Wilberforce shows us that there are things that transcend a life of comfort and complacency. Things worth doing.

June 17, 2007

Twisted Justice

"Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful."
- C.S. Lewis

Several weeks ago, I was standing in the Senate Gallery of my State Capitol. Two Senators had just begun to filibuster a pro-life bill that would prevent Planned Parenthood from teaching in public schools and put more restrictions on abortion clinics. I was watching them closely when another Senator slipped in behind me and began speaking to another woman in the gallery.

"I am so excited!"*, the Senator bubbled, putting her hand over her heart and smiling. "I just got an email with the most exciting news! There's a man who was given the death penalty and has been sitting in prison since 1996, but I just received word that he has been granted a retrial. Hopefully we'll be able to get the poor fellow a much lighter sentence. I'm going to try to get him out on probation as soon as possible!"

The other woman expressed her delight, and they began to speak softly of the possibilities for the felon's release. When they had finished, the Senator tossed her head and stepped toward the door. "I'd better get back down there", she declared with chagrin. "After something wonderful like this, I have to go down and worry about that." She motioned with disgust toward the Senate floor, where the abortion debate was still going strong. "See you later."

Her words brought to mind Isaiah 1:16,17: "...Seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan..." In our society, these priorities are often twisted - the ruthless are defended and the vulnerable are oppressed!

Isaiah further states:

"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20)
Since when did the guilty merit more compassion than the innocent?

*dialogue to the best of my remembrance