James Bond vs. Samuel Sharpe: The Cool Factor

Round two of our contest raises the question of cool.

Cool is interesting.

Of course, it’s hard to pull off.  I, myself, am not any good at it.  Occasionally I’ve dreamed about dressing for class like my film studies professor friend, Andrew Rudd, who is very cool.  One day, much to my surprise, I came very close to doing it, except that I wasn’t wearing the Converse canvas sneakers with my tweed sports jacket, jeans, and green T-shirt.  It appears, in fact, to have been something like the middle-aged woman who wins a pick-up truck by shooting a puck from center ice into a 5 inch cut-out in the hockey net at intermission of the hockey game.  A lucky shot.  I won’t get that close again.

Pierce Brosnan and an Aston Martin Vanquish take a break from their duties for a moment to show us how to be cool.

To a certain generation (I’m talking about you, Baby Boomers), James Bond was cool.   Always a snappy dresser, Bond was suave, cool and sophisticated.  He drove sleek Aston Martins.  Over the years his films introduced audiences to the latest technology like lasers, videophones and infrared scopes. The latest technology, of course, is cool.  He came with his own theme music, starting with the electric guitar spy riffs in the opening credits of “Dr. No,” and continuing over the years with commissioned music by cool artists like Paul McCartney, Duran Duran, and Alicia Keys.  He always got the woman he wanted.

And of course, there was his famous line:  “The name is Bond.  James Bond.”  That’s a cool line.

Samuel Sharpe wasn’t actually very cool.

Nobody, apparently, told Samuel Sharpe how cool he’d look in dreadlocks.

Many Jamaicans are cool, but Sharpe wasn’t one of them.  If we go by the drawings made of him in the years after he died, he didn’t have dreadlocks.  So he missed a chance, there. Not really a snappy dresser, from what we can tell.  No background music.   His technology, which probably consisted of a shovel and a machete, was not the latest that science had to offer.   Sharpe had to walk everywhere.  He didn’t even form a bobsled team for the Olympics, which was cool there for a while.

Now, he had the chance to pull off a great line.  Imagine Sharpe appearing at the door of the stately home of a slave owner with a band of armed slaves behind him.  He tells the slaveowner, “The name is Sharpe. Samuel Sharpe.”  Then he turns and burns down the guy’s sugar mill.

That would have been cool.

But it didn’t happen that way.



James Bond                 1

Samuel Sharpe            1

James Bond vs. Samuel Sharpe: Redemption and Violence

James Bond or Samuel Sharpe:  which one should we be most interested in?  Today begins our head to head competition between the two (see the previous post for details).  Round one begins with the topic of redemption and violence.

James Bond in “Dr. No”

James Bond is in the redemption business.  He tries to save the world from bad guys and bad women who come in all kinds of different sizes, shapes and nationalities.  And he saves the world, every time of course, usually by killing the bad guys.  At one point in “Dr. No,” the first Bond movie (filmed in Jamaica), Bond knifes a guy from behind who was trying to track him down.  “Why did you kill him?” asks Honey Ryder.  “I had to,” replies Bond, coolly.  According to the logic of the film, the world won’t be saved unless Bond kills bad people.  We see him kill five individuals at different points in this film, not including those who might have died when he blows up Dr. No’s secret nuclear powered radio beam laboratory at Crab Key in Jamaica.

But is it interesting?   Well, yes, on one level.  Several Bond films have hit the top 100 grossing films of all time.  A lot of people are quite interested in stories in which a hero or set of heroes kills off bad people who threaten to destroy society.  It is one of the most common stories humankind tells itself.   And it is very common in film.  (Just think Star Wars, Spider Man, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rambo, the Avengers, Little Mermaid, your typical western, your typical war movie, any film with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it where he does not get pregnant, etc. etc. etc.)

Now, I have to confess that, personally, I don’t find this basic formula extremely interesting, partly because it is so very common.  I am, however, extremely interested in why so many people find this kind of story interesting, but that’s a question for another day.

So what about Samuel Sharpe?

Sharpe was also in the redemption business.  He was a Baptist evangelist, which meant that he was interested in the salvation of souls.  But he also was very interested in saving society from the oppression of slavery.  As a result, he attacked that system.  But his story unfolded much differently than the typical Bond film.  Let me highlight two points.

First, if the goal of a rebellion is to kill the bad guys, the Jamaican slaves proved to be stunningly and amazingly ineffective.   Sixty thousand slaves rose up, fought for one month and in the process killed…..fourteen whites.  60,000 to 14.  Has there ever been a smaller proportional harvest of dead bad guys than that?  James Bond could knock off that many bad guys in about three minutes of hand-to-hand fighting in an ordinary atomic laboratory.

What kind of rebellion was this, anyway?

Jamaican slaves attack a plantation

The Baptist War was a rebellion that intentionally targeted property rather than people.  The slaves burned hundreds of houses and attacked sugar mills.  Sharpe explicitly told the rebels that they were to drive the slaveowners off the estates but they should not harm them, except in self-defense.  What a strange strategy.  More strange was that 60,000 slaves should listen to it. Burdened by a terribly oppressive system and given the opportunity to vent their frustrations, why should they exhibit this amount of self-restraint?

The slave rebellion was crushed.  In the end, 500 slaves were killed or executed.  The rebellion was a failure.  Slavery was not abolished in Jamaica.

But the story does not end there.

Slavery was not abolished, that is, until one year later, when the British Parliament emancipated the slaves in all its colonies (except those under the control of the British East India Company).  And here we come to the second very interesting part of this story.  The self-restraint and relative absence of violence on the part of the slaves played a key role in abolition.  In a round-about way, the slaves won, even after they lost the rebellion.

It’s a long and complicated story, but here are the relevant points for our purposes:  abolitionists in Parliament had been working for decades against formidable opposition.  They had managed to ban the slave trade and slavery in Britain.  It was tougher going to ban slavery in the colonies.

By 1831, political conditions made it look like abolition was in reach.  The key lay in persuading enough politicians and their constituents to put the vote over the top.

But most Brits had the 1791 Haitian slave revolt in the back of their minds.  That revolt left 10,000  blacks and 2000 whites dead.  It provoked an even more violent twelve-year rebellion.  As a result, the Haitian revolt  left an ambiguous legacy.  It proved that abolition was possible.  But the violence of the rebellion terrified whites in Europe and the Americas.  Stores of atrocious acts of violence by blacks (though not those of whites against blacks) circulated among white populations for years afterward.  The revolt reinforced racial stereotypes of blacks as savage beasts and encouraged many whites to believe that emancipation would lead economic ruin and the wholesale slaughter of whites.

Had the Jamaican slaves in 1831, then, set out to kill as many slaveowners as possible, they most likely would have turned a great chunk of British public opinion against them.  Samuel Sharpe, who had received news from missionaries about Parliamentary negotiations, knew this.  Thus, the orders for self-restraint.

And it shaped the political discussion in the months after the Baptist War.  Instead of hearing speeches denouncing savage brutality of blacks who wanted to rape white women and massacre the English, MPs in London heard missionaries testify about the cruelty of the planters and the execution of Christians like Sharpe.  Black slaves no longer looked like savage beasts.  It became more possible to conceive of them as free citizens.  Although there was more to the story, the relative lack of violence by the Jamaican slaves played a key role in their redemption from slavery.  How strange.

And what an interesting story of violence and redemption.

Score:    James Bond         0

Samuel Sharpe    1

James Bond vs. Samuel Sharpe: A head to head competition

James Bond

If you have ever visited Jamaica, there is a good chance that at some point you found yourself in a van driven by a Jamaican driver.  In that affable and jocular way common to many Jamaicans, your driver probably pointed out interesting spots along the way.  And since you probably flew into or docked in Montego Bay or Falmouth, there is a good chance that your driver pointed out a spot on the north shore where they filmed scenes from a couple of James Bond movies.

That is what happened to me.  I have visited Jamaica twice with church members and Malone students on ministry trips.  Two different years, two different drivers, but both mentioned the James Bond movies.  That’s why I think James Bond movies were probably mentioned to you when you visited Jamaica.  Or will be, if you ever visit Jamaica.

OK, I admit this is a terribly unscientific survey of what Jamaican van drivers usually say.  It is a terribly unscientific way to determine what probably happened to you if you ever visited Jamaica.  And it is a terribly unscientific way to predict what will happen to you if you visit Jamaica some day.  But I needed an opening hook for this blog series.  And, anyway, I am still convinced that visitors are likely to hear about James Bond, even though this conviction is terribly unscientific.

Here is what struck me:  neither driver mentioned Samuel Sharpe.  You will find Samuel Sharpe on the Jamaica currency, you will find his face painted on the walls of many Jamaican primary schools, and you will find that the Jamaican government considers Samuel Sharpe to be one of their national heroes.

OK, so who is this Samuel Sharpe guy, you may ask?  And if you didn’t ask, you should, because unless you attended a primary school in Jamaica (a demographic that my blog has not reached in large numbers, for some reason) you probably don’t know who he is.

Samuel Sharpe, a Jamaican hero

Briefly:  Samuel Sharpe was a slave and a Baptist preacher in Jamaica in 1831, when Jamaica was a British colony.  He organized a rebellion against slavery, primarily by working through the Baptist and Methodist church networks, which is why the rebellion is sometimes called the Baptist War.  The rebellion was put down, Sharpe was captured, and he was hanged.  However, the rebellion played a key role in British politics and the abolition cause, which produced the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833, which abolished slavery in all the British colonies.  That’s the short story.  More details will emerge in posts that follow.

It is apparent to me that Jamaican van drivers know about Samuel Sharpe.  But Jamaican van drivers also depend upon the tourist business for their livelihood.  They will point out spots and talk about things that they have found to be of interest to tourists.  That means that the decision to mention James Bond and not Samuel Sharpe is driven by what visitors want to hear.

Now, I think it would be interesting to hear about both.  But I also wondered this:  if visitors to Jamaica are going to hear about only one of these guys, which one should they hear about?

That brings us to my next blog series:  a showdown between James Bond and Samuel Sharpe.  We’ll set them up against each other in a head to head competition, battling it out in a number of categories to determine the answer to this question: which one should we be most interested in?

Stay tuned.

Strangers on Your Doorstep, Part 4b: Faithfulness as a church body

In my previous post I told the story of changes that took place at Long Beach Friends Church.  I wrote that I thought this was a church that responded faithfully to God’s direction.  The key here, I think, is what it means to respond faithfully.  I’m not deeply knowledgeable about this congregation, but I would draw the following conclusions from what I observe:

1) Prayer.  One of the most important things prayer does is change us.  It looks to me like the prayer meeting in 1979 helped make the congregation more sensitive, willing and aware to respond when an opportunity landed on their doorstep.  Without prayer, we are often dull and insensitive to what God may be doing around us.

2) The local/global nexus.  Instead of thinking the grass might be greener in another neighborhood, the church became increasingly willing to respond to the people in their own neighborhood.  But that local response was also possible because the congregation believed that the Christian faith had a global dimension to it.  Some Americans and some American Christians aren’t quite so willing to welcome and interact with immigrants, who may not seem like they are one of “us.”

3) Shifting identity.  Long Beach Friends has now been in existence for more than a century.  It is still a Friends congregation, with the same core Christian faith it held a century ago.  However, its ethnic and racial identity is quite different.  Its ministries are multiethnic.  Its elders are multiethnic.  It has adjusted its worship, with services in different languages but also a combined ethnic worship service.  And I’m sure that other adjustments have had to be made as the second generation of immigrant children has grown up in American culture.  In shifting ethnic or cultural situations, then, faithfulness means that a body will need to be willing to incorporate new leadership into the institution.  A lot of conversations and a lot of listening will have to take place.

4) Unexpected Developments.  How many members of the Long Beach Friends Church in 1952 could have predicted what their church looks like today?   There is a wider message here for the church in America.  How many American Christians in 1952 could have predicted what the worldwide church looks like today?  White Americans (or even white Americans and Europeans) are now a definite minority in the worldwide church.  Among other things, that means that those of us from the white American demographic may not always get to set the terms for the church and its ministry.  If we insist on setting the terms…..well, then what?  On the other hand, if we listen, come alongside others, listen, and adjust…well, then what?



Strangers on Your Doorstep, Part 4a: The Long Beach Friends Church

In 1979, the Long Beach Friends Church looked to be on its last legs.  This church, which had been formed ninety years earlier, had once thrived with a membership in the hundreds.  By the late 1970s, though, worship attendance was closer to a couple dozen and it had no children’s Sunday school program to speak of.

Mother’s Day at Long Beach Friends in the 1940s

This happens to churches sometimes, for a variety of reasons.  For the Long Beach Friends, the biggest factor seemed to be that many long-time members had moved away.  We Americans are a restless lot, and this has been no less true of southern California.  As residents came and left Long Beach, the demographics of the city shifted, with Asian and Hispanic immigrants making up a larger percentage of the population by the 1970s.

Members of the church wondered whether or not they would have to “lay down the meeting.”  (Translation for the non-Quakers among you:  closing down the church).  The church held a prayer meeting.  Through that meeting they decided that God was telling them that He still had a purpose for that church, which might mean some sort of ministry in their community.  They decided they would not lay it down.

Very shortly afterward – it may have been the next Sunday morning–four Khmer men (immigrants from Cambodia) stopped in front of the building.  They were looking at the cross and wondering if the building were a church.  One of the women from the church invited them in to their Sunday Bible study.  The one man of the four who could speak a little English told the class they had been in the United States for just a few months.  They wanted a church where they could raise their children as Christians.  Somewhere, in a winding odyssey that had taken them from their villages in Cambodia, to refugee camps in Thailand, to southern California, they had adopted the Christian faith.

The Long Beach Friends Church now found itself on a different sort of odyssey.  The children’s program, of course, suddenly took on new life.  But the existing members also discovered that they had been pushed into unfamiliar territory.  They decided they needed to round up clothes, toys and transportation for the new immigrants.  They had to learn Cambodian customs.  They had to figure out how to hold worship and conduct ministries in a couple of different languages. And they had to learn the ropes of the medical, welfare, housing, interpreter and the refugee systems.

Today, Long Beach Friends is a thriving multiethnic church.  You should check out their website.   The church has worship services, Bible studies, and ministries in English, Khmer, Spanish and Korean. They have an inner city ministry, community dinners, programs for children, and a sports ministry.  Nobody talks about “laying down the meeting.”

Of course, the church must have had its conflicts, tensions, challenges and difficulties along the way.  I don’t know any of those details, but I know these things happen in every church, family, school, business and, needless to say, long-term cross-cultural ministry.  The key is not sinlessness but faithfulness.  That prayer meeting in 1979 demonstrated a desire by the small congregation to discern what God had called them to and then to be faithful to that call. And so did the search by the Khmer men to find a church in this strange new land.

More on this in my next post.

Twitter and World Christianity

OK, you might think, after reading my “Strangers on the Doorstep” posts, I shouldn’t really just wait around for people from around the world to arrive on my doorstep, if I’m interested in world Christianity.

That’s right, I might think, in response to your thinking.  Obviously there are many ways for you to be connected and involved.  For instance, think of the good you could do for world Christianity by Tweeting!

Youcef Nadarkhani

If that sounds superficial and absurd (and even if it does not sound superficial and absurd) you should check out the recent Anxious Bench blog by Thomas Kidd.  He writes how an Iranian convert to Christianity and pastor named Youcef Nadarkhani has recently been released from prison after being jailed for apostasy from Islam.  The interesting part, especially for all you social-media-savvy folk out there (you are social-media-savvy, aren’t you — you’re reading my blog after all) is that Christians launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign to help support efforts by the American Center for Law and Justice and the State Department to put pressure on the Iranian government.

Spoiler Alert:  If you haven’t switched over to Kidd’s blog yet and you don’t mind me telling you a interesting little nugget from his story, read on.  A great deal of this social media support came from…Brazilian evangelicals.  Of course!  That’s just what you were thinking, isn’t it?

It’s an interesting (and important) little event in worldwide evangelical cooperation.  I’m telling you, we need to think about getting more knowledgeable about this world Christianity stuff…..

Strangers on Your Doorstep, Part 3b

This post, which is a follow-up to my previous post, starts with a stolen anecdote.  (Like preachers, I take my best anecdotes from others.)

Celia King, the Service-Learning Director at Malone, spoke in chapel the other day and explained how she once came across a big pile of clothes at an orphanage in China.  And when I say big, I don’t mean big, as in 5-loads-of-laundry big.  I mean big, as in somewhere between the size of a Ford Econoline Van and a fire truck.  And speaking of fires, one of the orphans, under the instructions of the orphanage leaders, was busy torching this emergency-vehicle-sized-pile of clothes.

So, what was going on here?

It seems that a good number of kind-hearted folks had decided to help out the orphanage, so they organized a pretty efficient system for getting clothes to this orphanage.

The problem was that they were so efficient that the orphanage was soon flooded with far more clothes than they needed.  The clothes piled up.  Did I mention it was a big pile?  The big pile drew rats.  Rats, as I understand, are not good for orphanages.  So they periodically had to torch the delivery-truck-sized piles of clothes that piled up.

Celia pointed out that it is great to try to help out when we see a problem, but sometimes we jump in without fully knowing the situation.

I would also point out that Americans are particularly susceptible to this problem, because we are shaped by a culture that is task-oriented.  Since the colonial era, Americans like to fix things and accomplish tasks.  We have built train systems, we have put a man on the moon, we have invented the Post-It Note, and we do more piles of laundry per capita than anyone in the world.  Even the Dutch.  (Or at least this was true in 1937).  Millions of American schoolchildren have been inspired by Abraham Lincoln, who famously told the nation, “Git ‘er Done!” (OK, that wasn’t really from Abraham Lincoln, who was much more eloquent in his public speeches, but I still think it could have been Abraham Lincoln at the age of 19 as he hauled flatboats down the Mississippi River).

For instance, if Karen refugees suddenly arrived on the doorstep of our church, like they did in that Baptist church in upstate New York, (see my previous post) I imagine that many kind-hearted church members would jump right in to find them clothes, arrange transportation, set up English classes and get them to driving instructors.  That would demonstrate a great level of compassion.

But would our churches know the best way to deliver these services to them?  Would our churches know whether the Karen needed Bible instruction?  Would our churches need to give them tips on reaching out to their unchurched Karen neighbors? Would our churches know what spiritual issues are most pressing to their community?

Maybe, maybe not.  Actually, probably not.

In addition to the desire to help, then, it is critical that we slow down, engage in conversation and listen.  Especially in cross-cultural situations.  For instance, if we were working with Karen refugees in our churches and wondering if they needed Bible instruction, we might learn through a discussion with a Karen leader that their great-great-great-great grandparents became Christians in the 1840s.  We might also learn that their family had been reading the Bible, in the Karen language, since that time.  So do they need Bible instruction?  They might, they might not.  They might want some theological education.  But they might not.  They might want English language instruction.  But maybe only some of them.  We would have to listen to them to find out.

The best missionaries and missionary thinkers in history understood this.  Do our churches?  Is listening built into the way we do our ministries?  I hope so.

Strangers on Your Doorstep, Part 3a: Upstate New York

Most of you who are regular attenders at evangelical churches probably have a Sunday morning routine that is similar to many others.  You go to Sunday school, you drink coffee, and you catch up on the week with fellow congregants.  You go to worship and sing praise choruses or hymns. You scan the bulletin for other activities you may be involved in:  small groups, outreach projects, the choir practice.  You listen to a decent sermon and hope the pastor is done by noon so you can beat the Presbyterians to the Olive Garden.

It is a pattern that carries its own joys and frustrations.  Over the years, a few people leave and enter the picture.  The worship and church projects may change somewhat.  But you see God at work and there may be a certain comfort in the familiarity of the overall pattern.

So let us suppose that one Sunday morning, 75-100 Asians walk into your church, unannounced.  Most of them cannot speak English.  They are of all ages and they do not look to have much income.  Their leader tells you that they are from Myanmar.  They are refugees who have just been moved to the United States.  And they want to start attending your church (attendance of about 150-200) because your church is Baptist and they, too, are Baptists.

What do you do?  Well, you know, you’d have to try to accommodate them, wouldn’t you?  I mean, it’s a church and you have all those Bible admonitions to deal with.  You can’t really ignore 75 new people standing around in your foyer, can you?

Karen youth in upstate New York at a baptismal ceremony

But how would you accommodate them?  Just let them sit in church?  Do you stick their children into your Sunday Schools?  And what happens in the weeks ahead?  Do you teach them all English?  Do they need assistance with clothes, transportation, or finding jobs?  How much do they need to know about Christianity?  Will you have to set up separate classes for the adults?  Separate worship?  The deeper you go, the more questions that arise.

I love this story.

I love this story for a couple of reasons.  First, it is not hypothetical.  It happened a few years ago to a Baptist church in upstate New York.  (I got the story second-hand, so some of the details may not be exactly accurate, but I believe the fundamental points are sound).

I also love this story because it shows an unanticipated way that God is at work.  Sometimes, He pushes people out of their comfort zone.   I’m OK with that.  Especially if I’m not the one who is made uncomfortable.

I also love this story because it repeats the George Boardman story in a different form.  These refugees were from the Karen people of Myanmar, which is sometimes also known as Burma.  Their ancestors became Christians about 170 years ago after a small delegation of Karen arrived on Boardman’s doorstep.

This New York church, collectively, faced similar sort of challenges that George Boardman did.  They suddenly had a ministry on their hands that they did not seek or anticipate.  They weren’t asked to go out and preach in a jungle, but they were asked to adjust their patterns of ministry.  Sunday mornings would not be the same.  Their plans for the future had to change.  Those adjustments aren’t usually easy to make.

Most evangelical Christians have not been hit with anything quite like this in their church.  And you may feel pretty comfortable in thinking that it is pretty rare.

Don’t be so sure.

Broadly speaking, this story results from a powerful trend that has swept the world in the last several decades.  This trend is the remarkable growth of world Christianity, which is the embodiment of Christianity among diverse culture groups around the world.

World Christianity is not only growing.  It is coming to the United States.  Thousands of churches have already found themselves reacting to the arrival of Christian immigrants who have, in some way, forged connections to their ministries. Your church might be confronted with something very similar someday.   How will evangelical churches respond?   It is, I think, an important question.