Youth Looks Back – and Forward
A Perspective on Frank Buchman, by Chris James
HAVING never met the man, I have been curious and surprised at how one individual can have so much impact on the world, including personally on me. This is my perspective on how he did it through my own experiences with what I know now as Initiatives of Change.
Growing up in a Christian family, I often struggled to understand the abstractions of religion and found it difficult to relate to it. It was in 2003 when John Bond asked me if I would like to travel to the Initiatives of Change Centre at Armagh in Melbourne to attend a Life Matters course. Going through ten days of community and personal development, I came to realise that being a Christian is not so much about what I do but about who I ‘be’ in every moment, in every day.
It was at this course that I first met a Muslim and was surprised that he was just like me, yet much more dedicated to his prayer than I ever was. For the first time I saw that it is more enjoyable to celebrate our differences than it is to segregate ourselves using labels such as old, young, black, white, fat, thin, Christian, Muslim. Although this seed of love for others began to grow, I still did not want to compromise my reckless fun life in any way, so became a hypocrite.
For instance, while I was speaking on the phone and emailing to my new-found international friends about building peace by being honest and starting with yourself, I still told a lot of lies in many areas of my life - about being sick to get out of work, the size of the waves to look cool, and even that I am working hard to look busy to my parents. It wasn’t until a year later when I was invited to attend an Australian-Pacific Youth Conference in Cambodia that I saw the impact of change yourself and the world changes. This was demonstrated when at the beginning of the conference the Cambodians said, “We have tension towards the Vietnamese at this conference”, and by the end they realised that they are just the same as other young people and don’t need to carry the hate from their ancestors. I was excited by this and decided to make it my life-long goal to reach out and open closed hearts.
The journey Beyond for me
After I completed university in 2005 I attended the Action for Life Journey which represented the journey Beyond for me. Beyond everything I could have ever imagined, beyond my understanding of religions, beyond my knowledge of the world, beyond my own sense of self, just beyond the paradox of life. Through all the pain and suffering I saw and felt in the people I met, I always saw a light of hope that they held onto. I realised that our purpose as humans was to struggle in this space of the globe to grow in the spirit.
Frank Buchman spoke of it as “Living for the eternal”. It was the sunrise over the mountains of Panchgani, in India, that gave me a sight of the eternity - which is another word for now. To truly live in the now was Frank Buchman’s greatest secret. He saw people as being part of God, no matter whom they were, and treated them like that in every moment he had with them.
After tracing his steps to Caux in 2006 I then proceeded to work with Howard Grace, Roshan Gul and Vlad Oleatovski in England with a schools programme which we wrote called ‘Beyond Satisfaction’. This was an attempt to express Buchman’s message of ‘The choices we take directly influence how satisfied/fulfilled we become‘. On that journey into over fifty schools I confronted the need for these values in the western world, and how rare they really were. After every presentation a few students came up and expressed how much the presentation meant to them and asked how they could be more involved and supported by us. I was sad that we had no follow up. It was here that I perceived that follow up is Initiatives of Change’s greatest need if it wants to survive.
On my travels to Ukraine, Poland, Norway, Scotland, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong I learned about Initiatives of Change teams around the world. Were they becoming less motivated, and were less people involved than ever before? The constant struggle is how to clearly express the message of forgiveness and inner-listening. Frank Buchman had a clear vision and found a clear expression for it. A good part of what has deeply moved me has been the community development through the Life Matters Programme and the Action for Life training courses. If we run more programmes like these, then more people will be involved.
Throughout the past four years I have grappled with the question of What is Initiatives of Change? I have been through many stages in telling different people different concepts of what it is. To my Christian friends I have often said it is a Christian organisation, and to my non-Christian performing friends I have said it is a theatre development organisation, and to my normal friends I have said it is a global peace-building organisation. But if I was to be really honest with myself and others, I would have to say it is a global family that supports people to listen to their deeper voice - whatever they may call it - and act upon it to create a better world.
Currently I work full time with Initiatives of Change as a creative programmes co-coordinator in Armagh, Melbourne, Australia. I feel that I have received so much inner-peace and freedom from what I have learned, not so much from the organisation of Initiatives of Change, but through the people who carry the original spiritual energy of daily living for others.
One of the greatest space creators known to man
What I love about this organisation that Frank experienced, and will always remain unique about it, is the focus of committing to people in such a way that you ‘stand up for their spirits’, to inspire them (to breathe life into another) to be better than they know themselves to be. It is about seeing people’s potential and giving them the space to express it. Frank was one of the greatest space creators known to man. He did not have all the skills and abilities to lead, but he knew how to touch people in such a way that they felt confident to take up leadership. From what I have read about him, I greatly respect him. However, I feel that we often do exactly what he spoke out against and hoped people would never do, and that was to idolise him. As long as we keep saying to each other how great he was and quoting him, we disempower the people who are alive today by not giving them the space, or resources, to fully take on this life lived for others.
I am not committed to the organisation Initiatives of Change; I am committed to every person I meet finding an inner-freedom and peace with their creator, feeling that they are fully self-expressed, living to their full potential every moment of every day in alignment with who they were created to be. I am using Initiatives of Change to do that. Every now and again I get a glimpse of what it is really about. I have received so much and have lived a very rich and happy life so far, but the quote that haunts me when I wake is “From whom much has been given, much is expected”. It is this that keeps me working for this organisation and keeps me passionate about serving and giving as much as I can to others.
As I journey day to day I struggle over keeping to the four moral standards and quiet time as much as anyone else, but now I have the power to discuss it openly and share my thoughts with a global family. Learning more about who Frank Buchman was inspires me to know that there is an alternative way to live, other than the materialistic realm of loneliness I had lived in so much of the time. He makes me want to become a person of true integrity and leadership, qualities which I have so often lacked. And more importantly he gives me the courage to share my darkest secrets with the people I love most, helping me to experience true vulnerability in community. However, I know that Buchman did not do this just for me; it was what he stood for in his life that gave me all this - that is, the love for God and the authenticity of people. This was his true power and that will remain in this world always even though it may change form and will continue no doubt to change name. I have no interest in getting people involved in Initiatives of Change; rather my interest is to get them involved in living life to the full, being mentored by someone and mentoring someone else. That is what Frank Buchman lived for, and it is what I live for as well.
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Buchman’s Unseen Impact, by Bhavesh S Patel
Bhavesh Patel graduated from Leicester University, and works in the area of people and organisational development, with a special interest in coaching and Open Space technology
I BELIEVE that MRA - the idea, the movement, the organisation - had one of the greatest effects on the thinking and living of the last century. A big statement to make, and I will not attempt to justify why I think that here. I met MRA in 1997 and wanted to know more about its roots and so read a lot of the early books and spoke to a lot of older people. MRA shows the huge impact that one person’s life can have on other lives, and the world around them. Multiply that by the number of people who were deeply touched by MRA in the last century in all sectors of society, politics, and industry, and you start to get an idea of the unseen impact of Buchman’s life work. Meaningful plays travelled the world, often hosted by governments, and the casts were usually from many countries, well before ‘intercultural dialogue’ had even been coined!
However my interest is not in looking back, but as a young person looking forward. I believe MRA, now IofC, could have a crucial role to play in this century, too. Buchman always tried to use the language of the day to get his ideas to the masses. His speech entitled ‘The Electronics of the Spirit’ given at Mackinac Island in May 1955 is a clear example of this. In America, transistor radios and the first pocket tape recorder were the topics of the Popular Electronics magazine (April 1955). Buchman, a friend of Thomas Edison, was using this language to communicate ideas about the spiritual life - wow!
Presently IofC’s greatest challenge is to find the language of today, so that Buchman’s crucial ideas can have a voice in this century. The world is already full of lots of excellent approaches to Remaking the World (Buchman’s vision, and the title of his collection of speeches). Some of these methods have deep spiritual roots and, I imagine, would have inspired Buchman to use them now. However, IofC finds it difficult to recognise these methods because we are still trying to ‘remake the world’ with the ways of the last century. The biggest challenge is fear, fear of letting go of the old and trying the new. The fundamental ideas do not change, but everything else needs to. T.S.Eliot wrote: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice”.
I am finding that Buchman’s ideas are alive and active in many of the new methods and thinking of how we effect change in this century. I believe many of these methods may even have roots in the work Buchman pioneered almost 100 years ago. My hope is that IofC can find its way out of its fears to fulfil its mission in this century. The simple idea of a change of heart through listening to that voice inside is as powerful today as it was then. Our direction can come from inner leading as well as outer events. Buchman’s firm belief was that the person who has just had a change of heart probably knew more about MRA than him. Buchman believed the next generation had more to offer than the previous one, that MRA wasn’t a fixed idea, or something you were ‘in’. I leave the final word to Buchman: “Conferences on the current pattern will never solve the problems and needs of people and nations. That can only come from heart speaking to heart.” – from ‘For All Men Everywhere’ speech, 1954.
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What’s your Story? by Joanna Margueritte
A first-year MBA student, Joanna Margueritte is also a passionate portrait photographer. Originally from Poland, she lives in Paris, and travels the world as often as possible with her camera.
The art of telling stories is as old as humanity; it stems from the need to explain natural phenomena, to communicate experiences to others, the desire for sustaining continuity and tradition across generations within a given community. There is no culture devoid of stories: founding stories and stories of heroes, anecdotes and fables shared are listened to decade after decade. It isn’t difficult to see how stories, radically different from the novel which is associated to a written form, tend to create appropriate conditions for bonding, through the sharing of personal experience, in order to create a sense of community.
Hannah Arendt remarks in her Men in Dark Times (1968) that storytelling “reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” This is what allows for the sharing of ‘a sense of meaning’ apart from the actual ‘moral’ of the story; the meaning remains in the minds of the listeners and transforms them in a certain way, so that they too may want to tell the same story to others. A story is thus an essentially intangible object destined to be shared by members of a given community; be it a family, a township, or an entire world.
Only a few years after the publication of the Voyage by Céline, Walter Benjamin explains this downfall of storytelling in his essay entitled ‘The Storyteller’. Unsurprisingly, he blames the sudden decline in storytelling practice on the collective experience of World War I:
“With the [First] World War a process began to become apparent which has not halted since then. Was it not noticeable at the end of the war that men returned from the battlefield grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience? If we accept the notion that storytelling draws from the basic human need to explain reality, no wonder there was less enthusiasm about it in 1919. How could one hope to explain anything in a world where human technology driven by human greed changed everything except the clouds in the sky?”
With the horror of the Second World War, storytelling received yet another, stronger blow, and was utterly discredited as a means of communicating wisdom or experience, of creating community, not because its method was disavowed, but because no one any longer believed in the possibility of sharing values. The era of relativism had begun. Benjamin, still in his 1936 essay, prophesizes the death of storytelling in the twentieth century: “…the communicability of experience is decreasing. In consequence we have no counsel either for ourselves or for others. After all, counsel is less an answer to a question than a proposal concerning the continuation of a story which is just unfolding…Counsel woven into the fabric of real life is wisdom. The art of storytelling is reaching its end because the epic side of truth, wisdom, is dying out”.
Wisdom was dying out because relativity was settling in. As Paul Johnson remarks in his History of the Modern World, “At the beginning of the 1920s, the belief began to circulate, for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes: of time and space, of good and evil, of knowledge, above all of value”.
One person more than any other in the twentieth century did revive the tradition of storytelling in its original form and purpose: communicating transformed lives in order to transform the lives of the listeners. Frank Buchman mastered it throughout his long involvement in the work of Moral Re-Armament. Even before founding the movement in 1938, Buchman used storytelling in his everyday work, in Pennsylvania State College where he worked as YMCA Secretary, as well as in all his travels.
As Garth Lean points out in Frank Buchman, a Life through the words of one of Buchman’s students, Edward Perry: “'His [Buchman’s] lectures were totally unlike any others in that sedate institution [Hartford]. Mostly they consisted of stories of people whose lives had been changed by God's power working through him. It was fascinating, up-to-date, real...His picture of a real ministry was not a matter of eloquent sermons and well-organized parish activities, but of meeting people's deepest needs one by one...”
In 1924, when invited to a house-party at Baron van Heeckeren’s home, Buchman was expected to make a speech. Instead, here’s what happened: “Actually, Buchman gave no formal address. Sitting down in the drawing room, 'among many question marks, some exclamation marks, many curious, others prepared to be bored,' records Albertina, he said, ‘I think I'll tell you a story…’, which he proceeded to do. Other stories of changed lives followed, and as the evening wore on he remarked cheerfully, ‘I can see the walls coming down’.”
When Buchman met with Iranian prime minister Mossadegh, the latter was impressed by the simplicity with which he was capable of making an impact on people’s moral actions. Buchman replied that he was only doing “simple things”, but that was exactly what the world needed. Indeed, perhaps the efficiency of Buchman’s life-changing stories, some taken from his own life, some from the lives of others, some from the Bible, stemmed from his humble capacity of performing a simple art which relied on moral determination rather than relativity.
The art of storytelling as a means of changing lives was and is preserved thanks to Buchman and his teaching of a simple truth: everybody has a story to tell, one which does contain definite meaning, and perhaps even a little bit of wisdom. In recent years, Initiatives of Change programmes such as the Hope in the Cities programme have relied heavily on storytelling as a means of healing unspoken divides between people of different races, cultures, or historical traumas. Dr David Campt, former adviser to President Clinton on race issues and architect of the Connecting Communities Fellowship Program, spoke about the intrinsic connection between storytelling and trust: “It’s easy to talk about lack of trust out in society. Analysis is important. But we need to ask among those who are change agents, how much do we trust each other? Where do we as change agents need to do intentional work?...We tell our stories to invite others into a circle of trust where barriers can be broken down and real change can occur.” At the conference centre in Caux, Dr Campt led several workshops on the techniques of good personal storytelling, which were strikingly popular, because they made participants feel empowered to share what was already waiting within them.
We could simply end here and thank Fate for having given us Buchman, who amongst all the other good brought us this gift of preserving and cultivating the art of personal storytelling, which anyone will tell you is the main advantage of staying at Caux. However, remember that storytelling is a tool, a certain method, a rhetorical procedure, and like any rhetorical means it can be, and is being, used towards very different goals. In the last few years, sharp criticism of storytelling has developed. For example, the new book by Christian Salmon, Storytelling: The soul-formatting and story-fabricating machine, denounces the widespread use of storytelling in marketing as well as politics. According to him, this method enables decision-makers to blind listeners with stories which engage their emotional comprehension, give them the now famous “sense of meaning” and obstruct actual thinking. Listeners forget that they have not heard what they have come to demand, i.e. clear and honest opinions or information about a given subject pertaining to daily life or social organization, and delight in a well-told story.
We must not allow Frank Buchman’s legacy to go to waste because of a surge in this cynical usage of storytelling as a means of simply captivating the imagination and the emotions so as to freeze the action of the brain. What is at stake is a complete disqualification of storytelling as such, simply because it can potentially be used to purely selfish ends. We cannot continue changing lives if we don’t commit to building stories well, and listening to those of others, in complete awareness of the beauty as well as the responsibility and importance of this age-old human pastime.
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Buchman’s challenge…can I handle it? by Ann Njeri
Ann Njeri from Kenya holds a diploma in Information Technology. She took part in a six-month internship programme at the IofC Asia Plateau centre in India last year. She is currently working full time with IofC Kenya.
‘I will not turn back, even if you all do’…This commitment by Frank Buchman (made 70 years ago at Visby, Sweden) is a great challenge in my life – and to everyone who wants to be a change activist. As we celebrate his life and the movement he started, I can’t avoid asking myself the question: Do I have what it takes to make a commitment, a decision, to stand and fight for what’s right in my society, my country - no matter what challenges I face?
Living in a society that every other minute asks for a compromise in one way or another, can I stand strong and overcome the power of the ‘compromise corner’ which to me is the beginning of failure; leading to selfish ambitions which have seen my country and the world fall into the thorny situations they are in? My answer to my question is that it is possible…but, the commitment has a price-tag attached - getting out of my comfort zone and learning how to think and act beyond myself!
I think of the post-election violence in my country which has left lives of millions turned upside down…all in the name of power and tribal hate which, if not solved, will continue to re-surface whenever an opportunity arises. At this point my fingers all point at our leaders for failing us, for being selfish and using hate to achieve their goals. But when I face reality, the leaders never fought; we the ordinary people dehumanized and victimized ourselves by demanding to know ‘which tribe do you come from?’!
On this, just like Buchman did, I see the importance of realizing that we the common people have been wrong. We must stop blaming it all on our leaders, because we accepted to be actors in their disgusting scripts. I am a victim of tribal hate, and part of a very big population of young people swimming in the same ocean of tribalism. I was personally taught to feel superior over the other tribes and specifically to hate one in particular. I know what tribalism can do; I have seen what it has done to dear Kenyan friends. I dream of a Kenya free of tribalism. This can only be built through developing trust. In my opinion, trust will be realized when individuals at the grassroots, as well as diplomats, accept their wrongs and failures and take the not very easy, but very crucial, step of apologizing and forgiving.
I know that it has to start with me; fighting my own tribal monster. I have taken the first step; I have been asking my friends from the rival tribe to forgive me for my resentments and prejudices towards them and for being a perpetrator of hate. This has now given me a sense of inner freedom. I am also requesting people from my tribe to forgive, to ask for forgiveness and to respect the other tribes equally. Young people are the greatest target, they hold the future of our country - their decisions will determine what shape the next generation will take. My plea to them is ‘Can we break the chains of hatred passed to us by our parents and people close to us?’ After all, who chooses to be born in what tribe or region?
I have consciously taken on Buchman’s challenge and have made a decision ‘no matter what, I will not turn back, even if everyone else does! I will be part of the healing and solution in my country and the world…I will let God guide my life: not my will…but His.’