'I HAVE ALWAYS LIKED PEOPLE'
How did Buchman, without forming a sect or order, without binding anyone by vow, contract or financial guarantee, gather so many full-time and part-time colleagues of the most various kinds, who stayed with him for his lifetime and with each other afterwards?
It was certainly not eloquence or any of the usual charisma of a popular religious or political leader. There was nothing flamboyant or emotion-rousing about him. No one called him handsome; some indeed thought him ugly. 'God knew what he was doing when he gave me this nose,' he said. 'He didn't want people to be drawn to me personally.'
His own explanation, when asked in the early 1950s, was, 'I have always liked people.' And while some cordially disliked him, widely differing people liked him in return. For example, one of the founders of the Norwegian Communist Party, Hans Bjerkholt, writes, 'My first meeting with Frank Buchman showed me a very humble man, a man gifted with exceptional affection and understanding of other people, a man who did not think of himself. Once when I met him he looked at me and said, "I feel there is something left in you of your old life." That was a very tactful way of putting it. The truth was that there was still left in me a great deal of my old life.'1
Bjerkholt took such concern as a sign of friendship. So did an international businessman, a Dane, whom Buchman told bluntly that he needed three things; 'Humility, humility and humility.' The Dane was grateful and, over the years, developed accordingly. But not everyone took it that way. A British industrialist and politician had shown increasing interest in Buchman's work in industry and promised to open many doors. He visited Caux in the late forties and expressed a wish to talk with some of the miners there.
Paul Campbell, who was present at the conversation, told Buchman about it later in the day: 'He walked in and assumed immediate charge, without being introduced. He took a large packet of cigarettes from his pocket and handed them round. Almost everyone turned them down, which rather unsettled him, but he sat down, puffing away, and dominated the discussion.' Buchman, knowing that some of the miners had silicosis and had, to the relief of their wives, just given up smoking, was angry. Go and tell that man what he has done,' he said to Campbell.
Campbell did so. The industrialist was furious. 'I'm a managing director,' he said. 'I know how to make contact with men and that's the way to do it.' Campbell replied that he might also destroy them. The industrialist went down the mountain by the next train, en route for Britain.
'All right,' said Buchman. 'You chase him down the hill, chase him down the hill, keep at it.' Campbell had been relieved that the fight was over, but down the hill he went and tackled the industrialist again on the main-line platform. The industrialist never came near MoralRe-Armament again, and put off many others. Buchman did not mind. He was thinking of the miners and of helping the industrialist to realise his arrogant attitude to them and to workers generally.
Buchman took similar risks with people far more important to his daily life and comfort than a visiting industrialist. While he was convalescing from his stroke, he was completely dependent on Campbell who tended him day and night, seldom getting more than two hours' unbroken sleep. According to Campbell, Buchman sensed at one period that he was relying too much on his medical expertise and too little on his contact with God. One day there was something wrong with Buchman's stomach. Campbell gave him his diagnosis.
'You don't know anything about stomachs, do you?' asked Buchman. Campbell, who had studied stomachs in one of the best hospitals in America, was outraged.
Two days later, Buchman said, 'I don't think we'll call you "doctor" any more.'
'Just single sentences, but what sentences for a proud young doctor,' says Campbell. He was deeply hurt. He seemed suddenly to be able to do nothing right in Buchman's eyes. He said to Barrett, 'Doctors are meant to be helpful. I seem to be making Frank worse. I think I'd better go home.'
'What do you want from him?' asked Barrett.
'To be appreciated from time to time. Not always to be under criticism. To be able to tell my family I am doing something worthwhile.'
'Would going back to Canada cure that lust for appreciation?' asked Barrett.
Campbell saw the point and decided that he would do whatever God wanted, however he was treated by Buchman or anyone else. 'Buchman could not have known anything about that midnight decision. But from the first moment the next morning his whole attitude was different. He could not have been more appreciative,' Campbell adds.
Another instance was Peter Howard, the Express journalist who had thrown in his lot with Buchman's British friends during the war. By the time he met Buchman in America in 1946 his own life had greatly changed. He had also resigned his highly-paid job and risked the enmity of powerful friends to announce in three widely-read books that he believed Buchman's way was the best hope for the world.
Immediately they met Buchman and he felt at one. Buchman said within the first few days that he thought Howard could be the 'Henry Drummond of his generation'. He put him on to speak before the best audiences he could muster in America and introduced him to all his friends. They worked together closely for a couple of years. Buchman greatly enjoyed having near him so lively and contemporary a mind, a man who had for seven years been a prominent political journalist and before that captain of England at rugby football.
Howard's rugby career had displayed his iron will. At birth his left leg was very thin and its heel was attached to the knee. He had had to have his Achilles tendon cut, and for years he walked and ran and played games in irons. Twice in boyhood he broke his thin leg - a leg which was little more than a pillar of bone and an inch shorter than the other. 'Keep off football, my boy,' the doctors said; but that had made him all the keener to excel at rugby. He reached the very top. His time in the rough and tumble of Fleet Street, working closely with his mercurial proprietor, Lord Beaverbook, had toughened him further.
Buchman noticed these things. He also felt that there was 'something of his old life left in him'. He saw, as well, that Howard was becoming dependent on him - that he wanted to please Buchman as he had once wanted to please Beaverbrook, which he felt was an inadequate reference point.
Buchman's unease about Howard coincided, quite unknown to him, with Howard's receiving two thoughts in a time of listening: 'Live absolute purity for My sake. The heart of this revolution will be your permanent home for the rest of your life.' The possible implications of these thoughts staggered him. He told no one about them, but secretly resolved that he was unwilling to go so far and 'in order to make up for that compromise began to pay particular attention to Buchman, to flatter and to praise him'.
Buchman decided - whether by thought, 'guidance' or instinct, one does not know - that he must now risk everything with Howard. 'From one day to the next,' Howard wrote later, 'Buchman bolted and barred every door and window in our relationship. Nothing I could do was right. Publicly and privately, in and out of season, I was rebuked and assailed. Buchman was determined that I should turn to God alone and to no human authority for my foundation in life. Once at a meal to which many important guests were invited I was asked to sit at Buchman's table. When Buchman arrived and saw me there he at once and in a loud voice said, "Take him away. I will not sit down at table with him. I do not want him among these people." The incident was typical of our relationship at that time, and things continued so for nearly four years.'
It was a real risk. Few people, perhaps, would have endured those years and remained faithful to their calling, particularly as Beaverbrook was assiduous in his offers of renewed employment which would, he hinted, lead to an editorship. Howard could have done with the money, but he felt that his work with the Moral Re-Armament team in Germany and elsewhere was the place for him, whatever his place with Buchman.
Once or twice through those years, Buchman and Howard sat and listened for guidance together. Each time Buchman's thought for Howard came in the verse of Augustus Toplady's hymn:
Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Once Howard asked him, 'How long shall I go on in this state of darkness and despair?' Buchman replied. 'I just don't know. It's your decision, not mine.'
At last, one day in Berlin, Howard decided that, no matter what it meant, he was going to-do what God asked of him. He told his friends in Berlin that he wanted to make this decision before God, and did so, on his knees, with them.
This decision was at once put to the test. A telegram arrived from Buchman inviting all those in Berlin except Howard to join him in Switzerland. Howard returned to spend the summer at his farm in Suffolk with his family, and he found himself able to help people spiritually more effectively than before.
'After two months,' writes Howard, 'an invitation came to join Buchman. He was polite, but no more than that. The barriers were still up. He wanted to see whether I really meant my decision or whether I still depended on any living man's favour. Then, after some weeks, as I walked along the passage, I felt an arm through mine and heard Buchman's voice beside me: "Just like old times, isn't it?" That was all.'
One day in Rome the two men talked over those difficult years and Howard apologized for 'running away from Buchman'. 'Yes, I felt you did that,' said Buchman. 'I think it has been all as much my fault. I could have made things easier for you. I could have talked to you early on, but I lacked the strength, or maybe it was not the time.' Howard said that one came to the place where, without conscious sin, one just did not know where or how to turn. 'I understand that,' said Buchman, 'and I felt it in you, but always and always I knew you would change.' 'You know,' he added, 'I have had to be ready to risk every relationship in life, seven days a week, for the last forty years. Otherwise our work would not be where it is in the world today.'2
During his days in the wilderness, Howard sometimes wondered whether there were other, less altruistic, motives in Buchman's treatment of him. 'I remember the idea crossed my foolish heart', he wrote to Roger Hicks, 'that Frank might be piqued by the attention then paid to my writings and so wanted to keep me down or limit my field of action.. . But the plain truth and the real point is that for a long, long time I did not want to be like Jesus in my heart, I wanted to go on being like Howard in my heart, in my heart as well as in many other parts of my anatomy. And the atmosphere Frank creates around him is the hardest place in which my way can have its right of way. That is what folk really get up against.'3
Although probably it could and should have all ended sooner, it is hard to find any adequate explanation except Howard's final one. He was fairly new to Moral Re-Armament and there was no possibility of his supplanting Buchman, and the tremendous scope he was given in the next eleven years, when he became Buchman's most trusted companion, argues against any desire to keep the younger man down.
Howard's daughter, Anne Wolrige Gordon, concludes: 'The apparent harshness with which Buchman dealt with Howard at this period was, in reality, a measure of his trust in him . . . He saw in Howard the possibility of great leadership, coupled with weaknesses of pride, conceit and a dependence upon man's approval. Buchman was out to produce a man whose blade was sharpened and whose life was freed from every human attachment.'4*
(* A bishop who read Howard's daughter's book told me he could not understand Buchman's treatment of Howard in this period. I reminded him of Ignatius Loyola's harsh treatment of his successor, Diego Laynez, as described by Pedro Ribadeneira, the friend and first biographer of both men. Ribadeneira was astonished by it, particularly as Ignatius had assured him 'that there was no man in the Society to whom it owed more and he had told the Father that he designed him to be his successor'. 'Yet during the year before he died he showed so much severity towards this Father that at times it made him completely miserable...', he continues. 'The reason was that the Blessed Father desired to make Father Laynez into a saint, and to inure him to hardship with a view to his being General, so that, from what he himself had gone through, he might learn to govern others.' (Quoted in James Broderick: The Origin of the Jesuits (Longmans Green, 1940), pp. 259-60.)
Howard was not the only person to be held at arm's length for a shorter or longer time. Austin, on the other hand, once said he never remembered Buchman saying a harsh word to him. Buchman, in fact, tried to give each person what would help them most to greater maturity at each particular moment. Thus he waited twenty years before pointing out to one artist that he had transferred his affection for his father, who had rejected him, to himself. This man's wife, who sometimes experienced sterner treatment, says that her dominant impression of Buchman in the 1940s was of his tenderness: 'We knew that it was not out of spleen or spite that he sometimes said something very sharp. He never held it against one. There was not one of us who could not go to him and discuss anything, including plans, problems or thoughts we had had, and have his full interest and attention.'
Buchman's attitude often depended on the other person's attitude. 'He was a friend of sinners, but hated hypocrisy,' another Englishman says. This man, nationally known in his sphere, enlisted with Buchman but several times went off and did things which brought temporary discredit to Buchman's work. On the first occasion Buchman's only comment was, 'Well, I thought you were going to get away with it! Come along with me. We'll have a chance to talk.'
On a second, more calamitous occasion, the man could only say, 'Can you forgive me, Frank?'
'Forgive you!' was the answer. 'I did that long ago.'
On a third occasion this man said, 'I don't know what I can say except that I know you're my friend.'
'Eh,' Buchman replied, 'there'd be something pretty wrong with old Frankie if he wasn't.'
'No word of reproach,' this man comments. 'Reproaches were not in his make-up. Only encouragement and a forward look. Recreative repentance, not stultifying remorse.'
Buchman once said to me in the late 1930s, 'I have never withdrawn my love from anyone.'
Immediately after Buchman's brief conversation with Howard in the passage, he began asking Howard whether actions he was taking or had taken were right or wrong. 'You will always give me the correction I need, won't you?' he said. 'I'm just like everyone else. I need correction every day of my life, but too few people have the care or the common sense to give it to me.' According to his daughter, Howard faithfully did this in the years that followed. Campbell, and Phyllis Austin, on whose judgements Buchman greatly relied, have told of occasions when they challenged his decisions and when he admitted he was wrong. Most of his colleagues had such experiences from time to time, but too few had the courage consistently to speak up when they disagreed. He did not always make it easy to do so. He once said to Corderoy, 'Follow Him not me.' 'You make it bloody difficult,' replied Corderoy.'
Austin says that he feels he should have been firmer with Buchman at times. In 1948, for instance, Buchman was convinced that The Good Road should be filmed. 'We showed it in Hollywood and got a tremendous response,' says Austin. 'At one point we had a studio that had offered to film it, a man ready to direct it and Technicolor prepared to give us the film - all for nothing. So we went to see Frank. He said, "No, no, no. Darryl Zanuck is going to make this film." Zanuck never did anything, and we left America without anything being done. The following summer, at Buchman's behest, we took a large building in Lausanne and spent a lot of time and money trying to do it ourselves. It was a colossal fiasco. In the end, Frank gave us hell for the fiasco, and then, too late, some of us told him that he had been wrong and that Zanuck had never intended to do the film. Frank said, "I made a mistake - and when I make mistakes I make big ones! We'll have to write it off to experience." He'd have respected us if we'd been honest and passionate in the first place.'
Michel Sends, at this time in his middle twenties, was often Buchman's go-between with Robert Schuman. Being a Catholic, he was asked his advice on matters concerning the Church, about which Buchman's understanding was limited, though he did not always recognise the fact. 'Buchman was a very strong character, and it was a challenge for everyone who tried to work with him not to submit to that strong character, but to stand on an equal footing,' Sentis says. 'He had a forceful way of saying things, he was very clear, and he had a lot of things to decide and not much time to do it in. If you disagreed you had to say bluntly that you thought he was on the wrong track. You had to take issue. Then, if you were right, he was quick to see it. A lot of people got a wrong impression of Buchman because they submitted to him.'
Sentis was one of hundreds of young people whom Buchman trained by helping them to take initiative. One year he sent Sentis to Rome. 'How much money will you need?' he asked. Sentis made a rough calculation and Buchman gave him the money. 'Life was far more expensive than I had thought. It was a week's job, and by the end of three days I ran out of money. What was I going to do? I phoned Frank. "How are you doing, Michel?" he said. I told him, not mentioning money, as I felt guilty because my calculations had been so inaccurate. Suddenly he asked me, "How are you getting along with money?" "Frank, I am almost out of it," I said. "That's what I thought," he replied. "So I have sent you some more by cable." Instead of correcting my wrong calculations, he had let me go to Rome and find out for myself. He taught me a lesson without giving me one.'
But, with Sentis too, Buchman could be sharp. 'My last contact with him was in July 1961, just a month before he died. Frank was quite weak, now blind, and had been in bed almost all day. I had just come back from Tunisia, where I had seen President Bourguiba. I went into his room, feeling very important, and gave a big account of my visit. "Fine, fine," he said. Next day I again found myself in his room with others, planning the day, and made a suggestion for the morning meeting. "Who's that?" he said. I gave my name. "You came to see me yesterday, Michel," he said. "You were so full of yourself that I couldn't make out a single thing you said. All you were interested in was what you had done. If you want to work like that, you'd better go away." I felt extremely miserable because it was true.
'I never felt any embarrassment with Frank,' Sentis concludes. 'He expected every person to bring him something new. And not just great spiritual truths, but simple things. Once I drove some American friends of his across France. "Where did you have lunch?" "What did you eat?" He wanted to know all the details. We had eaten snails. "I'll never travel with you in France," he said. "I like French people but not snails!"'
Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of the Mahatma and of Rajagopalachari,* was another young man whom Buchman trained. His father, Devadas, who was the editor of the Hindustan Times, had been helpful to Buchman in India in 1952 and 1953. He and Rajmohan met Buchman in Europe in 1956 and, while learning journalism at The Scotsman in Edinburgh, Rajmohan stayed with a doctor friend of Buchman’s. In 1957 he turned up in Mackinac where he first saw Buchman over a period, although Buchman took no particular notice of him at that time.
(* See p.115.)
Later, however, Buchman sent Gandhi on a number of missions. In early 1959 he sent him to an Asian Prime Minister to warn him that one of his closest advisers was disloyal and had serious moral weaknesses. Gandhi was 24, and Buchman, in America, gave him $250, told him to put them into travellers' cheques and to get on his way. 'First I had to find my fare, which was one of my earliest experiences of "faith and prayer",' says Gandhi. 'Then I asked Buchman how I should get to see the Prime Minister.
' "I don't know," said Buchman. "You'll be guided."
'I got an appointment with the Prime Minister within a day or two of arrival in his capital. I told him to be careful about this man, feeling that what I said was perhaps true, but I was not sure. The Prime Minister was not as angry as I had feared, saying without heat that there was not much in the allegations.' Later there was a coup. The Prime Minister was ousted; the adviser was not. 'Buchman saw the whole venture as a good way to train a young man to do difficult things,' comments Gandhi.
On another occasion Buchman sent Gandhi to the United States with an older American, because he was unhappy about aspects of Moral Re-Armament's work there. 'At first I fought to put right anything I felt was not the best,' says Gandhi, 'and I had pleasing reports that Buchman was interested in my work. Then I am afraid I settled down to comfortable relationships and became anxious about the opinions about me among the people I was with.
'After some months I rejoined Buchman at Caux. The next day I was asked to speak. Buchman was not present, but heard it over the loudspeaker in his room. He sent for me. "Are you in top form?" he asked.
' "Frank, I - er - arrived yesterday," I replied, trying to convey that any weakness might be put down to tiredness.
' "Something is wrong with you. I could feel it in your voice. What is it?" said Buchman.
'Suddenly I thought of the comfortable relationships. "I think I tried to please people," I said.
' "Shocking," said Buchman. "Shocking, I didn't expect this. Shocking, I am ashamed." This went on for several minutes. Finally a number of people, mostly Africans, started trickling into the room. Buchman started to greet them. Then he turned to me and said, "Tell these men what is happening in our work in Africa." I thought it hardly fair of him, after giving me such a lashing, to get me to tell about Africa, but I did. Then he got me to talk about another part of the world. I learned from this that he expected to tackle you firmly and resolutely, and trusted you to continue to fight instantly and never demand a holiday in which to recover.'
'Buchman', writes Howard, 'fought strongly, with a fierceness that seemed unreasonable, against the weakness in those who tried to put their trust in him as a man.' He was battling against the wish to please which so easily creeps into any group of people, whether a cabinet or a company or a trade union, where there is a forceful leader or leaders, and others who would rather be dependent or fear that speaking up would affect their careers. Particularly in the late 1950s - when he was confined to his room for days at a time and his contacts were limited to those who looked after him and those who came to see him - this became a danger among his colleagues. For example, if he sensed a character weakness in someone and challenged it, that person sometimes passed on the heat to others, and a point meant for an individual could become a general rule. He hated this 'parroting', which he also called 'man-pleasing', but more often 'homosexuality'.
He may have used this word to shock people into reality, but it certainly led to confusion. Once in Los Angeles, when he was sitting with Lord Hardinge and Oliver Corderoy, someone came in and told him of such an incident. 'Shocking homosexuality!' he burst out. Lord Hardinge was startled. 'Does Buchman have much trouble with his people on that kind of thing?' he asked Corderoy, assuming that Buchman was dealing with a case of physical homosex. Corderoy later told Buchman of the confusion he had caused and asked him what he meant by 'homosexuality'. 'Same-ness,' said Buchman. 'Are we going to have this sameness all around? Parroting to please. Sameness. Yes, that's it.'
'To him,' concludes Corderoy, 'the worship of people, including himself, was a kind of spiritual homosexuality. It brought a sameness instead of the diversity which comes when God is the reference point. If he raised some issue, he always expected people to seek divine guidance for themselves, but often we did not.'
Shut off in his later years from the mass of his force by illness, informed - and sometimes misinformed - only by those who looked after him or came to see him, Buchman's view of an individual or a situation sometimes became distorted. But in the early fifties, when he was comparatively well and everyone was stretched on tasks far bigger than they could tackle, tasks which threw them back upon God, this was largely in the future.
Sometimes, not infrequently as time went on, Buchman used to shout at his colleagues. Austin points out that people do sometimes have such tough hides of self-esteem or hypocrisy that it may be the only way to get through, yet admits that 'Frank, especially when in pain, was too violent in his rebuke'. Dr Irene Gates, who could be stern with him, warned him sometime in 1941, after he had dressed down some of his colleagues with a considerable burst of temper, that, if he wished to live, he would have to forgo that kind of explosion.
There are, of course, different kinds of anger. There is the anger that stems from hatred of evil and is a part of the capacity to love good, and there is the anger which comes from hurt pride, a wounded ego or simple irritation. Buchman exhibited both. His rage was usually curative, and people seldom experienced it without being given the lifting hand of humour or compassion soon after the point had been made. Sometimes, too, he queried people's ideas sharply, to test how deeply they were held.' He feared, and with reason, their being expressed to try and please him; but, if the conviction was genuine and the person would do battle for it, his response would generally turn into enthusiasm.
One person who was never afraid to clash with Buchman was Irene Laure, the French Resistance leader whom he had helped to overcome her hatred of the Germans. 'He was in his bed in his room at Caux, and there were a number of us there,' she recalls. 'He wanted me to visit - no, he had guidance from God that I should visit - a certain monsignor in Rome. "I'm sorry, Frank, but I can't do it," I said. "I have nothing to say to the Vatican." But he had had guidance that I was the person to go so there was at once a battle. "Yes." "No." "Yes." "No." It went on for some time. Beside him, at the head of his bed, was his stick. Exasperated, he picked it up and hit me. Everyone was stupefied. "Oh là là," said my husband, Victor, "what is going to happen now?" What happened was that the good God made me laugh. "It is lucky for you that you are Frank Buchman," I said. "Otherwise I would have scratched your eyes out!" The atmosphere relaxed. And it was true that I was the right person for the job. I went and did it.' 'He was impossible - insupportable,' she adds with a smile. 'He got you to do things you thought you couldn't do.'
Later on, Mme Laure was passing Buchman's room at Caux when Campbell emerged saying that Buchman was refusing to take his medicine. Mme Laure, a nurse by profession, took the bottle and marched in. 'Do you think you could be reasonable for once in your life and take your medicine?' she demanded. Buchman took it.
Irene Laure often tells how Buchman sent her son, Louis, and a French friend to develop his work in Brazil. It was at an MRA assembly in 1952, during which Laure and his friend devoted more time to the city and the beach than to the sessions. Buchman sent for them.
'God has told me to put into your hands the changing of Brazil - a country several times the size of France,' he announced as they came in. They were flabbergasted and asked whatever they would do down there. 'It's quite simple,' he said. 'When you get there, you plant a post in the ground at the airport and then another some way away from it. Then you tie a rope between the posts and suspend yourselves from the rope. Go whichever way the Holy Spirit blows you.' They left his room little the wiser - but he had caught their imaginations.
They went to Brazil, and some of the first people they contacted were the dockers of Santos, who led them on to the dockers of Rio de Janeiro. Such changes took place in the port of Rio that the film Men of Brazil wasmade about it and shown all over the world. The dockers took Buchman's work throughout Brazil and to many other South American countries.
Buchman's personal relationships with women were as varied as the women themselves. He treated Eleanor Forde, the first woman to travel with the Oxford Group, as a close and trusted companion. Women often led meetings at house-parties in the thirties, and many of the larger initiatives came through them. 'What shall we do next?' Buchman asked a roomful of colleagues at the end of the 1931 Oxford house-party. Out of the silence, Eleanor Forde piped up from the back row, 'I think we should go to Canada.' 'That's it,' said Buchman. 'You go and get it ready.' She did, the campaign starting just a year later. Similarly, Mrs Alexander Whyte, nearly three times Eleanor Forde's age, first led him to Geneva. Dozens of other instances could be given, both before his stroke and afterwards.
'Frank responded to the spark in people, regardless of gender,' writes Signe Strong, the Norwegian artist who was with him as a young woman during the war. 'He respected the courage and trust displayed by the women, whether lettered or unlettered, who came out in public, opened their homes, introduced us to their friends, risked their reputations.5 One of those he loved and respected most was Annie Jaeger, the tiny shopkeeper from Stockport. When she spoke at a meeting of Oxford students in the thirties and some looked bored, he said, 'You listen - she has more of Christ in her little finger than most of you have in your whole bodies.'
With women as with men, Buchman was unpredictable. To one girl who left a conference to chase a man who proved rather different from what she had imagined, he simply said on her return, 'Never mind. There are plenty of better fish in the sea.' To another, who made a habit of such expeditions, he said, 'Look out. One day you'll do it once too often.' And one day she did - though many years later she turned up again, saying, 'It's marvellous to be back.'
He was delighted with a dashing young Swedish journalist who told a meeting at Caux that she thought she would in future use her lipstick to polish her red shoes. A couple of heavily-painted princesses happened to be sitting near him, and he remarked to them, not too softly, 'Do you hear? Do you hear?'
Buchman asked this journalist to look after a strikingly beautiful Swedish blonde - a girl who had done everything and been everywhere but who had changed dramatically after meeting him at Caux. 'She was very real,' says the journalist. 'That's why she was never afraid of Frank, and he loved meeting this very real, beautiful girl. There was a complete miracle. The outer light went off, the inner light went on. She started helping people. She went at it with real Swedish energy, fire surging like a river through Caux - a marvellous gift of God which cut through unreality whenever she met it.
'Then one day she collapsed, and wept and wanted to see Frank again. We were both invited to tea. She said, there among the teacups, "Frank, I'm empty. I have nothing more to give," and burst into tears.
' "You say you're empty," Frank said.
' "Nothing more to give?"
' "No, Frank."
' "Wonderful," said Frank - and gave her a handkerchief to dry her tears.
'She stared at him amazed, with those wide, blue eyes.
''Then he said, "That's it. That is as it should be. 'Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling …'", and he went through the whole verse. "You see, you give everything and then it is Jesus who will do it for you. Jesus has done it and Jesus will do it."
'She sat back in her chair and said, "How wonderful."'
Buchman believed there was a definite connection between sexual purity and the extent to which people were available to be used by the Holy Spirit. Absolute purity, he maintained, referred to a wider realm than sex, but the way people handled that powerful instinct was important. It was not a question of rules or prohibitions, but of the fullest use of the energies of the affections. Kenaston Twitchell, a married man with three children, enunciated Buchman's philosophy on the subject: 'A single man or woman finds in the discipline and freedom of absolute purity complete satisfaction and the free use of every energy and affection. The married man and woman find exactly the same freedom in this redirection of instinct, along with whatever natural use of it God may direct... In that renaissance of character there comes a burning love for people that gives without demanding in return.'6
In the thirties and war-time forties, those working most closely with Buchman, with the exception of older people like the Twitchells and Hamiltons, were mostly single. It is probable that the foundations of Buchman's world-wide work could not have been laid without a core of 'footloose' people, not tied by young children and the homes they would require. Whether that was in Buchman's mind, one does not know, but it was not the primary consideration of the young people themselves. In giving their lives to God for the remaking of the world, they had given into His hand their affections, their careers and their futures, including the question of whether or not they would marry. The criterion was not their personal desires, but whether they could, at that moment, be best used by Him married or single, and although many were already in love with the person they ultimately married, most felt that the time was not yet.
They were virile, often attractive, young people. Signe Strong writes of that time: 'There was great freedom between the sexes, in the sense that there was no 'angling'. Friendships could flourish; but they were never exclusive . . . Great insight and strength came from those years - which were not always easy, but full of creative work.'7
After the war there was a spate of marriages, which Buchman greeted with joy. To one couple who had waited twelve years before getting engaged he said, 'It's been too long.' Throughout his life he took an active and sympathetic interest in his colleagues' marriages - and was not above prodding some of the more cautious to take the plunge. To one young man, whom Buchman felt unduly hesitant, he sent an embroidered tablecloth. On the other hand, he did sometimes, rightly or wrongly, wish couples to delay their marriages, possibly because he felt that the people concerned were not yet mature enough to cope with each other as well as with the demands of their calling. Many continued to travel with Buchman after they were married; others settled down with their families to man the centres which by then were opening up all over the world; some set up private homes and used them as a base for the expansion of Buchman's work in their communities.
Buchman thought that discipline in marriage was no less necessary than discipline out of it. Nor did he think that married people should necessarily be any less mobile than when they were single. This sometimes led to long partings between husbands and wives, and even between parents and children. On occasion the partings were either wrong or too long. At the same time, if Buchman heard of illness, death in the family or some other domestic crisis, he would send word and finance to get a child, parent or partner on to the first plane home.
One of Buchman's closest colleagues relates how Buchman helped him to grow closer to his wife. 'I've been thinking of you,' Buchman told him one day. 'Aren't you still ruled by your mother's ideas?'
'Frank, she died ten years ago,' replied the man.
'I know that,' Buchman said. 'But her ideas of duty, a cramping something still holds you. It doesn't help your wife.'
The man goes on, 'We talked for an hour and next morning I told my wife about it. She broke into a paroxysm of tears. I couldn't comfort her. "I've known and felt it for years," she said finally. "It's blighted our marriage. Always comparing me with your mother, I always felt I was playing second place to her." It marked a new day for us.'
Buchman could be particularly vigorous towards strong women if he felt that they were trying to dominate other people or his work. He was apt, if one of his married male colleagues seemed subdued, to blame his wife, sometimes unjustly. In some cases these wives felt unable to approach him - and as he got older and more confined, this difficulty increased, leaving some uncertain where they stood and what to do.
Questions of relationships, inside and outside marriage, often came up at Buchman's training sessions with his teams, whether in the early days in Oxford, during the wartime stay in Tahoe, or later at Caux or Mackinac or elsewhere. Of one such occasion in Kashmir in 1953, Victor Sparre, the Norwegian artist, writes, 'For a whole week Buchman gave himself the task of opening our eyes to human nature. The essence of this teaching was that beneath our passions lies the will to control the world and dominate our fellow men. Even in our love life this will lies hidden. Through grace the act of love can be a creative act. But when self-gratification pushes aside the creative element, that love is only used for self-satisfaction and violence against others. The dictator states can be seen as the mass organisation of these perverted passions in individuals.'8
During these days in Kashmir Buchman spoke of the prerequisites of finding an openness to the spirit of God and of the joy of having it. 'He had noticed that some of us grew a little slack and flirtatious in those hard-working months in a hot, romantic country,' says Virginia Crary9 from California. 'He was sharp about it, knowing how such things could absorb one and make one insensitive to others - but he was understanding.' 'You girls on the whole are pretty fine,' he said to his young friends one morning. 'I would trust you anywhere. But when the boys are about...' 'You need something', he added, 'if you are going to change society.' Then he went on. 'You know, we have a wonderful Saviour. He has that amazing quality - he understands. He gets rid of every spot, no matter what it is.'
Back in Oslo Sparre, who had put down his paint brush for two years in order to travel with Buchman, told of his travels in India. A Bohemian friend of his spoke enviously about them and asked, with a bit of a sneer, 'Can't you get me a job like that?' 'I explained', Sparre writes, 'that on such journeys you lived very much like a medieval begging monk: owning nothing, living on what you were given, staying where you were offered a bed, totally abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and womanising. In those days, too, it was de rigueur to dress neatly like an Englishman in every detail down to the polished shoes. My friend's interest cooled off. ..
'I had not joined a movement or organisation. I had found a new life, as an artist and as a man; basically it was an anarchistic way of life, since rules are superfluous when people live openly and care totally for one another. It was a free life led by an invisible mysterious force, the Holy Spirit; each and all followed the inner voice, with no fixed jobs, no salaries, no chains of command.'
'Idealistic movements have a typical pattern of development,' Sparre adds. 'What begins as something liberatingly new and alive becomes rigid and dead behind the prison bars of theory and organisation. Frank Buchman used to shake his head when anyone wanted to state too definitely what MRA was. Let it be a lake where the elephant can swim and the lamb can wade, he said. Of course, there were always a few would-be sergeant-majors who wanted to drill us in what they took to be MRA's ideology, but even they helped the individual to find his own way, through learning to withstand them. For me MRA was always a school for standing on one's own feet, not for leaning on other people, but for reaching out to the firm reality that transcends us all.'10
Most - and the number still increases - came through to this independent freedom under God. But it is all too easy in any large association of people, civil or spiritual, to become a 'sergeant-major' or, which is equally wrong, to become dependent on a 'sergeant-major' and conform to a decision taken by others, not because so commissioned by God but in order to take a momentarily fashionable step. When this happens, life and divine guidance dry up. Some couples, after the time in Kashmir for instance, felt called to take a resolution of abstinence in marriage, somewhat similar to that undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi. To those who took this - and other steps of self-denial - out of genuine calling, it brought not strain but greater freedom. Buchman's aim was always that of which Sparre writes: that Moral Re-Armament should be 'a school for standing on one's own feet, not for leaning on other people but for reaching out to the firm reality that transcends us all'.
1 Marcel, Fresh Hope for the World, pp. 89-90.
2 Howard, Frank Buchman's Secret, pp. 92-7.
3 Peter Howard to Roger Hicks, 1 April 1950.
4 Wolrige Gordon: Peter Howard - Life and Letters (Hodder and Stoughton, 1969), P. 156.
5 Signe Strong to author, 15 April 1984.
6 H. Kenaston Twitchell: The Strength of a Nation (Moral Re-Armament, Los Angeles, 1948), pp. 6-8.
7 Signe Strong to author, 25 April 1984.
8 Victor Sparre, Stenene skal rope (Tiden Norsk Forlag, 1974), p. 62.
9 Now Virginia Goulding.
10 Sparre, The Flame in the Darkness, pp. 121-2.