BEATING A PATH TO HIS DOOR
In June 1958 Buchman celebrated an eightieth birthday which, a few months earlier, neither he nor his friends had expected him to see. In the previous two years his health had stood up to the strenuous six-month journey to Australia and Asia, after which he had conducted a large assembly in Mackinac and launched The Crowning Experience in the Southern states of America. In the winter of 1957, however, his health declined seriously, Campbell diagnosing the main trouble as cardiac. He was advised to seek a warmer climate and accepted an invitation to a family home in Miami.
His arrival coincided with a period of damp, oppressive weather and he did not respond to rest, as he generally did. On occasion he was extremely irritable with those around him, his anger partly originating from frustration at his own inability to do what he saw needed to be done. His repentance, according to his secretary, was prompt. 'Why don't you tell me to go to blazes?' he said once with a smile. 'I would.' He recalled that his father had suffered from arterio-sclerosis and had become continuously difficult and even violent in his last years. 'If ever you see me getting like that, shoot me!' said Buchman. That he never became. But there is no doubt that his arteries had been hardening for a number of years and that his temper - and judgement - were at times affected.
That winter he was listless. His mail, though as varied and fascinating as ever, failed to interest him. One day he asked how much money he had in the two accounts he personally controlled. One contained seven hundred dollars, the other three hundred. He emptied both with four cheques to workers' families in Europe to whom he sent gifts from time to time. 'If I could help it', he once said, 'I would be ashamed to die with any money in the bank.'
In April he developed pneumonia. For two weeks he knew little of what went on around him. One day he decided where his funeral would be and asked to have an obituary notice drafted and read to him. Then he looked up and announced with a twinkle that he thought he would live till he was 94. Gradually he overcame his weariness. On 5 May he wrote to Peter Howard, 'My present plan is to lie low and play Brer Rabbit. I have not the strength for more.' Yet two weeks later he travelled to New York by train, carried through various duties there, and on 2 June arrived in Mackinac, ready for the birthday celebrations.
Buchman's birthdays were always important to him and he enjoyed this one in particular, as the friends around him helped him to celebrate and messages reached him from all parts of the world. An editorial in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung read, '... Frank Buchman puts a moral diplomacy ... alongside the political diplomacy of the nations ... As a moral ambassador Frank Buchman enjoys, far beyond all national borders, almost unlimited trust. His selfless role of mediator, mostly unseen by the public, is again and again called upon. This man who without sentimentality, without dramatic oratorical gifts, nevertheless fascinates his hearers, has become more and more the conscience of the world.'1
This new illness, however, still further restricted him, and the access which his growing whole-time force had to him. More and more information was filtered through several minds both on its way to him and back, and sometimes got distorted en route. A first reaction to a report about someone's actions, perhaps incomplete, might be passed on with a harshness which he would not necessarily have displayed if he had seen the person himself. Perhaps the shielding by those near him was overdone; or in his weakness he himself ordered it. One whole-time worker of twenty years' standing, wanting to discuss sincere disagreements, left his work because he failed eight times to get through the protective screen. A young woman who believed that her ill mother needed her in another country received a long letter signed in his name telling her in strong terms that her place was to care for certain Asian girls at an assembly and she should trust her mother to God. Yet when, two weeks later, she eventually got in to see him personally, he said, 'Go at once,' and clearly did not recall any such letter being sent. Whether this was his forgetfulness, or whether a letter was written for him on a first, unconsidered response, is not clear. A real problem of communication, difficult for all concerned, developed. In the days before his stroke, every contact had been personal and straightforward; in the intervening years such contact had become more limited; now it was even more sparse, and some of his old friends at times felt cut off.
This difficulty was magnified by a great increase in the numbers of whole-time workers in the late fifties. Buchman still originated many fruitful initiatives, and was as effective and compassionate as ever when meeting people - especially people new to him - face to face. But it was impossible for him to know the personal situation of his many hundreds of whole-time colleagues throughout the world, and mistakes regarding them became more frequent.
As winter drew near he was again urged to find a warmer climate, and his doctors suggested the dry South-Western desert, friends in Tucson, Arizona, rented a house around which the cactus, sage and cottonwood stretched for miles up through the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Below, the ground dropped away to a night-time view of the desert studded with the thousands of lights of the fast-growing city of Tucson.
Here he could restore his strength while keeping in touch with developments around the world and receiving a stream of visitors. He wrote to one friend, 'I wish you could see the scene, as on one side I look upon an expanse of cacti - some are two hundred years old - and on the other upon an orange, lemon and kumquat grove ... Beside the house there are cypress trees, and beyond all, the mountains with a look of the most beautiful parts of Greece. It is an ample place and I have thirty people staying with me. I never felt weary for one moment, and day after day there is sunshine galore.'2 He enjoyed his first months there so much that generous friends bought it to be his winter home.
The house at Tucson gave Buchman scope for the hospitality he loved to offer. As in the old days he created an atmosphere of concentrated concern for individuals, starting with the Mexican gardener, an embittered young man whom he took on with the house. From time to time he would be absent for a day or two. Buchman accurately diagnosed a drinking problem and said that if the young man, Arnold, was to do the gardening he would have to stop drinking. This produced an absence of several weeks during which, instead of hiring another man, the household looked after the garden as best they might. Buchman was more interested in Arnold than in the fate of the roses and citrus trees.
Arnold eventually returned. Buchman had him in for coffee and cake and told him about his own work. At the end Buchman gave him a notebook. 'What will I do with this?' asked Arnold. Someone told him that the change in his own life had started with writing down everything that did not match up to the four absolute moral standards. 'Well, then,' said Arnold, 'I'd better have two notebooks.'
Arnold told his father about these discoveries, and his father's even more acute drinking problem was cured. When he brought his wife to lunch, she said, 'I hope we act properly - my husband and I haven't been out to a meal together for twenty years.' After that the father came regularly to prune the hundred rose trees round the house and later got a job as gardener at the city hospital.
One night the local plumber, an agnostic, brought his rebellious teenage son to dinner and held forth about his agnosticism. When the meal was over Buchman said to the son, 'I usually thank God for a meal after we've eaten it. However, today I think we'll all sing "For he's a jolly good fellow".' The son became a frequent visitor.
At one tea party the milkman said he wanted to talk. They sat down and the milkman broke out, 'I've been married for nearly thirty years. A few months ago my wife got on a Greyhound bus, and she met a man half her age and has never come back.'
'Have you always been honest with your wife?' said Buchman.
The milkman began to weep: the day his eldest boy had been born she had made him promise not to drink, but he had drunk and got into trouble with a woman and never told her. He went home and wrote to his wife. After that, he often brought milk free to the household.
A local meat producer offered Buchman all the meat his household needed, provided he had a deep-freeze. A farmer delivering fruit and vegetables heard of this offer, went off immediately and bought one. The cowboy who brought the regular supplies of meat through the winter always stayed to lunch and nearly always brought another cowboy with him - the greatest experience of their lives, they said.
Soon the Sheriff and the Mayor and the General commanding the local air base started coming. The General said to his friends, 'You must go and meet Frank Buchman. You get the best food and meet the most interesting people in the world.' After six months Buchman's barber commented, 'You've only been downtown a few times, Doctor, but the whole town's been up to see you, and seemingly the whole world.'
This became increasingly true. One winter when there was an MRA conference concerned mainly with Asia in Los Angeles, people attending it followed each other to Tucson in twos and threes. Koreans and Japanese, Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan, Malays and Papuans, Australians and New Zealanders predominated for a while. Then there was a wave from Hollywood, then parties returning to Europe and Africa.
Among those from Japan was Saburo Chiba, then Chairman of the Security Committee of the Diet, who came for the inside of a day. Someone said, 'He's had a long journey. Let's give him a good room and let him rest.'
'Rest?' replied Buchman. 'Here is a man who can affect the life of a nation. Let's use every minute to give him a maximum experience of change.'
Chiba was an agnostic, friendly but cautious. He sat down to breakfast with Buchman and his friends at a quartet to eight. Stories were told of how racial differences were being ameliorated in America and elsewhere through change in people, and how Communists in various countries were saying they had found a better idea. Breakfast lasted till twenty to twelve.
Lunch was a Japanese meal so perfectly cooked that Chiba insisted on meeting the cooks. 'If you have an idea that turns a Wall Street banker's daughter into as good a cook as that one and she does it without being paid, your idea must be a very big one,' Chiba said to Buchman afterwards.
At the end of the afternoon, as Chiba was preparing to leave, Buchman said, 'I had one thought for you early this morning.'
'What was that?'
'The whole world will walk into your heart. You will let the whole world walk into your heart.'
As he said goodbye at the airport, Chiba said, 'Today, for the first time in my life, I have found God.' Soon after, Buchman heard that the atmosphere of the Chibas' family life had fundamentally altered.
U Nu, still Prime Minister of Burma, suddenly announced himself on a journey through America. He wanted to finish the talk he had begun with Buchman two years before in Rangoon. Shortly after that talk U Nu had made a speech to his party, telling of his own youthful dishonesties and calling for an end to moral corruption in his party and in the nation. When a little later he had retired from office the people had demanded his return to lead the nation. Now he wanted to know how to unite his country. Over a fine Burmese curry - the cooks had rehearsed it the day before - Buchman got twenty people to tell U Nu in a few sentences their experience of divine guidance. Then he took U Nu aside privately and warned him of one man close to him whom he believed to have subversive designs on the country.
'You must learn to read people like a book,' he said to the Prime Minister.
'How can I?' asked U Nu.
'You have to know yourself and be absolutely honest with yourself. Listen, and you will know. The thing that makes men and women blind to others is that they allow themselves the same weaknesses.'
At the airport U Nu said, 'Without Moral Re-Armament my country is going into the camp of dictatorship.' He stood on the ramp and said, 'Come soon to Burma, come soon, come soon.' U Nu said of Buchman after his death, 'Surely there has been no other person in our times with such an infinite capacity for friendship and trust.'3
Threads from other world events led back to Tucson. Dr Abdel Khalek Hassouna, Secretary-General of the Arab League, told Buchman how, during the Lebanon crisis of that autumn, when American marines had landed in Beirut, he had had a clear conviction one evening in Cairo to fly immediately to New York. With the Egyptian government's backing he brought the Arab delegates together, keeping them in session until they found a unanimous formula. Gromyko, the Soviet Foreign Minister, withdrew his opposition and the United Nations voted to accept the Arab resolution by eighty votes to nil - an almost unprecedented event. 'Overnight', wrote The Times4an almost magical transformation has come over the scene.' The Washington Post5 described it as a 'triumph' for Dr Hassouna. The Sudanese Prime Minister was quoted to the same effect in an article headed: 'Survival Clue? Arab Nations Display Spirit of Moral Re-Armament at UN.'6
In Tucson, too, Buchman continued the training of his team. His first concern was the quality of life within his own home - 'everything under God's guidance and not what we think is good form'. 'I've got a household here that works as one and no one gets a cent,' he said. But this unity did not come by chance. Working together in the kitchen, for example, meant long hours and considerable skill. Once when the two girls working there fell out he stopped having guests for two weeks. One of the girls was American, the other Swiss. Each was sure her way of doing things was best. Buchman said he tasted the tension in the food. 'You're scratchy with each other,' he said to them. 'You're hard-headed people who want to do everything your own way, when you need to rise to something high and noble.' Both girls changed and began to enjoy life again. Buchman then resumed his customary hospitality.
Buchman also prepared bands of people to return to their countries. Eight Japanese came to see him at Tucson before leaving for home. As soon as they sat down to lunch, Buchman asked, 'What is your plan for Japan?' There was silence.
'Are you united?' he asked. Again there was silence.
'I know you have done some good work in Japan,' Buchman went on, 'but what's happening to your nation? What’s its real problem?'
'Communism,' someone replied.
'No, no, no,' said Buchman. 'It's corruption and mistresses in high places. Will you tackle these issues? I loveJapan, and I'm concerned about what's happening.'
The Japanese left the room. They were honest with each other about the jealousy and bitterness between them, and were then able to work out what needed to be done.
Within three days one of them, Masahide Shibusawa, had written a play, Shaft of Light. It was so direct in its picturing of prominent people in Japan that they were afraid of what might happen to them and their children if they put it on. They read it to Buchman. 'Go where the stones are rough,' he said. 'People may want to shoot you, but you will save your nation and future generations will be grateful.'
A month later the play was staged in Tokyo, 400 yards from the Diet building. It caused a sensation. A top security officer, watching the portrayal of bribery in high places and a mistress, who was a spy, attached to a Cabinet Minister, said, 'It is exaggerated. You can't keep this play on. It is dangerous.' A few days later he came back to them. 'I was wrong,' he said. 'I have had it investigated and it is all true.' The Prime Minister sent for the people who had been visiting Buchman. They told him the facts, as they saw them, about his own Cabinet.
'You are the only people who love our country enough to tell me the truth,' he said. 'Go on talking to me like this. The door is always open to you.'
Meanwhile, Buchman had to fight as hard a battle much nearer home. After his return from Asia in 1956 he had talked to Peter Howard about the aftermath of the Vanishing Island tour. Though he recognised the immense task which Howard and his colleagues had undertaken, he had considered them responsible for the wrong attitude which had got into the travelling force. Buchman nevertheless did not lose faith in and for Howard. But certain of those who had suffered from his sharp tongue, or were jealous of his apparent position, had set about prejudicing Buchman's mind against him. Weak, increasingly in bed for days at a time, and constantly under the pressure of decisions to be made, Buchman often did not know what to think.
This came to a head in 1957 at Mackinac, where some people shunned and pressured Howard and his family. Howard asked Buchman what he should do. 'Go on doing what you have been doing,' said Buchman. Yet, at a certain point, Howard felt he had to move his family out of Mackinac. He returned to Britain with them and lived on his farm. He kept to his commitment.
After some months Howard had what he believed to be divine guidance to join Buchman in Tucson. He went, taking his wife, Doe, and his daughter, Anne, with him. He had a full, frank talk with Buchman, but kept a low profile. Then one day he had the thought that he should speak after a public showing of a film, as he had so often done before. He mentioned this at a planning meeting. Immediately, fury broke loose among some of those present who were determined that Howard should never resume his former prominence. The noise was so loud that it reached Buchman upstairs. He asked someone what was going on. When he heard, he bellowed down the stairs, 'Come here, every one of you!' Then he startled them all. 'Here am I, an old man in bed,' he said. 'I have relied on you to tell me the truth. But you've misled me about Peter. You've told me stories about him. I've talked them out with him point by point, and they are not true.'
He had sensed a new quality in Howard since his return. The process of becoming freed from other people's opinion which had begun in their earlier tussle, had been taken a step further during Howard's days of rest and thought in England. Now they began once again to work as close colleagues. 'I want to pay a tribute to Peter,' Buchman said some time later. 'I have worked with him night and day these past weeks. He comes at 4.45 in the morning to help write letters to people all over the world. He changes people; he guards the life of the force. He reads his Bible every day and has something pungent to bring out of it. You have a matchless time when people move with you selflessly like that.'
Though from then on the younger man spent much of his time travelling the world and carried the detailed day-to-day responsibilities of the work, while the older man often had to be stationary, they were never again parted in spirit.
From Tucson Buchman returned to Mackinac for the summer of 1959. Here, on his eighty-first birthday a musical called Pickle Hill, written by Howard during the weeks in Tucson, had its premiere. It was the story of Bill Pickle, the bootlegger, and Buchman's first experiments at Penn State College. The third man in that story, Blair Buck, was with Buchman in the audience on the opening night. Buchman was so caught up in the drama that at times he answered from the front row himself when questions were put to his stage persona. 'That's the way to do it,' he said afterwards. 'What a strategy God gave - it was people, people, people. You had to be alert all the time.'
The visitors at Mackinac that summer were as varied as ever. Among them were the French Catholic philosopher, Gabriel Marcel; Rajmohan Gandhi; chiefs of North American Indian tribes from Western Canada; U Narada, Secretary of the Presiding Abbots' Association of Burma; the Muslim President of the Sudanese Parlament, Sayed Shingetti; the Catholic Archbishop of Beirut, Mgr Naba'a, military delegations from the Pentagon, groups of Japanese farmers from California, and a representative of the Government of Iran who came to confer a decoration. A group of revolutionary Rastafarians arrived from Jamaica. Bitterly anti-white, they owed allegiance to the Emperor of Ethiopia, and listened with amazement when Buchman told them of his friendship with him during his lonely years of exile, when Brown's Hotel was his London base. A Hollywood film executive, at the end of his first twenty-four hours at Mackinac, compared the conference to a baseball World Series, a world championship fight and the Olympic Games, all compressed into one day and accompanied by the Philharmonic Orchestra.
While this conference was in progress at Mackinac a parallel assembly was going on at Caux, with which Buchman was in almost daily touch. To it came a delegation from the South Indian state of Kerala, which had just experienced a period of Communist rule - the first state anywhere to become Communist by the ballot box. Earlier that year, faced with a threat to impose Communist indoctrination in the schools, the Christian and Hindu communities had united sufficiently to oust the government; but there was confusion as to what to do next. The delegation to Caux included members of both religious factions, among them the veteran Hindu leader Mannath Padmanabhan, a life-long enemy of Christianity in Kerala. He and the Christian leaders did not talk to each other en route.
At Caux Padmanabhan, who spoke only Malayalam, was a keen observer of everything. After three days he remarked that there was a strange atmosphere at Caux. 'What is that?' he was asked. 'It's a sense of purity,' he said. 'The extraordinary thing is that it can exist in a place where there are so many Christians.' 'You see, a Christian to us', he added, 'is a fat Englishman with a cigar in his mouth, one of our girls on his arm and a bottle of whisky in his pocket.'
One evening the Kerala delegation saw Pickle Hill in the Caux theatre. Their reaction was, 'This play has been written for us.' A Catholic leader went directly to Padmanabhan and apologised for his bitterness against him. A few months later the Catholic Archbishop of Trivandrum described the outcome in a message to Buchman: 'History will record our permanent gratitude to Mannath Padmanabhan... for creating the unity of all the communities following his return from Caux.'7
Throughout that summer in Mackinac, despite the success of the assembly, Buchman seems to have been deeply uneasy about his team. This unease can, indeed, be traced back much further, certainly to 1957. While preparing for Mackinac that year, he had said to some of the Americans and Europeans with him, 'Are we all actually changing people? Some of you are so starched and boiled and ironed - we just need to change and put on clean clothes. Only one person can cancel sin, and that's Jesus.'
He was to return to the attack more forcibly at various times during the 1959 assembly. 'I get the impression you think things can be achieved without changing people,' he said in May. 'We are here to renew our commitment and to free ourselves of debris. A man is either alive or dead. Either changing people or not. Feathery men - we've got some in the fellowship. Bossy women make cowards of men. Impure men make bossy women. Have any of you refused to take on the basic needs of nations? Countries easily become fields in which we work rather than becoming forces to remake the world... Whatever I have done hasn't been me. I got up early and there was always the divine thought. It must be your secret. The Holy Spirit just dropping His truth. That's Christ's promise: "He that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."'
This unease was still with him in October. He seems to have felt that many of his colleagues had become dependent on each other and had lost the infectious spirit that changes lives, and that this was leading, as numbers grew, to an institutionalism which he had always aimed to avoid - what he called a 'movement-mindedness'. 'Some of us', he said at this time, 'may have bluffed too long now to be genuine enough to save our nations. Judas felt tremendous remorse. But Peter repented. Judas was in love with his interpretation of the message Christ proclaimed. To love the idea of Moral Re-Armament is no substitute for the love of God who washes us, sets us free and sets us to work.
After resting one afternoon he told some friends of an experience which had been very vivid to him: 'It was just like something coming down from heaven. I had a conscious sense of what we have to do. I saw that Caux and Mackinac would have to unite and we would learn together to present a world answer.' The scope and cost of the proposition are an indication of the urgency he felt. Three weeks later the main elements of the Caux conference were transferred to Mackinac, which meant that Buchman had the bulk of his full-time force with him in one place - for the last time, it turned out, on such a scale.
It would seem that his remark on seeing Pickle Hill earlier in the summer - 'it was people, people, people' - was not just an enthusiastic recollection, but a hint to others and a challenge to himself. On the day that he left Mackinac at the end of the session, he gathered everyone in the buildings and recalled for them and for himself the personal experience which had been at the root of his work through the years:
'I was awake a lot of the night, and I had an ominous sense that we have done well, by and large, but that there are still areas to be possessed,' he said. 'I read the ninth chapter of Acts. Read it and be sure it is your experience. I know a time in my life when I didn't have it, and I thought I was doing pretty well. There are still some people I feel have not reached this experience. They have not been commissioned by the Living God to take this message to the nations. I would not want to go today if I had not a clear sense of what is promised in that chapter.
'There was a time in my life when I was just like some of you. I was in the North of England. I had a good time. One afternoon I had the desire to go and hear a service. I went; there were only seventeen people there. That speaker did for me what no one had ever done. She talked straight to me about the Cross of Christ... I realised that God our Father cared for us so much that He gave His only Son. It had never touched me before. But that speaker that day had the wind of the Spirit. I gave my life wholly and completely. I learnt the thing I had never known before, to listen. I heard the still small voice say to me, "Repent." I had had a fairly good education but I needed something very simple and real. And it happened. I reached the experience of St Paul. I heard the wind of heaven and it passed over me and through me and I walked out of that place a different man. The old man was gone. I felt happy again ... Whether it is Jew or Gentile, democrat or Communist, it is an experience all can have.
'Then I went out and I met a young man, just a young blade. He said, "How about a walk?" We walked by Derwentwater. I told him of my experience, that revelation of the Cross of Christ which met my instant need. And before we reached the end of that walk, he, too, had the same experience.'
'We need a passionate pursuit of the individual,' he continued. 'It is those who are for God and those against Him. If you are in the mainstream of God's will for you, you don't depend on results. It is God who gives the results.'
Some sincere Christians have wondered how Buchman could return again and again to his Keswick experience, and at the same time help men like U Nu and Abdel Khaiek Hassouna in their personal and public lives without demanding that they join the Christian Church. It was certainly not because his faith in or dependence on Christ lessened with the years - quite the contrary.
The key seems to have been that Buchman was dedicated to help the people he met to take the next step which God was revealing to them. His friends of other religions knew what he believed and what he tried to live - and were attracted by it. He respected their sincere beliefs, and knew that they had often absorbed a distorted idea of Christianity from the way they had seen people from so-called Christian countries live. He saw his part as demonstrating the beauty and relevance of Christ's living presence in a person or a community - and leaving the Holy Spirit room to work in their hearts as He wished. He was sure that God could make His will known to anyone, just as He did to the Jews in the Old Testament, and that He did not enquire first whether the person seeking Him was a Christian, a person of some different faith or, like the Ruhr Communists, of no faith at all. So, in the deepest sense, he did not aspire to proselytize, but to put people in touch with the Spirit which 'blows where it likes'.
So, with U Nu, he concentrated on helping him to believe he could receive guidance. To the Ghanaian Muslim leader, the Tolon Na, he had simply remarked, 'When did you last steal?' When he emerged, still a good Muslim, from the violent reappraisal of his life into which this one remark had pitched him, the Tolon Na had put right everything in his life which he could see that he had done wrong. He often explained that the Cross meant to him that when God's will crossed his will, he must choose God's will.
'The genius of Moral Re-Armament,' writes the German theologian, Professor Klaus Bockmühl, 'is to bring the central spiritual substance of Christianity (which often it demonstrates in a fresher and more powerful way than do the Churches) in a secular and accessible form. Hence the emphasis on absolute moral standards. But the direction of the Holy Spirit is just as essential.' 'The genius', adds Bockmuhl, 'is in the balance of the two.'8
1 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,4 June 1958.
2 Buchman to Prince Richard of Hesse, November/December 1959 (Martin MSS).
3 Caux transcripts, 9 September 1961.
4 The Times, 22 August 1958.
5 Washington Post, 25 August 1958.
6 State Times, Jackson, Miss. quoted in Charis Waddy: The Muslim Mind: (Longman, 1976, pp. 99-102), where the full story of this event is told.
7 Archbishop Gregorius to Buchman, quoted in Buchman, p. 262.
8 Klaus Bockmühl to author, 3 March 1984.