The film The Man Who Built Peace (a film which captures the life and peace-making legacy of a man you may never have heard of – and who made a big impact in the world) is very helpful towards taking on board the heritage of IofC. But more to the point, we have the opportunity to draw from this film a perspective that might help us address the challenges faced in the present-day world.
A recent discussion, following the film in our home, made me reflect on the spiritual heart that human beings have in common. I say ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious’ because there seems to me a dimension which reaches beyond what is normally thought of as ‘Inter-Faith’. Issues raised have a bearing on the nature of our IofC fellowship, but equally to quandaries affecting the wider world.
Eight friends, not involved with IofC, were especially invited. They were, from a mixture of Christian churches, a Buddhist leader, a well-respected local Muslim and another Quaker couple, besides ourselves. I found that showing it to a group like this and trying to get their honest feedback, was really useful.
They were all well aware of my work with Beyond Forgiving so in inviting them, in essence, I wrote: ‘Imad Karam (director of Beyond Forgiving) has made a new film about the life of Frank Buchman, the initiator of Initiatives of Change. I'd like to show the film to a few friends one evening to compare notes on insights that may strike you about it.’
In introducing the film, amongst other things, I said that I hadn't met Buchman. He had died before I encountered MRA. But I wondered what had attracted me, a militant atheist, to a group emerging from the spiritual experience of a Christian pastor. And why would a Muslim film director have conviction to make a film about this man and his outreach? Also, what can we draw from this film that might help us address the challenges we face in the present-day world
After the screening, it was apparent that all had appreciated the film. Amongst other things though, there was a great deal of interest that Imad, a Muslim, has a similar purpose to Buchman. What is it about Buchman's experience and approach that attracts such a variety of people to work together, not just Christians? Some also commented that the film basically stops with Buchman’s death. Others, who weren’t much aware of IofC, were really interested to know that it still existed, and that Caux (which they had seen in the film) was still in operation.
I also mentioned the name change, and made the point that it is Initiatives ‘of’ Change, not ‘for’ or ‘from’. It is this link between the personal and the societal that is so important to foster, and draw from Buchman’s journey. That seemed to click with our friends.
Pointers to our way forward
In recent years, within IofC, there has been discussion on what is the spiritual heart of our fellowship. Is it Christian, interfaith, or more inclusive in some other sense? Some colleagues are convicted that ‘God’ must be at the centre of it. For those friends the word ‘God’ is the most natural word to express their own experience and its continuity with their own or other religious paths. The trouble is that, whatever we may feel, for many people, particularly in the West, the word ‘God’ has so many unpleasant or unbelievable associations with dogmatic religion that hearts and minds become closed at its mention. I certainly recognise this in my own spirit.
This then takes me back to question why I, as a London student, wasn’t put off by hearing about Frank Buchman’s Keswick experience, despite having a vastly different religious world view to his. After watching The Man Who Built Peace in our home, the group discussed his human experience of struggling with anger and pride etc. which led to the Keswick transformation. Our Muslim and Buddhist friends could identify with that just as I, as an atheist, had fifty years ago.
Some of our group had been at an event a few weeks earlier with Jean Paul Samputu (Rwanda) and Maria Shahzad, a young Muslim friend, where the audience had identified with the commonality of the inner struggle they had both shared, despite differences of belief.
Jean Paul Samputu (photo by Howard Grace)
We also reflected on Letlapa Mphahlele, an atheist, who said that when Ginn Fourie forgave him, some years after the death of her daughter which he had been responsible for, it touched something deep inside and restored his humanity. He recognises this as a spiritual experience. Some of our friends also greatly resonated with the recent Beyond Forgiving initiative on the theme ‘Beyond Group Allegiances, Towards a Common Humanity.’ Or, as some prefer, ‘Towards a Shared Humanity’.
In the wider world, while seeking belief commonality is commendable, it is often the real, strongly held, differing doctrinal insistences (as well as human nature, and other factors) that prevail and fan the flames of conflict. This also suggests therefore that we should more fruitfully explore ‘human experience’ as a uniting factor, rather than mainly focussing on beliefs?
Thinking on a broader scale than Buchman’s personal inner struggle at Keswick, the hearts of the vast majority of us go out to those Jewish people and others who suffered appallingly in the Nazi death camps. The present-day refugee crisis is another example of man-made tragedies. We deeply sympathise too with the terrible experiences of people caught up in natural disasters like the 2004 Tsunami. This compassion seems to be embedded in our hearts, irrespective of our religious or other beliefs. On a more day to day level most of us feel deeply for a parent whose child goes missing, or for a homeless person.
So, this too points to the ‘human experience’ (a heart thing rather than a head thing) that a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist more basically responds to?
Human beings may have differing religious allegiances, but I suspect that many of us resonate with Pope Francis who maintains that if the choice comes between doctrine and compassion, we should choose compassion. As a Christian, that sounds to me just like the sort of thing that Jesus might have said.
It is also something that has a moral and spiritual heart, irrespective of religion, which all associated with IofC can identify with. It seems to me that this could be one key for what we can draw from the film in relation to the way our IofC fellowship might develop, in partnership with others, to respond to the challenges of the present world.
Howard Grace is one of the founders of the West Berkshire Peace and Integration Forum. Howard works with IofC and has conducted workshops in hundreds of Sixth Forms around the UK. He is also executive producer of the film Beyond Forgiving.
NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.