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Some of my spiritual heroes

Working for a better world, we all need heroes, models to follow, to inspire us. It seems to be written into the genes of our species.

I’ve spent most of my adult life struggling with words. Drafting conference invitations and programmes, writing reports of meetings. Trying to explain Moral Re-Armament and then Initiatives of Change in words, on paper, to the media and to the general public. As a Christian, I sometimes found that I was trying to make MRA look and sound Christian to my Christian friends, without upsetting or offending those from other faith traditions… I was baptised and confirmed into the Anglican Church. I am now a Reformed Church lay preacher where I live in Switzerland. But I have been inspired and been nurtured by many other spiritual traditions and religions.

After more than 50 years of doing this, I’ve now found a one-word definition: ‘humanitude’. Coming from different faith traditions and systems of beliefs, in IofC we all share a conviction of our shared humanity, ‘ubuntu’ to the southern Africans. And a shared conviction that people matter, and that any betterment of the world needs to start with our efforts to better ourselves and our own behaviour and living. So rather than trying to convert others and make them into poor copies of ourselves, believing what we believe, we can all try to develop that spark of God that is already present in every human being. And try to cultivate that spark in ourselves.

Working for a better world, we all need heroes, models to follow, to inspire us. It seems to be written into the genes of our species. And there are pretty massive traces here on ‘For A New World’ of several of mine.

Alan Thornhill was an Anglican minister, a theologian, who very early left his pretty comfortable life at Oxford university to work with Frank Buchman. He was a wonderful example of this ‘humanitude’. He wrote The Forgotten Factor in 1940, one of the first of many. It was Moral Re-Armament’s first straight stage play, and it was later made into a film  (like a good number of MRA plays). It talks about industrial conflict and family tensions and squabbles. It has been translated and performed in dozens of languages on every continent. It was part of the first major MRA move into Germany after World War 2.

An Anglican theologian who was not then married, who wrote about the problems of industry and the family. Something of a miracle for me. I was privileged to call him and his American wife, Barbara, friends. They were very good friends of my parents, but became very dear to me too. Through them, I got to know their friend Malcolm Muggeridge (a major journalist, write and iconoclast) and his wife Kitty, and even stayed with them, in a nearby Sussex village. Muggeridge and Thornhill wrote a play together on euthanasia – still a very live issue today.

Thornhill also had a hand in writing the musical play The Crowning Experience (also made into a film). An important landmark production and campaign in the long struggle towards racial healing in the United States. Thornhill’s delightful book Best of Friends links together several of these different characters.

Another of these greats is Canon B.H. Streeter, who was killed in an air crash in 1937, flying back to the UK from an Oxford Group conference in Switzerland. I can only strongly recommend his book The God who Speaks  or the shortened booklet version.

Eric Liddell, another churchman and missionary is perhaps best known through the film Chariots of Fire, but there are 19 references to him that you can explore on our platform. Also to Charlie Andrews, the Anglican minister friend of Mahatma Gandhi (seen in the Attenborough film).

Then going beyond the Anglican tradition, Andrew Dawson, an Australian academic and researcher has written a paper to be found on FANW that links Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran minister and martyr in the struggle against Hitler with Emil Brunner, a major Swiss Reformed minister and theologian who was also involved with the Oxford Group in the 1930s. Endless discoveries to be made. A seamless tapestry of links.

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