The Only Love Project’s Bill Murphy and his wife Beth spent an extraordinary two-and-a-half hours on May 5th, 2016, with Dr. E. Glenn Hinson, author, scholar, teacher, and former friend of Thomas Merton, the world-renowned Catholic monk and contemplative. After introductions and a trading of hellos from mutual friends, we settled down in Glenn’s enviable home library for a conversation that ranged far and wide – and was never less than fascinating. What follows is what transpired.
NOTE: Because of the length of this interview, we are publishing Part One today. In a couple of weeks, we will publish Part Two.
GH: Well, I think of my life as a miracle of grace, which is the title of my autobiography. I was born into a family of conflict. My father was an alcoholic, and my earliest memories of anything are of my mother and father fighting verbally and physically. In 1937 we moved to a farm in Sullivan, Missouri, and shortly after my father left, and I grew up in poverty in the Missouri Ozarks. It was one of those areas, which – during the Depression – people made $50 a year, especially farmers. Of course, they could survive on $50. They could grow a garden and do things that kept them going, but what has happened in my life has just been miraculous in a way.
When I finished high school, I went to Washington University in St. Louis, and then during that period I experienced a calling to ministry of some kind; not very clear what kind that would be. As it turned out I have been an academic my whole life, my whole public career, but I came to Southern Seminary. My mother remarried, and my step-father was stationed in the Coast Guard here in Louisville, and we lived here for one year and then moved back to the farm in Missouri, and it was a natural choice for me to come to Southern Baptist Seminary which at that time was a very prestigious school. Today it has fallen far from what it was at that time. It was one of the leading theological institutions in the United States.
As it turned out, I decided to pursue graduate studies in New Testament, and I taught New Testament for one year, and then I was asked to switch to church history mainly because of my language facility. I could read the languages required for teaching church history. The first year I taught church history, I did this foolish thing. I took the class to the Abbey of Gethsemani in 1960. I didn’t take them to meet Thomas Merton. I took them to expose them to the Middle Ages. And they were exposed to the Middle Ages. But Merton was our host, and he talked to us about the monastic life and then asked if we had questions. One student asked what I feared one would ask. “What is a smart fellow like you doing throwing his life away in a place like this?” Well, I waited for Tom to open up his mouth and eat that guy alive. He didn’t. He just grinned a little and said, “I am here because I believe in prayer. That is my vocation.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had never met anyone who believed in prayer enough to think of it as a vocation.
Well, at any rate from that time on I took students every semester to Gethsemani, and Merton invited me to klatches that he had in his hermitage. I was in the first one, June 10th, 1961, and he asked me back a number of times with little groups – ministers, professors, and various others from the area. That was to be really determinative for a second calling I think that I had as a teacher. I began as an academician, church history, and I went on to get a Ph.D. in early church history, patristics (“the study of the early Christian writers who are designated Church Fathers”) at Oxford University. I had a very deep interest in that, and Tom Merton was very interested in patristics, too. He often asked me questions when we went down. At that time, though, I didn’t know very much about monasticism. Monastic history is something Protestants didn’t touch. We weren’t interested in places like Gethsemani. But I have to confess I didn’t learn too much about Merton’s writings. I didn’t read very many of them. He sent me some things. He sent me copies of manuals that he used and some books. It wasn’t until after he died in 1968 that I had to read all of Merton’s writings. I was asked to speak about Merton, and, of course, I didn’t know anything about what he was really teaching except from short times that we went where he talked to us about Gethsemani and asked us questions about the war in Vietnam, about racism, other things like that. You know, we had no trouble engaging him. He had no trouble engaging us, and we were really quite overwhelmed.
Merton had a great sense of humor. He could have been Jack Parr, Jay Leno or somebody like that had he chosen not to go to the monastery. At any rate meeting Merton was what really aroused for me one of my major concerns, namely, that ministers would be contemplative. That was what Merton was trying to do – to teach contemplation in a world of action. Early on when he went into Gethsemani, he didn’t want anything to do with the world. But after the publication of The Seven Story Mountain in 1948, he found himself compelled to address the world that he had left behind as he found people writing, really flooding him with questions, and they would. In the 60’s he became one of America’s most perceptive social prophets.
Now, we had going on at the same time the Civil Rights Movement. He was really interested in Martin Luther King, and wrote a letter following King’s publication of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and there were other things.
Well, Merton’s death dealt all of us a terrible blow. We had a hard time handling that. I had a hard time handling that. Yet from that time on, I did my best to try to do what Merton was really trying to do – to assist people like myself living secular lives, secular vocations, to discover contemplation, how important it was for us to be contemplatives.
In 1970 I was invited to give a series of lectures at a school in Cardiff, Wales. I was in my last term of the Ph.D. requirement for residency at Oxford, and I was asked to give the Edwin Steven Griffiths Lectures. What I tried to do was to give them Thomas Merton adjusted to the kind of secular environment they lived in. Theirs was far more secular than ours here in the United States. You know, there are not that many confessing or active Christians there. What I came out with was published as a book entitled A Serious Call to a Contemplative Lifestyle. [At this point, Glenn walked over to one of his book shelves and pulled the volume off, walked it over, and handed it to me.] I said what I thought Merton would say. I confess that I didn’t have very profound understanding of Merton. I read all of his published writings after his death, but I had to build on that, and this was an early phase of the effort I was making to try to help others grasp the message of Thomas Merton. This became a very popular book.
GH: It’s still in print.
BM: I am going to have to get a copy of it.
GH: A slightly revised version is now published by Smith and Helwys, which is the moderate Baptist publisher, but I mainly used more inclusive language in updating it.
GH: But it’s still the same book, the most popular one I have ever written.
BM: That book became the most popular one you ever –
BM: Why? Why do you suppose that is?
GH: Well, I was interested in one thing that touched others, especially college students. Bellarmine University has the Merton Library and the Merton Studies Center. They changed the name of it not too long ago to Center for Contemplative Living, which is really picking up basically the idea that I have had. If we get anything out of Merton, it is how to live contemplatively, to be attentive to God in all of life and everything that we are doing. That is what I was trying to say in that little book. Well, at any rate I know I am talking too long answering this question.
BM: No. It’s a perfect answer. It’s wonderful.
GH: At the same time that I was developing friendship with Thomas Merton, I was developing a friendship with Douglas Steere. Douglas was a leading Quaker of the last half of the 20th Century, a philosophy professor at Haverford College. Douglas spent his whole career trying to discover how to pray, what prayer is. In 1933 he did his sabbatical at the Benedictine Monastery in Northern Germany. He met Karl Barth there. He was kind of shocked to find Barth there because Barth held a pretty negative view about prayer as too subjective. Prayer is the central concern of a Benedictine monastery. He asked Barth, “Why are you here if you think prayer is too subjective?” Barth said, “To refute them.”
GH: Barth was later to change his tune on that. He did write about prayer in his later years. But at any rate Douglas was to have profound influence on my life personally. I was never with Douglas that I didn’t go away feeling uplifted. In working on his biography [Love at the Heart of Things] I tried to find out what it was that caused me to have that experience because I found that it was uniform among people who were privileged to be with Douglas Steere for a while. I, of course, discovered insight about that in his writings. More than anything else as you see from the title of my biography of him, Love at the Heart of Things, Douglas was convinced deeply that at the heart of things is love.
GH: It’s God as love, God as the ultimate personal reality; and that love matters more than anything. Now, in his thinking he was influenced like Merton was and like I have been by Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 20 August 1153…a French abbot and the primary reformer for the Cistercian order”). Bernard of Clairvaux begins his treatise on the love of God with the statement, “Love is natural affection.” His reasoning behind it is that God pours love on us. “God both loves more and before you do.” We love because God loves us. That is based on 1 John 4. Bernard was especially reflecting on John 4: 8-18, which has in it the statement, “God is love.” Before you love, you must be loved. Bernard’s treatise is really about the stages in the love of God which are parallel to the four stages of the Lectio Divina:
Meditatio, Merton described this as going from the front porch into the house,
Contemplatio, resting in God
This is central, especially in the Cistercian tradition, which Bernard was the chief definer of when in he came to Citeaux. The Trappist order was to reassert all of that in the 17th century. If you had asked me what I had gained most from both Merton and Steere, I would say: they plugged me into the contemplative tradition, the whole contemplative tradition that Merton articulated so well. Why he and not others? There was another major writer at Gethsemani, Father Raymond. You may have seen some of his books, but you probably may not have either because he was never popular. He was a pre-Vatican II kind of Trappist.
But Merton had this gift for communicating the deep insights of the contemplative tradition, a whole tradition that goes back to the desert monks. Did you look in the guesthouse [of Gethsemani]? You know they have that panorama on the wall as you go into the guesthouse?
GH: It goes back to St Anthony and to Pachomius and comes on up to Merton. You have Merton there sitting by his typewriter. Well, that I think is the great gift I got. Being a church historian you expect me to make a historical approach to these things, and I have written quite a lot about spirituality. But I have written in church history, too. My Early Church is widely used as a textbook in seminaries and colleges and my Oxford dissertation was published as The Evangelization of the Roman Empire. What I’ve tried to do has been to help others discover the insights that Thomas Merton was conveying from the contemplative tradition. I think I have helped thousands to become Merton readers. I have always said, you get more out of reading Merton directly than hearing me tell you about Merton or reading what I have written about Merton. I think that quite clearly is true.
The Southern Baptist Convention went through this “holy war” as it was called, where Fundamentalists took over the denomination. That began in 1979. Well, by 1987 the Board of Trustees at Southern Seminary was packed with Fundamentalists and by 1992 I found myself unable to stay there. I came under attack from them regarding a little book I published called, Jesus Christ. It’s really about Christian beginnings. I found that modern Biblical studies are something not tolerable to Fundamentalists.
BM: Yeah, yeah.
GH: Believers in an inerrant Bible felt very frightened by that.
BM: Sola scriptura, you know.
GH: Well, at any rate, one of the trustees went on the attack on me in 1991. I was on sabbatical leave and was teaching at the Baptist seminary at Rüschlikon, Switzerland. I had been there before. I had given lectures there, and they invited me to teach. Because I was teaching there, the Foreign Mission Board, which was now controlled by Fundamentalists, defunded Rüschlikon.
The defunding led to the takeoff of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which is moderate organization in the Convention. As a result of the attacks, I resigned from the seminary in 1992, and I went to Richmond, where this new seminary [Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond] founded by my former students asked me to focus on spirituality. Spirituality would be made a central concern of the seminary at Richmond. So I really had a second career, I guess, actually a third career. I began teaching New Testament at Southern Seminary and then I taught church history for 30 years from 1959 actually to 1992. At Richmond I was teaching church history too, but I focused especially on spirituality, spiritual formation for ministry. So in a way I was living out more of what I had learned from Merton and Steere. I was directly implementing that and wrote a little book at the request of Upper Room Books, Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership, which basically told what I did – tried to do – to ministers at Richmond.
GH: And then there were other ways. This is why I talk about grace. Nothing has turned out the way I planned. Doors have opened for me. Things have stretched me or forced me to move in different directions. I really see this as grace. Grace is a product of love. It’s the love of God we understand as grace in our lives. Early on when I was growing up in poverty there were what I call ordinary saints scratching around in the soil of my soul. They are responsible for my taking a religious path at all. Otherwise I might have ended up doing who knows what. I have no idea.
My only brother, a year and a half older than I, ended up in the Coast Guard. He was there 20 years and was killed at Norfolk in the Air Sea Rescue Unit in 1966 at age 36. But I have had so many things that have just happened to me I could not really explain to you how they turned out the way they did. I always tried to do the best I could in the circumstance. Nothing that I really planned has worked out the way I planned. I didn’t plan to go to Richmond. I planned to be as good a patristics scholar as I could at Southern Seminary and to teach church history. I always gave students everything I could, the best introduction I could. But, on the other hand, there was Merton and there was Steere, and there was this mostly negative experience of the Fundamentalists taking over the seminary and people like me fleeing, getting away from that.
Then the new seminary opened and they wanted me to do something which I was concerned about but wasn’t really prepared for. To have done it right, I needed to have lived at a monastery for a few years, but I did the best I could with the preparation that I had.
BM: You mentioned a couple things that I want to get to in a just a second, really important stuff, but let me go to this: Would you consider yourself a spiritual person?
GH: I don’t…I am kind of hesitant to talk about myself as spiritual person. I think I do have a kind of God-directedness. I think so many things have touched my life in this way. Spirituality has become an intense concern, the spiritual life. Living life attentive to God in all things became somewhere along the way the central concern. Actually I think it was created.
I just remembered this recently. In a class at Washington University in philosophy of religion, Huston Smith, who was my professor, quoted his father-in-law, Henry Nelson Wieman:
“We ought to live each moment as if all eternity converged upon it.” Now, that hit me like a thunderbolt. It whirled around in me like one of those eddies at the base of Niagara Falls. I guess I thought eternity is converging upon this moment, but how do I live like that? I was 18 or 19. How do I live focused on eternity converged on this moment. I didn’t find an answer to that until I met Thomas Merton. It’s really why Merton became so important to me, I think. What he was trying to teach about contemplation helped me to see, yes, there is a way.
Maybe we can’t live with our wicks turned up that high, but there is a way through contemplation that we can be attentive to God in all of life.
That is the way Douglas Steere defined prayer. Prayer is above all attentiveness, and that’s what I have tried to cultivate. I guess that’s spiritual, but, no, like Merton, I am hesitant to use the term because in the circles in which I was brought up that has been badly misunderstood, mainly connected with revivalism and things like that, and I don’t want to think about it in that way. Merton told my students repeatedly something that I have often repeated to students since, “We are all beginners.” Talking about knowing God, about attentiveness to God, we are all beginners. It’s not something that anyone earns a Ph.D. in.
GH: Yeah. I could get a Ph.D. in –
BM: Attentiveness? [laughs]
GH: – church history. But this is more difficult.
BM: The third question I have is: Most religious traditions speak of the value and necessity of love. The Buddhist Dhammapada says, only love dispels hate. The Christian Bible says, a new commandment I give to you that you love one another. The Jewish tradition teaches you shall love your neighbor as yourself. What, if anything, do those words mean to you?
GH: Well, I certainly affirm those statements. I think that they coincide with what I learned through New Testament studies, through the study of church history. I was thinking about it last night. One text that I would add to those would be 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love casts out fear.” As I understand it, the antithesis of love is not hate, but it is fear. It is anxiety. Fear and anxiety are blood brothers, and more powerful than anything else we humans have to wrestle with. I think one reason that we tend to resort so quickly to violence is because of fear. One reason that we have wars is fear. I think Tom would affirm that statement. I think his writing would affirm that statement. Yet on this text I have reflected recently that I don’t believe we ever eliminate fear. The love of God doesn’t cast out fear. What it does is to recast fear. It recasts the energy that people invest in what they are doing because of fear. You know some fear is good. I thought about that with my students. Some of them would never get their papers in if it wasn’t for a little fear. Maybe I have done quite a bit.
BM: You instilled fear.
GH: But on the other hand, fear can be destructive, and that’s what is happening in our world in ISIS, the things that Boco Haram is doing in Nigeria, places like that. Now, I think love is the only answer.
BM: So let me phrase my response in terms of our next question, then: What role can love play in the world today?
GH: I think that love is the way that we can see fear and anxiety come under control. These are always going to be present in human life, but I come back again to Bernard of Clairvaux and to that text on perfect love. That’s not the love that we can generate. We generate an imperfect love or rather we have to say we rely on God to generate love in us.
Now, the challenge for us is to open to the love of God. There are lots of things that keep us from opening. Of course, I think the most important thing is fear, anxiety. It’s like storms. When you have been through a hurricane, been through a tornado, you pull your shutters to. You close your doors, and then afterwards you are afraid to open them. These things keep you closed. I am not talking about the physical storms, although those are an important part of it. I am talking more about psychic storms, about spiritual storms, things that generate fear that have resulted in our fear. It might be poverty. Having grown up in poverty I know what that is.
BM: You say those things – fears – keep people from being more loving?
GH: Well, sadly I see a lot of people who have grown up in poverty, have mainly resorted to acquiring things, to grabbing and holding on to physical possessions and things like that. I had one colleague here at the seminary. He really became a shyster. He grew up in poverty just like I grew up in poverty, but the guy was constantly involved in using tricks of one kind or another to get money out of people. One of my colleagues was getting rid of some filing cabinets. They were the old wooden filing cabinets. He set them out of his office into the hall. This other colleague who had grown up in poverty came down and asked how much he wanted for them. The colleague who was selling them didn’t want any money really, but he said finally, knowing the guy he was dealing with, “Well, what about $2?” He hem-hawed around, and didn’t want to give him $2 for them. Finally he agreed. He found he wasn’t going to be able to convince him that he should sell them more cheaply or just give them to him. He took them down to his office at the other end of the hall and sold them to a student for $12 apiece.
GH: That was his life. Money was his life, and in America we have a grave problem with that. We have people for whom money, possessions, is life, nothing else. They do not care.
BM: I think you’re right.
GH: It’s like Thomas Kelly, one of the notable Quakers whom I learned about from Douglas Steere, has observed that we can live life on two levels. One is the level of activities. Some people live life only on that level. But there is another level on which we may live life. That’s the level of the interior life. When we become serious about the interior life, we may alternate between these two. Now, activity, now the interior life, but as we grow and develop in our spiritual life, we may do these simultaneously. While we engage in activity, quietly behind the scenes we are attentive to God.
You know, you can do that. We talk about multi-…let’s see, what’s the word?
GH: Multi-tasking, and while you are driving you can talk to one another. You can listen to the radio or other things. But this is about being attentive to God behind the scenes while you are engaged in those activities. When that happens acquisition – or, as Merton says, activity for activity’s sake – fades out of the picture. Your life is no longer determined by activity. The main determinative instead is the love of God. Now, I think…well, I have come up with this analogy. What we want to do is to open like flowers opening to the morning sun to allow God’s love energies to flow into us. Those love energies can deal with our fear and our anxiety. They can recast them. They can recast them, and that’s what I think we want to have happen. It’s not that we are ever going to have fear and anxiety totally eliminated, but the love of God can change those energies into something positive.
I think sometimes the love of God coming in is completely consumed in our lives. You know, there are times when we are in such a physical and emotional state we can’t let God’s love flow through us to others. That was Thomas Merton when he first entered Gethsemani. It was about seven years before he had reached a new point. In fact, he destroyed his journals between 1941 and 1946. We just have little glimpses of his journal entries in that period. I think the reason was that love was having to make him well. He has this entry in the The Sign of Jonas that was published in 1953. “Love sails me around the house. I walk two steps on the ground and four steps in the air. It is love. It is consolation…Maybe Saint Teresa would like to have me snap out of it but it is pure, I tell you;…”
You know, Gethsemani was like Bernard of Clairvaux said it should be: a school of love, and love took about six or seven years to deal with this badly scarred young man [Merton] whose mother died when he was six, his father when he was 15. World War II came along, and he had to get away from it. He had to retreat for a long period while love worked on his life. Now, I believe that happens. Sometimes when we get well, we can become conduits of God’s love energies. The love energies flow into and through us toward other persons. I have this conviction that we human beings can generate love energy. You know we do that. If you are in love with somebody, you feel those energies, don’t you? They flow toward you. Maybe it’s not very much. It’s just a pinch or two. But we add something to God’s love energies. These love energies flow out toward the world, to the other persons, and to the communities that we live in. They flow out to address the world’s great problems. This is the way I see Merton. Actually from 1955 on, his publication of No Man is an Island, you will see Merton addressing the world’s problems at a depth that I don’t think anybody else was writing. That is remarkable. And he was in a monastery –
GH: – Far away from the world, and there were people who were very skeptical about his writing. Martin Marty was very critical of Merton. In Merton’s “Letters to a White Liberal” [written summer, 1963], in which he was looking at the racial problem, he was pointing out that liberals could be marching down Main Street protesting in the same way rednecks were doing down in Mississippi and Alabama and places like that protecting their way of life, and that’s what we want to do. We are afraid of change. Now, Merton addressed that with great profundity because I think love had transformed his life.
GH: And it provided a depth. Where does that depth come from? Well, you could say Merton was a very bright person, and he was. He was extraordinarily bright. They didn’t let him drive the Jeep down at Gethsemani because the one time he tried to drive it, he ran into a ditch and almost killed himself. He wasn’t bright in that way. He was brilliant, though, with what he was devoting his life to, the understanding of the contemplative tradition, and he transformed it. Why did Pope Francis [in his speech before the U.S. Congress on September 24, 2015] cite him along with…
BM: Dorothy Day?
GH: Yeah, Dorothy Day. Well, he was right on target. Pope Francis is right. I love that guy. You know, I met Pope John Paul II three times.
GH: I wasn’t enamored of his views. He was a lovely person. I was impressed in many ways with the stance that he took especially before he became Pope living in Poland and things he did, but Francis really understands what Dorothy Day and what Thomas Merton were doing. Now, behind all of it is the love of God.
BM: Well, you sure don’t sound like a Baptist guy.
GH: No. I have to admit it. I sometimes say I am a Bapto-Quakero-Methodo-Presbytero-Episcopo-Catholic.
GH: That was awful.
BM: Well, let’s say people reading this right now are really excited about it. They are like, “Yeah, this love stuff sounds like what I want!” So, our next question: What recommendations do you have regarding how someone might put that spirit of love into the cultivation long term but what can they do right now so that they can see results from love in their lives?
GH: Well, that’s a very important question. You have to begin where you are. There is no doing earth-shattering things out there, you know: I have the answer to everything. That’s Donald Trump. Yeah, he’s arrogant and so is Cruz, and I am glad to see Cruz drop out, but, no. We have to begin with humility.
GH: That’s where Merton began. He was not a pretentious person. It’s where Douglas Steere began. He was not pretentious. He was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. Douglas was brilliant. I mean, he was bright, and you can’t be a Rhodes scholar without having something up here. Merton was just extraordinary. I smile thinking about it. When we first went to Gethsemani we were expecting these people in a monastery to be some kind of nuts, that they were fleeing from the world, away from all those things that we were facing up to, we brave ministers.
GH: We can be so important, so self-righteous. Just meeting Merton put us in our place. We thought what a profound, profound person with that simple way of thinking about some of the issues we were dealing with. And he did address those things. Now, I think he addressed them from where he was. He really had one message: It was about contemplation, and how contemplation ought to change the way we look at the world, the way we would act if only we would also become contemplatives.
Now, what influence can that have? I remember back when Baptist churches were refusing to allow blacks to come into white Baptist churches, and they were firing their preachers when the preachers suggested that they should allow blacks to come in. We had a lot of ministerial exiles who were coming to Southern Seminary to –
GH: – maybe just be bailed out for a little while to find another job or something, to be taken care of while they were at the seminary. I think I learned something about that. One thing you have to do is to love people to the point that they begin to see, to understand some attitudes they have are wrong. You can get up in the pulpit and bawl hell out of them and next week you better be looking for another job. But I saw ministers who loved their people enough that they did reach a point where they could transform those churches, and a lot of those churches accepted blacks. They opened themselves. I think love can really work.
I did the same thing as a teacher at the seminary. I have known a number of teachers who have thought that, but others really used to blow them away. They immediately set fires under them and tried to get them to change their minds. But I find that it’s better to be patient, better to show them love, and it is amazing how that did work.
You know, this trustee who sought to get me fired from seminary came to my office before I went to Rüschlikon in 1991. He tried to get me to sign a statement that I would not teach five things. Basically the five things were that I would not teach a critical approach to the Bible. The first one was that I would not teach anyone that somebody who wasn’t a Christian might be saved. I said, “What about Abraham Joshua Heschel or Martin Buber. I only hope I know God the father of Jesus Christ as well as they do before I die.” We went on to these other things. He said, “You know why we want to get you out of this seminary?” I said, “I am little puzzled as to why that’s true because I think I do a pretty good job of teaching.” He said, “Yeah, that’s the problem. You have too much influence on these students.”
GH: Too many of them were leaving the Fundamentalist fold.
GH: I thought then he confirmed that what I was doing was right; that you do need to be patient and to show them love and so on. Now, how about going beyond that? Well, I had been promoting for a few years this idea which really I got from Douglas Steere and Thomas Merton, which went back to Bernard of Clairvaux. The monastery should be a schola caritatis, “a school of love.” Why cannot churches become schools of love? Now, the Apostle Paul was trying to teach that. Have you read 1 Corinthian 13, the great love chapter?
BM: Oh, yeah. It’s my life’s direction now.
GH: Have you read Romans 12 where he is talking about relations not only within these little Christian communities but also relations with people outside? You know, we should become schools of love. Churches ought to be schools of love, not marketing programs. Thinking of the church as a business is the great heresy of our day. Churches ought not to be marketing religion, competing with other marketing businesses. They should be trying to help communities of faith discover love for one another, fulfill that command to love one another. Jesus says [in John 13:34], “a new commandment I give to you.” I have spent a lot of time thinking about that. In what way was it new? The Old Testament gave us “love your neighbor as yourself.” How is it new? Well, if we were to love like Jesus loved, he gave his life for his friends. In the Gospel of John, that’s the new. In Matthew [5:44] it is “Love your enemy.” Now, that’s carrying it beyond anything in the Old Testament. At any rate, that’s my take on the thing; that this is where we have to begin.
Highland Baptist Church and Crescent Hill Baptist Church have been kicked out of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention because we accept gays, lesbians, transgender or anybody.
BM: Shame on you. [Laughs.]
GH: We even ordain them.
BM: Oh, no.
GH: We even marry them. One day Joe Phelps, Senior Pastor of Highland, wanted to talk about Evangelism. I said, “Well, the church evangelizes the way it has always tried to: just be loving.” People want that. They are going to come because they find love there. Can we have an impact beyond the level of church? Merton wrote with great insight about the war in Vietnam. He didn’t stop it. He voted for Johnson hoping that Johnson would stop it, but Johnson actually turned out to be Goldwater in disguise.
GH: And Tom wrote me during – it was 1966, ’67 – to say he was depressed because it looked like everything we were trying to do wasn’t working. The war finally wound down when what we realized that we were losing, and I don’t know. See, on this we have to be saddened that our impact is limited; still, I think we have to try.
A group of us started a publication called, Baptist Peacemaker in 1980. That was when Reagan was building up the nukes and doing all those things that were alarming a lot of us, and we reached people with it. We started, maybe expanded, an organization of American Baptists that developed called the Baptist Peace Fellowship. I don’t think we are making a world impact, but you know, you do what you can where you are. That’s one thing I have learned. I have learned this from another Quaker. Have you ever heard of John Woolman? John Woolman was a Quaker, important figure in the 18th Century. He spent his life from about age 26 until he died of small pox in England in 1752 trying to get Quakers to free their slaves. Not all Quakers were slave holders. There were many abolitionists among them.
One thing I have learned from John Woolman is that you throw up your straw into the wind, no matter how little effect you may seem to be having. By 1786 no American Quaker owned a slave largely because of John Woolman, the witness of John Woolman. He had a wonderful saying you will find in his journal, “Love was the first motion.” You can add that to those phrases that you use in there. He was referring particularly to a dangerous trip he took among Indians on the Susquehanna River who had risen up and massacred some whites, and whites, of course, were gearing up to go down and massacre Indians in retaliation for that. Woolman, even against the pleading of his wife, went anyway and met with an Indian chief named Papunehang. He tried to communicate through a Moravian missionary who knew the Indian language at first to see if it might have an impact. But the communication wasn’t getting through. He said, “Well, let me just try speaking in English.” He prayed with this chief who couldn’t understand anything he was saying. When he finished, the old chief went over and hugged him and said, “I love to feel where words come from.”
Now, Douglas Steere entitled a speech that he gave in England in 1955, Where Words Come From – an interpretation of the ground & practise of Quaker worship & ministry. You know that sometimes that’s the best we can do, and that’s what we try. We try to communicate beyond words and thoughts. Now, this is the heart…and I am sorry I am rambling on too long.
BM: No, it’s perfect.
GH: This is what Thomas Merton saw as the way we can have interfaith relationships, the way Christians can relate to Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Taoists and people of all faiths. This is his comment that he made on his trip to Asia, and you find it in The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton. It was a speech that he prepared actually about interfaith relations that was never given, but he talked about not avoiding issues that may be raised but may be pertinent to the monastic order like the Trappists. On the other hand, we must recognize that we have to go beyond words and thoughts.
GH: That is I think the same thing John Woolman saw – where we are going to do something that is beyond words. You have to have a faith that maybe a lot of people would not understand. We can talk not only on a pre-verbal, but also on a post-verbal level. We can relate to people of other faiths beyond the level of words. Merton thought monks might especially contribute there, and his meeting with the Dalai Lama was about that where they communicated beyond words or thoughts.
END PART ONE
NOTE: Special thanks to Saij for her expert transcription, and to Glenn Hinson for his graciousness and eloquence.