Letter

Happy 85th Birthday, Dear Kenneth!

Today, June 19th is the 85th birthday of Dr. Kenneth Cracknell, a Methodist minister, a respected scholar and author, and one of the co-founders of our Vaisnava Christian Dialogue. This dialogue, originally held in Wales, has continued each year for the last almost twenty-five years here in Washington, DC. Kenneth is now in a nursing home in Vermont. His dear wife, Susan, invited his many friends to send Kenneth a card to wish him a happy birthday today. Our message to him is below.

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Dearest Kenneth,

Anuttama and Rukmini here with all the virtual balloons, cake, ice cream, San Pellegrino, and stacks of gift-wrapped new and antique books for you to delve into with fascination.
 
Your many beloved friends of a lifetime are all gathered here together to roast you and toast you. We’ve all flown in from London; Cambridge; Oxford; Dallas and Ft. Worth, Texas; Washington, DC; Nigeria; and India— and many have arrived by swan and angel wings from higher planets as well. Of course, all races and genders, and religious persuasions are represented here, but also the dog community of Irish setters and all colors of golden and other retrievers are barking and jumping in joy in your honor.
 
So now, everyone is settled into their comfy chairs, with their drinks in hand. We will now begin to try to encapsulate our tribute to the bridges you’ve built, the questions you’ve raised, and answered; and to the gauntlets you’ve thrown down to us all, from your heights and depths of introspection and august wisdom.
 
You have ventured forth to dialogue with many, including the likes of Hare Krsna devotees like ourselves. You asked us the difficult questions, guiding us to self analysis and often painful critical thinking at a time when most other scholars, religionists and lay people as well only viewed us from a distance with a good degree of suspicion.
 
You heard a bell of alarm in 1984 when the European Parliament in Strasbourg tried to institute a series of proposals to control all “New Religious Movements”, opening them up to inspection by religious health authorities and limiting their freedoms. These proposals, you once wrote, “would have had the effect of infringing the liberties of all older religious movements like the Churches and would have been in direct violation of the articles on religious liberty of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights”.
 
Kenneth, you were appalled, and you led the National Council of Churches to adamantly protest this travesty. And then, the Strasbourg Parliament retreated from the brink of a serious mis-judgement. In this way, you heralded in an era of dialogue where new religious movements, as well as religious traditions of the East became welcome partners at the roundtable of dialogue in Europe and America.
 
Once you came to Washington, D.C. to co-convene one of our first Vaisnava Christian Dialogues. These dialogues that you originally co-founded in Wales, along with our Vaisnava brother, Shaunaka Rsi Das, have continued every year in DC now for almost twenty-five years. At that time, you gave us a gift which we still treasure today, a book called, Christ at the Roundtable, written by E. Stanley Jones, a Methodist missionary and early dialogue partner in India. In his book, he recorded the words of a Bengali goswami, a member of our Bhakti tradition, at one of his roundtable conferences in the 1920’s:
 
“I believe in Sri Caitanya. I practise both bhajana… and kirtana… I feel that God is very near me. I have this experience almost every time I have kirtana in the morning. The name of Hari gives happiness.” (Jones, pp.30-1)
 
Then, Kenneth, you observed:
 
“… Could it be that our best partners in Christian-Hindu dialogue are those of the Bhakti traditions? … Could this not even be a new kairos, or turning point, in the long and chequered history of Christian-Hindu relations?” 
 
So today on this occasion of your 85th birthday, dear Kenneth, we raise a virtual toast to you, thanking you for gracing our lives with your lifetime of friendship. At this time in our world, there is such a climate of fear, distrust and sectarian hate-mongering. At a time like this, our world needs friends, scholars, and leaders like you to share their/your broadness of vision. Extraordinary people of integrity like you, who cross over boundaries to reach out to those who have been maligned, objectified, or discriminated against.
 
Dearest Kenneth, on this, your birthday, you have given us the rare and cherished gift of the light of your presence in this often dark and troubled world.
 
 
With our love, gratitude and deepest respect to you always,
 
Rukmini and Anuttama Walker
 
 
 
 
*Photo: On the Coast of Maine near Susan and George’s house.
Each summer we go to Vermont to visit Kenneth and his wife Susan White in Vermont, and my sister Susan and her husband George in Maine.