William Sloane Coffin (on education and perspective)

I was never an American, and I was at the dimly echoing end of the Baby Boom generation, so I didn’t catch Reverend Coffin — now there’s a foreboding name for a man of the cloth — the first time around. He was an ordained pastor, the chaplain of Yale University from the late ’50s to the ’70s and later the voice of New York’s Riverside Church. In both places, he was a strong and fearless champion of peace, disarmament, social justice and a progressivist orientation for people of faith. (He was called, by some, the “true heir” to the mantle of Martin Luther King after King’s assassination in 1968.)

William Sloane Coffin, calling on the faithful, calling out everybody.

William Sloane Coffin, calling on the faithful, calling out everybody.

Lewis Lapham‘s 2006 eulogy to Coffin, in the July edition of Harper’s Magazine, was a beautiful and resonating thing which, however, has still not led to my more attentive reading of WSC’s works, such as The Heart is a Little to the LeftLetters to a Young Doubter, and Once to Every Man: A Memoir.  I read Lapham’s praise of Coffin again a few days ago, in the course of pruning my too-bountiful files of things to think about and teach. Not everything old is news, but this felt fresher than the latest poll numbers for Rob Ford, fergawdsake.

I do, however, pay attention to the bits and pieces I know,

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For a Change

Two more sleeps, and we fly to Canada, ending our five-year service in China. So much to say about our stay and our going, but little time to write. I did, however, stumble on this from my archives, a 2007 piece recalling my halting, erratic progress along a spiritual path. That road eventually led to several warm, lovely evenings and afternoons of farewell to good friends in Dalian, China. CHINA! 

I was a small-town Baptist, though I mainly worshipped Gordie Howe. I reverently oiled my baseball glove at least twice a year. We also went to church every Sunday, and were allowed to ransack our stockings and open only one present before attending Christmas service. Sunday school attendance prizes were an annual treat, but I rarely read or discussed the Bible at home. The patron saints of our southern Ontario Protestant family were Rocket Richard, who crowned my sister “Miss Corvair” in 1965, and a skinny, bespectacled local football hero named Garney Henley. Oh, and Rusty Staub, le grand orange of another Montreal sports squad, the brand-new Expos. As I became a teenager, though, love and spirit began to mean something different.

One September morning, a new girl sat in the desk behind mine, a girl with long blonde hair. In a grade eight instant, I knew there might be a reason for females after all. Within two years, I had not only fallen for her brains over basketballs, but was also fascinated by the Faith lived by her mother.

It said the Creator keeps promises.

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