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Jack Twist

William Sloan Coffin Died

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One of my difficulties with what gets discussed on this site is the separation from the Church, from the life of the Church --

 

discussions seem devoid of any concept of liturgy, of Christian spirituality rooted in the liturgical riches of the Church, of what the call of the Gospel is, the call of the whole of the Scriptures, as opposed to the words of trendy current gurus and rock musicians

 

and William Sloan Coffin has died - on a baseball board (a baseball baord of all places!) where I post, the most hardened of heart paused to pay tribute to this giant of our times for his sincerity and the depth of his convictions ...

 

on another church list his passing was noted instantly with remembrances of the brave, courageous, witness that this man has given to us --

 

today leaving Good Friday services NPR was playing an extended iterview with Rev Coffin discussing the death of his son and such clear, cogent, faith centered teachings washed over me so I had to pull over and listen rather than drive

 

and here... silence.

 

For the love of Christ, do some google research on this man, make a point to read his recent book Credo (published by Westminster John Know, found on Amaxon, etc.), and let us recall and discuss someone - and more so what he taught us - since he lived the way that people here claim to wish to do.

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Excerpted from "William Sloane Coffin Jr.: A Holy Impatience," by Warren Goldstein

 

 

Between the early 1960s and the end of the 20th century, William Sloane Coffin Jr. was, after Martin Luther King Jr., the most influential liberal Protestant in America. The qualifiers are important. Protestants constituted a majority of American Christians during this period, but only by combining liberal and conservative denominations. The conservative Billy Graham, for instance, had almost unbroken access to the White House during this entire period and preached to many millions in revivals and on television across the United States. A host of right-wing radio and television evangelists have also had large and regular audiences.

 

During this time, also, Martin Luther King Jr. dominated the liberal religious landscape for a dozen years by leading the greatest movement of his era and achieving unanticipated preeminence. Never rising to King’s level of influence, Coffin’s effect remained more varied and diffuse, and less momentous. He preached nothing comparable to King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, for example. Neither, of course, did any other minister in the twentieth century.

 

But the sheer force of Coffin’s personality, his deceptively simple condensations of Christianity, his invariably ebullient, often witty, example, were felt intensely by--depending on the occasion--dozens, hundreds, thousands, or (on TV) even millions of Americans. Neither a theologian nor a denominational executive, Coffin ought not to be compared with his fellow liberals John Bennett and Robert McAfee Brown, or Abraham Joshua Heschel, Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, or the Presbyterian Eugene Carson Blake. His controversial public stands at Yale University and at Riverside Church, his television appearances, and his frequent national press attention from the early 1960s through the 1980s all made him a household word--indeed a religious celebrity--like none of these colleagues. The closest parallels to Coffin may be those other flamboyant religious figures of the period: Daniel and Philip Berrigan.

 

The Berrigans were willing to follow their God down nearly any path, dramatically attacking the war machine and creating a mystique that fed the sixties’ appetite for "authentic" action. As a result, they drew so much attention to their own personal "witness" that many, even in the antiwar movement, found their example off-putting. By surrounding themselves with other Catholics, and by speaking a relatively impermeable language, the Berrigans showed little interest in the ecumenical movement in American religion that sparked so much clergy involvement in civil rights and the antiwar movement. Finally, while they had many admirers, they had relatively few followers.

 

Coffin’s similarity to the Berrigans lay in his eagerness to stake out risky political positions grounded in a clear extrapolation of Christian faith and in his willingness to make his own actions the subject of controversy. His effort to send medical supplies to North Vietnam, for example, appeared to be a publicity-seeking kick in the teeth to the families of American soldiers then facing danger in Vietnam. But Coffin used the occasion gladly to explain to critics the fundamental, unimpeachable Christian principles on which it was based.

 

Similarly, in 1979 Coffin celebrated Christmas with the American hostages in Iran because observing Christmas with captives was a more important Christian act than worrying that the anti-American government of Iran might be using him. He sought situations that would force people to rethink their assumptions regarding war and human community. Coffin consistently used his position in the heart of the American establishment to raise questions that people could answer without feeling they had to go to jail.

And if he could not lead others, Coffin had little interest in an issue. He never heard the call to martyrdom. As he saw it, the biblical prophets were called to name and seek redress for the sinfulness and affliction of their people--not wander in the wilderness: to speak the word of God, to risk censure but not martyrdom.

 

Moreover, while never abandoning his own Christianity, Coffin preached to Jews as well as gentiles at Yale and elsewhere. Profoundly influenced by the ecumenical spirit of American religious activism in the early 1960s, Coffin lived in an ecumenical world, relied on ecumenical audiences, and worked on political issues in an ecumenical manner. While it shocked some Riverside Church members when Coffin hired a Jew to run the Disarmament Program, he himself gave the question no thought at all. Deeply affected by Heschel (and later by the Rabbi Marshall Meyer), and drawn above all to the Old Testament prophets (and Paul in the New Testament), Coffin preached a more open theology than his Catholic counterparts. His language invited listeners into the world of his belief--it appeared not to pose tests that most mortals would fail.

 

Jews, by and large, did not respond emotionally to the language of Catholic radicalism, with its emphasis on witness, its monastic flavor, its rituals steeped in blood. A surprising number could respond to the morally charged language of Niebuhrian prophetic Protestant liberalism, perhaps because Niebuhr himself preferred what he called the emotional Hebraic-prophetic roots of Christianity.

 

Like Martin Luther King Jr., Coffin did not remain fully in the postwar Niebuhrian tragic sensibility. He either followed or paralleled King’s turn toward a modern Social Gospel, combining Niebuhr’s skepticism about human goodness with Gandhi’s insistence on the transforming power of love. Coffin used Niebuhr as critique--of sentimentality, of self-righteousness, of pride--but thought and felt more like King and St. Paul when it came to love. In practice, for Coffin, that meant he preached the glories of a large God whose power he celebrated and praised (as he said over and over, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done"). The gap between this relatively distant God and suffering, sinful humanity could be bridged only by love. That was a version of Christianity to which Catholics and Jews could relate easily; many, Jews in particular, found Coffin’s preaching and religious advocacy not only congenial, but also moving and powerful.

 

Precisely because Coffin could represent his Christianity in such ecumenical terms, he was gradually able to claim the role--previously held by Henry Ward Beecher in the 19th century and Walter Rauschenbusch, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Martin Luther King Jr. in the 20th--not only of liberal Protestant preacher, but of liberal preacher to the nation. As such, Coffin was the liberal counterpart to Billy Graham and, from the 1970s on, the true successor to Martin Luther King Jr.

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Guest wayfarer2k

Jack,

 

Thanks for the article on William Sloan Coffin. Coming from a fundamentalist background, I knew nothing of the man as, in my tradition, a liberal was the same thing as an unbeliever. :)

 

One of my difficulties with what gets discussed on this site is the separation from the Church, from the life of the Church --

 

discussions seem devoid of any concept of liturgy, of Christian spirituality rooted in the liturgical riches of the Church, of what the call of the Gospel is, the call of the whole of the Scriptures, as opposed to the words of trendy current gurus and rock musicians

 

Please don't be too quick to judge or criticize this board. Granted, we all need honest input, but this board, unlike many others in Christianity, does not take the stance of shoving doctrine and beliefs down people's throats for the sake of an institution or a tradition. People here post as they like and post what currently occupies their thoughts and time. I don't think that there is a specific agenda that is continually pushed, unlike other Christian forums.

 

As far as the Church goes, if you are referring to a group of people who, much like Rev. Coffin, are seeking to live out the gospel and God's kingdom on earth, that is a laudable thing. We probably all long to be part of such a organism. And to some extent, that is what the The Center for Progressive Christianity is about -- providing a place where Christians can discuss how to transform ourselves and our world through different ideas and concepts relating to God's kingdom.

 

But if you are referring to heirarchial, power-hungry, money-hungry institutions that plague our world, then, yes, probably many of us prefer separation from such organizations. If our institutional churches ministered more life to others, we would probably be much more willing to invest our lives there. But many of them minister little more than condemnation and judgement. They often do more harm then good, all in the name of God. I could care less how much liturgy they have if they are devoid of love. And many of them are.

 

and here... silence.

 

Maybe we're all praying. Besides, your other post admonished alot of SILENCE. :D

 

wayfarer

Edited by wayfarer2k

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discussions seem devoid of any concept of liturgy, of Christian spirituality rooted in the liturgical riches of the Church, of what the call of the Gospel is, the call of the whole of the Scriptures, as opposed to the words of trendy current gurus and rock musicians

 

Different people view liturgy differently. I find it boring and forced. Others find it rich in tradition and history. It is a matter of personal opinion/exprience.

 

You'll find this board is fairly quiet. I've posted topics and/or responded to topics which never get any kind of response. It is nothing personal it just happens.

 

I think you'll find shorter openers to draw more attention. I find reading on a computer screen difficuilt. I rarely take the time to go through a post of any great length. Your question was something about who was William sloan Coffin. I'd never heard of him until today. Flowperson posted a link to wikipedia which I skimmed. Now that I know of him I may decide to go and pick up a book. But the information has to be accessible. People don't "buy" what they don't understand. That is what advertising is all about ;)

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not to give offense, which I do, and don;t mean to -

 

but one of the problems facing Christianity in America is our very parochialism.

 

I once styopped ina Christian bookstore and asked if they had anything by Bonhoeffer. I was told no, that it was a Chrstian bookstore.

 

William Sloan Coffin was one of the giants of our age and no small potatoes in the news for much of his career. An excellent book to start with is Credo.

 

Another problem is, in my opinion, 16th century battles. I think

But if you are referring to heirarchial, power-hungry, money-hungry institutions that plague our world, then, yes, probably many of us prefer separation from such organizations. If our institutional churches ministered more life to others, we would probably be much more willing to invest our lives there. But many of them minister little more than condemnation and judgement. They often do more harm then good, all in the name of God. I could care less how much liturgy they have if they are devoid of love. And many of them are.
sounds more like a quote from the battle between Frankfurt and Starsbourg durng Mary Tudor's era than the churches of today. The Church is always in need of reform, not the condemnation and judgment of which it is accused.

 

Liturgy is simply the words of Scriptures used by the people to involve the people in worship. I find non liturgical worship too often bordering on putting on a show and far too much staked on a sermon a if worship is for an intllectual discourse rather than the communal gathering of the people of God. Pietism was a reaction to cold worship practices - and opened again the way to a heart felt sense of worship.

 

Between something that someone thinks up and the rich treasure of worship that has been preserved for the Church by the Church, attested to through the generations with ever reforming reflection on our own time and place, liturgy is a way to focus on the essentials, on the Word of God for the day. Anyhing can be cold and sterile. Iconclasm should have by now gone out of style. I am always amused that in my yoga classes we have many movements for centering outselves - but some of those same people reject the use of liturgical body language to do the same thing, center ourself, and not in yoga but in God.

 

Liturgy is also dialogue, and involvement of the people in the worship experience. And it speaks when our words cannot. To ignore these tools whch the Spirit has given to us is to hurt our own selves as we cut off our ties with the faith community through the generations.

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William Sloan Coffin was one of the giants of our age and no small potatoes in the news for much of his career.  An excellent book to start with is Credo.

 

Thank you for the recommendation!

 

I find non liturgical worship too often bordering on putting on a show ...

 

I agree. Especially in the church I grew up in. In the name of the Holy Spirit men (literally) were seen as pious based on the show. It makes me shudder to remember.

 

 

liturgy is a way to focus on the essentials, on the Word of God for the day. 

 

The problem is that when you take scripture out of context it loses its meaning which is often what happens in liturgy.

 

Liturgy is also dialogue, and involvement of the people in the worship experience.  And it speaks when our words cannot. 

 

But when it is scripted it loses honesty. People are just saying the words on the page. I often keep silent for all or part of the readings because it is not true for me. I don't know that others find it true or simply that they are going through a ritual.

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Guest wayfarer2k
I once styopped ina  Christian bookstore and asked if they had anything by Bonhoeffer.  I was told no, that it was a Chrstian bookstore.

 

I here ya there, Jack. I live in the Bible Belt and the "Christian" bookstores are limited to 1) fundamentalist only and 2) Catholic only. I have to go to Barnes and Nobles to find anyone like Borg or Spong. It is all part of the Right's agenda to push itself as the ONLY interpretation of Christianity (apart from Catholics, which they believe all go to hell).

 

sounds more like a quote from the battle between Frankfurt and Starsbourg durng Mary Tudor's era than the churches of today. The Church is always in need of reform, not the condemnation and judgment of which it is accused.

 

I'm not aware of that context, my friend. They were just my remarks. But I certainly agree that the church is always in need of reform.

 

I find non liturgical worship too often bordering on putting on a show and far too much staked on a sermon a if worship is for an intllectual discourse rather than the communal gathering of the people of God.

 

I agree. My church's Easter service was more like a Broadway show than a worship event. But I'm still relunctant to revert to mumbling in Latin when I have no idea what I'm saying. :)

 

wayfarer

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But I'm still relunctant to revert to mumbling in Latin when I have no idea what I'm saying. :)

 

wayfarer

 

who mumbles in latin? :lol:

 

It is sad that ;iturgical worship is so misundrstood, and condemned.

 

The treasure of the Church is what it passes down from generation to generation for continual reformation.

 

I suggest that if every day people sang the Magnifcat daily (perhaps Morning Prayers...) ot would have more impact that any words not authord by the Spirit through the Church (the ^s are for the chanting, one long note, thre short notes, found in Litheran and UCC hymnals, know a few tones and anythign cvan be sung and I love sing the song of my God)

 

"My soul proclaims the greatness ^of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in ^God my Savior,

who has ^looked with favor

on this ^lowly servant.

 

From now on all ^generations

will ^call me blessed;

the Almighty One has done great ^things for me,

and holy ^is God's name.

 

God has mercy on ^those who fear him

in every ^generation.

God has shown the strength ^of his arm;

God has scattered the proud in ^their conceit.

 

God has cast down the mighty ^from their thrones,

and has lifted ^up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry ^with good things,

and the rich God has sent ^away empty.

 

God has come to the help of his ^servant Israel,

for God has remembered the prom^ise of mercy,

the promise God made ^to our ancestors,

to Abraham and Sarah and their chil^dren forever."

 

Glory to the Father, and to the Son,

and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning, is now,

and will be forever. Amen.

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Hi Jack Twist --

 

Just wanted to say that I knew who William Sloane Coffin was -- I actually posted an article about him on another board. I haven't been here in a long time because it does often get rather quiet around here . . . I've been spoiled by other boards where people interact more readily, where there's more conversation.

 

And as a Catholic I love liturgy. Liturgical worship need not leave the Word of God hanging in space out of context -- there are many good churches where you get excellent homilies and sermons on the Word in addition to liturgy! (And no, Catholic liturgy generally does not include any Latin, unless you're talking about a Tridentine Catholic church.)

 

Sometimes it is a little discouraging, I guess, to come here and find people who make assumptions about different styles of worship. I visited here once after having attended a wonderful Catholic religious eduation conference in Los Angeles, which included incredibly beautiful, moving liturgical celebrations full of meaning and song and movement, only to find a thread on how Catholics don't sing in church. I was like: I've just come from singing beautiful songs with thousands of worshippers in Anaheim, how in the world can folks be saying that Catholics don't sing? So I had to remember that not everyone has had, or has taken, the opportunity to visit different kinds of churches, that they may be basing their opinion on their childhood experience of liturgy or a few visits to a Catholic church, etc.

 

And one may have to spend time seeking before they can find a church that feeds the soul, whatever the denomination. Or people may live in remote areas, or in places where there aren't many progressive or inviting churches, meaning that they have to find their own way to commune with God.

 

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

 

I love Brokeback Mountain, by the way.

 

Peace,

Mary

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One of the many things that I love about liturgy - and thank you for your beautiful post - is that it involves me as a worshipper in the communication between God and the the assembled congregation.

 

Worship is not a show, an intellectual head trip where we are to wallow in our ability to engage in verbal word play which passes for the profund.

 

It is to communicate - through Word and Sacrament - in the ongoing conversation between God and God's people.

 

In non liturgical events, one can starve to death waiting for nourishment. Liturgy, no matter how well or poorly done, allows at least a moment to reach transcendent communication.

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Sometimes it is a little discouraging, I guess, to come here and find people who make assumptions about different styles of worship.

 

Peace,

Mary

 

Hey Mary. I've missed ya girl!

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Yes, I believe that Bill Blake had it about right, AR.

 

There are entire realities and universes in even the smallest of things that we are able to see and hold. But as humans, stuck as we are with our physical and mental limitations, we can still savor the transcendant experiences of group singing and worship. We can be a part of a larger wholeness through group experiences.

 

We can experience first hand just what it means to be a meaningful, if minute, part of a much greater goodness.

 

It's been a while since I've experienced that, but the memories fill me with joy when I recall certain instances when such experiences emotionally moved me to join with like hearts to praise the good things of this life that have been freely given to everyone of us if we choose to access them.

 

G-d is good, along with being merciful and compassionate. I just cannot visualize Him/Her as a vengeful, and fear evoking spiritual presence.

 

Amen.

 

flow.... :)

Edited by flowperson

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Until this post I didn't know who William Sloane Coffin was but thanks to this site I am now enjoying his book Credo.

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I once styopped ina  Christian bookstore and asked if they had anything by Bonhoeffer.  I was told no, that it was a Chrstian bookstore.

 

I here ya there, Jack. I live in the Bible Belt and the "Christian" bookstores are limited to 1) fundamentalist only and 2) Catholic only. I have to go to Barnes and Nobles to find anyone like Borg or Spong. It is all part of the Right's agenda to push itself as the ONLY interpretation of Christianity (apart from Catholics, which they believe all go to hell).

 

sounds more like a quote from the battle between Frankfurt and Starsbourg durng Mary Tudor's era than the churches of today. The Church is always in need of reform, not the condemnation and judgment of which it is accused.

 

I'm not aware of that context, my friend. They were just my remarks. But I certainly agree that the church is always in need of reform.

 

I find non liturgical worship too often bordering on putting on a show and far too much staked on a sermon a if worship is for an intllectual discourse rather than the communal gathering of the people of God.

 

I agree. My church's Easter service was more like a Broadway show than a worship event. But I'm still relunctant to revert to mumbling in Latin when I have no idea what I'm saying. :)

 

wayfarer

Love that line about not being able to find Bonhoeffer in a Christian bookstore! :lol: I heard something similar: a person was looking in for a cd of Handle's Messiah, and asked the clerk (who probably just graduated from register jockey at McDonald's). Her reply was an impatient, "Sir, we only have Christian music here!" :rolleyes: Luth

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