WEDNESDAY WORDS – WORD #14 – LOVE, LOVING, LOVING

LOVE 2018\

WEDNESDAY WORDS
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve.  Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #14.]

LOVE, LOVING, LOVING

Love is the basis of faith and the touchstone of life. Jesus taught it and lived it. Our scriptures repeatedly intone it. Our lives daily confirm it.

It is the foundation of what it means to be a family.

It is at the heart of parenting.

It is the gist of our deepest friendships.

It is the cornerstone of all congregations.

It is the premier connection among human beings.

It is the first step along our quest to know God, and it is the ultimate move in our yearning to enjoy God’s grace.

To say that we “love” someone or something or someplace reveals our ultimate loyalties and greatest commitments.

To describe what “loving” is like may be, at once, one of our hardest and most enjoyable tasks.

To say something is “lovely” is to clothe in words what is most beautiful in our lives.

We cannot use the lexicon of love enough, for such words are the keys to greater intimacy among human beings and the bridge to a deeper relationship with God.

Love is not merely a laudable recommendation; we can bet our lives on it.

– Bob Hill
[From ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE) LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, p. 6.]

WEDNESDAY WORDS — WORD #13 — TREASURE

Sunrise- April 2020
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or thereabouts) I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #13.]

TREASURE

Signs and symbols of encouragement, those special windows on the numinous, are everywhere, really, if we will but have eyes and ears and hearts and minds and souls open and prepared to take them all in. They can even surprise us in the most unlikely of places, like a plane ride.

On an airplane several years ago, I listened with uncharacteristic attention to the flight attendant as she instructed us passengers with the requisite pantomime motions about the appropriate procedures for exiting the plan in the event of a premature downing and subsequent safe landing. In contrast to most flight instructions, the guidance, this time, was powerfully, uncharacteristically different.

The attendant instructing us had a lapel pin with some wings on it and the word “Treasure” clearly, visibly imprinted on top of it. “Treasure”? What kind of treasure? I wondered. Was this a one-word, branding synopsis for the airline’s new mission statement? (“We treasure the opportunity to serve you with a treasurable trip aboard one of our airborne treasures”) Or was there a different explanation? Could it be a name she had given herself, breaking the bounds of family and tribe, expressing her own preference, her own self-naming, self-creating? Or could it be, I wondered further, a family name, her mother’s maiden name, given to her to carry on a memory of matrilineal connections? Perhaps she was the late-flowering child of some left-over hippies who wanted to give her a name to live into? (A couple I met once named their late-surprise son “Funn” because they wanted him to have as much fun in his life as they had had in theirs.)

Whatever its origins, the word itself, “Treasure,” was a rare and fine gift, just the word I needed, to see, to behold, to hear, to receive as my current marching orders for the living of my days, at least at that time.

When the epiphany was granted, however, it was, at first, a challenge to figure out if the word was a verb or a noun. The answer that came? Yes.

Treasure, as a verb, yes. To hold dear, to be fond of, to be glad in the presence of that which your cherish and those whom you esteem.Treasure, hold close and dear, those aspects of your life that are far more precious than any material thing. Treasure a seed falling to the ground in October’s swirling air. Treasure the taste of an apple picked straight from a tree. Treasure the crinkle-crackle of the pages of a Bible, particularly the Psalms, especially during difficult, cacophonous times. Treasure. Yes, a verb.

But treasure, too, as a noun. Treasure, as in something highly prized for beauty or perfection or both. Treasure, as in gift, as in valuable above almost all other valuables we might possess. Treasure, as in some thing or some one appreciated more than nearly all others. Treasure, as in treasure chest, as in the commodity for which we might offer some of our treasury to procure, as in a famed island where a cache of gold doubloons awaits eager and crafty hunters. Yes, treasure as noun. Yes.

Both as verb and as a noun, the word “treasure,” as the philosopher Paul Riceour would quickly remind us, had an autonomy of its own on that airplane. It had a shape and an impact and a usage far beyond its purposes on the attendant’s lapel pin. For to treasure is a fundamental purpose for human life. Beyond the ability to wiggle opposable thumbs, maybe our uniqueness as a species really has to do with our capacity to treasure the treasures that have been proffered into our hands.

When I asked the attendant the meaning of the word on her lapel pin, she said it was her given name. How many other passengers on our flight or on previous flights had taken comfort in this angelic message on the pristine uniform blouse of this cherubic steward, I don’t know. How many others had encountered her parable-of-a-name, one will never know.

I fantasized about calling up her parents, or better, choosing a piece of thick stationery and writing a note, a paean of praise and unabashed gratitude for the saving wisdom that possessed them to hang such a moniker on her and have her gladly live it out, embody it, in front of God and everybody everywhere she happened to go.

“Treasure” might have been the name the proud and pleased parents gave to a daughter who was truly their actual treasure, somewhere way over a rainbow of their hopes and dreams. She and her name were surely a treasure to me, and still even now, as I remember that plane ride and that lapel pin ten years later.

– Bob Hill

[From LIFE’s TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE, Woodneath Press, 2015, pp. 147-148.]

MONDAY MEDS – MED #13 – ANNIE DILLARD

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #13.]

ANNIE DILLARD

In essays, memoirs, novels, poems, and literary criticism, Annie Dillard dazzles readers with wondrous and gracious ponderings and not infrequent spiritual investigations. She is at once mystical and scientific, elusive of categorization and embracing of tradition, as lyrical as a lily and as blunt as a two-by-four.

Dillard enthusiasts – environmentalists, ecologists, feminists, clergy, theologians, park rangers, poets, steelworkers, river-rafters, et. al. – are consistently amazed by how she weaves seemingly disparate strands of concern into a multi-fold chord which is not easily broken. In her descriptions of nature, in her wrestlings with nettlesome theological problems, in her rhetorical analysis and literary criticism, and in her approaches to prayer, Dillard illuminates the tension between the so-called “profane” and traditionally understood “sacred.”

In nearly every other sentence of her nonfiction work, Dillard employs colloquial language for ultimate realities, using the vernacular to describe the spiritual. She respects and loves the possibilities which language possesses to describe the almost indescribable. And she is unabashed and unhindered in her brute frankness regarding the fleeting, mutable character of human existence. She adroitly combines a deep reverence for God’s immanence in nature, and awe and sometimes terror in the face of God’s transcendence over nature.

Pick up almost any of Dillard’s books and one can find an astonishing cornucopia of subjects, allusions, and literary references, including insect brutality, Teilhard de Chardin’s genius, a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, the blessings inherent in a snake skin, the Bel Shem Tov (the founder of the Hasidic movement), the immensity of sand, the dazzling capacities of the ordinary, and more.

In much of her writing she returns to questions which have haunted her since her first book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, received the Pulitzer Prize when she was 29 years old. In three of her books — Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Holy the Firm, and For the Time Being — she struggles with the most ancient of theological conundra, namely the theodicy puzzle: How can there be a good God in a world so punctuated with evil, natural calamity and moral turpitude?

Like Henry David Thoreau, whose mantle many believe she inherited, she is enthralled by nature. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose poetic teasings have been compared to her own, she is enraptured by nature’s God. For Dillard God is everywhere evident and plainly manifest, but ever elusive of any final, definitive description.(1) And her response to such a deity? Always awe and terror.(2)

Early on Dillard declared her identity and purposes: “I am no scientist…. I am an explorer… I am also a stalker, or the instrument of the hunt itself.”(3)

As a writer, as a spiritual sojourner, and as a human being, Dillard is concerned with living with as much authenticity as possible. For Christians this should be particularly clear, as she declares in Teaching A Stone to Talk, “Week after week Christ washes the disciples’ dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, It is all right – believe it or not – to be people.”(4)

For Dillard full human maturity involves an awakening to one’s own life and the immensity of our surroundings. An astonishing world awaits our engagement. Not to engage with the world is to abide in a nether realm outside the present moment. “What is important is anyone’s coming awake and discovering a place, finding in full orbit a spinning globe one can lean over, catch, and jump on. What is important is the moment of opening a life and feeling it touch — with an electric hiss and cry — this speckled sphere, our present world.”(5)

Dillard remains aghast at how blithely anyone, but especially church people, can speak about and give homage to God. She yearns for deep reverence and awe-struck wonder in all responses to the intersection between the human and the divine. In a frequently quoted passage, Dillard invokes a series of rhetorical questions to challenge and disturb those who are blasé about the transformations made possible by the holy: “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?…. Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? …. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”(6)

To many admirers Dillard reigns supreme as the master of nonfiction prose. She has been heralded and celebrated by some of the most esteemed writers of American letters, including Loren Eiseley and Eudora Welty. In his seminal assessment of Annie Dillard as “an exegete of creation,” Eugene Peterson declared, “… American spirituality needs her.”(7) In his review of Holy the Firm, Frederick Buechner lauded her literary efforts with high praise: “One thinks of Gerard Manley Hopkins,…. [or] the conceits of Donne…. If there are faults to find here, let others find them. This is a rare and precious book.”(8)

Like a butterfly adroitly escaping a netter’s grasp, Dillard has consistently and staunchly evaded all attempts to pin her down about her specific religious commitments.(9) She is obviously steeped in the multivalent riches of the Christian way. But she remains wide open to revelations about mystery from all traditions. Her poetry holds some keys to how she understands her life before God and how she practices her faith.

About confronting the end of life, she says “I think that the dying/ pray at the last/ not ‘please’/ but ‘thank you’/ as a guest thanks his host at the door.”(10)

About the duty of praying she implores, “In Luke eleven/ and again in Luke eighteen,/ Christ demands/ importunate prayer,/ prayer that does not faint./ Fatigare deos,/ wearing God out./ Is Christ as good as his word?/ If God does not tire, still/ we may tire of/ longing./ Pray this prayer:/ receive this prayer./ Teach us to pray, teach us to pray, to pray, to pray.”(11)

About her focus — and presumably the focus of us all — as we abide in God’s grace, she proffers an enrapturing poetic summary: “And …I go my way…and my left foot says ‘Glory,’ and my right foot says ‘Amen’…upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.”(13)

PRAYING WITH ANNIE DILLARD:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 Pray today by recalling Dillard’s bemused challenge: “Spend the afternoon, you can’t take it with you.” Take some time – whether brief or extended – and pay attention to a specific place in all of its particularities. Come awake to that place and open yourself to the astonishing revelations that are there for you. As your awareness and engagement with your surroundings are quickened and expanded, simply say “Thanks be to God.”

Day 2 Pray today for the children of the world, but especially the children you know, that they might know the truth that Dillard would have all of Christ’s followers to know: “It is all right – believe it or not – to be people.”

Day 3 Pray today by giving thanks for writers who continue to tend their calling and craft in order to increase the wonder and the thrill of being alive. Give thanks on this day to God (the original Author) for Annie Dillard’s particular tending and her inspirational authorial efforts.

Day 4 Pray today by pondering what Annie Dillard says about writing: “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now…. Something more will arise for later, something better…. the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”(13) Now apply what she says about writing to your life. Tally up what you’ve been hoarding for a later moment in your life or for a future occasion in a relationship. Pray to God for the courage to “give it all, give it now.” Pray also for an increase in your capacity to trust that “Something more will arise for later, something better.”

Day 5 Pray today remembering those you know who are confronting the end of their lives. Offer a prayer of intercession for them, that they will be graced enough and sufficiently at peace to say “Thanks” at the end of their lives.

Day 6 Pray today by remembering Annie Dillard’s agile use of language and how she revels in mixing metaphors and the powerful meanings that result. As you pray, hear your breath, see your song, taste the cries of the hurting, smell the dreams of others, caress the hopes of your family and friends. Offer all these “sensational” experiences to God for blessing.

Day 7 Pray today by taking a walk. After the first few minutes of the walk, focus your attention on the two words with which Dillard concludes her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: “And …I go my way…and my left foot says ‘Glory,’ and my right foot says ‘Amen’…” Behold the astounding beauty and the profuse provision of creation and utter “Glory!” and “Amen!,” as you go your way.(14)

BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: April 30, 1945, born Meta Ann Doak in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the oldest of three daughters of a non-conformist mother, Pam Lambert Doak, and energetic father, Frank Doak, who conveys the wonders of the novel On The Road and the call to adventure (which he answers by quitting his job and heading off on a trip down the Mississippi River); during childhood one of her favorite books is The Field Book of Ponds & Streams; attends fundamentalist church camp for four summers;1955, enters Ellis School; in her high school years, she rebels against her affluent, country club upbringing, as her academic interests shift toward poetry; quits the Shadyside Presbyterian Church because of the “hypocrisy,” but returns when the minister lures her back with a well-thought-out argument based on the works of C.S. Lewis; 1963, enters Hollins College, Roanoke, Virginia; June 5, 1965, marries her writing teacher, poet and novelist Richard Dillard — the person she says “taught me everything I know” about writing; 1966, Phi Beta Kappa during her junior year at Hollins; 1967, graduates from Hollins College with BA; 1968, MA, Hollins College, with a thesis on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or Life in the Woods; dabbles in Sufism, Buddhism, Eskimo religious systems, Hasidic Judaism; attends Episcopal Church, eventually converts to Catholicism; 1971, endures a near fatal attack of pneumonia; 1974, a first book of poems, Tickets for a Prayer Wheel is published; 1974, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is published (after her initial hesitation to publish it under her own name and considering using a man’s name, since “a theology book by a woman would not be well-received”); 1975, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek receives Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, divorces Dillard, and retreats to Northern Puget Sound (Waldron Island); 1975-1979, Scholar-in-Residence, Western Washington University;1979-2000, faculty, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut; 1977, Holy the Firm (nonfiction narrative); April 12, 1980, marries Gary Clevidence; 1982, Living by Fiction (nonfiction narrative), Teaching a Stone to Talk (essays), visits China (along with Norman Cousins, et. al.) as part of State Department cultural delegation; 1983, Phi Beta Kappa Orator, Harvard commencement exercises; 1984, Encounters with Chinese Writers (nonfiction narrative); 1984, daughter Cody Rose is born; 1985, receives Guggenheim fellowship; 1987, An American Childhood (memoir); 1988, divorces Clevidence; marries Robert D. Richardson, Jr.; 1989, The Writing Life (nonfiction narrative); 1992, The Living (novel); 1994, receives Campion Award from America magazine; 1995, Mornings Like This: Found Poems (poetry); 1999, For The Time Being (nonfiction narrative); 1999, Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Letters; 2007, The Maytrees (novel); September, 10, 2014, President Obama awards her a National Medal for the Arts and Humanities; 2016, The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old & New (essays); June 16, 2020, husband, Robert D. Richardson, dies after complications suffered from a fall on Cape Cod.

NOTES

1 See Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Harper’s Magazine Press, 1974), p. 144.

2 See Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), p. 139.

3 Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pp. 13-14.

4 Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 38.

5 Annie Dillard, An American Childhood (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), p. 248-249.

6 Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 58.

7 Eugene Peterson, “Annie Dillard: With Her Eyes Wide Open,” Theology Today, Vol. 42, No. 2, July 1986, p. 179.

8 NY Times Book Review, Sept. 25, 1977, p. 40.

9 On her website, in the description of her nonfiction narrative book For the Time Being, she states bluntly, “I quit the Catholic Church and Christianity; I stay near Christianity and Hasidism.” (See http://www.anniedillard.com/books-annie-dillard.html)

10 Annie Dillard, Tickets for A Prayer Wheel (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1974), p. 127.

11 Ibid., p. 119.

12 Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek , p. 271.

13 Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1989), pp. 78-79; see also, Annie Dillard, Inscribed & Illustrated by Sam Fink, Give It All, Give It Now: One of the Few Things I Know About Writing (New York: Welcome Books, 2009).

14 Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek , p. 277.

FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, AND REFLECTION

Annie Dillard, An American Childhood (New York: Harper & Row, 1987)

Annie Dillard, For the Time Being (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm (New York: Harper & Row, 1977)

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Harper’s Magazine Press, 1974)

Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (New York: Harper & Row, 1982)

Annie Dillard, Tickets for A Prayer Wheel (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1974)

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1989)

© Robert Lee Hill, 2020

WEDNESDAY WORDS – #12 – THANKS FOR SATCHEL PAIGE

WEDNESDAY WORDS
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. (This week I’m also mindful that the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum reopened to the public — according to proper social distancing protocols, of course– just yesterday!) Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #12.]

THANKS FOR SATCHEL PAIGE

As you receive these reminders of Satchel Paige’s “Six Rules for How to Stay Young”, know that you can also behold Satchel Paige’s actual grave marker (including the chiseled declaration of the six rules) in the Forest Hill cemetery on Troost Ave., right here in Kansas City, Missouri.

From the day of his birth, July 7, 1906, to the day of his death, June 6, 1982, Satchel Paige was always young.

Satchel Paige garnered legendary status throughout his 22 years in the Negro Leagues and, after 1948, during 18 more years in the integrated major leagues.

In 1948 he entered the majors at the age of 42, the oldest rookie in the history of the game.

It was estimated that over his career he pitched in 2,500 games, played for 250 teams (the Kansas City Monarchs principal among them), and threw 100 no-hitters.

In 1965, at the age of 59, Satchel Paige started a game for the Kansas City A’s (went three innings, gave up a hit and got a strikeout).

I give thanks to God for Satchel Paige’s great prowess, which led him to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1971. But I give even more thanks for his inspiring wisdom.

“How to Stay Young,” by Satchel Paige

1. Avoid fried meats which angry up the blood.

2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.

3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.

4. Go very lightly on the vices such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.

5. Avoid running at all times.

6. Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.

— Bob Hill

[Adapted from ALL YOU NEED IS (MORE) LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, pp. 59-60.]

MONDAY MEDS – MED #12 – GARDNER C. TAYLOR

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“GREAT SOULS,GREAT PRAYERS”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #12.]

GARDNER C. TAYLOR

When a comprehensive American religious history of the 20th century is finally compiled, the magisterial preaching eloquence of Gardner C. Taylor will be remembered with astonishment and abiding, awe-struck admiration. For more than 70 years, Taylor held forth among African American Baptists and a panoramic array of Christians throughout the United States and around the world as an orator with few if any peers.

Only a handful of pastors know the grace of being in one pulpit for 44 years as Taylor knew it at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn. Few preachers are graced with intelligence and insight sufficient enough to inspire a life-long capacity for learning, as Taylor continued to experience even as a nonagenarian. Few preachers are allowed to call eminent, historically significant personages as close friends as Taylor easily did with Martin Luther King, Jr. It is noteworthy that there was only one preacher whom King called his “favorite”: Gardner C. Taylor.

Described by magazines and opinion polls as the “Dean of Black Preaching” and the “poet laureate of American Protestantism,” he is regarded by the people in the pew, the academy of homileticians, and awe-struck fellow preachers as a singular personality whose like only comes around once every century or so.

Foremost in the treasury of Taylor’s gifts was his felicity with language. Steeped in the graces of African-American Christian heritage, the son of an eloquent preacher father and a devout teacher mother, Taylor also knew the deep riches of the history of Christian proclamation. He was on close personal terms with the language and thought of the great British and Scottish preachers of previous centuries, in addition to the rich traditions of the Church universal, as well as the long trajectory of faithful proclamation witnessed in the Bible.(1)

Theologically speaking, Taylor artfully combined – in sermonic efforts, in lectures, in interviews, and in prayers – the necessary punctiliar character of incarnation with the equally necessary durative dynamic of transcendence.

The themes of what he pondered – or “brooded over,” to use a favorite Taylor phrase – were strongly informed by the given-ness of human “broken-ness.” Thus he emphasized the crucial nature of Calvary and all it symbolizes. “Calvary, that’s the clue and cue to it all.” “God meets us,” Taylor believed, “where we are broken and where we are put back together again.”(2)

Taylor prayed with a confidence and humility born out of decades of turning to the Scriptures, remembering the rich resources of the church’s hymnody, and, most importantly, trusting God to show forth salvation in real life situations. His faith, especially as it was given voice in his preaching and praying, was stoked with references to poetry, drama, and great literature. Most importantly for Taylor, there was always a “scarlet thread” that coursed throughout both the Old and New Testaments: “God in search of humanity.”(3) One of his favorite spirituals was “Standing in the Need of Prayer.”(4)

Throughout his preaching ministry, the centrality and importance of prayer remained clarion clear for Taylor. True and effective prayer happens only when we own up to what we really are and what we are not.(5) He defined prayer as “conversation with the eternal God.”(6) Observing prayer’s regrettable absence as a spiritual practice in the lives of many of the faithful, he noted that prayer “is humankind’s highest privilege and noblest talent and, may be, … the most neglected and unused.”(7) Enjoying a special place to pray, “praying ground … quiet, open space where we can meet God in surroundings of beauty,”(8) can be immensely beneficial for praying. And simple acts of paying attention both compel and compound one’s prayerfulness: “I am convinced that any man who takes the time to look around himself, and to turn his eyes toward the sky will inevitably pass from wide-eyed wonder to wet-eyed, loving, pleading prayer.”(9)

In retirement, Taylor echoed in his meditations what he put forth as a preacher, pastor, and activist for the betterment of humanity. Well into his 90’s, Taylor spoke plainly and with swift clarity about the process of aging. When asked about what he prayed for, he offered a twin response: For himself, his personal prayers were “to get out without too much pain.” And he added, with a chuckle, “And I’m ready to get out, I’m ready to go.”(10) For society, he prayed that the culture “will come to terms with what Jesus Christ has done for us.”(11)

PRAYING WITH GARDNER C. TAYLOR:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 Sitting silent before God, or, to use one of Taylor’s preferred descriptions for prayer, “practicing the presence of God,” helps us to brood over the chaos of our lives until something creative occurs. (12) Set aside one brief portion of each morning this week to “practice the presence of God.”

Day 2 Trusting that the scriptures have ample examples of prayer and its power to shape human life, become intimately acquainted with at least one book in the Bible. Or read any of the following passages of Scripture- Genesis 20:17, Numbers 11:2, 1 Samuel 1:10, 2 Kings 6:17, Acts 16:25), Luke 22:43. Now, in light of the Scriptural passages you’ve read, pray in their style, or with their theological perspective. Allow the resonances between your circumstance and the circumstances in Scripture to guide your prayer time.

Day 3 Taylor offered urgent caution to preachers about losing their prophetic edge: “When the pulpit becomes an echo of the pew, it loses, I think, almost all of its reason for existence.”(13) If you are a religious leader, pray today that you will not be an “echo” of your congregation, but one who still “can speak truth to power.” As a member of a congregation, pray that your religious leader(s) will not lose their prophetic edge.

Day 4 Recall a favorite hymn, spiritual, or worship song. Sing the song. Hum the song. Allow the music to shape the direction and content of your prayer time today.

Day 5 Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood has said that for him Taylor had a powerful way with prayer: “Whenever I visit him, I never want to leave his presence without him praying for me. I want him to pray for me because he operates as if he knows the Lord. He fits the term ‘intercessor’ nobly. Dr. Taylor is one of those persons who, when they pray, you just know the Lord is going to hear them.”(14) If you have an “intercessor,” who, like Taylor, nobly fits that term, say a prayer of deep thanksgiving. If you do not enjoy such a relationship, pray a prayer of petition that an intercessor might come into your life.

Day 6 Pray today by focusing on someone who is elderly. Pray that they will “get out without too much pain.”

Day 7 Pray today for those who do not know how to pray. Pray that they will lift their eyes to the sky and somehow, in ways that may be ever unknown to you, will be moved “from wide-eyed wonder to wet-eyed, loving, pleading prayer.”

BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: June 18, 1918, born Gardner Calvin Taylor, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the only child of Washington Monroe Taylor and Selina Taylor; 1931, his father Rev. “Wash” Taylor, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and renown among Louisiana Baptists as a brilliant preacher, dies of heart attack; is raised by his mother and an aunt; 1934, graduates from McKinley High School, Baton Rouge, LA; 1937,graduates with BA degree from Leland College, and is accepted at University of Michigan Law School; survives car accident (killing one of the two white passengers in the other car which veered across the highway and directly in front of him) and avoids the dire consequences (lynching) which might have ensued, and thereafter ponders his life’s ultimate meaning; enters Oberlin Graduate School of Theology; 1938-1940, serves Bethany Baptist Church in Elyria, Ohio; 1939, ordained as a Baptist minister at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Oberlin; 1940, receives BD degree, Oberlin Graduate School of Theology; August 25, 1941, marries Laura Bell Scott of Oberlin, Ohio; 1941-1943, pastors Beulah Baptist Church in New Orleans, LA; 1943-1947, pastors Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, LA; 1947, enthralls the Concord Baptist Church of Christ congregation in Brooklyn, NY, when he preaches during their Centennial Celebration; 1948, becomes pastor of the Concord church; 1952, church building completely demolished by fire, thereafter the Concord congregation, under Dr. Taylor’s leadership, undertakes the construction of a new edifice at an eventual cost of $1,700,000; serves as professor of homiletics at Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, New York; vice-president of the board of the Urban League of Greater New York; 1958,becomes only the second African-American since 1917 to sit as a member of the NYC board of education;1961, unsuccessfully challenges J.H. Jackson for the leadership of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., and then, with Martin Luther King, Jr., helps to found the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC); 1962, president of the Protestant Council of NYC; 1967-1968, president, PNBC; 1976, delivers the 100th installation of the Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale Divinity School; 1990, retires from the Concord pulpit, after serving for 42 years; 1993, preaches at the Presidential Prayer Service prior to President Clinton’s first inauguration; February 5 1995, his wife, Laura, is killed by a car which strikes her while she is crossing the street; 1996, named among the “12 Most Effective Preachers” in the English‑speaking world by Baylor University; July 30, 1996, marries Phyllis Strong and moves to Raleigh, North Carolina; 1997, offers benediction at President Clinton’s second inauguration; August 9, 2000, receives Presidential Medal of Freedom; 2007, The Gardner C. Taylor Archive and Preaching Laboratory opens at Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia; December 14, 2011, moves into convalescent center, Raleigh, North Carolina; 2011, Faith in the Fire: Wisdom for Life, featuring interview by Tavis Smiley, is released; April 5, 2015, dies in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the age of 96; April 13, 2015, funeral held at Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, New York; buried at Evergreen Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.

NOTES

1 See The Words of Gardner C. Taylor, Volumes I-VI, compiled by Edward L. Taylor (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1999-2002), especially “Great Preachers Remembered” in Vol. V, pp.113-118.

2 Private conversation with Dr. Taylor in his home, Raleigh, North Carolina, July 13, 2011.

3 Samuel D. Proctor and Gardner C. Taylor, We Have This Ministry: The Hearts of the Pastor’s Vocation, (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1996), p. 9.

4 Gardner C. Taylor, How Shall They Preach: The Lyman Beecher Lectures and five Lenten sermons (Elgin, Illinois: Progressive Baptist Publishing House, 1977), p. 27.

5 See Taylor’s sermon “The Kind of Prayer God Honors,” Gardner C. Taylor Collection, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, Archives/Special Collections, Box 21, File 17, Sept. 18, 1966.

6 Gardner C. Taylor, “On Patterns of Prayer,” Gardner C. Taylor Collection, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, Archives/Special Collections, Box 29, Nov. 1, 1979; see also Gardner C. Taylor, “How God Means For Us To Pray,” Gardner C. Taylor Collection, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, Archives/Special Collections, Box 19, File 8, p. 5, Feb. 14, presumably 1953 or 1954, during or just after the completion of the construction of the new Concord edifice.

7 Taylor, “On Patterns of Prayer”

8 Taylor, “How God Means For Us To Pray,” p. 3.

9 Gardner C. Taylor, “From Wonder to Prayer,” Gardner C. Taylor Collection, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, Archives/Special Collections, Box 13, File 19, nd.

10 Private conversation, July 13, 2010.

11 Ibid.

12 Cf. We Have This Ministry, pp. 56-57.

13 Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, “Gardner C. Taylor,” August 18, 2006. (http://video.pbs.org/video/2242431046/)

14 From a phone conversation with Dr. Johnny Ray Youngblood, former senior pastor of the St. Paul Community Baptist Church, Brooklyn, New York, 1999.

FOR FURTHER READING, STUDY, AND REFLECTION

Timothy George, James Earl Massey, and Robert Smith, Jr., editors, Our Sufficiency Is of God: Essays on Preaching in Honor of Gardner C. Taylor (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2010)

Samuel D. Proctor and Gardner C. Taylor, We Have This Ministry: The Hearts of the Pastor’s Vocation (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1996)

Gardner C. Taylor, Chariots Aflame (Elgin, Illinois: Progressive Baptist Publishing House, 1981)

Gardner C. Taylor, edited by Edward L. Taylor, Faith in the Fire: Wisdom for Life (New York: SmileyBooks, 2011)

Gardner C. Taylor, How Shall They Preach: The Lyman Beecher Lectures and five Lenten sermons (Elgin, Illinois: Progressive Baptist Publishing House, 1977)

Gardner C. Taylor, compiled by Edward L. Taylor, The Words of Gardner C. Taylor, Volumes I-VI (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson Press, 1999-2002)

© 2020, Robert Lee Hill

WEDNESDAY WORDS – #11 – THE STRATEGIC VISIONARY HOPEFULNESS of MORDECAI WYATT JOHNSON

WEDNESDAY WORDS
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #11.]

THE STRATEGIC VISIONARY HOPEFULNESS of
MORDECAI WYATT JOHNSON

As we behold the inspiring movement for racial justice in the U.S., a flood of images and icons are also rushing to center stage in our collective memories: the determination of Rosa Parks, the unvanquished spirit of Sojourner Truth, the courageous fidelity of Harriet Tubman, the stirring righteousness of Frederick Douglass, the tenacity of Ida B. Wells, the magisterial presence of Paul Robeson, the sacred audacity of Fannie Lou Hamer, the scientific mastery of George Washington Carver, the legendary revivalistic preaching and prophetic leadership of Caesar A.W. Clark, the searing prescience of W.E.B. Du Bois, the lyricism of Maya Angelou, the theological genius of Howard Thurman, and, of course, the eloquent rhetoric and life of Martin Luther King. These days, I’m also remembering another figure less well known but no less significant than all the other celebrated exemplars.

In 1926, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson became the first African-American president of Howard University. Johnson would go on to invite Dr. Thurman and his wife Sue Bailey Thurman to join the faculty and then, nearly a decade later, encourage them to go on a Pilgrimage of Friendship to India where they would be among the first four African-Americans to meet and have deep discussions with Mohandas K. Gandhi. Thurman would then bear the tenets of nonviolence to the United States, where he would convey the Mahatma’s insights to generations of adherents who would launch a new phase of the civil rights struggle toward fulfillment.

When he began, however, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson had another primary concern: raising the standards of Howard University’s law school, which was then little more than a night school. Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis D. Brandeis counseled Johnson, emphasizing that the foundation for overcoming racial discrimination was embedded in the Constitution. “What was needed,” Brandeis averred, “was for lawyers to be prepared to base their arguments before the Court precisely upon the guarantees in the document.”

Agreeing with Brandeis’ thesis and taking his counsel to heart, Mordecai Johnson secured Charles Hamilton Houston as vice-dean of the Howard University School of Law in 1929, and things got moving. An initial class of students was eventually enrolled in Howard University’s now accredited, full-time program with an intensified civil rights curriculum.

Johnson and Houston were bound and determined to train top-notch, world-class lawyers who would lead the fight against racial injustice. Among the seven graduates of Howard’s Law School in 1930 was a young man named Thurgood Marshall.

The rest, as they say, is history. Marshall would go on to lead the successful Brown v. Board of Education case that abolished legal segregation in public education in the United States. Eventually he became the first African-American appointed to the Supreme Court.

Mordecai Wyatt Johnson and Charles Hamilton Houston were not the only ones to lead America toward the dismantling of institutional prejudice in the 20th century, but their unflagging strategic, visionary hopefulness contributed mightily to the transformation of American culture and the promise of American democracy for one and all.

Strategic…. Visionary…. Hopefulness…. This is surely part of what is required to make for greater “Racial Justice” for one and all.

— Bob Hill

(Adapted from ALL YOU NEED IS MORE LOVE, Caroline Street Press, 2019, pp. 69-70.)

“WHAT CAN WE DO?”

George Floyd

In response to the murder of George Floyd (and other victims along racism’s blood-soaked path coursing through the American experience), people are asking – sometimes quietly and often silently, in group discussions and in the recesses of their hearts – “What can we do?  What can I do?”

Wherever we locate ourselves in the current societal landscape – deeply committed to social justice endeavors, adrift in a sea of despair, or waking to a new sense of community involvement – perhaps the suggestions in the following Ten-Finger Exercise are worthy of consideration:

  • Imagine how you will respond to questions from your grandchildren, questions like “Where were you and what did you do in response to George Floyd’s death and the upheavals where you lived?” Then allow your imagined responses to those kinds of future questions guide your actions today.
  • Increase a sense of indignation in your heart, mind, and soul. And remember the words of Corey Booker: If this country hasn’t broken your heart, you probably don’t love her enough.”
  • Be with others and listen. Beyond keeping abreast of the news of the day, abiding in relationships of mutuality and communities of care constitute the bedrock of what Dr. King called “The Great ‘World House’.” The buddy system works in swimming and social transformation. And one of the best ways to get to know others is by sharing a meal with them.
  • Do your homework. You don’t have to be burdened with knowing it all. No one can do that. Just attend to an issue or a challenge or a situation or a passion that interests you. There are tons of data and powerful stories to share, especially in your own back yard.
  • Read, view, and hear. Books, articles, movies, videos, audio books that relate to justice and race relations.  Share with others what you take in. Then create reading lists, video lists, and tons of links to where the good stuff is. A premier place to start would be Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
  • Speak up when you see something that’s not right. The light of day and fresh air are healing for all living things, including human beings and their communities. Describing an unwelcome situation in a way that alerts attention is sometimes half the battle. Speak up personally in your inner circles of influence and, in a collectively powerful way, get involved through organized initiatives with others, in a campaign or a community organization. Talk. Then let your talk walk.
  • Remember our nation’s shared history. Know the high-water marks and the legacy of struggle for civil rights and racial justice in the U.S. (and elsewhere!). It’s a beautiful (while also excruciating) story and proves two salient dynamics worthy of reflection and study: “What goes around comes around.” “We need not be condemned to our past. Change does come.”
  • Prepare. As you take a stance for justice’s sake, prepare. Prepare to lose friends and previously deep relationships with those whose entrenched positions will not allow them to change or even engage in a conversation about the diseases of racism and white supremacy and the ravaging damage such diseases have  done to our country, our communities, our families, our friends, and souls. Prepare for a host of reactions when you renounce the inclination toward silence for the sake of “niceness.” Prepare to gain new friends, colleagues, and connections that will transform your life.
  • Pray and act with hope. As you do, read about Martin Luther King’s prayers and prayer practices in Lewis Baldwin’s NEVER TO LEAVE US ALONE: THE PRAYER LIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., and, Dr. King’s “THOU, DEAR GOD”: PRAYERS THAT OPEN HEARTS AND SPIRITS. See how Dr. King’s prayer life was a primary, foundational source that empowered his oratorical eloquence, his social activism commitments, and his spiritual leadership.
  • Vote! Vote! Vote! Vote in every election when it comes around, local, state, and federal.  Register as many people as you can to vote.  And then volunteer to take folks to the polls.

– Bob Hill

 

WEDNESDAY WORDS — #10 — OHHH

WEDNESDAY WORDS
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Wednesday (or sometime thereafter!), I’m posting musings, meditations, poems, and wonderings as potential sources of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Imbibe, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit. (I won’t be tagging colleagues or friends, but if you choose to do that, that’s fine.) Here’s WEDNESDAY WORD #10 (from a favorite story by Fred Craddock).]

OHHHHHH…

“Molly has no words for you today. Molly has nothing to write today. Molly has no words today. Molly goes through the house all day saying ‘Ohhh . . . .'”
– Molly Shepherd, Kingfisher Free Press, November 27, 1963, as recollected by Fred Craddock in Craddock Stories, pp. 90–91.

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations) – MED #10 – William Sloane Coffin

MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday — or shortly thereafter! — I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“Great Souls, Great Prayers”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #10.]

WILLIAM SLOANE COFFIN

William Sloane Coffin, Jr. was “to the manor born” in New York City, yet the arc of his life would lead him, willingly and gladly, to encounter all manner of human existence in a life of enthralling contrasts. He trained as a concert pianist, and he volunteered for service as a soldier in two wars. He worked for the Central Intelligence Agency on Russian affairs, and he sat at the feet of the world’s greatest theologians as he prepared for a life of ministry. He became chaplain at Yale University, and he expressed the height of his homiletical powers as pastor of Riverside Church. He helped to galvanize awareness of the civil rights struggle as a Freedom Rider, and he wrote, mused, and prayed in his final home in rural Vermont.

In the expression of his opinions and in his public ministries, he was no stranger to controversy. And yet his warmth, charm and basic positive regard for all persons would eventually earn him respect even from those who didn’t share one iota of his positions.

Warren Goldstein, author of the most thorough biographical account and analysis of Coffin’s life to date, put it well: “Coffin’s preaching remained relevant and inspiring … for forty years because, like the biblical prophets, he never allowed his enemies — racism, war, nuclear weapons, hunger, homophobia — as much power as he ascribed to the love of God. By taking his God seriously and preaching Christianity joyously, William Sloane Coffin Jr. helped create a ‘holy impatience’ with injustice … that will live long beyond his own life.”(1)

Poet Edward Arlington Robinson once described the human enterprise as “a kind of spiritual kindergarten in which millions of befuddled infants are trying the spell God with the wrong blocks.”(2) For all of his public ministry, William Sloane Coffin, Jr., sought to lead countless persons, both willing and unwilling infants and oldsters, to learn lessons that would help them spell “God” with more of the right blocks: at Yale University with his prophetic witness to students, faculty, administrators, alums, and the nation as a whole; at Riverside Church, with his daring leadership and powerful preaching, beginning in the gorgeous Gotham of New York City, but always going beyond to a wider congregation; in his championing of the causes of the poor and the nuclear freeze movement, with the luster of leadership he lent so generously. Always and ever Coffin was priming countless folks to participate in a more humane, a more faithful “spelling bee.”

The author of eight books, Coffin came to embody the noblest elements of the Judeo Christian tradition, consistently bearing in his demeanor an effusive graciousness. He possessed a consistent capacity to share his compassionate, caring heart with those he loved and with the world, on real terms and in real time.

Coffin’s prayers, in Sunday morning worship and in countless public venues, were characterized by a sure grasp of the grand nature of faith and faith’s connection with the great issues of the day. In other words, his prayers had “size.” Tinged with great oratory, Coffin’s prayers resorted to the formality of the “Thee’s” and “Thou’s” of the King James Bible.(3)

Coffin’s prayers were, at once, pastorally sensitive and prophetically passionate. While he could soar to poetic heights, especially in his genius use of parallelisms and powerful images, Coffin’s prayers always included references to specific events of the day.

Coffin described himself as a “magpie,” reframing insights from other great souls.(4) Yet, he was a keen master wordsmith who worked hard on all of his spoken presentations, whether at a social justice rally, in a Sunday sermon, or in his prayers. In the process, he created one memorable quote after another throughout his long and storied career:

** “… unless we become meek, there will be no one left to inherit the earth…”(5)

** “…. human unity is based not on agreement but on mutual concern….” (6)

** “… never mind how crude or how trivial your prayers may sound to you. There are no unimportant tears to God.”(7)

** “We are always called to love the good more than we hate the evil, lest we only become damn good haters.”(8)

** “There is too much dignity in too many prayers — dignity at the expense of specificity.”(9)

** “Prayer is praying ‘Our father who art in heaven’ when everything within us longs to cry out ‘My father,’ because ‘our’ includes that horrible divorced husband, that wayward child; it includes muggers, rapists, the Iranian captors, all the people who jam thorns into our flesh.”(10)

A PRAYER BY WILLIAM SLOANE COFFIN

“O God, who hast created a world beautiful beyond any singing of it, gratefully we acknowledge that of thy fullness have we received, grace upon grace. Grant now that we may be responsible in the measure that we have received.
“Keep us eager to pursue truth beyond the outermost limits of human thought, scornful of the cowardice that dares not face new truth, the laziness content with half truth, and the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth.

“Strengthen our resolve to see fulfilled, the world around and in our time, all hopes for justice so long deferred, and keep us on the stony, long, and lonely road that leads to peace. May we think for peace, struggle for peace, suffer for peace. Fill our hearts with courage that we not give in to bitterness and self pity, but learn rather to count pain and disappointment, humiliation and set back, as but straws on the tide of life.”(11)

PRAYING WITH WILLIAM SLOANE COFFIN:
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Day 1 Pray today a prayer of thanksgiving for the witness of William Sloane Coffin, Jr., expressing, in whatever words you choose, your appreciation for his conjoining of the pastoral and prophetic tasks of faith.

Day 2 Pray a prayer of petition today that your warmth, wit and basic positive regard for all others might so increase that even those who do no share your opinions will come to respect you.

Day 3 Pray today with an openness to any grief or pain you may be carrying in your heart, knowing that “there are no unimportant tears to God.”

Day 4 Pray today with a request for increased sensitivity toward the plight of all the children who live in poverty around the world. Pray for wisdom as to what your role will be in alleviating their suffering.

Day 5 Pray today about specific people in your life that need to be blessed by an awareness of God’s presence in their lives and what that can mean for their healing and wholeness.

Day 6 Pray today for world peace, but prayer for it with an eye to the indigenous fulfillment of peace where you live, in your place of worship, in your neighborhood, in your work place, in your school, in your home.

Day 7 Pray today for a great fidelity to truth — in your personal life, in the life among your friends, in the wider community, in the nation, and around the world. Recall Coffin’s prayer: “Keep us eager to pursue truth beyond the outermost limits of human thought, scornful of the cowardice that dares not face new truth, the laziness content with half truth, and the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth.”(12)

BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: June 1, 1924, born, New York, New York, son of William, Sr., furniture store executive, and Catherine (Butterfield); 1933, father dies; 1934, mother moves family to Carmel, California; family is assisted financially by his uncle Henry Sloane Coffin (who will eventually be president of Union Theological Seminary); 1938, practices piano for hours a day in Paris and studies with Mlle. Nadia Boulanger with a view to becoming a concert pianist; 1942, graduates from Phillips Academy; 1943, studies for one year at Yale University Music School; 1943 1947, serves in U.S. Army; 1949, BA, Yale University; 1949 1950, attends Union Theological Seminary, 1950 1953, works for Central Intelligence Agency on Russian affairs; May 1956, BD, Yale Divinity School; summer, 1956, begins working as chaplain as Phillips Academy Andover; August 12, 1956, ordained as Presbyterian minister in the Phillips Academy Andover chapel; December 1956, marries ballet dancer and actress Eva Rubinstein, daughter of pianist Arthur Rubinstein; with Eva, has three children, Amy, Alexander, and David; 1957-1958, chaplain, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts; 1958, becomes chaplain, Yale University; 1961, helps establish first training programs for the Peace Corps; one of eleven Freedom Riders who ventures to Montgomery, Alabama to integrate bus transportation and restaurants; 1965, with John Bennett (of Union Theological Seminary) and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (of Jewish Theological Seminary) forms Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam;1968, divorced from Eva; 1969, marries Harriet Harvey Gibney; 1975, resigns Yale chaplaincy; spends year traveling, resting and writing memoir;1977, becomes senior minister, Riverside Church, New York City, 1978, establishes Riverside Church Disarmament Program; Christmas, 1979, among delegation to Tehran to visit hostages; 1980, divorced from Harriet; December 10, 1982, mother, Catherine Butterfield Coffin, dies; January 17, 1983, son Alexander dies; January 23, 1983, preaches “Alex’s Death” (which becomes one of his most noted sermons) at Riverside Church; 1984, marries Virginia Randolph (“Randy”) Wilson; 1987, retires from Riverside; 1988 1993, head of Nuclear Freeze; in retirement lectures widely on themes of social justice and transformation of the church; 1999, suffers stroke; continues to lecture, preach, and write, publishing two of his most widely read books; April 12, 2006, dies peacefully at home, Strafford, Vermont; buried in the Strafford Cemetery; April 20, 2006, funeral service held at Riverside Church, presided over by Dr. James A. Forbes, with reflections by Cora Weiss, Bill Moyers, and Marian Wright Edelman, and eulogy by James Carroll; April 22, 2006, memorial service held at the United Church of Strafford, Strafford, Vermont; cremains buried in the Strafford Cemetery, with his headstone engraved with one of his signature maxims: “Amo Ergo Sum” (I Love Therefore I Am); May 27, 2006, public memorial service held at Yale University’s Bettell Chapel.

NOTES

1 Warren Goldstein, William Sloane Coffin Jr.: A Holy Impatience (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 333.

2 Quoted in Mark Van Doren, Edward Arlington Robinson (New York: The Literary Guild of America, 1927), p. 25.

3 See Prayers from Riverside, edited by Leo S. Thorne (New York: Pilgrim press, 1983), pp. 26 27, 36, 49 50, 92 93, ; see also The William Sloane Coffin Sermon Archive Project at http://www.williamsloanecoffin.org/.

4 The “magpie” description is from a phone conversation with Bill Coffin, April 2001.

5 Remembered from a speech Coffin made to a Disciples Peace Fellowship gathering at the time of the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Louisville, Kentucky, 1973.

6 William Sloane Coffin, The Collected Sermons of William Sloane Coffin: The Riverside Years, Vol. I (Louisville: Westminster, 2008), p. 302.

7 Ibid., p. 329.

8 William Sloane Coffin, Credo (Louisville: Westminster, 2003), p. 20.

9 The Collected Sermons of William Sloane Coffin, Vol. I , p. 329.

10 Ibid. There is almost no end to the aphorisms and poetic parallelisms that Coffin coined throughout his speaking life. And there is seemingly no ending in sight regarding the absolutely specific sources or contexts concerning when or where Coffin said any particular statement. What he quipped to a television reporter after a protest rally might be included in a newspaper editorial. A witticism he offered as a raconteur at a cocktail party could become the introductory attention-grabber in a college lecture. What had been part of a pastoral prayer very often ended up one day in a sermon. These are a mere smattering of Coffin’s prodigious output of “quotable quotes.”

11 William Sloane Coffin, The Courage to Love (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1982), p.90.

12 Ibid.

© 2020, Robert Lee Hill, Kansas City, Missouri