the Coffin corner

William Sloane Coffin (1924-2006) was an American churchman, peace activist, Yale University chaplain, public theologian, prophet, aphorist, contrarian. He is the author of Credo (WJK, 2004) and other works. 

“Human unity is not something we are called upon to create, only to recognize.”

“We Christians mean well – feebly. We may be repelled by materialism, but we are caught up in it.”

“Too often we picture God as some immovable rock, when in fact it is God and God alone who never rests. I only quote Scripture: ‘He neither slumbers nor sleeps.’ It is God who says, ‘Behold, I create all things new.'”

“In his time on earth Jesus ‘stood tall,’ but not by making others cringe. He had power, but used it solely to empower others.”

“Miracles do not a messiah make. But a messiah can do miracles. If you ask me if Jesus literally raised Lazarus from the dead, literally walked on water and changed water into wine, I will answer: For certain, I do not know. But this I do know: faith must be lived before it is understood, and the more faith is lived, the more things become possible.”

“Hope criticizes what is, hopelessness rationalizes it. Hope resists, hopelessness adapts.”

“The biblical reminder is clear: whatever our economic system, the enemy is excess, not possessions. The battle cry is ‘Enough!’ not ‘Nothing!’ ‘Enough’ so that we can all break bread together, so that everyone’s prayer can be answered – ‘Give us this day our daily bread.'”

“It behooves us North American Christians to realize now what the German churches learned too late some (80) years ago: it is not enough to resist with confession; we must confess with resistance.”

“Fundamentalists are no different from the rest of us. Just as often as do we, they use the Bible as the drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination. And consider this: perhaps God approves the struggles of the human mind to try to interpret God’s designs. ‘The unknown is the mind’s greatest need, and for it no one thinks to thank God.’ (Emily Dickinson).”

“There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with all the world.”

“The Bible knows nothing of a moral majority. It assumes that the individual conscience, as opposed to the mass mind, best reflects the universal conscience of humankind. And the Bible insists that a prophetic minority always has more to say to a nation than any majority, Silent, Moral, or any other.”

“In almost every church there are gentle cowards who think their gentleness offsets their cowardice. It doesn’t.”

“One of the attributes of power is that it gives those who have it the ability to define reality and the power to make others believe in their definition.”

“There is a Zen paradox whereby we may lack everything yet want for nothing. The reason is that peace – that is, inner peace – comes not with meeting our desires but in releasing ourselves from their power.”

“Without death, we’d never live. Without discovering the limits of our talents, we’d never discover who we are. … Deserted by his disciples, in agony on the cross, barely 30 years old, Christ said, ‘It is finished.’ And thus ended the most complete life ever lived.”