From the Editor
It is with both joy and sorrow that I complete this most current issue of Reflections. It is a joy to present a topic urgently needed and long ignored or overlooked by progressive Christian communities. The sorrow comes in its dedication to the memory of Bill Coffin ’56 BD, whose passing leaves a dark space in a world more than ever in need of illumination.
Since we at Yale Divinity School hosted a major event in honor of Bill in April of 2005, it was our intention to publish an issue of Reflections on the future of the prophetic voice and dedicate it to him. The creation of this issue began months before Bill’s passing during Holy Week in 2006. In the wake of his death, the urgency of the topic only mounted as war and violence continued to intensify throughout our world, estrangement and isolation grew between nations and individuals, and voices of religious extremists continued to drown out voices of compassion, dialogue, and peace.
To be true to Bill’s spirit, we believed it was important not to produce a collection of tributes to him, but to create a magazine that deals with the critical issues surrounding the biblical legacy, recent history, and current imperative of a prophet’s speaking truth to power. Interwoven throughout this issue are eulogies that were offered about Bill at his memorial service at Riverside Church in New York City where he served as pastor from 1977-1987 after seventeen years as chaplain of Yale University.
I am grateful to Bill Moyers, Marian Wright Edelman, and James Carroll, each one a prophetic voice in his or her own right, for their immediate willingness to contribute their own memorials to this issue. I am also thankful to the Reverend Samuel Slie, Bill’s long time friend and colleague, for contributing several of his legendary prayers offered at Battell Chapel during Bill’s tenure. Though these words were prayed nearly four decades ago, they remain hauntingly relevant to our current situation. Noel Paul Stookey of the renowned folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary, graciously offered his poetic lyrics to enrich this issue.
I am indebted also to Bill’s widow, Randy Coffin, as well as David Coffin and Eva Rubinstein for their generosity of spirit, time, and support in guiding me through the selection of artwork. For some viewing this edition of Reflections, the artwork may seem contrary to Bill’s noted jovial and good-humored disposition. The photography illustrating this issue is the work of Ms. Rubinstein, a prominent artist and Bill’s first wife. When I first viewed her photography, I was struck by the ways in which the moods and tones of the photos resonate symbolically with the theme of prophecy. As many of the articles contained in this magazine attest, a prophet’s life is often spent on the edge of a community, and therefore is often deeply challenging, lonely, and isolated. In these melancholic spaces, the prophet continually attunes her or his vision to witness more deeply the living presence of God in all who cry out for love and justice. Prophets find the courage to enter into the most fractured and marginalized places in reality, and thereby become the hopeful beams of light that break into dark, empty spaces. No wonder Christians throughout history have avoided or abandoned their biblical mandate to be prophets in their religious and civil circles!
There is only one photo featured in this issue that was not taken by Ms. Rubinstein, the image of Bill of the back cover of the issue taken in July 2004 by Gabe Cooney. I was with Gabe on the trip to Bill’s home in Strafford, Vermont, for the photo shoot. Bill allowed only nine frames to be taken of him, and insisted on spending the rest of our visit in the kitchen for lemonade and bantering. Those hours I spent with him seemed somehow out of space and time—an experience that undoubtedly has been shared by many who have been graced with such an opportunity. Though we spent little time talking about me, Bill’s spirit was such I came away from our meeting with greater insight into myself and my own vocation, and more painfully and profoundly aware of the call of my own prophetic spirit. Some of our readers are aware that last year, I left my full time post as director of publications at YDS to pursue pastoral work in a Catholic parish in New York City noted for its ministry to GLBT, poor, homeless, and mentally and physically disabled communities. My desire to transform my vocation was put into motion during this visit in the summer of 2004 and was confirmed during our celebration of Bill in April of 2005. I am grateful to Bill for inspiring me to take on this new challenge and to the team at YDS for allowing me to continue my editorship of Reflections. I hope that my work “in the trenches” of ministry enhances the depth and sensitivity with which I engage each new issue.
I have little doubt that my story pales in comparison with the powerful, intimate stories that so many of our readers have about Bill. Whether you knew Bill personally, was inspired by him from afar, or are just encountering him for the first time, it is my prayer that this issue of Reflections will stir the prophetic voice in you and fill you with—as Bill was famous for saying—“lots of hope!”