The world turned upside down this week, so I went looking for relief in books. The novel didn't help, it only revealed again humanity's tendency toward stupidity, so I pulled down a short book of essays and found some solace.
The book that reached out to me—sometimes they do that—was The Heart is a Little to the Left: Essays on Public Morality by William Sloan Coffin ["Love and hope, cousin Bill"] and I remembered that the first time I read it I was a little disappointed. I think I wanted his fire, and instead found gentle forbearance. Thinking I could use some of that now I sat down and read.
Those old enough may remember Coffin as an outspoken critic of the Vietnam war when he was the chaplain at Yale (where he also organized busloads of Freedom Riders to challenge segregation laws) and later as the senior minister of Riverside Church in New York. He was arrested several times for protesting various injustices and Garry Trudeau's Rev. Sloan, of Doonesbury, was a tip of the hat to him.
Reverend Coffin never stopped speaking forcefully for what he believed and as I read I wondered what he might say were he alive today. Given his history, a good deal I think, and very well. His book is full of lines worthy of quoting:
"Nothing scares me like scared people; for while love seeks the truth, fear seeks safety, the safety so frequently found in dogmatic certainty, in pitiless intolerance."
"Although the academic community is more tolerant than the religious right, it is also more passive, and tolerance and passivity are a lethal combination. It's easy to forget how frequently compassion demands confrontation."
"No nation is well served by delusions of its righteousness. Every nation makes decisions based on self interest and then defends them in the name of morality."
"And for guidance in this task [denuclearization] let us not look overly to our political leaders. Their ethical impulses tend to be so much weaker than their political ones that in order not to stand out they'll do almost anything to fit in."
When our world is upended we need all the help we can get, and some of Coffin's fire and wisdom would be welcome. But I'm pretty sure he would disagree. Life may have tossed us all in a blender this week, but I think the Rev would say that if we listen to—and trust—our left-of-center hearts, we'll be just fine