William Sloane Coffin (Credo, A Passion for the Possible) has always been quite fond of Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet and its adage to "be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves" for in the end "you will live into the answers."
In this sprightly volume the former Chaplain of Yale University and Senior Minister at Riverside Church in New York imagines an exchange of letters with a bright young college student over the course of an academic year. In these exchanges Coffin's progressive Christianity comes into view. For instance, he believes that doubt moves us forward not backward, that guilt is "the last stronghold of pride," that Jesus was "both a mirror to humanity and a window to divinity," and that self-righteousness is the bane of all human relations (see the excerpt). Coffin responds to the student's queries about faith, getting ahead, values, and the challenges of his personal life in a complicated and violent world.
We especially liked the following passage:
"I hope you're not as those who never cry. Listen. A short-time ago I asked a friend, an eighty-five-year-old retired Yale professor, 'What makes you cry?' He answered, 'Whenever I see or hear the truth.' "
The inimitable author also gets in a few jabs against President Bush. In one, Coffin notes "President Bush's compassionate conservatism seems primarily reserved for CEOs and unborn babies." And in the other, he says: "How can the President call Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, 'the axis of evil' when the whole of humanity suffers immensely more from environmental degradation, pandemic poverty, and a world awash with weapons?" There's plenty of spunk and spark in these letters.