I want to make three points, based on a brief friendship with Bill Hamilton
and a significant encounter that was my last personal memory of him.
1. I went to Rochester in early 1965 to write an article on FIGHT, the community organization Saul Alinsky had helped to create in the wake of 1964 rioting in the city. Bill Hamilton kindly took me in and put me up. I wrote a piece for Christianity and Crisis (a defunct journal founded by John Bennett and Reinhold Niebuhr. whose archives should be made available online). It earned me a nasty editorial in the Rochester Gannett newspaper -- no archive exists that I can find. In any case Bill was a great host and helped me to meet the folk who contributed to the article.
2. The last night I was there I had the incredible experience of meeting Malcolm X who was speaking at a Colgate-Rochester Seminary event. Bill was on the faculty. Richard Prince describes Malcolm's visit to Rochester in the following paragraph:
"Newport, now an urban planner in the San Francisco area and a former Berkeley mayor, accompanied a 'rough, disheveled' marked-for-death Malcolm from New York City to Rochester, N.Y., on Feb. 16, 1965, five days before Malcolm was killed."
But my recollection is that he was composed and at ease. He had returned from Mecca and in his speech he imparted the serenity he felt when he had been caught in the race-transcending atmosphere of his pilgrimage.
Prior to his speech, we were in a small anteroom off the main seating area. I went up to Malcolm and asked him what book he had read lately that impressed him. He responded that he had been reading Lerone Bennett's The Negro Mood. I remember thinking, This is not a hostile human being, this is a straight-forward, inquiring and admirable person. I have always thought of Malcolm as the full equal if not in some respects the surpasser of Martin Luther King, Jr., who I also had the chance to meet and interview in Birmingham, in 1963, the day after his brother A. D. King's house (and the Gaston Motel) were bombed.
3. In 1968 Bill Hamilton and I were among the attendees at the Gallahue Symposium on Next Steps for the Church and Theology. I was one of the presenters since I had been actively promoting a structural option for the renewal of the church -- namely the proposals in my book The Grass Roots Church. Bishop John A. T. Robinson was among the participants and I noticed that Bill Hamilton was quite impressed with him. I jokingly said that perhaps someday Bill would be a Bishop -- hardly likely given the fact that he and Tom Altizer were the celebrated proponents of the death of God.
Bill's response to me was somewhat arch. "Maybe someday Steve, you'll be a theologian."
Well, I think he was being prophetic as I think the intervening years have enabled me to hammer out what I believe the be the beginnings of a viable theology for the future. It is a theology that can move past the death of God to the understandings that are explicit and implicit in the writings here -- namely that Jesus was introducing us to the God who has always been at hand, whose existence beyond our own perceptions and experience is a complete mystery.
A theology that eschews metaphysics and builds on a reappropriation of the Gospel narratives is to me the best way beyond the necessary but hardly final "death of god" theologies of the 1960s.