(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
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The 1960’s are called watershed years in American history. The nation was assaulted with multiple crisis’ that called into question American values and strengths. From the cuban missile crisis, to the Kennedy and King assassinations, to lunch counter and back of the bus segregation, to Civil Rights marches and, of the course, the Viet Nam war, the 1960’s were a period of upheaval. America, many believed, was coming apart at the seams even while institutions of wealth, politics and police seemed as powerful as ever.
For baby boomers who came of age during the 1960’s, the decade was not only frightening, it exposed the lies their parents’ generation had told them about America. Middle age parents in the 1960’s were the so-called greatest generation – those who had fought and sacrificed to save the planet during World War Two. Afterwards, that generation rebuilt the world with the Marshall Plan as they then fostered a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. But those successes were only one part of the American story told by that generation. Ugly American realities were fully exposed in the 1960’s – and the young generaty noticed.
Some youth became activists and protesters. Others joined Kennedy’s newly formed Peace Corps to do hands on service for the dispossessed. But many others were so disillusioned by their parents’ America that they created a counter-culture which rejected prevailing traditions. Those young people became hippies.
Each of the three groups determined their way to react to an illegal war and to widespread policies of discrimination and hypocrisy. Young people looked at themselves as the solution – whether by protesting, doing charitable work, or adopting a nihilist, “I don’t care” attitude.
It was in this mix of upheaval and youthful dissatisfaction that author, professor, and advocate of the drug LSD, Timothy Leary, organized a “Be-In” weekend in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in January 1967. It was a wildly chaotic event with many young people admitting they attended simply to enjoy sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. But it was at that event that Leary gave a rambling speech in which he tried to give greater meaning to the “Be-In” and to start a movement to inspire youth to “turn on, tune in and drop out.”
The answer to America’s ills, he suggested, were not through civic engagement and protest – what he believed were playing by the establishment’s rules. Nor was the answer to join the Peace Corp and volunteer to do good. It was, instead, to reject the prevailing morality and culture. That culture, as Leary and many youth believed, was corrupt, uptight, hypocritical and judgmental. Older generations were stuck in a philosophy of the past – that wealth and power solved problems.
Instead, Leary and author Ken Kesey sought to define the hippie ethos of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll with one word – “love.” Open and free sex, for them, was all about expressing love. Drugs, and especially psychedelic varieties like LSD, expanded one’s mind to see the world and life as they should be – defined not by money or power, but by simple love.
That Spring, many hippies began to promote what they called a “Summer of Love” to be held in San Francisco and to do exactly what Leary suggested – turn on, tune in, and drop out. Beginning in May and lasting into September, over 100,000 young people converged in San Francisco with little money and few plans other than to live a utopian dream. Similar but smaller “Summer of Love” gatherings were formed in New York city and London.
One unknown youth that summer defined who they were. Someone was a “Summer of Love” hippie if, “You are free as the wind, and you don’t like following rules. You’re open minded and nonjudgemental. You’re neither a leader or a follower. You believe that people should love more. You’re on your own blissful path.”
Singer Janis Joplin, a noteworthy hippie herself, helped define the Summer of Love at which she performed by saying, “My business is to enjoy and have fun. And why not, if in the end everything will end? Right?” Other hippies that summer offered more colorful thoughts that captured their approach to life: “I’d rather be nude – than rude”, and “If we all had a bong, we’d all get along.” Others proclaimed their opposition to the culture of their parents by calling any authority figure “The Man.” “Don’t let The Man keep you down…man” they said.
By October 1967, however, the ‘Summer of Love’ had proved mostly a bust. Idealistic hippies found that life is not as simple as rejecting work and civic engagement. They also found that in their midst were hippies just as focused on money and possessions as the establishment they had rejected. And with such a large group of hippies all trying to live the good life in a small area, chaos resulted. A mock funeral for the ‘Summer of Love’ was held in San Francisco that October as thousands of dejected hippies retreated back to school, jobs or, even worse, their parents’ homes.
A year later, however, Leary further explained “Summer of Love” beliefs. “We seek,” he said, “to find the god within, the divinity which lies within each person’s body. Our search is to find higher truths about life.”
For Leary, “turning on” was how one finds the god within – by using drugs, sex and meditation to enlighten one’s heart and soul. When one turns on, he said, one will discover that the ultimate truth in the universe, what some call god, is love. “Tuning in,” he said, is how one shares that discovery by showing love in everything one does and says. “Dropping out” rejects a culture of rules and money that prevents turning on and tuning in – and thus destroys love. For Leary and hippies, everything in the universe centers around love – and we can discover and express that by dropping out of a destructive culture.
What I find interesting is that despite the fact that many “turn on, tune in, drop out” youth were primarily interested in its hedonistic philosophy, the saying nevertheless offers spiritual wisdom. We are now in a time of national crisis similar to that of the 1960’s. All of the norms that have defined America – for good and bad – are currently in question. Even as activism and protest against sexism and discrimination are increasing, that’s because large parts of America have regressed fifty years.
In the 1960’s, the one thing that united youth and others in their protest was the Viet Nam war. Today, the one thing that unites resisters, activists and those that simply cannot stomach what is happening in our nation is….the President. His malignant influence on America, like the Viet Nam war, has infected our culture. It saddens to me to note that in our homes, churches and other institutions of influence,……….anger, bitterness, incivility and arrogance often predominate. Name calling, humiliating others, lack of cooperation and a “my way or the highway” approach seems to rule the day. Even more frightening, angry words thrown at opponents has inspired some to that verbal violence to the next level – to physically attack and kill those they disagree with. America seems as divided as almost never before – and that division has infected almost place in the nation..
“Turning on, tuning in and dropping out” seems therefore as relevant today as it was 51 years ago. I believe America must intentionally drop out of and reject the current culture of division. Once America does that, then we as a people must turn on and tune in – to discover and express the one eternal truth that 1960’s hippies said they found – that the universe is animated by one overarching power – love.
What America needs, what I need, what I believe this congregation also needs, is more humility, kindness, respect, civility, and cooperation. Put simply, we all need more love. And that love is not the sloppy kind – something tossed around with little meaning. I believe soul deep love must become the lodestar by which we guide ourselves – the single most important ethic by which we think, act and speak.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the POWER OF LOVE….Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.”
While King’s reference to whites is still valid, we can also interpret his reference to the white man as also including any person with whom we disagree. The antidote to nastiness, incivility, judgement, arrogance, bitterness, lack of cooperation, angry words, abuse of power, hate, and “my way or the highway thinking,” I suggest, is to “turn on” like Timothy Leary encouraged and make an intentional inward journey to discover the goddess of love within. She is an eternal truth deep in our souls that we won’t find with our minds but only with our hearts. We must not just love those who agree with us, who are close friends and family, but we must purposefully love those who disagree with us, who oppose everything we stand for – who is, even in mild ways, our opponent.
I define my spirituality and theology this way, “God is not an outside force controlling our lives. She or he is within us and a part of who we are. It is WE who are the ‘gods and goddesses’ that will build a better world.”
Instead of hopefully, or fearfully, looking to the heavens for god, she is right here, right now, inside you and me. If you believe, as I do, that Timothy Leary and the hippies had it right – that the one true goddess in the universe is love – then my theology that I just spoke compels me to literally become a god of love.
To find the god of love in us, Leary said we must drop out. I do not believe that should be taken literally. To drop out, for me, means to stop practicing the cultural standards of our time – reacting with judgement and angry speech against other people. It means we have to stop talking at one another – insisting on telling them how we are right and they are wrong. Instead, I suggest we must come together in love. We must be still and feel the love in us and in others. With respect, gentleness, listening and honest humility that we could be wrong, I truly believe cooperative solutions to problems can be found between opposing people.
I suggest four practical ways to discover the god of love in us – and thereby enact a “turn on, tune in, drop out” ethos.
First, we must change how we think about ourselves and others. We may not always act or speak as we should, but we each have the light of god – love – in us. Everybody has the potential to be that god.
Second, we must begin to recognize all compassionate, kind and loving words and actions come from the god of love inside us.
Third, we must trust that we ARE a god of love. This is not a head thing – but a heart felt thing. If you feel you are a god of love, then you will always BE a god of love in action and speech.
When we acknowledge the god of love exists in all humanity, it will change how we act toward those we disagree with. Our expressions of love to them have the power to change their behavior and their thinking – so that they may become more loving, humble and open minded – just as we must also be. While Dr. King said hate begets hate, I suggest love does the same – only love is more powerful.
Dear friends, National events of the past several weeks have shaken me. I won’t recount all of them except for three. When our nation decides it can take an innocent child out of its mother’s or father’s arms and place that child in a detention facility, there is something deeply wrong with our national soul.
When our nation does nothing about an epidemic of mass shootings in schools, churches, news rooms, nightclubs and concert venues, then there is something sick in our souls.
Furthermore, when many in our nation say it is OK to humiliate, shout down, banish and even hate people with whom we disagree, a member or f another political party, religion or someone who has differing ideas on how to improve the world, then I also submit there is something deeply wrong with our national soul. Division and separation within the one human family, no matter the ideal or cause, is unhealthy. Love, however, must be the glue that binds together every person.
In just a moment, I’ll ask us to meditate on what love means. I ask as a part of your meditations to try and not convince yourself that love is what you think it is. Be open to ways other people love. Each of us are genuine lovers – but we love in different ways. Let us see and reflect upon the many variations of love. And with that awareness, I beg us all to expand our hearts to honestly express love to everyone. May we listen, respect, cooperate, seek togetherness and find common, loving ground. May this congregation……..may this nation……..be a beloved place….and may that summer of love feeling begin with you and with me. Let us now meditate while Michael plays some music.