I wish I had been more of a hippie
I wish I had been more of a hippie.
It’s true I was committed to the anti-war movement. I registered for the draft as a religious conscientious objector, opposing all war on the grounds that following Jesus meant loving, not killing, your enemies. From the sidelines of Baltimore lower middle working-class row-home whiteness, I cheered on the civil rights movement. I read Rootsand the Autobiography of Malcolm X. I nodded in agreement when the latter said, “It is impossible for a white person to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism.”
In high school, I tutored inner city kids whose outer ears had been chewed off by rats and who had permeant brain damage from eating lead-based paint chips off widow sills. I saw first hand poverty and racism. Like many teens in the late 1960s, I longed for universal peace and justice.
Politics seemed hopeless. Nixon. War on drugs – really a war on black youth – a scheme to imprison a generation and ensure generational family dysfunction and poverty.
Baltimore became a warzone after Martin Luther King was murdered. 4:00 PM curfew. Armored personnel carriers rolling down our street. Makeshift jails. Sandbag trenches. National guard. Active duty troops. Shoot on sight. This time, the fire.
Black Panthers. Weather Underground. Bombs. Guns. It seemed counterproductive at best – understandable, but deeply contrary to my commitment to the nonviolent way of Jesus.
Then came Timothy Leary. If everyone would just drop acid, the collective human consciousness would expand, universal peace would emerge. On top of that, soon the moon would be in the Seventh House and Jupiter would align with Mars. Love would steer the stars.
I never did any drugs – too afraid of what they’d do to me. My friends who did were not doing them to get high. They were taking LSD to save the world. Yes, we really did believe that.
Before long, however, it became more about trafficking drugs and making money. And the poverty was still there. As was the racism. Rich men kept making wars. Disillusionment. Timothy Leary faded. The Beatles broke up.
Ah, but then came Jesus! Hippies turned Jesus Freaks. The drugs were tossed away – replaced by genuine love, service, and harmony. All I longed for – universal peace, an end to war, an end to racism, genuine community, altruistic love, acceptance, meaning, purpose – it was all either there or promised in Jesus.
Gradually, I lost my way. I never stopped believing. Never stopped trying to follow Jesus. Certainly never stopped loving God.
But our whole movement was coöpted. Like many, I embraced a flattened woodenly literalistic Bible. War and capital punishment became causes to cheer rather than eschew. Poverty was the fault of the poor. America was the greatest nation ever. Native Americans were pagans. The founding fathers were devout Christians. Science was willfully ignorant – the universe popped into existence fully formed during a period of 144 hours 6,000 years ago. AIDS was judgment for sin. Two sins were so hideous, so much more sinful than any others that they were bringing down the world’s last and greatest hope – abortion and homosexuality. (Conveniently, they were two things I was never likely to do.)
Like many who were coöpted, I had no idea that the religious right was born in opposition not to abortion, but to segregated Christian schools losing their tax-exempt status. I had no idea that Republican strategists were purposely wooing white evangelicals, not for their cause, but for their votes.
I drank the Kool-Aid.
Little by little, I awakened, as if from a long coma.
Many of the most spiritual people I’d ever seen were African-American. They voted for Democrats. Were they all deceived?
Why did my so many of my Republican acquaintances care so little about poverty and injustice?
As Christians, how could we justify destroying the environment?
Did God create the world in 6 days but make it look like billions of years to deceive people?
Some of the godliest people I knew were gays and lesbians. They loved Jesus. It seemed like they loved Jesus more than I did.
Why were we supporting a right-wing Israeli government that half the Israelis didn’t support?
Why were we opposing Palestinian Arabs, many of whom are Christian?
Would Jesus cheer for bombings?
Did Jesus have split personality – kind and loving the first time around; a warlord the next?
Did God really order genocide, or is God really like Jesus?
Why was I pretending that there are no contradictions in the Bible?
How had I become so judgmental, angry and hateful?
Why was I listening to arrogant talking heads?
Brilliant Christian biologists fully embrace evolution. Are they deceived?
What happened to the compassion I felt for the poor, the broken, the displaced, the sick, addicted and mentally ill?
I’ve come full circle, back to the Jesus Freaks, back to the lovers of nature, back to the ranks of those opposed to war and longing for justice. I’ve come back to compassion. I’ve come back to Jesus. My first love.