© Dr. Chris Schriner 2007
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
May 27, 2007

Every person in this room helps shape our society. You may not think that your specific contributions make any difference, but they surely do. The creation of our country's culture is like 300 million people producing a painting 3000 miles wide and 1000 miles high. It would be hard to see one person's mark on such a huge picture, but without the individual contributions of you and you and you, and so on, the canvass would be blank!

To create our culture we need both passion and structure. We could say that passion is like the colors of a painting, and structure is like the shapes those colors define. Some cultures have marvelous passion, and others show a fine sense of structure. The U.S. has been strongly shaped by its European heritage, and Europeans are known for highly-structured, efficient social systems that enabled them to master technology, the environment, and other human beings. The men of these male-dominated civilizations have been shrewd businessmen and well-disciplined soldiers, who often found it hard to be vulnerable or childlike ... and typically could not dance.

During the 1950s, beatniks and other radicals suggested that we shake up our social structures and strictures. This small minority of dreamers, saints, and rascals planted seeds that grew and sprouted. By the 1960s, millions of us were celebrating passion instead of control. People began using terms such as "lifestyles," "counter-culture," "freaks," and "flower children." All of this exploded into San Francisco 40 years ago in the turbulent but memorable time called the "summer of love."

Not all of us remember those days, either because we are too young or because we were so spaced out that we don't recall much. But I have no doubt that all of us were affected by what happened back then. So this morning I'm beginning a two-part sermon series on the hippie generation, to be concluded June 10. We've got an article from The Argus about the summer of love on display today, featuring a photo of our member, Mary Ann Nelson. She was in the eighth grade in 1967, and her "walls were plastered with photos ... of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison." (May 6, 2007, Living, p. 2) I also brought photos showing how I looked back then, plus a picture I took of a band that performed in Golden Gate Park in 1968 while I was visiting here. They were performing at a wake for a Hell's Angel named Chocolate George who had cashed it in a few days previously. As I recall, those skinny kids with guitars in the photo are the Grateful Dead.

This morning I'm going to consider how new forms of emotionality and sensuality evolved during the '60s in five different arenas: politics, popular music, lifestyles, religion, and psychotherapy. And in all five cases, the '60s clearly grew out of the '50s.

In politics, the 1950s witnessed the struggle for racial integration. This orderly and self-disciplined crusade for freedom eventually inspired the student movement and New Left politics. New Left leaders did some pretty zany things. Jerry Rubin used to walk around in public with a four-letter word emblazoned upon his forehead. Abbie Hoffman wrote a manifesto entitled Steal This Book. I won't ask how many of you bought his book and how many took the title literally!

In popular music, rebellion against the structured status quo began in the lower-torso gyrations of Elvis Presley. But by the 1960s, Elvis looked tame compared to the hippies, with their acid-rock music and day-glo colors. Check out this colorful dashiki. For some reason Jo Ann didn't think I should wear it with these Uncle Sam bell bottoms, which are from the late '60s. And so are these rare suede Earth Shoes.

The extravagant sounds and colors of psychedelic rock offered a way of "getting high." Being high was associated with psychedelic drugs, and "psyche-delic" meant "mind-expanding" - but many flower children either abstained from drugs or moderated their use for the same reason they avoided eating red dye #2. With or without LSD, the goal was to soar above everyday consciousness. Psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote about "peak experiences," and that's what the rock concerts were all about.

The greatest psychedelic rock concert I ever saw featured Janis Joplin in Los Angeles. As the musicians warmed up, Janis wasn't waiting in the wings to make a grand entrance. She skittered all over the stage, hopping up and down with anticipation. She looked like a kid on Christmas morning about to tear into her first present, and she tore into that first song with a depth of feeling that equaled the final crescendo of most rock singers. Then she built intensity upon wildness upon abandon to a state I have never seen before or since. I don't think such an explosion is possible except in a culture where feelings have been suppressed.

In the area of lifestyles, once again the 1950s paved the way. During the Eisenhower era many people poked fun at the "squares" of conventional America. Some of you may remember high school classes where you hid Mad Magazine behind the covers of a textbook, or perhaps you read Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsburg. But by the 1960s there was an entire counter-cultural movement - group living arrangements, sexual experimentation, and alternate ways of acquiring income, or at least snagging some food and a place to crash. Back then I sold my car, and hitchhiked a lot. That wouldn't be safe today. Maybe it wasn't then either.

And what about religion? In general, radical spiritual leaders were moving in two opposite directions. On the one hand there was the death of God movement, led by theologians who felt that the concept of a personal creator was out of date. This rather secular, anti-supernaturalistic philosophy influenced Unitarian Universalism and at that time many of our congregations leaned strongly towards humanism. On the other hand, creative forms of spirituality were also popular. People studied Native American lore, Pagan traditions, and the wisdom of the East. "What's your astrological sign?" became a standard pick-up line, and Buffy Saint-Marie sang that, "God is alive, magic is afoot."

Alongside these mutations in politics, popular music, lifestyles, and religion, there were new forms of psychotherapy. Alexander Lowen, the founder of bioenergetics, had been a lonely voice in the 1950s, calling for emotional catharsis through a therapy that involved both mind and body. But in the 1960s, thousands signed up for encounter groups, body awareness workshops, and experiential psychotherapy, known collectively at the human potential movement.

In my early training as a counselor I saw someone lead a group using Gestalt techniques which he had learned from a bearded, wild-haired psychotherapist named Fritz Perls. During that session he asked one of my classmates to talk to an empty chair. What a weird idea! But in a few minutes the classmate burst into tears, and I was startled. Where had those feelings come from? I began to realize that I had little contact with my emotions and that a partial loss of control, a relaxing of structures and defenses, might not be a bad thing. And I was right. Even today I am a person who thinks first and feels second, but back then I thought first and felt seldom! Recovering my own emotional and sensual life has been a huge improvement.

In the 1970s I was in therapy with a radical outfit called the Community of the Whole Person, in Washington, D.C. Therapy groups at the Community were very serious. No small-talk or chit-chat. Participants were expected to arrive 15 minutes early to "warm up," and warming up consisted of working with each other in pairs using Alexander Lowen's bioenergetic exercises. The goal was to whip ourselves into an emotional frenzy by the time the therapist walked in the door. Such emotional effusiveness sounds odd today, but it certainly felt satisfying at the time.

Recently I listened to the classic Moody Blues album, Days of Future Passed, and the title seemed ironic. In some respects those brave old days that seemed like a doorway to the future have quietly passed away. I feel a sense of loss as our future-shocked culture races into the Twenty-First Century, leaving the '60s as out-of-style as my old bell bottom pants. Think about the contrast between 1967 and today:

1967: Long hair - 2007: Longing for hair
1967: Looking for the perfect high - 2007: Looking for the perfect high yield mutual fund
1967: Acid rock - 2007: Acid reflux
1967: Rolling Stones - 2007: Kidney stones
1967: Going to a new, hip joint - 2007: Getting a new hip joint
1967: Gerry and the Pacemakers - 2007: Your very own pacemaker
1967: Whatever - 2007: Depends

So what happened, besides the fact that all of us got older? I think the pendulum swung too far, too fast, from too much "square" structure to extravagant, shapeless, unstructured emotion. It is probably easier to harness the power of nuclear fusion than to safely channel the passions of our hearts. The surging energy of the '60s destroyed the new structures we were trying to create, like a flash flood smashing a picket fence. We generated more passion than we could control. Perhaps we were overly optimistic about human nature. Sometimes structure can protect us from our own weaknesses. And some things just don't get done by relying on the impulse of the moment.

The New Left collapsed because it had no workable plan, no viable structure for bringing about lasting change. We needed more than confrontation politics and guerilla theater.

I still love psychedelic rock, but it was too overblown to last. Music needed to calm down and colors needed subtlety. Sadly, the most intense musicians were too wild for their own survival, and usually their deaths were drug-related. Janis Joplin is long gone. So is Jimi Hendrix and the ultimate bad boy, Jim Morrison of The Doors. Drugs released astonishing energy and creativity, but the more powerful the drug, the more safeguards we require. And some drugs, at some doses, may be unsafe no matter how well we structure the setting for their use.

Alternate lifestyles also lacked adequate structural underpinnings. Only a few experiments in communal living or unorthodox ways of working were able to endure, and we discovered that free love can be remarkably expensive.

Some '60s innovations in religion and psychology are still visible upon the canvass of American culture. Although the death of God movement soon died (at least as a popular phenomenon), unorthodox spiritualities still flourish today, and many Unitarian Universalists have learned from Pagan, Native American, and Eastern traditions.

And radical psychology could be considered a qualified success. Many counselors worried that emotionally intense experiences would make people snap. In groups where participants were coerced to do things against their will, or bombarded with criticism as in the so-called Synanon Game, this sometimes happened. But I was a counseling minister back then, and I led a lot of encounter groups, including marathon sessions as long as 25 hours with no sleep. I found that the human psyche is remarkably tough and resilient. There are exceptions, of course, but in most people, powerful feelings are less dangerous than they seem - as long as one is led gently rather than being pushed.

Even so, psychotherapists tend to use emotional catharsis less than they did back then. Yelling and banging pillows just doesn't fit Twenty-First Century sophistication, and that's a pity because a lot of folks are wound up tight like springs and could use the release.

All in all, the wild and woolly '60s gave me memories I'll never forget. I needed that craziness to break out of my own excessively tight structures. And the very fact that I tend to be structured helped me survive my hippie phase. When I did risky things I usually did them cautiously - and I'm also grateful for some good luck along the way. But many who loved the '60s actually needed more self-control, not less, and I saw some tragic crash landings.

So we can learn some lessons from the hippie generation. But my main point today is that looking back on the best of that era is a good way to challenge ourselves. The past is still present. The era of the '60s stands before us today, asking us, "Is there enough passion in your life? Do you feel your own intensity, your energy, your enthusiasm, you animal wildness - or is it buried so deep that you can't find it anymore? For example, when you read about what's wrong with this world, do you stuff down your anger and frustration and ignore it? Or can you experience your own passion and harness that power as a force for change?

Most of us are less oriented toward passion than toward control. In fact, people who are dominated by their feelings run into serious problems in our complicated society. They may even end up in prison or wandering the streets. So those of us who actually have enough self-discipline to show up at a Sunday service may ask ourselves, "Is my own passion accessible to me, despite my useful and practical self-discipline? How can I take the intensity that hides inside my heart, and manifest it through some workable structure?"

Between now and June 10, think about what we can learn from the '60s, both from what worked and from what didn't. Dig out some Dylan and Hendrix and hear those songs again. If you've got photos of yourself from that era, bring them along. And if you think the pants I'm wearing today are very 1960s, just wait till June 10th!

And so the radical seeds from the '50s grew into radical deeds in the '60s. Regardless of whether we agree with them, we owe a lot to the misfits and geniuses who present a fundamental critique of society. If we are sincere spiritual seekers, if we want to sense the will of God, follow the wisdom of inner guidance, or hear the voice of conscience, then we will be called to work for fundamental change. Each of us, every day, makes choices about whether we will liberate creative energies and produce new shapes and structures, as we make our personal brush strokes upon the vast canvass of culture. Thanks to those who show their love and courage, the times, they still are a'changin'.

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