© Dr. Chris Schriner 2007
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
June 10, 2007

Here's a reading from a Bob Dylan song with some typical themes of the 1960s - personal freedom, living in the present, radical self-expression, altered states of consciousness, and openness to intense experiences:

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come followin' you....

Then take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind,
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves,
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach,
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands,
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves,
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

(For complete words to this song, type "'Mr. Tambourine Man' lyrics" into a web search engine)

The psychologist Sam Keen wrote, "God give me madness that does not destroy wisdom, responsibility, love." (To a Dancing God, 1970)

I assume that Sam's prayer for madness is a prayer for intensity and wildness: "To dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free." But Keen is praying for a sane and centered sort of madness that balances passion with responsibility.

A couple of weeks ago I suggested that in our personal lives and in our society, we need both passion and structure. Passion is like the colors of a painting, and structure is like the shapes those colors define. And back in the 1960s, millions of us were celebrating passion and rejecting traditional structures. Today as I conclude my two-part sermon series about the '60s it is astonishing to remember the way we were, back when many of us were proud to be called "freaks." We were Different with a capital D, and you could sure tell that by looking at us. [Pointing to my 10-color bellbottom pants:] Would you believe that in 1970 I purchased this walking rainbow at Sears!

Recently Ursel Bloxsom told me about enrolling in UC Berkeley around 1969 and having trouble finding a place to park. Somebody suggested she drive to a certain lot, and when she got there the lot was totally empty. Up walked some hippies who told her that if she left her car there they'd blow it up! She had driven into People's Park. But one of them told her she could use his parking space, so she followed him to his spot - in Oakland.

This story illustrates what was right and wrong with the '60s - the odd mixture of threatened violence and compassion freely given, good intentions and impractical solutions. And we often witness this combination of creativity and destructiveness during a great religious awakening. I see the '60s as one of those spiritual awakenings that swells up in America every few decades. This time we were not turning back to traditional Christianity, but we were focusing on what is ultimately important, trying to stop living "plastic," conventional lives; ready to turn on, tune in, and drop out. Radical spirituality popped up like mushrooms after rain. The Beatles went to India and hung out with the Maharishi. Timothy Leary's autobiography was entitled High Priest. And psychotherapy began to incorporate spiritual elements such as meditation, mindfulness, letting go of attachment, and exploring altered states of consciousness.

Spiritual awakenings run their course after a few years, and American culture usually moves back toward the middle when it temporarily veers toward the right or the left. And as I said in my previous sermon, the powerful passions of that era overwhelmed the new structures that we were trying to develop. Even so, the hippie generation did make a difference. Thanks to the 1960s, today there is more feeling, more individuality, more color, more creativity, and (I must admit) more self-indulgence.

In thinking about why so many counter-cultural organizations faded away, we must remember that there is a mysterious Force in the world that shapes our destinies, a Spirit that is bigger than any one of us. It works in wondrous ways, and although no one has ever seen it, we can feel its quiet presence in our lives every day. Even though we rebel and try to set our own small selves against its power, in the end we realize the folly of resisting its mighty will. Yes, I'm sure you know the mysterious Force I'm talking about - economics!

The invisible hand of the marketplace is rather like a god, or a devil, or a blending of the two, and three principles of economic behavior doomed the counter-culture:

  1. Most people have an unlimited desire for goods and services.
  2. We are social animals, and therefore most of us want the same level of prosperity we see modeled in the media and in those around us.
  3. A prosperous society will find amazing ways to waste money, and the cost of its spendthrift style will be paid by everyone. Just as work expands to fill available time, spending expands to squander available income. This is true for persons, families, and nations.

So in scrambling to keep up with our own desires, the Joneses next door, and the military budget, we all stay very busy. Who has time for radical politics? Anarchic, leaderless groups take forever to make decisions. And how can alternate ways of working compete with hyperefficient corporations that constantly squeeze their workers for more productivity?

Two weeks ago I invited you to think about what we can learn from the '60s, both from what worked and what didn't. I'd like to hear from a few people about that. How could we infuse the creativity and vitality of the counter-culture spirit into the 21st century? (Discussion.)

Thanks for those ideas. But it's easy to forget good ideas about how to stay in touch with our passions and our core priorities, because our lives are so task-oriented - work and chores and commuting and endless emails. We need to step out of the daily routine to remember who we are and what we love. If you treat our Sunday service as a meditation on what matters to you, you'll stay connected to your own spiritual path. Our Small Group Ministry program is another opportunity for regular spiritual re-connection.

In considering how to inject the '60s spirit into modern life, let's not forget the playful side, like the love-ins in Golden Gate Park - offering flowers and hugs to perfect strangers, bathed in sunshine, music, and optimism. We could use more free-spirited fun today, and some of us can express the inner child by playing with our children and grandchildren. Others can find release through sports, art, music, lovemaking, poetry, or dancing.

When I lived in Southern California, my favorite 1960s-style event was DanceWorks in Laguna Beach, where people could groove to the music any way they pleased, alone, in couples, or in groups. I always felt like I had released about a month's worth of tension. DanceWorks used simple but effective structures that balanced passion with control. Most importantly, alcohol was not allowed. This made it easier to leap and spin with dizzying abandon without crashing into each other. Our member, Bobbie Burri, goes to a Palo Alto program similar to DanceWorks. JoAnn and I had a great time there Wednesday night. And several of you are involved in Interplay, which also sets up a controlled environment for expressive movement.

Passion and structure don't need to fight with each other. In a way they are opposites, but so are the North Pole and the South Pole - and we need both poles to have a planet. The channeling of energy can support the release of energy. In fact, when passion intensifies, we usually need to set more careful limits. Structure provides safety and when we feel safe, the child inside of us can come out to play. Passion needs structure, and structure needs passion. Limits can be liberating.

But what about the more serious motivations of the 1960s - new approaches to work, spirituality, and political action? Do such visionary ideas stand a chance in the age of Donald Trump and Paris Hilton?

If we're going to re-awaken some of the Woodstock spirit today, we need to realize how much potential power we actually possess. Right now I'm speaking especially to those of you who are part of the '60s generation, because I think that generation has underestimated its own positive power.

One afternoon I saw a Great Dane and a cocker spaniel playing together, and I noticed that the Great Dane seemed a bit afraid of the cocker. Their owners told me that the Dane was raised as a puppy in the presence of the already grown-up spaniel. The Great Dane still thinks of the older dog as dominant, because that's how it started.

Well, the '60s generation started out as a puppy, in a great big complicated world. With very limited experience we tried to make a revolution. We learned that instant revolution doesn't work, but we over-learned that lesson and drew conclusions that restrict us today.

I feel sad when I catch myself thinking cynically about prospects for social change, just like the oldsters I used to criticize back when I was a pup. But we '60s children aren't pups any more. We have much more practical experience today, and many of us have lots of influence and authority. We are now the leadership generation of this planet. And we can multiply our new-found power by connecting with other like-minded individuals, such as those of all generations right here in this room.

Many former hippies will soon be retiring. Will they become irrelevant, substituting rocking chairs for rock and roll? I don't think so, because with improvements in health and life-span, the former flower children can bloom for many more years. And when we retire we will have more time to do what's important to us. In the next few years the '60s generation will have a second chance at making a lasting difference.

Even though it may seem as if our whole country has turned to materialism and the egocentric pursuit of power, sociologist Paul H. Ray has discovered that about 25% of the American people "are idealistic, altruistic, and religiously more liberal than other Americans. He calls them the Cultural Creatives." (Robert L. Hill, The Complete Guide to Small Group Ministry, p. 6) "These creative people have a direct connection to the movements of the 1960s, and they share...values [such as]: ecological sustainability,... women's issues, altruism, self-actualisation, spirituality, social conscience, optimism, integrity,... authenticity..." (Robert L. Hill, The Complete Guide to Small Group Ministry, p. 7) That sounds like the values of many Unitarian Universalists.

Some of us here are involved in, which is a fine example of cultural creativity. Move On is internet based, and it reaches more than 3 million members with every email. They use the Internet to poll people about their priorities, and they make it easy to send messages about public issues and sign petitions. (Recently I signed a petition on line and immediately received a well-written email suggesting how I could use the web to contact my friends about the same issue. It was very intelligently thought out and easy to follow.) Regardless of whether you agree with their policy positions, Move On shows that we can use technology to provide simple structures for expressing our political passions.

Kevin and Natalie Campbell, who attend Mission Peak, are local coordinators of Move On's grass roots organization called "Operation Democracy," which has rallies, house parties, movie nights, and calling committees. Natalie says that "Move On makes it really easy to become an activist." In this overly complicated world, easy is good.

I began my sermon by quoting a book called To a Dancing God, in which Sam Keen prayed for a madness that does no terrible harm. Perhaps the great task of the Woodstock generation was to search for a God who could dance, or to find a dancing vision worthy of reverence. The memory of the '60s challenges us to tune in and turn on to that which is truly sacred. Yes, we must cope with everyday chores - pay the rent, mop the floor, answer emails - but sometimes we need to sail off on a trip upon some "magic, swirlin' ship," "far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow."

The radicalism of the 1960s still bubbles underground, even inside some of us who were not part of the counter culture. We still have the power to feel new passions and to shape new structures. Dylan's tambourine man still calls us to the jingle-jangle morning. John Lennon still dares us to Imagine. Janis, and Jimi, and Jerry Garcia - they all still live. The question is: Are we still alive enough to stand up and dance with them?

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