On April 25th, 1970, three years after the Summer of Love, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and close friend Bebe Rebozo ate dinner with President Richard Nixon at the White House. After dinner, they went to the screening room, where they watched “Patton” starring George C. Scott in the title role of the famed World War II general. The film had been released 23 days earlier, and it was already Nixon’s sixth time watching it. He was spending way too much time in front of a screen. Kissinger would later say of Nixon “When he was pressed to the wall, […] he would see himself as a beleaguered military commander in the tradition of Patton.”
Within twenty-four hours, this president, who had promised during his campaign to bring an end to the war in Vietnam, authorized the invasion of Cambodia.
As a military decision, it made sense. The Viet Cong and the Army of the Republic of North Vietnam, the two communist foes facing South Vietnamese and US troops, moved back and forth between South Vietnam and its weak and largely ungoverned neighbor.
As a political decision, the invasion was idiotic. Protests against the war had begun years before 1967’s Summer of Love, and had not let up. Two significant events in the fall of 1969 had added fuel to the already raging fire. First, news broke of the My Lai Massacre, the slaughter of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians the year before by US troops. Second, the draft switched to a lottery system that had not been used since World War II, eliminating most deferments. It is no wonder that protests broke out on college campuses where so many were on deferment, places like Kent, Ohio.
The day after Nixon announced the invasion, students began a small protest at Kent State University. Things got out of hand that evening as the bars closed, for closing time is not known for level-heads and clear-thinking. The young men in those bars had every reason to fear that they would soon be sent to war. In the streets, the police faced a drunken mob that included students and bikers. There were false rumors that “radical revolutionaries” were in town.
The following day, Governor Jim Rhodes declared that “We are going to eradicate the problem. We’re not going to treat the symptoms. And these people just move from one campus to the other and terrorize the community. […] They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. Now I want to say this. They are not going to take over campus. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.”
A toxic mix of hyperbole and bravado to be sure, with the inevitable result of hyperbole and bravado.
The following day, the Vietnam War came to America, with the Ohio National Guard murdering four students, two not even protesters, simply undergrads walking from class to class, for the university was open that day. Nine others were injured. No one was closer than 200 feet from the Guardsmen when the shooting began, Guardsmen who had been ramped up with rhetoric and fed with the powerful fuel of fear.
These events touched some of your lives, and now they are part of our national story, albeit a sad part. It was remarkable not because a militarized America had turned on its own. That has been going on as long as we have been a nation and continues to this day. Attacks on civilians had been the daily stuff of the struggle for civil rights. The Kent State massacre was remarkable only because the victims were white, an Eagle Scout, a fraternity boy, an idealistic young woman who said “flowers are better than bullets” the day before she was killed.
In one sense, the murders are Kent State were a reminder that the revolution had indeed come to middle America, that radical revolutionaries were present in Kent, Ohio if by radical revolutionaries you means young people who didn’t want to see young men sent off to a war that most people didn’t understand and that we seemed to be losing.
Two years earlier, at the end of the Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, organizers held a mock funeral on October 6th with exactly that intention. Organizer Mary Kasper would explain in a 2007 PBS documentary that “We wanted to signal that this was the end of it, to stay where you are, bring the revolution to where you live and don’t come here because it’s over and done with.”
What had happened that summer was exhilarating, a sort of anti-mob that mobilized out of nowhere and self-organized in the same way the Occupy movement would come together in 2011, caring for one another, promoting cooperation and peace. San Francisco’s Summer of Love included a Free Clinic and a Free Store to provide basic necessities. But in the end, most had to go back to the real world, with notable exceptions like ex-con and would-be guru Charles Maddox, who started using the last name Manson that summer in Haight-Ashbury.
Did the Hippie movement and the Summer of Love accomplish anything? Maybe Americans were already sick and tired of the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the proxy wars that would continue in Africa and Central America for another two decades. Did they, as Mary Kasper suggested, carry the revolution home with them?
Was this revolution of love yeast in the loaf transforming society, a city on a hill setting an example of community, or just a flash in the pan, sudden and unrepeatable?
The Jesus movement started in one place, a rural backwater that had once been part of the Kingdom of David and Solomon, a region that had non-Hebrew cities since at least that time, when David gave Hiram of Sidon twenty Galilean cities. The region was contested, impoverished, multi-cultural. Movement or mob, those who followed the new prophet from Nazareth would touch lives as they went, but would also challenge the privileged and powerful, ending in their leader’s murder in Jerusalem, one more scapegoat on a cross, the victim of collusion between so-called patriots among his own people and a foreign power.
For a thousand years, Hebrew religious life had been centered on one spot, the location of the First Temple, destroyed in 587 BCE, and the Second Temple, which lasted from 517 BCE to 70 CE, forty years after the state-murder of Jesus. The Hebrews had developed a theology in which Yahweh was literally located at the spot of the Temple, the innermost sanctuary called the Holy of Holies. Jesus would challenge this way of thinking in two different ways, first by predicting that the Temple would be destroyed again, as it eventually was, and second, by claiming that he himself was an embodiment of God. Those who profited from the industry of sacrifice and divine tourism could certainly regard this as a threat.
The Hebrew religious establishment would have to create a new theology after the second temple destruction, after Jews were expelled from what remained of Jerusalem. The followers of Jesus never had that problem. For them, God was not in one place, but in a person and in a Spirit that could be known anywhere. I will be with you always. When you feed the poor, you are feeding me. The Spirit of God was a powerful presence wherever they went. The Jesus community continued to hang out on Solomon’s Porch, a portion of the Temple, for forty years after the death of Jesus, but they were never stuck in that place.
The only book they had was the ancient Hebrew Scripture, but they didn’t need a book. Jesus was the Word, something that in their context meant more than a part of speech or grammar, something that meant order or logic. They did not need static text, for Jesus, risen from the dead, was their Word. They would be appalled at the idolatrous worship of a book that passes for Christianity in so many communities.
The god that Jesus called Abba could not be controlled with pen and ink, was and is too big for one place, is the ground of all being itself, though we’ve done a pretty good job of boxing that divine mystery back in to one building and one hour.
Did that revolution go anywhere? Does ours? Is there even still a revolution, or has the Jesus movement become one more revolution turned into a tool of the powerful?
The Summer of Love and the hippie movement generally were not without problems. Despite recent trends, faithful monogamy seems to be the best option for social stability and child rearing, an evolutionary advantage. Though I am automatically suspicious and philosophically opposed to prohibition of any kind, we have a moral duty to prevent the sort of destruction and addiction that unregulated and powerful drugs can bring, destruction that often takes in the innocent. As I asserted four weeks ago as we began this series, I am a peacenik, but I am not a pacifist. If we fight for our own advantage, we are no better than the worst murderer, but the same is true if we do not fight to protect the oppressed, if we do not intervene when the powerful are destroying the weak, whether that is in Auschwitz-Birkenau or in the streets of Minneapolis. All too often, the media caricature of the hippie was spot on.
But in the end, it was called the Summer of Love. It was made up of ordinary people who saw what was going on around them, believed that it was wrong, and dared to dream of a better world, tried to create a better world. Some had gotten a haircut and returned to a midwestern campus weeks before the death of the hippie’s mock funeral, though more than a few still dared to dream. Some would die in ‘Nam, some would die in Ohio, some would grow old in body, some would grow old in spirit.
A fugitive murderer hears the voice of a liberating God and leads slaves out of Egypt.
An un-credentialed rabbi from the sticks dares to challenge the endless war and limitless greed of the demented Roman ruler, his army of bullies, and the Hebrew leaders who had traded their faith for earthly power.
A monk rebels against corruption in the church, ultimately declaring “Here I stand. I can do no other.”
A pastor risks it all for freedom, telling the world that he has a dream.
Kids gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury or Manhattan’s Zucotti Park.
A child leads a climate march in Blue Hill.
May God still send us dreamers.
Are we part the revolution of divine love, or just cogs in the machinery of greed and death?
We follow a dreamer, a revolutionary, a man who hippies saw as a kindred spirit, a man who taught us about divine love, a love so powerful that it could not be defeated, not by all of Caesar’s armies.
Dare we continue his revolution right here where we live?