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Woodstock, Lingering Memories

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Volume 19 Issue 9


Woodstock. It happened on Max Yasgur’s farm in upstate New York forty years ago, in August of 1969. According to Pew research, if you are under the age of 30, you likely do not know what I am talking about.

Woodstock was a huge outdoor rock concert that brought together an estimated five hundred thousand young people, who for three days drank and drugged themselves into an oblivious “love-in” with little regard to morals.

The concert planners lost control, the crowd that exceeded all expectations crashed the gates, and the party was on, despite the rain, the mud, and the trash that contributed to the chaos. Amazingly, it was relatively peaceable. Peace, music, moving and grooving… that was the program; and the top rock bands of the day, Hendrix, Joplin, Stone, Baez, The Who, and dozens more played on and on into the days and into the nights. It was an unprecedented moment.

In 1969 I was pastoring a church in Muskegon, Michigan. I was 25 years old and had been pastoring three years. My wife and I were on the front end of the boomer generation, and by the late 60’s one in three of all the people living in the USA were in their 20s. It was a youth explosion. By comparison, today only one in seven are in their 20s. Micki and I were into coffee shop ministry, bus ministry, crashing concerts ministry, hippy ministry and let’s-have-some-church ministry. We ministered to families torn apart by the Vietnam War and to mixed-up young people who were trying to find their way through the opening moments of the sexual revolution that had developed during the sixties. A new dark spirit had gripped our nation, and it was in a confrontation with righteousness.

Woodstock portrayed a generation of young people who had been captured by the notion that all the world’s problems could be solved by love, with music as the synergist. “Peace, not war” was the cry. “Just love one another” was the solution. The youth of my generation thought they had a better idea. On the surface it sounded good: check out, get real, no rules, make love. The battle cry was “Peace, brother…peace!” Millions, who were often referred to as beatniks and hippies, participated in this coast-to-coast rebellion.

I agree with those who see that period as a time when we were very close to creating a monolithic consciousness of purpose, both socially and politically. From my youthful perceptions, formed in part by a short-lived career as a disc jockey and as a matriculating student at Indiana University and because of countless hours spent on the shortwave radio and from hanging out at antiwar rallies, I could see and feel a certain singularity trying to emerge. But I could not relate to the methods of my own generation, because, in spite of all the fanfare, the message lacked substance. Peace on Earth and love for all were right ideas, of course, but the Woodstock generation were approaching those ideals without a foundation and without truth.

What I saw with my own eyes was a generation who thought you could love without having any rules about love. Free love and recreational sex became the moral force of the day. And by “moral force” I mean that it was so cool to be immoral or amoral that all other notions were discounted as old school and stupid. Amoralness, they said, was the path to love and peace. Their notion of “right” was to be without morals. If it feels good, they argued, what could be wrong with that? More love was the solution to everything. But what was lacking was the responsibility that comes with love. People needed commitment, but they were served up one-night-stands and left with dark memories of emptiness and forgotten names. Society’s solution was abortion. But abortion never took away the scars or the pain. Make no mistake: it was an evil spirit that came “rapping, gently rapping at my generation’s door,” to paraphrase Edgar A. Poe.

I confess that this “sixties” perspective taints my thinking somewhat, but what I am seeing today is very similar to what I lived out in my youth. There is spiritual corruption and darkness attached to the notion that all that is wrong in the world, the evil, the hatred, the religious differences, let’s say, can be altered or silenced by simply ignoring all issues while merely loving one another or creating a mosh-pit of empty-headed jump-for-joy music. Such is the idea behind the thinking of those who propose that if the Church can but be smart enough, cool enough, modern enough, and progressive enough to eliminate all absolutes, all doctrine, and all convictions, then we may expect all the world to love us and we to love them until all the world at last is at peace. As for me, I’ve heard it all before. Such thinking ignores the complexities of, let’s say, sin, demons, abuse, criminal behavior, greed, lust, hatefulness, pride, ambition or the vicissitudes of life in general.

I reject a Woodstock approach to solving the world’s problems. Or a Woodstock philosophy as an approach to church, for that matter. The rock concerts with all their emotion, all the high ideals, and all the dancing and free love did not end the Vietnam War. It did not build lives. It did not save the soul. Fortunately many left Woodstock and the “mashups” of the fifties. They cut their hair, washed the Hindu markings off their faces, put on suits, got an education, applied right thinking to their lives, took wedding vows, and built families and businesses.

I remember how much like anarchists my generation felt they were; but without substance there was no possibility of bringing peace to the world. They were not anarchists; they were foolish and unlearned. It is impossible to build a society or a church that is good and holy on philosophies based on meaninglessness. Jesus did not offer us salvation abstractly (Luke 13:3). In other words, if there is no repentance, then there is no deliverance; if no morals then no happiness; if no doctrine, then no stability. The church should not be fearful of holiness, doctrine, or separation, for such is what Christ came to give us: grace through which we are forgiven of sin, the Holy Ghost whereby we are empowered to live above sin, and His love because of which we are determined to show forth the difference He has made in our lives. A city on a hill cannot be hid.

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