Sacred Paths – What the LGBT Community Can Learn From the Hippies

Younger readers surely have heard about what older readers remember: Forty years ago this summer, the hippie movement flowered and anxiety spread about a new ?counterculture.? It was the Summer of Love.
Nobody could figure out exactly what was going on except that there was unrest ? rejection of commercialism and protest about segregation, the subjugation of women and the Vietnam War. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out controversially against that military folly.
The Beatles first performed ?All You Need Is Love? that year and released Sgt. Pepper?s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The era proclaimed sexual liberation. ?Gay Power? was one of that year?s most visible slogans.
That spring?s radio hymn told us, ?If you?re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.? The hippies became a ?tribe,? not by birth, but by separating themselves from a society of shallowness, fakery and violence.
I was in divinity school and decided that I needed to understand what was sacred to this ?tribe? of hippies in order to complete the chapter on spiritual communities in my doctoral dissertation. I went to San Francisco?s Haight-Ashbury. I heard Allen Ginsberg lead a chant and recite a poem in Golden Gate Park. I read everything I could find.
I found out that what was sacred to hippies was love, community, peace and honoring the planet. ?Doing your own thing? was not a selfish activity but a vocation, a gift to the community. Sex was a spiritual adventure, and the idea that it was for producing babies rather than for pleasure was seen as part of the industrial model of productivity, rather than the spiritual sense of divine play.
A 45-page excerpt from my dissertation was published in a professional journal in 1969 as ?God Is Doing His Thing: The Hippie Heresy and Liberalism.? In it I argued that the hippie phenomenon could be an antidote to the authoritarian society.
But consumerism, homophobia and war continue.
What happened? Did the hippies bequeath us anything more than hairstyles? Let me answer with a question: Can anything sacred be popularized in our secularistic culture without its corruption?
Although San Francisco gave birth to the flower children, New York gave birth to the first rock musical, Hair, which, when it went to Broadway, made hippies tolerable and entertaining, if not respectable and safe.
What happened to Hair is a metaphor for what happened to my hope.
I saw one of the 45 performances of Hair in 1967 at the Cheetah in New York before the show moved to Broadway. I was surprised and shaken, almost as if I had encountered a transcendent messenger from God. The play was raw in the sense of being absolutely honest. It portrayed a spiritual power in epic struggle against oppression. In its tribe I saw a model of what religious communities could be.
The play seemed to express that era?s alternate-culture challenge to the dominant culture because the hippie movement, in word, in song and in deed, rejected a culture bent on economic gain to the neglect of spiritual concerns. It chastised a nation more enchanted with technology than personhood. It eschewed a society too scheduled to enjoy the moment and pursued war instead of peace.
When I saw the Broadway production of Hair, I was shocked and angry. Here?s a simple example of the changes I saw. The original was full of sexual energy but had no nude scene. The Broadway version used nudity to titillate, rather than to validate. The pure tribal message of spiritual duty and delight was commercialized into selfish indulgence.
These 40 years later, I worry about the larger culture by which the hippie vision has been trivialized. And I worry that the special spiritual wisdom that we in the LGBT community have gained from the painful experience of exclusion is being submerged by the perverse values of the larger culture. In seeking the acceptance we deserve, we must rise above the selfishness around us. We proclaim our complete humanity when we share and seek to relieve the suffering of others here and everywhere.
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The Rev. Vern Barnet, DMn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each Wednesday.

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