My Hippy Jesus Problem

[Your regular Pundit is on vacation! This is @Presbyhippy filling in!]

Hello my name is Andrew, and I have problem with hippies and Jesus. That is, no matter how short I cut my hair or how punk is more my generation, I am an unrepentant hippy despite my sanity and sobriety. That is, no matter how much I respect Quakers and Buddhists, Taoists and atheists for the integrity of their worldviews, I am a repentant Jesus Freak despite my intellect and irreverence.

Last weekend, I attended the Forecastle Music Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, that is because I missed my annual date with the Rude Pundit at Bonnaroo, due to my activism supporting the LGBTQ and divestment movements at the big Presbyterian shindig in Detroit (which you may have heard about in my last post for this site), which happened to fall on the same dates as the Roo. On Sunday, since I missed church due a very late Saturday, I decided to wear my “JC [Jesus Christ]: the original hipster” t-shirt (see picture) that I’d recently purchased at the liberal Jesus hippy answer to Burning Man, called the Wild Goose Festival, in Hot Springs, North Carolina.

While I loved the fist-bumps, “great shirt dude” shoutouts, and general spiritual mayhem made by wearing this shirt instead of say, a tie-dye, a paisley tanktop, a Replacements t-shirt (they were playing Sunday), or any other festival-appropriate duds, it cuts to the core of my hippy Jesus problem.

You see, in the phenomenon known as American Jesus as exemplified by a movie of that name recently released and book by that name from a few years ago, anyone can make their move with Jesus the way that the hippies and hipsters do. So, we get: gun-control Jesus and gun-toting Jesus, gay Jesus and gay-bashing Jesus, brown-skinned immigrant Jesus and the Jesus-loving hate-monger meeting him with an unwelcome wagon at the U.S.-Mexico border. Although some illusion about the attainability of an elusive Christian unity has always been implied as a necessary component of our faith, the culture war in America all but forbids it.

Some days, it seems I have something in common in terms of core values with everyone but the Bible beating bigots in the Bible belt. My anti-war, pro-choice, inclusive, civil rights, economic justice Jesus has enough cross-references in the Bible for me to feel I am following Him in all my leftish ways, but if one day, I were to wake up and find out that the deer-hunting, cage-fighting, forced-pregnancy Christians actually were the true Christians, I am pretty convinced I couldn’t stay on the team. 

On Sundays, I pay lip service to unity with my conservative Christian friends, because I want to be open-minded around them in hopes they will be open-minded around me. But there comes a time in those conversations where one of us ends up accusing the other one of serving Satan instead, if only in our private judgmental thoughts. That’s not nice, but it’s honest.

We can trace my hippy Jesus roots back to my parents and life in the early 70s when my preschool and elementary-school consciousness made sense of my family’s devout Christian faith coupled with our unwavering support of the farmworkers, the feminists, and George McGovern or Jimmy Carter. There was a split in the roots or lineage of the hippy-Jesus tree around that time.

Both left and right Christians of the era embraced the hippy clothing and the hippy music, the hippy commune and the hippy coffeehouse. That is, the hip lifestyle that included fantastic folk and rock music or health food and homebirth and happy homegrown DIY-craftiness all but transcended politics. Yet those same hip folks could divide quite contentiously when it came to politics.

On the left side, we were connected to the Beatniks, the Catholic Workers, and the anti-war movement. Writers like the great Thomas Merton or artists like Sister Corita were prolific and eloquent voices for the people from inside Catholic orders. On the right side, what is today known as the evangelical scene embraced the street people and ex-acid heads with such an embrace that once converted they bought into the fundamentalist, simplistic, anti-abortion, apocalyptic faith espoused then by the likes of Hal Lindsay and his book The Late, Great Planet Earth and with too many late 20th and early 21st century correlations to mention.

The original Jesus hippies had an organic appeal to them before they evolved into today’s crunchy conservatives. Today’s Christian hipsters are not that different, and here in Nashville, it’s hard to tell the right-wing hipsters and the left-wing hipsters apart until you start talking books and theology and voting trends. But some of the worst views in our world today about unquestioning support for Israeli and American militarism, wishing for the end times, trying to pray away the gay, disrespecting women and the environment, and damning all other religions or non-religions to an eternal hell, these devilish ideas can be traced in America not just to the far-right evangelical Christians but from within that community to specific trends within hippie Christendom, including those who were identified with the Jesus People in the early 1970s.

Because I cannot shake my hippy dippy Jesus Freak identity, and my tastes in all natural food and psychedelic folk rock music reflect this, it’s important for me in my research about the 60s and 70s to seek out the members of the Jesus revolution in American counterculture who kept their roots on the left side of the split. We are just the kind of people you will meet at a Wild Goose type festival or see stopping the water shutoffs in Detroit and advocating for immigrant reform and worker justice.

From the fog of war and weariness of economic exploitation, it’s sometimes difficult to find Jesus as liberator and life-force and unconditional love and not so much as culture warrior, even though we often need to choose sides in these battles if we are to defend what’s left of goodness and the democratic spirit, as power-mongers of every stripe find new ways to dominate. What love and what hope do we have that love and hope will stand up to all this monstrous and authoritarian insanity? 

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