PUTTING HIPPIES IN A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

by Jnana Hodson

Regular readers here at the Red Barn know my endeavors to better elucidate the hippie outbreak and its legacy on both the American experience and global culture. As I’ve said, many of us who were caught up in the groundswell have long lived in a kind of psychological denial – something that’s had disastrous impact on public policy and, for some of us, our personal development as well.

The closest parallel I’ve seen in history comes in mid-1600s Britain through the heady years of its civil war and Interregnum before the Restoration. This was a time of radical awakening, apocalyptic faith, youthful yearning, vast social change, and crushed opportunity. Trying to make sense of it all in following its course is mindboggling, at best, as wave after wave of varied political, economic, and religious parties swelled, shattered, scattered, and resurfaced in new form. Even placing an individual within the action can be difficult, especially when the identities overlapped, as they often did, frequently without formal membership, and important voices commonly leave us little biographical substance to draw on today. Christopher Hill’s ambitious overview is aptly titled, The World Turned Upside Down.

This is also the time that the Quaker movement, or what coalesced as the Society of Friends, emerged from the ruins as one after another of the factions were crushed. As someone who became a Friend as a consequence of my hippie encounters, the English history has had a personal fascination, even before learning of my Quaker ancestry within it.

Now I’m delighted – and a tad embarrassed, actually – to discover another Friend who shares that dual investigation. It wasn’t that he was unknown to me; I’d read many of his other books, but had somehow overlooked Douglas Gwyn’s Seekers Found: Atonement in Early Quaker Experience (Pendle Hill Books, 2000). OK, the title gives no clue of the hippie angle, and the Seekers are commonly cast as yet one more radical group – a turning point once its members rallied around George Fox when he carried his mission into northern England in 1652. My focus had been more on the Mennonite-infused General Baptists and their previous influence on Fox, especially through Elizabeth Hooten. Oh, my, we can get technical. Besides, many hippie-influenced Quakers simply love that word “seeker” used in a religious context, and that had somehow made me wary. Still, in conversations last summer, Doug left me realizing I needed to find out what else he was up to in this angle.

Wow, am I glad! His opening chapter rips straight through the hippie explosion, with a special focus on the streams it’s stimulated in religious identity and the consequences. It’s not that he’s unsympathetic. We were both at Indiana University in the freewheeling time of protest, and he went on to Berkeley, California, as pastor of its Friends Church. What he presents is a profound, nuanced examination that needs to be pondered in its fullness, along with its applications today. But I’ll offer this excerpt as a starting point:

… much of the resentment, conflict, and occasional violence generated by our current culture wars emerges from our own unexamined internal shadows. If we would seek a fuller vision of the truth, we must also seek one another. Religious and moral reconstruction in America will necessarily involve some kind of atonement across present battle lines. Toward that reconciliation and restoration of covenantal wholeness, it is important to remember that the dialectic of seeking and finding, of standing still and wandering, is greater than any of us.

If anything, this has become all the truer in the years since this was published.

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