(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, April 1, 2023)
We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Lyrics from “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell
It’s April Fools’ Day so let’s talk about fools. And hippies.
A fool is someone who can’t reason. The dictionary tells us. A fool is a simpleton. An idiot. We understand the idioms and usage. He made a fool of me. She played the fool. A fool and his money are easily parted. There’s no fool like an old fool.
We know also what a hippie is. I recently watched a movie about hippies called “Jesus Revolution.” It stars Kelsey Grammer, of “Cheers” and “Frasier” renown. When speaking in an interview about his role, Grammer teared-up. As good art does, this movie touches the spirit. And we need this. The pandemic, for one, has reminded us.
So this indie film is worthwhile. It’s grossed about $50 million. A true story, it explores the Jesus movement that came alongside the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It’s named after a Time magazine cover story, “The Jesus Revolution,” which appeared in June 1971, the so-called Summer of Love.
Timothy Leary, a self-styled prophet of psychedelics like LSD, told a generation of youth to “turn on, tune in and drop out,” to chase what turned out to be false promises of a false utopia. The Jesus movement said, “People, you’re chasing all the right things in all the wrong places. Want to blow your mind with something really revolutionary? Meet Jesus.”
Mocked as “Jesus Freaks,” these youth wore the moniker without shame, even when scorned by established churches. “You don’t belong here, hippie.” So these youth went elsewhere, including to someone like Chuck Smith, a pastor, played by Grammer in the movie, who invited them into different spaces.
And while flower children gathered in, say, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district to explore drugs, free love and rock and roll – with accompanying bad trips, STDs, and poor living conditions – Jesus people arrived to help with solutions. Elsewhere, like in Pirates Cove, California, new followers were baptized in the ocean. People noticed.
Entering Holy Week, leading to Easter, it’s good, then, to notice how a 2000-year-old story has continued to speak to the generations. Interestingly, Jesus, who’d likely be cancelled by one crowd or another in our own time, was as anti-establishment as any hippie could imagine.
His followers never get things completely right. But Jesus had no interest in pandering to anyone’s politics or power structures or self-seeking ways. His power was different, one of compassion and love. He taught with authority. When broken people came to him, he healed them. Brokenness, really, was his specialty.
He died horribly, in shame, without friends, money, or reputation, himself now broken for others’ healing. Yet his dying words remained full of grace: “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.” Then, the various historic accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.
Is it all foolish? In a way. Because this is how God loves the world. With foolish abandon. It’s why the Easter narrative, in any era, is both discomforting and compelling. Even someone like Paul, the apostle, a highly-trained scholar who persecuted Jesus’ early followers, later called himself “a fool for Christ.”
Jim Elliot, who worked with indigenous Huaoranis in Ecuador, said it this way. “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” Like Paul, he was eventually martyred for his faith. Life magazine reported that story. Decades later, the docudrama “Beyond The Gates of Splendor” completed it more fully, showing how the blood of martyrs can be the seed of new life.
Which is all to say that there are fools, and then there are fools. In the end, we’re all fools for something. Even spiritual neglect and indifference. Which can also kill you. It’s something to think about on a spring day in April. Or any other day.