Tony Cummings looks back at the 1960s and finds an inheritance which is still with us today.
George Harrison, in white robes and sitar in hand, tells the crowd transcendental meditation is the way to peace. Timothy Leary exhorts us to drop acid, 'Turn on, tune in and drop out." And all over the Western world millions upon millions of young women escape from the stifling, out-dated conventions of old, take the pill and turn sex into a recreational pursuit. The '60s has seared indelible images on the souls of all those who lived through those tumultuous years of cultural revolution. But those years have also left an inheritance young as well as old can see. It is, after all, but a small step from the stoned hippy of yesteryear to the blissed out clubber of today; the pornography trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover to the dirty movies of Channel 5; the rebellion of duffle-coated students drinking the intoxicating wine of throwing insults at establishment to the hate of the anti-capitalism mob throwing Molotov cocktails at the police; from the frightened teenager clutching an out-of-wedlock baby to the tiny, blood-soaked corpse awaiting removal to the abortion clinic incinerator.
In terms of music of course the '60s were very much a golden era. The rise of the British beat groups; the evolvement of rhythm and blues into the classic soul sound; the emergence of the folk-orientated protest singers; and the relentless development of record companies into astute corporations able to market the LP record in unimagined quantities, all ensure the '60s are viewed as a pivotal era in the development of popular music. Literally thousands of books have been subsequently published documenting '60s music. Strangely though, none of the secular histories of pop give a single line to the onmusical movement that began in California amongst former hippies and dropouts converting to Christianity. But more of that later.
History, as more than one thinker has observed, is cyclic. Rather than a flat line of events, our time and space world revolves endlessly down the millennia. You only have to read the book of Kings to see humankind's uncanny tendency to repeat, over and over, the sins and mistakes of previous generations. Christian poet Steve Turner observed that "history repeats itself...it has to...nobody listens." Unless we do indeed begin to ponder the mistakes of past generations, and then endeavour to find strategies that take us a different way from our predecessors, we will be little more than hamsters on a play wheel, legs furiously pumping in an exhausting push to move forward, but never moving out of our cage. But, of course, we are not hamsters. As the book of Kings reveals, though most generations will monotonously repeat the same sins of their fathers, a sovereign, mighty and loving God, intimately concerned with the affairs of man, gives spiritual wake up calls to leaders prepared to listen to his still small voice, to break the circles of history. Revival breaks in to interrupt the cycles of sin.
In Britain, the '60s' poisonous godlessness reaped the inevitable whirlwind. The hippies and dropouts became accountants and parents but ones who felt the main things they needed to pass on to their customers and kids were their love of rock 'n' roll and their hatred of religious hangups and moral boundaries. So by the '80s another generation had emerged to make money and have children. Marriage breakup was epidemic but, they argued, one parent could do the same job as two. The world was a tougher, more brutal, more selfish place...but hey, they had new technology. They had more wealth, more entertainment and more ways of shutting out the anguished cries of the Two Third's World have-nots but the valium and self-help gurus couldn't quite take away the inner demons of doubt and emptiness. And now here we are in the first flush of the new millennium. My teenage daughter went to the Ministry Of Sound party next to the Millennium Dome but less than a year on that huge money extravaganza looks like those musicians playing on the decks of the Titanic as the ship slips beneath the icy ocean. London, which in the '60s taught the world how to swing, has become a centre for teenage homelessness. Woodstock, once a rock music ideal, became in the '90s an icon for corporate greed where young girls were raped in the mosh pit. And the Church Of England's call for the '90s to be a "Decade Of Evangelism" announced at the end that more people had left the Church than had joined. Dylan sang, "Times They Are A Changin'" back in the '60s but for those who listen to him today, they are adamant they've changed for the worse. Even the things that new technology have given us to enhance our modern lives come at a price. Bill Gates grows rich to the point of obscenity while in Sudan or Afghanistan children die of starvation. Spin doctors tell us we're progressing to a golden age while the smouldering rubble of Ground Zero tells us something different. The idealistic innocence of the child of the '60s has become the kiddy porn victim of today's Internet Generation.
We blew it, and blew it bad, in the '60s. We thought we knew better than our parents and the stuffy pronouncements of our out-of-touch churchmen. We howled derision at Mary Whitehouse and told the next generation to take the pill and be happy. But that generation has glimpsed the abyss of despair. Nirvana spoke to millions with their songs of pain but when even heroin couldn't dull the hurt and Kurt Cobain blew out his brains he left behind not just great rock music but a slew of lawsuits with band members and corporations fighting for record royalties. Our land is blighted and broken. But there is still hope.
We as Christians have a great secret. That if we will humble ourselves and seek God's face and pray, God may yet come and heal our land. The Church, battered though she is, remains alive. Much of that life, as Cross Rhythms has chronicled this last decade and more, is expressed in youth. The Tribe buck the trend of humanistic education to take their Message To Schools and lead thousands to Christ in Manchester. Soul Survivor have taught a young generation to worship with Matt Redman's heartfelt prayer, "Send Revival, Start With Me". Big Ideas call on Britain's youth to ignite in radical discipleship. And now Julie Anderson burns with a vision, TheCall England, to see Britain's Christian youth join together in July for a day of prayer and fasting for this nation.
It is not, I believe, a coincidence that the visionary prayer warrior given by God the mandate to birth TheCall England was a child of the '60s who once worked with the Beatles, hung out with the Stones and drank deeply from the poison chalice of permissiveness. Julie Anderson is passionate that the youth of Britain don't follow the same hypnotic tune of the '60s. "All We Need Is Love" is what the Beatles sang but Julie knows, if anyone should, that that love won't be found in Eastern religion, or transitory sexual partners.
Back in the '60s everything changed for the youth of Britain and America. But in one US state, California, late '60s youth culture took an unexpected turn. Fuelled by the prayers of a handful of intercessors, the Holy Spirit began to move in power amongst young people. Tens of thousands dumped their LSD and mantras and turned instead to a radical new message which said, if you follow the resurrected Christ you will find the love and meaning every human heart craves. Tragically, this Jesus People revival, as it was dubbed by an intrigued mass media, was received by many in the established churches of America not with excitement and thanksgiving that God had swept thousands of teenagers into his Kingdom, but with suspicion and hostility. The American Church had its own culture of three piece suits and church hymnals and this great intake of grubby converts with their kaftans and rock music were made to feel unwelcome in the conservative church sanctuaries. For the sake of hair cut conformity a golden opportunity for rank-and-file churches and the rock loving counter-culture to be properly integrated was lost. The prejudice and short-sightedness of the established churches short circuited the revival and the multitude of hairy Jesus-lovers were forced to start their own churches (which they did with significant success in places like Cosa Mesa - Calvary Chapel - and Chicago - Jesus People USA) or more tragically, embittered by their rejection by the churches, mutate into cults (the Children Of God).
The Jesus People revival of the late '60s/early '70s did leave a major musical legacy, though one ignored, as I've mentioned, by pop/rock historians -the establishment of contemporary Christian music. American religious radio, desperate to find a new format as it became clear that their long established broadcasting formula of recorded sermons, sacred solos and hymns could no longer attract a sizeable listenership, began to play the new music. Then, in the sanctuary itself, worship began to reflect the songs and rhythms of the new young singers and songwriters. As we all know, contemporary Christian music has grown and grown.
When one gazes at the unlovely corporate manoeuvrings and marketing foolishness of the worst aspects of the Nashville CCM industry, one might argue that today's multi-million dollar scene has more to do with American capitalism's undeniable gift in business than any sovereign work of God. But such a perspective ignores a reality - that God moves in all the affairs of men, even in the realms of boardroom takeovers and airbrushed teen pop. When, in the '60s, Larry Norman wrote "Sweet Sweet Song Of Salvation" and saw it end up being published in a hymnal, God was in there somewhere. Similarly today, when we find Delirious? songs being performed by Southern gospel groups, Kerrang magazine raving about P.O.D., pop radio playing Mary Mary's exhortation to praise God, and the whole Church singing songs like "Send Revival, Start With Me", it is something that God is doing. And if, in 2002, this poor and torn nation of ours is to turn from its delusory Highway To Heaven and onto the narrow path that leads to eternal life, revival must indeed start with us.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.