Recently I watched an in-depth documentary series presented by one of the news networks dealing with the Sixties. It was of particular interest to me because I came of age smack dab in the middle of that wild decade, having graduated from high school in ’68. In fact, so much happened in that particular twelve month period it warranted its own exclusive episode. While viewing the various installments I found myself struggling with a wide variety of emotions. I can confirm to my younger readers that to say it was an exciting time to be a teenager is a massive understatement. Things were changing so fast in those heady days it was impossible to keep up with the news flashes. Therefore many of the things I saw in the documentary unearthed memories long buried and forgotten. The good and the bad recollections ran neck and neck throughout the series but eventually the latter of the two took the commanding lead. In my daily Bible readings and studies I’ve been going through the book of Proverbs and I’ve been continually struck not only by its relevance to what went on in the Sixties but also to the far-reaching repercussions of what my generation instigated through our naiveté, ignorance and stupidity. We figuratively opened a Pandora’s Box that can’t be closed up again.
However, there’s no need to unfairly vilify or slander my generation sans proper perspective. We can hold our heads high over many of the issues we took on and the advancements we helped society as a whole to achieve. We saw the inequality that was the status quo in America and felt compelled to collectively do something about it. I grew up in a segregated community but legally-enforced separation never seemed right to me. When my parents took me to the local farmer’s market, for example, I’d notice that the public drinking fountains were labeled as being designated for “whites” and “coloreds.” Even a first grader could tell the same tap water flowed through both faucets so it made no sense whatsoever. Whenever I asked my folks about it they’d just say “that’s the way it’s always been and always will be, son.” So when the president started pushing for a civil rights amendment and the federal justice department finally stepped in to make sure all citizens were treated the same I and the majority of my teen peers exclaimed “It’s about time!” It was a struggle for us to tear down the walls of hatred and bigotry and lives were lost in the movement but we succeeded in opening doors and providing opportunities for non-Caucasians sealed shut since the civil war era. While we Americans still have a ways to go in that area my generation can take a lot of credit for abolishing the racist laws that were so blatantly discriminatory as to be ridiculous.
It was also our “flower power” generation that dared to question the necessity of using warfare and threatening detente tactics as a means to propagate geopolitical agendas and ideologies. Again, context is essential when approaching this subject. I was born during the postwar baby boom when the horrors of worldwide conflict were still fresh in every adult’s mind. There was a palpable enemy out there that would love to wipe us off the face of the earth and if we weren’t vigilant and aware we could find ourselves vaporized in a nanosecond. I was brought up to believe that Communists were the equivalent of today’s ruthless terrorists and they were slowly but surely gaining ground on us. Now, to say that such a mindset was preposterous is to fail to understand and grasp the paranoia that inevitably followed WWII. Mankind had come into possession of weapons that could end all life on the planet and several sovereign nations had them primed and aimed at each other. Every able-bodied male in the USA who turned eighteen either volunteered for or was conscripted into the armed services. To resist the draft was considered treason. That militaristic mentality persisted until my generation noticed that the Korean conflict was nothing more than a deadly standoff and that our escalating involvement in the affairs of Southeast Asia seemed to be headed in the same direction. President Kennedy was not a hawk so we trusted him. When he was brutally murdered it marked a turning point in the attitude of my generation. No matter what you think occurred in Dallas that November afternoon the truth is that most of the teenagers I hung out with smelled a rat. Something sinister had happened to JFK and our trust in government was severed that day. Later on, as we watched the body bags from Vietnam pile up, we came to the same conclusion we had regarding inequality among the races: It had to stop. Our country was making war just to make war, not to promote freedom and we marched and protested until our leaders listened to reason. By taking it to the streets we ended the war and the draft that forced us to take up arms against our neighbor.
There are several other causes my generation fought for like women’s rights and the war on poverty we can be proud of along with the space program and innovative medical research that developed hundreds of life-extending medicines and treatments. But we also explored foolishly and without caution into too many of the immoral and unethical arenas of behavior, unleashing upon the world a host of confusing dilemmas the generations that came after ours are still having to cope with. That’s where the book of Proverbs comes in. God Almighty provided us with all the wisdom we needed to avoid committing the gross errors of judgment that forever tainted the positive changes we accomplished in the Sixties. Yes, we railed against injustice and won. Yes, we confronted the war mongers and were victorious. Yes, we shined spotlights on hypocritical policies that needed to be exposed. But we also demanded absolute, unfettered freedom with no restrictions and history has shown repeatedly that unregulated autonomy never leads to utopia. Quite the opposite, it’s always the road to ruin. We thought we knew better, though. We chose to ignore what Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 repeat for emphasis: “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way that leads to death.” And in 16:2 and 21:2, although it’s rephrased, that truth gets reiterated: “All a person’s ways seem right in his own opinion, but the Lord evaluates the motives.” When the great I AM goes out of His way to repeat Himself one should know it’s important. But we weren’t listening. We didn’t want to.
The phrase “sex, drugs and rock & roll” gets tossed around a lot but two thirds of it encapsulates in a nutshell what my generation did to screw up the Sixties. I excuse rock & roll because the music of any age is innocent. Music is a mirror that reflects the moods, aspirations and concerns of the people and times that inspire it. Music is incorruptible and one of the only pure gifts that God bestows upon His children. While lyrics can be destructive, demeaning and vile the music that supports them is innocuous and offers a delicious hint of the absence of evil that awaits believers in the heavenly kingdom. When I tell folks I spent my years between 14 and 30 in a determined pursuit of a career in rock music to the exclusion of all else they often form an opinion that I must’ve been a free-wheeling brigand. The truth is music saved me from myself. I was born a terribly shy, insecure introvert and had it not been for my overwhelming fascination with putting a band together to create music as a cooperative entity I would’ve probably ended up a hopeless drug addict/alcoholic with no direction and no ambition to find one. Being part of a group forced me out of my shell, positioned me to form close friendships that have endured the decades and demanded I exercise a modicum of self-control over my sinful nature. Musicians who lacked discipline or boundaries in the way they conducted themselves quickly found themselves without a job so I knew I had to impose limits on my tendency to overindulge in the vices that surrounded me. Not because I was a strong, righteous person but because my ability to earn a living as an artist meant more to me than anything else. God knew what He was doing when He placed that particular spark in my soul and I can never thank Him enough for that blessing.
In the matter of sex my generation allowed lust to run amok, sowing destructive seeds that never cease to sprout as ugly weeds across the face of God’s green earth. In the early Sixties some people started insisting that our sexuality was being repressed and stymied by outdated mores. The pill had rendered unwanted pregnancy moot so we should be free to love the ones we’re with, not just the one we love. For teenagers bursting with hormones this was welcome news, indeed. Song lyrics, movies, magazines, TV shows and advertisements promoted promiscuity and even those of us who’d been raised in the church opted to snub what Proverbs had warned us about. 6:25 said, “Do not lust in your heart for her beauty, and do not let her captivate you with her alluring eyes.” We males (Proverbs singled us out) chose not to believe that, as Jesus preached, simply looking upon a woman with carnal desire was the equivalent of committing adultery even though 6:32 plainly states “A man who commits adultery with a woman lacks wisdom, whoever does it destroys his own life.” Instead, we adopted “if it feels good, do it” as our motto, opening the gate that led to the banishment of obscenity laws and making viewing pornography an exercise in free speech. Once that line was crossed it allowed all sexual inclinations to be considered “okay” and the result is that we now have the scourge of easily-accessed porn that clouds the concept of what a normal, loving sex life is. It’s gotten to the point where no young person has a clue about what’s expected of them. Nowadays to teach that all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is a sin is to invite the tag of being a prudish, close-minded bigot being stuck to one’s shirt. My generation has to bear full responsibility for the mess we’ve made in the area of sex. We should’ve paid attention to 22:5; “Thorns and snares are in the path of the perverse, but the one who guards himself keeps far from them.” We didn’t guard ourselves at all. We actively sought perversion out.
Even worse than destroying the sanctity of sex, my generation embraced alcohol and drugs instead of God’s Word and the price civilization is paying for that horrible mistake gets steeper every day. Proverbs pulled no punches about the dangers of intoxicants. If pot, cocaine, LSD and prescription drugs had been around in Solomon’s time they would’ve no doubt been lumped in with alcohol. 20:1 clarified; “Wine is a mocker and strong drink is a brawler; whoever goes astray by them is not wise.” 23:31-35 says, “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. Afterward it bites like a snake, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind will speak perverse things. And you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, and like one who lies down on top of the rigging. You will say, ‘They have struck me, but I am not harmed! They beat me, but it did not know it! When will I awake? I will look for another drink.’” In the Sixties substance abuse became the norm instead of the exception and most of us took the bait to one extent or another. In my case it was primarily marijuana and booze but I dabbled in almost everything I was offered. Alas, they robbed me of my spirit and ambition. As 21:17 warns, “The one who loves pleasure will be a poor person; whoever loves wine… will not be rich.” When I wasn’t playing, writing or recording music I’d usually be self-sedating alone or in the company of other like-minded slackers. 18:1 describes me and a lot of my pals to a tee: “One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.” We wasted hours doing nothing yet we glorified the “freedom” it supposedly gave us. “Sluggards” describes us well. 13:4 instructs, “The appetite of the sluggard craves but gets nothing…” and 15:19 confirms that “The way of the sluggard is like a hedge of thorns…” But the most ominous of all comes in 21:25, “What the sluggard desires will kill him…” We senselessly ignored the wisdom of the ages and, furthermore, we passed our affection for escaping reality down to our offspring. And every day drug addiction cuts short another precious life. We failed to learn our lessons.
In essence, we didn’t just rebel against things that needed correction; we rebelled against anything that even vaguely resembled authority. 17:11 cautions that “An evil person seeks only rebellion…” so, therefore, we reaped a lot of evil. No one over thirty could be trusted and they certainly couldn’t tell us what to do. We had all the answers. What we didn’t have was wisdom. Proverbs 1:20-23 went unnoticed by my generation: “Wisdom calls out in the street, she shouts loudly in the plazas; at the head of the noisy streets she calls, in the entrances of the gates in the city she utters her words: ‘How long will you simpletons love naiveté? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If only you will respond to my rebuke, then I will pour out my thoughts to you and I will make my words known to you.’” Too many like me callously abandoned our Christian upbringing that emphasized the words in 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.” We thought we understood all we needed to perfectly so we disregarded the likes of 10:17; “The one who heeds instruction is on the way to life, but the one who rejects rebuke goes astray.” The sad thing is that the solid truth was right there in the Bible the whole time. 17:24 says, “Wisdom is directly in front of the discerning person, but the eyes of a fool run to the ends of the earth.” In other words, we sought spiritual enlightenment and guidance via mystics and gurus near and far while neglecting the unfiltered wisdom that gathered dust on the bookshelf. 19:20 tells us, “Listen to advice and receive discipline, that you may become wise by the end of your life” and 19:27 is crystal clear: “If you stop listening to instruction, my child, you will stray from the words of knowledge.” Stray we did.
Did we have fun? You betcha. Yet the huge downside is that my generation was presented with a golden opportunity to put what Jesus preached into action and we blew it by turning our backs on the scriptures. When I see footage of hippies frolicking in the nude and copulating indiscriminately I don’t smile, I cringe because I’m guilty. When I see films depicting stoned sluggards tripping on hallucinogens and making complete fools of themselves I don’t feel pride, I hang my head because that was me. I was in on all that nonsense and I didn’t do anything to stop it. I just went along with the crowd because I wanted to “do my thing.” When I look at the mess our country’s in I can’t act surprised. 11:14 states that “When there is no guidance a nation falls…” When all’s said and done Proverbs 30:11-14 spells it out better than I ever will: “There is a generation who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers. There is a generation who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not washed from their filthiness. There is a generation whose eyes are so lofty, and whose eyelids are lifted up disdainfully. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords and whose molars are like knives to devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among the human race.” Sounds like my generation. We touted peace, harmony and love but we were phonies. All we really wanted to do was please ourselves. I’m so ashamed.