My Summer of Love

Grow up repressed, uptight, depressed.

Summer 1962
Read the Beat classic,
Ferlinghetti’s “I am perpetually waiting for a rebirth of wonder.”

My first day in Berkeley,
Go to North Beach, hang out with the Beats.

the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Go to my first protest.

At my student co-op,
Two graduate students
Reinterpret the Christian myths I had rejected in high school.

Spring ‘63
James Baldwin speaks on campus.
Not caring who sees
Leave with tears streaming down my face.
First time I’ve cried since childhood.

Read everything Baldwin has written.

Christmas vacation,
Decide to get involved in the civil rights movement.
The Lucky Stores shop-in,
The Sheraton Palace sit-in,
The Auto Row demonstrations.
Protesting hiring discrimination.
All victorious.

A year in Dallas
Integrate the Piccadilly Cafeteria
Gather canned goods for Mississippi Freedom Summer
Go to the last leg of the march from Selma to Montgomery.
After we stop for gas,
Look over my shoulder

Northaven Methodist Church
Single Adults Group.
Produce “After the Fall” and “The American Dream.”
Take part in an Esalen-style workshop in Austin.
Still a virgin, the foot massage is pure ecstasy.

September ‘65
Return to my student co-op in Berkeley.
Drugs are everywhere.
Read Varieties of Religious Experience,
The Tibetan Book of the Dead,
Timothy Leary’s advice,
Go backpacking in Yosemite,
Drop LSD,
Feel as one with the universe,
Never the same again.

Become immersed in the human potential movement.
Study humanistic psychology.

On weekends hang out on Haight Street,
Make fun of folks on the Grey Line bus tour who gawk at us,
Listen to the San Francisco Sound.
My favorite scene is the Avalon Ballroom on Sunday night.
It seems more authentic.

The Counter Culture liberates me.
Learn how to have fun,
Go with the flow.

June ‘66
Four-day conference on LSD at UC Extension, San Francisco
With Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Huston Smith, and others.
Send my notes to Dr. Bob Beavers, my former boss,
Who uses them for a lecture at Southwestern Medical Center.

While walking across the Pacific School of Religion campus,
See a friend from Dallas.
He introduces his companion, the school’s Placement Officer,
Who tells me PSR has an existentialist psychologist on its faculty.

January 1967
The underground newspaper, the Oracle, calls for
“A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In”
In Golden Gate Park
To unify the political radicals and the hippies.
Already demonstrating against the Vietnam War,
I agree completely.

A wonderful event.
What I remember most
Allen Ginsberg chanting OM
As the sun sets.

That semester, as chair of the co-op’s Education Committee,
Invite Charles McCoy from the Pacific School of Religion to speak.
After the event, we chat.
When he learns of my history with the Church,
And my interest in “coffee house ministry,”
He suggests I apply to PSR.

In my application, I say I want to “organize communities of faith, love, and action,”
To integrate the personal, the spiritual, the social, and the political.
Which is what I’ve been trying to do ever since.

That summer,
Sign up for the University’s experimental Residence College.
200 students, no grades, no requirements.
Someone nominates me to serve as Co-coordinator.
I’m elected.

One event is unforgettable.
A panel discussion on civil rights features Ron Dellums,
Then a city councilman.
During the discussion
From the back of the audience
A young, charismatic black man from Oakland speaks.
He’s furious about police brutality.
His name is Huey Newton.
Less than six months before he and others had formed the
Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

Read The Politics of Experience by R.D. Laing,
The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich,
Coming of Age in America by Edgar Friedenberg.
Write a paper on those books.

Judy Wheeler from New York comes to research us.
I welcome her.
She buys a case of wine.
Great discussion.
Take her to her hotel.
She invites me to her Greenwich Village apartment.

Hitchhike to New York.
Driving through the Holland Tunnel
Open the sunroof of the VW bus
Stand on the bed
Scream at the top of my lungs.

The first night,
Judy leaves the door to her bedroom cracked open,
But I sleep on the couch.
The second night
She seduces me.

How fitting that I have my first sexual experience
During the Summer of Love
With a woman nine years older than me.
A great introduction to sex.
God bless you, Mrs. Robinson.
Just released, The Graduate nails it.

During the day Judy goes to work.
I write “An Evaluation of the Residence College”
For the student newspaper
As they requested.
It reads, in part:

By the end of the summer, a very large number of students had…come to reject… the dehumanizing, alienating world of higher education,..the emphasis…upon behavioral performance,… [and] the values, worldviews, and procedures undergirding most American institutions … all woven one into the other….

The entire education experience…seems to be extremely well-designed to graduate reliable cogs in the marvelous machine of unparalleled material progress…. The essence of our critique is that America is spiritually decadent….
Creative expression of one’s true self, whether in art, thought, or personal relationships, is not nurtured…. Inner strength is seen as a threat; so the ground for a stable sense of autonomy is undercut…. Our educators demonstrate little concern for the souls of their students even though they are in the very process of inflicting enormous damage upon those souls….

So much is made of usefulness that man himself is reduced to a mere instrument….

What is needed is encouragement of integrity, rather than dishonesty; … appreciation of the remarkable breadth of human creativity, rather than merely the powers of the intellect; illumination of the value of freedom, rather than the expediency of submission; nurturance of flexible autonomy, rather than brittle automatons; … ecstasy, as well as rational self-understanding; education, rather than manipulation; love, rather than mistrust….

At the seminary that fall,
My only chapel service
Consists entirely of the words and music of Bob Dylan.
The school President is not happy.
I did not read from Scripture.

Later that semester,
For my Worship and the Arts class,
A 90-minute piece of total theater
In the sanctuary.
Inspired by Nietzsche.
We call it “A Sort of Modern-Day Dionysian Rite.”
Invite the Berkeley community.
Black out the windows
For the light show.
Two students from UC
Wearing bathing suits
Covered in fluorescent paint
Dance under a blacklight.
The School President thinks they’re naked.
We place mattresses on the floor
Bring out wine, fruit, cheese, and bread.
Invite everyone to get comfortable.

The next day the student body President
Proposes to the School President
A special service
To re-consecrate the sanctuary.
He declines.

1967 ends with great enthusiasm and hope.
1968 hits and reality bites back.
Personally, if I could, I’d go back to 67.


NOTE: This is a slightly edited version of the 8/14 post.

The Anti-Trump Obsession

The preoccupation with Trump’s threat to democracy is worse than a distraction. It threatens democracy, according to “Trump Isn’t a Threat to Our Democracy. Hysteria Is,” by Samuel Moyn and David Priestland in today’s New York Times.

They argue that Trump’s “threat to our liberal freedoms and institutions” is not “the overwhelmingly important political issue” we face. Rather, “underlying social and economic problems” are “the real source of danger…and only more economic fairness and solidarity can keep populists like him out.”

Even if Trump wants to seize power unconstitutionally  “there is no reason to think he could succeed.”

The more serious risk is the counterproductive impact of exaggerating the threat.

Excessive focus on liberal fundamentals, like basic freedoms or the rule of law, could prove self-defeating. By postponing serious efforts to give greater priority to social justice, [that approach] treats warning signs as a death sentence, while allowing the real disease to fester….

[That obsession] often exacerbates the social and international conflicts it seeks to resolve. This approach to politics threatens to widen the already yawning gulf between liberal groups and their opponents, while distracting from the deeply rooted forces that have been fueling right-wing populist politics, notably economic inequalities and status resentments.

Moyn and Priestland believe market fundamentalism is “helping to destroy the social mobility and economic opportunity that underpins a well-functioning democracy.” Given that reality,

a dysfunctional economy, not lurking tyranny, is what needs attention if recent electoral choices are to be explained — and voting patterns are to be changed in the future. Yet there is too little recognition of the need for new direction in either party. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York recently declared that the Democrats have merely failed to get their message across…. Those who act as though democracy is constantly on the precipice are likely to miss the path that leads not simply to fuller justice but to true safety.

The Trump soap opera is addictive. No scriptwriter could have imagined the absurdity. Exactly how the System’s administrators will usher him out of the White House will be interesting.

But every minute I indulge in the latest “breaking news” is another minute that I do not try to do what I can to address those “deeply rooted forces that have been fueling right-wing populist politics.”

Many factors contributed to Trump’s victory. But one key factor is that many white racists and others with racist tendencies forget or don’t realize that they are “pawns in a game.” To counter those manipulations, we need to illuminate how the game is played, and then redesign the rules.

A Rational Foreign Policy

American mainstream media often report that leaders of other countries aggravate foreign conflicts to consolidate their power. Rarely do they apply that same analysis to the United States.

Identity, both personal and national, is often based on opposition to “the other.” We worship Saviors, like Obama, and we scapegoat Demons, like Trump — or vice versa — and identify with supporters of the Savior over against supporters of the Demon, whom we dismiss as hopeless, irredeemable, deplorables whose needs we can ignore.

The same binary approach applies to foreign policy. We take sides and support the good guys against the bad guys. Why do we take sides in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or the Sunnis against the Shiites? Do those conflicts threaten the survival of the United States?

Did Communism really threaten Capitalism? Why did Kennedy exaggerate the nuclear power of the Soviet Union? Does North Korea really pose a threat to the United States or our allies, since they know an attack would be suicidal?

How much of a threat are “radical Islamist terrorists”?  With our bombing, don’t we create more terrorists than we kill? Didn’t England survive the I.R.A.? Haven’t domestic terrorists killed more Americans than Islamists have? Why do we call the former a crime and the latter an act of terror?

The decision to declare a “war on terror,” rather than treat those acts as crimes, was fateful. The result is a self-perpetuating military conflict that appears to be never-ending. A global Marshall Plan to fight poverty would be far more productive.

Pledging to stop seeking regime change and apologizing for past efforts would help as well. Russia, Iran, and North Korea have good reason to be paranoid.

The mainstream commentary on North Korea offers some sign of hope. Numerous pundits have acknowledged that we may need to accept some North Korean nuclear capacity, rather than demanding that they eliminate it entirely.

But the political is personal. So long as we base our individual identity on opposition to enemies, we will be vulnerable to being manipulated by appeals to our national identity. Once we demonize, the more easily we demonize.

Affirming our membership in the human family offers more potential

Then perhaps we could declare an end to the “war of terror.”

Korea: Another Manufactured Crisis

The System’s administrators love to distract people with manufactured crises and Donald Trump is a master distractor. His “fire and fury” threat to North Korea is the latest example. The FBI’s remarkable pre-dawn raid of Paul Manafort’s house is a far greater threat to Trump.

North Korea is not going to initiate a military attack on South Korea, Guam, or the United States. Their primary concern is their own survival. Any such attack would be suicidal. They are bizarre, but they are not irrational. They would not have lasted more than 60 years if they were.

Under President Clinton, they negotiated the Agreed Framework. Under the terms of that  agreement, they stopped plutonium production in exchange for economic benefits. Then President Bush terminated further talks, over the objection of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Then the U.S. learned that North Korea was violating the agreement by producing enriched uranium. Rather than negotiate a new agreement, the Bush Administration blew up the Agreed Framework, the Obama Administration avoided the issue, and here we are.

Despite his ambiguous, irresponsible rhetoric and the urging of people like Senator Lindsay Graham, Trump’s not going to launch a preemptive attack on North Korea. Not even Steve Bannon wants that. Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans and many Americans would die, and the United States would become a pariah on the world stage. There’s even some risk China would send troops to North Korea.

Hopefully all the talk of forcing North Korea to totally relinquish its nuclear capacity is a negotiating tactic. A more likely goal is to get them to stop testing, in exchange for a Korean War armistice and multiple economic benefits

In the meantime, cable news will sell more advertising and Trump will continue to divert attention away from the “witch hunt.”

101 Gratitudes

Earlier today, Dan Brook told Mike Larsen and me about “100 Blessings,” a Jewish tradition. The idea is to acknowledge at least 100 blessings each day. It seems like a good exercise. That comment prompted me to jot down the first 100 gratitudes that came to mind. I stopped at 101.  With apologies to those individuals who did not emerge this time, here they are:

No nerve pain for many days
Good health
My home
Getting into a routine
Free Senior Center meals
Free Muni
Tues. Food Bank bags
Malick movies
Bob Dylan
My doctor
The exercise room
Laundry in-home
The resistance to Trump
My clean apartment
San Francisco
Northern California
I enjoy writing
The book, Bob Dylan and Philosophy
The Book of Joy
Bonnie inviting me to tea
Thrive East Bay
My new tea pot
My new tea kettle
My large screen TV
My sound system
Glide Church
Fellowship Church
The moon
The Holy Spirit
Bertrand Russell
My sunflowers
My recliner
Getting good sleep lately
My new mattress
Peace and quiet here
The view from my window
Kale salad for lunch
Rob’s invite to the Summer of Love event
My Western Park neighbors
The painting in front of me
The Dylan poster
The Ghandi mosaic
My mother’s guidance
My hair
Economic security
Cascade Falls
Mt. Tam
Jeff’s invitation
My curiosity
My wisdom
My compassion
SF restaurants
Music at the Saloon
Mother Nature
The Earth Community
Physical contact
Emotional intimacy
Negative ions
The ocean
The Arboretum
Land’s End
Mary Chapin
The New York Times
The New York Review of Books
Anderson Cooper
Rachel Maddow
Google News
Google search engine
Dick Price
Richard Koogle
Steve Sears
Gil Lopez

A Higher Love

Sam Shephard’s death prompted me to think about Terrence Malick, who directed Days of Heaven, which featured Shephard. I had not heard of any films by Malick since his The Tree of Life (2011), which I loved, as I have all of his films. That thought led me to, where I discovered that Malick has recently made To the Wonder (2012), Knight of Cups (2015), and Song to Song (2017), all of which received fairly weak reviews. Roger Ebert, however, in the last movie review he ever filed, gave it more than three out of four stars. I agree with Ebert.

The film, which is pure Malick with its hypnotic cinematography and music, reminded me of the book Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Thinking), which my sister gave me for my birthday. Edited by Peter Vernezze and Carl J. Porter, the book consists of sixteen essays by various philosophers. The lead essay is “Planet Waves: Dylan’s Symposium” by Doug Anderson.

Anderson posits that Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves, as did Plato’s dialog “Symposium,” explores

what love means, [with] each song manifesting a different possibility…. The Symposium’s story of love [also] develops from basic descriptions of human physical attraction to accounts of more spiritual and intellectual attraction…. Dylan sings of a similar sort of ascension….

As do Plato and Socrates, Dylan must abandon other relationships when they interfere with his one true love. This sounds callous to the champions of agape and traditional marriage, who want to portray the commitment to poetic creation as selfish. That strikes me as “sour grapes” at best. Notice that we seem willing to accept the celibacy of those who “marry” God, but we want to denigrate those who are wedded to realizing beauty and truth….

Music, poetry, and philosophy are not the useless practices that guidance counselors tell us they are; they are the divine gifts of those who love in the highest way possible….

Malick’s film, which features a priest who struggles with his faith, addresses the same issue: the quest for a higher love. Lord knows I’ve fallen short, but I share that pursuit. That’s why in “Reflections On My 73rd Birthday,” I said “humanity is my family” and “my true love is truth, justice, and beauty,” which “will always be my my side.”

So I plan to watch Malick’s two more recent films as well, even though they received even weaker reviews. I sense he’s a soul mate who will in-trance and inspire me once again.

Mind and Body

Collage by Eric Edelman

The New Testament scholar, John Dominic Crossan, argues that spirit is necessarily enfleshed and flesh is necessarily enspirited. This perspective affirms the human body unequivocally, and, it seems to me, implies that after death, no soul migrates to Heaven, nor does the mind reincarnate — though our legacy lives on, as does Life.

Making Memories,” by Israel Rosenfield and Edward Ziff, a review of Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich in the August 17, 2017 issue of the New York Review of Books, considers recent neurological studies that seem to support Crossan’s view — though the review does not address Crossan’s point directly.

The review reports:

Essential to the brain’s creation of memories is that all of our memories are subjective—they are created from the point of view of the individual who is remembering. We have a sense of self because we have a preexisting sense of our body that contains that self. The basis of our subjectivity is our “body image,” a coherent, highly dynamic (it is constantly changing with our movements), three-dimensional representation of the body in the brain. This body image is an abstraction the brain creates from our movements and from the sensory responses elicited by those movements….

Since our subjectivity depends on our body image, if our body image is altered for neurological reasons, so too are our recollections…. Memories are altered every time the brain recalls them. This alteration of an existing memory is called reconsolidation. Because the memory trace changes, you can never remember the same thing twice in exactly the same way…. The way the memory is represented at the synaptic junction is altered.

Those studies also conclude:

Memory is the establishment by the hippocampus of complex relations among a variety of sensory stimuli from the point of view of the individual who is remembering…. Memory depend[s] on the ability of the hippocampus to establish relations between an individual and his or her surroundings…. The hippocampus receives and integrates many other varieties of information to create multisensory relations, which is what memory is all about…. All recollections depend on a setting that the individual may or may not be aware of.

These conclusions, which affirm a holistic attitude, strike me as relevant to daily life today for numerous reasons.

Crossan argues that prior to the spread of Greek philosophy, the Jewish faith was holistic. But the Greeks tried to split the mind and body. That dualism has persisted in Western thought and has contributed to a denigration of the body, especially sexuality. In America, Ralph Waldo Emerson reinforced that Idealism. Confusion on the issue is reflected in many spiritual circles today. The holistic perspective leads to a more fulsome and wholesome embrace of the human body.

Another benefit from seeing the mind and body as being necessarily integrated is a more honest acceptance of death, which contrasts to the American tendency to try to deny its reality.

In addition, it seems to me, those neurological studies suggest that we can intentionally alter the brain in a beneficial manner through mental activity, such as making the effort to recall events for which we are grateful, as well as meditation.

The review also highlights the risk that’s involved with altering the brain neurologically. The history of psychiatry is littered with examples of devastating brain damage that resulted from arrogant or indifferent attempts to alleviate suffering with neurological tools. The brain is a fantastically complicated mechanism that has been tweaked by eons of evolution. Any attempt to mess with Nature’s miracle should be undertaken with great care.

Moreover, “Making Memories” substantiates that individuals are not isolated, but rather are profoundly interconnected with their environment, including other individuals. Even our memories depend on placing the memory in a “setting,” even if we don’t remember the setting!

And lastly, I was struck by the account of how abstractions, or generalizations, emerge from specific events. As one who is wary of ideology, that description confirms the legitimacy of certain abstractions. The danger arises when abstractions become detached from concrete realities, and ideologues try to force reality to conform to their desires. Dreams of a better world can be helpful. But those dreams are best grounded in reality. Pragmatic idealism seems to be the wisest course.