The Sixties: Guilt in Our Soul

Author’s note: while this essay is much longer than normal, the topic no doubt merits an even fuller, richer, more informed treatment than I have provided. I make no claims to being a sociologist or historian. My comments are my own—pastoral, and in part, the result of having lived as both son and father. I have attempted, briefly as possible, to convey the vast sweep of an entire decade, the 1960’s, as context for troubles which find their origin there, and still plague us to this day. 

Student riots, Berkeley, CA


To what can we compare the 1960’s? Her woes are nearly cliché. It was a sifting, shifting, tectonic decade: Sexual revolution, drug culture, free-speech movement, civil rights movement, feminist movement, environmental awakening, folk music protests, rock ‘n roll love.

The nation experienced Camelot, Woodstock and Vietnam in a single gulp of time, and was thereby flung almost manic depressively from a sort of wild, youthful optimism, to shock and rage, to cynicism and quasi-anarchy. Heroes were born and died—with bizarre frequency, by an assassin’s bullet—until the succession of nationally televised funerals had left a generation as shell-shocked as the bombs falling in a war nobody wanted. While we managed, at great cost, to halt the dominos of communism in Asia, other dominos toppled at home. Important social mores long taken for granted, quiet and secret as roots running underfoot, began to die, either by poison or neglect. The funerals of these institutions and sacred ideas were too subtle to notice at first, but like the withering of trunk and leaf, or a hidden cancer, eventually presented in full metastasis over the decades that followed.

Among the first victims, the nuclear family lost cohesion, as traditional roles came to be viewed not so much as supportive of societal well-being, but repressive of individuality. This did not happen ex nihilo. Most assuredly, chickens of the 40’s and 50’s came home to roost in the 60’s. It was a decade of fulmination and toxic fruition. The door that Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac cracked open in Greenwich Village, was personally transported from New York City to San Francisco, as the baton of moral experimentation was passed from the 50’s Beat Generation to the 60’s Hippies, sowing a wind and reaping multiple, devastating whirlwinds. (For clarity, today’s Baby Boomers came of age in the 60’s. Think Bill Clinton, Elton John, Abbie Hoffman, Steve Jobs.)

At every turn, there was upheaval: financially, socially, politically, racially, spiritually. Perhaps worst of all, relationally. As at Babel, the ambition of each sphere of counterculture revolt supposedly offered some sort of ascent or liberation, here with the aid of LSD and yoga, there in communes and earth magic. More aggressive methods turned to politics, or rioting (Kent State, Watts, Compton, Ole Miss, Stonewall, et al). Yet the most intoxicating and ruinous was the promise of free love, that new gospel of sexual congress requiring nothing as pedantic as knowing each other’s name, much less vows of fidelity. How bourgeoise! To remedy our prudish ways, sexual adrenaline was mainlined into America’s veins like a heroin overdose. To this day, the fact that our culture has never recovered its circumspection is cause for celebration in some quarters. Such was the tone of the decade that formally welcomed Jezebel into the American soul, in all her wanton excess, until a certain degree became the litmus test for healthy sexuality. (Is it any wonder that sexual identity has become a fluid, unknowable concept? Something as clear and simple as a doctor confidently pronouncing, “It’s a boy! It’s a girl!” is now mocked and legislated against as superficially imposing false gender constructs!). Meanwhile, endless explanations, each more dubious than the last, are proffered as to why humans can no longer successfully covenant, and limit, their erotic instincts to their spouse. These manifold empty promises (as all liberties divorced from consequence must eventually be) played out like a 3-alarm adolescent tantrum, deeply imprinting itself upon our conscience. Everything shifted: our collective emotional reference points, our value system, our worldview. Yet astonishingly, a deep nostalgia remains, as if the 60’s were merely some noble, nearly successful experiment, rather than a devastating fall from grace.


Libertarian P.J. O’Rourke addressed this nostalgia in the January 2, 2014 edition of Time magazine:

“The majority of Americans alive today hadn’t been born yet in the 1960s. But we of a certain age…can’t stop reliving each moment. Partly it’s the poignancy of the decade. It started so well. Handsome young couple in the White House, recovery from the 1960 recession, the Pill, upbeat message movies like 101 Dalmations and Spartacus…Then it went so wrong. But what the ’60s lacked most—what we all continue to wait around for the ’60s to produce—was tragic catharsis, the moment when we are frozen between pity and terror and experience a purging of emotions. The flappers and sheiks of the ’20s had a stock-market-crash purge. The Edwardians had purgatorial World War I. We (merely) had the ’70s, when, if not too coked up to notice, we were frozen between disco and herpes.The costive emotional bloat of the ’60s is with us still in our national attitudes, manners and mores.”

And so they went, those manners and mores. As nuclear bombs headed to the Bay of Pigs, Paul Ehrlich shifted the perceived value of life with his dire predictions regarding The Population Bomb, and Betty Friedan carpet-bombed traditional roles in The Feminine Mystique, which futurist Alvin Toffler summarily declared, “pulled the trigger on history.” Across the country, the fairer sex, perhaps properly fed up with unfair treatment at the hands of unfair males, responded by embracing the right to vacuum babies out of their womb.

The flood gates opened. Abortifacients were introduced not only to the womb, but the American ideal, as historic seedbeds of life were recklessly discarded. Stalwart, patriotic icons of the greatest generation were now passé, at best, or worse, oppressive symbols to be rejected. And so, like drunkards groping through  the liquor cabinet at night, we found new heroes that matched our burgeoning appetite for excess: Timothy Leary, Malcolm X, Bill Ayers, Hugh Hefner. Madeline Murray O’Hare. Cheech and Chong, for crying out loud. At Roul Hall in Berkeley, Mario Savio represented not so much the new hero as the directionless anger of a generation of students who knew nothing better to do than to follow their new heroes into the staggering, drunken night.


Here I must confess, mine is not the voice of first-hand experience. I was born at the end of this decade, so my frame of reference is mostly that of inheritor, not creator. For some, this admission will diminish the weight of my perspective, fair enough, but it may also grant me a measure of clarity compared to those more directly involved (either shaping or being shaped). After all, there is nothing new under the sun. Every issue which the 60’s brought to the fore has been with us in some fashion since Genesis.

Yet the 60’s remain unique in one respect: the condensation and distillation of lawlessness; such a broad swabbing of pathogens into the petri dish of a single decade. If previous generations sipped rebellion, the 60’s imbibed it freely, boastfully. And if previous rebellions were the fermented equivalent of beer, then the 60’s came hard as whiskey, leaving behind a 50-year hangover to remember it by. So while I don’t know the 60’s by memory, I do by experience, having lived my life in her shadow. Liberals celebrate it, conservatives mourn, yet there it sits in our past, still waiting to be reckoned with, five decades later.

How do you make peace with such a divisive epoch? So many high ideals were said to be within reach that many cannot help but fondly revisit this era with nostalgia and remorse, as if we grazed a utopian sun, but, like Icarus, fell short. So close! If only we could have gone a little further! Others more properly see a different, darker tale, of a nation unmoored from itself, casting off restraint as never before—from ourselves, our history, our roots, and most tragically of all, our fathers. The Boomers did not merely argue with them, they broke faith. What remains is the deep soul ache of a people who, much like an angry teen, flipped his dad the bird, said a few choice words and stormed out the door for thirty silent years. Now in middle age, he/we can’t find our way home. We’ve exiled ourselves from our own heritage. Like the reverse of a workaholic father who realizes too late that he missed his kid’s entire upbringing, our nation has come to a place of deep regret, a generational divide. We miss our fathers! The wreckage of our youthful indiscretions is plain. Just read the papers.


The term for this remorse is guilt. Like other disparaged words—authority, responsibility, commitment—the notion of guilt is now straddled with a certain quaintness (wink, wink, poor thing) along with some of the same repressive baggage we tried so hard to purge in the 60’s. And yet, darn it, the guilt remains. There is a collective groan, a sigh upon our soul, wherein we yearn to be reconciled to one another: our parents and past, our children and future. Across all barriers, all divides, we dream of a wholeness that seems just beyond our grasp. O’Rourke’s missing catharsis begs for a tipping point, and while many could be proposed, perhaps none merit more attention than Berkeley.

Fortunately, the cry has not gone unheard. A gathering is scheduled fifty years to the month after Savio’s notorious student rebellion launched on that campus. Today, young people in Berkeley are asking older people to come and join hands across the rift, to pray together for healing to visit our land.

This is the simple purpose of TheCall Berkeley in 2014. No more, no less.

About that, let me say this. Though I know Lou Engle, I am not in any way an official representative of his ministry, TheCall. This essay is my own, not Lou’s. I simply speak as a man who knows the Engle’s personally, as well as many of those involved. Their great concern is not to rail against sin, but to make much of mercy. The point is not to claim that all was well before—that is folly! Rather, it is to acknowledge how the 60’s both revealed and brought to culmination the deep felt pain of those young people, today’s aging Boomers, who forged a new identity, sadly, by rejecting their Great Generation fathers. No doubt, the guilt is shared. After saving Europe from Hitler and defeating Imperial Japan, and having survived the Great Depression, these men returned from war with scars, a high sense of duty, and, too often, a painful stoic reserve that starved their children’s souls. Furthermore, getting on with the business of life shifted these heroes from a largely agricultural context that naturally included their families, to the greater opportunities of an industrial, urbanized workforce (a scenario we now consider normal). Men who dutifully provided food, shelter and other essentials, nevertheless failed to fortify their children with the indispensable strength of a father’s affection, the wild boasting of a father’s approval, the tenderness of a father’s steady, encouraging hand. As the children of the 50’s came of age in the 60’s, the Boomers perceived the hypocrisy and said, Enough! Enough of your wars, materialism, racism, silence and polite, empty religion. It was a powder keg.


Strip away the animus for a moment. At a gut level, so much of the 60’s simply comes down to this, the desperate need for father’s to weep and repent and connect again, and for their children to weep and repent and forgive. Together, young and old, can we admit that both each generation failed the other, and that pattern continues to this day. Jack Weinberger, another leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, famously proclaimed that people his age should “never trust anyone over 30.”  The Boomer Generation must make peace with the memory of their fathers, and then offer that peace to their children and grandchildren. If a curse was unleashed, it was planted before, but when those teens and twenties moved into rejection instead of forgiveness, our national guilt compounded exponentially. Simply put, the fathers were not honored. In brutal fulfillment of Exodus 5:16, it has not gone well for us as a nation. The young people that emotionally divorced themselves from their own parents became the first generation of adults to normalize (surprise!) divorce from their mates. America shifted from a foundation built on covenantal union to contractual brokenness. By and large, the family has never recovered.

Which brings us to the present. 2014.


It is no accident that the 1960’s introduced the term “Generation Gap” into our vocabulary, nor that Berkeley is referenced in the moving cultural touchstone, Field of Dreams, where Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, is haunted by the ghost of the dad he divorced. Although the movie is now 25 years old, a raft of recent editorials marking the occasion has noted the mystically enduring power of the movie’s emotional and spiritual core. That’s because the “dream” is not a film about a baseball diamond in a cornfield so much as it is a cry for reconciliation, one that peels back the scab and tells us, “This is not yet healed!”

Men identify with this movie at a level deeper than most men identify with anything. When at last Ray meets his father, John Kinsella, we don’t just witness his pain, we know it ourselves. It’s as simple as a son wanting to finish that game of catch with his dad, the one he never finished because of that tantrum, and all the stubborn, selfish things that followed. And so it goes for Ray Kinsella:

FIELD OF DREAMS (the finale)

Ray Kinsella (son)Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella (father): Oh, yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
Ray: Maybe this is heaven.
John[pauseWell, good night Ray.
Ray: Good night, John. [They shake hands and John begins to walk away]
Ray: Hey… Dad? [John turns]
Ray[choked up] You wanna have a catch?
John: I’d like that.

Do you hear the echoes of grace in this scene? The longing? One of the prophetic dreams that is fueling the return to Berkeley involves a young boy singing a simple tune: “America, America, God shed his blood on thee…” In the dream, it is important that blood stands in for grace in the song. Life is in the blood. The blood of Christ atones for guilt. The great cry we offer to heaven is not of the guilt of a generation, but of even greater mercy—the great, atoning provision—of the blood of Christ, shed bountifully upon our nation. There is power, still, in that blood. By it alone, curses are broken. By it alone, generations are restored. “Father, I desire that they may be one, even as we are one.” So did Jesus pray. And so must we.


TheCall Berkeley is a rally cry to America’s Boomer grandfathers and grandmothers, along with their Gen X children and Millenial grandchildren—the very ones that are now taking the reins of society—to return to the critical cultural headwaters of northern California and lay claim to the better blood, the higher grace, the tender mercy of a Heavenly Father whose heart for America is to restore the generations to love. A gathering is necessary, because that’s the point, to come together, rather than remain apart. A new kind of transfer must be released: of righteousness and honor. Of mercy, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, where “sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” Even so, Lord Jesus, at Berkeley. There, where rebellion became normalized, defended and glorified, the ache has not left our soul; so there, we will cry out to God for reconciliation, wholeness, and dare to proclaim the lifting of the curse.

Mind you, TheCall Berkeley is not a protest against the protesters of those days. That’s not the point at all, though many detractors will no doubt claim it is. If they do, they aren’t listening. Rather, it is to make much of the kindness of God, to offer thanks that once upon a time, we were all protesters, all divided, all shorn from God and one another. We bore the guilt of our fathers, and perpetuated that guilt through our own failings with our own sons and daughters. Yet a vast, tidal love took our bitter protest and made provision instead. An endless mercy took rebels and reconciled them, turned enemies into friends. Brokenness became blessing.

The reconciling power of the blood of Christ is, as Lou has often said, “stronger than the rebellion.” It does not take rocket science to recognize the great rift of the 60’s, but what we need to see (negatively demonstrated, but demonstrated none-the-less), is the revolutionary DNA contained in the heart of any single generation determined to effect massive change. By grace, let us seize this same authority in prayer and supplication, not by force of rebellion, but by the blood of Christ, until righteousness rolls down, in the words of Isaac Watts, “far as the curse is found.”

For this reason, I beg you, find your way to Berkeley. Join the generations, October 4.

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