In 1967 a group of around 100,000 people - largely young people - converged in San Francisco. This gathering was the recognized centre of activity for what become known as "The Summer of Love." United around the idealized philosophy of pro-psychedelic drug, university professor Timothy Leary, these students sought to "Turn on. Tune in. Drop out."
Several years later, Leary explained what he meant by this phrase:
"Turn on" meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. "Tune in" meant interact harmoniously with the world around you – externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. "Drop out" suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. "Drop Out" meant self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean "Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity".
The three ideals Leary was advocating might be summed up in these ways:
- Get in touch with your inner self and what is going on inside of you because that is the most important reality.
- Express yourself based primarily on what that internal reality is telling you. This internal perspective should determine your actions and, if we all act based on our internal self, it should lead to harmony.
- The individual - particularly your individuality - is what is most important and should be defended.
In many regards these values have become the hallmarks of contemporary Canadian culture:
- Reality is defined by what I feel.
- Freedom of self-expression is one of the highest ideals.
- No one should tell another person what they should think, believe, or do.
The summer of 1967 - this Summer of Love - had a soundtrack that began with The Momma's and the Papa's song San Francisco and the promise that "For those who come to San Francisco, summertime will be a love-in there." In June of that year, the Beatles recorded a song which they released in July promising that "All you need is love. Love is all you need!"
These ideas did not begin with Leary, nor did they begin in 1967. But more than any other year, these ideas began to embed themselves in western culture. The summer of 1967, perhaps more than any other year, saw the ideal of love defined by allowing someone to feel whatever they feel is right, allowing them to express it, and never imposing ones belief on another.
But is that what love really is? Does love mean that whatever I feel is what is truly real for me? Does love mean that I should be able to express myself in whatever way I desire (as long as I believe it doesn't hurt anyone)? Does love mean that I cannot ever tell challenge someone else's thoughts, convictions, or actions?
Rather than specifically exploring those questions, this summer at Covenant we are going to have our own "Summer of Love". There will be no psychedelic drugs and I don't plan on having any flowers in my hair. But we will explore the person of Jesus - the one who perfectly embodied our God who is love. What does love look like when he puts it on display? What does his love say about who we are and what is true? What kind of life does he invite us to live?
I am looking forward to a variety of voices contributing to our learning and our conversation and I pray we will discover more fully what true Love really is.