Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Secret ‘60s History of Cookeville, Tennessee (Banjo & Bread, Chapter 5)

En route to Ireland via Atlanta in May 2014, I returned to the Open Door Community to show the intentional Christian collective to my wife Jeannie in a long-overdue visit, my first since living there briefly as a Resident Volunteer in 1987, when I was a 19-year-old student from Antioch College. In going back, I hoped to catch up with the co-founders of this Presbyterian base community in the Catholic Worker mode, Vanderbilt Divinity School alumnus Eduard Loring and his partner Murphy Davis. Days before my visit, Murphy emailed that she and Ed would be out of town. Instead, she suggested we get with the Open Door partners who had graduated from Tennessee Tech. So we spent an enchanting few hours with Calvin and Nelia Kimbrough, who met and were married in my adopted hometown of Cookeville when they were students at Tennessee Tech in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

After meeting, eating with, and listening to my new friends talk story and then seeing some of their voluminous scrapbooks of gorgeous archival evidence, I realized that the Kimbroughs were the people I needed in my project; they were missing links in the lineage. Not only theologians and historians, Methodist ministers and radical married monastics doing full-time work as Jesus revolutionaries, they are artists and musicians who were practicing hippy Christians back-in-the-day. During the Kimbroughs’ time in conservative old Cookeville, the campus Methodist community at the Wesley Foundation was a hotbed of hippy happenings and progressive forums, of theatrical performances and liturgical experimentation. Meeting these creative Christians so committed to social justice would be a visionary glimpse of the Beloved Community on any day, but to sit with them, listen to their stories, see the pictures, and catch a glance at the vibrancy of the tiny Cookeville counterculture they’d created back when, this returned me to the deep waters of radical Christianity in which I had been baptized as a child—and entirely reframed this thesis. Over months of interviews conducted in Cookeville and Atlanta, over countless emails, social media posts, and phone calls, Calvin and Nelia revisited the 1960s and showed me a colorful Christian counterculture we could simply call the church. 

Their suggestions for further research uncovered striking anecdotes and audacious connections, revealing how the hippy Christians showed up several years before the Jesus hippies and thrived as part of a larger campus Christian movement, interacting with the New Left and organized as a global ecumenical revolution under the banner of groups like the World Student Christian Federation, the Methodist Student Movement, and the University Christian Movement. What began as my tentative and theoretical foray into the backstory of hip Christian countercultures has been dramatically transformed into a first-person theological biography of these marvelous mentors and friends with whom I feel a deep kinship and soul connection. 

Not in library or bibliography, not in some stranger’s dissertation or yet another database, I finally found the best source for understanding the ‘60s—not in books but in colleagues, not far away in California but in this conservative Tennessee college town.
If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The late great feast of fools (Banjo & Bread chapter 4)

My preliminary foray into Jesus hippy research in 2010 consisted of watching Lonnie Frisbee and Larry Norman videos on YouTube and soaking in the sunny smiles and visionary vibes seen in snapshots from the massive beach baptisms; from my initial impressions, I didn’t fully grasp the tensions between the more conservative trends and counterculture trips. Even the secular hippies shared a suspicion of rational notions of progress and an embrace of romanticized social forms. 

According to Shires’ theory, then, the emerging leaders of the new evangelical movements in the 1970s seized this sensibility and were offering young people an “antitechnocratic, non-compartmentalized spirituality” (ch.3), something similar to that sought in the wider counterculture via drugs, festivals, the occult, and Eastern religion. Ellwood eloquently points out how romancing the past enchants hippies and evangelicals: “Reference to an idealized rural past, the days of the ‘old-time religion,’ is as important as the communalistic edenism of the psychedelic culture” (18). 

Echoing Shires and Ellwood, Eskridge claims that hippies on both the counterculture and evangelical side shared “a sweeping pessimism about the future” (86). He further explains how “the hippie Christians merely shifted cultural gears” from the likes of the I Ching and Carlos Castenada to “studying the symbolism and hidden prophetic clues in the writings of the Old Testament prophets and John the Revelator” (86). As we know, though, such an intense focus on predicting the End Times, fighting the Antichrist, or anticipating the Rapture remains popular today in religion as well as in the dystopian bent of science fiction films. 

In America, fear sells. Despite charges of anti-intellectualism, the Jesus People in general seem to be a well-read demographic. But what books did they read? Eskridge quotes Ellwood, citing: “The book The Late, Great Planet Earth is one of the few volumes besides the Bible found in virtually every movement commune, home, and church parlor. Next to the Scriptures, probably no other book is more read” (Eskridge 86; Ellwood 89). Written in a sensational and accessible style, but dismissed and discredited by scholars, Hal Lindsey’s text as mass-market paperback sold millions, focusing on wars in the Middle East, a coming Armageddon, a violent judgment for the lost, and an eternal peace for the saved. The evangelical Lindsey dismisses religious Leftists as Satanic “ecumaniacs” (172), and the Jesus hippies bought into this. The ecological left that also descended from the hippies has its own versions of emotionally manipulative shock literature. During the last decades of the Cold War, it wasn’t just the parachurch preachers exploiting our fears; the peaceniks did this with anti-nuclear war films. 

But why did Lindsey’s “apocaliterature” so capture the imagination of the Jesus hippies? Couldn’t another book have been second-only-to-the-Bible in communal relevance? Another “Jesus revolution” looks like Harvey’s Cox’s Feast of Fools. While the evangelical freaks were feeling the heat of the coming wars and judgments, the life-lovers on the Left were grooving with the gentle jester and festive gestures of the Harvard theologian’s frolic and flow, in harmony with the best of the hippies and protesters, the tendencies Cox defines as the neomystics and militants. As my research intensified, I realized the seminarians were reading Harvey Cox alongside a host of other progressive Christian thinkers and acting on their theologies. 

Harvey Cox carried no compulsion to combat the counterculture; he even hoped the church would not contaminate it. Cox charges, “The challenge Christianity faces is how to embrace this spiritual renaissance without crushing it, how to enrich it without polluting it, how to deepen it without mutilating it” (133).  While the evangelicals defended the usual dualities of saved versus damned, outside the world versus in it, Cox encouraged the “verve and brightness” of the neomystics to remain engaged, to “transform celebration into a way of being in the world, not a way of getting out of it” (132). Cox’s books share an eschatological bent with other books of the times, but he embraces the future with fantasy, hope, and humor—inclusive in tone yet incisive with tension. By the 1970s, the evangelicals would be bent on selling their brand of Christianity to the unsaved, while in the 1960s, the ecumenicals embraced secular culture—a church losing itself to find itself, a feast to which all are invited—especially the holy fools. 

In Feast of Fools, Cox celebrates forces that were already at work in the late 1960s convergence of counterculture and Christ. The prankster surrealist Jesus practices the timeless theater of the times. Even though the ecumenical Christian student movement of the 1960s had its roots in the liberal church, it cannot correctly be called “liberal”—it turned out much more radical. Ironically, the religious Right also rebelled against the liberal establishment to separate itself into an organized, dominant political force that became powerful within the very power-structure it decries. The religious Left remains interfaith and influential in pop culture, dissenting but disorganized, but experiencing revival in the emerging church.

If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Right On & Left Out (Banjo & Bread chapter 3)



The conservative conversions come from a genuine place. Sin-addled yet saved-by-the blood, their testimonies ring true. Because their passion for the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ resound, because the sheer spontaneity and widespread popularity of their revival affirms relevance, I cannot dismiss the long-term impact of—or the lingering musical and cultural contributions of—the Jesus People. But as Preston Shires documents in his book Hippies of the Religious Right, as T.M. Luhrmann notes in her essay for Harpers called “Blinded by the Right,” and as Larry Eskridge documents in his comprehensive God’s Forever Family, the Jesus People represent a clear-cut counterrevolution within the counterculture. 

In 1971, renowned evangelist Billy Graham published his book Jesus Generation, a comprehensive book-length tract—a manifesto for the movement more than a text about the meaning of the movement. According to Eskridge, when Graham’s crusade hit Chicago in 1971, a ragtag rebellion of Yippies and Satanists and the like showed up to make mischief, but even more than the baton-wielding Chicago cops, it was a song-singing and hand-holding group of Jesus People that diffused the situation by infusing a disruptive conflict with love. A watershed moment in the public history of the later “Jesus movement” came with the Godstock festival held in Dallas, Texas in the summer of 1972. Officially titled “EXPLO ’72,” this evangelism conference and energizing concert marks a culminating moment for the movement in the national spotlight, highlighting the sympathetic loyalty to the movement in Graham.

Graham’s energizing endorsements helped clear the way for this “explosion” (which the title EXPLO abbreviates) in the national imagination, but the event was also an evangelistic organizing platform for Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC). According to Larry Eskridge, Campus Crusade’s leadership harbored a serious “concern about the nation’s volatile political and cultural scene” and planned to avert the “calamity” of a leftwing revolution (170). Even though the conservative bias of the event was clear, the organizers made sure that “attention was paid to denying claims CCC was in any way tied to right-wing political elements” (Eskridge 170). Eskridge tactfully treats this topic and its apparent duplicity. Because of this desire to appear politically unbiased while cultivating a sincere conservative bias, the EXPLO refused to invite President Richard Nixon to the event, despite the strong private support for Nixon shared by many of the organizers. 

While the weekday rallies were at the packed Cotton Bowl, the concluding Godstock concert attracted almost 200,000 people, so it took place at the Texas State Fairgrounds. Charged with thousands of watts of power, color-coated with a psychedelic backdrop, and starting at 7:30 in the morning, the event’s musical headliner was the great Johnny Cash. The vinyl compilation of the day’s music is a Jesus People collector’s item, capturing the ambiance of the movement with inspiring musical tracks. The music fan in me would have loved EXPLO, but the activist in me would have only gone in subversive Christian solidarity with Jim Wallis under the banner of the People’s Christian Coalition. As retold in two 21st century dissertations on the evangelical Left by David Swartz and Brantley Gasaway respectively, Wallis and his comrades essentially picketed the event with anti-war messages like “Choose This Day—Make Disciples or Make Bombs” or “Love your Enemies or Kill Your Enemies,” then going so far as to disrupt one of the rallies that had overtly pro-military content with chants of “Stop the War!” and unfurled a banner saying “Cross or Flag, Christ or Country.” 

They were hardly embraced by their kin in Christ. Gasaway explains, “The crowd of conservative Christians seemed stunned at first by this brazen display but quickly drowned out the chants with thundering ‘boos’” (40). Wallis and his group of “post-Americans,” the prototype of today’s still influential Sojourners magazine and movement, were not Jesus Freaks; in fact the Jesus people in Dallas, hippies and straights alike, seemed okay with uniting cross with flag, the prince of peace with the President’s war. This tension within culture and church remains today. 

Although I shouldn’t be shocked by these accounts, I admit great discomfort at the implied conclusions: that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Christianity was at first dominated by spiritually-dead and ostensibly liberal churches, and then, transformed by a conservative revival of reformed hippies who had once dropped acid and thus could handle the dramatic fire of the Holy Spirit. Were some of these seeds of the Christian right in fact “right on” while others were reactionary? There’s something sacred about Jesus Freaks, but what about the lineages of the Christian Left that are “left out” of the scholarly literature on the Jesus movement?

To read chapter four, go here:
http://www.presbyhippy.com/2016/07/the-late-great-feast-of-fools-banjo.html

If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Eclectic Koolaid Vision Quest: Hippy Christians or Jesus Hippies? (Banjo & Bread, chapter 2)



When I told my friend—a Cookeville, Tennessee native and my church and university colleague Mike Birdwell—that I was researching Cookeville’s hippy Christians from the late 1960s and early 1970s, he quipped that Cookeville only ever had one true hippy. Before I began my research, I would have believed him. In fact, when this project began, I was looking everywhere but Cookeville for legends and clues about the lost history of the Christian counterculture —my former homes in Chicago, Cleveland, or Detroit, a monastery in Kentucky, and of course the legendary California. 

Tracing the lineage of my joyful radical Christianity to foreparents in the 1960s is a social question as well as a spiritual necessity—a personal quest requiring prophetic memory. In the early 1970s, my primary school consciousness made sense of my family’s devout Christian faith coupled with our unwavering support of the farmworkers and the feminists. There was a split in the lineage of the hippy-Jesus family tree around that time. Both Left and Right Christians of the era embraced the musical and cultural hippy vibe but diverged in politics. On the Left side, we descended from the Beat Generation, the Berrigan brothers, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers, from civil rights and the antiwar movements. Writers like mystic Thomas Merton or artists like Sister Corita Kent were visionary voices. On the Right side, the evangelists embraced the street people and ex-druggies with such fiery grace that, once converted, these so-called Jesus Freaks bought into an anti-abortion, apocalyptic agenda. What about the members of the Jesus revolution who stayed Left at the split? We are just the kind of people you will meet today at North Carolina’s Wild Goose Festival, see lobbying for universal healthcare or prison reform or even prison abolition, protesting the water shutoffs in Detroit, attending the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, or advocating for immigrants and workers. Living with endless war and the weariness of economic exploitation, it’s difficult to locate Jesus as liberator. But it’s this loving and liberating Christ who will show us how to preserve the 1960s revolutionary edge and communal spirit by inviting us to the Kingdom. 

Endless resources already exist about the secular side of the hippy counterculture, and likewise, the Jesus People movement inspired numerous books, blogs, and bibliographies. A complicated but inspiring interrelationship resides between those secular and sacred subcultures, but with this present scholastic adventure, I uncover some lost links at the intersection between these subcultures, pieces that remain largely untapped in the existing academic and popular literature, especially the recent books on the Jesus Movement. This shows how fragments from the New Left became a newer Right—but that is not the whole story. Understanding the conservative rightwards shift causes an uncomfortable degree of dissonant friction. What is true? What is historical fiction? Research is a process where too many doors, windows, crawl spaces, and multidimensional Narnian wardrobes get tapped open, and the information is dizzying. But the answers to my questions weren’t down the rabbit hole of a search engine or online database but at home and down the street; I just had to trust my lineage and look deeper. 

When I first realized that yesterday’s Jesus People are today’s Tea Party Republicans, I got sick to my stomach and wanted to quit the project. But this is what I feel God says I must do: chart a new trajectory between the pacifist collectives, campus movements, and underground church of the late 1960s and early 1970s and show how this Left alternative actually remains intact, in today’s resurgence of evangelical progressives also called the “emerging church.” Unlike the born-again Christian hippies of the 1970s who fanned the flames of reaction against revolution, the original hippy Christians of the 1960s displayed deep connections in the defining moments and movements of the decade that transformed the church and the continent.

Photo is Sister Corita Kent, scanned from an old motive magazine.

To read chapter three, go here:
http://www.presbyhippy.com/2016/07/right-on-left-out-banjo-bread-chapter-3.html

If you would like a copy of the complete
Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Prepare Ye The Way (Banjo & Bread, Chapter 1)

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’ (Matt. 3:1-3)




According to my parents Barb and Ken Smith, my poetry and preaching career began at a very young age. We had gone to see the musical Godspell in the theater—this legendary 1970s rock revival rendition of the gospel according to Matthew, the sensational musical that launched the Broadway composing career of a Jewish twenty-something named Stephen Schwartz. As we sat in the audience that night, I was ready for the opening of this play, which involves John the Baptist coming forward with an invocation—the epic, beautiful refrain “Prepare Ye The Way (Of The Lord).” As the people in the theater sat quiet and John the Baptist started to sing, an eager young child interrupted the proceedings and shouted at the top of his lungs, “That song is on our record.” And based on my Dad’s retelling, the entire cast joined the audience in stunned laughter at my spontaneous disruption. 

In the opening of David Greene’s 1973 movie version which I also watched at a young age, the disciples heed the call to follow the hip bearded baptist to a public park for a communal immersion, with the fully dressed disciples soaking and splashing as frolicking misfits in the city fountain. As I would wear out my parents vinyl copy of the cast album, I would “play Godspell,” reenacting everything from baptism to crucifixion in my six-year-old way. In regularly  reaffirming my baptism in such a playful primal way, I became a childlike puckish follower of the hippy Jesus. In early 1968, when my actual baptism took place in Chicago at the Church of the Three Crosses, the hymn that day was Sydney Carter’s anthem of the counterculture church, “The Lord of The Dance.” Although in the 1990s I preferred the drunken visions of New Age hedonism and tried to reject even the anarchic hippy Jesus, Christ’s love would not let me go. Whether sprinkled or dunked, our baptism claims us, and mine claimed me for unconditional love and radical service in the counterculture church. 


As explained in Defying Gravity, Carol de Giere’s biography of composer Stephen Schwartz, the originator of Godspell John-Michael Tebelak developed the play as a graduate school project at Carnegie Mellon (ch. 4). Offended by uptight Christians who harassed the hirsute thespian one snowy Easter morning and energized by exposure to the raw style of the Living Theater, Tebelak theorized his clownface messiah (after reading theologian Harvey Cox’s Feast of Fools) as bringing joy back to the story that the uptight church-types had sucked dry (de Giere, ch.4).  In One Way: The Jesus Movement and Its Meaning, Robert Ellwood invokes what he dubs the “playful Christianity” of Cox as a kind of alternative jubilant antidote to the stern joyless asceticism that emerged among some of the so-called Jesus People (139). Perhaps it’s because I memorized most of Godspell, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Free to Be You and Me, and some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches around that time, but the ecstatic picture that Cox and Godspell portray of Christ commingling with counterculture in festive cooperation accurately reflects my memories of church-back-then and captures the spirit of this current analysis.  


Looking at the upheavals of the 1960s through the lens of liturgy and locating ministry in aspects of New Left liberation, Banjo and Bread chronicles the inspired interventions of two “hippy Christians,” who as college students imbibed the avant-garde insurrections of art, music, and performance as liturgy that accompanied the “Methodist Student Movement” as well as the peace, civil rights, and feminist movements. The text that follows is the faithful manifesto of a counterculture Christian born in 1967 and in love with this colorful lineage—organized largely as an oral history, as the first-person theological biography of Calvin and Nelia Kimbrough. The Kimbroughs’ coming-of-age captures a time when the hip counterculture and the activist Left openly conversed and the campus church provided safe space for both. This text draws from extensive prayer and conversation, primary research and oral history, personal interviews and archival documents, charting the Kimbroughs’ lives through a radical campus ministry at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, the locale where I live, worship, write, and teach. We also see the Kimbroughs mature as co-founders of an intentional community in Evansville, Indiana called Patchwork Central, and finally, working hard until their 70th birthdays as partners at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, a covenantal Christian collective committed to solidarity with the poor and the prisoner, to ending homelessness and stopping executions. 


In my visits to Atlanta, the Kimbroughs granted me access to an extensive personal archive of scrapbooks and photo albums, in which we discover the full influences of the day, from psychedelic artwork on handbills advertising the campus coffeehouses to the couple’s hip fashion statements seen in photographs, documenting times like 1968 when these romantic college seniors were married in an impromptu ceremony presided over by their mentor and campus minister.  Hopefully, the reader will sense God’s sacramental presence in the liturgical practices that revolutionized church at the intersection of art, music, literature, and activism.

Go ahead & read chapter two here:
http://www.presbyhippy.com/2016/07/the-eclectic-koolaid-vision-quest-hippy.html


If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 



Prepare Ye The Way (Banjo & Bread, Chapter 1)

“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’ (Matt. 3:1-3)




According to my parents Barb and Ken Smith, my poetry and preaching career began at a very young age. We had gone to see the musical Godspell in the theater—this legendary 1970s rock revival rendition of the gospel according to Matthew, the sensational musical that launched the Broadway composing career of a Jewish twenty-something named Stephen Schwartz. As we sat in the audience that night, I was ready for the opening of this play, which involves John the Baptist coming forward with an invocation—the epic, beautiful refrain “Prepare Ye The Way (Of The Lord).” As the people in the theater sat quiet and John the Baptist started to sing, an eager young child interrupted the proceedings and shouted at the top of his lungs, “That song is on our record.” And based on my Dad’s retelling, the entire cast joined the audience in stunned laughter at my spontaneous disruption. 

In the opening of David Greene’s 1973 movie version which I also watched at a young age, the disciples heed the call to follow the hip bearded baptist to a public park for a communal immersion, with the fully dressed disciples soaking and splashing as frolicking misfits in the city fountain. As I would wear out my parents vinyl copy of the cast album, I would “play Godspell,” reenacting everything from baptism to crucifixion in my six-year-old way. In regularly  reaffirming my baptism in such a playful primal way, I became a childlike puckish follower of the hippy Jesus. In early 1968, when my actual baptism took place in Chicago at the Church of the Three Crosses, the hymn that day was Sydney Carter’s anthem of the counterculture church, “The Lord of The Dance.” Although in the 1990s I preferred the drunken visions of New Age hedonism and tried to reject even the anarchic hippy Jesus, Christ’s love would not let me go. Whether sprinkled or dunked, our baptism claims us, and mine claimed me for unconditional love and radical service in the counterculture church. 


As explained in Defying Gravity, Carol de Giere’s biography of composer Stephen Schwartz, the originator of Godspell John-Michael Tebelak developed the play as a graduate school project at Carnegie Mellon (ch. 4). Offended by uptight Christians who harassed the hirsute thespian one snowy Easter morning and energized by exposure to the raw style of the Living Theater, Tebelak theorized his clownface messiah (after reading theologian Harvey Cox’s Feast of Fools) as bringing joy back to the story that the uptight church-types had sucked dry (de Giere, ch.4).  In One Way: The Jesus Movement and Its Meaning, Robert Ellwood invokes what he dubs the “playful Christianity” of Cox as a kind of alternative jubilant antidote to the stern joyless asceticism that emerged among some of the so-called Jesus People (139). Perhaps it’s because I memorized most of Godspell, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Free to Be You and Me, and some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches around that time, but the ecstatic picture that Cox and Godspell portray of Christ commingling with counterculture in festive cooperation accurately reflects my memories of church-back-then and captures the spirit of this current analysis.  


Looking at the upheavals of the 1960s through the lens of liturgy and locating ministry in aspects of New Left liberation, Banjo and Bread chronicles the inspired interventions of two “hippy Christians,” who as college students imbibed the avant-garde insurrections of art, music, and performance as liturgy that accompanied the “Methodist Student Movement” as well as the peace, civil rights, and feminist movements. The text that follows is the faithful manifesto of a counterculture Christian born in 1967 and in love with this colorful lineage—organized largely as an oral history, as the first-person theological biography of Calvin and Nelia Kimbrough. The Kimbroughs’ coming-of-age captures a time when the hip counterculture and the activist Left openly conversed and the campus church provided safe space for both. This text draws from extensive prayer and conversation, primary research and oral history, personal interviews and archival documents, charting the Kimbroughs’ lives through a radical campus ministry at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, the locale where I live, worship, write, and teach. We also see the Kimbroughs mature as co-founders of an intentional community in Evansville, Indiana called Patchwork Central, and finally, working hard until their 70th birthdays as partners at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, a covenantal Christian collective committed to solidarity with the poor and the prisoner, to ending homelessness and stopping executions. 


In my visits to Atlanta, the Kimbroughs granted me access to an extensive personal archive of scrapbooks and photo albums, in which we discover the full influences of the day, from psychedelic artwork on handbills advertising the campus coffeehouses to the couple’s hip fashion statements seen in photographs, documenting times like 1968 when these romantic college seniors were married in an impromptu ceremony presided over by their mentor and campus minister.  Hopefully, the reader will sense God’s sacramental presence in the liturgical practices that revolutionized church at the intersection of art, music, literature, and activism.

Go ahead & read chapter two here:
http://www.presbyhippy.com/2016/07/the-eclectic-koolaid-vision-quest-hippy.html


If you would like a copy of the complete Banjo & Bread as an Adobe PDF, please send a message to Andrew Smith at:
professor.andy.smith [at] gmail.com with 'Banjo & Bread' in the subject line. 



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Until All People Are Truly Free: On Going To Selma, Fifty Years Later


One Monday at supper in March of 1965, my father, having watched on television the police attacking nonviolent protesters on the bridge at Selma, blurted to my mother that he should go.

Expecting her to discourage him, he was surprised when Barb and their close friend and neighbor Anne Marie encouraged him. With help from Steve Rose, he found himself on a red-eye flight to Atlanta, then connecting flight to Montgomery, and finally a carpool to Selma. His type-written unpublished essay on this journey shaped me and continues to shape me.

My parents’ involvement in the peace and civil rights causes of the 1960s and 70s has had such a huge impact on me that it continues to focus my spiritual journey, as well as my writing and research interests, to this day. Although in retrospect, Ken’s spontaneous decision to join the movement in Selma is remarkable to me, he always downplayed his role in civil rights to us when we were growing up. This coming weekend, I will make my first trip to Montgomery and Selma in part to recommit to civil rights, in part to lead a trip of college students, and in part to honor Ken’s witness 50 years ago.

Although I have been the teacher of record in the college classroom every regular academic semester since the late 1990s, it’s taken me all this time to finally organize a proper “alternative spring break.” About five years ago, two Tennessee Tech students joined my wife and me in our car on a Presbyterian church mission trip to West Virginia, with about a dozen others, mostly retirees from our local congregation. But this weekend we will be pilgrims with a vanload of college freshman and sophomores on an official field trip from our living and learning village, dubbed the Tree House. This weekend, we are going to Montgomery and Selma.

Thanks to the influence of my parents and others, I have been an activist my entire life and a peace and civil rights activist in particular with a profound personal debt for the work and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When Lewis Baldwin, my professor in King studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School, came to speak to my class at Tennessee Tech last year, he asked if I would be going to Selma for the bridge crossing jubilee. I told him I would like to go. Back in 1965, my father Ken Smith, only 24-years-old and my older brother Arthur just a baby in Barb’s arms, joined the Tuesday, March 9 march, the second of the three major Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Ken’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease, which finally took his life last May, means that Barb and I will need to make this pilgrimage back to Alabama without him and in his honor.

We know that politicians and celebrities will be there. We also know that some of our mentors through the last several decades in a grassroots Christian witness for peace and justice and antiracism and in a liberation theology for North America, people like Ed Loring and Murphy Davis and Jim Wallis, will also be there.

As we met with colleagues and students over the last few days in Cookeville, we discussed our motives for going. In each case, the students expressed their desire to be a part of the ongoing history of this country’s struggle with race relations, and they also demonstrated an acute awareness that work of the dream remains incomplete and carries on.

After returning from Selma to our home then in the city of Chicago, Ken wrote about his experiences. I have treasured that typescript for years and recently transcribed some of my favorite quotes. As the Selma struggle marked a time when white allies like Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo joined the too long list of martyrs from the movement, it’s clear that Ken took a risk in even going, and it’s clear talking to Mom about this most recently, that they both believed the risk was worth it. As he emphasized in his reflections, Ken still wondered why more people didn’t go. Some excerpts from Ken’s notes summarize the passion I inherited and the debt I owe to my Daddy for bringing me into the movements for peace and justice. I will conclude this meditation with four of those quotes. March on!

1.      “The question of course is asked, ‘Why did you go?’ There are of course many answers to this question, but basically it is quite simple. I went in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for ministers and laymen to join in the struggle. I went because I was appalled at what happened on Sunday. I went because I feel so strongly that all men have a right to be truly free, and until this is the case, my freedom is also limited. However, I feel that everyone has really been asking the wrong question. We should be asking why people didn’t go, and more basically, why most people didn’t even consider going. For God was calling us in this situation to make a decision. Unless we really make a decision on Selma, we are really avoiding what life is all about. I didn’t want to make a decision, but when I did I found that there was only one way I could turn.”

2.      “I went back in the church and heard Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King’s organization, make an impassioned plea for the march to go on. Concern was definitely growing whether or not the march would go on in the face of a federal injunction. This personally created no problem for me. I had come to Selma to do my small part for the ‘Movement’ and had long ago accepted the fact that civil disobedience is often a necessary part of this course of action.”

3.      “As we walked back, I was on the outside and passed very close to the troopers with their billy clubs held behind their backs. Sometimes I had to change my course as I passed by to avoid running into one of them. I looked at them, but found it difficult to ascertain their feelings; some fear, some hate, but mostly professional stoicism. The singing on the way back was much freer. On the way, we sang verses like ‘Black and White Together’ of ‘We Shall Overcome,’ which must really make those Southern gentlemen feel ungentlemanly.”

4.      “The 3000 of us who assembled in Selma last Tuesday, March 9th, in a space of less than 24 hours from distances of more than 2000 miles, were a living demonstration that freedom must come to all. I still have doubts and questions but I was deeply moved and may well return to Selma again.”