BY FATHER TIM JOHNSON - ST. JOSEPH CATHOLIC CHURCH
I was only 12 years old, 50 years ago— 1969 — when Woodstock Festival of Peace and Music took place. Most likely, during those days of Woodstock I was listening to KIOA on my little transistor radio, oblivious to the record breaking crowds and musicians that created that historical event.
Despite the non violence during those three days of music, rain and mud, it was a time of — in that era of the '60s — incredible differences between individuals, families and communities within our culture. War was raging in Vietnam, civil rights demonstrations and confrontations continued, drug use on the rise and even the protests for a peaceful end to the Vietnam War often turned violent. Above all, there was a vast misunderstanding between young and old, between parents and their adult children, between those who supported and those who opposed the ardent issues challenging the integrity of our nation. Amidst all such outward strife, our Christian churches were struggling to include or exclude individuals who were challenging our mainstream way of life with their opinions, attire and way of life. (In the Catholic faith of which I was raised, the latter half of the '60s was a time of ritual upheaval as the elements of Vatican II was incorporated into parish life.)
Though Jesus was our Creator's instrument of peace and healing, even he understood our human tendencies, speaking about such division in Luke’s gospel, chapter 12: "a household of five will be divided, two against three, three against two. . . .a father against his son, a mother against her daughter." For centuries prior to his earthly mission and for the centuries following Jesus understood the division, the disputes that arose, and the separation within tribes, cultures, families, and individuals. We may be disheartened, disillusioned and angered about the issues and incidences we face today that seem to be dividing us, and causing accusations and judgment. However, such has always been present in the history of our humanity, even though each and every individual has been created in God's image. Such is only exasperated by the technology we have today, bringing forth events within our local communities, within the nation and those occurring thousands of miles away — instantaneously — confronting our daily lives and aspirations. Yes, as Jesus predicted such remains a part of our humanity and civilizations.
Without a plausible answer to all the world's ills and the issues facing our own nation — much less the struggles within our own personal lives — we are left with the simple direction given by the author from Hebrews. Through the centuries biblical scholars have yet to specifically pinpoint who penned this letter to the Hebrews, yet this anonymous person of faith gives us the penultimate course of action as people of faith regardless of what seemingly divides us in our personal lives, as a nation and in this world. "Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, our leader and model of faith. . . .for the sake of the joy." (Hebrews 12:2)
Jesus who indeed spoke before large gatherings, of crowds, even into the thousands as at the Seas of Galilee, yet always the personal Teacher who taught us the virtues of our Christian faith through his primary ministry of meeting individuals wherever his path led him, one on one. Individually, those faces who were poor, those who were wealthy, those who despised him, those who were curious, those who were of a different culture, those who were rural and those from larger villages; those who were imprisoned, those who were physically weak, those who were self righteous, and those who were themselves seeking an integrity for their simple lives as only his grace and the gift of faith could bring about. One to one, regardless of the face before him, seeing the possibilities of their dignity, their hope, their healing that may not affect the divisions within the broader world, but could bring about a presence of peace and harmony, of healing within their relationships, their family, their neighborhood, their community.
As the anonymous author of Hebrews advises, let us begin as people of faith by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. Those 400,000 or so individuals gathered for music that weekend in 1969, each had their own story, a face seeking in some way a presence of peace as only Christ can offer, one on one.
With all the commotion that may disturb our Christian faith and endeavors, may we consider this light hearted comment: "Of all the '60s — there was Elvis, there were the Beatles, there was the British invasion, Jimmy Hendrix, and Woodstock — the No. 1 record was 'The Twist.'" (Chubby Checker)