Recently we have been engulfed by a flurry of notable 50th anniversaries. Good grief, did all these things really happen in such a short span of time? When you’re 13 (as I was in 1969), the time frame doesn’t seem as short; but when you’re 63, it seems like the twinkling of an eye. The moon…Manson…Woodstock. Anniversaries nipping at one another’s heels timewise!
100 Days, a recent book by Harlan Lebo, sketches four pivotal events that happened in 1969 over a period of exactly 100 days. Three of them I knew well. The fourth I was totally unaware of, both as a 13 year old and a 63 year old. (And I’m not going to tell you about it till later in this article, so you can be surprised like I was!) As I meditated on these four Earth-shaking events, I realized…each of them has something to teach us about good and evil.
The first event is the moon landing—July 20, 1969. The American space program was built upon the V-2 rockets with which the Nazis bombed London and other cities. The U.S. captured many of the German V-2 scientists at the end of the war and moved them to Fort Bliss, Texas, near El Paso. (They brought the Germans across the Mexican border with fake visas to disguise who they were). The brilliance that served the Nazis would help us reach the moon.
But the program that the scientists had worked on for the Nazis had a terrible human cost. The V-2 rockets were built with slave labor from concentration camps. Ten thousand workers perished while building the V-2—a death toll higher than the 6,000 killed when the rockets were used as weapons. So the U.S. space program was built upon the evils of Hitler regime!
What this says to me is that good can come out of evil. This is a sinful world, but even in the midst of its moral wreckage, good things can happen—because God is in charge. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt—a repugnant, wicked act! Yet when he met his brothers years later, he said to them: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 51:20). God arranged for Joseph to be in Egypt so that he could predict the famine and prepare for the famine, so that many lives would be saved. The most powerful example of good coming out of evil is the cross of Jesus. The devil inspires Judas to betray Jesus…a cabal of corrupt religious leaders seek the death of someone who seems to threaten their power…a government official condemns an innocent person to death…all these things are utterly vile and despicable. And yet through these wicked acts, God was at work to bring about the salvation of the world!
Perhaps the message for us is that, when bad things happen in our lives, God can still be at work in those bad things. He can still bring good out of the bad.
The second of the four pivotal anniversaries is the Manson killings—seven people murdered on the nights of August 7 and 8, 1969. The message I take away from the Manson murders is kind of the mirror image of the message I take away from the space program—that good can be twisted into evil. Manson called his commune “the family,” and tried to make it a place where people felt a sense of belonging. A family is a beautiful thing! But Manson made it something demonic and horrific. And why was Manson so effective at attracting people to his family? Because he took a Dale Carnegie course in prison: “How to win friends and influence people!” Certainly, when Dale Carnegie formulated that concept, he wanted to improve people’s lives. But Manson placed the tips he learned from Dale Carnegie into the service of evil.
As the space program shows us that good can come from evil, so Manson shows us that good can be twisted to serve evil. The Seven Deadly Sins are all good things that have been twisted. Lust is love twisted; pride is self-esteem twisted; envy is admiration twisted; sloth is rest twisted; anger is passionate conviction twisted; gluttony is appreciation for God’s creation twisted; greed is the work ethic twisted. Each is something good that has been corrupted. So with Manson—he used concepts of “family” and “winning friends” for very wicked ends.
Our third golden anniversary is Woodstock—August 15-18, 1969. In “School of Rock,” Jack Black’s character declares: “One rock show can change the world!” Woodstock did! “Three days of peace and music”—certainly the world could use more peace and music! At Woodstock a sense of community was created: “Breakfast in bed for 400,000,” Wavy Gravy announced one morning. The festival presented some wonderful ideals. But there were also warnings about the brown acid and the blue acid—the festival was awash with substance abuse. Soon, two of its headliners would be dead from drugs (Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix). In the coming decades, half of The Who’s lineup—Keith Moon and John Entwhistle—would perish from substance abuse. Woodstock is an example of how good and bad are mixed together: The ideals of solidarity and community—and the abuse of the bodies that God has given us. This, too, is a faith lesson. Lutherans believe that the Christian is simul justus et peccator…saint and sinner at the same time. Christ lives with us, our bodies are Temples of the Spirit…but still, sin clings to us. Daily we turn away from sin and turn toward Jesus. But the good and the bad continually coexist within us. We will not be rid of sin until we are in heaven.
And the fourth pivotal event in those remarkable 100 days of 1969 was…THE INVENTION OF THE INTERNET. What? The internet…in 1969? 50 years ago? Yes! On October 29, 1969, a message was sent from UCLA to Stanford over a computer link. The researchers were on the telephone as they sent the message. The conversation went like this: “Do you see the L?” “Yes, we see the L.” “Do you see the O?” “Yes, we see the O.” Then, before they could type the G, the system crashed. So the first internet message consisted of 2 letters. (They were trying to type “login,” but they ended up with “Lo”—which is a Bible-type word that means “behold.” Not a bad start, if unintentional). So October 29 is the golden anniversary of the transmission of two letters between computers, the beginning of the internet!
The internet also reminds us that the world contains both good and evil. The internet can communicate beautiful music and lofty sentiments—it also can be a sleaze pit of pornography and hatred. It’s a place where some people announce their love for humanity…and others their intention to carry out mass shootings. It’s a mirror of the world, really—a place of wonder and beauty, of horror and terror. And in the midst of all this, it is important to stay close to God. His guidance takes us through the temptations and the terrors of our era—whether online or in “the real world.” As our recent reading from Hebrews said: “Cast aside every burden, and sin that clings so closely…and fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). He will navigate us through a world that is both loathsome and lovely!
1969 was one wild and crazy year! What will the next 50 years, or even the next 100 days bring? Only God knows!