I remember it vividly – the first rush of full-blown Beatlemania, the perplexed look on my mother’s face as I screamed, cried and jumped up and down on the sofa. It was the beginning of a love affair that’s changed over the years but never ended. Much has been written about the Beatles phenomenon, analyzing it from all kinds of angles, including the spiritual. I’ve often pondered myself what it was that caused such a profound impact on my life.
The day after John Lennon was killed, I stumbled into my job at the bookstore in Center City Philadelphia, where some of my co-workers were also reeling from the news. We got permission to create a display in one of the windows and placed a simple rose and green apple in Lennon’s memory. Many of our colleagues didn’t get why we were so upset, didn’t understand the profound grief. It is hard for me to explain the depth of connection to these four people I never met or even saw in concert.
Back in the early days, my best friend was in love with Paul. I felt an immediate connection with George. We both wanted to look like Beatle girlfriends ands scoured the shops of dinky Pottstown for “mod” clothes. Later, though, we began to part ways. In the late 60s, I was much more attuned to the politics of John and the spirituality of George more than to Paul’s “silly love songs.” And then the Beatles broke up, too. In so many ways, those were terrible days. But even though the band was gone, the influence of both the Beatles as a collective and the individual members continues.
George Harrison gave me one of my very first exposures to another religion. Even when it wasn’t ‘hip’ anymore to be a fan of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, George remained devoted to meditation and mysticism. Through his music I learned to appreciate a culture and belief system very different from my own. So even as I was being a good, recently confirmed Lutheran, the seeds had been planted for a multi-cultural, multi-faith awareness and appreciation.
And didn’t John Lennon’s “Imagine” just pave the way for progressive Christianity? It even spoke to those who choked on the line about “no religion too.” This may seem to be the anthem of the ‘spiritual but not religious, but as far as I’m concerned, even those of us who are ‘religious’ needn’t stumble over these sentiments. I have much more in common with them than with many orthodox doctrines and creeds.
As I look back on the fifty years since the Beatles burst into my consciousness and on the twenty-five years since my ordination, I can see a wonderful blending of these two worlds. I’ve realized that I came of age in a social/political/ spiritual milieu heavily influenced by the music and personalities of the Beatles. When I went to seminary, I learned how to be a good orthodox pastor, but again, the seeds of progressive Christianity had been planted.
Now I’ve come back full-circle. I’m grateful for my theological education that’s given me the skill to articulate my own understandings about God and Jesus, about other religions, about spirituality, about politics and social justice. I’m also grateful that I did come of age in a time when “All You Need Is Love” was taken absolutely seriously. Of course, I’m well aware of the flaws of the very-human Beatles and the naiveté of the flower children of the late 60s. However, I’m also aware of a magical, mystical interweaving of theologically-trained hippiedom.
Last week’s 50th anniversary tribute took me righty back to sitting in front of the black and white TV in the house where I grew up. I’ve been listening to and singing Beatles songs ever since. George’s birthday is coming up. My teeny-bopper friends and I used to have birthday parties for all the lads. Maybe I’ll have one this year, too.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will live as one