There’s this neighborhood in San Fran where history and progression collide. It’s like that part at the end of the Great Gatsby, where Nick talks about the green light of the future simultaneously existing with the waves dragging the boats back into the past. It’s history, but also innovation. This section of town is called Haight Ashbury, named after two streets that intersect in the center of the neighborhood. In the Haight, you’ll find culture and life, love and acceptance. Jimmy Hendrix lived here. So did Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. Because, you know, they built that city on Rock and Roll.
Maybe it’s just the city of San Francisco. Or perhaps it’s something else entirely. People love to be loved everywhere, but it’s all the more apparent in the Haight. While most trendy cities try hard, appearing more bourgeois instead of genuine, the Haight doesn’t try and it succeeds. Walking down these noteworthy streets, one feels the nostalgia rising from the sidewalks where so many have sojourned before. It feels epic because it is.
It’s here on these streets that protest and riots, revolutions and peace campaigns, waged warfare without weapons of destruction, but weapons of hope. Machine guns filled with peace and justice, bombs dropped full of grace and perspective. When you’re in the Haight, you can’t help but feel the tug of something bigger than yourself. You get caught up in a story that’s not about a person, but a cause. It’s a battle for the people by the people.
People welcome you inside their independent storefronts, which reflect local artistry, not corporate greed. There’s no Starbucks in the Haight; there’s no Barnes and Noble. Being a person of faith, I’ve often wondered if these neighborhoods and movements have much to teach us about what is worth fighting for. We often care more about the size of our bank accounts that the depth of our hearts. We rule out compassion in favor of comfort and convenience.
I wonder what Jesus would think of Haight Ashbury. I imagine he’d walk down the streets in the Haight and hang out with people. He’d go into the costume shops and sit and talk in the middle of it all. I want to live that way too. I want to be the type of person who isn’t afraid to share life out of the depths of my soul–the kind of person who isn’t afraid to show a little more acceptance, and a little less judgment.
If we are to practice truth and love and grace, it means we learn to depend on one another and help each other out. It’s far too easy to grow cold and apathetic, removed from the cries of the world we live in. Perhaps the Haight reminds us what it likes to care about something and to stand up for it.
Maybe we should riot more. Maybe we should protest again. We lift our voices united in cause and purpose, unafraid to step on someone’s toes because that is how we get things accomplished. People will resist and take umbrage, but we move forward anyways. Haight Ashbury reminds us to be people who are for the people.
It was the flower children, according to Buechner, who stopped a war. Regardless of what you think of the tumultuous sixties, those singers and songwriters taught us that people matter and change is necessary. Maybe it’s time to start singing about change again.
Spending a few moments in Haight Ashbury taught me something about acceptance, love, peace and a beautiful future. I was reminded of that passage in the book Hebrews that talks about the cloud many witnesses. In a way, there is a cloud of witnesses in the Haight. Perhaps we should listen to those bold prophets who went before us. Their poetry and music are still teaching us. Perhaps they were onto something so many years ago–something we need to recapture in our own day and time.