OSWALT: Woodstock not a time to be remembered fondly

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, August 26, 2020

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BY JOHN N. OSWALT, Guest Columnist

In a recent column, Anne Carmichael writes nostalgically about the Woodstock festival, seeming to suggest that if we could recover its spirit, we would be in a better place.

It seems to me that she has misunderstood what that event signified.

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First, there was the so-called “Greatest Generation” (1925-50): people of determination, commitment, self-discipline and self-sacrifice, all born out of the three great institutions of the family, the church and the school.

Then, there was the “Boomer Generation” (1950-1975), or the Woodstock generation: people who wished to have complete freedom to indulge every desire with no plans, no commitments, no rules and no restraints. What they did not realize were the unintended consequences of such a life.

Ms. Carmichael’s passing mention that the festival ended with no food, grossly overextended toilet facilities and destruction of the property hints at these unintended consequences.

The life the Boomers thought they were choosing, one that was to lead to a new age of love and spirituality, actually became the most materialistic and self-absorbed way of life imaginable.

In so doing, they steered the good ship USA straight onto the rocks, because although they did not know it, the institutions essential to civilization — home, church and school — cannot exist without determination, commitment, self-discipline and self-sacrifice.

The children of the Boomers, grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, the “Lost Generation” (1975-2000), dazed by the wreck, tried to refloat the ship, but the task proved too much.

Their parents had deprived them of the necessary tools to do it.

They did not know how to recover the virtues of their grandparents, and, truth to tell, did not really want to anyway.

Who wants to restrain themselves?

So today, the “Millennials” (2000-2025) are trying to salvage something from the wreckage, and the ship is indeed a wreck.

We are awash in opioids, which promise the instant gratification that the Woodstock generation craved.

Children wander around, effectively parentless, since rearing children is very demanding and not much fun.

Schools are war zones where undisciplined students terrorize helpless teachers.

The churches are emptying because worship of God requires that we recognize that our desires are not supreme.

It is truly every man and woman for themselves. The ship is in pieces.

Did Woodstock cause all this? Oh, no. The situation is more complex than that.

But Woodstock showed where we were headed and how we would get to where we are today.

That event is not something to be remembered fondly, but a moment to be looked back upon with infinite regret.

John N. Oswalt is a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore. He lives in Nicholasville.