God, LSD, and the Summer of Love

The unusual (to say the least) conversions of four San Francisco hippies: an excerpt. /

Ted and Elizabeth Wise were part of the vanguard of Beat-sympathetic free spirits that predated the 1967 Summer of Love in the Bay area. Ted Wise was a native of Lakeport, California, a small community on the shores of Clear Lake, about seventy miles north of San Francisco. When he was a child, his family had moved to Auburn, where he nourished an interest in art and literature until joining the Navy in the mid-1950s. While serving aboard a Navy tender in the Pacific Fleet, he learned how to work with canvas and began learning the sail-making trade; on shore leave in Japan, he experimented with marijuana and heroin.

Even as a child, Wise had been fascinated by the idea of drug use; he cherished a magazine photo of a Mexican peasant with an array of mind-bending mushrooms. As a teenager, he was captivated by the 1955 Frank Sinatra film The Man with the Golden Arm, which he remembered made heroin addiction look attractive: "All you had to do was roll around in agony a bit . . . the worst thing that could happen to me would be to meet Kim Novak."

Upon returning home to Auburn, Wise enrolled at Sierra College. While he continued to nurse his interest in the "jazz musician's smoking preference," he met Elizabeth, a young woman who, like Ted, was interested in art and poetry. At Sierra, they were devotees of an English professor with connections to the Beat scene in San Francisco. The allure of the exciting artistic and literary scene there prompted Elizabeth to move to San Francisco in the summer of 1959 in hopes of starting a career in modeling; Ted followed her shortly thereafter and enrolled in the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Once in town, they quickly moved into a Beat commune on O'Farrell Street in the city's North Beach bohemian enclave.

"Our basic identity," Wise recalled, "was as beatniks." Life in the commune proved a constant source of new ideas and fascinating discussions, as artists, academics, and literary figures such as Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti turned up regularly at dinnertime.

In 1961, the couple married, and a daughter was born. To make ends meet for his new family, Ted found work in the boatyards, eventually landing at Sutter Sail in the "boho-friendly" village of Sausalito, and the Wises relocated across the bay.

Throughout this period, drug use loomed large in the Wises' lives. Marijuana was the foundational drug of choice, but mushrooms of all sorts, mescaline/peyote ("it was amazing"), and amphetamines were all on the menu. But the imagination of many of the people in Wise's circle was fired by what they were hearing about the wonders of LSD, and Wise was no exception. After a failed attempt to secure some of the new mystery drug from "Chemical Buddha" (British philosopher turned Bay Area Zen Buddhist maven, Alan Watts), in late 1964, Wise and friends finally scored a batch of prime black-market LSD that came straight from the labs of Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Sandoz. His first trip was an epiphany.

"We tried it, and it was a phenomenal experience," Wise recalled. LSD use became routine; often he would go to work high on acid. "Small doses were very interesting," he remembered, noting that after the initial score, supply was not a problem: "We had a lot of it."

By 1965, Ted Wise's life seemed to be shaping up just to his liking. From his job, he made connections with the owners of racing boats and yachts and spent much of his time on weekends as a crew member for his bosses' customers. Plying a craft he loved, hanging out with interesting people, and using drugs—everything in life seemed to be coming up roses. All in all, he lived what he later claimed "on the outside looked like the coolest life one could have," with a mix of friends that included "beats to yachtsman [sic], jazz musicians, artists and poets . . . America's Cup captains . . . Yogis, Buddhists, Anarchists, [and] Communists."

The Rat in the Basement

The internal reality, however, was apparently less than cool. Wise was regularly working long hours, going out carousing with friends, and sleeping with a succession of girlfriends, while Liz stayed at home with a family that soon included two children. Knowledge of Ted's philandering caused increasingly rancorous relations within the marriage—later, Wise even admitted to plotting to murder Liz. Mercifully, on one of his frequent LSD trips, he began to be troubled by insights into his own character or, more precisely, his lack thereof. He became increasingly convinced that, at bottom, Ted Wise was a self-centered liar, cheat, and thief; as he put it: "I went into the palace looking for the prince on the throne but discovered only the rat in the basement."

Ted, whose exposure to Christianity thus far had been a couple of visits to church with his grandmother and a few mandatory chapel services in the Navy, was antagonistic when his wife began to attend services at First Baptist in Mill Valley, but he noted, "She came back from church just glowing." Eventually, he decided to read the New Testament: "I didn't want to be hypocritical about it; I was always putting it down but [had] never actually read it."

What he found, however, surpassed his mild expectations of finding a new role model in Jesus Christ. "I just got fascinated by Jesus," Wise recalled. As he read, he was particularly impressed by Christ's claims to divinity and Paul's assertions that all people had a need to respond individually to his invitation to be born again. Convinced that Jesus was God, Wise later described his experiences as a Paul-like conversion: "While on my way to my own Damascus . . . I found it necessary to cry out to God to save my life in every sense of the word. Jesus knocked me off my metaphysical ass. I could choose Him or literally suffer a fate worse than death."

Having embraced Christianity, Wise felt his next step was something of a heavenly legal requirement—making a public acknowledgement of his belief in Jesus. One Saturday night in early 1965, he and Liz took a healthy hit of LSD and traveled to Berkeley to visit an old friend, Danny Sands. At the party, they found a house full of pot-smoking people plundering a major score Sands had just brought north from Mexico. Isolated in the midst of the mellow, marijuana-imbibing crowd, Wise began announcing that "Jesus is my Lord," much to his fellow partiers' discomfort and befuddlement.

Leaving the party, Wise, who had driven before while on LSD, experienced a nightmare of a ride back across the Bay Bridge. "It seemed like the bridge was going straight up," Wise remembered years later. Even more disconcerting, he claimed, "it seemed like I was out of the car, somewhere else, [but] conscious of myself still driving the car."

Hearing demonic voices urging him to "Flee!" he prayed and was rationalizing his past behavior when he claimed he heard an audible angelic voice telling him that excuse making was inappropriate when speaking to God: his best option would be to "Shut up!" Eventually, the Wises returned home, and Ted believed that God had rescued him—and had audibly ordered him to attend church the next morning. …

"I Felt Such Happiness"

Jim and Judy Doop (pronounced "Dopp") had first run into Ted and Liz at a neighborhood party and had been intrigued at the way the hip Wise made his newfound Christian "trip" sound relevant and exciting. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Jim Doop had served a stint in the Marines (primarily as a trombonist in the Marine Corps Band) and was attending Grandview College in Des Moines when he met Judy Marshall, a girl from an upper-class Presbyterian family who once had harbored a desire to become a missionary. Married after a three-month whirlwind courtship in 1959, they headed out to California in 1961 and ended up in Berkeley, where Jim worked for Mills Women's College.

Hoping to pursue his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian in the mold of Lenny Bruce, Jim began working in clubs and strip joints on the weekend as "Jimmy Sand" and picked up a fairly solid weekday job as a full-time factory sales rep for the Philip Morris Tobacco Company.

On the personal side, the Doops' life was a bizarre mix of middle-American respectability and California bohemian hip. Regular attendees at a local Lutheran church—despite the fact that Jim was fairly doubtful about there even being a God—and social hosts for the North Carolina delegation during the 1964 Republican convention (Jim Doop was an admirer of Barry Goldwater), they indulged their wild side with a steady stream of cocktails and were early members of Berkeley's Sexual Freedom League.

This bifurcated lifestyle began to grate on their marriage. "[We were] torn in two directions, free but not free," remembered Judy Doop Marshall. As a result, they found themselves more than open to both the allure of the Bay Area drug scene and a desire for spiritual truth. Both of those paths intersected in their new friends, the Wises.

Jim Doop looked to Ted Wise as something of a father figure, respecting both his biblically infused wisdom and his knowledge of drugs—the latter admiration won by dint of Wise's tales of his own numerous excursions on acid. After experimenting with LSD a couple of times, Doop dropped by Wise's house one evening in October 1966 to visit and smoke some joints.

During their conversation, he reported mixed results with his first encounters with acid—his first trip had been exhilarating, but his second had been depressing. Doop remembered years later that Wise then leaned close to him and shared his own revelatory insight about "the Rat that lives in the cellar of our soul."

Oddly affected by the marijuana, Doop lay down on the floor and began to contemplate Wise's words with Bob Dylan's recently released album Blonde on Blonde playing in the background. While he lay there, he began to meditate on his spiritual condition and came to a profound realization:

I finally got it. I was the rat. And it was my soul that was repenting. I thought to myself, Maybe there is a God. I hadn't considered that possibility in a number of years, when suddenly a peace came over me, my breathing became easier. My chest became lighter. And I said, letting out a long sigh, "Oh Father, forgive me." Immediately the entire weight that was on my chest was gone, and the rush of relief from my heart was one of exultation. . . . My eyes were closed and there was a bright light in front of me. I felt such happiness. I had never known anything like this before. . . .

I understood in an instant that God is my Father and I am His child. . . . The joy, the peace and love that I had on my heart for God and others was just incredible. Never had I realized anything comparable before. . . .

In the days and weeks that followed, Doop's appetite for the Bible was insatiable. "My mind was being blown away by the Bible's brilliance, by its simplicity," he recalled; "the words of Jesus just enlarged my love for God and for mankind. . . . I felt so cool that I [started telling] my friends I was dropping [using] LSD, smoking marijuana and that Jesus Christ was my Lord. . . . I had turned on, tuned in, and Christ was leading me out."

The new spiritual Jim Doop proved very popular in his own household. When he finally sat down with Judy and explained the changes that had come over him, she was ecstatic. Happily, she told him that she, too, had been moving back toward God and that this was an answer to her prayers.

This condensed excerpt is reprinted with permission by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

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