Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mick Jagger, Choir Boy

By Sean McDonough, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament
The title is, as they say, a literal fact. While it might be hard to imagine, the Rolling Stones front man did indeed sing in the church choir in his youth. I learned this the other day while perusing According to the Rolling Stones while waiting for my son to finish his music lesson. The book also featured some rather endearing reflections from Jagger’s bandmate Keith Richards on his own early musical experiences. The young Stone-to-be apparently spent much of his boyhood surreptitiously searching for primitive rock-n-roll on his transistor radio. He would hear half of Heartbreak Hotel…the signal would fail…and he would be heartbroken himself, yearning to hear the rest of whatever was troubling Elvis.
Now, in light of their subsequent less-than-innocent behavior, it would be easy to laugh these memories off. We might conjure up images of a young robed Mick belting out Jumpin’ Jack Flash at St. Peter’s Evensong service, or raise questions as to what else Keith might have been up to behind his parents’ backs beyond illicit listening to Chuck Berry. But there is something touching about seeing these notorious rakes as at least semi-innocent youths discovering the joy of music. We are so accustomed to their bad-boy rock and roll image we forget that they started off as ordinary kids.
And it made me wonder if a part of God’s astounding ability to forgive lies in the persistence of his memory. Throughout the Old Testament, God rehearses the story of Israel, nowhere more pointedly than in Ezekiel 16 (a passage, as it happens, with imagery as graphic as anything the Stones came up with). It is all here: Israel’s humble origins, God’s grace in the Exodus, Israel’s relentless pursuit of foreign gods, and the devastating judgment that ensues. One might imagine that God would completely wash his hands of this sinful people, yet in the end he speaks a word of hope: “ yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant” (Ezek. 16:60, ESV).
Grizzled veterans of various sorts often like to weigh in with the phrase, “I’ve seen it all.” Well, God really has seen it all. What is remarkable is that his relentless recall has not left him embittered and hopeless; rather it moves him to compassion as he remembers how things once were, and how they might be again. I imagine it would give him great Satisfaction to one day see Mick Jagger back in the church choir.

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