[I recently finished Life by Keith Richards, lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones. When most people think of the Stones they probably think of Mick Jagger first (no thanks to Keisha and Maroon 5). But Keith has really been the leader, glue, and engine for the band that turns 50 this year. I found a lot of what Keith writes about in Life to speak into my vocation as a Campus Minister. These are my reflections on Keith’s insights.]
We just wanted to be a great blues band. That’s all we played [the blues], until we actually became it. from Life, p. 158
One of the themes that becomes very clear, very quickly, when reading Life by Keith Richards is that the Rolling Stones never set out to be an epic, culture changing rock n’ roll band. They were deeply influenced by the Chicago blues (Muddy Waters, etc), and that is, in many ways, how they still view themselves to this day: a Chicago blues band from London.
Not that they didn’t have ambition. They wanted to be a great band. But they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.
When students show up on campus as freshmen there are some who just want to party, and a few others who are there to get a degree and get on with it, but the majority of students come with significant dreams and aspirations.
They may not say this to the first people they meet at school, but they come wanting, believing, even knowing, that they can, and will, change the world.
But then life happens, disappointments accumulate, frustrations with classes and professors set in, and some of the gleam and shine of college begins to fade.
There is a kind of lostness that many students wander through around the mid-way point of their college experience. Should I stay in this major? Should I transfer schools? Is this really worth all the money and debt?
I believe students wind up in this place for two reasons:
1) They lack a specific vision for their life (I want to change the world sounds nice, but it is far too vague to sustain anyone for a long period of time).
2) They have been taught to hold back.
I picked up Life because, of course, I wanted to hear some incredible stories about the greatest rock band of all time. But I was also interested because this is the 50th anniversary of the band (a band that still includes 3 of the 5 originals and a fourth who has been around for almost 40 years). How do you stay in the game, let alone on top of the game, for that long? 50 years is an impressive marriage.
I think the two big reasons the Stones are celebrating a 50th anniversary are that they had a specific vision (to be the best blues band in London), and they did not hold back.
There are several scenes in the life of Jesus where he lets people in on the secret: this thing is headed to the cross…my mission is to be broken and poured out for you. Almost every time he says this someone tells him no, that’s a bad idea (see John 6 or Matthew 16).
Martin Buber speaks of taking either a “yes” or “no” position to life. Jesus was saying an emphatic yes to his vision, and he was not going to let some “no” position folks hold him back.
Campus ministers must help their students navigate the college experience with wisdom and sagacity. But, hopefully, not at the expense of taking a “yes” position in relation to our students.
Certainly they get plenty of the “no” position from many other sources.
One more Stones story. For the first four years of their existence the Stones were playing a gig or recording a song for all but 2 days of that period. Now certainly working everyday for four years is not healthy. But, here’s the really interesting thing: very little of what they played and produced during this time was original material. Most of their big original work took place in the ten years after this.
It’s almost as if those four years were their university years. And they threw themselves fully into this time: learning songs, learning how to play together, learning how to captivate an audience, learning a sound, learning everything they’d need to know later on down the road (when they really did change the world).
A campus minister has the opportunity to guide students to a posture of “yes.” To help students find their “chicago blues” and to throw themselves fully into life.
I call this the practice of being wholehearted.