The Rolling Stones: do we find our identity surrendering to ourselves, or others?

Leaving an indelible mark on the musical landscape, they have come to define the very essence of popular culture: the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll band. So said Jimmy Fallon this month, introducing the Rolling Stones at the launch of their first new album in 18 years, Hackney Diamonds.

The very essence of popular culture. When a group like the Stones puts out new material, it’s not just a chance to hear some tunes. It’s a moment to remember who forged the culture in which we live.

Like the Platinum Jubilee last year, Hackney Diamonds is surely a last hurrah from an icon that’s been with us since the mid-20th Century, one of the architects of our sense of identity. In very broad brushstrokes, before the 1960s counterculture, Britain believed in duty, class, and institutions. After Mick and Keef and John and Paul and George and Ringo had done their thing, it believed in nothing but the individual.

This month’s launch shows that while rock ‘n’ roll might have ceded its throne to hip hop, it’s still the spirit of the age. The Stones are archetypes of the self-fulfilled, trailblazing individual – peacock renegades who bent the world to their truth, who never compromised on their uniqueness, and so achieved adoration, riches, and artistic purity all at once.

As a society, we still desperately want that self-focused lifestyle. We idolise those who manage to pull off this ultimate individualism: Taylor, Billie, Nicki, Ed. To see what makes our culture tick, just look at the Stones on that stage, soaking it all up. ‘You’re utterly yourselves’, the applause seems to say, ‘and it’s perfect.’ What higher acclaim does our culture have to offer?

As Christians, we’re fond of declaring ourselves ‘in the world but not of it’. Before our sexual ethics or even our treatment of the poor, this is our foundational point of difference. Because we follow the self-sacrificing Saviour who said, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it’ (Luke 9:23–24).

In a society that teaches us to be Mick Jagger – brilliant as he is – we can live and speak a different truth: that in service we discover our true identity and purpose, and that the God-given magic of the individual is only truly seen when we surrender ourselves to the good of others.

Josh Hinton is Head of Communications at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).

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