Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Remembering Rich Mullins 15 Years After His Homegoing

My wife, Lori, and Rich Mullins in 1993
I’ve appreciated the art of countless musicians over the course of my life. But few have actually changed my life. Rich Mullins was one of those artists whose craft resonated deep within my soul and impacted the way I view God, myself and the world.

Mullins, a self-described “ragamuffin” who did not exactly fit the mold of his peers within the Contemporary Christian Music industry of the 80’s and 90’s, left this earth and entered into his eternal resting place fifteen years ago today. While on his way to a benefit concert in Kansas, the driver of the Jeep Rich was riding in lost control. Mullins was thrown from his vehicle and was hit by oncoming traffic. He was 41 years old.

I was first exposed to the music of Rich Mullins shortly after I entered into a new relationship with Christ as a college student. Upon listening to much of his music and learning more of his story, there was something about his lyrics and -- to a greater extent, his life – that compelled me to learn more about the man behind the music.

Rich somehow seemed to be okay living with the tension of worshipping a God that is almighty, yet also difficult to understand. The same man who wrote the well-known Christian praise chorus (“Our God is an awesome God/He reigns from heaven above…”) also wrote the following lyrics, “So hold me Jesus/’Cause I’m shakin’ like a leaf/You have been king of my glory/Won’t you be my prince of peace.”

Although he was a well-known musical artist in Christian circles for a good portion of his adult life, Rich did not live the life of a rock star. He intentionally lived on a limited income (taking only what the median income was for the average American) and gave the rest of his earnings to charity. Heavily influenced by his Quaker roots, Rich was particularly committed to issues of peace, social justice and caring for the marginalized of society. His final years saw him taking a break from the Christian music industry as he moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico to teach children about music…and about Jesus.

After becoming introduced to the writings of Brennan Manning, I began to listen more intently to the music of Rich Mullins. Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel” had a profound influence upon me. Rich and his Ragamuffin Band did the same. While dealing with some particularly ugly sin in my life, I realized that I was somehow under the impression that God was nothing more than a distant, angry judge waiting for me to mess up. But Rich help me to understand that it was okay to be imperfect. God still loved me and my imperfections only demonstrated my need for a Savior.

Rich aided me in seeing that during his time on earth, Jesus tended to identify with the broken and forgotten people of his day. Just before his death, Rich was working on a new album which eventually became known as “The Jesus Record.” Containing ten songs about Jesus, Rich demonstrates remarkable vulnerability in describing a Savior that identifies with mankind, while also exhibiting a love that can only come from the one true God. "A Man of No Reputation", one of the songs on the album sung by a member of Rich's band, does not include Rich's vocals because Mullins himself could not sing of his great Savior as described in this song without breaking down in tears. I hope to experience the person of Jesus the way Rich Mullins did.

I’m thankful for the life and music of Rich Mullins. Through Rich, God changed me. He helped me to view God differently and forever affected how I interact with my fellow man. Fifteen years after his death, Rich continues to have an influence on others because he invested his life in that which matters for eternity. I hope the same can be said of my life once I'm gone.

To learn more about the life of Rich Mullins, you can check out James Bryan Smith’s Rich Mullins: A Devotional Biography: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven.

Or you can check out this video, Homeless Man, which tells the story of Rich Mullins.

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