So, I suppose Rich Mullins died 19 years ago today and I suppose I'm still a bit in denial about it. Everyone's posting their tributes, so I thought I'd offer mine too.
The above song is indicative of everything about Mullins. This is a tiny 3 minute miracle. It's at once surprising and simple, straightforward but with many unseen layers. This is one of the warmest songs I've ever heard (as in, it actually makes me FEEL warm, it FEELS like a hearth fire on a cold winter's day) and yet it makes me ache to my core. It envelops me in its kinship and charitas and yet there is a longing present just beyond the words that breaks your heart. It is the kind of sentimentality that feels right, even as it devastates you. Finally, the song talks about the Faith in a way that somehow manages to be subtle but entirely clear in its intentions. Mullins had a way...it was a rare way, and this is why we remember him. Finally, finally, when I first heard this song I just knew deep down that Mullins was MY friend, that he was singing this for me, and yet I also knew I'd never actually be his real life friend and that made me sad. And so I learned one of the greatest lessons about art from Mullins, that the only kind of art worth partaking in is the kind that makes you both profoundly sad and happy.
There is a part of me that believes St. Richard is at that lakeside camp still, tending to the evening fires, waiting for Jesus to come up and offer him some fish. There is a part of me that imagines he really did become an abbot and lived a blissfully quiet and celibate life amongst his humble brethren. There is a part of me that wants him to remain Other, to paint a glowing halo above all his pictures.
But no, he was driving a Jeep and flipped it due to the unforeseen circumstances of road construction on I-39, just about an hour away from my house. He flipped and flew out sans seatbelt and he was broken. The Rich Mullins we all knew was gone from us. Whatever he was doing out in Arizona/New Mexico was put to an abrupt halt and whatever songs were still floating around his brain drifted off when his brain waves ceased. At least we got 9 new ones about a year later, and I hear there is a possibility of even more coming in the near future.
From what I hear he wasn't all peaches and cream to live with, and that's ok. The boy becomes a man, and we can all hope to be forever growing young. He didn't leave us with his sainthood, he left us his art, his songs, his acerbic conversations, and those of us who listen closely enough know all of it was God-tinged, meaning, even he didn't have much to do with it all. He was simply trying to be the best vessel he could be, and a beat up vessel it was.
So here's to our old friend. The message bears repeating and the plain old truth grows dearer every day. Let's sing his songs and let's remember his presence, but let's not forget the one he kept pointing us to, the Giver of all good things.
Rich Mullins Related Podcast Episodes:
Caleb Kruse on Meeting Rich
Joe Cook of the Ragamuffin Archive
Related Articles on Rich Mullins:
1. So...They Made a Movie About Rich Mullins...
2. Interview--Reed Arvin: Recording Rich Mullins'
A Liturgy, A Legacy, and A Ragamuffin Band
My interview with Reed Arvin was originally published in a shorter form on
Christianity Today's website and can be found here:
The Legacy of Rich Mullins's Ragamuffin Band
3. Celebrating 20 Years of Rich Mullins'
A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band
4. The Theology of Rich Mullins
5. Movie Review: Ragamuffin: The True Story of Rich Mullins
6. Take a look: The Vast Online Rich Mullins Music Library
7. Rich Mullins was weird, but he was also so good Christian radio had to play him
8. Rich Mullins and America as Promised Land
9. Interview: David Leo Schultz on
Directing the Rich Mullins Movie (text version)
10. Finally, Here is my interview with the film's director, David Leo Schwartz: (here's the Soundcloud link)
(I told you I was obsessed)