Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Best Friend I Never Met

This world makes my soul ache. The fact that I was made for eternity but born into a world of sin is like being captured in a net. Even when circumstances in my life are stable the ache is still there, reminding me that eternity is just a whisper away. For me, the crescendo of following Christ reaches its culmination the split second I experience eternal life without sin. But for now, the ache remains. I'm telling you, there's not one thing authentic in me other than the reality of my failures. And while we all may share this same ache, there is one person who could articulate it better than anyone I know. That person is Rich Mullins.

I see a huge shift in the modern church culture to make following Christ a complicated marriage of philosophy and mysticism. And being authentic is key. Personally, I don't think "authenticity" is something you can cook up at a moment's notice, it's something you just are, or you aren't. I've seen stuff flood some "Christian" venues that's downright contrived: trendy, popular, and straying from Scripture in order to be palatable. Rich Mullins, as a person and an artist, stood in stark contrast to these views. What I like so much about him was that what you saw was what you got, He loved Jesus, spot on. There were people who didn't get him, but for those of us who did, even though we never met him, he was one of our best friends.

It is the gut-level sincerity of people like Rich Mullins that I try to find in myself. And as of today, I'm still searching. Hidden beneath layers of spiritual laziness, yelling at my kids, not making the bed every day, being more concerned about the next words I'll type than whether or not I've looked at any Scripture today, the same Truth that held to Rich Mullins is holding onto me. God knows, I'm not always holding onto it; I'm rebellious and would run from God lest my favorite TV show be interrupted. I care too much about appearances and not enough about other people to care sometimes. It's the pain of my sin that beats me against the musty, hateful rock of the threshing floor again and again. (And this is just my confession, when I think of the repentance that needs to take place it's appalling.)

Rich and I had a lot in common. We both have questions of theology and suffering that go unanswered because the answers are beyond what a human mind can grasp. And whether or not you like his folksy, hammer-dulcimer, torn up jeans, calloused foot music, you have to admit, the man seemed to understand what most of us only wish we could. I think I have a hunch as to why.

His home was a old trailer on an Indian reservation where he dedicated his life to teaching music to Navajo children. After his death his friends went there to gather his personal effects. Upon entering they found little more than a mattress. He traveled light because he knew that's exactly what he was doing: traveling, passing through. He was not made for this world and he knew it; he lived it.

In a career that was marked with tremendous financial success and fame, Rich was incredibly uncomfortable with it all. At the Dove awards he left his seat at the dinner following the ceremony and donned a waiter's hat and began serving dinner to other guests. Many thought he was joking around, but I doubt it. From what I've heard of him, limelight made his eyes squint. He needed to serve because that's what made Jesus shine, so that's what he did. He was said to be flaky, and maybe that's because he simply wasn't tied down. In his entire career he never knew the extent of his earnings. His quarterly checks from record labels were sent to the board of elders at his small home church. He asked them to pay him the median salary of a typical US worker, about $24,600 annually. The rest was given away to missions and charitable organizations or put into his retirement. Rich said, "If I knew how much I made it might make giving the rest away all that much harder."

When he died I cried for a long time. I wasn't grieving Rich Mullins, I was grieving for myself. The pain was about losing a beatnik poet who never met me but understood the ache of my human condition - my sin and misconceptions of God. His music was the salve that soothed these wounds by reminding me that from the moment time began, the God of the Universe, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, had a plan for me. By putting Scripture, angst, sweat, and eternity to music he was an arrow pointing toward heaven.

Rich Mullins was far from perfect. But for me, I'll take the introspective search for The Real Jesus Christ over contrived authenticity on any given day.

Rich died 11 years ago this month. He was riding in an open jeep when fate stepped in. Then instantly, he was gone, straight to the arms of the Jesus he spent his life chasing. If I could tell Rich anything it would be to thank him. But my guess is, at this point, he really doesn't care.

This song, "Hard To Get", was recorded just days before his death. He purchased a cheap tape recorder from K-Mart, ergo the raw recording. I can't sing this song without being reminded of my soul's ache, but I am comforted knowing the ache won't last forever. I hope it does the same for you.


Catherine said...

Stacy, Rich Mullins was also one of my absolute favorite musicians. I recently read a book called "Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven" that was just wonderful. I think my favorite of his songs was "Elijah". Thanks for your post.


bub said...

That's maybe only the 2nd or 3rd song I've ever heard him play. Thanks for sharing it. It sounds like his authenticity shines through his music and his life.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I never knew all that about Rich Mullins. Thank you for sharing that with us!!!!!

another lisa said...

thanks for honoring the guy i always say, when asked the lame question "who would you like to have dinner with?"
i was cranky & sad & frustated last friday, still with no power here in humid houston. without the internet/ tv updates, i had forgotten the date, until trying to sleep i remembered it was the 19th.
i too cried upon hearing of his death. thanks for letting others know of his passions & gifts.
"hold me jesus,
cause i'm shaking like a leaf.
you have been my king of glory, won't you be my prince of peace?" is a favorite line i still connect to, in one of his many raw & honest songs.

Bev said...

Hi Stacy - I've been reading your comments on SCL for a long time. I've just started reading your blog. This post really resonated with me today. I agree with "another lisa" about the line "Hold me Jesus, cause I'm shaking like a leaf..." being very meaningful for me.

I didn't know the part about him giving away most of his earnings. I think Rich knew more about servanthood than many of us can even dream of understanding. And he was willing to make his life match his beliefs. Wow.

I'm going to go dig up my old Rich Mullins CD's and put them on my ipod. Time for some reconnecting there.

Thanks for a terrific post. The funny ones are wonderful too - but this one really connected with me today.

Pam said...

Though I didn't recognize the name, Rich Mullins, I recognized the music. Just want to thank you for sharing this...I have been truly blessed. My fave has to be Hold Me Jesus. Again, thank you.

Imaginina said...

Thanks Stacy. THe music of Rich Mullins is my comfort music. When I am in a bad or confusing place, it is his music I listen to. I always learn something even though I have listened to his songs many times.

eastern ky pastor said...

One of the many things I loved about Rich Mullins was the seemingly paradox that he is the same guy singing "Awesome God" and searching songs such as "Hard To Get". It reminds me that we cannot allow ourselves to think we've arrived spiritually, until we've arrived heavenly. And I'm with Lisa and Bev about "Hold Me Jesus"

Christy said...

I also did not know these things about Rich. I'm glad now to know it. God is awesome in how he brings the right people into our lives at the right time. I know musicians maybe not technically be "in" our lives, but their music is, and that's what resonates with our souls. Our God is an awesome God!

Rob said...


I loved Rich from the first time he did a concert at Taylor U back in the day. "Hard To Get" is especially meaningful to me. My wife and I lost our first pregnancy to a miscarriage, and I was pretty upset with God taking our child while letting many others be born to addicts and people who abandon them. A week later, this CD came out. As I was driving, "Hard To Get" came on and it kicked me in the heart. I had to pull over because I was crying so hard, and right then and there I had a long talk with God that changed my perspective. Rich had a unique way of expressing God's truths in a down-to-earth fashion. Thanks for reminding me how much I loved his music and his message.

bpinks said...

I had the opportunity to meet Rich several times- before he moved to the reservation, he lived in Wichita, KS for several years and was a member of my parent's church. Several of his songs reference places in Kansas and there are certain stretches of road I drive to this day that I still hear "Calling Out Your Name" in my head. He was truly a bright light in our world and still missed by so many.

Paul Wilkinson said...

Something that amazed me eleven years ago at the time of Rich's passing, with all the tributes that poured in online, is that no one picked up on this line from his very first album. If this doesn't describe the man, I don't know what does:

"Show me someone who makes a difference
Show me someone who's brave when he needs to be
I just need to see
Someone who cares enough that he would risk his life
For the love of what he's come to believe

"But you say that a man like that wouldn't last in a world like this
Well I believe that the world won't last
If a man like that don't exist..."

(A Few Good Men)

fb said...

Wow - thanks for the post - made me revisit some forgotten music. Someone else who speaks to me is Dennis Jernigan - Break My Heart Oh God - so powerful.

Kathy said...

Wow...I read your blog regularly, and this post socked me to the core...

I'm so my thoughts...actions...and behavior. I wish there was a Rich in my life to slap me around...

Thank you for sharing your truly ministered to me.

samantha said...

wow. i had never heard of rich mullins... considering i was 7 when he died. its really sad my generation missed out on what seems like an awesome man and an awesome christian.

Donna said...


I feel the same way about Keith Green.....and you're probably too young to really know of his impact in the christian music world in the 70s and 80s......

good men.....

Raw Faith Real World said...

I bawled my brains out too when I found out about Rich dying. I was working at a church at the time that was so far away from what he stood for. I always found solace in his music. He was a quirky, broken man who acknowledged his desperate need for God and his own humanity. Those are very rare and endearing things. As a music teacher I try to expose as many of my students to his music as possible. Thanks for the post.

JennyM said...

I remember having to tell my husband that Rich had died. He was very upset. I was crushed. I remember thinking how similar he death was to Keith Green's. How the great poet's words had been snuffed out. I miss Rich Mullens like you cannot imagine. We had a chance to see him in concert and my super frugal husband decided we couldn't afford it. "We'll see him next time he comes through." Well, he didn't come that way again until after we moved away. And then he died. We still will say "I wish we had seen him live". But we don't mention who'se dumb idea it was to save a few dollars.
So now we go see whomever we like that is playing and enjoy ourselves!
He did go out like Elijah.

Robin said...

Stacy, I have been reading your blog for awhile but I haven't commented before. I just have to say thank you for this post! Rich's music meant so much to me and this post was a perfect tribute to him. "If I Stand" is probably my favorite song of all. And anyone who still misses his music should really check out Andrew Peterson. He was given the opportunity to finish one of Rich's unfinished songs, he chose "Mary Picked the Roses" and it's absolutely beautiful and he also wrote a tribute song to Rich called "Three Days Before Autumn". Anyway, I thought anyone who loved Rich Mullins might want to check those songs out.

Thanks again for your post, and for your blog...I always enjoy it!


Transparent Christian Mag. said...

Stacy- A friend of mine was a bartender in Franklin, Tennessee. He said that Rich would come in once in awhile, order a beer and talk about Jesus to anyone sitting around him at the bar. My friend said he was one of the most genuine guys he had ever met. Thanks for writing about him. One of the highlights for me after starting Transparent Christian Magazine was interviewing Mitch McVicker (who was sort of an understudy to Rich and was in the jeep with Rich when he died. Mitch almost died too and continues to tour and make fantastic music). The article is here if you or your readers are interested:

Tara Barthel said...

Thanks for your ministry! I'm so glad to have found your blog (via "Stuff Christians Like").

Tara B.