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.
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