Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Remembering Rich Mullins
Rich Mullins passed away 20 years ago today. In a world where far too many Christians have aligned themselves with the Pharisees, we need to hear his voice and his music more than ever. The world needs Ragamuffins. Here's what I want you to remember about him...
In August of 1990, I got to spend a week with singer-songwriter Rich Mullins in NC. We were together at a Quaker youth conference, where strangely enough Rich was the speaker and I led music and worship. That week changed my life (you can read more by clicking here). The last night of the week Rich performed in front of the entire conference, both youth and adults. We all assumed he would play songs off his newest project, or perhaps his biggest hit, Awesome God. Instead, he sat at the piano and performed Sing Your Praise To the Lord, a song he had written but that Amy Grant had recorded, and Elijah, a song from one of his first albums. As always, Rich sang not to sell tapes, but to praise God. The next morning, as we said farewell, we prayed together one last time, and then he said he had something for me. I had told him about our TNT program at Springfield Friends Meeting and how we gave away door prizes, with the best prizes often being tapes or CDs. He gave me a box of his CDs and tapes, and another box of T-shirts to use as giveaways. This was part of the way he made a living- and he just gave it away. Another lesson learned in my life.
His influence would be felt in so many ways in my ministry in the days and years that would follow. My students who had been at North Carolina Yearly Meeting came back fired up and ready to follow Jesus! From that day forward I taught the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes at least once a year, and tried to find ways to get the youth really into learning them. He inspired me to start taking groups of students to work in our local soup kitchen on a regular basis, and later would inspire mission trips. Soon everyone at Springfield was listening to Rich's music and wearing one of his T-shirts. The two shirts carried serious messages. One said "Live like you'll die tomorrow. Die knowing you'll live forever!" The other simply said "Alrightokuhhuhamen," the title of one of his songs (Another thing Rich taught me- AMEN means YES- not "the end."). The song was all about saying YES to God. I made banners to put up in youth room at Springfield and in "The Attic" in Kissimmee with just Alrightokuhhuhamen printed on them. By Kissimmee, we were singing Awesome God and Sometimes By Step on a regular basis. His impact on my ministry was tremendous.
So was his influence on my life. Along with Mike Yaconelli, Rich was one of the two guys I was ever around who just oozed Jesus. Listen to this quote from one of his final concerts:
"Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken..."
He moved out of the music scene in Nashville in 1991 to Wichita, Kansas, where he attended Friends University and received a B.A. in music education. He and fellow Ragamuffin Mitch McVicker (the Ragamuffins were the band he had formed in 1993) moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico in 1995 to live among the Native Americans and teach music. For Rich, "What Would Jesus Do?" was not a bracelet- it was the driving question of his life. And because I knew that, his music was a moving force and a comfort in my own spiritual journey. At times when I struggled with my faith his song Creed reminded me "I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am." At the lowest points of my life, when I had let down everyone who loved me and everyone who believed in me, his words reminded me that "There's bound to come some trouble to your life, just reach out to Jesus and hold on tight..." As I lost so many of the things that had been important to me, I found myself praying his words daily: "Hold me, Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf. You have been King of my glory, won't you be my Prince of Peace?" So many of his words showed me the light of Jesus in my darkest times. No matter how bad it seemed, I knew I was still in"the reckless, raging fury that we call the love of God..." Even his final project, The Jesus Record (see picture at top), promised me that "our Deliverer is coming..."
Rich was killed in a car accident on September 19, 1997. I cried, but Rich himself had already written about going to be with Jesus in his early classic Elijah- "When I leave I want to go out like Elijah, with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire. And when I look back on the stars, it'll be like a candlelight in Central Park- and it won't break my heart to say goodbye..." He left such a legacy in my life. I am a Ragamuffin, a bum who is only important because of the love of Jesus. And now, more than ever, I understand that my life belongs to God. He still has a plan for me, and I will say YES when the time comes. As the song says "You can argue with your maker but you know that you just can't win...so say it... Alrightokuhhuhamen!"
Because of Jesus,