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Rich Mullins lived the life of a seeker. He grew up on the family farm with two brothers and two sisters and wrote songs about the farming life. Disappointed in love early, he would never settle, embracing the role of a ragamuffin. He took being in the world but not of the world very seriously, from 1995 until his death, he lived on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico teaching music to the children and attending Christian services.
Being a ragamuffin, he was always experimenting with his music. Few artists would reflect on the usefulness of a screen door on a submarine, but he did. Taking the Dylanesque tramp folkie image to heart, he kept his work fresh by finding new narrative approaches and drawing from many musical traditions.
Among his greatest achievements, there is “Creed”, where he makes some of the oldest words in Christianity fresh again with a musical riff that reminds me of “Where the Streets Have No Name”:
And “We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are”, in which he pierces our public masks and petty pride to leave us naked in the shame of Eden, but more gently than I make it sound:
and “If I Stand”, where he deals with weakness and grace and faith in a resolutely spiritual and mature voice. Every artist that has written a mawkish sentimental Lord save me this life is so bad ballad should take a minute to listen to this before turning theirs loose:
From a report by Jennifer Comes Roy writing in the Wichita Eagle on the occasion of his death:
Rich Mullins never thought of himself as famous or talented, and never cared about being rich. What he cared about was serving God and serving others _ a message of joy that resonates throughout the contemporary Christian music he wrote and recorded.
A former Wichitan and a graduate of Friends University, Mullins, 41, was killed Friday night in an automobile accident in Illinois. Mullins and a friend, Marshall McVicker, 24, were on their way from Chicago to Wichita for a performance Saturday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The concert was a benefit for a youth ministries organization of the United Methodist Church.
“In the industry, he was considered by many to be the greatest writer of our time, ” said Mullins’ manager and friend, Jim Dunning Jr. “I believe that.
“But if Rich had his preference, I think he’d prefer not to be remembered. Rich would prefer that the God he believed in be remembered.”
Just like all those Madonna and child portraits, where Mary is in some way pointing to the child.
The next video starts a little slow, but I think the patience is well rewarded. Rich was gone before I came across his music. I did not discover this next song until after I knew the circumstances regarding his death. He and a friend were traveling in a Jeep on Interstate 39 near Lostant, Illinois on September 19, 1997, 23 years ago today, when there was an accident and he was thrown out of the vehicle and then run over by a tractor-trailer truck in the dark. So I can never hear this song without imagining that night.
A posthumous record was assembled, the Jesus Record, using many demo tracks by Mullins for the projected content. And then covers by other artists of the songs, including Amy Grant, Rick Elias, Ashley Cleveland, Michael W. Smith, closing out his final project as well as could be managed. I am sure the original vision has already been performed brilliantly for his Lord.
Mullins was posthumously awarded the GMA Dove Artist of the Year 1998 award, the 1999 Song of the Year for “My Deliverer”, and the 1999 Songwriter of the Year. He was nominated many times when he was alive, but like canonizing saints, his earthly recognition came after his earthly travails.
The following is from a tribute concert performed in Nashville, TN. It captures the essential magic of the song:
At his death, Rich’s net worth was around $6 million, but he never knew that. When his career took off, he arranged for his fortune to be managed in a blind trust with him receiving a modest allowance. In the music industry, he knew full well what money and temptation could do to a man. Like Joseph confronted with his master Potipher’s aggressively lustful wife, he fled the temptation.
In the world, but not of it.
The Lord’s peace be with him, and with you all.Published in