Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Rich Mullins, Ragamuffin

 

Rich Mullin
The Lord’s own ragamuffin.
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 Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Arahant Member

    Thank you for sharing him on his 23rd death day.

    • #1
    • September 19, 2020, at 4:06 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  2. JoelB Member

    Excellent tribute to one of my favorite Christian artists. If I were to add to the post I would include “While the Nations Rage”, but there are so many. You meet the Lord in the furnace a long time before you meet Him in the sky.

    • #2
    • September 19, 2020, at 4:07 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Excellent tribute to one of my favorite Christian artists. If I were to add to the post I would include “While the Nations Rage”, but there are so many. You meet the Lord in the furnace a long time before you meet Him in the sky.

    No reason not to:

    • #3
    • September 19, 2020, at 4:09 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  4. Hartmann von Aue Member

    I was in Vienna when he was killed. The news came up on…I can’t remember which news service it was, but it hit me like a mailed fist to the face. He meant a lot to us from Indiana. Lord thank you for his life and thank you for the post reminding us of him. 

    • #4
    • September 19, 2020, at 4:10 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  5. Sisyphus Coolidge
    SisyphusJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Excellent tribute to one of my favorite Christian artists. If I were to add to the post I would include “While the Nations Rage”, but there are so many. You meet the Lord in the furnace a long time before you meet Him in the sky.

    I limited it to four and fiddled with it for over a month, and then added the “My Deliverer” tribute because I could not leave the song out. The easiest exclusion was that useless as a screen door on a submarine thing. It has a certain charm, but it just didn’t fit the needs of the piece.

    • #5
    • September 19, 2020, at 4:17 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama ToadJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Lovely tribute.

    (Side note, my daughter’s favorite spelling word this week was “ragamuffin.”)

    • #6
    • September 19, 2020, at 4:47 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  7. Kevin Schulte Member

    I consider Rich Mullins work as the Greatest in modern Christendom. His lyrics spoke to my heart. I just loved this man. For years I had somewhat put him on a pedestal. If only I could love the Lord as deeply. The song (First Family) painted an image of a Godly family. I thought, no wonder Rich could pen the songs he did.

    I recommend the movie (Ragamuffin). It is the story of Rich’s life. I saw this a few months ago. It completely changed my view of Rich Mullins. He was a tortured soul. No wonder he could write such deeply profound songs. He walked with the Lord, fell down, got up and walked with the lord over and over. His messy life did not fit the image I had created in my mind through his music. Because of his warts, I love him more. Thank you God for the gift you gave this man.

    • #7
    • September 19, 2020, at 5:03 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  8. Stina Member

    And he plays the dulcimer!

    My favorite of his songs was My Deliverer. I absolutely love the images and juxtaposition of Jesus in Egypt alongside the deliverance of Israel and the World.

    • #8
    • September 19, 2020, at 6:34 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. AUMom Member
    AUMomJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My Deliverer is haunting yet convicting. 

    I discovered Rich Mullins and his music after his death. He enriched my life. 

    • #9
    • September 19, 2020, at 7:06 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. Vance Richards Member
    Vance RichardsJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Lots of good stuff. I became a Christian in 1997 and was just starting to buys some Rich Mullins CD’s right before he died. I still remember hearing about it on the radio.

    I saw a movie about his life, Ragamuffin. Not a happy story, he drank a lot and had issues with his father. He did seem to make peace with much of that near the end but through his brokenness he did find a true heart for God.

    • #10
    • September 19, 2020, at 9:32 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. JennaStocker Member

    Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. Lamentations 3:32

    Thank you for sharing this moving tribute. Well done.

    • #11
    • September 19, 2020, at 11:12 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  12. Instugator Thatcher
    InstugatorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks, I had not heard of him before

    • #12
    • September 19, 2020, at 1:33 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. Rodin Member

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Thanks, I had not heard of him before

    Neither had I. I spent the morning watching the videos and looking up more. This video from 2012 was a great overview:

    • #13
    • September 19, 2020, at 3:24 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Kevin Schulte Member

    Rodin (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Thanks, I had not heard of him before

    Neither had I. I spent the morning watching the videos and looking up more. This video from 2012 was a great overview:

    Go to the library and barrow his cd’s. If you like what you heard so far you will love the rest. His only stinker song in his collection is the (screen door) one. You will not be disapointed.

    • #14
    • September 19, 2020, at 3:40 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  15. Rodin Member

    I watched the video linked in Comment #13 once and then once again with Mrs Rodin. There were so many quotable moments. After the credits at the end there is a short segment of Rich Mullins talking about what a mistake the church makes by assuming government will take care of the poor. “The government can give the poor money but it can’t take care of them. That is what the church is for.” For me that filled in a missing piece for me in a logic puzzle of why there should be more private charity and less government charity: What people do for each other promotes strategies (where available) for self-reliance because it creates bonds of respect and regard. Most people will accept disembodied money from government without any sense that they need to do something to lessen the burden on government. But embodied charity creates a sense of obligation (when able) to reduce the forward going burden on the givers. The con artists of course feel no obligation, but risk the likelihood of being exposed for who they are.

    • #15
    • September 19, 2020, at 3:41 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  16. DrewInWisconsin, Man of Consta… Coolidge

    I was in college and collecting all the Christian music I could afford back in the 1980s when I took a chance on his first album. Glad I did. His first few albums were a bit cheesy in places, although still had their great moments. But when he released “The World As Best As I Remember It,” there was a new maturity about it that made me sit up and take notice. I think it was the song “Jacob and 2 Women” which I puzzled over several times. It was this song that provided the title of the album. The question in my mind was always: Is he saying “this is as much as I remember” or is he saying “this is as good as it gets”? Because in the context of the song, it ain’t that great. But you could already see that he was moving away from typical CCM.

    I think “A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band” he set off in a new direction and that album is possibly the best of his career.

    When songs that were brimming with assurance seemed common in CCM, Rich didn’t shy away from sharing struggles, questions, and a deep yearning in his music and lyrics. That sort of really human message has always spoken to me much more than those that present the perfect Christian life. We’re all broken people, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

    This was probably Rich’s last “hit” song, released posthumously only in a very rough demo version. It might be my favorite Mullins song.

    Here’s Andrew Osenga speaking about and performing “Hold Me Jesus.”

     

    • #16
    • September 19, 2020, at 5:33 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  17. DrewInWisconsin, Man of Consta… Coolidge

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):
    His only stinker song in his collection is the (screen door) one. You will not be disapointed.

    Well, it’s atypical, and as released, I think it was just meant to be a little novelty. I think on a later album the whole song is included (whereas originally, just a single verse).

    I have my own strong opinions about everyone’s favorite: “Awesome God,” which I think I’ve shared here before: this is an awkward song with awkward verses and should never be attempted in corporate worship. Of course, people do. I guess as long as they just stick to the chorus it works, but the verses are ridiculously un-singable.

    What’s funny is that when the album was released that had “Awesome God,” my response was “I like all the songs on this album except ‘Awesome God’ which is cheesy and bad.” Of course, that one was the big hit.

    • #17
    • September 19, 2020, at 5:40 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  18. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    Thank you for this post; I’ve been thinking of Rich Mullins quite a bit over the last two days. And don’t worry about fiddling with it for a month; I don’t think you could have published it any earlier. You’ll know it when you see it.

    There are some Christian musicians who stand up on stage because they want to be on stage in front of everybody, because they want to bask in adulation, or because it’s their job. And then there are some who get up there because they want to praise Jesus, and that is really, truly, all they’re doing up there. Rich Mullins isn’t just in that second category, he’s the archtypical example you’d use to explain it to someone.

    • #18
    • September 19, 2020, at 6:30 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    DrewInWisconsin, Man of Consta… (View Comment):
    When songs that were brimming with assurance seemed common in CCM, Rich didn’t shy away from sharing struggles, questions, and a deep yearning in his music and lyrics. That sort of really human message has always spoken to me much more than those that present the perfect Christian life. We’re all broken people, and it’s okay to acknowledge that.

    Thank you! Look at the Psalms; they’re written that way. 

    • #19
    • September 19, 2020, at 6:32 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  20. Sisyphus Coolidge
    SisyphusJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I am amazed at the responses this post has received and gratified that some have discovered this wonderful body of work here. I came to Rich’s work in the course of a long, painful, disabling illness that will only end in death. Through the betrayals and divorce that ensued, the music by Rich and a handful of others have seen me through. I suffered fibromyalgia so severe that I could not turn my neck more than a few degrees and, at one point, could not lift my leg into a car except by manually moving it. 

    Two years ago, a wonderful accident occurred. Deconditioning had raised my resting heart rate to 100 beats per minute, and I was unable to stand for more than a minute or so, and declining week to week. Having been a gym rat in a previous life, I knew I was heading for a still darker place fast. I asked a doctor about bringing the heart rate down on the theory that hitting the stationary bike I could hit the stationary bike and buy myself a little time. 

    Taking that prescription, the extreme muscle fatigue from the autoimmune condition lifted in two days. No one can explain why or how, but I thank Him every day, I am still far from healed, but I can turn my neck and lift my legs without pain. That was not expected to ever happen again. 

    Thank you Lord. And thank you for sending Rich. He helped me through it.

    • #20
    • September 19, 2020, at 7:52 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  21. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    Amen and amen.

    • #21
    • September 19, 2020, at 8:05 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  22. kylez Member
    kylezJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I got the Songs album for $1 a couple of years ago. 

    • #22
    • September 20, 2020, at 12:39 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Jailer Member

    Thanks so much for this. You have brightened my day.

    I used to keep a personal blog. Rich Mullins was my favorite topic. His impact on my own journey was and is profound.

    For myself, I would list “Land of My Sojourn” and “What Susan Said” as a couple of his less well known but extremely moving pieces. Also, in my mind “Hard to Get” was the most important piece (and haunting) on “The Jesus Record.”

    • #23
    • September 20, 2020, at 2:27 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  24. DrewInWisconsin, Man of Consta… Coolidge

    Jailer (View Comment):
    Also, in my mind “Hard to Get” was the most important piece (and haunting) on “The Jesus Record.”

    :: nods vigorously ::

    Especially haunting because that demo was recorded in an echoey old church. Somehow that gave it an extra bit of simple intimacy over the studio version with Rick Elias.

    • #24
    • September 20, 2020, at 7:55 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Rodin Member

    This is probably a very shallow comment given my limited insight into Mullins’ work: When I listen to and read the lyrics of “Our God Is An Awesome God” I am put in mind of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. The refrains are what explicitly appeal to a religious audience. The rest of the lyrics, while poetic, do not conform to standard religious instruction that are featured in most religious music.

    • #25
    • September 21, 2020, at 10:29 AM PDT
    • Like
  26. Sisyphus Coolidge
    SisyphusJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Rodin (View Comment):

    This is probably a very shallow comment given my limited insight into Mullins’ work: When I listen to and read the lyrics of “Our God Is An Awesome God” I am put in mind of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. The refrains are what explicitly appeal to a religious audience. The rest of the lyrics, while poetic, do not conform to standard religious instruction that are featured in most religious music.

    “Awesome God” is not a favorite of mine. In fact, even my biggest, least curated playlists do not include it. I have much more affection even for the screen door on a submarine song. In the biopic Ragamuffin he gets to a point in his career where he has recorded many efforts well received by the critics but he has not produced a hit that gets hourly play and spikes sales. So there is much drama and Mullins is contemplating a coming downshift back to life with no record and maybe drinking too much when he gives them “Awesome God”. The movie kind of treats it as an inspired moment without saying so, but to my ear he had written a song that fit in on the Christian rock stations that I never listen to and that, frankly, play a lot of non-teaching praise praise praise music. (Teaching is a tricky thing in a world with 30,000 denominations). But whatever its shortcomings “Awesome God” is a totally joyous song and that’s what they play and it gave him financial security.

    The first time I saw the film I thought they were portraying him as selling out, but on a re-viewing that may just have been my resistance to the song’s charms speaking.

    • #26
    • September 21, 2020, at 12:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  27. Sisyphus Coolidge
    SisyphusJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Am now hiding in a remote bomb shelter waiting for the “Awesome God” die hards to empty their missile silos in my general direction.

    • #27
    • September 21, 2020, at 1:00 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  28. DrewInWisconsin, Man of Consta… Coolidge

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    Am now hiding in a remote bomb shelter waiting for the “Awesome God” die hards to empty their missile silos in my general direction.

    You won’t get it from me. I thought I’d read that Mullins himself didn’t like the song.

     

    • #28
    • September 21, 2020, at 1:12 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  29. AUMom Member
    AUMomJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Me either. I sing it when it pops up but I don’t ever search for it. 

    • #29
    • September 21, 2020, at 1:25 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  30. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    Sisyphus (View Comment):

    Am now hiding in a remote bomb shelter waiting for the “Awesome God” die hards to empty their missile silos in my general direction.

    I wanted to defend the verse, but I realized that I always start it on “There is thunder in His footsteps and lightning in His fist.” Hmm… point taken. 

    Still, if you downgrade the word to the antecedent phrase, One of whom we should stand in awe, well, I think we could have more worship music that touches on those themes. 

    • #30
    • September 21, 2020, at 7:37 PM PDT
    • 3 likes