15 years ago, a musician named Rich Mullins died. His Jeep rolled over on a Friday in Illinois, and I remember hearing the news on the radio the next day. Choked up, the DJ slowly shared the story and hollowed out a minute of airtime.
That 60 seconds of silence shook me up. I remember it because, at the time, I didn’t grasp the loss, but I knew something great was gone. Reaction to his death was widespread – musicians, authors, poets, clergy and artists collectively paid tribute in their own ways. Like a child at a funeral, I felt the gravity from the cues of others older and wiser. In the months and years following, a sadness settled on my shoulders, and it has never left.
Calling Out Your Name
Rich wrote songs that shot straight and stirred your soul. He brought intricate, moving metaphors to a world of trite, convenient Christian-ized art. The God he sang of was mysterious and beyond our control, powerful but patient, good but not safe. And Rich was good – really good – on so many instruments, including the hammered dulcimer that became his sonic signature.
Rich broke the rules of the Christian subculture. He didn’t fit well; artistically, his most popular songs were not his best, which fathomed God’s poetry and asked hard questions. I think his life meant so much to so many because he saw a way around what has beleaguered our community for so long. It hit many people like a ton of bricks when they heard his songs, saw how he lived, or heard him make statements like this:
“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…” (full recording, quote starts at 7:40)
The Living Legacy
Today, I’m remembering Rich and his legacy, and not just his musical or mission work. There are dozens of musicians, writers and artists who will immediately tell you that Rich was and continues to be an inspiration. Many wear it as a quiet badge of honor that they knew him personally.
The best part is that you can still hear Rich in their work. My favorite singer/songwriter, Andrew Peterson, is well-documented as Rich’s “heir apparent,” and you can hear the Rich-ness of his music across his catalog. (By the way, Andrew’s latest album is his best yet and will be an upcoming Matthewpedia subject.) Andrew also wrote one of the best tributes to Rich I’ve read.
I can’t stop there. So many artists rocked by Rich are making great art today – Andy Gullahorn, JillPhillips, Derek Webb, Randall Goodgame… The list goes on. Quite literally, it seems, when you open the comments section. Who do you remember Rich with? Leave a comment.