Thursday, June 21, 2007

Remembering Rich Mullins -- Ten Years Later

I don't normally listen to CCM, but a couple of weeks ago I was driving home from some activity in another town, surfing round the radio dial, when a familiar, much-loved song that I hadn't heard for a few years came pouring out of the airwaves. It was Rich Mullins' Calling Out Your Name. It's a song that has always resonated with me, but listening to it while driving across the grasslands at sunset brought tears to my eyes. No wonder. The song is about the very same wide, empty corner of the world I was driving through. Or very nearly. Rich was "raised on Indiana clay" (where we spent most of the past four years), lived in Wichita for eight years and attended Friends University, and afterwards resided in New Mexico. He must have driven through our neck of the prairie to get there.

I believe in God the Father
Almighty Maker of Heaven and Maker of Earth
And in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son, our Lord
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Born of the virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
He was crucified and dead and buried

And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man
"Creed", R. Mullins & Beaker

Though we're strangers, still I love you
I love you more than your mask
And you know you have to trust this to be true
And I know that's much to ask
But lay down your fears, come and join this feast
He has called us here, you and me

And may peace rain down from Heaven
Like little pieces of the sky
Little keepers of the promis
Falling on these souls
This drought has dried
In His Blood and in His Body
In the Bread and in this Wine
Peace to you
Peace of Christ to you
"A Communion Blessing from St. Joseph's Square", R. Mullins

Reading about his life I was both shocked and baffled to learn that he was a lifelong . . . Quaker???!! "I was twelve years old in the meeting house...listening to the old men pray..." Still, that didn't make sense. His music was so creedal and sacramental. It was one of the subtle driving forces, in fact, in my conversion to creedal, sacramental, catholic faith. Friends consider creeds and sacraments human inventions and shy away from them. But further searching revealed the answer to the mystery: Rich had been preparing for and was ready to receive communion in the Roman Catholic Church immediately prior to his death.

We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are
"Not As Strong As We Think We Are"

Rich Mullins' music shaped my faith as a teen and young adult in a multitude of ways. His music is profound and poetic, but what really gives it substance is the rich theology behind it. Before I knew what to call it, I learned the Theology of the Cross from Rich's music. He deals much with human frailty, with the "not yet" of the Christian life.

Why do the nations rage?
Why do they plot and scheme?
Their bullets can't stop the prayers we pray
In the name of the Prince of Peace

For the Lord looks down on the sons of men
To hear the cries of the innocent
And the guilty will not stand
For the day of reckoning soon will come
And the whole world will see justice done
By the Lord's almighty hand
"Why Do the Nations Rage?"

So I'm telling you the just shall live
I know the just shall live
I know the just shall live
By faith

And You will raise them up
I know that You will raise them up
That You will raise them up
On the last day

And the prayers stand where the fighters fell
And time testifies with the tale that it tells
That the meek shall inherit the earth
And the Church advances on the gates of hell
And she clings to a light that will not be quelled
By the kingdoms of this world
"The Just Shall Live By Faith"

His songs are replete with recurring themes of social justice, of identification with the poor and lowly, of the incarnation, of the glory of God revealed in the creation, of the church and her calling, of suffering and death, and of hope in Christ. He lived what he believed, teaching music and Christian faith to Native American youth on a the remote reservation where he made his home, mostly unaware of how successful his albums were because royalties went directly to his church, which paid him a modest salary and divided up the rest among various charities for the poor.

This life has shown me how we're mended and how we're torn
How it's okay to be lonely as long as you're free
Sometimes my ground was stoney
And sometimes covered up with thorns
And only You could make it what it had to be
And now that it's done
Well if they dressed me like a pauper
Or if they dined me like a prince
If they lay me with my fathers
Or if my ashes scatter on the wind
I don't care

But 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

Rich Mullins left this life on September 19, 1997, in an auto accident on his way to a concert in Wichita, Kansas.

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be human? I cannot help but suspect that at one time in the history of thinking that people believed that it meant that we were spiritual and that we could make choices and were capable of aspiring to higher ideals... like maybe loyalty or maybe faith... or maybe even love. But now we told by people who think they know, that we vary from amoeba only in the complexity of our makeup and not in what we essentially are. They would have us think as Dysart said that we are forever bound up in certain genetic reigns - that we are merely products of the way things are and not free - not free to be the people who make them that way. They would have us see ourselves as products so that we could believe that we were something to be made - something to be used and then something to be disposed of. Used in their wars - used for their gains and then set aside when we get in their way. Well, who are they? They are the few who sit at the top of the heap - dung heap though it is - and who say it is better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven. Well, I do not know that we can have a Heaven here on earth, but I am sure we need not have a Hell either. What does it mean to be human? I cannot help but believe that it means we are spiritual - that we are responsible and that we are free - that we are responsible to be free.
R. Mullins, "Introduction to Higher Education and the Book of Love"

Homeless Man: Rich Mullins (on YouTube)
Wikipedia bio
An interview
I love what he says about the illusion of choices and about politics.

More quotes:
On mourning

On family values:

This whole "family values" thing is hugely misleading. It sort of implies that what your life is about is being happily married and having a beautiful family. And I go, "Wow, that's not what Jesus said."

You can have a wonderfully happy marriage or you can have a very successful experience with singleness and still not have anything at all when it's over. When we're dead, we're not married or single. And who we are is who we will be when we die. I think everyone should keep in mind that we will be dead very soon and live our lives in light of that. And your identity has to be something other than your marital status or your income.

On identification with Christ:

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. speech begins at 7:40 of the video


Dana said...

Beautiful song. As I sit here in Nebraska listening. : )

I grew up in Indiana, too...and then moved to Kansas. Interesting how lives intersect.

Dana said...

Feel free to delete this, but I wanted to let you know that you are in my blogroll...its just that I have them scrolling right now, so you are just under Enjoy the Journey. They are supposed to be alphabetized, but I noticed my abc order skills are lacking in some categories.

Renae said...

Thank you for this wonderful reminder of how much one person can impact others. Through his songs Rich Mullins has inspired and challenged me. I am so thankful that he used the gifts to glorify God.

Karen E. said...

With the anniversary of Rich Mullins' death coming up, I was looking around for some links for my own short tribute post to him. This is beautiful. Thank you!

Ebeth said...

Thanks for the reminder!! Rich Mullins's music was introduced to me in 1998 with the song: "Yesokalrightamen" am I right about the title? Anyway, you know which one I'm referring to. What a great musician and songwriter and what a loss to the Catholic music community!!

Ebeth said...

"Alrightokuhuhamen" That's the song.


Niesi said...

I loved your tribute to Rich Mullins. He's absolutely my favorite Christian artist.

I read an interview that his brother did after his death and he said that though Rich was learning about and studying Catholicism, he wasn't going to convert afterall. Dave Mullins said that Rich loved the learning process.

Whatever his denomination, he was an awesome example of what Christianity should be, warts and all. I will be thrilled to meet him across the Jordan.