I knew very little about Rich Mullins and his music when I was growing up.
He died right as music for me was becoming something more than just whatever my mom had playing on the radio in the car.
I knew who he was and, of course, I knew all the words to “Awesome God.” Who didn’t back then? But, honestly, I always thought it was a pretty cheesy song, at least the verses.
There were a few other Rich Mullins songs I knew and the word “ragamuffin” was vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t have told you why. To me, he was just another Christian musician. So when he died, I felt the sort of shallow sadness we all feel when celebrities we really know nothing about die. I didn’t get why some people in the Christian music world were speaking as if the church had lost a prophet.
But I think I’m beginning to understand why today.
Yesterday, I was flipping through the new releases on Netflix and stumbled across a movie called Ragamuffin. I knew a bit about it. I had a faint memory of seeing a preview once upon a time and had heard a few people whose opinions I respect offer hopeful words about the movie.
So, with nothing better to do I clicked play.
The film certainly won’t be competing for any Oscars, but it did have something going for it that most Christian films don’t – it was watchable. Yes, the acting was mostly just ok. Yes, there was the requisite cheesiness (though it just a dash; far, far less than you would except). And, yes, budget constraints led to some scenery anachronisms that ruined the illusion that it was the late 80s/early 90s.
But, I have to confess that for someone like me who has a non-existent relationship with his father, I found the scene where Rich works through his own non-existent relationship with his father to be unexpectedly, but incredibly moving.
Again, that may have just been me and the movie was certainly far from perfect, but if you’ve got Netflix and the extra time, I think it’s definitely worth hitting play.
Anyway, as a trained historian, the first thing I did once the credits started rolling (and maybe during the movie too…) was to start googling Rich Mullins to see how accurate the film was. As it turns out, at least according to an interview I read with friends who knew him, even though the film did take the typical historical liberties that all movies do, it did present a pretty accurate portrayal of Rich Mullins the person.
If that was true, I thought, then I may have just found a kindred soul.
So, I kept googling.
I was having myself a Elton John-Goodbye Norma Jean moment.
And I would have liked to have known you, but I was just a kid….
Anyway, I spent more time than I would like to admit reading old interviews and concert transcripts and watching very dated music videos. But the more I watched and the more I read the more convinced I became that all those folks so many years ago were actually right.
The church had lost a prophet.
And I had lost a kindred soul.
Even though he died far too young (he was only 41), Rich Mullins left behind a treasure trove of music, writing, and honest reflections on faith that are hard to come by in the church today. There’s too much to share here, but if you’re not familiar with Rich Mullins, you really need to do some digging of your own. Start here. Yes, you will definitely find some cheeztastic music videos, but you’ll also find truth and raw honesty that few others are willing to speak.
Like his reason for leaving Nashville behind to move to a Navajo reservation, “I just kinda got tired of a white evangelical middle class sort of perspective on God and I thought I would have more luck finding Christ among the pagan Navajos.”
[He’s speaking very tongue in cheek about “pagan Navajos.” You can check out the full interview here.]
So, rather than my usual pontificating, I wanted to help jumpstart your journey into the world of Rich Mullins by sharing a few words of wisdom from a prophet the church lost far too soon.
Rich on the Bible….
It says a lot of things in there. Proof-texting is a very, very dangerous thing. I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we are right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing.
His honest thoughts about Christian music….
It’s so funny being a Christian musician because it always scares me when I talk to you guys and you guys think so highly of Christian music – contemporary Christian music especially – because I kinda go, “Man, I know a lot of us and we don’t know jack about anything. Not that I don’t want to buy our records, come to our concerts. I sure do. But you should come for entertainment. If you really want spiritual nourishment you should go to church.
And last, but not least, my favorite quote so far. Rich Mullins talking in 1996 about the true heart of Christianity, but sounding like he could be preaching today….
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-hearted.
*All of the quotes above came from a concert he performed in Lufkin, Texas. Check out the video below for a little context and a few more gems.