(I wrote this at the 10th anniversary of his death. I missed him. This week marks the 15th. And nothing has changed.)
I was sitting next to Rich Mullins, and so I had to think of something cool to say.
"So...what artists do YOU listen to? When you and Beaker are traveling, what do you listen to? Do you have influences you like to listen to for songwriting inspiration? Who do you listen to? Just wondering. Who do you like to listen to, you know? I was just wondering."
"I like silence."
Man, I loved that guy.
Didn't know him, really, and the two times I'd talked with him, he was brusque. But once I was talking to him while he was trying to tune his dulcimer, and then there was the "I like silence" episode. Maybe I didn't hold it against him because I wouldn't want to talk to me, either.
But mostly, I think, it's because I would've been disappointed if he were anything but interesting, anything but intense, anything but flawed, anything but -- as one Rich-friend put it -- "like us, but more so."
I want me to be quiet, too. He's like me, but more so.
I'm tired of the word, "Christian". It was originally something of a put-down, something applied to followers of The Way by outsiders, now adapted, awkwardly, proudly, by the followers themselves.
I confess to wondering sometimes, "Why am I doing this...?" and then I hear the first few notes of "Peace", and I remember. Oh -- yeah. Of course.
Rich Mullins reminded us that we worship a God who came in the form of a homeless man. I can love a God like that.
I got the impression the beautiful, righteous-seeming people in the music industry really didn't want him crashing their party. I may be wrong about that. True, he was given a "Best Artist" award in the Christian genre -- eight months after he'd been killed. He was, at times, embarrassing. Wonderfully embarrassing.
A friend of mine told me about hosting Rich's band, the Ragamuffin Band, at his home near St. Louis one summer before a concert. He said they got in a fistfight in the swimming pool. I remember thinking, "Now, THAT'S a band."
If you can't picture a band getting into a pool fistfight, well, that's not a real rock band. The Police? Yes. Simon and Garfunkel? No. Ragamuffins? Yes. Philips, Craig, and Dean? ...no. The Gaithers? Oh, yeah. Heck, yeah.
I'm from Illinois, raised in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, so you know I saw Rich Mullins a lot. First in 1985, when my then youth minister (a very cool Hoosier who reads this blog) just had to take us to see him at Lincoln Christian College, the regional epicenter of our denom -- ahem -- non-denomination.
I'd love to say U2 has been my "life's soundtrack", but I won't, because it's kind of indulgent, and it's not true. They're from Ireland. Rich Mullins is it. It was Rich playing in my '81 Ford Mustang, while I sat on the side of the road -- my Mustang's natural habitat -- waiting for a tow truck. It was "If I Stand" that I sang, a cappella and off-key, at my brother's wedding.
U2 is the coolest. But Rich? Rich was midwestern, socially awkward, a "born dissenter". Rich was my people. And I don't think I'm special for saying so.
I think a lot of people reading this right now would say the same thing.
My former youth minister, ironically, has changed his views quite a bit. In fact, he says Rich Mullins is practically his only connection to Christianity right now, besides this blog (both terribly honoring and terrifying) and I can sure understand that. Except for the blog part. Lord have mercy.
But he's got his doubts, and I've got mine, and, thank God, I know Rich had his. It's a nice little club, the three of us, separated, by culture and miles, and a gulf between us and Rich that we can't traverse for now. I sometimes wonder how we can.
But, from what I hear, there's a wideness in God's mercy, I cannot find in my own.