Sep 17 2012
Rich Mullins Died 15 Years Ago. He Was Like Us. But More So.

(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?  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. 

Comments (27) -

9/17/2012 10:56:48 AM
James United States
I am 29 years old.  My folks used to list to Rich when I was a kid.  I still listen to him now.  His music and song writing was genuine.  It was the Gospel.  It was from the heart.  It lives on today because Rich was sold out for Christ and willing to go outside the PC realm and talk about what being a Christian really means.  His life is an encouragement to my walk with Jesus.  I hope I can be half the man Rich was.
9/17/2012 12:58:23 PM
Cindy United States
Rich Mullins.  I have to say, growing up, he was a part of my "life's soundtrack."  Can't say enough about Rich though; I found out about the "Ragamuffin's Gospel" because of him and his music impacted me as well.  Wish I could've gone to his last concert...
9/17/2012 5:21:25 PM
Benjie Fleming United States
Benjie Fleming
I read "An Arrow Pointing To Heaven" over and over. What an inspiration!
9/17/2012 5:30:48 PM
Joy United States
The soundtrack of my Salvation is Rich Mullins' music. My husband played it in the car *all the time*, when we were first dating. I heard him, and tried to apply his sound to my very-very-unsaved mindset, and failed horribly. Slowly (3 years. . .), and reluctantly on my part, God slipped in between the cracks in my logic, and the soft spot in my heart, and rescued me from myself. I can't give Rich all the credit, but he was definitely musical accompaniment. . . and for that, I greatly anticipate meeting him in heaven, listening to him play for our King. <3
9/17/2012 5:48:05 PM
Rebekah United States
I was 8 when he left this earth. I remember crying when I heard about it, even at that age I knew that there was a lot of potential music that we would be missing out on. I think my favorite of his songs is "Calling out Your Name"
The only artist I've heard come close to describing Creation as movingly is Chris Rice.
9/17/2012 5:57:39 PM
Amy United States
I was listening to 'Step By Step' by Rich Mullins when my (now ex)husband walked in and started laughing hysterically.  He picked up the bible on my dresser, put it under his arm and started marching around to the song, laughing the whole time. This Rich Mullins song marked the very moment when the realization hit me that life would be very different from this day forward.  I filed for divorce from a cheating, unbelieving, master-manipulating husband.  This was 16 years ago. I will never forget the day or the song that was playing when I made my decision to follow God and not man.
9/17/2012 6:17:22 PM
Bob United States
I live in Wichita, where Rich is from. He used to play most weekends in a Christian Coffeehouse downtown called The Dandelion. Your impression of him fits him to a "T". He didn't like things commercial or mainstream. My in-laws traveled with him and were his sound technicians. He occasionally sung the national anthem for our AA Baseball team in Wichita. My favorite song by him was "Screen Door on a Submarine."
9/17/2012 6:55:40 PM
Elisha United States
I knew his name sounded familiar. I looked up his name on iTunes and found a song that took me back to when I was younger. And although my mom would play his music what seemed to be 24/7, there was one song she could play on the piano by ear that I can remember: "sing your praise to the Lord". She would sing and play his music on the piano almost every night when we were supposed to be in bed.

Listening to this song again I am really listening. Our God is so amazing and each day I can find at least one moment to lift Him up. I just love listening to His music he so richly provides for us through the gifts he has given his children.

I am so blessed.
9/17/2012 7:14:10 PM
Clara United States
Would a band that does synchronized swimming in the pool count? We went to a TOMFEST (The Other Music Festival in Camas, WA) concert several years ago and a Canadian band named Stutterfly joined us in the pool and these tattooed, pierced, headbanging Christians were doing a synchronized swimming routine. Talk about not taking yourself seriously. They were awesome.
9/17/2012 7:56:02 PM
Glynis United States
I talked to Rich Mullins once when he sang at our Hills Alive music festival in South Dakota. He was kind and I was a little in awe. I always admired the way the was able to verbalize the world in such a poignant way and I cried when he died. His music was a huge influence on me during my college years and as a transplanted midwesterner who loves this prairie I can't hear the song "Calling Out Your Name" without a little tear. We still miss you, Rich.
9/17/2012 8:27:20 PM
Seth Ward United States
Seth Ward
Good words brother. Think I'll bust out the Jesus record.
9/17/2012 8:31:19 PM
Elisa United States
My son was 4-1/2 years old when Rich died. We'd listen to Rich all the time in the car; Nathaniel would pretend to play along on his pretend hammer dulcimer. When I told him Rich died, he asked me if Rich was seeing "the face of love" now... (from "Let Mercy Lead") My son is in college now and has a real hammer dulcimer. He loves Rich as much as I do.

I don't listen so much to him these days, but when I'm in a certain mood, I do. Old lessons revisited. The wonder awakened again.  

Thanks for the hats-off, Brant.

9/17/2012 8:46:40 PM
Another Joy United States
Another Joy
I didn't become born again until after his death, and was only vaguely familiar with his work until now, but it's a bit jarring to read his bio on Wikipedia and see that he was born the exact same day I was...
9/17/2012 9:00:21 PM
Dale Carroll coleman United States
Dale Carroll coleman
I remember the day Rich died. I had dropped my young daughter off at school, having moved to Champaign the previous year. So I was listening to WBGL and maybe you were the one who told me. Not sure, but I remember feeling sad and really affected by it? His music touched me as none other had. Maybe it was the rawness of his faith and life? He has left a lasting impression on me of what it looks like to follow Jesus. Now, all these years layer I live in the town he lived in and visited a church he was part of. I doubt he would be a part of it now... I call it 6 flags over Christianity.
9/17/2012 9:16:06 PM
meganleiann United States
I was a young teen when he died, but his poetry and transparency made a great impact on my life. I even named my son "Aidan" after the song "Let Mercy Lead" because it summed up everything I wanted for my son. I agree with the previous comment that Chris Rice has also a similar vein of poetry, but would also add Gungor. It is so rare to find poetry, authenticity, skill and humility in one artist.
9/17/2012 9:48:45 PM
Scott United States
Hadn't realized 15 years had passed.  Wow!  Rich was a good friend to me, my dad, my youth minister and my Michigan friends.  How incredibly fortunate we were to have him as our high school church camp worship leader as his first album was being made.  All the descriptions above are so RICH and nostalgic.  I remember meeting him when he and my dad (a suit and tie Guy -- funny considering barefoot Rich) were working together at a Grand Rapids church.  Wasn't impressed then but since then he has inspired many Christians and made a huge impact on my life. He is terribly missed.  I too wonder what music he's making these days.  Thanks Brant for re-posting this.  Wonderful memories!!

Scott Z.
9/18/2012 8:34:02 AM
Valory Rickert United States
Valory Rickert
10 years ago when I lived in Grand Junction CO I found K-LOVE. Shortly after I did they were observing his death with a full day of nothing but Rich Mullins songs, whether he sang them or wrote them. All day they talked about him. Young in my Christianity and been strayed for a while, it was that moment I knew what I wanted to be. I wanted to be like him, a shooting star for God. I didn't care if I went out in a flash, just as long as I made everyone look up (to God) when I went. Thanks Brant for sharing your experience with Rich. Valory~Oly WA
9/26/2012 9:49:21 PM
Jason United States
Love me some Rich.  I met him once and got an autograph and picture at a bookstore.  He seemed so awkward.  

That night we saw him in concert and he played "Hold Me Jesus" for the first time.  He asked for requests and decided to play "Maker of Noses" after a break so that somebody cpuld write the lyrics for him on a napkin.

One of my buddies hung out with him before a show on his college campus.  They sat on the stage while Rich played and they sang a few songs together.  Rich's only request was that they didn't sing 'Awesome God'.  

His autograph was "Be God's--Rich"   Miss that dude.  
10/3/2012 7:38:40 PM
cheri jones United States
cheri jones
I have to admit I did not grow up in church. In fact the only time I went was when my mom was trying to find a man. A Godly man. I did listen to Christian music though because it seemed to be my only hope in my troubled teenage life. Rich Mullins was the main person even though there were so many wonderful messengers at that time, Amy Grant, Michael W.Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman... Rich Mullins lyrics were straight from the Bible. He taught me the Bible. He taught me God had a reckless love & it was so daring & so out of the norm of popularity that I felt so connected. I was different & it wasn't accepted, I could be myself because Jesus was so like me..rejected, an outcast, but couldn't change who HE was just like I couldn't change who I was. I remember very clearly the day I heard Rich Mulllins died. I was in a very tragic circumstance at that time & wondered how could I make it through without his bold in your face kinda of faith. He taught me well. Thank you so much for remembering him. He taught me the Word. He taught me the love of Jesus!
11/6/2012 1:27:34 PM
Mindy United States
I loved this post. First, its real. Second, its real. I mean, who hasn't felt some seperation from God? Who hasn't felt let down by this world? It is a daily fight and I can see how some people have circumstances that make that fight a little hard to fight everyday.
I tell my co-worker that I can't claim to understand why this all works out the way it does and why life is so darn difficult. That is why it is faith.
Prayers for your youth pastor of ole... and for you my brother in Christ -- Brant & Air 1 mean the world to me because of the music that reminds me of God's love.
11/9/2012 8:19:23 AM
meghan United States
I'm a product of the nondenominational Christian church/church of Christ and spent time at Lincoln Christian College every summer for years.  I can relate to your youth pastor.  
11/21/2012 8:42:00 AM
Garrett Kochendorfer United States
Garrett Kochendorfer
Not to be totally tangential, I'm ADD, but is there any chance that you folks at Air1 are going to make the app available for Windows Phone 8 users? I love to listen to Air1 where ever I go and have been doing so for about a year and a half because there's no way for anyone to not like the positive, Christian message they give. Plus the music selection is better than KLOVE. Thanks...
1/19/2013 8:47:32 PM
Starr United States
Rich Mullins has always been a large part of God's hand in my walk.  We raised our children with Rich. When The Lord took him to Heaven, we mourned as a family, our youngest son, Nolan,  who was seven at the time wrote in his journal that Rich was making his sound in Heaven. He loved Rich Mullins. Last year when Nolan was in his second year at college, he called and told me it was a Rich Mullins sort of day and that he'd been playing Rich all day. Nolan always reminded me of Rich Mullins in some ways. August 24th, 2012 The Lord suddenly took Nolan home to Heaven. He was 21 and just started his junior year at college. I don't want sympathy, I know it is the will of The Lord. I write because, Rich Mullins music has been almost exclusively the only music that makes sense to me- the only music that is not heavy with shallowness. We played the Love of God at Nolan's service. I am so very thankful for the music he produced.
2/15/2013 6:58:54 PM
Brent United States
I was driving to church when I found out he had died. He was a huge influence on me when I was a teenager and loved his music. One of my favorite concerts was in Panama City, FL when he walked out on stage in holey jeans and barefoot during the World As Best As I Remember It tour. The last post was right, sometimes its just a Rich Mullins kind of a day.
3/4/2013 3:21:26 PM
carol United States
My pastor preached a sermon on Sunday using "Awesome God" as a springboard for the message. Seven people dedicated their lives to the Lord 30 minutes later. Rich is still "An Arrow Pointing to Heaven".
3/10/2013 6:30:05 PM
Evelyn United States
I listened to a lot of Christian music in the early 90's and "discovered" Rich Mullins.  Since Michigan didn't really have any music stations that played contemporary Christian music where I lived, I relied on CD's that I would purchase.  I found myself waiting and buying Rich's newest CD"s without ever first hearing even one song from the album!  I just knew I would like it and find a message to touch my heart and faith.  He never disappointed me!  I was fortunate to finally see him appear in Michigan in August, 2012, just a month before his fatal accident.  I felt blessed and wanted to go see him for his autograph, but when I looked down at the stage area, there he was, pitching in like any "roady" and ever the humble man.   I knew I was seeing the real "Rich Mullins" and that was enough for me - even though I couldn't share how much his music meant to me.  Thanks for your great tribute- I know we'll all join Rich singing Awesome God someday to our Lord, and Savior King, Jesus!
4/27/2013 12:23:10 PM
Glenn South Africa
Amen Smile One of my greatest hero's of the faith.
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