Remembering Rich Mullins

September 19, 1997, 25 years ago today, I was at a friend’s house in Juneau, Alaska. A group of Bible Study leaders had gathered to talk about starting a coffee shop. Wouldn’t it be great? Just down the hill from the University? We need good coffee and a cozy place to meet up with people. I stepped into the laundry room to make a call to see if I could raise some funding. When my mother answered the phone, she said, “Honey, I just heard on the radio that Rich Mullins was killed in a car accident.”

The world stopped for a moment. The baby blue Downy bottle sat in a dark ring on a shelf. Lint swirled around my hiking boots as I shifted in disbelief. On the other side of the shutter doors, excited voices shouted out name proposals: “Glacier Grounds.” “Harbor Coffee.”

“Mom, I have to go,” and I hung up before she could hear me cry 5,000 miles away.

Rich was a friend, or at least, his music was. Ministry in Alaska was lonely at times, cold and dark. Rich was a click away on the Discman, making observations, asking questions, confessing, and declaring the love of the Savior of a ragamuffin people. I needed the reminders–often. I still do.

I offer here a few reflections on why his music touched me so much. Click on the name of each song, and through the wonder of technology, you can enjoy Rich singing each.

He loved nature and how it pointed to the Creator.

Well the moon is a sliver of silver
Like a shaving that fell to the floor 
of the Carpenter's shop.
The Color Green 

He asked questions and expressed doubts like the Psalmist, sometimes raging, but secure in the faithfulness and love of God.

You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that's not as patient as Yours was
Still, we do love now and then

Did You ever know loneliness?
Did You ever know need?
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You are barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don't see the blood that's running in Your sweat
Hard to Get

His lyrics were so personal, so relatable that it seemed like you could have been on the writing team.

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It's so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

So hold me Jesus 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won't You be my Prince of Peace
Hold me Jesus

He made observations about common bits of life, dripping with (occasionally schmaltzy) nostalgia, brokenness, and beauty.

It's Christmas morning

Did my sister get a baby doll? Did my brother get his bike?
Did I get that red wagon the kind that makes you fly?
Oh I hope there'll be peace on earth
I know there's good will toward men
On account of that Baby born in Bethlehem
You Gotta Get Up

Rich loved folk instruments, incorporating a well-tuned hammered dulcimer into his later projects. Watch him play Creed here.

He demonstrated a great affection for Jesus and the Scriptures.

But I was twelve years old in the meeting house
Listening to the old men pray
And I was tryin' hard to figure out
What it was that they was tryin' to say
There You were in the temple
They said You weren't old enough
To know the things You knew

Well did You grow up hungry
Did You grow up fast
Did the little girls giggle when You walked past
Did You wonder what it was that made them laugh
And did they tell You stories 'bout the saints of old
Stories about their faith
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold
Stories like that make a man walk straight
Man Like You

He knew the Christian should never feel comfortable in this world, but he wrote with fondness of the places God had taken him.

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you'll come to love it
And how you'll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I'll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me
Land of My Sojourn

You can find more than 10 albums recorded by Rich, the last, a demo album focused on the life of Christ, recorded in a country church on a cassette recorder shortly before his death. Rich’s friends, the Ragamuffin Band later released the Jesus Record, weaving the scratchy recording of of Rich’s voice with the band’s best work.

Rich was troubled by the comfort of American Christianity, and after more than a dozen years of touring in the spotlight, he stepped back from the glitter of CCM, took a second degree in education, and moved to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. He was self-admittedly a conflicted soul, struggling against the old nature, and longing for Jesus. His lyrics were hopeful, strung with the tension of brokenness and salvation, and the legacy he left is a reminder that this is true for any Christ-Follower.

One of the first songs he ever recorded considered the moment of his own death.

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
Elijah

It was a sad departure for the rest of us, however. We never got that coffee shop going on Auke Bay, but 25 years after his passing, the music of Rich Mullins is still a treasured friend.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s