Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

Rich Mullins, 20 years later

It hardly seems possible that 20 years ago this week the church lost Rich Mullins. A lot has been written and posted about him this week as the anniversary of his untimely death on September 19, 1997 approached. Rich Mullins was – and is – one of my heroes. Ironically, it was a lightweight little ditty called Awesome God that he wrote for a youth camp that became the vehicle for us to know about him. The first time I heard Amy Grant’s Sing Your Praise to the Lord I realized – before I ever knew anything about the guy who wrote it – there was hope that modern worship music might possibly mature beyond the happy-clappy Jesus-is-my-boyfriend drivel that made up the bulk of it in the 1980s and 90s.

Rich Mullins was by all accounts an early Christian Music superstar, yet he eschewed the fame, adulation and money. He chose to live on a Navajo reservation, teaching music to the children when he wasn’t on the road doing concerts. In those concerts, he usually wore cutoff blue jean shorts and a T-shirt. There was no pretense about him. He struggled, and he openly shared his struggles with us rather than play the game of pretending all is peachy and perfect.

Rich Mullins’ love of Brennan Manning introduced me to Ragamuffin Gospel and All is Grace, two books that changed the way I think about faith, grace and being a follower of Jesus day by day. Like Manning, Mullins was loved and admired by people from virtually every segment of the church; his music is a common thread among Catholics, Orthodox, mainline denominations, even fundamentalist evangelicals. Rich’s mastery of the hammered dulcimer just added to the mystery of the man. But it was his words – those marvelous, honest, soul-wrenching lyrics that drew me to him and his music.

To this day, I can’t hear And If I Stand without getting a lump in my throat. Those words make my heart hurt and my soul ache as much as they did the first time I heard them in 1988. In many ways they express perfectly how I approach each new day with determination to walk – and stand – on His promises, but more often than not end up falling on His grace.

There’s more that rises in the morning than the sun,
and more that shines in the night than just the moon
It’s more than just this fire here that keeps me warm
in a shelter that is larger than this room

And there’s a loyalty that is deeper than mere sentiment,
and a music higher than the songs that I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes for the allegiance
I owe only to the giver of all good things

So if I stand let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through,
and if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You
And if I sing let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs,
and if I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home

There’s more that dances on the prairies than the wind;
More that pulses in the ocean than the tide
There’s a love that is fiercer than the love between friends,
more gentle than a mother’s when her baby’s at her side

And there’s a loyalty that’s deeper than mere sentiments
and a music higher than the songs that I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes for the allegence
I owe only to the Giver of all good things

So if I stand let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through,
and if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You
And if I sing let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs,
and if I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home

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