Friday, September 19, 2014

September 19 - Rich Mullins, Singer, Songwriter, Kid Brother of Francis


Rich Mullins, the son of a mid-western farmer and his Quaker wife, was born in Indiana but traveled much throughout the course of his life. He attended Quaker services with regularity but his own spiritual pedigree is muddy at best--just how Rich would like it. He had connections to Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, and Roman Catholics among yet even more congregations. On more than one occasion, Rich advocated a certain kind of spiritual authenticity that seemed to make denominational divides and distinctions that once seemed so important and daunting to fade away into a kind of inconsequential haziness. Rich wanted to follow Jesus and didn't really care what that meant he was called or how others might identify him. At a very young age, his great-grandmother gave him a gift that he would spend the rest of his life giving to the world--she taught him to play piano and started his musical development. He took to it with a prodigious amount of natural talent and was an accompanist for a local, touring congregational choir. Rich attended several different schools while he studied music as a young adult but didn't stay in any one school for very long. It was always clear that his first passion was the Lord Jesus who loved him. It is his second passion for which he is best known: honest and soul-searching music that glorifies God.

Shortly after earning his B.A. in Music Education from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, he moved to Tse Bonito, New Mexico, with his dear friend Mitch McVicker. He already had a remarkably successful career as both a singer and a songwriter. He had two hit songs that were fast becoming popular praise choruses and had released a few albums to much critical acclaim. After reading Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel, Rich was so touched by the text that he named his new band "The Ragamuffin Band." They were in high demand in Christian music circles and it seemed that his career was set to "take off" even further. If this were the story of most men, then we'd expect to hear more of awards and material gains but Rich had moved to Tse Bonito to live on a Navajo reservation and teach music to the children that he met there. Though his performances were regularly sold out, Rich never accepted more than $24,000 a year as a salary. Instead, he gave over every check he received to his accountant. Rich's accountant paid Rich the salary of the average "working person" in the United States and gave the rest away as per Rich's instructions. Rich turned down the world's brand of success to follow after his Lord Jesus like his hero Francis of Assisi had done. Rich cast aside the world's gains because he recognized them for what they were: weights around his neck as he tried to ascend into God's presence.

Rich and Mitch McVicker were headed north on I-39 from Bloomington, Illinois, on September 19th in the year 1997. They were headed to a benefit concert in Wichita, Kansas. The jeep flipped for some uncertain reason and the two men were thrown from the vehicle as a tractor-trailer truck bore down upon their wrecked jeep. Both were badly injured from their wreck but Rich would be killed when the truck veered to one side to avoid the wrecked jeep and killed Rich instantly. Mitch was seriously injured but he survived the wreck. Rich died only days after having recorded an album on micro-cassette in an abandoned church. The Ragamuffin Band had been there and Rich had recorded it so that they could hear the ten songs that Rich wanted to include on the next album (entitled "The Jesus Record"). This final recording had none of the professional editing so common in music but still communicated the authenticity and passion that Rich had for God and for his music. Even though Rich died, the band went on to record "The Jesus Record" and release it not only with a copy of Rich's final recording but, also, with a tribute album where Rich's part was played by Christian musicians who had been friends and admirers of Rich. In the end, you can't help but wonder if Rich might not have preferred it that way--God getting the glory, his friends serving God, and Rich being allowed to hang on for the ride.

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