25 Years after his Death, I Still Miss Rich Mullins

A couple of weeks back, a friend in an online writing group I’m in gave us a quick haiku challenge. Mine wasn’t perfect, but it was straight from the heart:

When autumn leaves twirl/ Like cowgirl ballerinas/ I miss you, Rich Mullins.

He died 25 years ago today.

I’ve written about Rich Mullins’ contribution to my life on the 20th anniversary of his passing and followed that with a reflection on his musical impact on both Protestants and Catholics. When reflecting on our country’s divisive immigration crisis I reached for his song “Land of My Sojourn,” finding his words spoke more eloquently into the immigrant’s pain and America’s inadequate answers to it than anything being written these days.

The day I left my shoes at church his tune The Other Side of the World spoke to the moment and lifted my heart.

Whenever I get to hold a newborn baby, Eli’s Song (the source of that “cowgirl ballerina” image that reminds me of God’s presence in “the wild and holy bucking wind”) becomes my prayer for days.

Rich Mullins even came to mind when I reflected on Robert Frost’s “Choose Something Like a Star” just before Christmas three years ago.

And maybe someday when I pass into the next life, someone will think to play Communion Song (A Blessing from St. Joseph’s Square) during the Eucharistic Rite at my funeral mass and Mullins’ rendition of “All the Way my Savior Leads Me” after communion.

So it was with a grateful bittersweet heart that I watched the UTR Media tribute concert “Hello Old Friends” last night.

You can still purchase a ticket and stream the concert (I’ll share how below) and if you’re a fan as I am, you will glad you did. The show is magical and will lift your heart even while you wipe your eyes.

“Hello Old Friends” features Andrew Peterson (a songwriter who never fails to nod to Rich in his own work) and Ashley Cleveland (who wrote about touring with Rich in her book Living the Questions). Mullins’ friend and collaborator Mitch McVicker (who was also in the accident that took Rich’s life) performs as well as Ashley Cleveland, the Brothers McClurg, Andrew Greer, Ian Zumback and even Rich’s brother, David Mullins.

It was a very special moment for me to see Andrew Peterson’s beautiful daughter Skye (who sang Be Kind to Yourself on Peterson’s 2015 album The Burning Edge of Dawn) now a young woman who can hold her own on Rich’s iconic Calling out your Name.

But there’s much more: Mitch McVicker rouses our faith with an intense version of My Deliverer after speaking from the heart about the pain of his own loss and Rich’s brother David Mullins also speaks with tenderness about the times when we find God disappointing before singing Rich’s heartbreaking Hard to Get. There’s a bonus here as well: hearing David riff on the times when God is disappointing evokes the quirky honesty Rich would bring to his between-song commentary.

My favorite sermon series that I’ve written is called ‘The Disappointing Messiah,’ which no one will let me preach because they’re afraid that God will burn their church down. ‘Cause ‘You can’t say Jesus is disappointing!’ And I’m like, ‘Well, John did, I think, when he said, ‘Lord are you the one or should we look for someone else?’ I think Peter did when Jesus said ‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no part of me’ and everybody left and he said ‘Do you want to leave me too?’ And Peter says, ‘Weeeell…where would we go?’ Like ‘I’d like to…but you alone have the words of life.’

That just echoes why I loved Rich Mullins. He loved the Lord even when it hurt and he spoke for all our hearts in his struggle to trust.

The stories the musicians tell of Rich’s impact in their lives speak to the way his songs could pierce the heart and build faith not by selling it with a fake smile, but by telling the truth about how hard life is and how desperately we need to cling to Christ.

Rich was critical of the inconsistencies he saw all around the Christian world (as well as within his own ragamuffin heart) and he called us up higher: to love not just the people who look and act like us, but everybody: rich and poor, gay and straight, immigrant and native, polished and put-together or scraggly and smelly.

And he helped us open our eyes to a world charged with “so much beauty around us/for just two eyes to see.”

“And everywhere I go, I’m looking,” he added.

And here’s an extra opportunity to extend Rich’s legacy. Remember how he championed Compassion International, passing out fliers after his concerts and urging his followers to live on a little less so children in poverty could live with a little more? Compassion is offering a promotion you won’t want to miss.

Sponsor a child through Compassion International and you’ll receive a virtual viewing pass to the Hello Old Friends – Songs and Stories Remembering Rich Mullins livestream concert on-demand. In addition, you will receive all 3 Rich Mullins related albums being released by Old Bear Records and UTR Media during this special year of remembrance:

  • Bellsburg…The Songs of Rich Mullins – an 18-track double album celebrating the music of Rich Mullins.
  • Deep Valley – a live concert recording of Rich in 1984, previously unreleased.
  • Worktapes…More Songs of Rich Mullins – a double album with more updated renditions of Rich’s songs from various artists.

You can buy the concert pass only for $25 through September 30. But why not head to Compassion International now and sponsor a child too?

The mustard-seed effect of Mullins’ life continues. I’m glad to be perched on its branches with many other grateful souls.

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You might also like Sparrowfare’s Grant me the Grace to Hurt Like Rich Mullins and Rich Mullins’ Musical Legacy May Include Drawing Catholics and Protestants a Little Closer.

What’s your favorite Rich Mullins song? Where were you when you first heard it? I’d love to hear from you!

Photo by Oliver Hihn on Unsplash. Rich Mullins’ photo courtesy of Wikipedia.