Back in 1988 I won a college talent show with my roommates singing Rich Mullins‘s “Screen Door.” We dedicated our performance to all the non-music/vocal majors at our small Christian college. We were a bunch of jocks who thought we could sing. The judges either had pity on us or rewarded us for our courage! 🙂
Here is Mullins:
Over at First Things, writer Bethel McGrew remembers Mullin on the 25th anniversary of the singer’s death. Here is a taste:
Nothing about the small non-denominational church service made sense to the young boy. At his old Quaker church, they didn’t have this strange ritual where you passed around a crust of bread and a jigger of wine, like a cruel tease for refreshments. And they would never have done what the preacher was doing to that poor guy up in front, dunking him in water, embarrassing him to death in front of the whole congregation. In time, of course, he would realize that the man wasn’t being embarrassed to death. He was being embarrassed to life.
That young boy would grow up to be singer/songwriter Rich Mullins, whose name rings fewer bells with each passing year but who lives on in loving memory among those of us who were fortunate enough to encounter his music as young Christians. Today marks the 25th anniversary of his untimely death in a car accident. It was a shocking loss for the world of contemporary Christian music, a world with which the eccentric artist always had a love/hate relationship. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, he chose to spend most of his substantial royalties on the poor. By the end of his short life, he was shunning the limelight on a Navajo Indian reservation with a few fellow “Kid Brothers of St. Frank.” To this day, his friends mourn the abrupt closing of a book that should have held many more creative chapters.
At the time, however, some quietly wondered if it was a mercy that God took him so soon, and so quickly—going out “like Elijah,” as he’d once written. Concert footage shot shortly before the accident shows Mullins looking exhausted and weathered, much older than his forty-one years. As he plays with his kid brothers, tells stories in his hoarse chain-smoker’s voice, and gently teases the audience with his signature blend of wisdom and off-beat snark, the whole night feels like a weary pilgrim’s last benediction. Particularly uncanny are those moments of foreshadowing where he looks ahead to his own death, declaring the great mystery that though his body will “rot,” yet shall he live.
As a folk theologian in the space between Protestantism and Catholicism, Mullins found it tedious to give his testimony to typical evangelical interviewers. One woman was dissatisfied with every choice he gave her for the moment when he became a Christian. When he suggested the day his three-year-old self sang “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus,” she said he couldn’t have known what he was praying. “Lady,” he retorted, “We never know what we are praying. And God in his mercy does not answer our prayers according to our knowledge, but according to his wisdom.” When she finally said, “What I really want to know is when you were born again,” he asked, “Lady, which time?” By his age, he figured it should be normal to get “born again again” about every other day.
Read the rest here.
I can’t imagine what Mullins would say about the state of Christianity–especially evangelicalism–today.
That talent show wasn’t recorded, but we did get a pic:
We would love to see that video! I have some friends that poke fun of me because my Christian music listening taste stops around 1999 and my Rich Mullins collection is the only constant. For those reading my comment and interested in Christian music check out John’s Way of Improvement episode – Jesus is the Rock that Rolls My Blues Away. Great stuff.
Is that Keith Hernandez on the right?
I will take advantage of this moment and post a link to a video I made almost 2 years ago. I was doing some volunteer work in New Mexico (about 2 hours from where Rich Mullins was living at the end of his life) and a stop at Angel’s Peak brought to mind a Rich song from his concept album/actual musical Canticle of the Plains which re-tells the story of St Francis of Assisi as a Civil War veteran heading out west to find himself and God. The song in the video was sung by Mitch McVicker – the passenger in the vehicle with Rich the night he was killed 25 years ago.
John Fea says
I will pass along the Keith Hernandez references to my old roommate Steve. We had a lot of fun with this. I remember practicing at the college pool and in a men’s room so we could get some good acoustics. And yes, I totally agree about Christian music. I haven’t listened to it in years. I was never a big Mullins fan, but the recent coverage on the anniversary of his death has led me to go back and listen again.
Thanks for sharing this video and the back story.