Today is the 20th anniversary of Rich Mullins’ death.
More than just a Christian music artist, he was one of those souls who had the ability to make other believers uncomfortable in the best type of way.
On Sept. 19, 1997, he was returning from a concert in his jeep when he lost control and ejected from the vehicle. He was then hit by a semi-trailer truck and died on the scene at age 41.
Rich Mullins still has a regular impact on my life. In addition to being the man who introduced me to and caused me to fall in love with the hammered dulcimer, he was probably the first musical artist that caused my head and heart to hurt.
It breaks my heart that this generation of church kids, worship leaders, and pastors have never been exposed to Rich Mullins.
He caused my head to hurt in the way that he pushed musically and lyrically beyond any artist I had ever been exposed to in my life. While he would have singable, simple choruses from time to time, I was most enthralled with the complexity he brought to his songs. The melody lines, chordal structures, rhythmic pulses, and eclectic instrumentation caused me at a very early age to desire to understand music the way he had mastered it.
No one was writing lyrics like he was, and 20 years later, that is still true. Rich hurt my head from the devastating lines he would put into his songs. Just look at these lines and marvel at what he was saying to the Church. Here are my top 10 lyrics from him (at least for today):
- “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy I cannot find in my own, and he keeps his fire burning to melt this heart of stone, keeps me aching with a yearning, keeps me glad to have been caught in the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God.” -The Love of God (1989)
- “I believe what I believe, it’s what makes me what I am. I did not make it, no it is making me. It is the very truth of God, not the invention of any man.” -Creed (1993)
- “Do You remember when You lived down here, where we all scrape to the find the faith to ask for daily bread? Did You forget about us after You had flown away? Well, I memorized every word You said. Still I’m so scared, I’m holding my breath; while You’re up there just playing hard to get.” -Hard to Get (1998)
- “It took the hand of God Almighty to part the waters of the sea, but it only took one little lie to separate you and me, oh, we are not as strong as we think we are.” -We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are (1996)
- “But the Jordan is waiting though I ain’t never seen the other side. They say you can’t take in the things you have here. So on the road to salvation, I stick out my thumb and he gives me a ride, and his music is already falling on my ears.” -Elijah (1986)
- “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 with allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things.” -If I Stand (1988)
- “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me. He was a stranger in this land, and I am that, no less than he.” -Sometimes by Step (1992)
- “How the Lord takes by its corners this old world and shakes us forward and shakes us free to run wild with the hope, to run wild with the hope, the hope that this thirst will not last long, that it will be soon drown in the song not sung in vain, and I feel thunder in the sky, I see the sky about to rain, and I hear the prairies calling out your name.” -Calling Out Your Name (1991)
- “Surrender don’t come natural to me, I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want than to take what you give that I need.” -Hold Me Jesus (1993)
- “Through a dry and thirsty land, water from the Kenyon heights pours itself out of Lake Sangra’s broken heart. There in the Sahara winds, Jesus heard the whole world cry for the healing that would flow from His own scars. They were singing, ‘My Deliverer is coming, my Deliverer is standing by.” -My Deliverer (1998)
He was not your regular CCM artist. Greatly troubled and honest about his trials, he found great hope from The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennen Manning. He took a vow of poverty in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. He eventually moved from Tennessee to live on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico.
When asked if he moved there to convert the Native Americans he responded:
“No. I think I just got tired of a white, evangelical, middle-class perspective on God, and I thought I would have more luck finding Christ among the Pagan Navajos. I’m teaching music [to the children].”
While he has been absent from this world for 20 years, his legacy still impacts me. The grain of the wheat fell to the earth and has produced great fruit in my life (John 12:24).
Enjoy these clips and be introduced to one of my heroes.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.