Christian artist to step away from musician's life

By Rich Copley, Entertainment Editor

    Rich Mullins was on his way to a youth rally in 1988 when he came up with an idea for a song. By the time he reached the venue, he had the tune together enough to tell the musicians working with him how it should go, though they didn't have time to rehearse.
    So there he was, standing in front of more than 1,000 students when he first heard the chorus:

Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from Heaven above
With wisdom, power and love
Our God is an awesome God

    Since that day, "Awesome God" has been sung at countless youth rallies and been played on Christian radio probably more than Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" has been spun on album rock stations.
    "Awesome God" is also one of the leading tracks on "Songs," Mullins' recently released greatest-hits album. Other familiar tunes on the disc are "Creed," which Mullins considers a follow-up to "Awesome," " Sing Your Praise to the Lord," which Amy Grant made famous, and "Hold Me Jesus," Mullins' own No. 1 hit.
    Athens area fans of Mullins' work will have a chance to hear these songs and more when the Christian recording artist appears at the Classic Center on Thursday and the Georgia Mountains Center in Gainesville on Saturday.
    Mullins considers the greatest-hits package a turning point in his career, but not in a way most people would expect.
    "Everybody has their 15 minutes, and I think mine might just about be up," Mullins says from a tour stop in Gainesville, Fla. "I think we're going to call the next tour 'Another in a Series of Farewell Tours,' because I always feel like, 'This will be my last tour.'
    "I've been saying the same thing about God and faith over and over again. You can say it only so many ways in songs, and it may be more important now to say it in the way that I live."
    Mullins has certainly changed the way he lives. A year-and-a-half ago, he moved from the comfort of Nashville, where he was quickly gaining mega-star status, to a small, sheet-metal trailer in Window Rock, N.M., near the Navajo Indian Reservation.
    There, he's set to leave the touring musician life behind, at least for part of the year, so he can become a music teacher on the reservation starting in fall 1997.
    Some members of the Christian music community have been puzzled by the move, saying that Mullins might be afraid of success. Mullins says it was just a move he needed to make.
    "I got the opportunity 10 years ago to go to Asia and see how Christians over there expressed their faith, and it was amazing to me," Mullins says. " I thought it would be great to get out of the culture I grew up in—white, suburban America—and live in something different.
    "The Navajo approach to life is very spiritual. They seem to approach it much more in the way I imagine Jesus approached life."
    Won't he miss the road and the stage?
    Of course, he says, he's enjoyed the musician's life. In particular, he likes eating in restaurants where he won't have to wash the dishes and sleeping in hotels where you never have to make the bed and there are clean sheets every night.
    But that doesn't mean he feels like he has to live that way forever. Mullins sounds just as happy to work 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the reservation and collapse in a home he says he doesn't really have time to keep up.
    "A lot of people are sitting around waiting for God to tell them what to do," Mullins says. "I think God is saying 'Do what you want.' If he wants me to express his love, I need to find a way to do it."