Mary Beth Bonacci
Rich Mullins was, in many ways, THE contemporary Christian musician. His career spanned over 15 years. He released a total of nine albums, selling well over a million copies. He wrote Awesome God, the anthem of youth rallies everywhere. Rich was also what some people would call eccentric. He lived in a "hogan" (an eight-sided Indian structure, essentially a hut) on a reservation in Window Rock, Ariz. His wardrobe consisted primarily of ripped jeans, T-shirts and sweats. He shunned the sometimes glamorous lifestyle that comes with being a superstar in the Christian music world. I had the privilege of meeting Rich last New Year's Eve at a dinner and concert he performed here in Phoenix, and of getting to know him over several subsequent visits to Phoenix. He was an extraordinary, amazing man-nothing like what I expected. I expected someone who lived in the middle of nowhere to be somehow anti-social or at least socially awkward. He wasn't. He was very friendly and very relaxed. I expected someone so famous to have an ego. Rich had none. And I expected someone so holy to be solemn. Rich was hilariously funny.
He was also an incredible musician. A mutual friend describes the experience of first seeing Rich play: "Here's this guy in jeans who pulls out what looks like an old table and a couple of toothbrushes, and out comes the most beautiful music I've ever heard." The "table" was actually a hammer dulcimer, and it was one of the literally scores of unique instruments Rich used to create his amazing music.
But Rich was more than a musician. He was a poet. His lyrics were gorgeous-each song a celebration of God's creation, God's love and God's mercy. Sometimes prophetic (What more have I in heaven besides you, Jesus; and what better could I hope to find down here on earth?), sometimes theological (It's about as useless as a screen door on a submarine; faith without works, baby, it just ain't happening), sometimes achingly personal (Hold me, Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf. You've been king of my glory, won't you be my prince of peace?).
Rich understood, better than anyone I've ever known, the importance of purity of heart. His hero was Francis of Assisi (or "St. Frank," as he called him). He embraced poverty much as Francis did, living simply and setting his sights on the eternal. Quite simply, Rich Mullins loved God. The things of the next life were constantly present to him. He understood the world's power to distract us from our eternal goal, and he took extraordinary steps to prevent that distraction in his own life. Those steps, to be perfectly honest, seemed a little drastic to me when I first met him. But now it all makes sense. He was making an investment, and I'm betting that the dividends are paying off in a big way for him now. I want to end with a lyric from Rich's favorite of his own songs, Elijah:
"When I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.
And when I look back on the stars,
It'll be like the candlelight in Central Park.
And it won't break my heart to say goodbye." Goodbye, Rich.