Monday, September 22, 2014

Rich Memories

This past week was the anniversary of Rich Mullins' death, but I was too busy to write anything. I'll save the exact reasons I still love Rich's music for another post; here I just wanted to record two memories I have from his concerts.

The first was from a show in the mid-90s. Rich talked more in his concerts than any musician I've ever seen. And he was fascinating. He was great at calibrating invitation and challenge: his songs and mini-sermons would comfort and convict in equal measure. He also had a lot of crowd interaction; he hated studio music and loved going back and forth with the audience. On this particular occasion, somebody yelled a political question and Rich hit a well-worn soapbox. Bill Clinton was in office and it was a few months away from the election.

"Why are you so hungry for a king?" Rich said to his (mostly) conservative evangelical Christian audience. "You're so focused on winning elections that you lose sight of what the Kingdom of God is all about. God doesn't need to get the right guy in office for his will to be done." That's a rough paraphrase (it was half my life ago) but Rich kept building up along the same vein. And the audience loved it and was building with him. Downgrading the political arena is always popular when "our guy" isn't in office.

"Our ultimate hope is in Jesus, not the government. Do you believe that?" Rich asked, and got loud "yeahs" in response. "Do you really believe it?" he asked again, and got even more response. "Well," Rich said, "I hope you remember that you once believed it when the Republicans take over in November." And the place went ballistic. People were yelling, cheering, and clapping. Rich had predicted a Republican takeover!

Rich just stood on the stage and watched the crowd. I watched him deflate as he realized that almost nobody had even understood what he said. Then he walked back to the piano and started his next song; he didn't say anything else the rest of the night.


I got to see Rich in concert three times the year before he died. There had been talk that he was done recording and done touring. He only traveled to raise support for Compassion International, and he'd been living on a Navajo reservation where he taught music classes in the local school. All of his record earnings had been placed in a trust, from which he drew a yearly stipend equal to the average working wage for an American blue-collar worker. So when he announced one more tour, I hit every location I could.

The last concert I saw, he played his normal songs but also a new one that would be on his upcoming Jesus album: You Did Not Have a Home. To introduce the album, he told a weird story. He talked about listening to an interview with Billy Graham, who had recently dropped out of all endeavors except preaching. He'd stopped counseling presidents, teaching students, writing books, and everything else. The interviewer asked him why, and Rich repeated Graham's words verbatim as he tuned his guitar.

"The things I was doing were good things. But I believe that my time here on earth is short, and with the little time I have left I intend to spend every moment possible preaching Christ crucified, so that when I stand before God I won't have left anything un-done." He said he was making his last album: The Jesus Record. Then he played the song and it sounded exactly like it did on that link. He never got a chance to make the Jesus Record; he was killed six weeks later when a semi hit his Jeep.

No conclusion from me; you can draw your own. But I imagine him singing this song on the way out.