I can breathe a sigh a relief — I can finally open my news page and Michael Jackson is no longer in the top six news topics that display. I’m not going to argue the merits of the media saturation we have endured over the last weeks. I will only say that I have been launched into my topic of the day — the person in music that I would bring back — a person who I believe we lost before his time — Rich Mullins. He has been on my mind the last week. I pulled out a couple of his CDs and put them in rotation in my car. Rich died September 19, 1997, in a car accident while traveling to a concert. He was 41. Who was Rich Mullins? If you have worked at all in teen ministry — Protestant, or, Catholic — you have been exposed to his music. Think Awesome God—Sometimes By Step—Praise To The Lord— to only name three of his Christian music hits. He wrote a lot of Contemporary Christian music.
Not long after coming into the Catholic church, I somehow became aware that Rich had been exploring Catholicism. He was an ardent lover of St. Francis of Assisi. Rich was surely worth a lot in terms of his music royalties, but, he chose to live simply — in a trailer on a Navajo Indian reservation. He taught music to Navajo children. It is said that he was often unkempt and bare foot.
Rich Mullins had this to say . . .
“Having grown up Protestant, I was unfamiliar altogether with Saint Francis. Then I watched the movie, ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon.’ The movie really clobbered me in a way that a really good movie can. I just became fascinated with the character of Saint Francis. What I saw in that movie was a man who had fallen in love with God, someone for whom God is everything. And that was one of those things that propelled me. I started reading about Francis and the Franciscan movement and asking the question, ‘What would it be like if we took the gospel that seriously?’ Beaker and I started looking at the three traditional monastic vows the Franciscans take: The vow of poverty, the vow of obedience, and the vow of chastity. And we started saying, ‘What does that look like if you’re not a monk?’ We began to look at them in a broader sense rather than very specifically. We came to believe that poverty is being a steward of whatever resources you have, as opposed to being the owner of those resources, that what is important is to recognize that everything belongs to God, and He allows us to be stewards of his gifts. And so rather than saying ‘OK, so we will just not own anything,’ we tried to look at everything that we own–our talents, our physical possessions–as being God’s, and ourselves as being stewards of them.”
— Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, p. 139
Rich Mullins went on to write a musical Canticle of the Plains, a life of St. Francis set in the American West. I went to my Youtube account and pulled up some videos. I was very surprised to see people still arguing whether or not he was about to join the Catholic church. I’ve seen it documented in other sources that he attended RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] classes and he did attend Mass. He had a priest friend and also wrote with Tom Boothe of Life Teen music. Some of his music — like Faith without Works (is like a screen door on a submarine) certainly hit at doctrinal differences. It is also documented that he still had reservations.
“A lot of the stuff which I thought was so different between Protestants and Catholics was not, but at the end of going through an RCIA [Right of Christian Initiation for Adults] course, I also realized that there are some real and significant differences. I’m not sure which side of the issues I came down on. My openess to Catholicism was very scary to me because, when you grow up in a church where they don’t even put up a cross, many things were foreign to me.”
— Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, p. 46
The comments underneath some of the Youtube videos were not so kind — those still debating his Christian affiliations. Catholics were thrilled and Protestants thought he would never do such a horrible thing as become Catholic. Satan wins every time Christians belittle one another — attack and tear down one another. Rich Mullins’ music did very much to be a unifying musical voice. I doubt he would be very pleased at many of the comments.
So, at the core of all this self-discovery, is the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. A man — a saint — a devout Roman Catholic who stood for something that all Christians should agree upon — the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rich also was convinced that we can most imitate Christ by identifying with the poor.
With myself being a convert to the Catholic Church – a former Baptist — I can say it doesn’t happen over night. It is little by little until there is the one thing you have to have. For me, it was the Eucharist –the Real Presence– and realizing that I already believed.
Below is a 9 minute video of Rich talking at his last concert tour before his death. His speech ends abruptly around 8:40 time mark but the most of what he says it there. The last couple of minutes, he talks about the poor.
Below is a video of Rich Mullins Creed (the inspiration for my blog title)
Probably my favorite song – Hold Me Jesus (I love it when Life Teen uses this for the meditation after communion)