Barefoot in Heaven
by John Fischer
CCM Magazine November 1997
He went to heaven the way he performed most of his concerts, with nothing on his feet. More than anything else, those bare feet symbolized something different about Rich Mullins. They captured his vulnerability and humility and, yes, his rebelliousness too. Rich was never happy being on the side of what the world labels as success. In the words of one observer, "he was a man who dodged the flash of a camera bulb to try and show us the light of Christ."
Indeed, Rich would not be very happy about all the attention his death is getting, given the tens of nameless thousands who die each day for want of food and simple medical care. He would want our attentions to be turned to our awesome God and to those on the planet less fortunate than he. And yet, it is hard--impossible--to let go of a servant of God who has touched so many so deeply, without a fitting remembrance.
On a Web site, I found a page reserved for thank-yous and condolences to Rich's family and friends. It was a strange and wonderful mixture of sadness and joy which only the passing of a Christian and the hope of eternity could elicit. After almost two hours of reading, I had not yet reached the halfway mark. There was someone who found Christ through Rich's music, another who credits Rich with bringing him back to faith, another who claims his songs sustained her through the valley of the shadow of death with cancer, and another whose 3-year-old daughter loved to dance to his music. More than one envisioned him jamming with Keith Green and Mark Heard in heaven, and all agreed that his death was our loss and heaven1s gain. Many felt unusually close to him, though they had never met him--a fact they attributed to the deep emotion and spiritual reflection in his music that brought them into a more intimate relationship with God. "He was a vital part of our family," said one. The most difficult to read was the shortest entry: "I can't stop crying."
Rich had a favorite way of concluding a concert. He would get people singing "Oh God, you are my God/And I will ever praise you/I will seek you in the morning/And I will learn to walk in your ways/And step by step you1ll lead me/And I will follow you all of my days" (from "Step by Step"). Only while they were deep in worship, eyes closed, hands raised in praise, he would quietly slip off the stage, leaving then singing alone. Another reason for those bare feet, most likely.
And now we open our eyes from worship to discover that Rich has left the stage for the last time. But the important thing is this: he left us singing. This is what we must remember now, for the songs live on. Some of these songs he left us will undoubtedly be with the church until the Lord returns. This is the incredible legacy of music. It lives on and can be passed on, like the gospel itself, from one generation to the next. Songs like "Step by Step" and "Awesome God" will be the hymns of tomorrow.
He left us singing, and we will continue the songs. For there are still people who will come to Christ through Rich's music, hitchhikers who will get witnessed to by his songs, cancer victims who will gain strength from his faith, wayward souls who will turn back to God when they hear his music, and 3-year-old daughters who will still dance to the dulcimer.
Many have pointed to the prophetic nature of his song "Elijah" in predicting his passing. Like Mark Heard, who wrote only months before he was to languish in a coma, "I want to cry out/It's on the tip of my tongue," Rich foreshadowed even the way in which he would leave us. "When I leave I wanna 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 a candle light in Central Park/And it won't break my heart to say good-bye."
Good-bye, Rich. You got your wish. Unlike your heart, our hearts are broken, but we've got your songs. We'll always have your songs. Thank God you shared them with us. Enjoy it up there in your bare feet. What an awesome God we¹re going to meet when we see you next!