Excuse Me, But Aren't You Rich Mullins?

by Jim Long

Campus Life Magazine February 1994



When you're thousands of miles from home, and you don't think anybody is watching, do you really have to behave yourself?

He's not as famous as say, David Letterman, Hillary Clinton, Michael Jordan, or Rush Limbaugh. But to a considerable number of people, he is recognizable, this Rich Mullins guy. Even so, when you're several time zones and thousands of miles away from home (as he was), you'd think you could fade into the crowd and, if you felt inclined to, reinvent your morals for a while.

The thought did cross his mind.

"I was in Amsterdam, and there was so much sin all around us," Rich begins, with characteristic candor. "After years of behaving myself as best as I could, I was really having to hang on for dear life. I was thinking, no one would know. I could do anything I wanted to do. Wouldn't it be fun just to cut loose for a couple nights and misbehave as much as I want?

"Fortunately, because I travel with my friend (and fellow band member) Beaker, and because he's not afraid to hold me accountable, I did not do anything. But I sure felt the temptation to toss out my morals for an evening.

"A few days later, we were in Germany, sitting in a train station, assuming that everyone around us was German and did not speak English. We were having this totally candid conversation on a bench in the train station. I was talking very openly about some of those temptations. All of a sudden, this guy leans over and says, 'Excuse me, but aren't you Rich Mullins?'

"I went back over the conversation to see if I was going to admit to it or not. But I thought, this is good. A lot of times when we look at people we admire spiritually, we think they have arrived at this place where they cease to be tempted. The reality is, our faith may grow stronger over time, but the temptations never go away. It is hard for me to imagine that I will still feel tempted at 60, but when I was 20 I couldn't imagine I would feel such strong temptation as I do at almost 40."

That experience led Rich to write the song "Hold Me Jesus," from his current album, A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band (Reunion):

Hold me Jesus 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf You have been King of my glory Won't you be my Prince of peace?

"It's about nearly crashing and finally realizing that even when I lose patience with myself, God is still there. Whatever steps I have taken forward, I have not taken them alone. I have not taken them without a lot of help from a very patient Father who is, in fact, a whole lot more patient with me that I am with myself."

The image from the album title of a ragamuffin band is appropriate. Check your dictionary. A ragamuffin is "a shabbily clothed, dirty child." Perhaps you've felt that way yourself. (Rich borrows the phrase from the Brennan Manning book, The Ragamuffin Gospel.) We may pretend to be polished and sophisticated. In truth, we're just a bunch of ragamuffins.

For this album, Rich wanted to create something that would not just be slick studio production. He'd let it have a few rough edges. So he put together a bit of a ragamuffin band. Talented musicians, sure, but players he would set free to craft a more spontaneous album.

But now, what is a liturgy?

And what is a legacy?

Rich explains:
"Liturgy gives faith its bones. Legacy gives faith its flesh. Together they make us who we are. Liturgy is something we submit ourselves to, so it can shape us - reciting psalms, singing hymns, saying prayers. Legacy gives us our perspective. It's those things handed down from the past that helps make us who we are."

The liturgy part of the album is a call to worship, featuring songs of praise (such as 52:10 - as in the book of Isaiah, chapter 52, verse 10), songs of faith (Creed), songs of communion (Peace), songs of confession (like the one inspired by his Amsterdam experience, Hold Me, Jesus).

"If I were a painter, I do not know which I'd paint The calling of the ancient stars Or the assembly of the saints"

The legacy part of the album calls us to reflect on our heritage, those things that have contributed so much to making us who we are: "Land of My Sojourn," "How to Grow Up Big and Strong," and "You Gotta Get Up."

And Rich reflects on his own legacy.

"A few generations back, there were twin brothers who were orphans in France. As young teenagers, eager to find a better life, they stowed away on a ship bound for America. One of them was my great-great grandfather. I remember the first time I flew into New York and saw the Statue of Liberty (a gift form France, as were those twin brothers). I thought of those twins, my relatives, both of them 15 or 16 years old, standing there on Ellis Island. They had come to begin a new life; they didn't even know the language. And I wondered what it felt like to them, years later, age 80 with grandchildren, knowing that the dream of a better life had come true.

"I remember too the first time I ever saw the Lincoln Memorial. I probably spent three or four hours sitting on the steps before I even went in to read the speeches. I'm not particularly patriotic, but that experience was just overwhelming. I don't know that the United States is 'God's Country,' but the church has been so strong here, and because of its influence, we hold life to be sacred and we believe that individuals have dignity. This is part of our legacy.

"I thought of this when I stood before the Lincoln Memorial, and when I saw the Statue or Liberty for the first time. Imagine the millions of people who have fled to America because of those very ideals. Somewhere back in my ancestry, from several different directions, people came to a country that was totally new. If any of them had not done that, I never would have happened. At least, I would not be who I have become."

"Their prayers are still whispered And I'll sing their song In the land of my sojourn"

A legacy: Our past plays its part in what we become. A liturgy: Our faith can shape us, in spite of our struggles, or the powers of temptation.
A ragamuffin band: Our rough edges are temporary.

"Excuse me, but aren't you royalty?"




Copyright 1996-2015. Eric Townsend All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce or publish without permission.