Heart to Heart
Interviewed by Sheila Walsh
Christian Broadcasting Network May 20, 1992
Announcer: The 700 club presents Heart to Heart with Sheila Walsh.
Sheila Walsh: Hello, and welcome to Heart to Heart. I'm sure you've heard other recording artists perform songs such as "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" and "Awesome God" that my guest today has written. He not only writes and records hit songs, but also feels a responsibility to be real, to tell the truth, to be genuine to his audiences. His latest album, The World As Best As I Remember It, Volume 2, gives us a hint he spends time thinking about life. Here is Rich Mullins singing from the album the song, "Sometimes by Step":
["Sometimes by Step"]
Sheila Walsh: Really beautiful. Rich is such a true poet. His albums, The World As Best As I Remember It, Volumes 1 and 2, on Reunion Records. And I'm gonna tell you towards the end of the show how you can get a hold of those today. We'll give you a toll free number and you can call and order his CDs and tapes, they're great.
Please welcome, from Wichita, Kansas, Rich Mullins
That was beautiful. Really beautiful. I love your piano style when you play. It's really neat.
Rich Mullins: Oh, thank you.
SW: I want you to imagine, if you will, that we were in Seattle, in a little café. Nobody bothering us, no gig to do, nobody pestering you. We just sat down to cappuccino. Somebody said to you, 'What's the most important thing... what are the most important things in your life?'
RM: At any given moment it might be slightly different, but I would imagine that nothing would be more important than becoming fully who you were supposed to be. You know what I mean is? For me, that's what salvation is all about.
SW: Did you discover that by accident?
RM: Um, if you believe in accidents. Depends on if you're a Calvinist or not.
SW: Yeah, I'll bet that's true.
But I want to ask you, you're the same age as me. You're 36, and I'm almost 36. How are you different at 36 than 26?
RM: Oh, very different. Because I have failed enough that I've learned that It's not the end of the world to make mistakes.
SW: That's a big thing.
RM: Yes, so I'm not as threatened by my own failures as I used to be. I used to be a lot more ambitious than I am now. I think I used to really want to... you know, I was a bit of a go-getter and very uptight about everything.
At 36, you kinda sit back and you kinda go, wow, I've made so many really bad mistakes. And I've been around so many people who've made a lot of really dumb mistakes. And every morning the sun comes up anyway. So, ehhh, it's not that... I think when you stop being afraid of failing, you become a lot more free to succeed.
SW: Within the Christian music thing, the whole industry, the Bible tells us that we shouldn't think of ourselves more highly than we ought. But it seems that the system is set up to make that as difficult as possible.
RM: Yeah, and I think, very significantly... the whole thing of thinking highly of ourselves... I think a lot of times, even thinking negatively in a big way about ourselves is thinking too highly. I think we should just stop thinking about ourselves. Which is very difficult to do when you're having photo shoots and you're being put in front of people. Naturally, you want to look your best, and you want to sound your best. So you do a lot of concentrating on what could I say that would be really cool. What can I say, how can I look, what do I do with what I have to work with in terms of trying to make this look as good as possible. And you end up focusing a lot of attention on yourself. Which is natural, but probably pretty detrimental.
SW: But I read too somewhere that at 40, you were going to quit music because you reckoned you'd be too ugly by then.
RM: Well, you know, you get fatter and balder every year.
SW: So what though? Because if what you're saying, if what you're discovering is an inner peace and a freedom from that, why would it matter? Why wouldn't you stay in there as an example of the fact that we can all get older and fatter and balder and that that's okay?
RM: You know, there are people who would kill to get to do what I get to do. There are people who are very competitive and who really want to do what I've had the privilege to get to do for the last ten years or so. And I'm kinda going, well, give them a shot. Get out of the way.
There are not a lot of people who want to move into a situation like in any kind of mission situation. There are not people who are competing to, gee I wanna go to the most remote part of the world that I can find and live in a hut, which I think sounds kind of exciting, I guess.
SW: Perhaps I ask this of myself more than of you... Something I wonder is if there's any sort of escapism in that. Because when my husband and I went to the Philippines and we watched what was happening in the garbage dump there. And flying back, Norman said to me, 'I wish we could give up all the trappings of our life in America and go and live there.' But I actually felt it would be more of a challenge to live where we live in a way that brings honor to God than just drop it all and go...
RM: And I really believe that if you're not living in a way that is honoring to God where you live, that moving isn't going to change that.
I just think that, Buechner says that your calling is where your deepest joy and the world's greatest need cross, or where they intersect.
And I kinda go, I was a youth minister for about three or four years in a church in northern Kentucky, and I really loved doing the youth ministry thing. The only problem was, it was pretty obvious that I was musically gifted. I felt like it would be... that I should probably do something with the music thing. So I did, but I've done that. So I figure I've put my time in.
Some day, you know, I'm gonna be an old man, I mean like a really old man, or I'll be dead.
SW: What a future!
RM: So I kinda go, boy the people who've had the greatest impact on my life are the people that I want to seek out and to thank. They are the people that I remember. And I wanna be one of those people for someone else. I think there can't be any greater joy in life than knowing that someone else's life is richer because you lived.
SW: Oh, yeah.
RM: And so I kinda go... I didn't become a Christian because of a Christian musician. I didn't even become a Christian because of a great preacher. I became a Christian for two reasons. One is because of what Christ did 2000 years ago. And that is something that I didn't even ask him to do. Something I didn't even know to ask him to do. Had Christ not died in my place, then nothing that I could do or anyone else could do would make any difference in my life. I cannot become a Christian of my own esteem. That is the bottom line, very primarily why I'm a Christian.
The other reason is because I encountered the love of Christ in the people of his church and they were the people who talked to me, and they were people who listened to me. They were people who sometimes knocked me upside the head when I needed it. Sometimes they suffered the consequences of my mistakes with me and didn't grind my nose in it.
I was very fortunate to grow up in a Christian family with a large extended family around me, all of very God-fearing and very nice people. As a Christian musician, I travel all the time, and so I don't have the opportunity as a musician to do that thing. And I kinda go, yeah, that's something I wanna do.
I really enjoy what I'm doing now. I think I'm in the best position that a person can be in, because I love what I'm doing, and I'm looking forward to doing something else. So I kinda go, wow, who could have it better?
SW: I can really understand that when I was just doing music and travelling all the time, I don't think there's ever been a lonelier time in my life. Even though at night you'd stand in front of a crowd of people and you seemed not to be alone, it was really lonely, because nobody really knew me. I mean, they all maybe bought my records and knew my music, but none of them knew the things that made me laugh or the things that made me cry. And it can be lonely to be known and yet... I think it was Einstein that said, 'How can I be so known and so alone?'
Let's talk about accountability because I know that that's something that is important in your life. And sometimes one of the trademarks of the Christian musician has been the whole Lone Ranger thing of "I don't want to be known, thank you very much, because if you knew me, you would have a fit."
RM: Which I can understand, because I do know a lot of Christian musicians, and they do put you in fits.
SW: Did you stumble upon your need for accountability?
RM: No, I think it's very natural. I think that it is impossible to be a Christian outside of the context of the church. I think that when we are incorporated into the body of Christ that that's where we're supposed to be. We were never intended to be a lone self floating away any more than an arm is supposed to be a lone limb disconnected. That we're only Christian inasmuch as we're connected.
What I found was... and I'm probably a pretty nice fella, most people would think. What I found is it's very difficult when no one is there who you're immediately accountable to... when you're in cities all the time where you're staying in hotels where nobody knows you, and it doesn't really matter if you don't watch your walk, then you can become fairly... you can license yourself pretty far. And what I realized was boy, I don't do well on my own.
The other thing is, as a Christian musician, because you're playing to an audience that is made up of a lot of people who have a very diverse kind of conviction... There are people who really believe that you must be a Republican in order to be a Christian. There are people who really believe that you must take an abstinence position. There are people who are very anti-war, and they think you must be anti-war. And there are all these people who take all these different things about what you as a Christian are supposed to be. So you end up spending a lot of time trying to defend why you are not this or why you are not that. And what I have realized is boy, I am not accountable to everyone that I meet on the street. I need to be accountable somewhere, and this is driving me crazy.
It is very nice now, I'm a member of Central Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas. It's a very middle-of-the-road, conservative, kindof independent, Christian church, and I'm answerable to the eldership there. And so when someone disagrees with something I say in concert, they can write my elders and complain. And my elders can then knock me upside the head if that's what I need. Or they can write the person back a letter and say this is exactly the doctrine of our church. And what he is saying is in line with what we believe. And we would stand behind what he says or what he does.
SW: So get off his back you narrow-minded whatever.
RM: Yeah, exactly.
SW: Yeah, I kinda got the picture. I like that.
["How Can I Keep Myself from Singing?"]
SW: Welcome back, my guest today, Rich Mullins. I wanted to ask you about your concerts. I know you're not into the spiritual buzz. You're not into the kind of being tanked up from one Friday to the next concert. What do you see as the point of your concerts? What do you hope to convey through your music?
RM: You know what, I think, mostly music. And I really think that because I'm a Christian... A lot of people think that as a Christian musician, when I write a song, I sit down and say, what really spiritual thing can I say here? And I really don't believe in doing that. I really think you sit down and write really good songs. If you are a Christian, then your faith is going to affect everything you write. So it's not a matter of sitting down with a little agenda and coming up with a song that is very spiritual. I think if you are anything like a spiritual person then your writing will be spiritual writing. You know what I mean is?
If you're a Christian, that will affect whether you're a carpenter or a plumber or a housewife or a secretary or whatever. If your faith doesn't have some impact on your work, it's probably because you have no faith.
SW: You mentioned Buechner earlier and one of his books, The Gospel As Comedy, Tragedy, and Fairy Tale...
RM: Telling the Truth.
SW: Yes, Telling the Truth, because if you do that in concert, that's not maybe always going to be comfortable, because the truth is not always a comfortable thing.
RM: Right, in fact, I think it normally isn't.
SW: And are you happy to do that in concert? Is that something you feel at peace with?
RM: Well, not so much that I'm at peace with that as I'm definitely not at peace with trying to sell comfort. Because I think no one can serve two masters. People are either going to seek comfort in life... They're either going to seek pleasure and the easy way to get through life without any bumps or they're going to seek out the truth. If you seek out the truth, you're not going to have a comfortable and pleasant life. So you can take one or the other, but you can't have them both.
SW: I get a lot of mail from viewers who feel like failures. Who seem to spend all their life feeling like they're a disappointment to God. You've talked a lot about the fact that you feel you've blown it a lot in your short but meaningful life. Have you found a peace in knowing that God loves you as you are?
RM: There are many things in the Christian faith that are hard to get a handle on, and one of the things that I struggle the hardest with is believing that God really loves me. It's too good to believe, but it's true. Whether I can believe it or not.
The fact is, I think if you took the whole Bible and you shook it around and melted it down and said, 'what is the essence of what this whole thing is saying,' I think it would just be that God loves you very much. That God in fact is crazy about you. I kinda read that, and I go why, why, why? And like Job, God doesn't give me an answer.
SW: A friend of mine, Brennan Manning, said that when he gets home, he believes that perhaps all Christ will look him in the face and say, "Did you believe that I loved you? Did you really believe it?" Because if you believe that, it changes everything.
RM: Yeah, and to the degree that you can believe it, it changes things. I know that more so now at 36 than I did when I was like, 15. At 15, I think I was still trying to win God's approval. And at 26, I had given up. I had gone, oh, wow, how can he ever like a schmuck like me? And at 36, I realized you know what, it's not me.
Your friends that have kids and on their refrigerators they have those really horrible scribblings that their kids do. And they're really proud of them. And you look at them and you go, how can you possibly put that up in front of other people for them to see.
SW: I can tell you don't have children.
RM: Right, well you can't! And you can tell that God does. Because I think that a lot of us think that someday we're going to become the VanGogh of Christianity. That we're going to paint something truly, truly beautiful, and God is going to be so impressed that he's going to hold us up and say, Here's an exemplary Christian. But you know what, I think God just likes people to scribble however awful it comes out. And then he goes, this is my kids'.
SW: That's pretty awesome.
RM: It's kindof frightening.
SW: But it's wonderful. It's very liberating.
RM: Yeah, in many ways.
SW: Because most of us know we're never going to be the VanGogh of anything.
RM: Very true. Which is kindof a relief, too. Because they you go, oh, yeah, once again, we're back to, you know what, it's okay to be a failure.
SW: Plus you get to keep both your ears.
RM: That's true.
SW: That's fairly important in music.
SW: Coming from a culture like Britain, I'm used to... when I was at college, my friends were Catholics, were Presbyterian, were Baptists, were Assembly of God, were everything. We had very different opinions, very diverse. I loved it. I loved the hodgepodge of life where you don't agree with. But somehow, we seem very uncomfortable with that. That you know I can't really accept you until you follow my ten principles. Do you think that's changing?
RM: I hope it is. I think that we don't like people to disagree with us, because we're really afraid that maybe we're not right. And maybe we're still hung up about being right and wrong. Which was the original sin. Rather than wanting to know God, God said basically, you can know Me or you can know everything else. And man said, well, we want to know everything else. We want to know right from wrong so we can decide for ourselves.
And I think that people in many ways still come to Christianity and see it as being a moralist religion where we have this little set of rights and wrongs. And if you do all these things, then you're a Christian. And if you do these things, then you're a good Christian. And if you do these things, then you're a great Christian. And if you become a missionary, then you're a saint.
I think that Christ, when he said, love one another, was basically saying, 'you know what, you can either concern yourself with the details of what this means or you can center yourself on the intent.'
And I love what Chesterton said, he said, 'When we bind our hearts, we free our hands.' And I think that's very true. That the more we can live in a right relationship with Christ and with God, the less we have to worry about, gee, is this right? Gee, is this wrong?
You hang out with people long enough and you pick up their qualities. And so I think that in Christianity much more than my going through the Bible and saying, now where are all the scriptures that support my position on when the millennium is going to happen.
If I go to the Bible and say what is the heart of this? What is God trying to say to us here? If I believe that this is God's revelation of himself. And as a Christian I think I have to. Otherwise I have no basis for becoming a Christian. Then what I have to say is what is God like? What from the scriptures can I understand that God is like?
If these are the reliable and authoritative witnesses to the word of God, who is Christ, then when I come to recognize Jesus, what will he look like? And how can I come to look like him?
We live in a very information-oriented kind of society. And we have a very information-oriented way of thinking. Education... when you read in Proverbs, when it talks about wisdom, it's not talking about someone who is very well educated. Wisdom is a character thing. And being a fool is a character thing. It doesn't mean that you are uneducated. It doesn't even mean that you're stupid. It means that you have weak character. And I think character is more important than having a real rigid, little list of dos and don'ts.
SW: Well, it sounds like we only have four more years of Rich's music, so you'd better buy it fast before it all goes out of the stores. Rich, thanks so much for coming and being with us. It was good to talk to you.
RM: Oh, thanks for having me.