“Rich Mullins introduced me to an experience with God in the context of music that I had never known.” – Amy Grant
On September 19, 1997, Rich Mullins died in a tragic car crash along Illinois Interstate 39, ending the life of one of the most compelling—and provocative—artists in Christian music history. He was one month shy of his forty-second birthday.
Like many cultural influences whose lives are cut short, seemingly overnight Rich Mullins’ life and work became a focal point for a tribe of followers—in even greater numbers than had already gathered during his illustrious decade-plus career—seeking authentic communion within the gracious conversations he perpetuated throughout his life and lyrics.
Growing up in a Baptist congregation in rural Northwest Texas, I knew Rich’s music. Songs like “Awesome God,” “Sometimes By Step,” and “Hold Me Jesus”—unknowing forerunners of our present day modern worship music movement—were staples on our radios and in our worship services. And it was within the musical breadth of his seventh studio record, A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band, that I first learned honest-to-God songwriting was not exclusive to music in the mainstream, but was also available to spiritual seekers inside the church.
In a mid-90’s music industry where sales thrived from the slick-pop presentation of the gospel, Rich’s musical poetry thrived in the realities of the mess and the muck of everyday living. Though his music was resonating with the airwaves across the country, the Ragamuffin troubadour stayed close to the ground by identifying with everyday people in everyday situations in the communities around him. He was unafraid and unashamed to love people, especially those lingering on the outskirts of society. And his generous lifestyle (he gave away the majority of his earnings, which in his lifetime was substantial) and provoking dialogue bolstered the notion of a gospel where God loves us “as we are, not as we should be”—as phrased by his friend and fellow Ragamuffin, author Brennan Manning.
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