Note: I wrote this a few years ago for a CCM article. There was a limit to the word count, and I remember having a hard time not writing pages and pages about all the ways Rich’s life has affected my own. I can’t remember if it was ever published, so I dug it out in honor of the man whose music and ministry quite literally changed my life. As of this week, Rich has been dead for fourteen years, but his memory is very much alive.
Today I drove across the wide prairie that lies at the feet of the Grand Tetons. My wife of twelve years and our three children were with me on the journey, and as is our custom on long trips, we let the kids take turns choosing the music. We listened to Riders in the Sky (the best cowboy music around), the soundtrack to Silverado (the best Western film score ever), and some Sara Groves (who doesn’t have much at all to do with the Wild West, but who was a welcome salve after ten hours of the kids choosing the aforementioned music).
We rounded the bend at sunset and there before us stood those craggy Tetons, all gray stone with white snow tucked into the fissures. The clouds were gold with sunlight and long, misty fingers of rain dangled from them, caressing the peaks and the aspen- and fir-covered shoulders of the range.
Who else but Rich Mullins could write music that would adequately suit a scene like that? I demanded the iPod, selected A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band, and we drove the next forty-five minutes without speaking.
We weren’t speaking because we were being spoken to.
Rich’s music has a finely tuned resonance. Some people hear his songs and miss the vibration completely, while others, like myself, are rattled to the bone. Driving today in the shadow of the mountains, my bones were rattling with the Gospel, and it was the Gospel according to Rich. He sang about a God who bares his holy arm in the sight of the nations, who roars and smites and laughs from heaven at his enemies. A God to be reckoned with. But the God Rich knew—the God he knows—is also one of tenderness and deep mystery and patient love. He’s a God who thought to make the color green, whose mercy rains down from heaven and trickles even to the brown brick spines of our dirty blind alleys. I remember Rich saying in a live recording from years ago that God is like the kid who beats you up and then gives you a ride home on his bike. I’ve learned a lot about God from Rich, mainly because he put to words the things I already knew were true: I have been beaten up, and I have been carried home.
I could write all day about the ways God has blessed me and changed me by way of Rich’s music; I could write all day about the ways I have missed his wry, odd wisdom in the midst of the industry I find myself so often befuddled by; I could also write about the way Rich’s writing craft leaves me awestruck and humbled; or about the countless stories I’ve been told by those he either knew or was known by; or about the uncanny number of artists I know who point to Rich as one of their chief influences, both spiritual and musical.
But today, after that glorious drive through the West while listening to him sing about America and Jesus and the very truth of God, I can only here express my gratitude to God for Rich’s ability to remind me that it is to God alone that I am to be grateful. There’s nothing else an artist could better aspire to than to leave that legacy. I have sung his songs and read his writings and stood at his grave and am convinced that in his barefoot, quirky, grace-filled wake he left a pair of shoes that no one will ever fill.
Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.
“…Rich is on the radio, and I think we ought to take it slow…”
Keep God First
Great article. Thank you for writing it. The last paragraph is my favorite.
You really, really, really need to get Three Days Before Autumn on a studio album, Andrew.
“Rich’s music has a finely tuned resonance. Some people hear his songs and miss the vibration completely, while others, like myself, are rattled to the bone.” In my youthful days that vibration went through me unnoticed. Artists like Andrew Peterson, Caedmon’s Call, Andy Gullahorn, Jill Phillips and others have “retuned” me so that I nearly crack from the resonating beauty and truth in Rich’s music.
Andy, I have to confess that in my younger days, Rich’s music resonated through me utterly and completely, but now I just resonate with the wrestling in his music. I wrestle to get back to that place of the childlike wonder his music evoked. I’ve met people who loved Rich. I’ve also met people who were offended by him. I think that is because he never sought to be perfect, only to be God’s. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone like Rich around again to shake the Church and crack the veneer of the Christian music industry? Wouldn’t that be something…
I would have never given Rich the chance if I didn’t trust you, Andrew. I read different things you blurbed about him, listened to you speak of him at your concert, and I decided that I needed to give this guy a shot.
I’m glad I did.
“How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free”
I, too, am thankful for Rich Mullins and his boldness in following Jesus and for the grace and creativity that flows from his music. I remember the day that I walked into a Cedarville college chapel service and heard the announcement that he had been killed. So glad that he persevered in the (sometimes painful) work of serving as a modern-day prophet of sorts, just speaking the things that were in his heart.
In a very real sense, every person is God’s gift to the world. (I’m thinking of the church, especially, but to some extent I think this is true in the wider world, as well.) As people who have been re-born and are in the process of being re-made, we bless the people around us in direct proportion to how much we fully become ourselves. Sometimes that comes through our strengths, other times it is our frailties which provide the opportunities for others to learn and exercise compassion and patience and everything else that’s wrapped up in love. I never had the privilege of meeting Rich Mullins in person, but it seems like he was faithful to living out the gifts placed within him.
I was 11 when Rich Mullins died. I had only just begun to grow aware of music. All I remember about that day was that my dad (a die-hard Christian music fan who worked hard to brainwash me) dug out Rich’s records and played them over and over again for hours. It wasn’t until later that I discovered his music myself, in a vein of its own, showing me in glimpses the kind of God that I worshipped–a God I only thought I knew. Thank you, Lord, for speaking through such a human.
Rich was a complex artist and a complex man. His music was deep and wide and true. Thanks for this tribute. I will say that I experience something similar to Rich’s music when I listen to yours.
“be God’s”… What a legacy, what a great thought to leave us with! Rich didn’t want praise… he just wanted us all to know God better. And, it worked – but it’s been a dry time since September of ’97. You, though, Andrew… you have really brought healing to many. I love the way you walk a similar path to Rich’s and the way you try to add a Rich song to your concert play lists. Thanks – and keep doing that.
I so appreciate guys like you … and Mitch McVicker — who really don’t aspire for the headlines, but do aim diligently to please God by pouring out your heart & soul – with excellence – into every endeavor. It is noticed.
I, too, miss Rich’s music and it was that common love for and feeling of the resonance that drove me to your music. Thank you both. Keep on keeping on…
When you love you walk on the water
Just don’t stumble on the waves
We all want to go there somethin’ awful
But to stand there it takes some grace
‘Cause oh, we are not as strong
As we think we are
My favorite Rich Mullins song
and Nothing to Say was my introduction to AP at about the time Rich died.
I for one think he has had plenty to say.
If there’s anyone who might approach filling Rich’s shoes, that would be you, Andrew. I think you are carrying on his musical legacy, and doing it very well at that.
(Loved the show with Jill, Andy, and Ben at Glasgow. Looking forward to catching a Christmas show this year)
It’s overwhelming to think that one man’s short time on Earth left such an impact. His short time left us all with a lifetime full of beautiful thoughts.
My younger sister woke me to Rich Mullins before his death, and I loved the spiritual depth and edge to his songs–songs that made one think, grow, and sing.I’ve realized that I never reached beyond the couple albums we had, though. …And it’s time to drag those out and have another listen. We sung one of his songs in at our church’s VBS for years–one of my absolute favorites, though this shows my ignorance: I think it’s “Creed” but I was just looking at the lyrics and some are different than what we sing. Yep, time to revisit Rich!
I ditto Matt A’s comment about putting out Three Days Before Autumn on a major cd.
When a close friend of mine died, I was so glad to know that song from Appendix A. Your words articulated what I was feeling, and the song helped me grieve: “I’m broken and breathless and bent to the ground – I’m listening Lord, but I don’t hear a sound…” I knew I would hear again, and breathe again, and stand straight again… later.
Growing up (and still) I’ve always held three songwriters in highest regard, two of whom have moved on: Keith Green, Rich Mullins, and Fernando Ortega. Now, of course, I am discovering a whole new set of songwriters that are blowing my mind with their musical creativity and unabashed truth-telling (mostly through the Rabbit Room, I might add…). But for years, these three artists defined my Christian walk and my pursuit of music. Now that I’m learning to listen more to the tremors of God’s will and giving up my dreams for my music for His, I’m coming back to them and re-discovering the grace inherent in their writing. Many thanks for the tribute – it gives me yet again something to chew on.
And as a young classical musician re-evaluating his “career” path, I have a somewhat inane question: How do you pay the bills as an independent singer-songwriter? Or maybe, how did you reconcile supporting and caring for a family with a path that is not incredibly lucrative? 🙂
Rich was on our hearts as we made the trip south from Ohio to Nashville to Hutchmoot 2011. We put some Rich on the radio and wondered aloud if Andrew might play a Rich song at Hutchmoot, Thanks AP for playing “The Love of God”.
Here I’m tested and made worthy
Tossed about but lifted up
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God
Missing the man … and thankful.
My life’s been broken, it’s been crazy, but it’s been better for having known Richard Wayne Mullins. Richard, someone said, loved broken people. He loved the way God did; God does not stand apart from our brokenness; he enters it with us. Richard believed in me, even when he didn’t really have good reason to. He tried to reach out to me when everyone else was just shaking their heads. He was an amazing friend.
thank God for showing Himself in His people!
Rich, had a unique ability to make you want more of Jesus
Thought you might like to know they are making a movie of Rich’s life. Ironically, about this because I know several actors in the movie. http://sustainabletraditions.com/2011/06/calling-all-ragamuffins-help-support-the-rich-mullins-movie-film-producer-interview/
Chris from PA
Rendered speechless as I make my way to my hammers and strings with only the ability rattle out a single word… Thanks.
What a beautiful article. Such a common man with an extraordinary talent. Insights as deep as the oceans, his “Here in America” DVD “live at Studio B” has some incredible ministry to it.
I believe God directed me to Rich’s music, but others may call it a mistake. I accidently received his LP album in a record club back in the 80’s and decided to just keep it instead of returning it. Wow, what a blessing. I am moved everytime I hear the words he wrote, “when I look back on the stars, it will be like a candle stick in Central Park.” When he left, he may have just done that!
I love every one of the candles Richard has lit in my life. A “candlelight” was the ceremony they held for Johh Lennon in CentraL Park following his assassination. Four hundred thousand attended. “And It won’t break my heart to say goodbye. . .”
We are all entitled to interpret songs as they strike us; differnt as any two snowflakes–that’s the beauty of a song. Here are some ideas about Elijah:
I have grieved my son’s death for 9 months now…he is with Jesus after living on earth for 21 years. He called me during his sophomore year in college and said it was a “Rich Mullins sort of day”- he’d been listening to Rich all day. We raised Nolan listening to Rich. When Rich Mullins died, our family grieved and Nolan was only seven and wrote in his journal that the angels were listening to Rich sing in Heaven. Now, Nolan too has crossed that vail…and sings.
Throughout my strong missing of Nolan these past months, Rich Mullins music is grace to me… I do not listen to much else, other than worship music. I don’t have the words to express what joy and peace God brings to me through Rich’s music.
I saw Rich at Still Meadow church in Catonsville MD outside of Baltimore city in 1992 or 93 or 94. What I remember about the concert was Rich had every one do an exercise about the sound of rain I think hitting a roof. Rich had us clapping our hands fast then slow on our legs. the sounds of Gods creation. I enjoy Richs recordings excellent work, to GOD be the glory. Also other gifted christian muscians we went on before and after Rich, Keith Green, Mark Heard, Dana Key from Degarmo and Key who was a descendant of Francis Scott Key,and Larry Norman.Continue to lift up JESUS. HE is the WAY the TRUTH and the LIFE. GOd bless you Tim.
Color green, my very favorite song. My family did the same thing we could listen to tons of music and when we listened to Rich the whole family was absorbed in the music, the message, the brokenness of his music.
I still remember
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