Striving No More, Part 3, or My Encounter with a Ragamuffin


This is part 3 in a 5 part series. You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here. As I spent a good part of today writing about Keith Green, I was constantly aware that I couldn’t speak of his outsize influence on my spiritual formation without mentioning the impact of Rich Mullins too. Then I remembered that I already had, two years ago. Rich and Keith are like two sides of the same coin. Rich lived a little longer than Keith did, but Rich died suddenly and tragically in a crash just like Keith, in Rich’s case before his 42nd birthday (which means he was about as old as I am now). Like Keith, Rich was a talented musician. Wikipedia notes:

Mullins had a distinctive talent both as a performer and a songwriter. His compositions showed distinction in two ways: unusual and sometimes striking instrumentation, and complex lyrics that usually employed elaborate metaphors. Mullins did most of his composing and performing on piano and acoustic guitar, but he also had a prodigious talent for obscure instruments. He displayed arguably virtuoso skills on the hammered and lap dulcimers (in “Calling out Your Name” and “Creed”) and the Irish tin whistle (in “Boy Like Me/Man Like You” and “The Color Green”).

And like Keith, Rich had an enormous impact on the “Christian” music scene while simultaneously having a sometimes contentious relationship with the industry. While Keith stopped charging for his music or concerts or gave away a tape for every tape purchased, Rich set it up so that “the profits from his tours and the sale of each album were entrusted to his church, which divided it up, paid Mullins the average salary in the U.S. for that year, and gave the rest to charity.[28] Mullins was also a major supporter of Compassion International[29] and Compassion USA.[30]” He was quoted as saying:

Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted…[6][31]

Thus, like Keith, Rich knew that God has a special concern for the poor, for folks on the margins, that if you wanted to find Jesus, it was among them that you should look. So, he did. In 1995 he up and moved to a Navajo reservation, where he lived until his death two years later. Wikipedia mentions that…

He was asked if he made the move because God had called him to proselytize and convert the Native Americans. To this Mullins responded: “No. I think I just got tired of a White, Evangelical, Middle Class perspective on God, and I thought I would have more luck finding Christ among the Pagan Navajos. I’m teaching music.”[27]

Rich was so influenced by another of my heroes of the faith, St. Francis of Assisi, that he wrote a musical about him, “The Canticle of the Plains.” He also was influenced by another hero of mine, Brennan Manning, whose seminal work The Ragamuffin Gospel so moved him that he thereafter assembled The Ragamuffin Band. I encountered Rich and really began to immerse myself in his music a little later than was the case with Keith, but like Keith, Rich has also had an outsize influence on my formation as someone who wants to follow Jesus. Thus, it was my great honor to hear Rich in concert when he came to Gordon College, I think when I was a freshman. I sat in the back, by myself, and remember being moved to worship. I was amazed to be doing so as the concert ended, and the entire crowd was singing with Rich, though Rich had stopped singing for the final little bit. When I opened my eyes and looked up, Rich was just…gone. He hadn’t gone backstage to wait for everyone to clamor for an encore, though clamor they did. It was more that he had done what he set out to do. He came to help us connect with Jesus. When we did, his work done, he quietly left. Like Keith, Rich’s music has a way of engaging me at a much deeper level than mere intellectualism alone could afford, and I am the better for it. Rich’s music, like Keith’s, often breaks my heart and brings me to tears, but it’s usually there that, gratefully, I meet Jesus.

I think Rich would be the first to say that he’s no hero. Like Keith, he was very genuine, and like Keith, struggled with demons of his own. Unlike Keith, as far as I know, one of Rich’s struggles was alcoholism. It’s something he had in common with Brennan Manning. This review of the movie that was made not too long ago about him, which I would recommend, mentions that:

For a guy who refuses to wear shoes and doesn’t look like he showers on a regular basis, he’s often met with curious stares during Sunday morning services. Not surprisingly, Mullin’s life only gets more complicated when Nashville comes calling. Never fully comfortable as a go-to songwriter for Amy Grant or a celebrated CCM artist later on when “Awesome God” winds up being his breakout hit, Rich’s life fails to follow a predictable course. But Rich finds a mentor in the late Brennan Manning and discovers his true passion in ministering to Native American youth. Mullins’s life may have remained far from perfect, but his story has incredible resonance and redemptive value.

Indeed, it does. Here’s one of my favorite of Rich’s songs:


Here’s another one:



This is one that gets to me much like Keith’s “When I Hear the Praises Start:”


Finally, like Keith, Rich was prophetic in his willingness to speak truth to power, especially “Christian” power, but he was likely also quite prophetic about his own death, as I wrote about in my last post about Rich. Remembering that in Scripture Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, and that Rich died in something like a fiery car crash, here he is singing “Elijah,” with the lyrics copied below:

The Jordan is waiting for me to cross through
My heart is aging I can tell
So Lord, I’m begging
For one last favor from You
Here’s my heart take it where You will

This life has shown me how we’re mended
And how we’re torn
How it’s okay to be lonely as long as you’re free
Sometimes my ground was stoney
And sometimes covered up with thorns
And only You could make it what it had to be
And now that it’s done
Well, if they dressed me like a pauper
Or if they dined me like a prince
If they lay me with my fathers
Or if my ashes scatter on the wind
I don’t care

But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
Well, It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park
And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye

There’s people been friendly
But they’d never be your friends
Sometimes this has bent me to the ground
Now that this is all ending
I want to hear some music once again
‘Cause it’s the finest thing I have ever found

But the Jordan is waiting
Though I ain’t never seen the other side
They say you can’t take in
The things you have here
So on the road to salvation
I stick out my thumb and He gives me a ride
And His music is already falling on my ears

There’s people been talking
They say they’re worried about my soul
Well, I’m here to tell you I’ll keep rocking
‘Til I’m sure it’s my time to roll
And when I do


I don’t think it broke Rich’s heart to say goodbye, but I sure am grateful that God keeps using him to break mine.

4 thoughts on “Striving No More, Part 3, or My Encounter with a Ragamuffin

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