Editor's note: This story was originally published Sept. 27, 1997
Eight days ago, Christian music lost one of its brightest stars. Singer-songwriter Rich Mullins, 41, was killed in an automobile accident in Illinois on his way to perform in Wichita. His life shines on, in spite of his death.
I and others are realizing what a treasure he was. He used his exceptional gift of singing and songwriting to craft lucid illustrations about what he called his "awesome God." His words probed and prodded but never overwhelmed.The lyrics had a way of subtly revealing new aspects of what it means to be a Christian.
How many of us have sung "Awesome God, " his best-known recording, and felt the presence of God? How many others have been swept away in the grandeur of his rich melodies? I know I have. He had the ability to direct our thoughts and feelings to the heavens.
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I had the privilege of seeing him perform in concert a few times. He was humble and honest - and barefooted, his trademark. I was impressed by the way he could communicate his faith and hope in Christ to the audience.
Mullins had a style easy to identify but hard to describe. It wasn't loud enough to be rock music, and it was more sophisticated than folk. The instruments he used helped distinguish him from other contemporary Christian musicians.
The hammer dulcimer, which he mastered, undulates throughout his songs. His rhythms were earthy but complemented by sweeping harmonies of guitar and piano. He never had a spectacular voice. It sounded a little coarse and a bit strained, but his passion more than made up for it.
Fortunately, he left behind a trove of music that will continue to encourage, challenge and inspire. He released nine albums during his career and possessed the rare ability to create ones that had at least three or four exceptional songs. For his efforts, he won numerous Christian music awards. His songs were frequently played on Christian radio stations nationwide and influenced many Christian songwriters and musicians.
Three of the albums that best reveal Mullins' talents are "Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth, " "The World as Best as I Remember It, Vol. 1" and "A Liturgy, a Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band."
Each album contains expressive, well-written and thought-provoking songs. Included are his hits "Awesome God, " "Step By Step, " "Hold Me Jesus" and "Creed."
By any measure, secular or Christian, Mullins was a talented musician. Now that he's gone, I will miss the opportunity to hear what he would yet have written. But I will continue to explore the messages of his songs and the Awesome God we worship.
The lyrics to "Land of My Sojourn" off the "Liturgy" album best sums up the way I believe Mullins lived -always longing for heaven:
Nobody tells you when you get born here/how much you'll come to love it/and how you'll never belong here./So I'll call you my country, but I'm lonely for my home/and I wish I could take you there with me.
There's no doubt that he's home now.