Hello old friends
There's really nothing new to say
But the old, old story bears repeating
And the plain old truth grows dearer every day
When you find something worth believing
Well, that's a joy that nothin' could take away
--Rich Mullins, Hello Old Friends
Ten years ago September 19 fell on a Friday. Two days later, after church on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with a hint of coolness just over the horizon, I decided to take a nap in the tiny dorm room that was my home for the year I was a Resident Assistant. I've always needed some sort of music playing to help me get to sleep, so I placed in my casette-tape walkman Rich Mullins' album The World as Best as I Can Remember it: Volume 2. Somewhere along the way the tape must have ended, but I woke up confused. Evidently I had turned the switch on the radio function, and was listening to the Christian radio station, but they were playing Rich's Hello Old Friends. , which was straight off the album I was listening to. After the last line, "Knowin' morning follows evening/Makes each new day come as a gift," the DJ came on and said they were honoring the life and legacy of Rich Mullins, who had died the previous Friday.
The 90's, for me, were full of the beginnings of all-that-is-sickeningly-slick about American evangelical culture. Christian music became tolerable, thereby making the Gospel marketable, putting us all on the path to McChurch and the subsequent reactionary Emerging Church movement. Yet in the midst of all this, Rich Mullins was a true prophet. He called the American Church to remember the ancient ideals of the revolutionary simplicity of faith, hope, and love.
For many of us, Rich was the first person who ever told us that spiritual things are most often the everyday things. In an article that eerily echoed Kyle's last sermon, Rich wrote the following about those routine moments in which holiness resides:
It is for those every-once-in-a-while kind of moments - far more than for those once-upon-a-time ones - that we can be most thankful. It is in those moments that we find some sense of who we are. Regardless of how grand or how common the event of the moment is, in it we see ourselves at our absolute best - focused, poised and pure - no compromise, no ulterior motives, no self deception or pretense. We see what we are like when we have no point to prove or score, no bills to fit, no scrutinizing to endure... We meet again that child in us who stills loves to swim naked in the cold, quick-running waters of the now - the child in us who can feel in his skin and very bones the warmth and brilliance of the sun. In those moments there is that flash of astonishing recognition: this is not a child who is merely in us - this child is us.
I often wonder what camp Rich would have ended up in during the past several years of further fragmentation of evangelicals. My guess is that he would have fallen out of view to live out the rest of his days with the Native American tribe he had grown to love. There seemed to be a genuine reticence toward celebrity in his tone. Not just a fake "Aw, shucks, go on," but a genuine disdain for attention... something all of us, including me, could bear to have a little more of.
Above all us, when I think of Rich Mullins, I think of the words that have haunted me since I first heard them over ten years ago-- "...it took the hand of God almighty, to part the water and the sea/But it only took one little lie, to separate you and me/ Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are." What a gift to be able to package such a colossal message into such few words.
So today, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Rich Mullins' death, may we celebrate those small moments, the ones that normally pass us by. May we run headlong into the dangerous grace of a God that is often too-big-for-comfort. And may we remember the saints we are to each other, walking in each other's midst.
(If you want to know more about Rich Mullins, my favorite website that has archived his songs and articles can be found HERE.)