And the Search Continues

And the Search Continues

by Dave Bangert

Lafayette Indiana Journal and Courier March 27, 1992

Christian musician's next move is school ... for now

Some people have this innate feeling about what they want to be when they grow up. Rich Mullins isn't one of those people.

"My grandpa, who was a really cool guy, told me, You know what, nothing counts until you're 30," the 36-year-old singer-songwriter says.

"So he said, 'Go out and find out what makes you tick, what scares you, what excites you and the rest, and by the time you're 30, you'll know exactly what you should be doing.'"

So after spending a life devoted to his musical ministry of concerts and youth conventions, Mullins is going back to school. He wants a degree so he can teach music to children on a Native American reservation somewhere.

After a Sunday night show in Lafayette and a Monday date in Dayton, Ohio, the Christian poet and musician is getting off the road. Hell still make records.

"There are other things I want to do in life, so it's time to do those things," the outspoken Mullins says.

"What I think the cool thing about music is that you're allowed to be wrong about a lot of stuff along the way. We're generally taken to be flakes, which is absolutely accurate. So people will forgive a lot of stuff if you can play softly and tenderly."

What Mullins has played softly and tenderly is his vision of faith. His five records including his latest, The World As Best As I Remember It - reflect what he sees as a world of wonder.

He's not your run of the mill Christian artist. So many are non-secular oriented stabs at Top 40 featuring unabashed looks at faith.

Mullins has written songs for Amy Grant, including the 1982 standard, "Sing Your Praise to the Lord." But Mullins can be so ill-at-ease and full of questions that his frame of musical reference more closely mirrors more mainstream Christian artists U2, Maria McKee and Bruce Cockburn.

His well-educated lyrics are rooted in his Christianity, while his windswept songs of folk and world music are drawn from secular influences ranging from Sting to Peter Gabriel.

"I'm not a big fan of Christian music, because I'm not a big fan of pop music now," Mullins says. "What I love about someone like Bruce Cockburn is here is someone - regardless of the conclusions he's come to - who has a basic loyalty to life. In the midst of his confusion there is this thread of affirmation that runs through his songs that says, 'OK, I'm confused about some of this stuff, but I know there's a God and I know I'm alive and that life is wonderful beyond any conclusions I come to.'"

Like anyone testing the limits of life, Mullins has searched for a radical relationship with the church.

He was so enamored by St. Francis' devotion to Jesus Christ that he considered joining a Franciscan order. Instead he and a compadre who goes only by "Beaker" created the Kid Brothers of St. Frank, a tongue-in-cheek name for a not-so-joking way of life.

"We thought about actually establishing an order and adopting vows of poverty, chastity and obedience," Mullins says. "We figured, well, we're broke. We never get dates. Maybe well make a religious observance out of that."

The obedience part was attractive, too, he says.

"Because I have a lot of opinions and not all of them deserve to be espoused in a public forum," Mullins says. "This is where my record company flips out, because I can be sometimes a little overly candid. I guess I'm politically incorrect."

Mullins isn't afraid to tell you that you are wrong and that he is right. His laundry list of opinions runs a little left of the leftists, a little right of the rightists:

The media lies. The church isn't strong enough in its authority. Americans watch too much TV and expect TV solutions to every conflict. George Bush's New World Order is a scheme to heat the president's home in Maine. No one should be re-elected. There is no political solution for peace and good will. Abortion is absolutely wrong, but pro-life activists better be ready to take up the slack if -women with unwanted pregnancies come knocking at their doors for help.

"I can be very passionate," Mullins says.

It's just that his passion for touring has dried up. He appreciates the focus his years on the road gave him. He says he now accepts something Mother Teresa said as the truth: There are no great things done for God; there are only small things done with great love.

"I really believe that now," he says. "So I can stop worrying about being this great saint and I can stop worrying about someday having my image up on a stained glass window somewhere and what I can start doing is say, 'Let's get on with this day.'

"And what that means is I have to do laundry. And what that means is here's this Girl Scout and I need to buy her cookies. And what that means is here's a person who doesn't realize that he has a father who loves him and I have to tell him about that father."

And what that means is that on some reservation, a child is going to get a music teacher.