A Christian Who Singso

A Christian Who Sings: Recording Artist to Visit Idaho Falls

by Cindy Dornfeld

Post Register in Idaho Falls, ID, October 5, 1995

Rich Mullins says he isn't a Christian singer.

He's a Christian who sings. The songs he sings just happen to represent his life, his view of the world and his faith.

"You can't separate a man from what he is, and I think that's true across the board," Mullins said in a recent interview. "If you listen to a pagan, you get the sense of a pagan. But not because they're setting out to convert you to paganism. That's just who they are. I am a Christian. Because I am a Christian, it comes out in what I write. You are an expression of yourself."

Mullins, currently on his latest concert tour, "The Brother's Keeper," also featuring Ashley Cleveland and Carolyn Arends, says creating music is hard work.

The illusion that people sit around being inspired all the time is false. It's like any other kind of job. You sit down and do it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

If you crank out an album a year, Mullins says that means you had about 350 songs that didn't work. You have to get used to being a failure. Once you learn how to fail graciously, then you can go on to apply yourself and every now and then succeed.

But he says he's so self-indulgent, success doesn't matter to him. John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." It's an saying Mullins takes to heart.

"I will enjoy it if and when it happens, but generally I've found that whatever success you achieve isn't worth what you put in to get it," Mullins said. "Nothing is as good as our expectations and as terrible as our dread. The vastness of life success is too much of a goal. What will matter someday, is if I really lived while walking around."

He thinks of himself as an entertainer, not as the creative genius who writes and sings music he has been called. To him creativity is everywhere around us.

"We take a lot of things for granted that are around us all the time. To me it's just as amazing that a person can put milk, eggs and flour together and make a cake, or put notes together and make a sound or a scale," he said. "My father was a farmer and he could find more uses for a wrench than I could dream of. He understood his limitations and made the most of them. That's where creativity happens. So when a person manages a household, when a woman figures out how to take a budget, use it to dress the kids, feed them and give them a quality life, that's creative and that's real genius.

"Mostly I think with writing, you just have to try and feel everything you can. I love to read a lot, hike a lot, and I love to read the Bible. It's hard to read the Bible and not be inspired, especially if you read it as Mark Twain. You need to try and read it for what it says, instead of what you think it says. It's more fun and it means more."

While playing in concert halls theaters and auditoriums is fine, Mullins still prefers performing in churches and bases that preference on his upbringing. Church was a place he always felt accepted.

"I always liked that men sang in church. Many of them were so bad, but sang anyway. They weren't ashamed, they weren't there to impress anyone. They were singing loud and terrible and somehow to me sounded better than if it was a trained choir. They were real and sincere, and no amount of talent will make a decent substitute for sincerity."

It's that kind of openness about life that makes Mullins, Cleveland and Arends mesh so well in concert.

"Our styles are not necessarily similar, but there's an element of transparency we each communicate that ties us together and makes what we offer as a group a good package," Cleveland said.

Her personal ambition, in some ways, resembles Mullins'. She prefers not to be categorized as a Christian artist or secular artist, but just as an artist. Nor does she like to have her songs categorized. As a Christian, she believes the perspective she writes from is always evident whether it's a love song or a song about God.

"I do what I do regardless of church or bar, that's my personal path," Cleveland said. "As an artist, I started my career on Atlantic records, now I'm on Reunion. One of the primary differences for me, which is a little daunting, somewhere in gospel music, people expect you to be somewhat of a theologian, and I don't really claim to have that gift.

"I articulate what I want to say in my songwriting. It's a little unnerving in a conversation sometimes because I'll unknowingly say things that can be easily misconstrued. And it's unnerving to think people judge the authenticity of your faith on what you say, but I guess that's one of the peculiarities of being in the gospel industry."

While studio performing gives an artist the opportunity to seek perfection, Cleveland loves performing live.

"Live is more about connecting with a group of people and it has an immediacy. People not only want to hear your music, but they want some sort of taste of who you are and what you are about. The spirit and emotion are fantastic and that's what I'm truly aiming for," she said.

Arends says one of the reasons she wanted to perform with Mullins and Cleveland was because of their honest spontaneity.

"They're not there to fulfill a role. They're 100 percent themselves, and that's what I try to offer the audience, too," she said. "This is my first tour, and I try to see how many people I can connect with each night, to come straight from who and where I am each night and keep it interesting. Being in a different place is a trip and a real challenge."

As an artist, a Christian and human being, Arends says she tries to present what is in her heart. she makes certain she doesn't talk in a secret language known only to those who agree with her faith. To perform otherwise would be faking it she says.

Mullins admits their concert is fairly long, but insists people won't mind.

"One of the greatest honors you can pay anybody is to listen to them, and it's almost overwhelming that people are willing to not only listen to me, but pay money to hear me. It's an honor," Mullins said. "When I was on tour with Amy Grant, I realized that when people come to a concert, they have made arrangements for a baby-sitter, changed their routine. Because of that, you owe them the best show you can give them. With quality you can only do your best, there is a lid on it. But I can control quantity, so we will give you all we can."