Music and More

Music and More

Compassion International

Interview by Jon Rivers 1993

[Here In America]

Jon Rivers: And I'm Jon Rivers. That was Rich Mullins from his Reunion album, A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band. This is Compassion International's Music and More, featuring Rich Mullins.

I talked to Rich about many things, including how he came up with the album's title, A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band.

Rich Mullins: The liturgy, for me, is a thing that you give yourself over to, that you voluntarily participate in, in order to identify yourself with a certain group of people. For example, there are certain groups of people, when I get together with [them] we play 'Up And Down The River.' It automatically happens. And it has to happen, or we don't feel like we're really together. There are certain things I do with certain friends, because that thing becomes an organizing factor in our friendship. There are certain things I do with my family that I don't do with other people. A good example, my family calls me one name, and everybody else calls me another. That, I think, is liturgical.
A lot of people think that church is liturgical, I think that everything in life is liturgical. There is a certain time when you plant your seeds, there is a certain time when you harvest them. Life is set up, it's a series of patterns. I think, that because I am an American, I'm going to have certain biases. I'm probably going to lean more heavily toward a representative kind of government than I might if I had grown up in a, somewhere in Africa, where there was a chief, and the elders, and we simply obeyed those people. I'm gonna have a certain view of what a family looks like, I'm going to have these American biases. And these are not things that I chose. These are things that were given to me, or imposed on me, depending on how you want to look at that. That is our legacy.

Then the Ragamuffin Band - there is a book by Brennan Manning called The Ragamuffin Gospel, which Brennan Manning, his speaking and his books, and I've had the privilege of getting to spend a little bit of time with him, so his very person, has had a huge impact on me. Ragamuffin Gospel is kind of that thing where you go, let's not all pretend like we're all great. Let's say that the pressure is off. That you don't have to have it all together. Let's meet God, and allow God to meet us where we are. Maybe I'm confused, maybe I'm scared, maybe I'm beat down, maybe I'm a lot of things. But that does not change the character of God. That does not change the love that God has for me. That does not change the fact that He longs to be compassionate.

When we started making the album, I pretty much hand-picked the guys that were gonna play on it, because they were all guys who I knew to be very real Christians. Doesn't mean that they're dirty Christians, doesn't mean that they're messed-up Christians. They were all men who were not afraid to say, "I don't understand that." They were all men who were willing to say, "I have a struggle with that," or, "I don't have a struggle with that." They were all people who recognized that God had met them at the point of their need, that God had endowed them and empowered them with certain gifts that He had for them. And they recognized the goodness of God in meeting them where they needed to be met, and empowering them with His spirit when they did not deserve that gifting. But it's because God delights in them, because God loves them, because God is tickled pink with them. That He continues, not because we're great, but because of who God is.

And the guys that I played with are pretty much guys that I've known for a good while. They all have struggles. They all have hang-ups, they all have shortcomings, they all have talents, they all have gifts. They all have a faith, that even though it doesn't look like the kind of faith you see on tv, it's a very profound, and very down-to-earth, and I think a very spiritual faith.

So, here's our legacy, the fact that we have a cultural upbringing. Here's our liturgy, the fact that we voluntarily involve ourselves in the services and little rituals between our friends, between the other people in the church, et cetera, and here's who we are. We're a bunch of ragamuffins. We're a bunch of people who don't really have it all together. We're a bunch of people with a bunch of half-baked ideas. We're a bunch of people with some real hang-ups, and some real high hopes, and some real struggles with cynicism, with anger, with the fear that God is not really who Jesus tells us that He is. And here, above all of that, here is a God who continues to look down, and continues to love us. Which, hopefully, everything in this album, everything in our legacy and in our liturgy, everything that comes from us who are ragamuffins will point to the fact that God is real. And His love for you is absolutely real.

[I'll Carry On]
[Compassion ad]

JR: This is Music and More, brought to you by Compassion International, featuring Rich Mullins.

RM: You know, a lot of people have this misconception that ministers and musicians, and people who daily are talking about Christ and Christianity and that sort of thing, really have no, or few, struggles. And I kind of had bought into that for a long time, thinking that, gee, by the time I'm in my mid-thirties I should be pretty much too old to be tempted by anything, and have really kind of had to come to terms with the fact that as long as I live, there will be temptations.
The whole image in the Scriptures that Christ uses about preparing the soil - I think the Word of God, which would be Christ, or if you're Protestant or Evangelical would be the Bible, is going to be fruitful. I mean it is already a very fertile little thing. Where the attention needs to be paid is to the soil that that's gonna be dropped in. And I think that He continues to break up our soil and pull out the stones and take out the weeds, those sorts of things. And that's the hard work. Any farmer knows, boy, you drop the seed, the seed will do its thing. What you have to worry about is the soil. And so, "Hold Me Jesus," I think I just kind of got to a point where I was going, man, I don't know if I can make it. I don't know if I can, I don't know if I'm going to be able to live this close to falling all the time. And, you know, the words of Paul, where the Lord spoke to Paul and said, "My grace is sufficient."

[Hold Me Jesus]

JR: Rich Mullins and "Hold Me Jesus." From A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band. This is Music And More from Compassion International, featuring Rich Mullins, with your host, Jon Rivers.

Since early in his career, Rich has been interested in reaching out to others. Not just through his music, but in tangible, hands-on ways.

RM: It's interesting, because after my second album I was so disillusioned with Christian music, and with my own role in it, that I just went, kind of, wow, I really wanted to say something that was real, and that was authentic. And what I'm finding out about myself is that I'm trying to say things that are cute, and I'm trying to win an audience to me, rather than point an audience to Christ. And having become concerned about that, I realized, man, I really need to refocus - which, I think the story of my life is the story of refocusing. It's the story of setting down on a great road, on a great path, and then all of a sudden realizing, wow, I've really swayed. So I need to stop everything, I need to look at where I'm going again, and then get there.
So, that summer I got the opportunity to go to the Orient. It was the year that the Olympics were in Seoul. And there was a seminary in Korea that was really anxious to get their students really good at speaking conversational English. And so part of their plot and plan was to have some American come over and just hang out with students. So I got to go to Korea and hang out for a month, just talking with students. Then after I did that, went to Japan, and got to visit an old friend of mine there, and do some concerts, which was very, very interesting. Then we went to Thailand, which was really, of everything that happened on that particular trip, Thailand had probably the greatest impact on me.

When we got to Thailand we went up in the Golden Triangle. We were in the Wing Hang valley, north of Ching Mai. We were right by the Burma border. And all of a sudden, seeing the impact of Christianity on a Buddhist culture, and seeing the impact, not only of Christianity as a theology, as a theological position, or Christianity as a moral code, or Christianity as a political idea, or as a philosophy, but seeing the impact of people who really have the love of Christ, and who respond to the call of Christ, to forget themselves and to go out and love other people, was one of the most impactful things that happened.

At the time we were getting ready to leave, we had been in a Chinese refugee camp. And I had played the dulcimer for them, and all that sort of thing, and they were so fascinated by that. And it was wonderful playing for the Chinese refugees, because of all the people I've ever played for, when I started playing the dulcimer, rather than sit there and listen, they all got up, and they would touch it, and they would, you know, while I'm playing. It was wonderful. They were so curious. They were so interested in what was going on.

And as we were getting on the train to leave to go back to Bangkok, this man came running up to my window and said, "You must come back! You have to come back!" And I said "Why?" And he said, "Because you have to be a teacher, you must be a teacher!" And I said, "Well, what do I need to do in order to do that?" And he said, "All you need is a degree from an American university." Well, I'm going for a degree from an American university now. I don't know that I will go back to Thailand.

And I started looking at my own life about that time, and going, wow, who has had the most impact on me? Was it all the musicians that I listened to growing up? And I listened to music growing up, I was real into pop music, the whole bit. I thought, was it those guys? Was it books that I had read? I know one book I read, the pastor at our church had given me a copy of Mere Christianity my senior year. And that had a big impact on me.

But the most profound impact that I ever felt came from people who just simply loved me, and were really willing to spend time with me. And everything else is kind of icing on the cake. So, I realized at that time that time, boy, a music career could be a fun thing, [but] it hasn't been so far - this was several years ago - and I really need to switch careers. So we came back, and I was due to go into the studio, and figured, "Boy, this is gonna be my last album, so I'm not gonna be clever here. I'm just gonna say what I have to say, because I won't get another opportunity to say this." Because I had sold so few albums, and you have to sell, or nobody's gonna sign you. And that was the album that had "If I Stand" on it, "Awesome God" was on it, "The Other Side Of The World" was on it. I just picked the songs I had written, the ten songs that spoke the clearest to me, and put them on. And the irony of the whole thing is that that was the first album that people started buying.

JR: And I, for one, am glad that Rich took those trips, and came to that place, and continued recording. I asked Rich about his first trip overseas to view firsthand the work of Compassion International.
RM: Well, throughout all this I'm still, I've been a Compassion sponsor, and doing a presentation at my concerts. Just recognizing, you know, everyone can't go to Thailand. Everyone can't go to Peru. Everyone can't go all over the world, but we can still have that impact. And once again, I think it's a matter of, what you say to a kid when you sponsor them, is man, somebody really does love you. Somebody has really heard your mother's prayers, and really is answering. And you make them able to believe that there is a good God. And I think that's a very, very important thing. Compassion, the whole time I've been doing that, going, yeah, that's, that's nice, isn't it? But still I want to do a little bit more. Well, I went on a trip with Compassion. And I'll tell you the honest truth, I had been, I think, as far as thinking-wise, behind Compassion the whole way, going, yeah, this is great, what a great idea, what a great way to operate. I appreciated a lot about your organization. But I got to Guatemala and actually met kids who had letters from their sponsors put in little boxes that were almost like shrines, that these kids had memorized the letters, and they would give you the letter and then they would quote it word for word, what was said.

And I talked to a mother of about three kids who are Compassion sponsored kids, and found out about how one of her children was stolen from her, and how excited she is that her children are getting an education. And that they might be able to do something besides live in front of a cement wall and make tortillas from about 3 in the morning until about 9 in the evening.

And when I saw the impact that Compassion had on her, not just on the kids who are being sponsored, but on the people around them, when I talked to people who are not even yet Compassion-sponsored children but who were aware that there were people that had resources that were responding to the needs of those people there, all of a sudden I went, wow, this is - suddenly it switched from going, yeah, this is a great idea, to being kind of a passion of mine.

I was kind of going, I wish there was no one in the world who did not know that God loved them. And I can't talk to everybody. But I can take this little bit of money, like $24 a month, and, where that $24 a month may not mean the world to me, it might mean I have to give up, you know, an evening at the movies, or, I might have to give up a chewing-gum habit or whatever. That's not, that doesn't compare to the joy that I have from knowing, boy, this little bit of money has impacted, not only the life of the child who is directly receiving the sponsorship, but it has impacted the lives of the people around them. All of a sudden people are going, wow, what is this? This, plainly, is Christianity. This is the God of Jesus Christ reaching out to people who are in terrible need through His body here on earth, which is the Church.

JR: And that's us, isn't it?
JR: Welcome back to Compassion International's Music and More, featuring Rich Mullins.

I think my favorite song from Rich's compact disk, A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band, is "Here In America." And I talked to Rich about the song.

RM: Well, I wrote that, probably around 1976 or so. I was hitchhiking, and - normally I don't write a song in one sitting. Normally it kind of accumulates over a period of time. Like, I'll write a line or two, or I'll write a song and throw the song away, except I will find two or three lines that I really like and I'll save those lines.
It was just, I think it was after having been eaten by red ants and sleeping in a culvert that I really realized what a cool country this really was. Just kind of went, everywhere you go, it's different. And everywhere you go, it's hard. I mean, you come to the Midwest, you watch those old - you read those old John Steinbeck novels about, you know, the Dustbowl. And we have a history of 200 years of desperation, of people hanging on for dear life. Hanging on, because they believe there's gotta be something better than this. And I don't think people would have left Europe and the other places they left to come to America, if there weren't some pretty bad situations over there.

And so, I think, one of the things that was compelling - when I was in, back in the 70's, I grew up in a fairly privileged home. I mean, I guess we were probably poor by most people's standards, but I did have a father and I had a mother who both still lived with us. I had a great extended family - I had grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts, you know, just everywhere. We had some real values. And we were never so poor that we didn't eat, you know, it wasn't like that.

And I think there was something real compelling - I had just finished some Steinbeck novel, and it was the first time that I took off on a hitchhiking venture that just went to nowhere - just kind of going, I kind of want to see the country, and want to see it the way John Steinbeck would have seen it - because I was a big fan of his at the time. It just hit me that way. And I think, at the time, it was also in a real desolate stretch of road where there was absolutely nobody around. And I tend to like people, and I tend to want people around me. And in that real aloneness, the realization that God was there, that was very comforting. So I was kind of going, wow, this is great!

[Here In America]

JR: Rich Mullins. "Here In America" from his album, A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band. You're listening to Compassion International's Music and More with Rich Mullins. I'm Jon Rivers.

I asked Rich about another song from his new project, "Hard."

RM: That was kind of my 'voter-anger' song. It didn't come out very angry on the tape, but it's a little more tongue-in-cheek look at the same thing. Just acknowledging - see, I think there's a big problem in the church. I think that everyone thinks that if you have struggles in your life, it's because you're not really filled with the Holy Spirit, or you're not really reading your Bible daily, or you're doing something wrong. I think life, by nature, is a struggle.
You know, whether or not you believe in the health, wealth, and prosperity doctrine, the ideas of that have kind have polluted almost all of our thinking about Christianity. Where we think that a really great Christian is that Christian who does not struggle with temptation, that Christian who can't wait to get up in the morning and spend four hours praying and reading out of the book of Leviticus. We think, boy, that's what a really mature Christian looks like.

Well, I'm looking at Paul, kind of going, here's a man who obviously was filled with the Spirit, a man who obviously had studied the Scriptures, here is a man who had had an authentic encounter with the living Christ, and he prays to God and says, "Lord, I beg you to take this thorn from my flesh." (Which we don't know what that means, and you can guess anything you want to guess - I don't think it matters or we would have been told.) "Lord, I've been praying for you to take away this infirmity of mine, and you haven't." And God looks down at him and doesn't go, "Yeah, it's because you're so spiritually immature!" God didn't look down at him and say, "Well, it's because you don't have enough faith." God didn't look down from heaven at Paul and say, "Well, you know, if you would just get up earlier and pray a couple more hours in the morning," or "If you would just memorize another ten psalms." He didn't say any of that. He merely said to Paul, "Hey, My grace is plenty. My grace is sufficient."

And so, I think, many times we are afraid to drop our guard, because we're afraid that people will think that we are spiritually flakes. Well, the truth is that we are. And so are they. And we're all trying to fake each other out. And the song, "It's Hard To Be Like Jesus," is kind of like looking at yourself and going, "Whew, what a relief! I don't have to fake it anymore. I can admit that I don't always feel like not honking at the person who is stopped in front of me at, you know, won't go through the green light. I don't have to pretend it's not hard for me to make the best choices that I can make."

The honest truth is, it is hard. And it will probably remain that way for a good long time. Not that there's no joy in the Christian life. And I think, part of the joke of the song is the "His eye is on the sparrow, and the lilies of the field I've heard / and He will watch over you and He will watch over me so we can dress like flowers and eat like birds." I deliberately wrote that, because I think what the Gospel of Christ does, is it challenges us at every level.


JR: My extraordinary friend, Rich Mullins. From A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band, on Music and More, brought to you by Compassion International. I'm Jon Rivers. Thank you for joining us.

RM: One of the reasons I love Compassion is because it does give the average person - I think we all feel frustrated. And what Compassion does, is that it offers you the opportunity to have a positive impact. It gives you an opportunity to do something you wouldn't otherwise be able to do. There are a lot of reasons I like Compassion. One is because they work with the local churches in the areas where they go, with works that are already there, helping to support. There are tons of people who are doing, who are already out there doing the work. It's just that there's not enough resources for them to really be able to dig in and do the work really well.

And what Compassion does, is it allows me to facilitate this work that is already going on. It involves indigenous people, which I really like the idea of people helping themselves, and me facilitating that.

I like the idea that Compassion does have some criteria for who they plug into and who they don't. That they do have a commitment, not only to the local church and to local works that are already ongoing, but they also have a commitment to Biblical integrity of the people that they're working with, that sort of thing. So I kind of go, as a strong believer in the autonomy of the Church and as a strong believer that the actual work of redemption, the work that Christ came to do, and that the Church, as His Body on earth, continues to do, I believe that happens through the church.

And I think a lot of times, in that we're Americans, we tend to have this mentality that says we need people specialized in special fields and let's depend on the specialists. Compassion somewhat flies in the face of that and says, no, let's support the organism of the church. It doesn't replace the church, which is one of the things that I really like about it. It doesn't replace it, it sort of undergirds it, and gives me the opportunity to participate in a field far away from where I live.


JR: Rich Mullins. On the trust factor involved in giving to Compassion.

RM: If I'm going to err, I would rather err in favor of Compassion than in favor of cynicism. If I'm going to waste one thing or another, I would rather lose $24 a month than lose my ability to believe that people can be honest, and that work can be done, and that lives can be changed. I would rather not have that 24 bucks and still have a faith than otherwise. And I don't - I think that Compassion gave me, before I started sponsoring a child, I asked them to see a financial report. Compassion was very open with me. They were, you know, responded very quickly. And there is still an element of faith involved in it.
You kind of have to go, I can't guarantee that every penny that was ever given the church, or ever given to a charity organization, certainly that was ever given to a government, was properly spent, but I can tell you one thing. If the government of the United States was run as efficiently as Compassion International, we wouldn't have the debt that we have. I'm convinced of that. And I think that they are very respectful of the money that comes in.

I find the story of the good Samaritan fascinating for that very reason. That however the story would have ended up, Christ went to the trouble to describe three people that passed up the man who was hurt. There were three people that passed him up, and Christ didn't say, this guy had merely been passed by a lot of people, but He described the people. And the good Samaritan did the right thing. You know, what we don't know is what happened to that man, when he came around. We don't know if he suddenly decided to love Samaritans. We don't know if he accepted Christ as his personal Savior, we don't know if he learned to read, we don't know what happened as a result of the Samaritan's good actions. All we know is that there was a man who saw another man, who might have been his enemy, in terrible need, and he responded positively.

I think some day there will be a judgment, and I'm not trying to say that we can earn our way into heaven, I'm not saying that we can earn what Christ has freely given us. But when we identify with Christ, when we take on the name of Christ, when we become a Christian, I think that means that our lives should be infused with the character of Christ. And the character of Christ is that of a wildly, ridiculously generous and compassionate Man, who says, I will love you regardless of your response. I will love you. I will continue to hold my hand out to you, regardless of whether or not you grab it.

And so I think, as a Christian in my own fight against cynicism, what I have - the story of the good Samaritan has become more meaningful to me. Not because of what I know about the good Samaritan, but because of what I don't know about the man who was the recipient of his generosity. It says to me there is something in the character of Christ, which I as a Christian, He empowers me to love that way. Christ empowers us, the Spirit empowers us; Compassion merely gives us an opportunity to act on that empowerment. But it is the love of Christ that makes the difference.

And if a difference is gonna be made, I don't know that there's a 100% success, but I know that, when we act generously, when we behave in a compassionate way, I know that God looks down and goes, "Wow, people are still capable of faith. People are still capable of love. I'm so glad. I've made, I'm not always glad about what I've made here. But you have made me glad."

If we want to bless the Lord, this is the way to do it. He doesn't need our applause. What He, I think, must feel blessed from is when we actually participate in His nature. And so, the opportunities that these kids will be given as a result of having an education, as a result of being able to read, and being able to eat, even, how do you measure that? How do you weigh that? What kind of value do you put on that? And I kind of go, for $24 a month, boy, that doesn't put a lot of value on it, that's the best bargain in the world that I know of. Except for salvation, which doesn't cost us a penny.

JR: Hmm....Rich Mullins.

[Compassion ad]

JR: This has been Music and More from Compassion International, featuring Rich Mullins. I'm Jon Rivers, your host. Thanks very much for listening.