The Sacred and the Profane

The Sacred and the Profane

by John Fischer
CCM Magazine January 1998

How sad to think that it took the death of Rich Mullins to bring out the depth in all of us. I bet I’m not the only one who read everything in my November CCM about Rich, and I bet ICm also not the only one to reflect, upon finishing the last page, that I might have just been reading the most significant issue of this magazine in memory. Something in the man raised the bar a bit higher--made us all jump to try and explain him. Suddenly (and tragically) we were hearing in these pages about a music and a life that transcended fame and popularity and promotion and marketing--someone who took the blunt tools of his brokenness and managed to carve out a work that glowed with a light of its own.

No. His was not pure, unadulterated, God-breathed, "anointed" music. This was not music fluttering its heavenly wings. In fact, in many ways Rich’s music eludes definition. Except that it is incarnational. That was and is what makes his music unique. It is the embodiment of divine love in a human package. Rich made no attempt to be anything other than an ordinary man. He went out of his way, in fact, to make sure we all understood this. And yet time and time again, he drew us through his music to a vision of God and his grace and awesome power that transcended his fallen nature. Not bad enough to be sinners nor good enough to be saints, most of us languish somewhere in the middle and satisfy ourselves with lesser accomplishments. Rich was both a sinner and a saint. It is impossible to explain him without this paradox. The divine in the human--an intermingling of God and man--this is the essence of incarnation.

One of the most significant comments for me came in the words of Rich’s brother, David, when he wrote: "Some people were drawn to him because of the goal of his journey. They had the same goal. Others were drawn to him because they saw in him a sinner who was struggling to sin less. In him they saw the good that could be alongside the wrong that they might see in themselves." There it is. That place so hard for us to reconcile, though it is the place where we all live: where the good dwells alongside the bad. Welcome to my life. What about yours? Does this not ring true for us all?

There are movements afoot in Christian music to make our music "Christian" again. This point of view wants to simplify reality. Put all the good guys over here and the bad guys over there. Draw clear lines of demarcation between the sacred and the secular. Pit Christians against the world and never the twain shall meet. Warn against being unequally yoked with unbelievers, as if we had the ability and the authority to even know--to separate the sheep from the goats before even our Lord plans on doing it.

While all along, our problem is our answer. Rich answered it and we’re still trying to explain what it was he did. He had it all bound up together--the divine and human, the sacred and the profane. We are always trying to separate he sacred and the profane when the whole point of our existence and our art is to express the glorious paradox of the two bound up together in our lives. This is true grace: that God would visit us, enter our hearts, have fellowship with us in the midst of our fallenness. Without this incarnation, we have no connection with a fallen world.

This is precisely why Rich performed his concerts in T-shirts and shorts and bare-feet, plucking out songs from the edge of heaven, while we listened suspended somewhere in-between. He did that on purpose, I’m sure, because he didn’t want us to get it wrong. He didn’t want us to think he had anything to do with it. He reached out and touched something holy for us while remaining painfully human in the process--more human than most of us want to be when placed in a similar spotlight. Not very marketable, but it was right.

We want our Christian stars to glow with holy righteousness. We demand that Christian ministry be impeccably pure. We want our guys to look better than their guys. Nope. Not gonna happen. As Bernie Sheahan so wisely reminded us from the words of King David: "The life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living." (1 Samuel 25:29)

To have the Lord bound up in the bundle of the living is to be broken and full, sinners and saints, fallen and lifted up, lost and found all at the same time. Some of us need to come down and be human. Dismount our high horses and join the song of the saved sinner. Others of us need to get up and dust ourselves off and welcome the Lord for dinner. All of us need to live amazed at the sacred, and honest about the profane, for both will be present until He comes.

If you haven’t done so already, go back to your November issue and read the small dark print that forms a continuous sidebar through the section on Rich. I read it last and found it to be the best part of the tribute. These were not professional writers paid to recount events in the life of someone important. These were friends trying to grasp at what could only be contained in a human body that was now no longer accessible except through memory and story.

Sounds a lot like the gospel, doesn’t it?