I remember the day Rich Mullins died. I had just gotten home from school. I was living in these apartments in Keego Harbor, MI and I could hear the phone ringing from the stairs outside. I hurriedly found the right key and got the phone before they gave up. It was a girl from school who I was sweet on. I had introduced her to the music of Rich, and she knew I was a super fan.
“Ernesto, have you heard?”
”Rich Mullins died last night.”
I didn’t cry. I remember that. I mumbled some kind of assent and then hung up the phone. I remember just standing there in that little dining room searching my thoughts for something to grab onto. In the end, I actually smiled.
Rich was the best friend I never knew. His music was a magical blend of Americana and Hebrew. He sang from a position of great vulnerability. And the themes of his music were informing my values as I was growing into a man. For I was only 17 when he died. I hadn’t done anything yet and didn’t know what I was going to do. The only direction I had was trying to follow the Christ. And nowhere I looked resembled anything of what I saw in the Gospels. So I was searching for someone who actually took this stuff seriously. Cause Jesus was wrecking my life, and he didn’t seem to be doing that to anyone else. I wondered if I was missing something. But then I discovered the music and life of Rich. And this guy didn’t fit either. This guy was a walking contradiction. He was a very apparent sinner with much contrition before God, but little before man. He could hang out with any tribe of Christendom, but belonged to none of them. He was following Jesus, and it was wrecking him. And that honest living gave me a voice. It still does.
So, why did I smile? I smiled because Rich never had a home. One of the themes of his musical career was longing. He wanted to go home. His constant heavenward gaze turned my head there too. He talked often about dying, about going to Jesus, about finally belonging somewhere. I smiled because he was okay. I didn’t yet realize how much I would miss his prophetic voice in my own life. There would be tears later. But for now, I was content knowing that my friend had gone out the only way he knew how. He went out like Elijah.