This originally appeared as a weekly devo on whillschurch.org.
I was a freshman in college (1989) and had really just started following Jesus. The guy that was discipling me was also the pastor of a local church and he asked me if I could help him get ready for a concert that night at the church. The guy’s name was Rich Mullins – someone that I had never heard of but if I helped, I got a free lunch so I wasn’t about to turn that down.
The van towing a trailer was already at the church when I got there. A guy wearing no shoes, ripped jeans, and messed up hair poked his head out of the trailer – “You here to help us unload?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Great! Grab this for me.”
And for the next hour or so, about a dozen of us put out guitars, drums, microphones, and the craziest instrument I’d ever seen. It looked like a giant version of the autoharp except you played it with these sticks. The no-shoes guy noticed my curiosity.
“Ever seen one of these?”
“It’s the coolest instrument – called a hammer dulcimer.”
No-Shoe Guy sat down behind it and played a little on it. It had the most unique sound I’d ever heard.
“So this is the instrument this Rich guy is gonna play tonight?”
No-Shoes Guy laughed – “Uhhh…yeah.”
“Well…everybody says he’s pretty good. I’m looking forward to hearing him. I gotta hear how in the world he’s going to use this instrument.”
About that time, the little old ladies who were cooking lunch for us told us to wash up because “supper” (they called lunch ‘supper’ – it’s just what they do in the South) was on the table.
There were probably a couple dozen of us sitting around these long tables with folding chairs along with 4 different versions of potato salad. No-Shoe Guy and I found ourselves in line with each other and I gave him my best advice about potlucks – avoid the potato salads. There is always a hair in it and it’s got mayonnaise in it. You really don’t need any other reasons than the mayonnaise.
No-Shoe Guy and I ended up sitting next to each other. Somebody stood up and asked – “Rich, we’d love it if you pray before our meal.”
The No-Shoe Guy stood up and began praying.
He sat down and looked at me with this ridiculous grin on his face.
“So how long were you going to let me go on like that?”
No-Shoe Guy said something to the effect – “I was hoping it would have lasted until the concert tonight. Would have loved to seen your face when I got up to sing.”
And that’s how I met Rich.
His concert that night would be like all the others I ever went to – and I went to a lot. He’d always come out with no shoes on. He’d always tell the stories behind the songs. He’d always have a moment of complete uncomfortableness – a confession of his own struggle and how he was discovering the grace of God through it. Then he’d turn it on the audience – put us all in the same boat with him. And you could feel the awkwardness in the moment. Because Rich would just sit there. Silently. Like…hmmm. We just hit a nerve here. Let’s sit a while and see what the Spirit does with this.
There is one quote I remember to this day:
I don’t know how you feel close to God. And no one I know that seems to be close to God knows anything about those feelings either. I know if we obey occasionally the feeling follows, not always, but occasionally. I know that if we disobey we don’t have a shot at it.
He’d always end his concerts the same way – just him on the piano leading worship. The audience would sing and sing and then you’d look up and noticed – Rich was gone. The lights would come up and they would start breaking down the stage. No encores, no forced applause. Just a moment of silence to recognize the One who deserved the praise, then on with life.
This is why I’m so excited that on January 12th, we get to screen the movie Ragamuffin at the Regal Cinema here in Topeka. It’s a movie on the life of Rich Mullins. You can watch the trailer and buy your tickets online right here. (I’ve already bought mine.)
If you never had a chance to meet him or hear him – join us for the movie to get a glimpse of the man Rich Mullins. If you had the joy of knowing him and listening to his music – well – you already know what you are in for.