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Songwriter Rich Mullins’ life told in ‘devotional biography’

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Even in death, Rich Mullins has a profound effect on people.

“He was a poet and a prophet, and I’ve never met anyone like him before,” said James Bryan Smith, author of “Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven,” a new Broadman & Holman book about the singer/songwriter who died Sept. 19, 1997, in a car crash.

“He was such a unique individual and so challenging,” Smith said of the man who penned the praise song “Awesome God.” “I wrote the book because his story needed to be told,” Smith said at the annual Christian Booksellers Association meeting in July in New Orleans.

An Internet search turned up thousands of sites that pay tribute to Mullins, whose lyrics are described as rich and thought provoking. Smith said he hopes to impart some of the songwriter’s spiritual wisdom to readers through the book he describes as a devotional biography.

Smith strings together 10 key themes Mullins talked and wrote about when he was alive: the importance of family, the role of the church, the love of God, the person of Jesus, the beauty of creation, loving one another, growing through pain, freedom in simplicity, dealing with sin and life after death.

“This book gives readers a chance to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him — to know what I know. His music is wonderful, and I thank God we have [it], but he speaks in this book. I was just a compiler of what he had to say,” said Smith, who wrote the book with the help of Mullins’ friends, fans and family, especially his brother, David Mullins.

Smith, a theology professor and chaplain at Friends University in Wichita, Kan., met Mullins when the musician was attending Friends to get a degree in music education. Mullins’ goal was to teach music and art to Native Americans, Smith said.

“I can honestly say that having Rich in my religion classes was very intimidating. It was a little like having Einstein in your physics class,” Smith wrote in the book’s introduction.

Mullins eventually came to live in Smith’s attic apartment. “During the two and a half years he lived with us, Rich and I spent nearly every night (much to my wife’s chagrin) sitting up and talking about God, life’s meaning, the church, our favorite authors and passages of the Bible we were laboring to understand,” Smith wrote.

Mullins’ brother, David, said even as a kid “it was fairly obvious [Rich] was different. He had some strengths and some weaknesses. One of his strengths was having the ability to really care about people deeply. And he always had a desire to really know God more than know about him.”

Smith said if he had to filter Rich Mullins’ message into a succinct sentence, it would be his signature statement.

“He would always sign his CDs with ‘Be God’s.’ That was his way of saying: ‘It’s great to be good, and we should strive to be good people. But more important than being good is to be wholly possessed by God.”

Smith said while Mullins’ was a unique man who encouraged people to draw nearer to God, the book is not an attempt to turn him into a saint.

“Rich didn’t have it all together. I think one reason so many people loved Rich is because he didn’t pretend to. He was unblinkingly honest, shockingly honest. He would be the first to tell us of his imperfections.”

Imperfect, perhaps, but Mullins was not influenced by worldly possessions, Smith said.

In fact, he gave away most of the money he made. Mullins instructed his accountant to give him only $24,000 a year, the average working person’s wage. The rest, he gave away when he found a cause, Smith said.

“Rich lived very simply. He had few possessions; he didn’t care about money,” Smith wrote.

In the book’s foreword, Mullins’ friend and author Brennan Manning wrote, “Jesus of Nazareth ruined Rich Mullins’ life. And out of the ruins, he recreated a ragamuffin of startling originality; no human being who has crossed my path even remotely resembles him.”

Smith believes Manning was saying that because Rich lived by Jesus’ example, he was ruined for this world.

“Our world runs on the unholy trinity of money, sex and power. But Rich had the values of the kingdom of God living in his heart. So in that sense, Jesus ruined his life for this world, but certainly not for the next.”

The book, “Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven” will be available in Christian bookstores in September. Broadman & Holman is the trade publishing division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: STORY THAT NEEDED TO BE TOLD.

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  • Terri Lackey