Missing Rich

My son and I are reading through Home, a collection of columns Rich Mullins wrote for a magazine from '91-'96. It's great for Christian's vocabulary as Rich used big words like splendor, providence, undaunted, and parameters. Words that stretch beyond what you would normally hear uttered from the lips of a typical seven (almost eight) year old boy. Yet, Rich wrote with such a simplicity that his concepts are as easily understood by elementary children as they are relevant to adult audiences.

It's a joy to see Christian's eyes widen with recognition that Rich Mullins is the author of some of the songs he's learned in church. I'm encouraged to share Rich's wisdom with my son and using this book to teach Christian valuable lessons that he'll take with him through the rest of his life. Simple lessons, like it's difficult to win an argument by arguing - that even when you're right, you often still lose. Counsel that it's acceptable to be afraid sometimes - that even adults get scared. Admonition to be grateful for the ability to hear music and see the beauty of our world.

Every time we read, I can't help but ponder how great a treasure we lost when Rich was killed in a car crash nearly 20 years ago. I remember how his faith was so plainly evident but never obnoxious or overbearing. How he possessed an unending compassion for the the poor, the hurt, the broken, and the downtrodden. How he freely poured love into people who many viewed as unworthy of such love. His humility. His deliberate attempts to avoid the traps of Christian celebrity. How he was able to get a room full of Nazarenes (God's frozen chosen) to dance. How he would only except a salary payment of the average American and have any profit above that amount donated to charity.

If protestant churches observed sainthood like the catholic church, I'm certain that Rich Mullins would qualify for veneration. I miss his music. I miss his ministry. And I appreciate his legacy.

Most prominently featured in my memory is his work with the Navajo Nation. He spent the latter years of his life living on the reservation, teaching music to Native school kids in Tse Bonito. After his death, his family founded The Legacy Of A Kid Brother Of St. Frank to teach music, theater, and art to Native American youth on remote reservations.

As the father of two Native American kids, I often wish we had more people like Rich Mullins alive and working in our churches, ministries, and non-profit organizations. The modern church could use more people like him - grounded in selflessness and dedicated to reach what the bible calls "the least of these."

I believe there is still an important lesson to be learned from his writings and music. One that could be understood in the lyrics of one of Rich Mullin's most popular and recognizable songs: Awesome God.

We sometimes forget that the same God that unleashed his wrath against Sodom and Gomorrah also showed mercy and compassion to whores and harlots. We forget that the same Jesus who criticized religious snobs and condemned the rich and powerful also played with children and dined with the outcasts of society.

We have trouble reconciling the varied aspects of who God is. We tell the stories of a savior who walked on water and calmed stormy seas. Then we fail to explain why tragedy happens. Even now, with 54 active wildfires currently raging in the US, we don't know how to respond. We believe that God controls the wind and the air currents swirling in the atmosphere. So how do we avoid blaming God for this disaster? It's too easy to say He's at fault for starting the blazes, or at least responsible for allowing the fires to burn while He has the power to extinguish them. The rationale that God is judging us through natural disaster is born of either a callous naïveté or wanton spite for some undeserving target.

I can't blame God for the fires that are spread across our nation. I refuse to accept that these wildfires are the result of a vengeful God trying to teach us a lesson. I can't imagine what abandonment of logic could say that any population deserves God's wrath - especially considering how I have family and colleagues in Colorado and Wyoming.

Granted, no one (that I know of) is throwing God under the bus with our current natural crisis. But it has happened in years past. There are the notorious televangelists who decreed that God as trying to teach us a lesson on 9/11. Or during Hurricane Katrina. Or after the Boxing Day tsunami. The earthquakes in Haiti, Washington DC, and Japan.

The way I see it, those disasters do nothing to display God's vengeance - instead it is an awesome demonstration of mother nature's undiscriminating power. If there is any lesson that God wishes us to learn in the face of nature's fury - it is that whatever is destroyed can also be rebuilt. We are seeing the fruits of that lesson at Ground Zero. We see it in New Orleans. We see it in Joplin Missouri. We see it across Tōhoku's fractured Pacific coastline. Wherever we see earth's violence, we also see the resiliency of human kind.

I think this is part of what Rich had in mind when he wrote Awesome God. I never met the man, so I can't say for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that he was very intentional in selecting how he would phrase those lyrics.

Our God is an awesome God, He reigns
Note that Rich didn't call him and angry God, or a vengeful God. But awesome. Worthy of inspiring awe.

He reigns... with wisdom, power, and love
This is the root of God's motivation: wisdom, power, and love. Not condemnation, retribution, or animosity.

Yet, we as Christians do still believe that God is capable of dishing out catastrophic punishment. Rich even concedes this mindset in his song, however he follows the mention of judgment and wrath with a promise of mercy and grace.

Yes, I believe that God will one day hold all people accountable for the lives they led. But I also believe that He will do this with grace and compassion that I am unable to comprehend. I know that I am not the judge of all mankind. If I were, Hell would be a more popular destination.

God is the judge. I am willing to let him have that role. And when disaster strikes, my faith tells me that He is in control. I trust that all things work together for the good. I rest in the promise that all men will be judged by God's measure. Not by Pat Robertson's values. Not by Harold Camping's predictions. Not by Fred Phelps's determination. And not by my own standard. I conclude that it is God - and only God - who can see into a man's heart and rule with justice.

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