Never Picture Perfect
Elizabeth Leighton Jones
Calendar Magazine Spring/Summer 1990
Copyright 1990 by Calendar Magazine
Rich Mullins is enigmatic, at the very least. He projects a boyish warmth that disarms a philosophers incisive heart. He seems almost childlike and yet his songs and his humor flash with insight and wisdom. It has been remarked that in many ways he is a poet of our times. Truly he is more... poet, philosopher, minstral, man... and less. Never picture perfect, but somehow better because of that.
He would have it that life is far more charming with all its unexpected foibles, flaws, and mars. "God's idea of holiness and perfection is probably way different than ours," elaborates Rich. "So I'm trying to go through the Scriptures and say, 'ok, Lord, what is holiness from Your perspective? And more and more I'm convinced that it's just love. I have a firm belief that life ain't perfect, and it's better because it ain't!"
Those thoughts wrought the conception and subsequent birth of Rich's fourth release on Reunion Records, Never Picture Perfect, which follows Rich Mullins (1986), Pictures in the Sky (1987) and Winds of Heaven...Stuff of Earth (1988).
Since his 1986 debut, Rich has garnered four #1 radio hits: "Verge Of a Miracle," "Awesome God," "If I Stand," and most recently, "My One Thing." (The praise song "Awesome God" quickly found its way into the heart of church worship and is a contender for Song Of The Year at the Gospel Music Association's annual Dove Awards.
But part of Rich Mullin's charm lies In the whimsical attitude about his musical successes. "Some of the best things in the world are not really important,' he told Young Salvationist in January 1989, "My real ministry is not music. My real ministry is the way I treat the lady on the corner, the way I treat the mailman."
Quickly professes Rich, "To be honest, I didn't want to do music (as a career). It just happened." Certainly music is an integral chunk of Rich Mullins. Chuckles Rich, "I've been writing since I was four... of course, a lot of that stuff was pretty bad! But I probably write songs that are worse now... because I'm doing it more!" A few of those songs have turned out "okay," including "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" (recorded by Debby Boone), and three recorded by Amy Grant: "Doubly Good," "Love Of Another Kind," and "Sing Your Praise To the Lord." But that's not the beginning, that's the middle of the story.
The beginning came after his tenure as an undergraduate at Cincinnati Bible College, when Rich finally began to stretch his wings musically. Working with Zion Ministries, he began writing and performing with their band at retreats and churches around the country. In 1981, the band recorded an album, all of which were Rich Mullin's compositions.
Providentially the tape was placed in the hand of Mike Blanton, who was looking for a final song to round out Amy Grant's Age to Age album. Mullin's "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" was precisely what he was looking for. The song was signed, and so was Rich, to Blanton/Harrell Inc.
Rich moved quickly from writing to performing, signing a recording contract with Reunion Records in 1984. The year 1986 saw Rich opening throughout "Unguarded" tour which segued quickly into a national band tour of his own in 1987. During that year, Rich was also part of a mission trip that went to Guatemala. Then the fall of 1989 saw Rich completing a 62-city "Winds of Heaven...Stuff of Earth" tour. And lately, the winds of heaven have been blowing in a different direction.
Rich's trip to Guatemala and subsequent trips to Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Thailand - where he sweated side by side with fellow believers to replace their former opium cash crops with fruit trees - is merely the tip of an iceberg that exposes ulterior motives for his life. Muses Rich, "I try to look at God and say, "where are there needs?" I believe that God will use people who will put themselves in a place where they can be used. God can use me where I'm at right now. But I also think that God likes people on the move. I think that's why He took Abraham, who was somewhat settled, and turned him into a nomad. He wants us to be ready to grow and be changed.
For the longest time I've had a real hope that I could help someone that others would pass over. So I'm preparing myself to go somewhere and do something that I think will be a great honor and adventure."
Preparing for the adventure has led Rich into college again, with the goal of obtaining a B.S. degree in music ethnomusicology (Music Ed) and then eventually his master's degree. Ironically enough, his goal will lead him further away from the music industry. Quite likely, to the other side of the world, which suits Rich just fine. Rich laughs, "My big ambition is to get out of this business!" By the time he's 40, Rich hopes to be teaching on an Indian reservation or full-time on the mission field in a third-world country.
Meanwhile, school's in session for this 34-year old song crafter who has helped changed the face of contemporary praise music. He is smack in the middle of a 16-hour course load, although he is finding time to play fourth chair french horn (out of four chairs) in the college band. Humbly remarks Rich, "They don't know what they're in for! They're going to be so sorry! When I play it tends to sound like a flock of geese... there is absolutely no one worse than me!"
French horn is only one of over nine instruments that Rich Plays, including piano, guitar and hammer and lap dulcimer.
Rich has cloaked himself in gentle humor, able to laugh, refusing to take himself too seriously. For example when asked if he considers himself a singer, Rich grins, "I have a really funny speaking voice, and when I sing it's not a whole lot better! But I don't think people mind. If people come to my concerts, it's not because they expect to go away having been musically dazzled. They come to my concerts because people find it a great relief that someone would have the nerve to get up and do that in front of other people. And that encourages them to do the same thing!"
School won't be the only activity on the agenda. This year's summer break will incorporate a 45-city tour which will start in mid-May and last through August in support of Never Picture Perfect.
In many ways the central theme of Never Picture Perfect is embedded in Rich's song "First Family."
"And now they've raised five children
One winter they lost a son
But the pain didn't leave them crippled
And the scars have made them strong
Never picture perfect
Just a plain man and his wife
Who somehow knew the value
Of hard work good love and real life."
Explains Rich, "My parents made Mistakes and my parents weren't perfect... which was the really cool thing about my parents! You see, none of us is perfect. But God chooses to put great treasures into clay jars."
And all the songs bear the Rich Mullins stamp, incisive and thought-provoking... yet somehow never callous or cynical, always slightly wondering and in awe of our Creator. And God does choose to put His greatest treasures in jars Of clay. In this case, rich, brown-red Indiana clay.
Thanks go to Eric Townsend and his webpage,
Rich Mullins: Never Picture Perfect, for sharing this article with COYN.
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