Rich Mullins 20 Years On

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I first heard Rich Mullins’ music at Jan’s home. Everyone was outside and I stepped inside to refill my snack plate and heard the most arresting vocal harmonies coming from Jan’s stereo. The song was “If I Stand” by Rich Mullins. After a verse reminding us that there is more to this physical world than meets the eye, Rich dropped this killer chorus:

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That you will pull me through
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You
And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home

My sister bought the album “Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth” which included the breakout hit, “Awesome God.” We then bought every album that Rich released after that. I now own every album Rich ever recorded.

My favorite album has to be “A Liturgy, A Legacy and A Ragamuffin Band.” The song, “Land of My Sojourn” remains one of my all time favorite songs from any writer of any genre.

And this road she is a woman
She was made from a rib
Cut from the sides of these mountains
Oh these great sleeping Adams
Who are lonely even here in paradise

except the way Rich sang it was a play on words with “Adam and Eve.” He sang, “These great sleeping Adams who are lonely EVE-n here in paradise.”

I’ve quoted the chorus in sermons probably a dozen times:

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home

And then the final stunning verse:

And the countryside was pocked
With all of those mail pouch posters
Thrown up on the rotting sideboards of
These rundown stables like the one that Christ was born in
When the old world started dying
And the new world started coming on

But choosing a favorite Rich Mullins song is a ridiculous enterprise. His ability to put depth and beauty into melody and lyric was unparalleled. Like in “Song for Eli” when he describes faith as something “I don’t know if I am climbing to or falling in.”

Rich was not a technically strong singer. He wouldn’t make it on the first round of “The Voice” or any reality singing contest, but he moved millions of people. Everyone who listened to him thought, “I bet we’d be friends if we hung out.” He was not a strong singer, but he was a musical genius.  He OWNED the piano and explored uncharted musical territory. He was a brave artist.

Rich was like the best teacher who put words to what you’ve always suspected or hoped for, but couldn’t clarify, but upon hearing it you say, “yes, that’s exactly it!” But also like a teacher who brings the best out of you – calling you to something so much higher than your small existence.

Rich could connect the magnificent God and the mundane human experience in the most surprising ways. Sometimes in song, like in the lyric above. Sometimes he did it like Annie Dillard does it – where you least expect to find it – like the way the moon shines on a field in Nebraska or in the fury of a pheasant’s wing.

Sometimes Rich did it in concert where he would share his soul, his present day struggles, where he would tell us to be very wary of revering Christian music stars, which made us revere him all the more. Or when he told us about the time he really wanted to give into temptation in Amsterdam because giving into temptation is fun. Like all the times when he told the truth during an era where we all thought we were supposed to look holy.

Or the time he spoke powerfully about systemic poverty and how few in our circle were talking about it back then. Or when he limited his royalty check and refused to know how much money he made from his albums. Or the time he moved to a reservation to live in solidarity.

Rich was a portal. A human, flawed, brilliant, sinful portal of musical genius and spiritual hunger that embodied the cry of Paul, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.” Rich spoke and sang and played and yearned and we yearned along with him.

I didn’t know Rich Mullins. I met him the way an audience member meets an artist after a concert. I saw Rich in concert 4 or 5 times and each time was a profound experience. I didn’t know Rich, but we come from the same “tribe” of churches and many of my friends knew Rich well. I understand he was a complex man who wrestled with many challenges. But I think that’s why we loved him – he put himself on display, not as an example of righteousness, but as a human struggling to follow Jesus in a dark world.

There is so much I didn’t know before listening to Rich that he introduced me to: an expanded notion of systemic poverty, obscure appalachian instruments like the hammer dulcimer and lap dulcimer, Brennan Manning, classical music, the power of hymns sung a cappella. I didn’t know it was ok to be famous, gifted and flawed and share all of that in one messy beautiful experience with people. I didn’t know that driving through Kansas could be a worship experience and that the mundane was as powerful as the transcendent. I didn’t know that “men singing badly in church” is something to marvel at, not criticize.

Rich died 20 years ago today. Many of us mourned him though we didn’t know him because we felt he knew us. He was a singular figure. His power lives on through his example and his stunning music. He has not and will never be replaced. Here’s one of his more famous stories and songs:

 

An Open Letter to Francis Chan

Francis,

You recently made a splash when you were invited to speak at Facebook Staff Headquarters. Your basic argument was simple enough: the way you used to participate in church was bad, the way you now participate is good.

I watched it and cringed.

I think your critique of your previous church’s model – that it spends too much money on itself, that it over emphasizes a handful of people over the rest of the body is a reasonable and accurate critique. Our church is similar to this model and I share these same concerns. We have building debt, we spend less on the global poor than we do on ourselves. Our worship experiences focus too much on a handful of people on the stage. All true and all good critique to consider. I have no problem with anyone offering that critique.

Here’s my problem with what you said:

— You caricatured the previous church experience, reducing it to a two dimensional straw man that doesn’t actually exist. This is a very common and highly problematic public speaking technique. As I listened to you describe your previous church context as “thousands of people sitting while two people use their gifts” I was thinking, “Do you really think that is what people at Cornerstone think church is?”

True: large churches attract a percentage of people who want a one hour per week relationship with the church. But many people, probably more than half of the people see that one hour per week as a piece of a much bigger pie: a pie that involves serving, caring for one another, moving to the margins of society. When I preach at our church, I look out an an overwhelming number of people who take very seriously the call to love their neighbor, be a light in their workplace, to love one another. Many in our church listen as I preach, yes, but those same people teach me and lead me in the way they orient their lives around the teachings of Jesus. Reducing them to “consumers of a sermon and music product” devalues what they actually are: an essential piece of the Body of Christ.

Also, every church in this model will attract church “consumers.” It is a growing problem but it is also an incredible opportunity. Many “former church consumers” have become highly active Kingdom agents at our church. Surely the same is true at Cornerstone. Surely part of their whole philosophy is to equip and challenge people to be more active in their faith and surely your previous preaching assisted strongly in moving people into action.

— The way you describe your previous church now has almost nothing in common with how you described it a few short years ago. 

Here is a sample quote from your interview with Catalyst.

“It was a beautiful time of sharing as our elders laid “everything” at each others’ feet. We surrendered the keys to our cars, homes, and bank accounts. I actually believed the elders who looked me in the eyes and said, “What’s mine is yours. If anything ever happens to you, I will support and care for your kids as much as I would care for my own. I will be your life insurance.” And because they had a history of genuine sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, I trusted what they said. From there, we began going to some of our friends in the congregation and expressing our commitment to them (something anyone can do).

And now this mentality is spreading. New life is permeating the church as individuals are backing up their words with sacrifice. Cars and homes are being sold or given away. Expensive vacations are joyfully replaced with spending on others. People are being taken into homes-not only for meals, but to live. It’s still the beginning of the process, and most people probably still come for the teaching or the music, but there’s a growing number at our church who are coming to be with their church family and they don’t care about who’s teaching or leading music.”

As I watched your talk at Facebook, I couldn’t help wondering what your friends at Cornerstone thought of the message or what they might have said had they had your platform to speak. A very brief perusal of the church website shows a church on the move, a church that takes seriously the call of Jesus to go and make Disciples, to love one another to sacrifice for others. Here is the church website. If you click on “missionary partners” and “home front teams” and “church plants” you will see what you know to be true: this is an active church that is highly involved in God’s local and global kingdom. You also know that it is made up of hundreds or thousands of people who give time and energy to that end outside of the one hour per week.

— You used the very medium you were critiquing to present your message. In the Facebook talk, the ‘many’ sat and listened while the ‘one’ used his gift, which was exactly what you were critiquing. The medium of your presentation was exactly the medium you said was bad. If you really think it is a bad medium, why not change the medium? Why continue to speak at large conferences where people mostly sit and listen? I believe it is because you actually know that a quality talk has tremendous power for action and change. Because many people who sit for 30 minutes or an hour don’t stay sitting after a compelling message. Because good speeches have caused incredible change and action throughout history. You are a gifted and compelling speaker and your words carry tremendous power for change. Do you really think your gifted speaking at Cornerstone didn’t shape thousands of people and how they live out their relationship with God, their neighbor, with the global poor?

I wish you had done something much less sexy but much more thoughtful: give a nuanced account of both models/ways of doing church and offer the dangers and opportunities that both models offer. I wish you had simply confessed your own internal struggle with being a gifted preacher and the challenges that come along with that rather than paint your previous model as a straw man. You are in a unique position to offer that and it would have been a real gift.

Of course you don’t know me and I don’t know you, but I welcome a more nuanced dialogue on this.

Robert, Danny, Kip and Today’s Reality

As I’ve been struggling to wrap my mind around our country’s current reality and how pervasive racism and hate groups are, 3 people from Seminary keep coming to mind.

Robert Fife. Dr Fife was a highly respected New Testament scholar and the reason our New Testament library was one of the finest in the United States. When Dr Fife traveled to speak, instead of a speaking fee, he’d ask for a particular book. At the end of his career he donated over 10,000 theological books to the library. But Dr Fife was also a World War 2 Veteran – he served as a chaplain on the front lines and one of his last acts as a chaplain was to help liberate people from the Nazi death camp in Dachau, Poland. People would ask Dr Fife to tell them stories from his experience and he would reply that he gives one lecture, one time per year where he talks about what it was like to liberate people suffering in that atrocious death camp.  Continue reading “Robert, Danny, Kip and Today’s Reality”

GLS 2017: Bryan Stevenson

UnknownI was not able to blog and publish all the speakers at GLS in one sitting, but GLS featured several speakers about whom I have not yet blogged. One of the most profound and provocative speakers of GLS this year was Bryan Stevenson. I had never heard of him before (one of the great gifts of GLS is meeting amazing leaders I’ve never heard of) but his work and the way he talks about his work is utterly stunning and I am left deeply convicted by the implications of what he is saying. Here are some notes:

— At the start of the talk, Bryan gives highly disturbing stats on USA’s mass incarceration.   In the 1970s, USA incarcerated around 300,000 of its citizens. Now it is 2.3 million. Women’s incarceration has increased 800%. We incarcerate more of our citizens than the next several nations combined.

— Drug dependent people in USA are criminals. We could have used the health care system to address these people, but we use the criminal justice system.

— We are led and have been led by the politics of fear and anger.

— If you allow yourself to be driven by fear and anger you’ll tolerate things that create imbalance.

— Fear and anger are essential ingredients of injustice.

— Who is responsible for this? We are. We have gotten too distant and uninvolved.

— Proximity is the solution to figuring out the solution.  Bryan’s continual emphasis that proximity is essential to leadership and justice was compelling. 

A difficult conversation on race:

— we are a post genocide society, but our narrative was “they are savages.”

— centuries of slavery. The great evil of USA Slavery was the narrative of racial difference we told to justify it.

— Slavery didn’t end in 1865, it evolved into terror and violence.

— People of color say, “Why are we only now talking about ‘domestic terrorism’ (talking about 9/11 or Oklahoma City Bombing) when many of us have been subject to domestic terrorism for decades?”

— Germany, South Africa and Rwanda all make sure people know their history and make people have the conversation about their own difficult history. In Berlin, for example, you can’t walk 100 yards without running into a monument or a reminder of a painful and awful history. But in America we don’t talk about slavery, we don’t talk about lynching.  I bear this out. I only learned about Colorado’s deep racist history from two pastors who sat us down to talk about denver riots and Golden’s KKK history. Also, I had the privilege of visiting Germany last year and was struck by how deeply the German people are intentionally “undoing” the sins of the past with their welcome, warmth and openness. It was visceral. 

I’m not interested in talking about this to punish our country for our history, but to liberate us from it.

— Those of us in the church understand that there must be repentance before redemption.

— We must stay hopeful. Hopefulness is essential for effective leadership. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice and effective leadership.

— There are hopeful leaders and there are people in leadership positions not leading.

— Sometimes I go places to speak. Sometimes I go places to listen. What does “listen” mean? It means I don’t say anything. this was profound to me – so often a leader visits a place to share what she or he has to say, but Bryan says a leader also visits to listen and learn. 

— It takes courage to stay hopeful in the face of daunting situations. “That’s going to make you tired, tired, tired. That’s why I need to be brave, brave, brave.”

— We are biologically and psychologically wired to stay comfortable. That means we need to make a decision to be uncomfortable. Effective leadership only happens when great leaders are willing to do uncomfortable things.  PROFOUND! I think Bryan tapped into the essence of walking by faith here and why so few of us habitually do it. 

— Bryan has heart and gut wrenching stories about the people he serves who are incarcerated. His most gut wrenching was the young child who was tried as an adult because he shot his mother’s attacker who was a deputy sheriff and the child’s harrowing and abusive experience in jail. Utter, utter evil.

— Why do we want to kill broken people? What is it about us that when we see brokenness we want to crush it?  My job is to defend broken people against a system that wants to legally kill them.

— We live in a broken system. The people in power are unwilling to get proximate, they are locked in narratives of fear and anger and they have lost hope. Again, another huge statement. 

— I do what I do, not because I am a lawyer, but because I am broken too. It is the broken among us that can teach the way grace works. The broken understand the power of mercy and the power of redemption.

— As leaders we cannot assume that we have qualities that other people don’t have. We must identify with the brokenness of those we lead.

— Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. If someone kills someone, they are not just a killer and a leader sees more than just what they do.

— the opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is justice.

Bryan Stevenson is a mind blowingly powerful person and an exceptional speaker. What am I going to do about his challenge? 

 

…Repay Evil with Good…

Full Article Here

In preparation for an upcoming neo-Nazi march in the small Bavarian town of Wunsiedel, local residents decided to fight back in a hilariously perfect way: by sponsoring each of the 250 fascist participants. According to Heeb Magazine, “For every metre they walked, €10 went to a programme called EXIT Deutschland, which helps people escape extremist groups.”

The anti-semitic walkers didn’t figure out the town’s scheme until they had already started their march, and by that time, it was too late to turn back. The end result? The neo-Nazis raised more than $12,000 to fund programs to put an end to neo-Nazis.

GLS Friday: Immaculee Ilibagiza

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I read about the Rwandan Genocide only a few years after it occurred and to this day cannot fathom the sheer horror of it all. It is described as the most efficient genocide in history, but “efficient” is typically a positive word, so I shudder at that description. I have a book on my shelf, “We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Die With Our Families” that became the basis of the movie “Hotel Rwanda.” It is a chilling account of genocide and what it is like to feel alone and afraid in the midst of violence. Immaculee gave us an incredible gift in her talk of leading us through her experience while showing us hope and courage. She was utterly phenomenal.

– I would not wish anyone to see what I have seen, but the lessons I learned from it are invaluable.

– I know without a shadow of doubt that God is real. When you can’t, He can. Whatever our Lord tells us, He’s right.

– Genocide happened because we failed to love our neighbor. The teachings of Jesus really matter. Look at what happens when humans disregard them.

– Stunning story of her dad basically saying, ‘it’s true that we might die, but how many people have an opportunity to know that they will likely die? We can use this opportunity to get right with God before we die.’

Continue reading “GLS Friday: Immaculee Ilibagiza”

Friday Session 4: Sam Adeyemi

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One of my favorite aspects of GLS is how it introduces westerners to world class non western leaders. Several years ago, Sam Adeyemi spoke at GLS. I had never heard of him before and was blown away by his leadership teaching. I was excited to hear from Sam again and he did not disappoint. 

– In leadership,  you don’t attract who you want, you attract who you are.

– Leadership works when there is alignment between the sense of identity of the leader and that of the followers.

– If a group of robbers had the opportunity to elect a leader, would they elect a police man? No, they would elect a more experienced and sophisticated robber. The policeman’s ability to help a robber transition from robber to citizen is what leadership is about – leading them to someone they have never been before.

– The miracle of leadership is this internal change. At this point, I was saying, “Thank you God for a GLS speaker who is showing the power of the gospel and how it fits leadership.” I missed a couple of sessions on Thursday, but from my experience Sam was the first speaker to show the power of the gospel to transform AND also the first to show that all leadership starts with heart transformation. 

– Unleashing the potential of followers, especially those who are ‘less than ideal’ is the miracle of leadership.  Yaas! Gospel alert! Jesus was all about transforming the ‘less than ideal.’ I am a ‘less than ideal.’ 

– Real and sustainable change in people’s life begins with a change in their sense of identity.  In Christ you are a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come. Please excuse me while I go find some tissues. 

– One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is a new belief they have about himself or herself.

Continue reading “Friday Session 4: Sam Adeyemi”

Unknown-1I haven’t heard Marcus Buckingham in almost 10 years, but remember being astonished as he led us through his Strengths Finders material. “A Strength is not something you are good at. A strength is something that when you do it, you feel strong.” 

Whoa. Here he is again in 2017 and he was again outstanding and provocative. 

– If you study bad and invert it, you get not bad. So study ‘good’ if you want to learn about good.  Excellence has its own configuration. You learn more from success by studying success, not trying to invert failures.

– A leader’s job: build more teams like your most amazing team. Marcus had us think about the great teams we have served on and the terrible teams we have served on and then dropped that simple bomb on us. 

– Speaking of provocative, do we need to talk about the decision to wear a hoodie over a crisp white dress shirt, but under a fancy sports coat? 

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GLS Friday Session 2: Juliet Funt

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My immediate impression: she’s a storytelling genius!

– “My husband looked at the ceiling, his eyes misted up and he said, ‘thank you Jesus’ and we’re Jewish.’

– We have lost the art of the pause. A “Pause” is “time with no assignment.” Seriously. Can we ever hear this enough? The need to slow down, breathe, prioritize etc? I think its one of the most vital messages of the modern age.

– The opposite of pause : 100% exertion and zero percentage reflection.

– We are too busy to become less busy. We don’t examine the costs of busyness.

– The addled mind cannot generate innovative fresh ideas.

– White space: strategic pause taken between activities. 3 seconds or half an hour.

– White space is the oxygen that allows the rest of your work to catch fire.

If Laszlo has the eyes, Juliet is bringing legit eyebrows.

Continue reading “GLS Friday Session 2: Juliet Funt”

GLS 2017 Friday Session 1: Laszlo Bock

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One of my favorite aspects of a conference like this is learning about great leaders I’ve never heard of. Today was a day full of great leaders, many of whom were new to me. And so…Laszlo Bock.

– I have had 14 or 15 jobs, the common denominator: there was a gap between the values the leaders talked about and the values they practiced. This led me into HR.

Human Resources = ‘everyone you works with thinks they know your job better than you.  Lol!

My job at Google: Find the best people, grow them as fast as possible, then keep them.

– We spend more time working than we do anything else in our life, so let’s make our work life meaningful.

– ‘Treat your people right and they will do great things for you.’

Continue reading “GLS 2017 Friday Session 1: Laszlo Bock”