Last week, we took a look at Rich Mullins’ pinnacle, A Liturgy, A Legacy & A Ragamuffin Band. Today, we look at Rich’s posthumous release, The Jesus Record.
When Rich was writing this album, it is said he had wanted to find just the right way to express who Jesus actually was as he walked this earth in human form.
Though the songwriting for this album had been finished when Rich tragically died in a car accident in September 1997, he hadn’t started recording it. What he had was a rough demo tape recorded with an old-fashioned tape recorder “on Memorex.” Not long after his passing, his friends and bandmates came together to record those songs professionally. The result is one disc of Rich’s demos (complete with the warbles, distortion and loud clicks when he hit the stop button) and another disc of the professionally recorded project. With having what Rich wanted to say about the true nature of Jesus–not just as Savior, teacher or Messiah–but someone full of love and compassion, God in the flesh; this seems fitting as the last words of Rich Mullins.
Like his Legacy album, it’s hard to put this one into words–perhaps harder. Though it isn’t as personal as Legacy with the heart cry of the human condition from the lens of the Christian walk, it’s still personal in the sense that he had that lightbulb moment. He found a way to finally express in word and song the true essence of Jesus.
And what did he want to tell us about Jesus? Though it’s too much to say in a short post such as this, suffice it to say, listening to the album several times through might answer that question.
But with songs such as, “Nothing is Beyond You,” “You Did Not Have a Home,” “Man of No Reputation,” “Heaven in His Eyes,” and “Hard to Get” we get a glimpse into the Jesus that Rich discovered: a Jesus who showed us that humility is powerful. A Jesus that demonstrated how we truly should be, yet knows that we cannot quite live up to it. A Jesus worthy of worship. A Jesus who proved he was not the Messiah nor the representation of YAHWEH that people had expected, but something quite different, something more.
Perhaps the best song from this album, and from The Ragamuffin Band era of Rich’s career, is “My Deliverer,” co-written by Mitch McVicker and dramatically sung by Rick Elias. The string arrangement on this makes it even more dramatic, and still sends shivers down my spine 20 years later. Rick also sings a great rendition of “Man of No Reputation,” which he wrote, and was previously covered by Bob Carlisle on his second solo album, The Hope of a Man (thus, it is not on the Rich Mullins demo disc).
The album concludes with the demo/studio/everyone all-sing-together version of “That Where I Am, There You,” which is the most joyful song on the album, and a fitting place perhaps to mark the end of Rich’s musical career. It’s as if you can hear Rich’s friends rejoicing over where he is at the moment while looking forward to reuniting with him again someday.