The World As I Remember It: Through the Eyes of A Ragamuffin, by Rich Mullins

“I hope you see the faithfulness of God in everything He has made. I hope you learn to trust that all of this is His care sworn to you. But mostly, I hope you know Jesus through whom God has wildly and ferociously loved us. I hope you know and that you become sacramental to your neighbor who God also loves passionately. I hope you leave them little doubt about His love and the victory Jesus won over hate and death.”

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I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book, but I knew Rich Mullins wrote it, so I wanted to read it.

It turns out that this book is a collection of articles that Rich wrote for Release Magazine, between 1991 and 1996. Because of that, there is little continuity, as Rich seemed to be writing whatever was on his mind.

It begins with a welcome by Rich’s manager, Jim Dunning. This is followed by “A brief glimpse into the life and music of Rich Mullins.” I’m not sure who wrote that bit. One thing that struck me in this section was Rich’s belief in the connections during communion. “He said if we believe in the communion of the saints, then it is not only communion with the saints that are still in the Body, but also with the saints of old.” it’s one of the reasons that Rich loved singing the old hymns that people have sung for generations.

The book proceeds from there to the articles, which are grouped chronologically. Rich writes about faith and life, in various scenarios. There are many topics, but all fit into the scope of how faith and life work together. I’ll provide some quotes that I highlighted while reading.

“I am a Christian, not because someone explained the nuts and bolts of Christianity to me, but because there were people who were willing to be nuts and bolts, who through their explanation of it, held it together so that I could experience it and be compelled by it to obey.”

“And Jesus Christ is, for me, the evidence of God’s unreasonable and unsolicited attentiveness, His unearned favor, His incomprehensible love.”

Concerning the faith we had when we were children: “When we were little, we gave ourselves over to faith. Now we are big, and too heavy to rise above our own understanding.

“When we were kids we sang for the joy of singing, we colored and cut and pasted for the fun of doing it. We ran for the love of running and laughed and got scared and saw the world as a real place full of real dangers and real beauty and real rights and wrongs.”

I love this one: “Faith is not a denial of facts–it is a broadening of focus. It does not deny the hardness of guitar strings, it plucks them into a sweetness of sound.”

“I hope you see the faithfulness of God in everything He has made. I hope you learn to trust that all of this is His care sworn to you. But mostly, I hope you know Jesus through whom God has wildly and ferociously loved us. I hope you know and that you become sacramental to your neighbor who God also loves passionately. I hope you leave them little doubt about His love and the victory Jesus won over hate and death.”

“Don’t stop reading. Don’t stop listening. There are many things that are too amazing for all of us, many more that empower us beyond what we can understand.” (I will never stop reading, and if I go blind, I will listen to audiobooks.)

“But, if we still ourselves, if we let Him calm us, focus us, equip us for the day, He will remind us of our Father’s prodigal generosity and about the pitiful weakness of greedy men. He will remind us (as He reminded the devil) that ‘Man does not live by bread alone,’ though He may call us (as He called His first disciples) to give bread to the hungry (presumably because man cannot live long without bread). He will remind us about the cares that burden common people, the illusions that blind those the world calls ‘lucky,’ and the crippling effects of worry. He will give us hope–hope that stretches us (where worry bent us) and faith–faith that sustains us (where greed smothered us) and love–love that is at the bottom of our deepest desires, the loss of which is at the root of all our fears.”

“How is it that we can accept that Moses saw a bush that burned and was not consumed, yet we doubt that God can love in a rage and never cool?”

And finally, Rich quoting his uncle’s response to his determination to live a life of poverty (and I’m sure that Dallas Willard would agree): “If you’re really concerned about the poor, becoming poor isn’t going to help them, it’s just going to ease your own conscience. If you’re really concerned about the poor, go out and make a fortune and spend it on them.”

Rich Mullins was, still is, one of my life heroes. I’m thankful that I got to see him twice in a concert setting. Both times, as many others have experienced, he came out on stage in a white t-shirt, blue jean shorts, and barefoot. Both times, he quietly left the stage at the end of the “show” while the audience worshiped, singing “Step by Step.”

There will never be another Rich Mullins. Nor does there need to be. We already have one. God decided that he needed Rich in heaven more than we needed him here. It’s not my business to understand that. But, in a sense, we still have him here, because we still have him. We have his liturgy, his legacy, and his ragamuffin band.

TTFN, y’all!

Gassed, by Carley Eason Evans

I’ve known Carley for at least a decade, now (I think), and have followed the evolution of her as an author all the way from her first novel. Gassed is her best work, so far.

My knowledge of WWI is slim and sketchy. I always seem to remember what sparked that war, the infamous assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, right? But I don’t know much more than that.

But while this book is set during that war, and events surrounding it. I don’t think it’s really about that war. This book is about humanity and love. That’s what I got out of it, at least.

We follow the life of a young soldier named James Allen Lawton. As the book begins, he is already suffering from the results of a mustard gas bomb that hit his group of soldiers. He was unable to get his mask on quick enough, and is temporarily blinded.

But then we flash back. Back to his childhood, back to his entry into this war. Back and forth we go as we explore the life of this young soldier, and what made him the person he is.

His mother died during childbirth, so the entirety of his youth is spent with only a father, who did the best he could to raised his son. My favorite chapter in the book is the one where his father, at some considerable expense, bought young James Allen a ukulele for his birthday. James Allen didn’t quite know what to do with it, at first, but eventually learned to play it well, and then graduated to guitar, at which he excelled.

His experiences in the war are heart-rending, as he meets and loses companions in the horror that is war. As I read this book, I was reminded of the opening themes of all of the Fallout video games. “War. War never changes.” Eventually, James Allen decides that he would rather not even know the names of the other men with whom he is serving, because they probably won’t be around very long, anyway.

After James Allen is hit with the mustard gas, he is transported to a medical unit. James Allen’s injuries are serious enough that he is given an honorable discharge and sent back to the States, where he is placed in a rehabilitation hospital where a number of people are being treated for various illnesses.

Earlier in the book, there is a seemingly random chapter about a young girl named Julie, growing up with a somewhat abusive mother and a father who loves her dearly. Eventually, the father dies of what was then called “Consumption.” We know it now as Tuberculosis. Unfortunately, Julie is infected with it, as well. Her mother, not caring in the least for her, dumps her at the doctor’s office and leaves. The local doctor cares greatly for Julie and pays for her to be placed in the same hospital where James Allen winds up.

James Allen and Julie meet, soon after he arrives, although he cannot yet see her. They become friends, and she leads him on walks through the outdoor surroundings at the hospital, describing the scenery to him. She always wears gloves and a mask, for fear of infecting him.

Within a few weeks, he recovers his sight, and continues to fall for Julie. Even though she is dying, he asks her to marry him, to which she agrees.

That’s as far as I will go in telling the story. Too many spoilers, already, I guess. But I was captivated by the character of James Allen, and then by Julie, as well. As I stated earlier, I believe this to be Carley’s best novel, so far. The only criticism that I might have at all is the placement of the final chapter. I wonder if it might have been better to end with the previous chapter, that concludes with james Allen finally singing the song that he had been trying to write for Julie.

Read this book. I think it deserves to be a best-seller. I can even see it as a movie. Maybe Ryan Gosling plays james Allen, and Rachel McAdams could play Julie. I know. They’ve already done The Notebook together. But still . . .

TTFN, y’all!

Food: A Love Story, by Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan is one of my favorite stand-up comedians. In fact, I think he is the only one I’ve ever seen live, save one show of nobodies that was in Arlington at some comedy club that some people from work went to about thirty years ago.

I read Gaffigan’s previous book, Dad Is Fat, and really liked it, as well, so when my mother gave me Food: A Love Story for Christmas (a signed, first edition, no less), I was excited. And it did not disappoint.

In Food: A Love Story, Jim gives us a little background on why he loves food so much. Then he proceeds to give us his “food map” of the United States. He starts with what he calls “Seabugland,” which is the northeast, New England, area. A “seabug,” is a shellfish, basically. Lobster, shrimp, or even mollusks. He hilariously calls oysters “snot from a rock.”

He moves on to “Superbowl SundayFoodland,” which is mostly the “midwest.” He does go on a little rabbit trail about how the “midwest” is neither “mid” nor “west.” He’s from there, so he can get away with that. This is followed by “Steakland,” a large portion of the country, “Mexican Foodland,” “Eating BBQLand,” “Wineland” (specifically northern California, but only about two counties), “Food AnxietyLand” (Lousiana, especially New Orleans, because there is so much good food there, he can never decide what to eat), “Coffeeland” (as you can guess, Oregon and Washington), “Blubberland” (Alaska), and “LuauLand” (Hawaii).

Texas, he notes, has Steakland, Mexican FoodLand, and Eating BBQLand.

This is a great romp through our great nation, focusing on the best food in all the areas. He talks about pizza (his favorite is Chicago), burgers, french fries (McDonald’s still has the best), and many other kinds of food.

I did note that several of the chapters (he even brings up his trademark Hot Pockets) were almost verbatim from some of his stand-up routines. But there were just as funny in writing as they were on the recordings. I could almost hear his old lady voice as he went off on some of his “side quotes,” or whatever you want to call them.

I recommend this book for a change of pace, if you mostly read heavier material, as it is very light-hearted, and an easy read. It won’t take you long, and you will laugh a lot.

TTFN, y’all!

Meeting Rich: A Liturgy, A Legacy, A man with a guitar in my living room, by Caleb J. Kruse

In 1997, an event happened that would change the life of Caleb Kruse. Rich Mullins and Mitch McVicker came and stayed at his house for three weeks while they worked on recording an album.

Rich and his Ragamuffins had just performed a concert in a nearby town, which Caleb and his family attended. Shortly after the concert, they received a phone call. Rich and his crew were trying to sleep on the floor of an old church, but it was just too small. They needed somewhere to stay. Assuming they meant for the night, Caleb’s parents readily agreed.

It wasn’t just for a night. But they didn’t mind. Rich and Mitch shared life with the Kruses for three weeks.

Alas, that record was never truly finished, because on the night that Rich and Mitch left the Kruse’s house, they were involved in an accident that killed Rich and put Mitch in a coma for three weeks. “The Jesus Record” would eventually be released as a two disc set. One disc is the raw recordings of Rich playing piano and singing in that old church (recorded, by the way, on Caleb’s brother’s cassette player). The other disc would be the same songs, recorded by friends of Rich Mullins. I have that recording, and both discs are wonderful.

In Meeting Rich, Caleb gives us a delightful account of those three weeks. It’s a short book, really just a story, only 48 pages in paperback form. But it was wonderful to read. I had just finished reading another book that compiled many people’s different experiences with Rich, so this just flowed right in, could almost have been part of Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth.

Thank you, Caleb J. Kruse, for sharing your experience with us.

Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth, by Andrew Greer and Randy Cox

I would give this book ten stars, if I could.

In Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth, Andrew Greer and Randy Cox have accumulated a veritable plethora of brief conversations, as noted in the subtitle, “inspired by the life and lyrics of Rich Mullins.”

People who know me know how much I love the life and work of Rich Mullins. I cannot listen to some of his songs without crying, to this day. It has been over twenty years since he died, and I still almost break down when I think about that day. There has never been another artist, much less human being, who has had such an impact on my life.

The book’s contributors, besides Andrew Greer and Randy Cox, include such people as Amy Grant, Andrew Peterson, Ashley Cleveland, Brandon Heath, the late Brennan Manning, Cindy Morgan, Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay), Mark Lee (Third Day), Mark Lowry, Carolyn Arends, and many others, whose names may not be quite so recognizable.

Sometimes, the book is about Rich, other times, the brief chapters don’t speak so much about him, as they do about things that he wrote or said, and how that has inspired the person speaking or writing. The book even includes several song lyrics that were never published.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching statement in the entire book is the first line of Mitch McVicker’s chapter. “I have no memory of what happened that night.” You see, Mitch was in the car with Rich the night of that tragic accident. He woke up three weeks later, with no memory of that night. His close friend and musical accomplice was gone.

Rich Mullins died on September 19, 1997, 41 years old. But his legacy has lived on and will continue to live on, not only in the hearts of those who knew him, but in all of us who have loved his music and the effect it has had on us.

I, for one, am forever moved by lyrics such as:

“Talk about your miracles,
Talk about your faith;
My Dad, he could make things grow
Out of Indiana clay.
Mom could make a gourmet meal, out of just cornbread and beans
And they worked to give faith hands and feet
And somehow gave it wings. . . .

Never picture perfect,
Just a plain man and his wife
Who somehow knew the value
Of hard work good love and real life.”

And then, there’s that wonderful little chorus, that Rich didn’t even write. If my memory doesn’t fail me, which it frequently does, it was written by his close friend, Beaker (I don’t know all of Beaker’s name).

“Oh, God, you are my God,
And I will ever ever praise you.
Oh, God, you are my God,
And I will ever praise you.
I will seek you in the morning,
And I will learn to follow your ways,
And step by step, you’ll lead me,
And I will follow you all of my days.”

If you like Rich Mullins, you should read this book.

TTFN, y’all!

The Magnificent Defeat, by Frederick Buechner

I’ve read Buechner before, but it’s been a long time. I’ve had an interest in his writings for a couple of reasons. One, he is a great inspiration to my favorite Christian singer/songwriter, Terry Scott Taylor. Two, I follow his page on Facebook, and there frequent nuggets of wisdom that come from his writings.

The Magnificent Defeat, published in 1966, is a series of messages/meditations that were “presented to congregations composed largely of young people.” There are three parts: Part I, The Challenge to Surrender; Part II, The Triumph of Love; and Part III, The Mystery and Miracle of Grace.

The titular message, “The Magnificent Defeat,” focuses on Jacob as he wrestled with God at Peniel. And I love the opening paragraph. “When a minister reads out of the Bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being read, but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson–something elevating, obvious, and boring. Only that is too bad because if you really listen–and maybe you have to forget that it is the Bible being read and a minister who is reading it–there is no telling what you might hear.”

The point of the “magnificent defeat” is this. Anyone who fights hard enough in this life will get power, success, and “happiness.” But peace, love, and joy, are things that we can only truly get from God. The problem is, before God will give us those things, before he will give us everything, he demands everything from us; before he will give us life, he demands our lives.

“Will we give them, you and I? I do not know. Only remember the last glimpse that we have of Jacob, limping home against the great conflagration of the dawn. Remember Jesus of Nazareth, staggering on broken feet, out of the tomb toward the Resurrection, bearing on his body the proud insignia of the defeat which is victory, the magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.”

And that’s just the first chapter. There are seventeen more, each as eloquent and insightful as the first. Part II, The Triumph Love, progresses from the birth of Christ through the Resurrection, and in one chapter, gives the author’s version of the birth of Christ through the eyes of the innkeeper, the wise men, and the shepherds.

A couple more lines that I underlined: “To be a saint is to be a little out of one’s mind, which is a very good thing to be a little out of from time to time. It is to live a life that is always giving itself away and yet is always full.”

“Prayer is the sound made by our deepest aloneness.”

“The face that a child wears is his own face, whereas ours are the faces that we have spent years arranging and rearranging.” (Ouch.)

Wonderful book. I highly recommend it, and it can be easily read as part of a morning (or whenever) devotional, as the chapters are usually no more than three to four pages.

TTFN, y’all!

Fearful Symmetries, edited by Ellen Datlow

Fearful Symmetries is a horror anthology of twenty short stories. It’s a mixed bag for me, with some stories being gripping and entertaining, and some that leave me with uncertainty as to what just happened.

All of them, though, definitely fit the bill of the weird and wonderful, some quite horrific. According to the summary, Ellen Datlow’s compilation won the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Edited Anthology, and it’s easy to see why.

My favorite stories in this anthology were “The Atlas of Hell,” by Nathan Ballingrud, “Kaiju,” by Gary McMahon (this one wins the plot twist award, in my opinion), “Will the Real Psycho in this Story Please Stand Up?” by Pat Cardigan, “The Window,” by Brian Evenson (in which horrors from another dimension somehow slip over into ours), “Mount Chary Galore,” by Jeffrey Ford, “Power,” by Michael Marshall Smith (perhaps my favorite of all of them), “Bridge of Sighs,” by Kaaron Warren, “The Attic,” by Catherine MacLeod, and “Episode Three: On the Great Plains, in the Snow,” by John Langan.

Some of the others were good to a point, but I must confess, I didn’t quite get the ending. So, as a whole, I really liked it, but didn’t quite feel that it was amazing.

I would recommend it, however, to lovers of horror anthologies.

TTFN, y’all!