For most of America this phrase is about a small plane crash, which took place near Clear Lake, Iowa, on February 3, 1959, killing three early rock and roll musicians: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The phrase was first used by Don McLean in his 1971 ballad, American Pie.
For many Christians it refers to ten years ago Wednesday (9-17), when Rich Mullens died in a car accident on I-39 near Bloomington, Illinois. Rich’s Jeep flipped over, and since he wasn’t wearing a seat belt he was thrown from the vehicle and killed by a tractor-trailer swerving to avoid the Jeep. A simple precaution wasn’t followed or he might be alive today.
One day I will ask him about that. However, for me Rich was one of my musical mentors. He had a voice that I wouldn’t call pretty (one reason I liked him), but heartfelt, like his music. Sadly he joined another of my favorites, Keith Green, in an early departure from this mortal coil.
I was never able to see Rich in person, though I did sit a few feet from Keith Green while he performed in RFK stadium (April 28, 1980) at the Washington For Jesus pre-event rally. They reminded me of each other in their plain-spoken, grounded Christianity.
God has his reasons for his timing in calling his saints home, and I am far from questioning his decisions. However, it is sad to have those holes in our cherished mentors list.
Maybe I should explain that I consider musicians mentors, since they are extremely influential in our Christian walk. Music drives its lyrics deep into our being, far beyond what mere conversation can accomplish. That is why I am careful what I listen to, at least more than once.
Thank you Rich for all that you gave me and I look forward to sharing time with you when the Lord so ordains.