Earlier this year (2014) Color Green Films released a heart-rending, heart-warming feature-length docudrama on the life of Rich Mullins, entitled Ragamuffin. It’s one of the most touching movies I’ve seen in a long time! Although he was just five years younger than I, and a fellow Hoosier, I never knew much about him. Rich Mullins was the son of a rough, verbally abusive Indiana tree farmer and a tender-hearted Quaker mother. He grew up in the church and had a deep faith, although he never fit the image of fine and fancy church-going Christians in his day. But, he truly attempted to live honestly and to follow Jesus and was greatly influenced by the life of St. Francis of Assisi. In fact, after his song, “Our God is an Awesome God” hit the top of the music charts and his music started earning millions, Rich entrusted the profits from his tours and record sales to his church, asking only to be paid the average salary for an American each year and that the rest be given to charity and missions to help the poor, such as Compassion International. His thought was, “Jesus said whatever you do to the least of these my brothers you’ve done it to me. And this is what I’ve come to think. That if I want to identify fully with Jesus Christ, who I claim to be my Savior and Lord, the best way that I can do that is to identify with the poor. This I know will go against the teachings of all the popular evangelical preachers. But they’re just wrong. They’re not bad, they’re just wrong. Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children in a beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups anywhere near you. Christianity is about learning to love like Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor and Jesus loved the broken-hearted…” Last Monday I wrote about the empty nest syndrome and our need for intimacy, so I was especially touched by his frank commentary on human love: “I would always be frustrated with all those relationships even when I was engaged. I had a ten year thing with this girl and I would often wonder why, even in those most intimate moments of our relationship, I would still feel really lonely. And it was just a few years ago that I finally realized that friendship is not a remedy for loneliness. Loneliness is a part of our experience and if we are looking for relief from loneliness in friendship, we are only going to frustrate the friendship. Friendship, camaraderie, intimacy, all those things, and loneliness live together in the same experience…” Although Rich Mullins grew up in the church and never wavered in his faith, he struggled with depression, radical non-conformity, loneliness, and eventually alcohol. Because his own father didn’t understand him, Rich leaned heavily on the love and wisdom of two father figures. One was the father of his roommate at Cincinnati Bible College, and the other was Brennan Manning, who also wrestled with alcohol addiction and wrote a marvelous book called The Ragamuffin Gospel (thus, Rich’s group became the Ragamuffin Band.) The book is also very gripping, although I think the movie impacted me even more. Ragamuffin would be a special balm for anyone who feels lonely in their faith journey, had/has a hyper-critical parent who is never satisfied with you, of if you struggle with self-worth or addictions. Rich was never happier than when he was barefoot, helping native American youth learn music on remote reservations. He also felt a closeness to believers in both the Protestant and Catholic churches. Although he considered becoming a Roman Catholic, he never did: “A lot of the stuff which I thought was so different between Protestants and Catholics [was] not, but at the end of going through an RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] course, I also realized that there are some real and significant differences. I’m not sure which side of the issues I come down on. My openness to Catholicism was very scary to me because, when you grow up in a church where they don’t even put up a cross, many things were foreign to me. I went to an older Protestant gentleman that I’ve respected for years and years, and I asked him, “When does faithfulness to Jesus call us to lay aside our biases and when does it call us to stand beside them?” His answer to me was that it is not about being Catholic or Protestant. It is about being faithful to Jesus. The issue is not about which church you go to, it is about following Jesus where He leads you.” Amen to that!
Rich Mullins died in a car accident at the age of 41… a deep loss for the Christian community. Ragamuffin helps extend his legacy of radical faith, and it’s inspired me to a deeper commitment to charity and honesty…hallmarks of his life.