There is little doubt that Keith Green, Larry Norman, and Rich Mullins have left behind a deeper legacy and had a greater impact on the Christian music scene than could once have been imagined. Each of the three had a unique style: in the case of Rich Mullins, it was his simplicity and willingness to go against the grain of what Nashville wanted. But Mullins was also set apart by his honest search and struggle to experience Jesus. He ultimately settled in Wichita, Kansas, the town I currently reside in, where I have developed relationships and friendships with many of those who knew him. The story of Rich Mullins (much like that of Lonnie Frisbee) is one of brokenness. It is a story that resonates with biblical themes of how God uses brokenness to reach the world and it is told in the film Ragamuffin, The True Story of Rich Mullins.
Made by new film company, Color Green Films, in association with Kid Brothers of St. Frank Co., Ragamuffin is directed by David Schultz and stars Michael Koch, David Schultz, Wolfgang Bodison, James Kyson, and Mitch Mcvicker. The film is quite an accomplishment, especially considering it is a first effort by virtual unknowns. The choice of a musician to play the starring role, as opposed to an actor, is wise. While not looking much like Mullins, newcomer Koch conveys his persona quite well and does an admirable job in performing his songs. There is much more to like about Ragamuffin; it is a first rate movie and far better than most independent efforts. Above all, it deserves a theatrical release where it would have maximum impact in transcending and telling the story of a true troubadour, not so much because of Rich Mullins’ music but because of his honesty, love, and search for God.
Ragamuffin starts off with Mick Mcvicker (who plays himself) and Mullins stopping off at an old abandoned church to record the first disc of what would be Mullins’ final album, The Jesus Record. The film then moves to Mullins telling his life-story to a radio announcer: from his father’s apparent neglect, to his longing to feel love from him, to his lost love in college, and more. The DJ (played by Mullins’ real life brother, Randy Mullins) asks questions that lead to flashbacks of Mullins’ past. While flashbacks can be disrupting, Schultz does a nice job integrating them. The story flows and we see a Rich Mullins hidden from his public: a broken man, suffering from depression, a temper, alcohol issues (if not alcoholism), and an apparent chain smoking habit. This is a side of the Christian Music icon that many never knew existed. As I left the sold-out world premiere at the Orpheum Theater in Wichita, the first comment I heard from another spectator was, “I never knew he was as messed up as he was.” Herein lies a problem that will recur as long as the Church and Christians continue to place people on pedestals: How will we respond to the real man? How will we reconcile Rich Mullins the icon with the broken man who endured the same hurts and struggles as everyone else?
With a cast that includes Mullins’ bandmates, relatives, and friends, this movie plays out very nicely. The cinematography, story, everything plays out surprisingly well. To give credit where credit is due, Schultz does an admirable job at directing his first feature and if he hasn’t considered this as a career, he should.
One of the things I loved about Ragamuffin, its willingness to be honest, is likely to alienate some viewers. In the current advance screening tour, the film is scheduled to play in many churches where I suspect some attendees will have problems with its content. In my experience, there is a reluctance to accept the reality of what is really going on in the “Christian” industry. While holding back on some issues related to Rich, the film is truthful about his brokenness and struggles. For those that relate and are themselves searching for truth, this movie presents the real life, honest to God struggle of walking in faith better than anything I have ever seen put on screen. I suspect that even after being forewarned, there will be those who doubt the rawness of Rich’s story until seeing the film. They will then have one of three reactions, 1) disbelief, 2) serious displeasure and withdrawal of support for Mullins, or 3) they will feel the grace of God, knowing that God loves us while we are yet sinners. As Mullins himself would assure us, it is important to remember that God not only loves us, he likes us. Too often, we may be made to feel that our search for honesty, undertaken with real questions and a sincere heart, has to be glossed over or can only conclude with the spiritual answers that we know to be nothing more than clichés. Yet for many of us, who are in fact Ragamuffins, the answers are both more complicated and more simple.
I will give the director and cast, in fact, all involved with this movie, a huge two thumbs up. That leads me to a point of confusion though. Doesn’t a film this good, of such unexpectedly high quality, deserve the maximum effort to reach the widest possible audience? There was some discussion prior to the viewing in a constructed Q&A, about the film not being that big of a deal; to that I say, Hogwash! This movie has the potential to help people understand their own walk. I know because I am one who can relate to the struggles and difficulties of life as exemplified in Ragamuffin: whether in falling short of the expectations of others, feeling rejection for feeling what you feel, having a broken heart, and in the ultimate need to experience Christ’s love and grace. So many within this institution we call Church hurt. In a way, they become Rich Mullins all over again because they are lonely and starving for the answers. Some question the search, even condemn those who are searching; this movie, though, speaks truth.
The message of Ragamuffin is that Jesus loves you, cares for you, and likes you, no matter your circumstance, no matter your sin. That God would choose to use the broken to illustrate His love for others and communicate His truths is a message we all need to hear; even the Church itself, who seems at times to have forgotten that message. This movie is powerful. It can and will reach many who view it in their own lost and hurting world. Why not take advantage as a film company to expand that potential? Countless studio films have clearly failed where this film succeeds, in the effort to tell a good story with a message that can change the world. Ragamuffin has the potential to change individual lives, lives God cares for, loves, and likes. Why not do everything possible to make that happen? Seldom have I done this, but this is a movie that is worthy of the cry from the fans who see it. It is worthy because for many of us, we are Ragamuffins walking on this path called life, hand in hand with a savior named Jesus.
On a scale of 1 – 10, for the incredible, nearly perfect recognition that those of us who hurt can still be loved and liked, minus the one individual who is in body now gone, for the powerful life of Rich Mullins, minus that life, I give this a very surprising and insightful 9
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