On Sept. 19, 1997, the brilliant songwriter and Christian music legend Rich Mullins was killed in automobile accident, the cause of which remains a mystery to this day.
Mullins left behind not only a musical legacy – through popular tunes like “Awesome God” and “Sometimes by Step” and painfully poignant lyrics in such songs as “Hold Me Jesus” and “Hard to Get” – but also a remarkably counter-cultural story of a man struggling to live an authentic life, torn between the heights of faith and the depths of his own brokenness.
Now that story is being laid bare through a new film coming to theaters May 2 called “Ragamuffin,” a term Mullins adopted for his life and band, inspired by interactions with Brennan Manning, author of “The Ragamuffin Gospel.”
Despite being an independent movie, “Ragamuffin” brings the highest quality filmmaking to a movie that is every bit as gritty, desperate and brutally honest as Mullins struggled to be.
David Mullins, Rich’s younger brother and one of the producers of the film, told WND that was exactly the point.
“The story just really walks out some of the challenges to faith and difficult things that Rich faced,” David Mullins told WND in an exclusive interview. “Our goal was to reveal the goodness of God in the midst of all that, and so we tried to tell a pretty honest story of his life.
“This film was close to [Director] Dave Schultz’s heart,” Mullins continued. “Dave had gone through some dark times, had some struggles as well, and God used Rich’s story to draw him to the love of God. Dave has said he’s not sure if it wasn’t for what God had done in Rich’s life that he would even be a believer. That was the heart of the story he wanted to tell. Dave’s idea was that if God had used Rich’s story in his life that way, He could still use it that way in other people’s lives.”
Much like Rich Mullins’ life, “Ragamuffin” doesn’t fit neatly into a Sunday sermon, but reveals both a man whose internal demons raged against him and a man whose radical faith flew in the face of church-as-usual Christianity.
The movie’s tagline reads, “His life was a whirlwind. His music was honest. His faith was reckless.”
And true to its tagline, “Ragamuffin” chronicles Rich’s depression, self-doubt and battles with alcohol. It portrays a man clinging to Jesus for every breath and struggling with the fame and fortune his talent brought him. It depicts a musician who challenged the status quo with every note of every song.
At one point in “Ragamuffin,” Rich’s recording-label executive warns him if he keeps sharing the depth of his pain in concert and convicting churchgoers with the sharp insights of his radical faith, he will make more enemies than fans. The sly smile on Rich’s face reveals, frankly, Rich didn’t care: Being real about God was more important than being liked, selling records or even having a job.
In real life, Rich refused the vast majority of the millions he made in royalties, choosing instead to make only the average American’s salary – the rest of his income donated to ministries and charities.
“I think [the movie] is true to how Rich was,” Mullins told WND. “The people who have seen him in concert and the people who were around him were a little shocked at his transparency. But I also think that’s one of the tools God used to minister through him.
“I love the story he told about when he was on a train with David Strasser, one of his really good friends, over in Europe,” Mullins continued. “They were talking about some of their temptations and struggles, and he said they were talking pretty openly because they were in Europe and didn’t think anyone would be speaking English or didn’t think anyone would know who they were. And after this pretty frank conversation, somebody else leaned over and said, ‘Excuse me, but are you Rich Mullins?’
“He said he laughed and had to think back through the conversation and figure out ‘if I was or wasn’t Rich Mullins, and I figured I was, even though I would have liked not to be at that moment. But there was no point in hiding it.’
“Just as in the Scriptures,” Mullins continued, “we see so many times God not really hiding the failures of the saints. He could have. He inspired the Scriptures. But He chose to leave in a lot of things I’m sure the people would probably have liked not to be in, and that reveals the goodness of God and the faithfulness of God even when we fail to be faithful.
“Had we made a movie that just dealt with Rich’s strengths, what people would have seen was, ‘Wow, what a great guy Rich was,'” Mullins said. “Our hope is that in watching the movie you do recognize the passion for God that Rich had, but what you really see is the goodness of God, because whether Rich was or wasn’t a great guy really isn’t going to matter in people’s relationships to God. Who God is – that’s what really makes a difference.”
See the trailer for “Ragamuffin” below:
Right now, “Ragamuffin” is scheduled to appear in a limited number of theaters the weekend of May 2, but if you want to see “Ragamuffin” in a theater near you, the producers are working on a plan to expand it across the nation.
David Mullins explains: “Go to RagamuffinTheMovie.com. There is a tour that has been going on around the country. I think somewhere around 20,000 people have seen the movie in churches and college campuses, prisons, and different ministry groups have brought the movie in.
“But we’re really excited about May 2-4,” he continued. “You can get involved by going to the website, where you can see a banner about bringing movie to your town through a company called Seatzy. If your area can pre-sell over the course of a weekend 500 tickets in any particular town, then Seatzy can book a theater for those three days. You go on and pre-order tickets, and if we sell enough tickets to book it in your town, then you’re charged for it, and if we don’t, then you’re not charged anything. It’s more of a grassroots way to get an independent movie like this to the theater.”
For Mullins, like his brother, however, the desire is not about spreading Rich’s fame or fortune, but about communicating the message God formed through Rich’s life and music.
“Our hope is that people will walk away seeing the love of God and being drawn into that in a deeper way than they have in the past,” Mullins told WND. “People could see it, maybe go get coffee afterwards and talk about the themes, because I think in the midst of those conversations God comes and does what only He can do through the Spirit. We hope people will see in ‘Ragamuffin’ the love of God for Rich and therefore for others and for each of us.”