On Friday night, we finally got around to watching Ragamuffin on Netflix.
I first found Rich Mullins shortly after I first came to Christ, so that would have been around 1992. I say “came to Christ,” when “fumbling around with my eyes closed, hoping I’d bump into Him” might be more accurate. I was waffling between just finding some nice, sensible non-denominational Christian fellowship to join, or throwing my lot in with the Catholics. Little did I know that Rich Mullins himself was fighting a strikingly similar battle.
Whether I went to InterVarsity or Christopher House, we all sang “Awesome God.”
A year or so later, after I had (however reluctantly) realized, “Well, I guess I’m Catholic,” I was on the road with a Protestant friend and fellow cast member in a travelling production of The Hobbit. Had I heard the newest Rich Mullins album? I hadn’t. My buddy had it on cassette tape (because we were poor theatre majors and that’s all his old car could play), so I read the liner notes while the music played and we rolled toward our next gig.
I heard a tentative sketch of a Catholic Mass on that tape. I saw the Apostles Creed as song lyrics. I saw pictures of old stone Mary statues in the liner. I don’t think I said it out loud, as not to offend my Reformed driver, but I remember thinking, “Rich Mullins has gone Catholic, too. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
In 1997, I remember learning just a few days after returning from my honeymoon that Rich Mullins had perished in a car crash. I was devastated. A few years after that, I learned from a priest friend of one of Mullins’s priest friends that Rich had been taking RCIA and was days from receiving his first Eucharist when a truck stopped him from outright crossing the Tiber. It was like hearing of his death all over again. So when I saw that Ragamuffin was going to be an actual thing, I was excited… and curious.
Protestants were making this movie. Would they tell the Truth, even if it was hard for them?
There was much I did not know about Rich that I learned from the movie. I honestly had never heard anything about his problems with depression, addictions or substance abuse. [I admittedly have kept my head under a rock since Rich died when it comes to contemporary Christian Music; it seemed like, if he wasn’t making any more music, then what was the point?] I also learned about Brennan Manning and his Ragamuffin Gospel (about whom and which I still know so little that I can’t even give you a link that seems reliable and/or flush with information). Admittedly, I was just impressed that the filmmakers admitted anything at all about Rich’s interest in Catholicism. They indicated his interest in, if not devotion to, St. Francis. They even let slip a mention of Rich reading Chesterton. I was pleasantly surprised.
I really, truly enjoyed the film. 4.5 stars, if I knew a forum in which to give them. I feel good about telling you to see it.
That said, however, and upon reflection, I have to wonder if the filmmakers told the Truth about Rich Mullins. A significant part of the plot was given over to his time with Brennan Manning, an evangelist who left the Catholic priesthood and doesn’t seem to have returned before his own passing. Okay, fine. But the filmmakers deliberately chose not to show Rich Mullins even setting foot in a single Catholic church, much less his attending RCIA. Why did they leave this significant, downright professionally risky business out but keep Manning’s influence in?
I have to wonder about this, because I’m a storyteller, too. I have made the Truth my business, even if the Truth wears a fiction suit, speaking to them in parables and all that. Can I keep uncomfortable Truth out of my stories when it might offend my Catholic sensibilities, just like it seems the Protestant makers of Ragamuffin did? Or can that sort of thing be just a matter of point-of-view? From a Protestant POV, is it unTruthful to gloss over your hero’s flirtation with Rome even while showing him chain smoking and chugging from the bottle? What was so frightening to the Ragamuffin production team about showing Rich Mullins calling a priest and telling him, “I HAVE TO RECEIVE THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST”?
What Truth is frightening me away from telling the stories God asks me to tell? What Truth is frightening you?
If we storytellers are to “penetrate concrete reality,” as Flannery O’Connor says we must, we must be braver than bias. Were the makers of Ragamuffin that brave? I feel I can’t answer that. I’m not sure I can tell from my Catholic point-of-view.