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Posts Tagged ‘Ragamuffin Band’


Being on vacation we were able to spend an evening, or two, with CavWife’s sister and her husband. Since we had Netflix available on the iPad we decided to watch a movie. CavWife and I have been wanting to watch Ragamuffin and they hadn’t seen it yet.  Since it was over two hours long, and the sisters are not night owls, we turned it into a miniseries.

Ragamuffin is based on the life of the late Rich Mullins. I used to have his first album on vinyl years ago. I still own Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth and A Liturgy, a Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band. He had a prophetic bent that was similar to mine. We shared an appreciation for Francis of Assisi who turned his back on wealth to follow Christ much to the frustration of his father. As Calvin would say, “To scorn this life is not to hate it.” In the movie he seemed to not only scorn it but hate it. You can hear in his music that Rich struggled with this world and its allurements as well as his own sin. As a result, the latter album in particular would encourage me during times of suffering , disappointment and loss.

I still remember being at David Castor’s house when Lenore came in and let us know that Rich had died in a car accident in September 1997. We were all stunned and saddened.

There was a disagreement about this movie along gender lines. The women loved it and the men while appreciating much of it struggled with particular aspects.

Ragamuffin focused on Rich’s fractured relationship with his father. It portrayed him as haunted by the negative statements of his father, like “Why is it that everything you touch breaks?” This inability to connect with or please his father profoundly shaped the Rich portrayed in the movie.

He was also bitter about a relationship with a woman that didn’t turn out the way he wanted. She had a strong sense of what she wanted from life, and while attracted to him recognized that he had a different calling she wanted no part of. Their engagement is not even a part of the movie. At times it seemed as though he wanted no part of it either. He is portrayed as an exceedingly unhappy man.

I don’t mind if a movie shows a man’s weaknesses and sins. That he struggled with alcohol and smoked cigarettes didn’t bother me. What bothered me was his portrayal of a self-absorbed jerk. In the movie you wonder how he could have any friends. He would blame bandmate “Justin” for not being there. There was an unstated need for Justin to keep an eye on him, and protect him from his own temptations.

You wonder how fictionalized this story was. I wonder what his good friends, particularly Beaker aka David Strasser. As I look at biographical information, Justin is probably a version of Beaker who also left their life on the road to start a family. His relationship with Beaker seemed far more significant that portrayed in the movie. While introducing “Hold Me, Jesus” during a concert, Rich talks about listening for Beaker to snore so he could feel tempted in Amsterdam. That was the night he claims to written the song. They apparently shared a room on the road and were best friends by all accounts. In the movie Justin is more of a guitar player, lackey and nearly silent travel companion (though he didn’t “introduce” Rich to Brennan Manning via a sermon tape).

On the other hand, Mitch McKeever who was also a long-time friend portrayed himself in the movie. He was the man in the Jeep with him that night in September 1997. So maybe the portrayal of Rich in Ragamuffin is accurate. Maybe.

If I remember the movie sequence correctly, Rich sings “Hold Me, Jesus” in concert prior to meeting Brennan Manning. This is significant, perhaps, since “Hold Me, Jesus” is on A Liturgy, a Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band. This term, Ragamuffin, was one he got from Manning. As a result, I got the sense that they played a little lose with the chronology to fit their narrative for the story.

His relationship with Brennan Manning was significant in helping him resolve his struggle with God (at least in the movie). I remember hearing Brennan speak at the New Sound Festival (89? The Charlie Peacock Trio and the Choir were among the performers that year) and being brought to tears. He had a profound message of grace and the love of God. Part of what was refreshing about Manning was his honesty about his struggle with alcohol.

There is a key moment in the movie, after Rich drank far too much, that Brennan invites him on a retreat. Rich had been struggling since his father’s death. One day Brennan asked Rich to spend the night alone and write a letter from his father.

What happened next was also seen differently based on gender differences among us. They used flashbacks to those painful moments in his relationship with his father. Then they completed those flashbacks, without explanation. Were they completed memories he had neglected as he focused on the negative, or were they simply what he wished his father had said? The women didn’t really care and found it “emotionally powerful.” The men cared. Was his father a better man than he remembered, or was this just psychological manipulation on his own part?

Our memories matter. We can distort the truth by focusing on part of the memory. These memories then color our relationship either appropriately or inappropriately. We can used them to nurse our bitterness, or grow in appreciation.

In the past my relationship with my father was more complicated than it is today. I focused on particular memories. I grew bitter regarding his very real failures. But those failures are not the sum total of my father. I had to remember other, better, memories too. I am faced with this again as I think of my mother and try to mourn now as Alzheimer’s has largely erased the women I knew.

In the movie there is great ambiguity about these memories. I didn’t really like the ambiguity. But this sequence is used to resolve his father issues so that Rich dies in peace, so to speak.

The movie had a number of scenes in concerts in which Rich is talking. This man comes off a cynical and bitter. Additionally there seems to be little church life except playing concerts. He seemed to have no connection to the church. But during the credits they showed some video of the real Rich Mullins talking during a concert. He seemed very different than the man in the movie, more like the guy I think of when I remember Rich Mullins: funny, not full of himself and pointing people to the church as community. As I think about Ragamuffin I wonder, where was THAT guy? Is he a figment of my imagination or is Ragamuffin a figment of theirs? As the old Tootsie Pop commercial says, the world may never know.

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