My wife and I were privileged to see Ragamuffin: The Movie last night in Louisville, KY. The story is a powerful re-telling of the life and music of Rich Mullins, warts and all.
The story of Rich Mullins is compelling because I sense the need for a larger kind of life and understanding of God that is beyond rule-keeping and is at the same time true and authentic to what the common person (i.e., real actual broken people!) experience in day to day life. Rich was a prophet who reminds us that Jesus let go of all his riches to come and live with us in our weakest and most needy places. Rich could never identify with the strong, glorious Jesus of most churches and Christians. He sought fellowship with the ragamuffin Jesus who identifies with the poor and weak.
Rich had a father wound the size of Indiana and could not easily find God in the midst of it. Song writing seemed to be good therapy for him. He did find God deeply enough and often enough to genuinely experience healing in the love of God and pave the way for many others to experience the same. I would argue that a whole generation of “ragamuffin song-writers” would not have emerged without Rich paving the way in Nashville and beyond. I think of artists such as Andrew Peterson, Jill Phillips, JJ Heller, Jason Gray and Matthew Perryman Jones, and many others. It can be said that the decisions we make chart a course for those who come after us, and Rich certainly charted a course by the decisions he made. It can also be said that the wounds we bear and sins we battle as we cling to Jesus chart a course for other “losers” to follow.
As I reflect on the film, I want to pick out two themes that struck me as especially powerful.
The Experiential Reality of Jesus as Experienced through his Disciples
First, during an interview in the film Rich revealed that he didn’t become a Christian because someone explained all the “nuts and bolts” to him; rather he became a Christian because people were willing to be the “nuts and bolts” to him in personal relationship. He experienced Jesus through his people, and this more than anything else convinced him of the reality of Jesus and his love. Dallas Willard talked about this recently in a way that I think Rich would appreciate (my apologies for the long quote!).
How are we to think about Jesus’s presence today? No doubt volumes could be written on that question, and have been. But the simple fact is that Jesus Christ is present in this world, the only world we have, and in many ways. His teachings, even mangled and broken, have an incredible power to disrupt human systems, including the ones that claim to own him. He is the misfit and thus is available to all who would seek him. His crucifixion and resurrection announce the end of human systems and stand in judgment over them. He is the man on the cross calling us to join him there. He makes himself available to individuals who hear of him and seek him. In many forms both inside and outside the church, with its traditions, symbolisms, and literature, he is simply here among us. He is in his people, but he does not allow himself to be boxed in by them. He calls to us by just being here in our midst. There is nothing like him. The people in the churches also have the option of finding him and following him into his kingdom, though that may rarely be what they are doing.
For many today who think of themselves as educated, historical studies and “higher criticism”—perhaps something they call a “scientific” outlook—have made the person and teachings of Jesus problematic. From where they start, he seems a questionable resource for actually living their lives. He may become for them a scholarly football to kick around or to ignore. But he does not go away. In spite of all, he himself is still available in this world, and beyond all historical issues and confusions there stands a strong if somewhat hazy impression of what he stood for. To come to know him and to clarify who he really is, people have only to stand for what he stood for, as best they can, and to do so by inviting him to take their life into his life and walk with them. If they do just this with humility and openness—which everyone knows to be his manner of life—they will know him more and more as they take his life to be their life. In this way they do not have to “know” at the start. It is enough to venture on the kingdom of God and its King. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).. . . Jesus himself comes through and affirms his reality in the “communion of the Christian with God.” Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today, 147-8.
The Raw Undiluted Love of God as the Only Gospel Worth Living and Building On
Second, Rich came to find refuge in the love of God, largely thanks to the ministry of Brennan Manning and his “Ragamuffin Gospel.” This gospel emphasizes the unconditional love of God as the only viable basis for self-understanding and purpose in life. “God loves us as we are, not as we should be, because none of us is as we should be,” Brennan would frequently say. Brennan challenged Rich to trust in this love, and provided opportunities to do so in their relationship.
In the end, Rich’s story is about the rock-solid reality of the love of Jesus, within reach of every single person who is willing to believe that they are loved by God, and to shape their lives in response to that love. Having an “Oregon-sized” father wound of my own, I wept as I followed Rich’s journey with Jesus as he found healing and release. The ragamuffin Jesus finds us and puts us back together in ways that are messy but deeply life changing and profound.