If you want a religion that makes sense, I suggest something other than Christianity. – Rich Mullen
Originally, I thought Ragamuffin was a reference to reggae or to Bob Marley. According to the film, a ragamuffin is a soul that is broken, knows its brokenness, and does nothing but beg God for mercy. The word does set the tone for the biographical film about the life of Rich Mullen, a Christian singer and artist who oftentimes went onstage barefoot, just like he figured Jesus would. His barefoot, plain stage appearance reveals a quality of naturalness, lack of front, authenticity, and uncultured simplicity. In this way he was free. He withdrew from the pressures of being a Christian rock star and retreated to just being a ragamuffin.
The above quote also tells us something about the man’s humility. Mullen was not a man of reason, or of logic, or of philosophy. He was far from being the self-righteous or boastful Christian of infamy. He was an artist, the kind of artist that craved darkness, pain, brokenness, for inspiration. And he had plenty of it.
Rejected by a father who was emotionally illiterate, who never told him he loved him, who was distant and frequently abusive, Mullen sought refuge in Christ … in whom he found the perfect role model for his brokenness. The paternity of Joseph, presumably, was in question. It’s not at all difficult to imagine that Jesus sublimated his longing for daddy-love by channeling it towards God, whom he called Abba, the Aramaic word for Daddy. A Father in the Sky had no power to break him, to abandon him, to reject him. A Father in the Sky could be fashioned to love a broken soul and never hurt it. It was safe, even if infinitely more distant than a real father. This fundamental vulnerability characterizes both Jesus and Rich Mullen and gives us a glimpse into the psychological features of Christianity from its inception: a cry from a vulnerable mortal who seeks safety in the retrieval of lost affections.
Admittedly, there is a huge lack of love in this world and there is a place in the souls of most mortals where these longings could easily find a home.
Like many other artists, Mullen was also the quintessential introvert: he was subjective and thirsty for passion and for life, and apparently suffered from chronic depression. It’s unclear if his faith and his heart-felt music made it worse. It’s more likely it made it easier to bear, and to express his feelings.
Mullen didn’t seek or want to be perfect. He thought it hypocritical to say one was born again. He fully embraced his brokenness, his pain, which he felt powerless to escape. I found the film quite moving because of this. Anyone can understand the very human emotions that play out in Mullen’s life.
Although the film is not a musical, there are few instances where his songs are an important part of the Ragamuffin movie experience. The most ecstatic piece he sang was This World Is Not My Home, a performance which takes place right after a key point in the narrative. His was a beautiful rendition of the song and, in the film, was accentuated by Old World bagpipes. This one scene made the entire movie worth watching. The version I share below is from a 1992 live performance with raw voice only.
While listening to this, immediately I felt the contrast between Christianity, with its embrace of pain and sorrow and brokenness, and Epicureanism with its embrace of this life and this material reality. To us, this world IS our home and there is no point in crying to be delivered from it. But it does touch the heartstrings to hear this song performed by a soul that concealed as much pain as Rich Mullen did, particularly when so many insights into his painful life are shared in the film.
Ragamuffin is a tender movie that shows the humanity and vulnerability of an unadorned, broken, sincere, faithful Christian.