Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Review of "Ragamuffin: The True Story of Rich Mullins"

 
 As many long term readers of this blog know, I am a huge Rich Mullins fan. I have listened to his music since the 1980's. When I discovered him, I was in medical school and had just recorded my first song with my hammer dulcimer. I thought I was doing something new and revolutionary, adding HD to contemporary Christian music lyrics.  After I heard Rich, I quietly decided that I would "hand my pinball crown to him" realizing he was already doing what I dreamed of doing.
    Years later, Rich's pursuit of simple living and Franciscan spirituality started me on a journey that would eventually lead to my reversion to the Catholic faith.  I later discovered that Rich was pursuing becoming Catholic and was a week away from entry into the Church before his untimely death.  After his death I kept his photo on the top of my hammer dulcimer and would ask him to pray for me before every concert as I opened with an original dulcimer tune in the style of Rich.
   Now fast forward to this spring when Rich's brother and a movie producer released "Ragamuffin: The True Story of Rich Mullins."  I was initially excited to see the movie though I was concerned that there would be little to no mention of his desire for Catholic conversion.I ( I had written to his brother David after I became Catholic and he told me "Rich had no intention of ever becoming Catholic.")  As a matter of fact, his journey to the Catholic Church was removed from the story with surgical precision and one would never know that Rich spent his last days going to daily Mass on the reservation.
    Unfortunately, as I watched the movie, I saw a side of Rich that was carefully hidden from his record buying public all these years.  The Nashville CCM industry did a wonderful job making sure know one knew the double life Rich was leading. One can only wonder why is brother now felt the need to tell the true story. Was he always jealous of Rich? Is it that the record royalties are all dried up now?
     I was devastated by the time I walked out of the little storefront church showing the film. What I learned about Rich is that he had a lifelong struggle with alcohol and possibility other substances and was prone to fits of rage and often alienated those closest to him. As a physician, I recognize that Rich probably suffered from chronic depression worsened by his unresolved conflict with an abusive father. He self -medicated by chain-smoking and binge drinking. However, in between his episodes of debauchery, he would be onstage making young people believe that he was pursuing God with all his might. He often criticized folks in his concerts for relying on comfort and believing in the American "prosperity gospel. "  Yes, he presented himself as a flawed individual, yet he continued to preach from the stage and "minister" to those who attended his concerts.  He is now being held up as a great example of how God loves and uses a flawed and "complex" individual. Many are reviewing the film saying it gave them hope.
    The problem is the "True Story" never presented the real story. Rich was an alcoholic with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness who was a gifted songwriter and became a celebrity among the contemporary evangelical culture. The Real Story is that at some level Rich knew his way of practicing  Christianity was not providing him the grace and strength to overcome his addictions.  He knew he was living a double life.  This ultimately led to his pursuit of Catholicism and his desire to go to confession and receive the Eucharist as outlined in this letter from his friend Father Matt McGuiness.  Rich knew there was something more to Christianity and thankfully started to pursue it through learning about the Catholic faith.  Sadly he never got there on this side of the veil.  The movie never even touched on Rich's pursuit of Catholicism and thus the "True Story" ended up as a sad and sordid tale of a gifted Christian artist trapped in mortal sin, desperately trying to change, but not knowing how.  It was not redemptive in any sense of the word.
    My biggest criticism of the movie and the Ragamuffin Gospel in general is that those who follow it will do just as the movie showed- never getting past their sin, never repenting, just accepting that "Jesus loves me the way I am."  Of course, "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" and He loves us as the Father loved the Prodigal son covered with mud and pig excrement. But, He then asks us to come to his house to be forgiven and change the way we live.  The movie never showed that Rich was trying, through his pursuit of the Franciscan lifestyle (ie Catholicism), to get his life together.  I believe his desire to leave the Nashville music/ party scene and ultimately end up attending daily mass on the Reservation was proof of this trajectory. It is extremely sad and disturbing that his brother would make a movie showing the darkness and duplicity of Rich's troubled life ignoring the very truth that would have made all the difference in the world for him.

13 Comments:

Blogger Trish Holbrook said...

Russ, thank- you for your insightful analysis of the portrayal of Rich's life.
I was so moved by the obvious as well: that Rich suffered an emotional disturbance , mental illness , of some type, and was experiencing intense emotional pain his entire life.
I was so angered that I passionately told my husband , when I knew the crash was coming , " That was NOT God's perfect will for Rich's life!"
God's will would have involved Rich getting help, support, prayer, and perhaps medication to become stable. Perhaps even be able to let a woman into his intimate life and experience true connection.
No one in this movie layed hands on him in prayer. No one invited him to come to a support group. Thank God for groups like Celebrate Recovery, which helped
me.

This movie wasnt about what a bad sinner Rich was. Some people that do not understand mental illness will misunderstand what is going on in this movie as an expression of , " cheap grace"
That is sad to me. What we dont see acknowledged in this movie is the reality that although he suffered intense emotional pain, he did his best to fight it. He did more with his emotional handicap than most people could. He should not have had to suffer the way he did and then have people misunderstand what he really fought..not a rotten character, but pain that would have killed most people much sooner.
I am looking forward to meeting him in Heaven and giving him a hug. It is time Christians deal with issues of mental illness head on. Some people have physical handicaps, and other mental. There is help. There is support. There is understanding and love. Thank you for reading this.

October 03, 2014 11:24 PM  
Blogger Trish Holbrook said...

Russ, thank- you for your insightful analysis of the portrayal of Rich's life.
I was so moved by the obvious as well: that Rich suffered an emotional disturbance , mental illness , of some type, and was experiencing intense emotional pain his entire life.
I was so angered that I passionately told my husband , when I knew the crash was coming , " That was NOT God's perfect will for Rich's life!"
God's will would have involved Rich getting help, support, prayer, and perhaps medication to become stable. Perhaps even be able to let a woman into his intimate life and experience true connection.
No one in this movie layed hands on him in prayer. No one invited him to come to a support group. Thank God for groups like Celebrate Recovery, which helped
me.

This movie wasnt about what a bad sinner Rich was. Some people that do not understand mental illness will misunderstand what is going on in this movie as an expression of , " cheap grace"
That is sad to me. What we dont see acknowledged in this movie is the reality that although he suffered intense emotional pain, he did his best to fight it. He did more with his emotional handicap than most people could. He should not have had to suffer the way he did and then have people misunderstand what he really fought..not a rotten character, but pain that would have killed most people much sooner.
I am looking forward to meeting him in Heaven and giving him a hug. It is time Christians deal with issues of mental illness head on. Some people have physical handicaps, and other mental. There is help. There is support. There is understanding and love. Thank you for reading this.

October 03, 2014 11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watching "Ragamuffin..." I was screaming inside does anyone see what I see...thank you for being spot on! Even with his internal struggles, he strives for a life that has purpose and serves...he did well!

October 12, 2014 12:44 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Webfoot said...

He must have also suffered from terrible stage fright. All kinds of musicians use all kinds of drugs to be able to get out there and perform - even classical musicians in symphony orchestras.

Love his music, too. Thanks.

December 12, 2014 11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your write up. As a recovering alcoholic myself I saw through the movie and understood. I had thought he had already converted to Catholism. The movie was vague in several areas that clarification would have helped.

The pain which we alcoholics suffer just is not understood by others that are not addicts. If I had not been through recovery I would not have understood the movie much at all. I think that sometimes the most tormented souls end up being the closest to God.

I am thankful for his story it has helped me on my journey. C.

December 24, 2014 11:10 AM  
Blogger Howard said...

I can identify with both Rich and your analysis because for me being evangelical was not enough to face life and to draw closer to Jesus and change things that needed changing in my life. I had to become a Catholic to find the graces that God has provided in the Catholic Church and that I so desperately needed.

January 08, 2015 2:40 AM  
Blogger russ rentler said...

Amen Howard: I think one of the best arguments for the power and truth of Catholicism is to look at the lives of those who allow themselves to be open to all the graces found in the sacraments of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church

January 10, 2015 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please keep in mind that the movie does not necessarily represent Rich's personality and flaws accurately. I knew Rich personally and knew about his drinking, etc. In my opinion, Rich did not live a double life. The character in the movie is not the Rich that I knew. Rich was flawed and sometimes childish, like the rest of us, but the movie seems to exaggerate his flaws for effect.

January 23, 2015 1:35 PM  
Blogger Russ Rentler, M.D. said...

Dear anon
I appreciate your comment. One still has to wonder what effect the producer was attempting to show ? Seriously, Rich ended up looking like a modern day Elmer Gantry, and I struggle to understand why his brother would want his legacy to be painted as such. I understand falling to temptation from time to time, but the Rich portrayed in the movie was a mentally ill substance abuser with no redemptive aspects ever brought out. People now see the movie and use Rich as a role model to continue in their sins because " they are broken and God still loves them just like Rich" true saints didn't live a life of debauchery punctuated by brilliant moments of public speaking and preaching.

January 23, 2015 2:01 PM  
Blogger Dr. Diane Dickinson said...

During a time in my life when my life hung between the scales, the words and music of Rich Mullins lulled me back into a life that grew in a deeper, nearer relationship to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I was dissappointed in the moveie, . I know that it revealed a layer of truth but so much of Rich's life was left out. His life in missions, and giving to others. I think the movie unfortuantley instead of helping to point folks to the faith will give them another opportunity to back away from the faith. Truth is truth. I am a big truth fan. There is another element that is equally as significant. Honor, respect and the overall outcome. The movie really has no overall beneficial outcome. Disappointed
in the movie and all the more understanding of the fallen character of man. This is why we need Jesus!

May 18, 2015 11:57 AM  
Blogger Russ Rentler, M.D. said...

Amen Dr Diane!!!

May 18, 2015 12:05 PM  
Anonymous Lori L said...

Hi Russ, long time no see! I was just reading your review on the Ragamuffin film and the comments of others here and wanted to weigh in. I spoke at length with Dave Schultz a few times while planning to have a showing of the film because, as you probably remember, Rich Mullins was a huge influence on my life and ultimately led me back to Christ in a deeper and richer, more real way that I had always longed for. I spent the last 10 years learning his music, reading his words, doing mission work with his friends and family, attending retreats lead by his brother David and his friends Alyssa and Tammy who created The Legacy of a Kid Brother of St. Frank. I've had conversations with his frend and mentee, Mitch McVicker (who was in the crash with him and lived with him on the rez), and also his friends Shiela and Frank, who live in Tempe, AZ where Rich and his friends debuted the musical "Canticle of the Plains" at the Catholic church they attend and whose pastor/priest was very close to Rich. All that said, what I conclude is the Ragamuffin film is a film for people who are struggling with alcohol/addiction/depression/history of abuse issues - you know the common man's problems in this culture today - and they chose to cut through the sugar coated Christianese that most grade B Christian cheesy films are saturated with and show a real man's real struggles with all of the above. To portray that, they combined several characters, several family members, and even quite a few of the women in Rich's life into one in order to try and tell a complicated story. Rich never claimed to be a saint, and people always put him on a pedestal. The film focused on the addiction/depression/abuse stuff because the filmmaker, Dave Schultz suffered from all of those things and hit his own bottom and was redemed by Christ and inspired by Rich's music and life. He figured it could lead a lot of folks to seek after Christ. David Mullins knows the ravages of emotional and physical abuse, addiction, mental illness and depression as much as anyone as very close family members have also died of the disease. Catholics claim Rich Mullins, evangelical protestants claim Rich Mullins, and everyone in between who knew and loved him knows that whether or not Rich was going to convert to RC doesn't even matter. Rich was not about religion - he was about God's redemptive love and mercy and boldly spoke of it. Brennan Manning was such a great influence on him - a Franciscan priest who left the church, got married, was alcoholic, was a chronic storyteller/fibber(?), and someone who broke through the bullshit that nobody else could at a time when Rich was bottoming out in his own life. That's how recovery works - one alcoholic/broken earthling to another - one broken Christian whose cheese isn't all the way on their cracker to another. The film would be offensive to someone who doesn't understand that. Especially if one put him up on a pedestal. Granted, there are many other facets to Rich's amazing life - lots of great ones - but that his brokenness and heartache and, yeah, mental illness could speak to someone who can't talk to Christians about it, or to people around them who are too Holy to share their pain with, the film could be a great relief valve. I get it. I get where both Dave's were coming from. There will probably be other films or books about Rich - or maybe their won't. But this one was directed at the ragamuffins. I think it's really good and I've seen it impact others and point them toward Christ, which is what the whole thing is about anyway, isn't it? Sorry this is so long - hope you're well. Stay tuned for the Brennan Manning film coming out soon from the same team!

September 16, 2015 12:28 AM  
Anonymous JC said...

I think Lori L. hit the nail on the head. Everything she said about the purpose of the film as well as understanding it's not about religion but a spiritual journey. Some of the comments others made alluded to the thought that the movie enables Christians to understand that God loves them even when they are lousy sinners...engulfed in sin even...and gives them license to continue sinning. I don't think the movie sends that message. I think the movie sends the message that even when we sin, over and over again because we are habitual and depraved...God loves us. Not loves us while shaking his head ashamedly...but embraces us and passionately LOVES us...no matter what filth we are covered in. Accepts us. Thinks we are amazing. Does he want us to repent, leave our sin behind and turn to him? Yes. But is his 100% acceptance and love dependent on that? No. We cannot comprehend it. But just as we love our children no matter what...ugliness and all, he loves us. Our own children may disappoint us or lead lives that sadden us, but we are still 100% in love with them and proud of them. I have found immense freedom in the fact that God already thinks I am amazing...just as I am. As a Christian, I will have ups and downs and in Rich's case, he had mental illness to boot. It would be a terrible thing to feel that God doesn't fully accept and love me when I am disobedient. I am so glad I am a child of the Living God, who's love and acceptance and pride in all of his children is unfathomable and unconditional. I too was conflicted after seeing how Rich struggled. I am kind of puzzled why no one in his life recognized the signs of depression....or maybe they did and the movie omitted those parts. However, I am thankful to David Schultz and Rich's brother who desired to tell the truth from their perspective. It helps us all to see the struggles Christians face. God meant for us to share our stories to help us in our spiritual journey. Maybe this movie will get the conversation started.

May 13, 2016 7:40 PM  

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