A protestant minister friend who partners with various ecumenical religious groups, invited me to a Ramadan dinner tonight which, for the first time, lead me to wonder what Ramadan was even about. So I decided to do some research on it and also observe some of the traditions of the holy month in order to better understand what it’s about (I’m not changing my beliefs, just experiencing another tradition for reference). So this morning I started a fast. It’s not as strict as the Islamic rules; I’m drinking water, tea, and juice. I guess it’s more of a detox diet than a full-on fast, but it got me into the spirit of the dinner that I’ll attend tonight at the local Methodist church, a Christian church that goes back over a hundred years here in Austin. Two other seemingly coincidental things happened within just the last few weeks. A friend of mine sent me a DVD of the movie “Ragamuffin” about a Christian musician who lives his life out the way Jesus did while wrestling with the problems of fame, fortune, and traditionalism when his music becomes popular. This comes on the heels of a blog post I recently wrote about the movie 50 shades of Grey and the criticism it received from the traditional Christian church. So with all these religious events and topics coinciding, it made sense to write about this movie.
l first heard of this term “Ragamuffin” when reading the book Brothers Karamazov (Published 1879). One of the main characters was irresponsible with money and didn’t work very hard to build a stable career. Instead he harassed his father for an inheritance that he had unkowningly squandered after his father tricked him into thinking that there was more coming. This son was in competition with other eligible bachelors for the affections of two young women. One of his competitors (if I remember correctly) labeled him a ragamuffin because everyone knew that he had no money. The date of this story shows that the term has a very old origin in conventional wisdom where the lack of money means irresponsible and “ineligible”.
In the movie Ragamuffin, Rich Mullins, as a teenager, is the local church piano player who doesn’t get along with his dad, the farmer, because he’s not good at farming or anything else other than playing the piano. After high school, he leaves home to attend bible school, falls in love with a classmate whom he will probably marry. Then Amy Grant hears one of his songs and decides to record it. When he gets the call from the studio producer with the good news, Mullins takes an arrogant attitude and slams the phone down in refusal. His girlfriend and the rest of his friends are left jaws agape. His girlfriend, is so indignant that she breaks up with him sending him into a tailspin. Eventually, he agrees to give his song to Grant, and as a result, Mullins is hired to work as a writer for the studio. Mullins is doing pretty well financially at this point but he’s not happy just writing. He wants to record his own music and tour and perform for an audience. The producers don’t think this is a good idea because he doesn’t dress well, doesn’t have a marketable look, and his attitude towards the marketing side of the music industry just stinks. He also has a habit of preaching to the audience who, according to the producers, paid money to hear music not get a sermon. Eventually he fights his way through the system, gets his shot (partially because Grant went to bat for him), and makes a lot of money. But, he never got comfortable with the money part of the business. He never even knew how much money he made. His accountant was instructed to send him however much money the average working man received and give the rest away to charity. He copes with the reality that he will not have a conventional life, no wife, no kids, but the meaning of his life is in his music and the impact he has on those around him (this is not the ending and there’s a lot that happens in the story so, no need for a spoiler alert). One takeaway is that his lifestyle falls pretty well in line with that of Christ and his disciples when they were on earth 2000 years ago. The movie itself is not conventional. In the five categories of evaluating a screenplay, this movie falls down in each one. The theme is universal, there are segments of good writing, the main character is well developed and a couple other characters show change but not much else falls in line with the conventional wisdom of what makes for a good movie. In a typical screenplay competition, I would have failed this screenplay. But when you look at the story concept for a film about an unconventional guy who embodies the deeply held faith i.e. an unconventional concept for unconventional living, combined with the documentary nature of the story and the potential for seeing how real themes played out in real life, I think, when the dust settles, Ragamuffin gets a pass.
The interesting thing about this story is that the main character becomes so down on himself that he resorts to alcoholism. He keeps trying to get his girlfriend back (whom he met at bible church) and constantly wrestles with the Christian music industry for what he believes is right. I speculate that he is so disturbed by the developments in his life because the people he threw in with were all Christians and, in his mind, his Christian friends were not walking the talk as exemplified by Jesus Christ. Hearing some of his preaching during the concert scenes, you get the impression that he thought that religion had become more of a tradition of convention and comfort rather than one of community and compassion. He must have believed that Christians always do what they should based on scripture (which we don’t) and though flawed (Romans 3:23), eventually our people will all come around (which we won’t). We hear a lot of anti-muslim rhetoric in the post 911 era, and the president refuses to label terrorist attacks for what they are – two extreme sides of the same polarized society coin. In this post-industrial age that we find ourselves thrown into, there’s a lot of space in-between two poles of any issue and thats where the peace is. Middle Eastern countries have lots of religious people and so does the West. We have devout Christians who actually study and try to do whats right with God inspired wisdom and knowledge and we also have Sunday Christians who don’t really study enough but have lots to say about social issues and Christian duty. I imagine that the Eastern part of the world is the same way and I know by watching You Tube that not all Middle Eastern countries interpret their scripture or apply the Muslim teachings and rules in the same way. And, if the principles behind Ramadan, as espoused by my google search, are halfway accurate, then the dinner tonight should be a good experience with good people.