(From John’s website http://www.www.thebeautifuldue.wordpress.com)
I met Brennan Manning at the Christian Booksellers Association Convention in New Orleans during the summer of 2000. He signed a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel for me. I guess I spent less than five minutes in his presence and he probably only spoke a handful of soft-spoken words, but something about him greatly affected me. I think it was his eyes. I just wrote, rewrote, and deleted at least a half dozen sentences trying to describe that experience, but I can’t get it right without sounding like some crazy Brennan Manning groupie, which I’m not.
In fact, the first time I read The Ragamuffin Gospel, I struggled with its message. I felt like it let Christians off the hook too easily and didn’t demand enough from them. It made grace seem “cheap.” We can talk more about that in a little while, but the point I’m trying to make is that I didn’t stand in line to have Brennan Manning sign my book because I was one of his biggest fans. But when I left, something about him made me wish I could just be in his presence for a little while longer. When I looked in his face, I saw love, humility, but also sadness. Something about that meeting really touched my heart in a way I don’t seem to be able to explain. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience like that with someone you’d never met, but the experience of meeting him has never left me.
Several months ago, Meredith told me that her husband John was writing a book with Brennan about Brennan’s life and I’ve been anxiously waiting for it ever since. Brennan is in his late 70s now. His health is failing and my guess is that this book with John will be his last. The book came out a few weeks ago. I was finally able to get a copy and I finished it yesterday…while I was supposed to be finishing my laundry.
It wrecked me.
Knowing that these could very well be Brennan’s last words certainly set the tone for a heart-breaking read, but the transparency and vulnerability of the book left me undone.
This past year has been the hardest year of my spiritual life. I have drawn sharp boundaries between my everyday life on the outside and my relationship with God. One world is full of sunshine and hope. The other is a dark place. I don’t want to discuss it with you here right now, but I say it to let you know that the Amy who read The Ragamuffin Gospel is in a very different place than the one who read All is Grace. From where I stand right now, I couldn’t even afford the “cheap grace” that was afforded the Ragamuffin in his book.
Which is why Brennan’s story in All is Grace brings me to my knees.
Brennan’s story isn’t pretty. His life has been a mess. According to the way the story’s supposed to go in Christian circles, he was supposed to fight alcoholism and win and live happily ever after with lots of speaking engagements and book deals. That’s not the way this story goes. Everybody loves the story of the sinner saved by grace who lives life as a New Creation and never goes back to the old ways ever again. Those are the people God loves and uses to change the world for His glory.
But what about those who know Him and still fall short of His glory? It doesn’t make sense. How could those of us who have known God’s grace and favor ever choose another way over His? What do you do with those of us who were on the path to do big things for God only to find ourselves sitting on the side of the wrong road questioning the whole process? Because I’ve been there. I am there.
This book didn’t tie all loose ends up neatly at the end. I finished it with more questions than answers. But what I took away is a reminder that God doesn’t love me because I’m good enough to love. He loves me even when I don’t love Him back. He doesn’t always choose his straight A students to make His glory known to the world. He often chooses the remedial students who’ve been held back and keep having to repeat grades.
This book doesn’t glorify or make light of sin or bad choices. Brennan Manning’s life is a daily reminder of the consequences of his alcoholism. His disease has cost him so much.
I used to think that to endorse an author I had to completely agree with everything he or she wrote. I don’t think that anymore because I even disagree with myself a lot these days. I just wanted to tell you that this book touched my heart and spoke love into a dark place that hasn’t felt much of anything in awhile.
Here’s who John said was the intended audience for his book. I certainly fit the criteria. Maybe you do, too:All is Grace was written in a certain frame of mind – that of a ragamuffin. Therefore, this book is by the one who thought he’d be farther along by now, but he’s not. It is by the inmate who promised the parole board he’d be good, but he wasn’t. It is by the dim-eyed who showed the path to others, but kept losing his way. It is by the wet-brained who believed if a little wine is good for the stomach, then a lot is great. It is by the liar, tramp, and thief; otherwise known as the priest, speaker, and author. It is by the disciple whose cheese slid off his cracker so many times he said ‘to hell with cheese-n-crackers.’ It is by the young at heart but old of bone who is led these days in a way he’d rather not go. But, this book is also for the gentle ones who’ve lived among wolves. It is for those who’ve broken free of collar to romp in fields of love and marriage and divorce. It is for those who mourn, who’ve been mourning most of their lives, yet they hang on to shall be comforted. It is for those who’ve dreamed of entertaining angels, but found instead a few friends of great price. It is for the younger and elder prodigals who’ve come to their senses again, and again, and again, and again. It is for those whose strain at pious piffle because they’ve been swallowed by Mercy itself. This book is for myself and those who have been around the block enough times that we dare to whisper the ragamuffin’s rumor – all is grace. (I copied this straight from John’s website. He’s a poet with a way with words who always makes me think. Sometimes he makes me cringe. Sometimes he makes me mad. Sometimes he makes me laugh. Sometimes he breaks my heart. He always makes me think.) Thank you, John. And thank you, Brennan. Peace of Christ to you.