I must interrupt the series on Care-Taking to share how I’ve taken care of myself today.
I’ve stayed (mostly) in bed reading Brennan Manning’s last book, All Is Grace, from cover to cover.
After a finicky start this morning, it’s turned out to be a gorgeous wild and windy winter day. But I’m not allowing myself to feel guilty about not getting out into it. Sometimes retreats are more than luxuries; they are necessities. This past brutal week required recovery time. So I’ve skipped out of my own story for a couple of hours to wholeheartedly enter Brennan’s. This last book is the story of his life.
Brennan is quite possible my favorite (self-styled) Notorious Sinner. I stumbled upon his Ragamuffin Gospel in a bookstore years ago without prior knowledge of the author. I was tearing up before I left the parking lot, just glancing at a page or two.
Soon after, a friend loaned me some of Brennan’s tapes. I put one in while driving to a nearby town.
Had to pull over to the side of the road.
Maybe it’s because I’m really a Notorious Sinner myself, not just an Average one, as I wrote on my first blog. Maybe it’s because Brennan makes the reality of grace so crystal clear to someone who’s still a bit muddled and befuddled about the whole thing.
But this man gets to me in his brokenness and honesty and tenacity… in his saintliness and his depravity… in his eloquence and inconsistency.
His message gives me hope.
In 2006, I was privileged to hear him speak at Bel-Air Presbyterian in Los Angeles. By that time, he was already in his decline, suffering health problems that would soon end his career as a speaker. I suppose we gave him a standing ovation when he ended his talk. Or at least applauded wildly.
Instead of taking a bow, he turned and applauded the cross behind him.
|(I know this story is in the archives somewhere.)|
It’s not me, he was saying. It’s all Him.
All is Grace will most likely be Brennan’s final word to the rest of us ragamuffins and notorious sinners. It’s almost a confessional, the former priest setting out his sins for a final review before departure. I don’t recommend it as a first Brennan book. Start with Ragamuffin or one of the other early ones. As Phil Yancey writes in the introduction, we must “look to his other books for a full picture of the treasure inside.”
But even now, at the end of a long, painful journey, marred by humiliating scrapes and falls, he attests to the truth of his life’s message:
All is grace.
From his concluding pages:
“Some have labeled my message one of “cheap grace.” In my younger days, their accusations were a gauntlet thrown down, a challenge. But I’m an old man now and I don’t care. My friend Mike Yaconelli used the phrase unfair grace, and I like that, but I have across another I would like to leave you with. I believe Mike would like it; I know I do. I found it in the writings of the Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon. He calls it vulgar grace.
In Jesus, God has put up a “Gone Fishing” sign on the religion shop. He has done the whole job in Jesus once and for all and simply invited us to believe it—to trust the bizarre, unprovable proposition that in him, every last person on earth is already home free without a single religious exertion: no fasting till your knees fold, no prayers you have to get right or else, no standing on your head with your right thumb in your left ear and reciting the correct creed-- no nothing…. The entire show has been set to rights in the Mystery of Christ—even though nobody can see a single improvement. Yes, it’s crazy. And yes, it’s wild and outrageous, and vulgar. And any God who would do such a thing is a God who has no taste. And worst of all, it doesn’t sell worth beans. But it is Good News—the only permanently good news there is – and therefore I find it absolutely captivating.
My life is a witness to vulgar grace-- a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief's request -- "Please, remember me" -- and assures him, "You bet!"... This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It's not cheap. It's free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.”
That is the best news there is for those of us who struggle with being “good enough.”
Are there any other Ragamuffins out there?
Anyone else who likes to read all day?
Here's some vintage Brennan for an early Valentine's gift: