Apr 13, 2013

Death of a witness to vulgar grace: Brennan Manning, 1934 - 2013


Brennan Manning, a former priest, alcoholic, and author of the spiritual classic The Ragamuffin Gospel, who wrote extensively on the theme of grace and God's love, died yesterday at the age of 78. He would have been 79 this month. 

From his memoir, All is Grace, his last book:
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... 
Sin and forgiveness and falling and getting back up and losing the pearl of great price in the couch cushions but then finding it again, and again, and again? Those are the stumbling steps to becoming Real, the only script that's really worth following in this world or the one that's coming. Some may be offended by this ragamuffin memoir, a tale told by quite possibly the repeat of all repeat prodigals. Some might even go so far as to call it ugly. But you see that doesn't matter, because once you are Real you can't be ugly except to people who don't understand...that yes, all is grace. It is enough. And it's beautiful.
Christianity Today published a good piece on Manning and his ministry -- and influence on American evangelicals -- in 2005. The article notes how Manning's message of grace spoke to those who felt like they were faking their way through life, but wanted something more than the usual self-help fare:
His light denim jeans are cheekily patched up with colorful squares. It's as if to remind himself and me, 'Don't think I'm a saint. I'm a ragamuffin, you're a ragamuffin, and God loves us anyway.' In his bestseller The Ragamuffin Gospel (Multnomah, 1990), he writes that 'justification by grace through faith means that I know myself accepted by God as I am.' He explains, 'Genuine self-acceptance is not derived from the power of positive thinking, mind games, or pop psychology. It is an act of faith in the grace of God alone.'[....] 
We sit down, and Manning tells me that there's nothing he'd rather do than what he has done for 41 years: help sinners journey from self-hatred to self-acceptance. 
He's been there -- or, to put it more accurately -- he is there, traveling this road daily, never too far from a character he calls the Imposter. Everyone's got one. It's 'the slick, sick, and subtle impersonator of my true self.' The persona craves to be liked, loved, approved, accepted, to fit in. 'It's the self that refuses to accept that my true self, centered in Christ, is really more likeable, more attractive, and more real than the fallen self.'
On his facebook page, a statement from Manning's family reads: "While he will be greatly missed we should all take comfort in the fact that he is resting in the loving arms of his Abba."