I thought that I would follow up “Ragamuffin Gospel” (http://justinfarley.blogspot.com/2011/12/ragamuffin.html) by reading Brennan Manning’s newly released memoirs titled “All is Grace.” I am glad that I did.
It was a tough read. We all struggle to see the humanity in our heroes. To discover that they too have chinks in their armor. That they might not even have practiced what they have preached. That they did not live up to their own convictions. That they had skeletons hidden far away in their closets.
Scholars still debate the thorn that tormented the Apostle Paul. Was it physical? Social? Relational? Emotional? The Bible reads, “I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:1-10, ESV).
Manning’s biggest struggle might not have been with alcohol as much as it was with his own mother. He writes, “The phone rings and you’re given a choice – answer it or not. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have sidestepped it like a land mine. But I answered it. It turned out to be a foghorn of bad news.
The voice on the other end on the other end belonged to someone I loved. My sister spoke two words: “Mom died.’ It was February 1993.
After we hung up, I was aware of nothing but a single emotion. I could tell you that I felt sadness or regret or even fear, but I’ve vowed to be ruthlessly honest with myself in these pages. After Gerry called, all I thought was ‘God, what bother.’ I packed a bag and booked the flight.
‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ Surely the priest spoke those words over the casket of my mother, Amy Manning, but I cannot be certain because I missed my mother’s funeral. I was back at the motel waking up from a blackout, trying to remember where I was.
The fact was that I was in a motel room in Belmar, New Jersey. But the truth was that I was in some distant place, having squandered my mother’s last respects with drunkenness. In that moment I felt the most profound shame in my life. ‘My God, what kind of man am I? How could that have happened?’
I didn’t visit my mother’s gravesite later that day either. The reality is I’ve never visited it” (175-177).
Though I don’t personally enjoy hearing of such great brokenness – I am certain that we do need more honest dialogue. The truth is, there are a lot of divided and devastated people that call themselves Christ followers…you and I are a part of that equation…and we must be determined in providing and protecting an environment where hope and healing win out at the end of the day.
Brennan Manning has a sad story. But I pray that this is not the end for him. I pray the same for all of us.