In his sermons and books, Brennan Manning's message has remained unchanging: "God loves you as you are and not as you should be." Throughout his ministry, Manning has brought countless and diverse disciples to the awareness and acceptance of the love of "Abba" in the face of Jesus. Over the years, Manning has framed this message in so many ways...personal stories, parables, Scripture, theology, earthy experiences, glorious revelations and painful epiphanies--always with a unique passion for God's love. Now finally, Manning does his best to offer the message grace once more in part memoir, part confessions, part teachings of God's truth, part story in All is Grace.
Manning gives readers chronological sketches of his life that hit the highlights of his boyhood home life, beginning college, joining the Marines during the Korean Conflict, going to seminary, joining the Franciscans then the Little Brothers of Jesus, starting a Christian community in Alabama, ministering on a college campus, and then pursuing speaking and ministry engagements. Brennan shares how in the midst of these events he struggled with alcoholism to the point of being a falling down drunk that required treatment more than once. He also shares how he fell in love with a woman who would become his wife and then his ex-wife and the reason for him leaving the Roman Catholic priesthood. But once a priest, always a priest, as one of his friends writes in the book.
I became acquainted with Brennan Manning in 1990 when I came across a couple cassette tape sets of "A Week of Renewal" that Manning had done for parishes in 1976 and 1977. I listened to the tapes until they would no longer play and I had portions of them memorized. I have read all of his books and given away most of them for others to read, saying "You have to read this!"
In All is Grace, readers will hear some of the same stories that never cease to move us closer to God. We also see new glimpses into Manning's life, struggles and triumphs. These are particularly appreciated. Manning avoids details of his sins and failures but points them out enough for readers to know that any steps forward in his life were closely followed by steps backward. Like Philip Yancey in the foreword, I wonder about Manning's confession to breaking all of the Ten Commandments over again. Is this literal or figurative? In his heart, at least, they appear literal to Manning.
Manning emphasizes his addiction to alcoholism and its destructive force. He admits that no addict can avoid also being a consummate liar - they go together. In that vein of writing, this memoir seems part confession for apparently sprinkling his stories in the past with untruths to create more drama or toward the well-intentioned end of revealing God's love more. I was surprised to hear that his namesake Ray Brennan died in a house fire from smoke inhalation rather than falling on a grenade in Korea to save his foxhole comrades' lives, something Manning had shared in a prior sermon on Christ's love. Whatever the truth to Ray's death is, Manning and "Ma Brennan" became son and mother. Manning admits in his memoir to not being able to remember everything as he wished he could. Maybe that is why I was left still wondering about the man who has had such a powerful ministry to all sorts of people.
Manning responds to the question he thinks his followers may ask..."How could a man that seemed so intimate with God and Jesus' message and ministry of love and grace struggle so much with addiction, self-hatred, loneliness, and marriage?" His answer is to say, not flippantly, that "These things happen." He has always said that his life after Christ has not been an "upward spiral toward holiness."
Another thing that Manning has said in the past is to quote Carl Jung who when commenting on Jesus' teaching about "the least of these" said "`What if you discovered that the least of the brethren of Jesus, the one who needs your love the most, the one you can help the most by loving, the one to whom your love will be most meaningful - what if you discovered that this least of the brethren of Jesus...... is you?'" Could you treat yourself with tenderness and grace? What we learn from Manning's memoir is that he, like us, is one of the least of these brothers of Jesus and needs grace and the "accepted tenderness" of Jesus. Here, I think, is Manning's attempt to love himself and finally come to an acceptance of himself in writing, and it is for all of us who struggle, too, with self-acceptance and loving ourselves as we are. That revelation more than any knowledge is wisdom.
When Manning has told us over and over that he is just a "Ragamuffin," he wasn't kidding, and neither was he kidding when he told us that Jesus came for Ragamuffins. So did Brennan Manning. Thank God for him and God bless him.
on December 22, 2011
Disturbed. That's the best word I know to describe how I felt after finishing this book--but not for the reasons one might think. I was disturbed in a good way (more about that later). Having read much of Brennan Manning's work over the years, I was looking forward to hearing his story in his own words. I wanted to know the missing pieces, to understand better how the ragamuffin came to be such a wounded healer. I had gathered parts of Manning's story from his books and messages. However, hearing the earthy descriptions of some of his setbacks surprised me--but then again they didn't.
Manning has had an unusual life compared to some, full of diverse experiences in Europe and the United States (military service, joining a Franciscan order, campus ministry, leaving the priesthood, marriage, becoming a prolific author and speaker). However, his struggles are the struggles of every man who is not afraid to admit his humanity and need for God's grace. Just substitute the names and details of your own heartaches, failings, and fractured relationships. However, he's also been blessed to have dedicated, grace-giving friends who have lavished him with love along the way, a reflection of God's heart.
Throughout the book, I found myself hitting two buttons over and over--the thirty-second rewind and the stop--to meditate on a profound thought or reflect on how something Manning wrote informed an aspect of my own life.
Manning wanted to be brutally honest in sharing his story--though admittedly, he chose to leave parts out. Nevertheless, what he did share about his upbringing, the lack of a close relationship with his mother (he does know the freedom of forgiveness regarding this issue), leaving the priesthood, a marriage that ended in divorce, and his life-long struggle with alcoholism was revealing. As the apt title infers, that someone who wrestled as he did could write books that have brought healing to so many ("The Ragmuffin Gospel," "Abba's Child," and more) is evidence of the grace of God in his life--and through Brennan Manning, to us.
In his old age, he has three words to answer the question of how someone who wrote the books he did could repeatedly lapse into alcoholism. "These things happen." He responds to critics who say he preaches a cheap grace, saying "not so," that his message is a "banana peel" to the orthodox.
The narrator did an excellent job--his style was conversational, his inflections were appropriate. His speaking cadence was neither too fast nor too slow (as in some audiobooks). In short, I felt as though I was sitting in a large comfy chair in a cozy room by a fireplace, listening to Brennan Manning share from his heart.
So how did this book "disturb" me. It reminded me of what I know but need to remember every day--that the Savior came to bind up the broken-hearted, offering His yoke to those with heavy burdens, that we bring nothing to Him except our brokenness--and that is really where it starts for those who are truly poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3).
If you haven't read any of Brennan Manning's books, read them and then read this one-- or read this one first and then marvel at the wisdom that only a broken man can dispense.*****
A complimentary copy of the book was provided by the publisher, christianaudio.
on August 30, 2011
This is a bittersweet read for me as it is supposedly Brennan Manning's last book. He has been one of a handful of authors that I return to often to read and find a common brethren in the Christian faith. Just as Manning has done in his previous books, he writes with honest reflection about his life and the lessons he learned while walking with God and without God. If there is one aspect of the Christian faith and theology that Brennan understands it is grace, although some of his life lessons cause me to cringe when reading about his journey to get there. His writing is such easy reading that I finished the book before I knew it and started over.
He begins with his childhood, moving into adulthood and to the present day, while weaving a story that is personal for the reader. At times it felt like I was reading fiction due to his fabulous storytelling. I laughed, I wept, I was encouraged and convicted, and these are the normal trademarks of my interaction with Manning's works. If you have read his previous books you know what you are going to get. The story of a ragamuffin is built upon the reality that Christians are not perfect, fall into hard times, struggle with life, but cling to the goodness of God, drinking from the cups of mercy and grace, and trusting in the work of Jesus Christ.
This memoir will remain in constant rotation year after year because through it, I am brought back to my place as sinner in need of a Savior. Thanks Brennan, you will always be one of my kindred spirits.
on October 2, 2011
I have been looking forward to this book for some time now. I had read countless books, articles, stories, and interviews by and about Brennan and I was hoping his memoir would shed a little more light into his life and ministry. 'All is Grace' did not disappoint.
I will agree with other reviews by saying that the book is somewhat short and, at times, leaves you wanting more. In the same breath, however, I will say that the book was worth the wait and every penny spent. ALL IS GRACE is a glimpse of the real Brennan Manning. The grace that he so often speaks of is not just a popular or favorite topic of his, it's his lifeline. It is the rope that connects a self-admitted lying, alcoholic, divorced ex-priest to a holy, loving God.
I recommend this book to everyone, especially ministers, like myself, who feel desperately inadequate in our desire and mission to properly represent a God that we really have no business representing. This book shows that God is bigger than our sin, our hypocrisy, and our self-hatred. He does not need us, He WANTS us.
Brennan Manning's final book (as far as we know) is a memoir, and it spills light on all the years that he wasted and gave to alcohol, and does a great job of bringing the "saint" down to earth.
Some of the stories of his childhood and his rearing (or lack thereof) by his more-than-flawed parents are pretty disturbing, but at the same time, I feel like as Manning explores the depth of his own depravity, especially with regard to his alcoholism and how it destroyed his marriage, seem like they stop short. He paints himself as a pretty horrible sinner in the grip of God's grace, but the reader gets the feeling that there is more underneath, more details, more flaws, more failings.
But Manning can easily be forgiven if this insightful but uneven work keeps some of his great failings from us, because the picture of a flawed child of Abba that remains is definitely engaging, and should remind us all that "God does not love you as He wishes you were... he loves you as you are... now..."
Thank you, Brennan, for all the years of sharing yourself with us, and in the process, sharing Christ.
on September 4, 2012
Dear Father Brennan,
The seven letters from your Notorious Sinners group which appear as a tribute in ALL IS GRACE have deeply moved me, and I wish to add mine as a sign of my uninvited membership in this small but immortal group of ragamuffins. How blessed they are to have received a personal call to break bread at your table. More to the point, how blessed are you to have known such lasting love. As your friend John quoted, "And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others" ~ L. Frank Baum.
Almost from the beginning of the book I became aware that you and I were formed from the same speck of cosmic dust, although I didn't know why. Thanks to Sharon and Jack Scanlon of Eden, NY, who graciously chose to be my spiritual mentors in the early 1980s and introduced me to your THE SIGNATURE OF JESUS, the pre-Vatican II strictures and guilt with which this ragamuffin was grappling began to lose their power as I read more of your books. Maybe that is how the infinite amount of grace given to you by God works. It is difficult to imagine anyone failing to become a happier and more loving person after reading or hearing any of your words.
Most of us Christians, be we Catholic or Protestant, need to hear the thesis of ALL IS GRACE more than we realize: God loves us just as we are, not as we "should" be. Yes, Brennan, I know - there is a massive army of opposition that believe God's children are called to earn His love. But as you have repeatedly pointed out in your books, that's what grace is all about: the Father lavishing endless unconditional love (grace) on all his children, regardless of what they do or don't do, what they are or are not ... you tell us that He relentlessly pursues the broken, the immoral, the thieves, the murderers, the drug lords, the extortioners, the guilty, the abused, the shamed, the hungry, the poor, the rejected, the invisible, the homeless, the addicted, the orphaned, the unloved ... and we don't have to BE anything than what we are to receive that love.
And thank you, Brennan, for practicing what you preach. Not one of us on this planet is perfect, even those who may vehemently profess it from the pulpit. But all of us can lay claim to being "Christians under construction," even if we're still far from accepting the gospel. I think you would agree with me that it is a good thing to at least be "under construction," yes? I hear you say over and over and over that the bottom line is love ... all is grace. When we can receive and accept love, then we can give love. And when we can give love, we are transformed ... we are healed.
Of all the wounds you suffered so terribly in your life, I most readily identify with your mother-wound. "He'll never amount to much" are words I never actually heard, but I lived with the feeling that my mother did not love me. Either that or she did not know how to love me. My memories of her are not ones of tenderness, concern, touch, understanding, mothering. Instead, it was always the unspoken distance, the sense of me as an obligation. To be fair, when I left home to join the military, she seemed to change ... but by that time it was too late. Like you, I carried the mother-wound all my life.
And yet the most wonderful thing that happened to me because of your book was the revelation of your mother as herself a ragamuffin. At the beginning of chapter 20 you wrote:
"A trusting heart is forgiven and, in turn, forgives.
"I know that's true because of an experience I had on a November day in 2003. My mother had been dead and gone for close to ten years. As I was praying about other things, her face flashed across the window of my mind. It was not a worn face like that of an old mother or grandmother, but a child's face. I saw my mother as a little six-year-old girl kneeling on the windowsill of the orphanage in Montreal. Her nose was pressed against the glass; she was begging God to send her a mommy and daddy who would whisk her away and love her without condition. As I looked, I believe I finally saw my mother; she was a ragamuffin, too. And all my resentment and anger fell away.
"The little girl turned and walked toward me. As she drew closer, the years flew by and she stood before me an aged woman. She said, `You know, I messed up a lot when you were a kid. But you turned out okay.' Then my old mother did something she'd never done before in her life, never once. She kissed me on the lips and on both cheeks. At that moment I knew that the hurt between my mother and me was real and did matter, but that it was okay. The trusting heart gives a second chance; it is forgiven and, in turn, forgives. I looked at my mother and said, `I forgive you.' She smiled and said, `I guess sometimes you do get what you ask for.'"
Brennan, I read that you are very ill, and when I see the last of many photos of you in ALL IS GRACE, the one with you and your friend John Blase, I weep to see the cruelty and ravages of your sickness. You and I are the same age on this 4th day of September, 2012. More connection with that speck of cosmic dust thing, I suspect. But I rejoice to see the glory and peace of grace on your face. And just as powerful is the indescribable love on your friend John's face.
May your Father, when He is ready, take you in your sleep, my brother. The world will mourn and never forget you. But it will surely be better because you and your beautiful ragamuffins have known His grace-love ... and have passed it on.
In His unmerited grace and love,
Tony ~ a fellow ragamuffin.
on November 2, 2011
My confession: I've always heard great things about Brennan Manning's books and speaking, but only glanced through some of his writings. His confession: it's all about grace, and the less it's about us, the more it's about God.
With high expectations, I dove into this thin volume in hopes of knowing all there is to know about this beloved man who has been used by God through his successes and failures alike. The writing gripped me right away. It's sparse, to the point, with not many frills--yet so very effective. Manning shares with us his early doubts and lack of acceptance as a child, with a mother who wanted a baby girl, and a father who just wanted a job and some self-respect. He speaks of his brother, a tough, but likable kid. His sister, a sweet soul. We follow his journey from the streets of Brooklyn to a stint in the Marines to a life dedicated to ministry as a Franciscan monk. But Manning always wanted something more. He left each of these things behind, looking for something deeper that would deal with his longtime hurts and scars of the heart. Eventually, we learn of his marriage, his bouts with alcoholism, and his inability to face his own mother's death.
There is so much to like here, and coming in at a very short 230 pages (probably half that, if done in smaller font and with less pictures and blank pages), it is worth every second. For me, though, each step deeper made me also wish for more. I wanted more details, more information about his speaking and ministry, and more heartfelt dives into the addiction he battled. It is honest, yes. It is honest in the way a spyglass gives a clear view into a dark stormy night. We see details, but feel there is still so much more.
But, as Manning says, "All is Grace." I look forward to sharing an eternity with this brother in the family of God. I thank him for all he's done to encourage and free others. And if this is truly his last confession, I thank him for that too.
on August 31, 2011
I have read several of Brennan Manning's previous books, and have been impacted by them. I haven't always agreed with a lot of Manning's beliefs and interpretations of Scripture, but I have great respect for his humility and vulnerability as a writer and as a speaker. There is no doubting his sincerity and honesty. Manning has never claimed to have all the answers and to have it all together. In fact, he has claimed just the opposite. Even though I have never met him in person, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about the man behind the books.
In this book Manning describes a difficult childhood with a very cold and emotionally distant mother, who clearly favored his younger sister. Manning also eventually became a Franciscan priest and later left the priesthood in order to marry. He also struggled through a difficult marriage, subsequent divorce, as well as chronic alcoholism. But he persevered through it all, and came out stronger, and more compassionate on the other side. I recommend this book to people who have read Manning's previous books and are interested in wanting to know the back story of this man. It will give you a new respect and a deeper understanding of who Brennan Manning is as a person. A frequently broken man who struggles as we all do. In his old age, he has become almost completely dependent on others for his care and daily living. In many ways, he is a ragamuffin, now more than ever.
Spiritual biography and autobiography has a tendency to push the lesson before the story. That is not all bad. Since Augustine's Confessions, Christians have learned much from those that have gone before us. There are problems when the biography/autobiography verge into hagiography, showing only the good and never the bad. There is equally problems with the tell-all conversion stories that seem to revel too much in the pre-conversion life and too little in the post conversion reality. All is Grace does a good job of balancing the real, the history and the lesson.
Manning has had a hard life. This will be his last book. His ill health has meant that he has not been capable of speaking and writing over the past couple years and this book was only completed with the help of John Blase. This is the third such last book I have read this year. John Stott's Radical Disciple, Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir (probably not his last book, but still in a similar vein of concluding his public ministry) and now Brennan Manning's All is Grace. All three are very different, but are quite reflective of the lives that each have lived and the types of ministry they were called to serve. Stott's book was more theological and pastoral, prodding us to continue on. Peterson's book was reflective, asking us to look and see if we are adopting too much of the attitudes of the world instead of acting like the servant. Manning's is another call to understand grace by looking at his own life that was marked by both great grace, and great need of grace.
In many ways, this book reminds me of Lyle Dorsett's wonderful biography of AW Tozer. Tozer was a blessing to the church, a wonderful writer and speaker, but a lousy father and husband. As Christians, if we believe in grace, stories like Tozer's and Manning's are powerful statements. But just as they are statements to the power of grace, they are equally testaments to the strength of sin and the continual need for grace, not just at the point of salvation, but continually throughout our lives. Some Christians are uncomfortable with the need for grace after conversion. They want their Christian heroes to be perfect and sanctified. And while that is clearly God's desire for us as well, God chooses to work through broken people anyway. Scripture, and Christian history, is littered with the stories of less than perfect people being used by God for great things, even while they were far from great themselves.
Early in the book, Manning says he wants to answer the questions that he knows will be asked, "How could a man that seemed so intimate with God and Jesus' message and ministry of love and grace struggle so much with addiction, self-hatred, loneliness, and marriage?" The book eventually answers "These things happen." It is not an answer that many want to hear, but it is real.
Manning's story is both sad and hopeful. He is aware of his sinfulness and is hopeful, not because he has overcome, but is hopeful because he has come to know Christ's grace. This is a message I need to hear. I want to live a good life, but the older I get the more I have to admit to my weakness and sinfulness. It is not about the affirmation of theological truths. If I had to choose (which thankfully we do not) I would rather have Manning's personal understanding of grace and a loving God than a proper theological understanding. Manning has tried, and quite often failed, to live up to what Christ wants for him. But he has been an example to many what we really should be after, Christ's grace. Throughout the book there is also a sense of resignation, sadness. At this point, Manning knows his weakness, maybe not enough that he could over come them, but he knows them. Alcohol is no longer the issue, not because of will or grace but because he is an invalid. Soon, he will no longer be an invalid and soon he will no longer have to struggle with his sin and alcoholism.
This audiobook was provide by christianaudio.com for purposes of review.
This book was much different than I thought it would be. The story is good - the final book and memoir of Brennan Manning - it's tells his story, how the Ragamuffin Gospel came to be and what made him the man that he is. What surprised me in the
"unfinished-ness" of it all - his life, his ministry and the overcoming of his vices. Manning shares that God is still working in his life. What a great reminder that we are all works in progress!