Or more specifically, one of his books changed my life.
It all started with Rich Mullins. I loved that guy. Bought all his albums. Saw him in concert. He called his back-up band "A Ragamuffin Band." After Rich died, the Ragamuffins continued to tour without him and I saw them twice.
At one of their concerts, there was a book table. And on the table was a book that was advertised as Rich's favorite: The Ragamuffin Gospel (hence the name of the band).
So I picked it up. I read it. And I haven't been the same since.
The Ragamuffin Gospel is about grace. Manning writes about it in ways I had never encountered before. He illustrates grace with powerful true-life stories, including many from his own life as a recovering alcoholic and a Catholic priest who dropped out of the priesthood.
It's not that I didn't understand grace before I read Ragamuffin. And it's not that I had never experienced grace. In fact, I had a life-changing experience of grace when I attended a Walk to Emmaus.
But something about Brennan Manning's powerful descriptions made me see that I needed to do ministry differently if I really believe that people are saved by grace and nothing else. And I needed to treat people differently. Starting with myself.
Manning describes grace as a scandal, lavished by God on ragamuffins (the word means a dirty, unkempt child). You receive it by being brutally honest. Once you receive it, you can no longer elevate yourself above others. And yet at the same time, once you receive it you come to realize that you are loved more deeply, and valued more highly, than you can ever imagine.
My paltry words are not doing it justice, so here are a few quotes:
Any church that will not accept that it consists of sinful men and women, and exists for them, implicitly rejects the gospel of grace.
Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used car salesmen. Jesus not only talks with these people, but he dines with them…[Jesus] proclaims that he has invited sinners and not the self –righteous to his table…In short, Jesus hung out with ragamuffins.
The way of the ragamuffin is a considerably different view of the Christian life than that of traditional church culture...Ragamuffins don't sit down to be served; they kneel down to serve. When there is food on their plate, they don't whine about the mystery meat or the soggy veggies...Glad for a full stomach, they give thanks for the smallest gift. They do not grow impatient and irritable with the dismal service in department stores, because they so often fail to be good servants themselves. Ragamuffins do not complain about the feeble preaching and lifeless worship of their local church. They are happy to have a place to go where they can mingle with other beggars at the door of God's mercy.
Will we ever understand the gospel of grace, the furious love of God, the world of grace in which we live? Jesus Christ is the scandal of God.
Well, even these snippets don't really capture the power of Manning's writing. So I guess you'll just have to read the book.
Farewell, Brennan Manning.