“I’m Brennan. I’m an alcoholic.
I’m a Catholic.
I was a priest, but am no longer a priest.
I was a married man but am no longer a married man.
How I got to those places, why I left these places, is the story of my life.
but it is not the whole story.
I’m Brennan, a sinner saved by grace.
That is the larger and more important story.
Only God, in his fury, knows the whole of it.”
— The Furious Longing of God
I first met Brennan Manning at Soularize in the Bahamas back in November 2007. In a room full of PhDs, pastors, and bloggers, this white-haired man with patchwork pants seemed small and out of place. He didn’t fit in with the other attendees decked out in Bermuda shorts and fair trade T-shirts or some other form of beachwear. During this conference, I was too absorbed in my own junk to really hear Brennan’s story. Also, he spent much of his time when he wasn’t speaking sitting off by himself. Like me, he seemed to be all alone in a sea of people.
Even though we didn’t connect in person, when I picked up his books Abba’s Child and The Furious Longing for God, I felt an immediate bond with this dude, who is just as messy as me. We’re both kind of raggly in our own ways.
Manning’s books are not for the faint-hearted searching for a quick fix recipe for how to achieve spiritual success. This is not the simple story of a former Franciscan priest who had a drinking problem but then sobered up when he found God and went on to achieve even greater glory for God.
Rather, Manning confessed of a life that drove him onto the streets with nothing to his name except God’s love. But instead of wallowing in the pains and problems of his life, Brennan talks about how God’s love literally saved him. This “love” wasn’t mere fuzzy sentimentality but rather an expression of God’s deep desire to know and love us fully and that includes those dark parts of ourselves we keep hidden from the world.
His stark honesty as he bore his scar tissue of his life brought tears to my eyes. I wasn’t expecting a book to connect with me on such a visceral level. Through Brennan’s story, I saw how I had veered off the path. For all of my talk about how we need to put the Greatest Commandment into practice, I wasn’t exactly practicing what I preach. During the past year, I had been focused so much on trying to “do good” and “help people” that I had failed to love them just as they are. When several people let me down, my anger got the better of me and some things came out of my mouth and pen that were more critical than Christlike.
God longs to connect with me. In order for me to connect with God, I must also connect with others in love. During Lent, I took a fast from Facebook and limited my interactions with blogs and the Internet in general. This online fast gave me the opportunity to reflect on how quickly a simple disagreement can erupt into a full scale blog war, where we go from critiquing others to slamming their souls. After detangling myself from a rather messy series of email exchanges, I concluded that I will use emails more to relay information and that I need to resolve conflicts face-to-face or over the telephone. These moves have put me in a place where I find I am more able to receive and give love to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
As Brennan reminds us:
The outstretched arms of Jesus exclude no one, not the drunk in the doorway, the panhandler on the street, gays and lesbians in their isolation, the most selfish and ungrateful in their cocoons, the most unjust of employers and the most overweening of snobs. The love of Christ embraces all without exception.
May I never forget that message.