No, not Bernard Manning! Brennan Manning. Not heard of him?
The contemplative, reflective.
Inspirational writer and speaker.
Catholic priest, who challenged the self-righteousness of certain religious cultures.
Proponent of grace.
Author of The Ragamuffin Gospel which, together with Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, has profoundly deepened my understanding of the Father’s affection for me.
And one of the writers who have supplied inspiration for my own literary attempts in these blogs.
His death passed most of the world by quietly and unobtrusively on 12th April 2013, just 4 days after the clamorous demise of Baroness Margaret Thatcher.
Thatcher left a huge legacy in the UK and beyond. Many would say that she has bequeathed permanent damage to communities, industry, public services and the economy; others might say she promoted entrepreneurship and freed the nation from the grip of the trade unions. Whatever the case, the news and media over the last few weeks have been awash with debate, eulogy and protest about her life, legacy, politics and funeral.
What is Brennan Manning’s legacy? I’m not sure how well known he is or how many have read his books, but those who have surely cannot have escaped being influenced by both his writings and his walk – drawn deeper into the Father’s heart of furious longing and affection for his children. Manning invited us to experience the true Christ – the one to whom ordinary people were and are irresistibly attracted – not the false, fault-finding, ‘religious’ figure that repels sinners with shame.
Manning promoted self-disclosure, encouraging us to remove our masks in the light of God’s acceptance:
“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”
He exposed our false views of God – our tendency to assume that God is as harsh as we are towards ourselves:
“We unwittingly project onto God our own attitudes and feelings toward ourselves… But we cannot assume that He feels about us the way we feel about ourselves — unless we love ourselves compassionately, intensely, and freely. ”
Manning signposted us to the true and living Christ, inviting us to centre our lives not on theology, religion or any false identity, but on Jesus himself, where true freedom is to be found:
“The Christ within who is our hope of glory is not a matter of theological debate or philosophical speculation. He is not a hobby, a part-time project, a good theme for a book, or a last resort when all human effort fails. He is our life, the most real fact about us. He is the power and wisdom of God dwelling within us.”
“Real freedom is freedom from the opinions of others. Above all, freedom from your opinions about yourself.”
Manning asserted the openness of grace, in that “if we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. ”
One final – and probably the best known – statement from Manning (famed for being quoted on the double-platinum-selling album Jesus Freak by DC Talk):
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
The contrast between Thatcher’s and Manning’s death reminds me of a similar sequence of events in 1997. On 31st August that year, Princess Diana was tragically killed, sending shockwaves of tears and unprecedented outpourings of collective grief across the country.
Five days later, Mother Teresa also passed away. Her death made a brief mention on the evening news. No one seemed to notice, so embroiled was the nation in its bereavement of the fairytale Princess. Diana was goddess-like to many. Why such adulation?
Not only was she beautiful and compassionate – she was the People’s Princess: she was broken, vulnerable and dysfunctional, just like us. The papers weren’t short of stories about her bulimia and her boyfriends. Despite being royalty, ordinary people felt they could relate to Diana, as she in turn empathised with AIDS victims and others who’d been broken by disease and society.
Someone reflected on her life to me just recently, making the bold statement that “she didn’t have a bad bone in her body”, a claim which seems to epitomise the people’s idealistic – and idolatrous? – view of her.
The People’s Princess undoubtedly inspired many people and projected a public portrait of royalty and reality in graceful harmony.
Mother Teresa, on the other hand, served in relative obscurity in the slums of India, choosing the path of poverty and servitude, shunning the limelight, and bringing practical relief and spiritual care to thousands of people afflicted by leprosy, HIV and tuberculosis. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, which is now active in 133 countries, numbering over 4,500 sisters who vow to give “Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor”.
Perhaps it would be unfair to compare Diana and Teresa: two women dealt almost opposing hands in life, presented with very different opportunities but both using those opportunities to bring love and life and hope to people who needed those gifts the most.
However, it always seemed a little strange and iniquitous that Mother Teresa’s death attracted so little attention after directly giving so much to so many and, indirectly, inspiring millions (like me) who had never met her, while a whole nation wept inconsolably at the passing of a Princess whose practical contribution to society had been comparatively small.
As I reflected on this back in 1997, it occurred to me that Mother Teresa would have wanted it this way. She would not have craved public clamour over her passing. For her death to have been overshadowed by Diana’s was perhaps the perfect end to her unostentatious life.
I’m sure Brennan Manning, also, would not have longed for fervent public fuss over his death. But then again, like many of us, he may have secretly desired outward recognition of his achievements, and if that were the case, he would have been honest about that weakness.
He knew that the beauty of grace gave him the freedom to be that candid about his inner heart, with his head held high in the joyous dignity of his Abba’s “extravagant, furious love”.
I recommend Brennan Manning’s books, including:
- The Ragamuffin Gospel
- All Is Grace (his memoir)
And I pray that each of us would dive ever deeper into the scandalous love of the Father, discovering the liberation of grace-led authenticity, attracting those around us to the genuine, irresistible Christ.