Contacting Craig

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Christian Response to Jason Collins...why Chris Broussard was right...mostly.

Jason Collins came out yesterday.
So what?
I want to know why this is news at all, much less cover-of-SI material. 20 years ago we were talking about a time when nobody would care what your sexual proclivity was...when that didn't matter and it was never something you'd be judged by.
Well we passed that point years ago but that's not good enough. Now we have to see a guy lauded because he told us what he does in the bedroom. Meanwhile Tim Tebow gets blasted and mocked for being a heterosexual virgin.
Today on social media I was blasted for simply asking the question; "Why should I care?" I was told that I was a hater, a bigot and intolerant.
Because I said I don't care about Jason Collins' sex life. Now I have to care, too?

I am a Christian. I believe the Bible. The Bible has something to say about this matter and I wrote an article about it two weeks ago...I am reposting it here because it's timely again.

 "For years…since I was probably 15 years old, maybe younger…since homosexuality first began to leave the shadows and enter the mainstream, there has been a growing debate about what the position of the Church should be.
The Catholic Church was always clear in it’s rejection of homosexuality and it in its usual way; methodical, without emotion, denying the Sacraments to those who practiced the lifestyle but not actively persecuting them.
The Independent Baptist Church of the day was far more aggressive and far more harmful to gays on a personal level.  They saw homosexuality as a personal attack on their faith, and on the Faith.  They saw it only as a choice and denied the possibility that these folks didn’t choose the proclivity to be gay.  Further, they saw no discernable difference between the proclivity to be gay, and the choice to act on it and actually be a practicing homosexual.  (meanwhile lauding an alcoholic who was tempted to drink but resisted) To these myopic folks, even being tempted by homosexuality was evil and sinful itself.  And if you were to try challenging them on this, they would perceive your questioning as some sort of tacit admission of your own homosexuality, so we sat quietly and believed what they were telling us.
They found it repulsive to be gay or to even be tempted by homosexual desires.  All the while ignoring the Biblical admonitions against gluttony even thought they were morbidly obese.  Ignoring the Biblical warning against playing favoritism within the churches, even as they paid more special attention to wealthy members and ignored the moderate incomed amongst us.  They ruled their homes as tyrants ignoring Paul’s command not to wear out their children and to love their wives as Jesus loved the Church.
In other words, they were human…and as humans do, they found certain sin far more repulsive and repugnant than certain other sins and spent their substantial energies railing against those pet sins.  All this did was cause pain and separated people who were seeking, from the Jesus whom they sought.
The battle cry of the day was always “God created Adam and Eve…not Adam and Steve!”  We thought it was clever and that it summed up our position perfectly.  We spit it back at the shouting faces of the gay community every chance we could and drove them further from the God who loves them deeply and wanted them to come to Him as they were so He could show them He loved them.  By 2013, all we have to show for the battle is a chasm that might never close.
Yesterday the battle was intense and it already cost me three “friendships” on Face book.  Now normally that amounts to nothing in my world but the two people were lifelong friends who never even cared enough to ask me my position on the matter, they simply attacked for not agreeing with theirs.  Que Serra.
Very early this morning, another friend posted this clip on my FB wall.  I think it’s the most concise, loving, brilliant, logical and cogent answer I have ever heard in my life about the Christian position concerning homosexuality.  Here is the link  Ravi Zacharias speaks about Homosexuality

It stirred me to think more about the position we have always held.  More specifically, it stirred me to think about why we hold that position.  And about how we defend that position to the world.  It got me thinking again about “Adam and Eve…not Adam and Steve”
There is enormous truth to that trite, clich├ęd statement but we have missed it all along.  It was a brilliant, logical, concise theological defense of our position, but we missed that point, turned it into a battle cry, and made it sound stupid.  It became a slogan that Westboro Baptist hijacked and stuck on placards and shoved in front of TV cameras and in the faces of grieving military families.  It made people hate the phrase.  And that’s a shame.  It’s a shame because in reality, maybe nothing reveals our position more perfectly than this simplistic, jingoistic, bumper-stickerish phrase.  Let me try my best to explain…
At the risk of stating the obvious, the phrase is a reference to the Creation of mankind.  It states the truth, that God created a man, and then He created a woman and set them to work populating the Garden of Eden and subsequently the world.  It seems simple, and when fired from one side of a police barricade during a gay rights rally…it is an angry rant.  But it’s so much more.  Here is why…
First of all, to follow my thought line you will need to accept some presuppositions.  Otherwise you can stop reading right here and save yourself some anguish.
The first presupposition is that the Bible is both inerrant (accurate without fault) and it is inspired.  (The actual word that God gave to the writer, stylistically influenced, but not altered by the men who wrote it.)
This leads to the second presupposition, that the Biblical account of Creation is accurate and literal.  This is what I believe and what most Evangelicals / Orthodox / and Catholics believe for the most part.  Adam and Eve were literal, not figurative.
Third is that God is infinite.  He exists outside of time and has no limits.  There is no thought He has not known, no resource he did not create.  Whatever exists…exists within Him, but He exists outside of everything else.
Fourth, God is Omniscient.  That’s a 50-cent word for “All Knowing.”  He is more than all knowing…He is all knowledge.  Anything we have ever known, or ever will learn in the future is merely a speck of the infinite inventory of knowledge God holds.
With these four positions clarified we can proceed.  If you disagree with these positions, again…stop reading.  We simply can’t agree.
So on the Sixth day.  God made man.  Man was the only thing in all of Creation that God made by touch…by hand.  He spoke everything else into existence except us.  That’s very important…especially to a world who is more and more convinced that if God does exist, He hates us and gnashes on us regularly.  But God lovingly hand-made man and named him Adam.  Adam lived in the only absolutely perfect place on earth and was—until that point—the only human to be physically in the presence of God and live.  God visited Adam daily in the garden and Adam looked at Him directly and knew his voice.
After some time…maybe days, or weeks or even years…God noticed that Adam was alone.  He wasn’t lonely necessarily, but he was alone.  All the animals had mates.  They had an opposite gender and more than one of their kind.  But Adam was uniquely alone.
God knew Adam.  Knew him the way a father knows his son.  He knew from Adam’s countenance that it was not good for Adam to be alone.  (Genesis 2:18)
This is the critical moment in our discussion…
Adam was perfect.  He was without sin.  He lived in a perfect place.  Perfect temperature, perfect existence, perfect relationship with God Himself.  God doted on Adam and hung out with him and was his companion.  But Adam was alone.  Adam was the only thing in the garden like himself and it was not good.  God saw it as a problem (“It is not good for him to be alone…) and he recognized it as a need.  So He decided it needed to be solved.
Remember presupposition numbers three and four…God is Infinite and Omniscient.  Now they become vital.
God looked at the problem and the need of this very unique and alone Adam, and in His Infinite Omniscience, he solved them both.  How?  With the unlimited potential of infinity, and the limitless wisdom of omniscience at his disposal…with a universe of possible solutions and combinations of solutions available for God to provide for Adam’s aloneness what did He do?  And why does it matter?
I’ll answer the second question first.  It matters because it reveals to us God’s design.  And not just His overall, general design, but also His specific, purposeful, intimate design in a specific situation that only involved one man.  This was not a creative action as Creation had been.  He didn’t speak a whole universe into existence here.  This was God, one-on-one with the crown of His creation.  God taking care of a specific singular need of his friend Adam.  With all the vastness of the Universe and beyond that; the infinite creative ability of a limitless, all-knowing self-existence at His disposal what did God do?
He made Adam another companion.  But he didn’t make another one like him…he made one different from him.  God, after evaluating the situation, and knowing that anything He wanted to do he could have done, put Adam into a coma, took one of his ribs, and made a woman.  The word used here for woman is “Ishi” it means “Pierced one” It describes the anatomical and spiritual differences between a man and a woman.  Had God felt that Adam would have been better served with another man, he could have done it right there at that critical moment.  He could have made men capable of progeny or he could have made babies grow in seedpods.  But in His wisdom, His infinite power, and his love for Adam, he made his companion a woman.
That was God’s design.  That was God’s plan.  That was God’s loving response to the jewel of his creative crown.  God could have done it any way He wanted and we would have been no worse off for the not knowing.  But He designed it this way.  Adam and Eve.  No other options.
We joke about being wired different, about not speaking each other’s language.  That was God’s design.  That was the sum of His infinite wisdom and limitless creative power.  He could have done it any way He saw fit…He did it this way.
What does it matter?
Well as Ravi Zacharias so brilliantly stated in the video clip, because God designed it this way, that renders our sexuality sacred.  It’s God breathed…God ordained.  It is how God wanted it.  At a moment in history when it could have gone in any number of directions, God took it in this one…and only in this one.  Our sexuality is a choice.  It was God’s choice.  When we say otherwise we decide we know better than God. That is folly.
This view makes it far more personal and far less combative.  I learned this today too.  Had we thought about it from this perspective 30 years ago maybe we wouldn’t be here now.  The Levitical laws we bash over the heads of gay people are not the real issue here.  They only tell us that sexual proclivity matters…they never revealed why.  All this time, we’ve been basically throwing the Levitical law in the face of the gay community and effectively saying, “Because I said so…that’s why!”  When there was a more loving, more tender, more personal answer.  The answer to “Why is homosexuality wrong?” is not “Because Leviticus 18 says so!” it’s  “Listen…when God was faced with providing Adam with a companion…with someone to love him and who would provide the love in physical form that God wanted to make sure Adam received…He didn’t just send Adam  out to find whomever he could find.  And he didn’t create another Adam.  He made someone special, someone who was exactly what Adam needed and yet someone different in gender from Adam.  And he stopped there.  That was the only solution to the problem that God provided” 
When we refuse to make it an act of hate and rather explain it as an act of love…perfect, wise, infinite, love…they still might not like it but, they can’t respond in anger.
Why haven’t we?  We want to remind them how God calls homosexuality an abomination but we never bothered finding out why.  Well it’s because God built our souls for someone similar to us but not the same.  He made our hearts so that a man needs a woman to be a finished work.  And vice versa. Quite simply it’s because God knows better.
God didn’t just make a man and a woman and throw them into the garden to see what would happen.  And when he noticed that his friend Adam was alone…when He saw the look in Adam’s eyes as Adam began to notice that everything else living in this wonderful place had a companion except him…God –the all-knowing and all-loving Creator— set about creating the perfect answer to Adam’s situation.  That was a woman.  It wasn’t a decision he made to wound gay people, it wasn’t something He did to trap those with desires outside the realm of acceptability.  It was a loving, thoughtful, infinitely wise act of benevolence.  And because He loves us, and is infinite, and omniscient we know that this way was the best way for Adam.  Otherwise, He would have done it some other way…or multiple ways.
So the proper answer…after all these years of anger and fighting and driving each other away from each other…the answer to the question of “What does a Christian say about Homosexuality?” is “It was Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve!” but with a caveat.  In love…when Adam was alone in this world and needing the perfect solution to the problem of his aloneness…God lovingly made Eve.  That was wise, that was best, that is how God designed it and how He wants it.  For a Christian to hold any other position is in direct disagreement with God’s plan.
Does this have any effect on the laws of the land?  No.  It won’t and I didn’t write this for that purpose.  I wrote this in the hopes that this explanation removes the walls of anger and what folks perceive as “intolerance.”  Our sexuality is sacred…because it was designed by God.  And because it was only designed one way by God.
My personal position on the matter is that I will love and accept my gay friends and family members.  And really love them not just “act loving” while secretly wanting to stick my finger down my throat.  I will love them.  Them and any others I meet.  But when asked what my personal position on the matter is…and what the position of the Church or of God is, I will answer as I did here.  I hope they will understand the love with which God did His work and hopefully with which I will speak my words."

This was how I felt three weeks ago and it's how I feel today. I don't apologize for it. This is as loving a presentation as I can make concerning what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.
And I still don't care that Jason Collins is gay.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

My NEW Book

Hey everyone...
Two years ago I wrote a short series here on Shinny and Shavings about growing up in the 60's and 70's. I called it "The Last Innocent Age" and it really resonated with folks my age.
Well...I've been writing more stories and recollections about that age and it's now ready for release. My new book is called "Remembering America...Looking Back at the Last Innocent Age".
I am VERY proud of this book. It's the most broad-spectrum book I've written to date. No real religion or politics...just fond, funny, heartwarming remembrances of a time and place where being an American still was the finest thing we could be. Where we loved our neighbors because we knew our neighbors. Where people stayed in one place long enough to get to know each other...and to love each other. I am sure you'll love reading it. Please find the link here: View Craig's Book Here

I hope you'll grab a copy and PLEASE tell everyone you know!


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jesus Weeps

In Brennan Manning's classic "The Ragamuffin Gospel", he tells a story about a pastor friend of his who grew weary of ministry, bottomed out, resigned his church, abandoned his family and made his way to a logging camp in Michigan.
The man was living in a 12 foot by 20 foot trailer in the biting Michigan winter. One night about three weeks into his time as a logger, he was sitting alone in the trailer shivering in the cold and dark. He was bitter, angry, hurting, broken, ashamed, and alone.
Then the little space heater quit.
Brennan said that the next thing the man did was fall to his knees, burst into tears and hurled obscenities heavenward. Then when he'd screamed himself hoarse, he whisper; "God...I hate you!".
A few minutes of weeping later and he suddenly became aware of the presence of Jesus in the trailer. He heard Jesus say "I know you's alright". And then Brennan's friend heard Jesus weeping along with him.
An hour or so later, the man stood up, grabbed his coat, left the trailer and started home toward his family.
The healing began when he realized that God wasn't angry with him for being angry...and when he heard Jesus weeping.
I knew as I read this story for the first time, that the man was not being figurative. Nor had Brennan related the message in that way. It was literal. I instinctively felt like it was possible, and also that it was unlikely that I would ever experience something so magnificent. It never bothered me that this would never happen for me, as I expected this was not something that happened too frequently.
But last my world was collapsing more each day and as I was picking up the pieces of my broken heart and cutting my hands on the jagged shards...Jesus did this for me.
I wish I had written down the night. Maybe it was Wednesday. I only know that I awoke at about 2 AM from a fitful sleep in my Yukon. I instantly thought of my daughter, and how I love her and how I miss her and how I feel like I am letting her down with my situation. I lay there in my sleeping bag and looked out the window at the stars and I thought  "I'm 50 years old...I'm sleeping in my car, and showering at the gym and doing odd jobs for gas money and food money."  It was a hard thing to say to myself, but what followed was even harder. Tears welled in my eyes and I whispered;  "I don't know how I am ever going to get back on my feet...I don't know how this is ever going to change."  And then the flood gates opened. I sobbed in silence in the back of my truck and churned my situation over and over and over in my mind. I thought of my daughter, and my house and my dogs and my cat. I thought of Morgan growing into adulthood with a dad who can't find anything more than pressure washing jobs a few days a week. I thought of all the cutting, hurtful words people have said, some to wound me on purpose and some wounding me in ignorance as they made my plight more about them than about me. I thought about Christmas when Morgan was little and how I would climb up on the roof and shake some sleigh bells and "Ho Ho Ho" and she'd think it was Santa and how that ended too soon. How this plight of mine had begun when she was 10 and she was a young woman now and still here I was. And I sobbed and couldn't stop. I tried to pray, because it felt like I was supposed to do that. But all I could do was cry. I said "I'm scared, Lord. I'm scared this is all there is for me"
And it happened...Jesus wept.
I heard Him as clear as a bell. Only for a few moments, but I heard it. It literally scared me at first but then it felt somehow healing and calming. He simply said "I know" and I heard Him weeping.
It was amazing. I thought I was asleep and dreaming at first, but I was awake. Awake and hearing my Savior weeping for my broken heart.
He wept when nobody else would. He wept even as others pounded me with their arrogant, soul-crushing opinion. He wept while the wounding words of a few people echoed in my ears. He wept.
He wept like He did that day in Bethany when Lazarus lay dead and the grief that consumed his family broke Jesus' heart and drove Him to weep along with them. Weep so loudly that it caught the crowd off guard and they said "Look how much he loved Lazarus!".
He wept as a friend would weep. A friend who cares and loves and knows how much all this has hurt me and how it has broken me and reshaped me and beaten me down and stripped away everything I once was. He wept as a loving friend would weep.
Romans 5 tells us we have a High Priest who is touched deeply by the feelings of our weaknesses. And He is.
There are so many broken, wounded, crushed, ashamed people in this world. People who have been battered and who can't even feel their own hearts anymore. Jesus weeps for you too my friend.
I realized that night that until I got to where I would just stop trying to hide this, or disguise it, or pretend that it doesn't hurt me as much as it does...I would never know the tears of my Savior.
But once I hit that point where I didn't care what anyone thought any more. The point where I would stop listening to the voices telling me that somehow this is my fault, my doing, or my lot in life and where I would stop being a spiritual John Wayne and simply cry out...withholding nothing. In that moment I heard Jesus weeping for me and with me.
And it began the long road to a new home.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Final Thoughts on Brennan Manning's Passing...Third Person Prayers

I miss Brennan Manning. I miss him more now that he is gone, but I was already grieving his passing for over a year, ever since reading his autobiography; “All is Grace”. (Which I highly recommend by the way) I have been thinking about his life since last Friday when he passed away. How broken he was. How he lived a lie in front of people, by hiding his alcoholism, and how that lie is no different than the lies we try to hide from our friends and family too.
Brennan could preach grace so passionately that you’d think he was mad at you for not grasping it. His eyes would be wild and his voice would boom. I listened to his teaching and I’d think to myself that he was so passionate about the message of grace because he was so irate at how churches and preachers have so hijacked it and manipulated it and left us devoid of it’s presence in our hearts. I thought maybe Brennan was an angry crusader who was deeply wounded for the pain he saw in the eyes of those who were there to hear him speak. What I learned by reading his story was that, while this was true, what drove Brennan’s passion and fury when he pronounced the blessings of grace on his hearers was not his righteous indignation at the wounds they carried but the guilty desperation of another failure, another drunken binge the night before, another fractured wail for the forgiveness and cleansing of the Holy Spirit. When Brennan was preaching to those at the retreats he conducted…he was preaching to himself. Brennan was counseling himself in third person. When he would bellow; “Do you believe He loves you in the morning sun and the evening rain? Do you believe that He exists to love you and nothing can ever stop that position of His heart? Do you realize that He loves us just as we are…and not as we should be, because we are NEVER going to be as we should be?” When those words would pour out of him with wild-eyed passion and force, he was really saying them to himself…again. He was really comforting himself once more because he needed to hear it once more. He was thinking, as he spoke to those beat-up and bedraggled in the crowd, about the night before, and the vodka bottle, and the mouthwash, and was it working, and when could he get back to his room and take a drink? And the same voice he preached in would be preaching to him and telling him, “He loves YOU as you are…because YOU will never be as you ought to be either, Brennan.” I wonder how close to tears Brennan was during those years of teaching the grace of God. I wonder if his face turned crimson when the enemy of our souls would whisper in his ear even as he preached of grace… “You failure! You loser! You miserable fraudulent drunk! How can you speak of God when you drank yourself blind only last night? They’re going to know. They’re going to see through you one of these days you know. They’re going to find you passed out and call your bluff and your whole miserable phony life will be exposed and you’ll be finished”
The same thing every one of us faces…only maybe the sin of choice is different. I don’t care much for drinking. I have a different pet sin. Mine is doubt. It’s pride. It’s falseness.
It’s telling others how much God loves them but refusing to believe it for myself. It’s knowing…for the love of God, knowing how He loves us, writing about it eloquently, speaking of it freely, and yet denying it for myself. Denying it so much that I no longer can pray in the first person.
Yes. I want to explain that but first I have to cover one more base.
Last year when I read Brennan’s autobiography and it opened with “This will be my last book” I had to stop. One sentence in and I was already sobbing like a child. I loved this man. I found in Brennan Manning a voice for the longing of my soul. I found someone to remind me that God loved me and to do it forcefully, because it’s the one thing in this world I have the hardest time accepting. There exists a wall in my heart that no amount of beating upon or reasoning with seems to be able to destroy. Not completely. I wrestle with God daily, trying to get a response and in my broken, hardened heart I never seem to find one. I get glimpses but never break through to the relationship I so desperately long for.
When I could finally resume reading the book, I wept my way through it. Wept, sobbed, wailed, and longed. I longed to look at Brennan just once and tell him how he touched me. How he freed me. How without his reminders I’d never have even the hope that someday I’d feel this grace I seek. Brennan gave me hope…even as he had little for himself.
When I came to terms with Brennan’s impending death, I prayed a bold prayer. I knew that one day his passing would leave a huge hole in the world of grace. His voice falling silent would leave a sorrowful echo that needed to be filled. I asked God that if possible, if any mantle falls from Brennan as he leaves this earth…that it might fall on me. I cannot write like Brennan. It would be absurd to try. John Hiatt once said that he was asked to write some songs for Bob Dylan once and he made the mistake of trying to write “Bob Dylan Songs”. He said he only accomplished sounding like bad Bob Dylan. I don’t want to write “bad Brennan Manning“. I can’t be eloquent in the way he was. I won’t be quoting Walker Percy or Dostoevsky. I’m more inclined to reference Gene Hill from Field and Stream or Bruce Springsteen. But I have a similar voice and a similar perspective and something of an ability to communicate. And the need remains. Someone has to speak of grace with a voice still quivering with need. God permitting…it might be me.
I have decided to be more honest than I already have been in my writing. One thing I hear frequently is that my writing connects on a soul-level with people because I describe hurts, or wounds, or joys in great detail. If I am revealing a broken heart, I can bring you to tears. If I am describing a joy, I can get you to laugh out loud in an empty room.
It’s because I’m honest. I intend on continuing that. Which returns me to the topic of third person prayers.
I have been so battered and broken. So wounded and hurt and hopeless that I can no longer even pray for myself in the first person. I lost my career and my house and all the things I’ve outlined here before. I lived through that alone…without very much comfort from those I thought of as friends. The town I live in is a wealthy place and they don’t abide poverty and failure very well. And I have been poor and I have failed. And then it grew into hurt and shame…so much shame. And the shame became hardness, because shame will kill you if given enough time so you harden your heart in an effort just to breath another day. A hard heart in a poor man’s body who is cloaked in failure is not a popular thing to behold in the eyes of people who are generations removed from struggle and pain. It’s just how it is. Kindness was in very short supply. Understanding and comfort were operating in the red. Love and tenderness were scarce.
I was hurting and broken and the very people I wanted and needed to help me, to remind me…daily if need be…that I was not a failure. That I had been a success. That I was staying here for my daughter and it was the right thing to do. That God was up to something and if I just hung in there one more day I’d find out what it was…those people instead just smacked me across my mouth and told me to get over my pain and go get a job and stop complaining about how my life was. And so I hid. I hid the hurt because I loved those folks and I respected them and I thought…”I guess they’re right. It must be me” So I tried to gain their love and their favor and their approval even as I rebuilt my life. I studied in my car and finished my degree. I wrote two books, and three blogs. I started a small carpentry service and finally got myself a place to live. I graduated from college last May. You’d think it would garner a little pat on the back, but nothing. I published another book at Christmas…it was a good book and I was proud of it. Still…nothing. I got accepted in Seminary. Barely a notice.
I couldn’t figure out what it would take to feel like I had earned their love and affection and their caring concern. Re-read that last sentence. Earn it? You don’t earn that, Christ commands it!
Last fall the market began to weaken again. Jobs were more scarce. My landlord sold her house and in February I was homeless again. Since February 3 I have been sleeping in my truck again…after 14 months of having a home. One step up…two steps back. And nobody knew because by then I figured it out…they didn’t care. They weren’t going to.
It got to me. I felt like maybe they were right and I was wrong and I was the screw-up. I fell back into my old patterns of thinking…“Since these good and godly folks feel this way about you maybe this is also how God feels“. These last 2 ½ months have been painful and lonely and have hurt worse than the entire four years I was previously homeless. I feel great waves of doubt and fear, punctuated infrequently by my natural optimism.
I stopped praying altogether. Because I assumed that God felt that same way His emissaries here feel about me. I assumed He was mad at me for some unrevealed sin, some slight I’m not aware of. I figured He wasn’t going to hear my prayers for myself anymore.
I could pour out my heart for my friends and especially for my daughter…but to ask God for anything that might bless me or help me or be loving towards me or ease my troubles…I could not imagine him hearing me and eventually, I could not even attempt to ask. So this morning I had to pray in third person. I prayed for me the way I pray for my daughter… “Dear Lord…please bless Craig. Please touch his life. Please open some doors and provide for his needs and please restore what he’s lost. Please honor his love for his daughter that has kept him here in this place in which he feels so very lost. Please look at his love and dedication to her and bless that. Please give him a home and some rest for his soul. Let your face shine on him.” I prayed for me the way I would pray for me if I was someone else and met me walking down the street. I had no choice. These things had to be said and I couldn’t say them normally. I had to Gerry-rig something to make it work.
What I need right now is what Brennan needed and apparently never had. I need someone…a real friend who will not grow weary of reminding me…who will not cease to pray with me and comfort me and who will resist the urge to tell me to suck it up and go get a job and get on with my life. Someone who will remind me of the good things I’ve done and help me forget the screaming voices of the failures. Someone who will stop me mid-sentence when I begin to doubt and to blame myself. Brennan needed that. Maybe he would have finally beaten that bottle if he’d found that reminder somewhere. I have decided to become that for someone else, in the hopes that some of that will splash on me as I pour it on them. I’m a broken, battered, embarrassed, ashamed, wounded ragamuffin. I used to be a successful man, I owned a home, I had a good life. Now I am a shadow and I need someone to shine on me and to not give up until I shine again myself. While I do this for others through my writings, I hope to find it for me.
I hope you’ll join me.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

All is Grace…Saying Goodbye to Brennan Manning

I learned this morning that Brennan Manning passed away last night. He had been very ill and suffering for a while now and it’s best that he moves on ahead of us to Heaven. But his passing leaves a hole…in the lives of those who knew him, either personally or through his preaching and writing.
The greater hole is in this world…a world lacking in Grace and seemingly moving further from that Grace with each passing day. I wonder who will be the voice of loving Grace now that the greatest proclaimer of that message is silent.
I loved Brennan. Loved him. I loved him for a number of reasons. First and foremost because Brennan saved my life. In 1993, my friend Ed Young gave me a copy of Rich Mullins’ landmark album “A Liturgy, A Legacy, and A Ragamuffin Band”. I was already a Mullins fan but this record was simply breathtaking, in the way that those once-in-a-lifetime works of art always are. In the liner notes, Rich mentioned Brennan and his book “The Ragamuffin Gospel”.  I bought the book on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 1993. I got home at 6pm and began reading. I sobbed through each chapter, oftentimes stopping to fall to my knees and cry out the pain of a lifetime of legalistic enslavement. The words cut through my heart and set me free… “God loves you! Not in a way that will ever fail, or fade. Not like your parents faulty attempts, not like your friends and their human limits. God loves you the way you dream of but could not bring yourself to believe could ever be.”  It was like medicine to a dying man. And I was dying. The death of legalism and Pharisaical regulation had squeezed God out of my life in almost any meaningful way. For the first time in my life, I was seeing God as a Father…as Abba. Daddy. I slowly began to understand that the endless treadmill of performance I was shackled to by the belief system I had embraced since 9 years old, was a house of cards and a lie. I didn’t have to do a thing to get Him to love me. Loving me was what He did…it’s who He is. It was obscene of me to try to earn it or keep it or perform in order to warrant it. God loves me as I am, not as I ought to be…because I will never be as I ought to be. Not ever.
I read until midnight and finally fell asleep. The kind of exhausted but satisfying sleep that comes after an emotional and spiritual breakthrough. I awoke at 6am and finished reading by 10am. I was sore from crying and palpably lighter from the grace I’d experienced. From that day until this I was a fan of Brennan’s writing and a devotee to his teachings. And I just plain loved the man.
I read every book he published and each one was a new insight into a word so abused that it begins to lose any meaning at all. The Queen is “Your Grace”. We say “Grace” before dinner. Wayne Gretzky moved with grace. It seems as if every third church has the word “Grace” in it’s name.
Brennan’s life work was to constantly return us to the root meaning of that word. Brennan Manning is the epitome of the word. His life is an example of how Grace can redeem the most scandalous of us scalawags. Brennan would probably laugh at the overuse of the word…or he’d get very angry. I imagine Brennan happily spray painting graffiti over the word as it appears on the signage of some churches. And renaming some others to include the term.
Brennan wrote us his final love letter last year. His health was in decline and he was beaten up by the world in which he lived and by the grasp of the human that he was. His autobiography was released in March 2011 and I bought it immediately.  I wept my way through that book even more so than when I read “The Ragamuffin Gospel” for the first time. I wept because Brennan had front-loaded this final book with some very wonderful goodbye gifts for those who loved him.
First of all…it was honest. Brennan had been hiding his alcoholism from the public for most of the Evangelical years of his ministry. Brennan was a Catholic priest and left the Priesthood in 1980 because he had fallen in love and gotten married. The Church would not permit a married, non-celibate priest and so he resigned.  The door that closed to Catholic conferences and retreats became a door to the Evangelical world and it was our gain. Brennan had written openly in “The Ragamuffin Gospel” about how he wrestled with alcoholism and had gone to the famed Hazelden Clinic in the mid-70’s for treatment. We all celebrated Brennan as an alcoholic in recovery and that was what made him so vulnerable and honest. But the truth was that he had lost the battle many times and had, in fact returned to the bottle by the late 90’s or thereabouts. It finally cost him his marriage and his health. Still, Brennan flew under the radar unless he had a book out and few people knew what had really befallen him. Until he wrote his memoirs and bared his soul. Alcohol was his constant nemesis…his thorn in the flesh breaking his heart, grinding his pride, keeping him in a necessarily constant state of repentance and forgiveness. I thought, as I read this confessional, that perhaps…probably…the very thing that fueled the passion with which Brennan spoke of grace and the love of God, (He would frequently become wild-eyed and bellowing when talking of God’s furious love) was the fact that even as he spoke, the guilt and images of the drunken fog he had awoken in that very morning was battling his soul, trying to gain ground and ruin the glorious message of grace he was proclaiming to a roomful of broken ragamuffins just like him. Somewhere in his heart, as he was pronouncing the blessings of a loving God and his limitless grace, there was Brennan’s own voice screaming; “Dear God…let it be true again today for me!”
And for Brennan it always was. There is simply no way Brennan could have had the effect he had on people and no way the message he delivered time after time could have been so effectual had it not been delivered in utter sincerity. And because Brennan never stopped being a Ragamuffin…his voice resonated with the Ragamuffins among us.
The other gift he gave us was a clear indication that this sad and glorious day was coming, and that right soon.
Brennan opens the book with “This will be my final book”. I had only just opened it’s pages, had just read Philip Yancey’s wonderful Foreword, and that sentence hit me between my eyes. Brennan was warning me; “Kid…this is it. This is all I’ll have to say on the matter so start accepting it” I could hear it in his thick Brooklyn accent. I stopped reading and was weeping already and I was only one sentence in. Brennan is done. His voice has fallen silent and soon, his eyes will grow dim and the great sleep will come. I couldn’t imagine a world without Brennan Manning that day and I still can’t, even as that day is now here.
I love this man…this broken, tortured, difficult, scandalous man. This man who could stand before a crowd of desperate, thirsting pilgrims and proclaim the truth of love and grace while his own heart burned to accept the message he spoke to a deeper degree. At least to a degree that would have allowed him to beat the bottle forever. But that was not to be his path. Brennan wrote once of the “Victorious Limp” where he makes the case that the things that hinder us, and the difficult hardships we walk through are what Paul was talking about in Colossians 1:24 when he says he is “Filling up what is lacking in Christ’s affliction.”
Jesus paid the entire penalty for sin. But he did not suffer all the various ills of humanity. Jesus had never married so he had never gone through the pain of divorce. But as I limped through mine…as my heart broke over and over and I missed my wife and I prayed for God to change her heart and He didn’t…reminiscent of Jesus in the Garden begging for a different cup…and when I missed my daughter so much I would cry myself to sleep, Jesus went through that with me and in doing so I filled up the lacking in his affliction. When I lost my career in the economic disaster of 2008, and when I was sleeping in my car, and when my father refused to accept me as his son and continued his life-long rejection of me, Jesus endured it with me and I filled up what was lacking in His affliction.
When Brennan Manning would check himself into a cheap airport hotel and drink himself blind the night before leading a spiritual retreat…Jesus was in that room with him. Jesus never had an alcohol problem, never had an addiction. But when Brennan awoke in another alcoholic fog and cried out once again in repentance for yet another dose of forgiving grace…he was filling up what was lacking in Christ’s affliction. In Brennan’s life, I see Jesus calling to me in a gentle voice; “Craig…in all this I never left Brennan’s side. In all this I loved him and I used him to proclaim my loving grace to a broken world. You have no need to fear me when you fall.”  Had Jesus been a slave to alcoholism it would have looked like Brennan Manning.
Brennan’s greatest gift to us was his openness and his brokenness.
As a writer, I long to create the world Brennan did with his mastery of words. I cannot be Brennan. But I have tasted the same healing waters and it’s my job to pass the message of grace to the next band of weary travelers in my own voice.
But in a way that tips my hat to the man who taught it to me.
One more thought on my way out the door…
This morning I thought about Brennan’s wondrous entrance into Heaven. Of course the first person we want to imagine greeting him is Rich Mullins, who was so intertwined in his life. Maybe Flannery O’Connor would be next or a few Popes. But my image was special and it felt so real to me that I instantly broke into tears. In my mind I saw Brennan moving slowly through the crowd of greeters and well wisher and looking intently for the face of our Lord. After time with Him Brennan looks up to see the sweet, tender, lovely face of my grandmother, Dorothea Wray Shanko, a woman who loved Jesus with every possible bit of her being but who never quite rested in the knowledge of His love for her. She could not quite forgive herself for her failures and faults and lived the life of a desperate believer. Believing in Jesus, accepting his love for her, but never grasping why.
In my mind I saw her reach for Brennan’s hand and squeeze it softly. Brennan knows who she is without an introduction. She kisses his cheek and says; “My grandson was a desperate, broken young man of 29 years old the year I came here to Heaven. I watched him from this cloud of witnesses and worried and prayed that he would find Grace and break the chains that gripped our family. I saw his hurting heart and I wanted so desperately to get to him somehow and proclaim the love I only found after coming here. Brennan…you did that for me. Thank you for saving my Craig.” Brennan would only answer with tears.
That image is burned into my heart this morning. I never met Brennan in life but I feel like my grandmother is filling him in on the details.
Godspeed Brennan Manning. My life was saved, reshaped, torn down and remade because your life was as well, and you were brave enough to tell the tale.
I love you dearly, I will see you soon.