By John Blase, 10/28/11 09:01 PM ET
Scripts. We all live by them. A few of us are hopelessly devoted to one while the rest of us cut quite the syncretic rug. These scripts are always interesting, especially in how they describe our last scenes, our finishing touches, our goings into that good night. One prevalent script, especially in circles of faith, claims you can finish this life like some glistening Olympic athlete in the winner’s circle, gold ’round your neck and applause in your ears. That’s certainly one option, and an attractive one at that albeit fairly rare. Another script exists, however, that presents a different finish, one dramatically less clean but achingly more memorable.
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” — The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
There you have it, the script for the rest of us: crossing the finish line thin-haired, eye-drooped, loose-jointed and all-around-shabby. But real. And beautiful.
I first met Brennan Manning five years ago, just after he signed a contract to pen his memoir. My role was to be that of editor. I’d read The Ragamuffin Gospel umpteen times and my copy of Abba’s Child was a dog-eared shamble, so I was thrilled. Manning writes with a voice off-to-the-side, and as all trail travelers know, that’s where the nuts and berries and wildflowers are. Our initial meeting was enjoyable, he seemed to like me and I liked him, so we silly rabbits figured all manner of things would be well. But some not so funny things happened to Brennan on the way to his memoir, things like a scrape with depression and a relapse into drinking and suffering a few falls resulting in broken shoulders and ribs, the kinds of things that make a man ask why would anybody want to read a book about my life, especially now, the way it is ending?
He asked me that question two years ago when my editor role suddenly morphed into that of co-writer. I said Brennan, you trust that the crumb of grace will fall. He broke a ragamuffin’s grin and we set to finish what he’d started.
Brennan Manning has preached his vagabond evangelist variation of the same theme for over forty years now: God loves you as you are and not as you should be. In my exposure to the vast crowd aware of Brennan and his message, I found that most either love that line or want to amend it. Those that cling to it do so because they too have experienced their share of not so funny things happening along the way to wherever they were going. He unforgettably described them/us/me in The Ragamuffin Gospel as “inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.” Those who seek to amend Manning’s message are fully satisfied once the line finally reads: God loves you as you are, but too much to leave you there. And that tack reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what Brennan Manning has blown the horn, banged the drum and waved the flag for all these years; in his word — grace.
This is from his memoir — All Is Grace:
My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough…
Sin and forgiveness and falling and getting back up and losing the pearl of great price in the couch cushions but then finding it again, and again, and again? Those are the stumbling steps to becoming Real, the only script that’s really worth following in this world or the one that’s coming. Some may be offended by this ragamuffin memoir, a tale told by quite possibly the repeat of all repeat prodigals. Some might even go so far as to call it ugly. But you see that doesn’t matter, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand…that yes, all is grace. It is enough. And it’s beautiful.