I am reading Brennan Manning’s last book, All is Grace. Manning died this past spring, so this will be his last word to those of us who, like him, feel a good bit like God’s ragamuffins (see Ragamuffin Gospel). I never met Brennan, though there was a time when we seemed to be following one another around the country speaking. I always dreamed of a day when we would be on the same program together. Being an openly gay pastor, however, seemed to be a barrier to many conference organizers.
That is unfortunate, because I just know Brennan and I would have gotten along wonderfully. We both are ragamuffins to whom God showed amazing grace, allowing us to do some wonderful things in the name of Jesus. Manning was a Franciscan priest who became an alcoholic, left the priesthood, and got married. Many people might have gone into hiding, or reinvented themselves, distancing their new life from the past. The beautiful thing about Brennan is that he did not. He let us all see the full unvarnished truth about who he had been and who he really was.
He helped me to understand grace by how he lived so vulnerably and authentically. Growing up as a gay boy in the South, I learned very well and very deeply the art of hiding who I am. It would be nice if coming out broke all of that down, but nothing could be further from the truth. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who are out of closet usually are only slightly more honest about one component of our lives. In almost every other way we are as hidden behind our masks and pretense as anyone else.
In the forward of his last book, Philip Yancey writes about Brennan, “As you read this memoir, you may be tempted, as I was to think, Oh, what might have been … if Brennan hadn’t given in to drink. I urge you to reframe the thought to, Oh, what might have been … if Brennan hadn’t given in to grace.”
We all have made a mess of our lives in various ways. It may or may not have had anything to do with alcohol. Our weakness may be pride or, more likely, a compelling shame that keeps us compensating and pretending. Whatever it is, we have those things that have made a mess of us and caused us to mess up. We gave in to them. I suppose the question now is can we give into grace? Can we be as honest and vulnerable and real as Brennan Manning and, thereby, allow grace to do its work to us and through us?
by Michael Piazza
The Center for Progressive Renewal