Remembering Brennan Manning

Everyone has a word. A word we would use to describe God and who we understand Him to be. Rob Bell said, “We shape our God, and then our God shapes us.” In other words, who we believe God is, ultimately determines how we see ourselves—and how we think He sees us. I don’t know what your word is, but I know what I want mine to be.

April 12 marks three years since writer, priest and public speaker Brennan Manning passed away. I remember it because Rodney and I were in Charleston, South Carolina celebrating our 7thanniversary. The day was warm, sunny and kid free. It was perfect. And then I checked my phone and saw the news. Brennan Manning was gone.

I didn’t know him. But he was one of those writers that made his readers feel like he knew them. His book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, was a mile marker in my faith journey. I read it when I was a junior in high school, after coming across it on one of the shelves in our church’s library. Though I’d never heard of him before, or the word “ragamuffin” for that matter, I was intrigued.

I was even more intrigued when I bumped into our pastor on the way out.
“What’d you get?” He asked, eyeing the stack in my arms.
I named the others, then added, “And this one, by Brennan Manning.”
“Ahh…” he smiled knowingly, conspiratorially. “You know,” he continued, “some people consider him a bit of a heretic.” And that was that.

So I took the book home. And never took it back.

It was one of a kind. Manning was so honest. His life was, at times, a bit of a train wreck, even after his conversion. While some assumed he should have gotten his act together, Brennan lived with far less confidence in himself than everyone else, and found much more comfort knowing God’s grace would be enough to cover his debilitating failures. His was a journey from self-hatred, to the acceptance he found, but never expected, in his heavenly Father.

Months after our trip to Charleston, I picked up another one of his books A Glimpse of Jesus. He closed the book by saying this, somehow more poignant in light of his death:

“Lastly, let me share one thing that I have learned during the forty-seven years of my ragged journey: if you call Jesus Goodness, he will be good to you; if you call him Love, he will be loving to you; but if you call him Compassion, he will know that you know.”

Brennan Manning was known for the way he guided others in their experience of God’s grace. The irrationality of it. The limitlessness of it. The assertiveness of it. But Brennan tasted God’s grace as compassion. Compassion, Brennan understood, was grace in motion. He knew, when we experience the compassion of God, we are able to know the heart of God. And it’s in His compassion we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, just how loved we are.

Brennan Manning’s life and his writing led me to finally understand, when we name Jesus, “compassion”, we’ll finally see ourselves named, “beloved”. Or put another way, when we see who God really is, a compassionate Father, we’re able to receive who He has named us to be, a beloved child.

And that was what Brennan Manning spent his life reveling in and his ministry communicating.

Every book, every message had this underlying idea: God’s grace behaves as compassion and insists on our beloved-ness. God does more than love us. God likes us. He isn’t heaving a frustrated sigh, He isn’t rolling His eyes, He isn’t just humoring us. He’s pursuing us. He’s coming after us. He’s delighted by us. And when we finally get that, like Brennan, we too will never get over it.

Everyone has a word. A way we would describe God.

So what if our word was compassionWhat if we saw God as compassion, and saw everyone around us—including ourselves—as beloved?

Today, let’s taste the grace, let’s experience the compassion, and let’s live like we are as beloved as He says we are.

I think it would be as fitting a tribute to Brennan as any.