I learned today that Brennan Manning died (official obituary here) and I've had an interesting range of emotions in response to the news. Apparently, others are, too. His facebook page is filling up with comments from people around the world who were touched by his work and his words. The Naked Pastor drew this great tribute cartoon. Twitter has blown up with people's favorite quotes.
Why am I grieving the death of someone I met just once? One reason is now that I'm no longer a pastor with a church to shepherd, his life has become a pattern for how to serve the kingdom of God as a minister without "orders." But even more, it's that his life bore true witness to the words he wrote. His books and talks were beloved to people from all walks of faith because they held out the possibility that all of us, no matter how badly we've behaved not only have a shot at God's forgiveness, but at experiencing the fullness of God's love. In an era of evangelicalism where grace often is preached but not practiced, Manning's ideas were a cool drink of water on a hot day.
And he was fierce about it
The one time I met him was at the National Pastor's Covention in Nashville, probably about 2004. It was just after another voice of grace, Mike Yacanelli, had died and those gathered were wondering what to do without Mike telling us it was ok to be spiritually messy. At that conference, Manning delivered a beautiful sermon that brought me to a new place of understanding about God's deep love for me. I hadn't even realized how my soul thirsted until then. Manning's voice rose during the sermon, and he sounded like a crazed man, so obsessed was he with in making sure we got the simple message: God loves you.
I am God's Beloved
As he closed the sermon, he asked his listeners to meditate while listening to his voice. He urged us to listen to the inner dialogue and in the stillness he softly spoke, "If you are hearing any message other than God's 'I love you, just as you are,' then you are hearing the voice of the Evil One." Then with a shout he said, "TUNE IT OUT! Listen only to the singular message of God's love for you over and over and over and over until it begins to shape your identity into one simple idea. I am God's beloved." Over and over and over and over he said, "I am God's beloved." I started to believe it.
That word has been a companion in my life that comes and go as needed. It shows up in my preaching and writing with regularity, proving the value of Manning's message for me. My hope & prayer for you, dear reader, is that if you are hearing any other message than "I love you, just as you are," have the courage to tune it out, confident that you are shunning darkness and pointing your life toward the light of God's grace. And if you get that message, say a prayer of thanks for that "notorious sinner" Brennan Manning.
“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." - Brennan Manning, 1934-2013.