We Are Ragamuffins All
This was originally a reply to Basil about the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. However, others have asked what I think about this book, so, here’s a general reply to all. It was good to think about it.
As for The Ragamuffin Gospelâ€¦I love it. It quickly became one of my favorite books when I read it a few years ago. I liked it enough that I asked Fr. J if we could use it for a book study at the parish. He read it and agreed, and I believe all those that came really enjoyed the book as well. Now, having said all of that, I can say that despite how much I like the book, I would guess that the tendency for many would be to lean towards the “cheap grace” view of God and the Church after reading it. Grace certainly is not cheap, and I don’t in any way believe that Manning implies so. Any leaning toward this idea would most likely be from our own agendas rather than his. I’m reminded of Romans 6 in thinking about all of this. People can take the Bible itself way out of context, so I suppose you can put whatever spin you’d like on Manning’s book; hence, the reason to be moderate and balanced in all things. I think Manning does a wonderful job capturing the heart of God, as Abba, and portraying in words the overwhelming love and grace that He pours out on us, his children. It was tough to wrap my mind around though. Not that it was a difficult “read”; more that it is hard for me to accept that there’s nothing I can do in and of myself to raise me to the heights of heaven. I am a ragamuffin, no matter how hard I try to keep the pious facade going; at the core of my very being I am broken and in great need of God’s mercy. Yes, I believe that the Church has given us great tools for achieving victory over sin, and for recognizing the Truth in ourselves. However, while it may not affect others in the same way, (although I think most of those who share human nature are prone to extremes…) my own proclivity is towards legalism, false piety, super-spiritualism, extremism, and in general, the easy way out. Add to that a flaming ego, and youâ€™ve got all the makings of a true Pharisee able to find his own way out of the abyss that ironically he himself has created. So, for me, the book was the fresh breeze of the Holy Spirit reminding me that I am loved unconditionally by God, even with all of my stupid flaws and willingness to stumble so easily; again, and again, and again. And, that no matter how many prayers I say, the number of lengthy liturgies I attend, the various “ministries” I’m involved in, or the good deeds that I’ve done to strangers, God loves me simply because He is God and I am me. Of all the deep theological truths and theories that I’ve read of and studied, that one simple truth about God is the most difficult to grasp. I suppose it’s because I don’t love that way, so why should God? I judge, condemn, expose flaws, shortcomings, and failings in others, and try to build myself up as some wonderful manifestation of humanity, all the while hiding inside myself hoping to God that no one discovers that I’m really just a scared, sinful, bruised, broken, damaged little twit of a man who desperately wants to be accepted and loved for the weird little parcel of flesh that I am. So, again, the book reminds me to stop pretending and allow myself to be and to be loved, and out of that acceptance and unconditional love of God, remember that this is how I am to love others. Doesn’t sound to difficult, but I’ve a notion that it is perhaps one of THE most difficult and painful things for us to achieve. I think men especially have this cowboy notion that we can “giddy-up” all alone and rope life and salvation with rippling masculinity and true grit; even if this be as a workaholic, alcoholic, sexaholic, or perhaps the more subtle knowledge-aholic, like-aholic, church-aholic, theologiholic, or general me-aholic. All the while, we neglect the simple command to love and be loved, and forget our wives, families, neighbors and friends for the sake of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and proving to all others, including God that “I don’t need help! I can do it!” Life in general has a way of kicking the crap out of us, and at some point most of us give up on our dreams, the light goes out of our eyes, and we begin to believe the Lie. Yes, the old Lie; that I am not unique, I am not meaningful, life is drab, dreary, and disappointing, and above all God cares not and I am not loved. It is at this point that we cease to be alive, and we just go on living. We have succeeded in losing our childhood and innocence in God, and have become full blown adults, worthy of the world and all that the Lie has to offer. But that still small voice within us continues to cry out, “You are unique! You are special! You were created just as I intended, and you are loved just as you are!”
So, there you go. Thatâ€™s my take on the book. I like it. Iâ€™m reading it for a 3rd time right now. I use it to quote from at Camp Board and Staff meetings. I would recommend it to most anyone. And if I can be so bold as to encourage all who read my reflections here, as the book has encouraged me; dream, love, desire, cherish, hope, seek, play, dance, and sing. Don’t give in to the Great Lie that you need no one else, and you are undesirable anyway. Never stop believing that all things are possible. Remember that “…the Glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Be alive while you are living. Be radical and rage against this boring, planned-out, media-saturated, Godless world and all that it pretends to be. God is still God, you are always His Child, and Abba will never let go. All Glory, Honor, Praise, and Worship be to Him!