Death and all his friends

The last mile of the Boston Marathon was dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Newtown shootings. The 26th mile for the 26 who died.

Reports suggest family members lined the final mile. Tragedy upon tragedy. Tears weighed down with grief. Reports also suggest no one from Newtown was among those killed or injured in the bomb blast.

And I want to say that amid the trauma and the tragedy that is the faintest glimmer of good news.

And I suppose it is. But pain is not dealt out in equal measure. Suffering is not even handed. Suffering is the plaything of a crooked dealer wielding death and destruction, rending families apart. Taking from a father who was running the marathon an eight year old son who was cheering him along.

Fairness does not have a say when death is at hand. Death is indiscriminate in who it takes, who it hurts and who it leaves behind.

God and Politics got there before me and wrote this morning: Yesterday’s bombings in Iraq have killed at least 31 people and wounded more than 200, yet we hardly react to it at all.”

That is not the worst of it, bombs ahead of the upcoming elections killed scores more over the weekend. When it is almost a daily occasion news slips out of the news. It stops being of interest, it is simply one more tragedy piled upon a nation torn to shreds, and we look the other way.

Whether it is the Boston bombings, or in Iraq, or the acts of Kermit Gonsell carrying out late term abortions in torrid conditions, death seems closer than usual.

Tomorrow the streets of London will be lined with fans, adherents and hecklers as Margaret Thatcher’s funeral takes place. She was never anything but a historical figure to me, out of Downing Street before I could tie my shoelaces. But in death emotions are stirred and we are reminded that what we do in life matters.

I was far more affected by the death of Brennan Manning. Philip Yancey wrote in the forward to his final book: As you read this memoir you may be tempted, as I am, to think “Oh, what might have been…if Brennan hadn’t given into drink.” I urge you to reframe the thought to, “Oh, what might have been…if Brennan hadn’t discovered grace.”’

In death we look back because we cannot see any further forward.

And in the end we lie awake and dream of making our escape.

Or at least so say Coldplay.

But I think that they are wrong.

Escape is not the goal.

We are not in heaven’s waiting room.

We live amid the rubble and the destruction and the tears and the grief and in it all we search for the glimmer of hope that points to something which says one day all of that will go away. One day cheeks will not be stained by the soft hint of swiftly mopped up tears.

One day the church militant, those of us living each day fighting for strength, battling evil, will have struggled for its last time.

But that day isn’t when we step onto an intergalactic elevator to move us through the stars.

God came to us. He invited us into his arms as he hung on the cross. The suffering servant that gave hope in His dying breath.

This God hasn’t given up on us. And he hasn’t given up on the world he created.

A ragamuffin called home

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

brennan manningDC Talk first introduced me to Brennan Manning. These words spoken as ‘What if I stumble’ kicks in were less a clarion call for action and more of a lament. Today is also a day for lament.

Brennan Manning passed away yesterday. He was a voice for scandalous grace throughout his life and a witness to the work grace can do for each of us. He was a ragamuffin and he taught me to be one too.

He was captured by grace that transforms and by grace that does not let us off the hook. Last year I sat on a sun lounger in Cyprus and read All is Grace. It only took me a few hours and tears strained for release. Brennan Manning knew he was beat-up, burdened, weak-kneed. He knew he was bent and bruised. He knew he was in need of grace.

Manning wrote words in prose of a quality rarely equalled. He wrote words that challenged and comforted. He wrote words that made me cry.

He wrote All is Grace as his health began to fade. It reads as a confession as something he felt needed to be said. And he said that grace isn’t just a one time remedy. Brennan was known as a one time priest, one time alcoholic who had left both behind to get married and preach God’s grace.

But the grace that comes to the ragamuffin prepared to limp and stumble to the cross is not a simple one time only fix all. Before God we can stand as victors but the battle goes on. Brennan Manning continued to be an alcoholic.

Sometimes the questions why came with sincerity, sometimes as a Pharisaical grenade, he wrote in All is Grace. And he said his response shifted between the words of 1990 with verbose theological explanation to the words of the past few years: “These things happen.”

They do. They happen to you and they happen to me. Things happen to us and we do things. It is why the scandal of God’s grace is that it is there for us each and every time. Why it helps us to our feet when we hit the ground. Why it lifts its arms around us. Why it holds us tight and why it lets us go.

Why grace is enough.

Why in the end, all is grace.

Today Brennan Manning stands in the freedom of God’s everlasting grace. Let us be thankful for the life that he led and the message he lived.

‘A Word Before’ from The Ragamuffin Gospel

The Ragamuffin Gospel was written with a specific reading audience in mind.

This book is not for the super-spiritual.

It is not for muscular Christians who have made John Wayne and not Jesus their hero.

It is not for academicians who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis.

It is not for noisy, feel-good folks who manipulate Christianity into a naked appeal to emotion.

It is not for hooded mystics who want magic in their religion.

It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the maountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation.

It is not for the fearless and tearless.

It is not for re-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the gospels: “All these commandments I have kept from my youth.”

It is not for the complacent, hoisting over their shoulder a tote-bag of honours,, diplomas, and good works actually believing they have it made.

It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their soulds to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus.

If anyone is still reading along, The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.

It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other.

It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it altogether and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.

It is for the inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.

It is for poor, weak sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.

It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.

It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God.

It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.

The Ragamuffin Gospel is a book I wrote for myself and anyone who has grown weary and discouraged along the Way.

Brennan Manning, 1934-2013