By Sarah Anderson
This past Friday, April 12, 2013, Brennan Manning, someone many would consider a giant of the faith, passed away.
I first came across Brennan Manning’s writing in high school. I checked out a book of his from the church library, because it had the word “ragamuffin” in the title—a word I’d never heard of, and an author I’d never heard of. On the way out, I ran into our pastor who asked what I had decided on. “The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning,” I answered. “Ah,” he nodded with—how I remember it—a bit of a twinkle in his eye. “Some would consider him a bit of a heretic.” He smiled, and went on his way. And me? I was more intrigued than ever.
I never returned The Ragamuffin Gospel to my church library. (In fact, I probably owe them a good bit of money from that unreturned book) But I couldn’t bear to let it go. It was the first book that once I finished, I immediately started reading all over again.
I couldn’t get enough.
For me, Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel is a stone of remembrance, marking a time when God showed Himself to me in a way I never anticipated but so badly needed. Manning’s vulnerable words drew an image of God that haunted me. Pulled me in. Allowed me to fall in love with my Heavenly Father, making me believe like nothing else had before, that not only did this God love me back—He may actually like me.
Turns out, the word “ragamuffin” means “a ragged unkempt person”—a word Brennan used to describe the human condition—himself included. He wrote of the “unkemptness” of us all, and the extravagant, boundless grace that’s sought us, found us, taken hold of us—the hopeful absurdity of it all. It was a breath of fresh air—and a game changer. If this was true, if God could love us exactly as we are, no conditions, He was indeed a safe place to land. And so I landed. There. Believing this extraordinary certainty
These days, as a parent, Brennan’s insistent words come to mind often—remembering the way my young faith hinged on the confidence that this God existed. Every child deserves the chance to be introduced to this God. A God who loves them. Accepts them. Likes them. A God whose pursuit of them isn’t dependent on good behavior, polished manners or complete understanding. A God who wants nothing more than to meet them and tell them—again, and again, again, “You are fine. And you are mine—just the way you are.” Every child warrants this. And no one is in a better position to make this introduction than a parent.
As a mom, I think if I can get my boys to get that, to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are loved and they are accepted, then I consider mine a job well done. And so on most days, teaching that, and just that, is my aim.
You could say, thanks to Brennan Manning, I’m attempting to raise a couple of ragamuffins—kids who won’t have it all together—and know that’s okay. But who also know there is no greater gift than grace, and no greater God than the one who offers it without requiring a thing in return. And if my kids—our kids— can get that, then they too, with all their unkemptness, brokenness and raggedness can safely and permanently land in the beautiful, unfaltering and grace-full arms of their Heavenly Father.
Thank you, Brennan. Well done.
Sarah Anderson writes for the XP3 student curriculum at Orange. She is married to Rodney Anderson and is mom to two beautiful bouncy boys, Asher and Pace.