Max Lucado, pastor and bestselling author
All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoirby Brennan Manning, John Blase
On April 27, 1934, a little boy was born who grew up to become a vagabond evangelist in patchwork pants fiercely daring us to believe a line too good to be true—God loves you as you are and not as you should be. His name was Brennan Manning. He boldly preached of the love of Jesus vast, unmeasured, boundless, and free. And he always faithfully pointed to a
On April 27, 1934, a little boy was born who grew up to become a vagabond evangelist in patchwork pants fiercely daring us to believe a line too good to be true—God loves you as you are and not as you should be. His name was Brennan Manning. He boldly preached of the love of Jesus vast, unmeasured, boundless, and free. And he always faithfully pointed to a tender, elemental fury that blows where it wills; in a word, grace.
But before the fame of his ragamuffin gospel, Brennan Manning was a son, brother, soldier, journalist, priest, husband, father, and friend. This is that part of the story, a necessary piece of the larger puzzle of grace. These pages tell the story of a man whose name was not always Brennan.
Max Lucado, pastor and bestselling author
- David C Cook
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All is Grace
By Brennan Manning
David C. CookCopyright © 2011 Brennan Manning
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYou don't always get what you ask for. I expect most children have heard that line in one way or another. It's a difficult lesson to learn, yet it's one that is essential to growing up. But when I heard my mother, Amy Manning, say that, I knew she wasn't talking about something petty like a ball glove or a doll. She was speaking about something much deeper.
My mother had prayed for a girl. What she got on April 27, 1934, was a boy, me, Richard Manning. My name has not always been Brennan.
It was the Great Depression in Brooklyn. My brother, Robert, had been born just fifteen months earlier. Over the years, I've seen many mothers grin and talk about a second child born so quickly on the heels of the first as "my little surprise." But not my mother, not back then. To her, I was one more disappointment, one more unanswered prayer.
My mother was born in Montreal, Canada. At the age of three, both of her parents died within six days of each other in a flu epidemic that swept the city, killing thousands. Those were days when the bedtime prayer "If I should die before I wake" actually had teeth. There was no one to take her in, so my mother was sent to an orphanage. Her stay lasted ten years. God only knows what happened to her in that time. I've wondered if anyone was there to help a three-year-old grieve? Did anyone remember to celebrate her birthday? Did they even know her birthday? What about Christmas—were there gifts for her? Who were the adult females behind those walls and what kinds of mothering impressions, if any, did they make on her? And what about the men? Was my mother abused? Raped? All of this and more are probabilities for that bruised decade of my mother's life. But my questions have no answers because what happened there stayed there. Then again, maybe she would have answered my questions in the same way she answered so many others: You don't always get what you ask for.
When she was thirteen, my mother was adopted by a man known as Black George McDonald. Why he adopted her, or any of the details surrounding the adoption, I do not know; I do know that his name sounds like it came straight out of a novel. I've been told that he had made some discoveries of gold and was involved with building the town of Alexandria, between Montreal and Toronto. So Black George evidently had financial means, but I don't know his intentions. He must have had some kindness, however, because my mother wanted to become a nurse and he funded her nursing education. His gift led her to Brooklyn, where she completed her nurse's training, met and married my father, birthed my brother, prayed for a girl, and got me. Although you can clearly deduce that knowing of my mother's disappointment over my birth is painful for me, I have nonetheless committed to try to express gratitude in these pages. So in that spirit, I say, "Thank you, Black George McDonald. I'm not quite sure what all I'm thanking you for, but your grace toward my mother led to my birth, wanted or not. So thanks."
The nurse's training my mother received was based on the popular methods of the 1920s. The word parenting, if you can believe it, did not become commonplace until the late 1950s; prior to that it was childrearing. The rule was discipline, regimentation, sternness, and a minimum of affection. Early behaviorists like J. B. Watson influenced the thought and approach. Here's a quote that speaks volumes as to the mood of the times: "Mother love is a dangerous instrument that can wreck a child's future chance for happiness." Watson advocated a brisk handshake every morning between parent and child, nothing more. As alien as that sounds now, that was the world into which my brother and I were born. In many ways it was also the world in which my mother grew up.
As I try to understand the mysteries of my life, I must consider the voices and experiences that shaped my mother. Her odyssey from orphan to registered nurse to young mother was nothing less than heroic survival, but heroes don't always make the best parents.
* * *
Add to this story a man named Emmett Manning, my father. He and my mother were, in many ways, a pair of contrasts. Unlike my mother, he was not orphaned as a child. In fact, from the time my parents were married, my father's parents lived with us. My mother's father figure was some shadowy benefactor, Black George, but my father's father was a very real alcoholic. I have no idea what my mother lived through as a girl, but I saw glimpses of the rages my father endured as a boy. I learned then that there is more than one way to orphan a child.
Against my mother's nursing degree stood my father's rickety eighth-grade education. Her status as a registered nurse made her quite marketable, even during the Great Depression. She held down two jobs, actually—eight hours a day at St. Mary's Hospital, followed by another shift of private nursing. My father's employment, when it happened, was always described as temporary or part-time.
Temporary and part-time also describe the conversations I recall having with my father. Our words revolved around the subject of correction, my correction to be specific. In fact, the word conversations is a stretch; they were more like monologues with the same painful ending. I was sent to my room to drop my pants, and my father would whip me with his leather belt. Such displays probably made my father feel a semblance of power, but I knew that even his role as disciplinarian was defined only because my mother, the matriarch, willed it.
Day after day, my father would go out walking, always looking for work, wearing out his shoe leather. But I can't help but believe he was also out looking for something more, something he couldn't have put into words but felt on a daily basis. Maybe he was looking for himself and he knew his father back at the house was no help. Maybe he was looking for dignity, a belief that someone was proud of him. But my mother refused him that kind of respect. I don't know for certain what he searched for, but I do know that every day, he went walking.
You don't always get what you ask for, but you get what you get. Amy was a survivor; Emmett was a searcher. Together they made up the tallest trees in my forest—mother and father.
The question that he frames in all but words Is what to make of a diminished thing.
Robert Frost, "The Oven Bird"
Excerpted from All is Grace by Brennan Manning Copyright © 2011 by Brennan Manning. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Brennan Manning spent over forty years helping others experience the reality of God’s love and grace. This message was at the heart of everything he did. A recovering alcoholic and former Franciscan priest, his spiritual journey took him down a variety of paths. He taught seminarians, spoke to packed arenas, lived in a cave and labored with the poor in Spain, and ministered to shrimpers in Alabama. Brennan was best known as the author of the contemporary classics, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, Ruthless Trust, The Importance of Being Foolish, Patched Together, and The Furious Longing of God.
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A poem closes this book, a poem that Brennan must have written in his later years, perhaps for this autobiography specifically. In it, he describes the changes that have taken place in him as he ages... and he whispers "Still, all is grace." He describes his wondering- does Jesus love me still? And he hears his Father say, full and plain, "All is grace." All is grace. Every poor choice and aching regret and disappointment that Brennan dealt with? It was all bathed in grace. Every act of kindness and truthful word that he gave the world? It all sprang from grace. It's the grace he tried to trust at the same time he that tried to outrun it... and that pattern sounds like one that most of us know. Brennan Manning lived a varied and colorful life- he was ambushed by Jesus over and over again through so many people and so many places. He invites us along with him, on a turning and tumbling journey of memories and images of mattered to him. We get glimpses of his childhood- his first moments of rejection and his first best friend. We see him young and happy in the priesthood- stationed in a desert village in Spain, he drove a mule wagon to fetch water. We see him in love, and we see his wedding and his new family of a wife and two daughters. We see him overflow with the glory of God- encountering that Golden World, where Christ is so near to the heart. We see him struggle- "the cheese falls off the cracker so many times," as he puts it. And we see him fall. The falls hurt him, and they hurt the people he loved. Yet as Rich Mullins sang "If I fall, let it be on the grace that first brought me to you." For all is grace. And he is Brennan Manning, the witness to that grace. Reading this book now, we know that Brennan is home with his Jesus. And we know that the words he spoke, the grace he clung to and dispensed, is face-to-face reality for him now. And that is a beautiful thing to think about. Every step he took in the "right" direction, every stop he made at the "wrong" place- it was all grace that brought him safe that far, and grace that led him home. Thank you David C Cook for providing me with a review copy. It's joining several other Brennan books in my library.
everone needs to read this one