Today, I'd like to share some nuggets from Chapter One of Ragamuffin, titled "Something is Radically Wrong" and respond to them.
Put bluntly: the American Church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice ... Too many Christians are living in the house of fear and not in the house of love.
When I was in college I wrote a short story involving a statue of hands with keys dangling keys of salvation tauntingly just out of reach of grasping desperate fingers in an effort to express this very sense of "Something is Radically Wrong." I was one of those living in the house of fear, who heard about grace my whole life but didn't see it lived out or feel it in my soul. The underlying message of many sermons seemed to me to be, "By grace you have been saved ... now hurry up and get holy enough to deserve it."
As Manning goes on to say,
... "do-it-yourself" spirituality is the American fashion ... Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as it if its only personal discipline and self-denial that will mold the pefect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing. In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time.
Fully accepting grace as truly God's unmerited favor that we didn't earn in the first place and can't possibly work hard enough to keep is absolutely freeing. Yet how many of us are still a little afraid of grace, afraid that if we emphasize it too much that we are offering others and ourselves a license to sin? We ask with Paul's rhetorical questioners, "What shall we say then, shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?" Too, who wants to admit that they are utterly broken, utterly helpless, utterly in need of a Savior? But that is the only way to true freedom. Blessed are the poor in spirit (those who acknowledge their spiritual poverty).
I love this passage of Manning's:
When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes.
I believe and I doubt,
I hope and get discouraged,
I love and I hate,
I feel bad about feeling good,
I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.
I am trusting and suspicious.
I am honest and I still play games
To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admiting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means. As Thomas Merton put it, "A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God."