This may be one of the most painful books I have ever read. I was expecting it to be difficult, as I knew some of the history, but I had no idea . . .
Let me start off by saying that I love Brennan Manning and his writings. After reading All Is Grace, his autobiography (along with John Blase), I have an even deeper respect for him.
Born Richard Manning, in Brooklyn, NY (and yes, he was a Yankees fan, for which I forgive him), he had a difficult childhood. His mother pulled no punches in letting him know that she wanted a girl. “You don’t always get what you ask for,” she would say. She had prayed for a girl. Richard Manning was born on April 27, 1934, during the Great Depression. His grandfather was an alcoholic. His father was an alcoholic. So it’s no surprise that, when he turned sixteen, Richard started drinking, too. He had his first “alcohol-induced blackout” when he was eighteen.
During his school years, he discovered that he loved writing. So he went to college to study writing. But in the middle of his college years, some buddies convinced him to join the Marines, along with them. He had dreams of becoming a hero in the Marines, but one month after he arrived in Korea, the treaty was signed. Over the next three years, as he served in the Marines, he became a writer for his division’s weekly newspaper.
Since being a part of the armed services could get you free college, after he was discharged from the Marines, he began the fall semester at the University of Missouri. But after only one semester, he left college to enter a Franciscan seminary. He almost left seminary after a week, but had a rather intimate experience at the 12th station of the cross, which drove him closer to God. A verse in Colossians became very important to him from that point on. There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything. (3:11) He actually finished seminary and became a priest. When he was ordained as a priest was when he changed his name to Brennan, which is the name we know him by.
Later in life, he would leave the priesthood to get married. But he didn’t know how to be married, so he failed at that after a number of years. One of the key elements that ran through all of this was his alcoholism. During his years as a priest, during his years as a husband, and beyond, alcohol plagued Brennan Manning. Along with alcoholism, of course, there is lying. It goes with the territory. And his brutal honesty about all of this is what makes this memoir so painful. Brennan has no pretense of moral holiness; he lays it on the line.
I have read blogs and other writings that would have us dismiss all of Brennan’s great writings because he was an alcoholic and because he lied, all during the times that he was giving inspirational speeches and writing great books. I would say that the writers of those blogs don’t understand grace at all. I believe Brennan chose to share these things, close to the end of his life (we lost him in 2013), that we might see what grace truly is. None of us is perfect; none of us has it all together. I have seen more of myself in this memoir than in any other book I have ever read. No, I’m not an alcoholic, but I have my own “demons,” just as everyone. I have been in some very dark places, many of which occurred during my own time at seminary and during ministry years. Brennan Manning’s story speaks to my heart. While it hurts badly (I was at the point of tears many times during this short book), it is also refreshing. It is refreshing to read the story of a man who was badly broken, knew it, and was not afraid to let you know he knew it.
All is grace. I think Brennan Manning understood this more than anyone I’ve ever read. I wish I had known him. But there’s a problem with that. There were times in my life that, had I known him, I would not have liked him at all. In fact, I would probably have dismissed him, just like the writers of the blogs I mentioned earlier. But I understand grace a little bit more, these days.
Praise God for that, and praise God for people like Brennan Manning.