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Fake It ‘Till You Make It

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. ~Brennan Manning

Fake it ’till you make is a popular catchphrase in successful sales programs and some good recovery programs. It hasn’t, however, worked well for me as a spiritual practice.

I took a special math test in 7th grade. I scored high enough to be in the small group that were ‘fast-tracked’. That meant skipping 8th grade math and going straight to Algebra. I was a good student. It would have been great except I really didn’t get math.

From Algebra all the way through Calculus, I was completely lost so I faked it. It’s tricky, faking math. There aren’t any subjective Blue Book exams. There was a right answer, period.

Mr Huth, who sang at weddings and taught all of the advanced math classes, had only one struggling student (me) and one solution. I’d ask a question after class (not during because everyone else got it) and he’d send me home with his Teacher’s Guide. We did that same dance for 5 years.

I had the problem. I had the solution. I had no idea how to get from one to the other so I memorized everything. I memorized pages and pages of sample work and applied it well enough to maintain a B. I tried. I listened. I took notes that I didn’t understand and I faked it.

The same+ b = c  happened to me when I was on the spiritual ‘fast track’. I’d have (a) problems and (c) The Answer Book. I tried so hard. I listened. I took notes. I memorized Scripture. Still, I often didn’t (b) know how to make real life equations work.

Everyone else seemed to be getting straight A’s so I faked it. I didn’t fake my faith – that was real. But I substituted what I truly thought and felt for how I thought I should think and feel. I gave all the right answers until I was numb.

We long to know the grace and mercy of God in our lives but we find ourselves tripped up by failure, by temptation, by ambivalence. Fearing disappointing others and the ensuing pep talk (usually a scriptural exhortation) and the have more faith talk. Or worse, that internal voice that says you (and you alone) aren’t getting it right, compelling us to continue to fake it ’til we make it.

The message of grace shatters our fake facade. Grace says:

(aGod loves us as we are  + (b) not as we should be  = (c) because no one is as they should be

Grace frees us to love each other as the Father loves us. We can weep with those who weep because real people weep. We can rejoice with those who rejoice because we’re freed from self-obsession.

No grades, just grace.

All is Grace – A Thank You to Brennan Manning

To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting 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.”The gospel of grace nullifies our adulation of televangelists, charismatic superstars, and local church heroes. It obliterates the two-class citizenship theory operative in many American churches. For grace proclaims the awesome truth that all is a gift. All that is good is ours not by right but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. While there is much we may have earned–our degree and our salary, our home and garden, a Miller Lite and a good night’s sleep–all this is possible only because we have been given so much: life itself, eyes to see and hands to touch, a mind to shape ideas, and a heart to beat with love. We have been given God in our souls and Christ in our flesh. We have the power to believe where others deny, to hope where others despair, to love where others hurt. This and so much more is sheer gift; it is not reward for our faithfulness, our generous disposition, or our heroic life of prayer. Even our fidelity is a gift, “If we but turn to God,” said St. Augustine, “that itself is a gift of God.” My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”~ Brennan Manning (Th Ragamuffin Gospel)

Brennan Manning died yesterday, Friday, April 12, 2013. Brennan Manning once helped save my life.

I first read The Ragamuffin Gospel several years after it was published in 1990. Before Brennan, I thought grace was a nice word used in a benediction. I also thought that I was less raggedy than the average muffin.

As the years passed and the cracks in my veneer began to spiderweb, I no longer thought I was a such a fine person. I didn’t see grace as a priceless gift from a loving Father. Grace had become something you fall from and I’d fallen far. And I remembered Brennan.

Re-reading The Ragamuffin Gospel as a broken person was like reading an entirely different book. It became my Life 101 book: God loves you as you are and not as you should be… Abba loves you very much…

My life is a witness to vulgar grace — a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wage as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party, no ifs, ands, or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request — “Please, remember me” — and assures him, “You bet!”…This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough… ~ Brennan Manning (All is Grace)

I would say Rest in Peace, Brennan, but I don’t think he resting. I think the Father has wrapped His arms around him and is throwing him a party!

Beauty Is As Beauty Does

There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are. ~Brennan Manning
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When I was in first grade, I was playing at my friend Tara’s house. Her big sister, Patti, came downstairs carrying her yearbook. Patti was a sophomore. She was very smart and very popular.

Patti called us over to the sofa and opened the yearbook to the Senior Class pictures. She said: Who do you think is the prettiest girl in the class, Tara? It took Tara only a moment to point to the soon to be prom queen. Patti nodded and smiled and then passed the book to me. Debbie, who do you think is the prettiest girl in the class?

I liked Patti and I wanted her approval so I took the assignment very seriously. It was a small school. I don’t know exactly how many were in the senior class but I considered each picture carefully until I was confident that I’d chosen well.

Even though this was decades ago and I couldn’t tell you the name of another person in the entire high school, I remember my answer that day: Dorcas Miller. I can still picture Patti folding in with laughter. Dorcas Miller! Why in the world would you pick Dorcas Miller? She’s fat and her hair looks like her Dad cuts it. I asked you to pick out the prettiest girl in the class, not the ugliest one, Debbie!

I’m sure I remember this because it was the first and only time Patti ever talked to me and I was embarrassed. But I defended my choice: I like her face. She looks like the nicest girl in the class and that makes her the prettiest.

When I was 7, beauty was a simple concept. Nice people (or in the case of Dorcas Miller, people I thought looked like they were nice) were beautiful. Not nice people weren’t. There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.

My thinking about most of life has changed over the years but my definition of beauty is pretty much the same. Beauty is as beauty does.

Where the Outcast Weeps

Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh when we learn where the outcast weeps. ~ Brennan Manning

I loved this when I first read Abba’s Child. I loved the poetry and imagery. I loved the idea of it. But I didn’t get it – not really.

The day came when I knew I didn’t know. How do you learn where the outcast weeps? I’d heard things like: Look at Jesus. Do what He did. He hung out with the outcasts. Go and hang out.

And that’s true, but there’s more.

Jesus was an outcast. So was His Father. They still are. That’s the mark of  grace.

For a very long time, I did all I could do not to be an outcast. I tried so hard to do everything right. I was afraid of being broken. I was afraid of the rejection. I was afraid of the embarrassment. I was afraid of being hurt. I protected my heart until it hardened. God has a name for that. Pride.

First pride, then the crash. The bigger the ego, the harder the fall. ~The Message, Proverbs 16:18

I didn’t want to stand in the soup line. I wanted to be the one serving it up. I wanted to be the one who gave and didn’t need to get. I didn’t get it.

Only broken people know where the outcast weeps because they’ve wept there.

I’m not going to kid you, grace will mark you, break you. You’ll never look perfect again. Not to yourself and not to others. You’ll mend but the cracks will always show. It all depends on what you want.

If you want a heart of flesh, don’t just hang with the outcasts, admit that you are one. Then go to the place where the outcast weeps and find comfort.

Fitting In

Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There we are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.  ~ Brennan Manning


There I’ll be, a part of the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

Here I am, clinging to the Good News, the gospel of grace, longing for the day when I trade in these tattered, bloodied bits of cloth for ones that never can again be stained. With the desperate, the guilt ridden, the remorseful, the compromising, the weak, the weary…with these brothers and sisters I’ll fit right in!


Name Recognition

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

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My friend Greg recently wrote a thought-provoking piece.You can read his post: I don’t like Christians to find out why he chooses the term Believer over Christian. Greg includes a video of DC Talk’s song What if I Stumble which begins with Brennan Manning’s quote: The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians

If that’s true, that’s pretty tragic. I want to argue but I can’t.

For almost 25 years, I had a training/seminar business with Heidi (many of you know her from Good Life). It was a slow starter. We hadn’t written a book, we hadn’t done anything famous. We had to establish name recognition.

As the business grew, even when it got to be too much to handle, we never hired a marketer. We were the product. We cared about how we were represented. Before accepting a contract, we talked at length with our potential employers about what they could expect from our time together. When we showed up, we wanted people to get what they bargained for, and hopefully more.

God has a name recognition problem. It isn’t that people haven’t heard of Him. He has written a book and He is famous. The problem is that He has us doing the marketing. When we show up, there often isn’t much Good in the News. People aren’t getting what they bargained for so they’ve quit signing up.

I can remember a time when I would hear someone call themselves a Christian and feel an immediate kinship. Now, I’m wary.

Christian, Believer, Disciple: it’s not about what we call ourselves, it’s about how we conduct ourselves.

Once again, I’m the product. This time I’m the product of His grace. If that isn’t what I’m sharing, He’s not getting what He paid for.

Be Loved

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion. ~ Brennan Manning

We define ourselves in innumerable ways: by our health: by our wealth; by our roles; by our rights; by our relationships; by our religion.

If the facade fits, we wear it.

What if Brennan is right? What if every identity is an illusion except our identity as one who is beloved by God. Where does that leave those of us who learned long ago to be selectively honest and cautiously vulnerable; to give instead of receive.

Sometimes we choose to give, not because it’s more virtuous, but because it’s safer. Sometimes we chose to love rather than be loved because being loved involves such inherent risk.

If we find our worth and definition as one beloved by God, we’ll have to be willing to be loved by Him. Isn’t that’s what beloved means, to be loved by?

What do you say? Ready to run or ready to reveal? Ready to get radical and be who you already are? Ready to be loved, beloved?


Doin’ What Comes Naturally

As we come to grips with our own selfishness and stupidity, we make friends with the impostor and accept that we are impoverished and broken and realize that, if we were not, we would be God. ~ Brennan Manning

A friend was describing how her reaction to a recent difficult encounter had made the entire situation so much worse for her. She went on to say: I was just doing what I’ve always done. It’s natural to go back to the familiar.

That’s true isn’t it? It’s true even if what we’ve always done hasn’t gone terribly well. When we’re overly stressed or tired or hurt or fearful, we tend to fall back on our reflexive, familiar responses. We’re just doing what come naturally.

There are those who think we’re all born sweet and lovely and would remain that way if the harshness of the world didn’t assault and alter us. You have to wonder if those folks have spent any time in a nursery or with a room full of 2-year-olds.

I’m not interested in making an argument for a fallen nature, although I do think we have one. I can tell you, with a great degree of certainty, about my own nature. I can’t remember the last time that doing what comes naturally in a difficult situation was my wisest response.

As a matter of fact, my natural reactions are often my guage for what not to do. What comes naturally for me in conflict is to pull in. What comes naturally for me when faced with very difficult decisions is to avoid making any at all. What comes naturally for me when I’m in pain is to pretend like I’m not hurting.

I’ve had to give up doing what comes naturally, realizing my natural nature is impoverished and broken. Some days I still want to cling to my need to be right, relish in my martyrdom, or lick my wounds. I take heart in the reminder that whenever I’m willing, God is willing to supply the grace for me to step out of my brokenness and do the unnatural: love others more than myself.

Good Little Soldiers

In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.  ~ Brennan Manning

As the daughter of an ex-Marine and School Superintendent, I learned the life of perfected performance at an early age. I got good grades, I was always polite and I knew how to conduct myself in every social situation. I knew that, as the Superintendent’s daughter, my behavior reflected on my Dad.

A year or so before he died, Dad apologized for being so tough on my sister and me, saying: I didn’t know anything about being a father, I just wanted to raise good little soldiers. I think I always understood that on some level. He was a good father and I never doubted his love. His approval, however, was conditional and continued to be a major behavior modifier for me, from childhood into my adult life.

In time, I transferred a significant portion of that same perfected behavior and desire for approval from my earthly father to my heavenly One. I did good deeds, I was always polite and I knew how to conduct myself in every religious situation.

I thought I could fulfill my responsibility to community and to God by continuing to be a good little soldier. I concealed my wounds out of fear and shame. As Brennan says, in doing that, not only could my inner darkness not be illuminated (even to myself) but I was a very weak light for others.

Those that God has used most profoundly in my life, haven’t been the perfect Christian soldiers. They’ve been the ones who’ve crawled to the stream, so thirsty that they shamelessly gulped water with trembling hands. They are the broken healers who share their struggles; who’ve found grace and who grant grace as a healing gift. I pray to be more and more like them.

God in a Box

If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own.

We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree.

We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon.

If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on  both -  fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. – Brennan Manning

Brennan’s statement seems pretty radical. What about my paradigm? What about my systematic theology? What about my box?

I guess I’ve always put God in a box. But sadly, God shrunk as I grew. When I was little, the box was big. God was BIG. I knew that God was good and that He loved me. That was all I knew but it was enough and it was a really big box.

As I grew up the box got smaller. The more I was taught, the more I studied, the smaller the box, until one day I had all the answers. My theology was so systematic that I could slip God into a box small enough that it fit in my pocket.

I carried my little box everywhere I went for a very long time. My pocket-size theology served me well. I could pull it out anytime, anywhere and give anyone God’s answers for their life.

My tiny box was perfectly, hermetically sealed. Even from God. As J.B. Phillips said My God was too small. These days I feel the call of radical grace. God is BIG, God is good. God loves me.

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