Sunday, November 14, 2004

Reflecting on being a ragamuffin

I was going to post this over on my friend Drew's blog, but I guess I wanted to put it here instead...because it speaks to where I am, as well as (hopefully) speaking to him.

I believe one of the reason so many people identify with Brennan Manning (the author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba's Child, among others) is that he is willing to name the monsters within. He picks up "the stranger" that I'd really rather not let anyone else see, and parades him around naked on the front porch. And in so doing, he lets me know that I'm not alone. I'm just like him. (And, if you identify with him, just like you, too.)

One of the things that I appreciate about ragamuffins is that when they name their ugliness amongst themselves, it seems to help defuse the self-hatred and shame that goes with it. It's as if Manning says to me, "Hey, you ever feel like this? Then welcome, buddy - sounds like you're one of us. Or we're one of you. Or something." It makes it harder for me to believe that I'm isolated and unique, even as I'm ashamed of how I feel, or how I fail, or how I react. (Folks in recovery frequently say, "You're terminally unique... just like everybody else.")

This may sound funny, but I'd aspire to be as internally monstrous as Brennan Manning is, was, or ever has been. Because, in the end, God's grace was (and is) sufficient for it would be "enough" for me, too.

I have to be reminded - often, and loudly - that John 3:16 does NOT say, "God so loved the world that He threw open the gates of heaven, and stood at the gateway, tapping His foot, waiting for us mortals to make an agonizing climb up the rope ladder He threw down to us." At a conference once, I heard a speaker say, "Imagine Jesus up there, on the very top row of the stadium, and you're way down here on the floor. Does he call to you and say, 'Come on up'? Or does Jesus say, 'Wait there - I want to be with you so much that I'm coming down to GET you!'"

Trust me - in April of this year, when I heard from my candidacy committee that I should, in essence, "Don't go away mad - just go away," it sure felt like failure. It felt like the church - the assembled Body of Christ - had said, in essence, "Screw you! We don't *want* you, and we don't NEED you." Even now, after 6 months of futzing around, it still feels like that, a little bit. And it's even worse because, financially, I had just one shot at this. I spent nearly 5 years of accumulated capital so that I could move to Chicago, and devote myself to full-time study for ministry. Nine months later, I was essentially told that I never should have come here, because the financial sins in my past negated any gifts I had for ministry. (And yes, they were that direct.)

That can make you feel like a failure, let me tell you...

I have had to be reminded (repeatedly) of a line from a Caedmon's Call's song, "Table for Two" - "...You knew how You'd save me before I fell dead in the garden/And You knew this day long before You made me out of dirt." If I didn't believe that God's will was in the middle of this somewhere, I would have chalked-it-up a long time ago.

One of my anchor verses - the Scripture to which I tie-down in stormy times - says "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Hear those 9 words, a little more clearly: while I was, and still continue to be, a monumental, selfish, self-seeking screwup - "Christ died for us." Not just for them - those fictional people who I keep believing have their spiritual, mental, and emotional poop all in a group. For "us", and me.

Do I think that the coldness of the few prayers I want to pray pleases God? Heck, no!
Do I think that God wants - desires - more from me? Absolutely.
Do I think that God looks at my own self-destructive behaviors and obsessions and addictions, and says, "Awww...isn't that cute?" Nope.

But do I think that I can somehow fail the One who spoke the story of the prodigal son? Is there really some obscure footnote in my Bible (or yours) that says, "This passage is appropriate and greatly helpful for most people, but it really doesn't apply to poor, hopeless, helpless, sinful and backsliding sons-o-guns like Steve"?

No way. (Trust me...I've looked. Carefully. Repeatedly.)

To steal a great truth from Max Lucado's Six Hours One Friday: The grace, and love, and forgiveness of Jesus Christ are present in the outstreched arms of Jesus, mirroring the welcoming arms of the prodigal father. Those arms opened wide for all of humanity, for all time - including for you and me.

And to make sure those arms would never, ever close...

...he had them nailed that way.


New Life said...

Brother, great post. I was thinking, Brennan Manning was thrown out of the Catholic church for getting married. God still has a minisry for him. His call was to the CHURCH, not to just the RC church. You are called by God to serve his church, trust your calling; trust what God has planned for you. I kow this is much easier said than done, but I sense a calling in your life and I want to encourage you (not discount your feelings) to keep walking and believing. God has a plan... hold on brother.


MommyT said...

Wow! That is a powerful post. Our church is now going through a re-plant because the original pastor was diagnosed with cancer one year after starting the church and sadly, he passed away 9 months after being diagnosed. So, we have this new pastor - who is completely awesome. He makes me see things so differently from any way I've ever seen them before. And, yes, I know that the church is not about the pastor, it's about God. Anyway, our Grand Opening for the "new church" was a couple weeks ago and part of the message was that he had a couple up there with him. Picture this if you can: There's a girl in a chair and a guy down on one knee with the open ring box proposing to her. This couple stayed that way through a 45 minute message and the whole point was that this is what He does for us each and every moment of each and every day. He is proposing to us to be WITH HIM. I just have to picture that when I'm feeling frustrated. Maybe if I post it here it will help someone else, too.