Monday, March 9, 2009

Brennen Manning - In Abba's Embrace

I attended a retreat in Charlotte, NC this past weekend led by Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and several other books including his most recent publication, The Furious Longing of God from which this retreat was based.

Brennan is an alcoholic, Catholic, former priest, sinner... healed, humorous, engaging storyteller, vulnerable, lover of Abba and loved by Abba just as he is! Brennan invited and challenged all to recognize that Abba loves each of just as we are. He also challenged us to love one another just as we are. Leave judgement to Abba. Practice the two greatest commandments; Love the Lord with all your heart and soul; love your neighbor as yourself.

As so often the case, I came expecting one thing and what I got was different and what I needed. I was fed.

The retreat began Friday evening. Brennan suffered memory loss in this opening session apparently due to a significant loss of blood from a fall back in the fall of 2008. There were pregnant pauses and flat stretches of silence as Brennan tried to coax his memory to cooperate. Those of us in attendance pushed back and paused. I am sure many of us bowed our heads in prayer. I am reminded that Mozart once pointed out that the space between the notes was as important as the notes. I believe the space between Brennan's pauses were the needed quiet times to listen for God. "Let God. Let go" was my fervent prayer. Compassion reigned. The next morning Brennan was renewed, inspired and on! He humbly acknowledged his plight, asked for forgiveness and acknowledged the love he felt from all of us. Abba was at work among all of us!

Brennan reminded us of the poverty of our vocabulary, our misunderstanding, our missing of the profound. One example he gave was Old Testament scripture concerning fear of the Lord. The way we interpret fear in today's language and the way it was intended are different. The original intent, meaning and use of the word fear centered on silent wonder, radical amazement and affectionate awe. If we are afraid of God, how can we enter into a deeper relationship? Fear causes us to avoid. Fear prevents us from trusting. Greater our fear, greater is the loss of trust. Brennan recommended we deal with our fear by constantly and continuously praying, "Abba, I belong to you!" Brennan shared stories of the healing power of this prayer and the deepening relationship with God made possible with this meditation.

Brennan emphasized to those of us in attendance to see the good in one another and to affirm. The sign of authenticity for our love of God is the way we see and treat others. He reminded us what we do to others, how we treat others, is the way we treat Jesus Christ! Brennan used the story of Don Quixote and Dulcinea in the Man from La Mancha to help us understand the healing power of affirmation. Here is a radical thought. What if we each became professional lovers of God as demonstrated with Emmanuel, taking up all our time to affirm, heal and loving our fellow person to Christ leaving no time for judgment, hate or greed. We would share and give as we have been given! Thy kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven!

I am reminded how important it is to retreat, renew and reconnect... regularly! We need to make time to push our "pause buttons" and mute the busyness of our lives to examine our core values and beliefs, our purpose, our mission and relationships especially with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Time with Brennan Manning was true manna from Abba. If you get the opportunity to be led by Brennan, do not miss it!

Our retreat ended with the benediction...

May all your expectations be frustrated,
May all your plans be thwarted,
May all your desires be withered into nothingness,
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child,
And sing and dance in the love of God,
Yours in Abba, Son and Spirit. Amen

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wm. Paul Young, author of the The Shack

It is not my intent to review The Shack, but I will quickly share my overview and take-away from Young’s fictional story. I believe the critics of The Shack forget this is an allegory and fictional writing. The critics get caught up in the details of his/her theology missing the central themes of the work which does not compromise the Gospels. The Shack has the reader explore the Old Testament view of God – God who seems angry, distant, rejecting and judgmental versus the New Testament view of God – God who loves, joyful, relational and present. Leave the personal theological details out of it and the reader gets a transformative opportunity to examine his/her journey of faith not only with God but with the Holy Trinity.

As for William Paul Young, this is a common man blessed to share a story of uncommon pain that may inspire others to understand the possibilities of God and how God works and heals in our lives. I had the honor of hearing Young speak at Montreat College, Tuesday, March 3, 2009. While his book, The Shack, is a story not be missed (continues to be on the NY Times best seller list after 40 weeks), the story of how The Shack came to be is as riveting as the book!

As Young tells it, The Shack was a fictional story he wrote for his children and God has taken it to share with His children! Young has the gift of storytelling. His style puts everyone at ease. He is humorous. He is humble. He is vulnerable. He is transparent. He has no secrets or hidden agenda. He is not afraid to take risk. His belief in the Holy Trinity is deep and strong, and he appears to listen to others on their faith journey without judgment. He lives the Golden Rule, something The Shack critics might wish to re-examine of themselves. Young claims to be an “accidental author,” who wrote this story for the people he loved which I believe turns out to all of us! He gives credit for the book’s success to Papa, his word for God, which I have to admit feels more relational.

Young told two stories during his 11 AM presentation. The first story was about how The Shack came to be starting with 15 copies printed at Office Depot to now over 5.5 million copies as I write this in just over three years. As Young humbly puts it, “This is a God-thing!” Amen! This grace-filled event has made him feel like he in his version of the 1998 movie, The Truman Show!

His second story, interlaced with how The Shack has affected people’s lives all over the world including Brazil, Australia and even mainland China, is a story about his mother, the new-born baby she saved in 1948, how that baby grew to be an Anglican Rector and how that Anglican Rector helped his mother to understand that Young’s portrayal of Papa in The Shack as a heavy-set Black woman was not heresy! You must hear Young tell this story in person in order to connect All the dots including your personal dots back to Papa, Christ and the Holy Spirit! These two stories took this listener’s breath away more than once and brought tears to my eyes. I walked away from Young’s talk more affirmed in my belief in Papa, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Do not miss the opportunity to hear Paul Young share his stories. If The Shack did not transform you, his personal stories will!