Brennan Manning, 1934-2013

I was saddened to read this past Saturday that Brennan Manning passed away.  He was one of my favorite authors.  His writings had a way of extending the grace of God to me in a way that I have needed to receive over and over again.  When I found myself in image management mode, Manning gave me permission to accept who I was and live in the grace and forgiveness of God.

Ragamuffin GospelAccording to his website, he was ordained to the Franciscan priesthood in 1963.  During his work with the poor, he traveled to Spain where for a time he became a solitary reflective, secluded in a remote cave for six months in the Zaragoza desert.  After returning to the states, he experienced a battle with alcoholism.  That battle prompted him to begin writing, encouraging people everywhere to accept and embrace the good news of God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ.  Among his most popular books are The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, and The Signature of Jesus.

Abba's Child

Back in September of last year, I wrote about the Top 5 Books That Have Influenced Me, and Abba’s Child was among my top 5.  One of my favorite quotes from that book is,

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

The first part of that quote graced the wall in my office and a friend gave me a journal with that quote printed on the first page.  Is has become one of my life’s mottos.

From The Ragamuffin Gospel, one of my favorite quotes is,

In Christ Jesus freedom from fear empowers us to let go of the desire to appear good, so that we can move freely in the mystery of who we really are.

Signature of JesusAnd from the Signature of Jesus,

The question is, do I worship God or do I worship my experience of God?  Do I worship God or do I worship my idea of him?

Aside from reading many of his books, I got to hear him speak a couple times and count myself fortunate to even have had lunch with him along with a couple other people on one occasion.  Whether through his writing, speaking, or sitting across a table from him he was always both challenging and refreshing to hear.  May he truly rest in the grace of God!

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Top 5 Books That Have Influenced Me

I recently happened upon a website called Goodreads, which allows you catalogue and rate books you have read, and gives you the ability to share your interests with others whom you have friended.  Predictably, this site only fueled my book addiction.  While compiling my library and rating my books, I began to wonder which books have impacted me the most – which books get a 5-star rating in terms of rocking my world?  I thought it would be an interesting list to share, so here they are in no particular order.

Walking The Bible by Bruce Feiler

  • Why It Impacted Me – I had just returned from a trip to Egypt and Israel in 2005 and this book absolutely fueled my desire to further experience these ancient places you read so much about in the scriptures.  Feiler sets out on a pilgrimage to many of the places mentioned in the five books of Moses, visiting the sites, talking with the people, and gaining an understanding of the cultural backdrop of the Hebrew Bible.  The television program of the same name is itself a spiritual journey.
  • Why You Should Read It – If you want to read familiar stories in the Bible in a new way, paying attention to oft overlooked details, this book is a great primer – written in narrative, non-academic language – in the importance of cultural context for a full understanding of scripture.

Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright

  • Why It Impacted Me – I read parts of this book in seminary, but then again, I read a lot of books in school and didn’t always have time to process what I was reading.  But I remember this was a book I wanted to pick up again.  So a couple years later I read through it again.  N.T. Wright is one of my favorite theologians/thinkers and this book really showed me how much there was in scripture to understand beyond the surface reading.  Much of the New Testament was written not just from the Hebrew worldview, but also the Greek and Roman worldview as well.  Stories and references begin to take on new meaning when processed through these multiple lenses.  Wright in many ways rekindled my love for scripture.
  • Why You Should Read It – Unless you reeeeeeally love the topic, this may not be a book you want to read – it is over 700 pages and it isn’t easy reading.  Fortunately, Wright’s popularity has grown and he has written a number of more accessible books for those wanting an introduction to his work.  Try After You Believe or Surprised by Hope.

Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning

  • Why It Impacted Me – At a time in my life when I was tired from maintaining an image of having it all together, I read Abba’s Child and Manning gave me permission to get real with myself.  To use Manning’s words, we all have inside of us a struggle between the impostor and the beloved.  When we have the courage to quit living as an impostor, we are freed up to truly be embraced by God.  It was a message that had me in tears more than once and I have returned to this book many times since.
  • Why You Should Read It – Manning has a way of giving you permission to be yourself and embrace the love of God.  If that isn’t something you need, then skip this book.  But if you ever struggle to live in the freedom of authenticity, this book will help you embrace the beloved inside.

Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross

  • Why It Impacted Me – There are times on your spiritual journey when God’s presence seems more distant than near.  And then there are those times when God’s presence feels completely absent.  I have encountered the latter on my own journey and it was very disconcerting.  Reading this book both gave me words to describe that experience and hope that it doesn’t last forever.  It helped me relate to God in new ways and in many ways normalized the entire experience.  For that I am thankful!
  • Why You Should Read It – For hundreds of years, this writing has encouraged people through dark times in their lives.  I would almost recommend not reading it if you are in a good place.  Rather, keep it in mind if you ever find yourself feeling distant from God.

No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

  • Why It Impacted Me – I have to confess that there isn’t any one thought that jumped out at me in this book.  I just know that I read it three times before I was able to put it down.  It is so full of small profound insights into navigating this life that I had to include it.  Merton, though not necessarily in this book, speaks quite a bit about contemplative prayer and the role that contemplation can play in your daily routine, and I have benefited much from a more contemplative life.
  • Why You Should Read It – Don’t let the title fool you.  Though this book uses the language of men, there is plenty for both men and women to take from it.  It is broken up into manageable chapters that make it easy to read a handful of pages and process that reading throughout the day.  It is a very insightful book into navigating the spiritual life on a daily basis.

So there you have it.  If I were compiling a list of the best written or the most interesting books, perhaps the list would look different.  But these are the books that have influenced me the most.  So what about you?  Have you read any of these and if so, what did you think?  What books would you include on your list of books that influenced you the most?