Book Review: The Ragamuffin Gospel

Well, I finished two books this week but how could I write a review of Alcoholics Anonymous?  Especially when Brennan Manning already did such an excellent review of it in The Ragamuffin Gospel.

This is one of those beautiful books I wish had found it’s way to my hands in 1995.  But it didn’t.  It was given to me by a friend a few weeks ago instead.  Better late than never.  I’ll just quote the author:

The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.

It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other.

It is for wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it altogether and are too proud to accept the hand-out of amazing grace.

It is for the inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker.

It is for the poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.

It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay.

It is for the bent and bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God.

It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.

Yeah, he’s nailed me there.  Sinner. Burnt-down drug addict.  Feet of clay.  High IQ but dumb as a rock.  And I, most certainly, enjoyed this book.

the American Church today accepts grace in theory but denies is in practice.  We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works — but our lives refute our faith.  By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived.  Too many Christians are living in the house of fear and not the house of love.

Our culture has made the word grace impossible to understand.  We resonate to slogans such as:

“There’s no free lunch.”

“You get what you deserve.”

“You want money? Work for it.”

“You want love? Earn it.”

“You want mercy?  Show you deserve it.”

I am reminded of a poem I wrote a while back and posted recently.  I want to live grace.  But I have no idea how to do it.  I need a role model, an example.  Jesus himself is a great example.  The second best I’ve found are old-timers in 12-steps programs, many of which don’t even call themselves Christians.  There’s something in what I just said that makes me cringe and cry.  Why, God, why aren’t we doing a better job of accepting and living grace?  No wonder churches can’t even keep the faithful, much less attract the faithless.

(M)en and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence.

I think he has hit on a crucial truth here.  What does it mean to be saved if we have nothing to be saved from?  Nothing.  And what does it mean to be saved if we have everything to be saved from and for?  Everything.  People with self-confidence and no need for grace end up being very busy maintaining that confidence.  I know.  I was one.  Life is so much less exhausting with grace-confidence.  I had to be pretty well beat up and broken down to find that.  It became increasingly hard to maintain self-confidence as I wanted and tried to quit and could not do it.  The harder I tried the worse it was until I lost all ability to control myself.  It was only then that I could give up that fight and accept that I needed something bigger than me.  It was no longer a longing to follow, a call in my heart, but a crippling, knees on the floor need.  But enough of my own story; I have a book to write about.

As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me.

And, indeed, this is the crux of humility: to be able to honestly step back and face the truth of how we interact with other people.  Yet again, I go back to “how we love others is how we love God.”  He goes on to discus how a person’s view of God will shape them and their relationships.  Attempting to appease a legalistic God will result in and exhausting struggle and “unbending expectations of others.”  But “a loving God fosters a loving people.”

It’s hard to write a short review of a good book.  I could just quote 99% of it and be totally happy.  I found only one troubling passage: he, too, depicts Mary Magdalene as a cheap hooker.  No where in the Bible does it say she was a prostitute.  She was plagued by seven demons.  Now, personally, I feel a woman’s sex life should never be the defining characteristic of who she is.  And Jesus did indeed spend time with prostitutes and adulteresses, loving them just as much as any and preventing at least one from being stoned to death.  But I always cringe to see a girl reduced to hooker status.  Slut shaming does nothing to spread good news.  Even if the point is that grace applies to sluts, too.

That aside, I loved this book.  It has interesting exercises at the end in “A Guide for Reflection and Prayer.”  It would be great to study this book one chapter at a time with a group or partner and participate in those exercises.  Somehow I never seem to do so well on my own.  I need a community of readers.  While I enjoy writing up my own reflections they are limited by me.  It’s better to get out of my own head and hear how other people respond.

Oh yeah, and he quotes some great stuff from the AA book, too.  The edition I have has an addition to the original, “The Scandal of Grace Ten Years After” which I almost missed, it’s tacked on after the notes and reflections, hidden at the very back.  I’m glad I still found it.  Here he writes about love driving out fear, but also that fear prohibits love.  “The longing for freedom from fear leads the ragamuffin to raw honesty about his predicament: the utter inability to self-generate trust.  So he hurls himself on God’s mercy….”  Read it all the way to the very back cover.

Our encounter with mercy profoundly affects our interaction with others.  “Blessed are the merciful; they shall have mercy shown them” (Matthew 5:7).  We look beyond appearances, beneath surfaces, to recognize others as companions in woundedness.  Human flesh is heir to the assaults, within and without, of negative, judgmental thoughts; but we will not consent to them because God is merciful to us.  We will not allow these attacks to lead us into the sins of self-preoccupation and self-defense.  Swimming in the merciful love of the redeeming Christ, we are free to laugh at the tendency to assume spiritual superiority–in ourselves.  We are free to extend to others the mercy we have received.

 

About m

My ego wants to think I'm a writer but my heart knows I'm just another one of God's Kids who sometimes has words to say. 2 human kids and 3 feline kids call me Mom. Or Mooooooom. Or mewom, depending which you ask. I'm kinda-sorta busy being a student again; this time I signed myself up for a bizarre torture known as Graduate School. Theoretically in 4ish years I'll have earned some more nice letters to put with my name. Let's face it, I'm addicted to learning and probably need rehab to restore me to sanity and remove the obsession to read books. I don't remember what free time is but I think I like to spend it sleeping or playing in the mud on a river bank.
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