So I learned in my Intro to Philosophy class my freshman year of college, as spoken by Socrates. Reading these word’s in Plato’s Apology felt like an epiphany; self-knowledge and philosophical reflection confer meaning and value to life. “Know thyself” is the answer to fulfillment!
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that self-knowledge can enslave as often as it empowers. When we ask, “Who am I,” the answers can be too disappointing to bear. This can especially be the case for pastors. As parishioners exalt them to a high moral status, pastors can easily adopt for themselves those expectations for perfection. But when they examine their lives, they can find anger, apathy, and sadness. When they examine their ministries, they can find failed churches, disappointed parishioners, and uninspired initiatives. The unexamined life might be pointless, but the examined life can be depressing. Socrates encouraged us to look at our lives, but he didn’t describe how. What measure do we use? What lens do we look through?
Brennan Manning, a beloved writer best known for his book Ragamuffin Gospel, passed away recently. He spoke and wrote openly about his struggles with alcoholism but only as a window to a deeper reality to his life. Manning saw his life in the terms of his memoir’s title: All is Grace.
In an article on his website, Philip Yancey offered these words about his friend Brennan.
As you read this memoir you may be tempted, as I am, to think “Oh, what might have been…if Brennan hadn’t given into drink.” I urge you to reframe the thought to, “Oh, what might have been…if Brennan hadn’t discovered grace.” More than once I have watched this leprechaun of an Irish Catholic hold spellbound an audience of thousands by telling in a new and personal way the story that all of us want to hear: that the Maker of all things loves and forgives us. Brennan knows well that love and especially the forgiveness. Like “Christian,” the everyman character in The Pilgrim’s Progress, he progressed not by always making right decisions but by responding appropriately to wrong ones. (John Bunyan, after all, titled his own spiritual biography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners).
Yancey knows that Manning’s story can be examined as a disappointment or a triumph, and the difference is grace. How do you frame your life? By the standard of “always making right decisions” or “by responding appropriately to wrong ones”? When we examine our lives, may we discover with Manning:
“All is grace.”
(Image by flickr user Cia. /via Creative Commons)