Many years ago author Brennan Manning spent two years living with a monastic community known as the Little Brothers of Jesus. The Little Brothers model their days on what they call the "hidden life" of Jesus, the many years he spent in obscurity devoted to manual labor and prayer before launching his public ministry. Manning spent his time shoveling manure, washing dishes, and mediating on Scriptures, among other things
The formative experience taught Manning that it's true transparency that we Christians must achieve in order to be a community of people who will live under the sway of the Spirit, "men and women who would be human torches aglow with the fire of love for Christ, prophets and lovers ignited with the flaming Spirit of the living God." But such transparency is foolish in the eyes of the world, as it involves reorienting our lives around the Gospel and ignoring the siren calls of pleasure, power, and security.
His latest book (a revision of one of his earliest books), THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING FOOLISH, is a primer in just such foolishness, and in classic Manning form it doesn't pull any punches. It's prophecy in three parts: The Way We Live, The Mind of Christ, and The Power of the Cross. Throughout he preaches against superficial forms of the faith and rallies believers around Christ's love. He weaves together scripture and stories of the many people he's rubbed shoulders with throughout his life to great effect:
"I have often seen Jesus Christ's delight over repentant sinners brought to life in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. The birthday celebrations marking the anniversary of an alcoholic's first, third, eighth, or twentieth year of sobriety resound with the merriment of the prodigal's return.
An old broken man name Phil with three teeth in his mouth lived as a drunk on the streets for twenty years. Now he walks to the podium in a packed and quiet room. It's his first birthday. Nobody thought he'd make it. He starts to speak about once being lost and now being found. He suddenly chokes up and turns his back to the audience. A standing ovation starts. Men and women storm the podium. They kiss Phil on the lips, cheek, neck, and shoulders.
Christ's compassion is illuminated with astonishing clarity at the dinner given in the house of Simon the leper (Mark 14:3-9). Some of the guests become infuriated when a woman breaks an alabaster jar of precious perfume and begins pouring it over Jesus's head. 'Leave her alone,' Jesus commands. 'Why are you bothering her?' He is so deeply moved by the women's kindness that he wants it recounted and retold all over the world. 'Write this down!' he tells them. 'Until the end of time I want you to know how deeply this woman's love has affected me.'
This statement is the long pent-up explosion of a love that can express itself at last, the secret of a heart pouring itself out. Jesus not only defends the woman's action but affirms her worth and acknowledges that he has been profoundly moved by her kindness. When we see the Master Forgive the prostitute and nullify all her sins because of her great love (Luke 7:47), we glimpse God's joy in finding us again; we discover that this joy is capable of submerging all the evil we can commit. We can finally stop wondering about the past, the extent of our guilt, and limits of God's love and mercy."
Those who are familiar with Manning's classic work THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL will find themselves treading some familiar ground here. In the updating and revision process, some stories from that well-known (and well-loved) treatise on grace have been worked into this book. But the deja vu is quickly surmounted by Manning's clear-eyed, earnest plea for Christians to give themselves over entirely to Christ's love and all of its ramifications for their lives. Don't read this book if you don't want to be challenged.
"The Little Brothers learn to disentangle essentials from nonessentials and to realize that this particular way of life is simply an exterior consequence of an immense, passionate, and uncompromising love for the person of Jesus," he writes. "To live among the poorest and most abandoned of peoples as a manual laborer without clerical garb, to pass days and weeks in the desert in the gratuitous praise of God, to communicate through friendship values that cannot be communicated through preaching, satisfies not a desire for novelty but a compulsion of love. Some may call it foolish. I call it true wisdom from the God of Love."
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on June 28, 2005