This past weekend was one of sad news. On Friday, I learned of the passing of perhaps my all-time favorite comedian, Jonathan Winters. He was 87 and a Marine Corps veteran of WWII in the Pacific. Jonny was very likely bipolar–his routines had a manic energy that often treaded the fringes of reality, and when improvising one of his characters at times the glint in his eye and the set of his jaw could be almost frightening.
Thinking about Winters brought back sadness about the very premature death of my old friend V. Dale Brown. We used to trade Jonny Winter’s routines. I was Elwood P. Suggins who worked down at the CEEment plant–Dale was Merle. Dale had more than a hint of mania about him too, and back in the late-1960s Dale and I were like brothers.
Then Saturday, about noon, I went over to Publix to shop and I spotted a silver-haired gent who vaguely resembled my favorite Christian writer, Brennan Manning, and I thought, “I wonder how Brennan is doing?” Less than 30 minutes later I turned on my computer and I found out. Brennan had passed away the day before and again I was flooded with sadness. Though sad, I thought, “He’s finally in his Abba’s loving embrace.”
I don’t think I’m any more psychic than most, but I believe that Brennan flashing into my thoughts at that particular moment was no accident. Our’s was a God-wink type relationship. It was in 2002, that I discovered Brennan and then that I started to think of GOD YHWH as Abba–“daddy” in Aramaic. It’s what Jesus called His Father.
On August 3rd of ’02, I was killing time before a movie leisurely browsing in a Books-A-Million glancing at titles in the Christian Living section–on a mission without knowing it. I spotted a book with the odd title Ruthless Trust by an author previously unknown to me. I picked up the book, read the notes on the back cover, opened it up and within seconds knew that I had been led to that book. Trust was a topic very much on my enormously anxious mind that evening. In two days I was scheduled to fly from Tampa to LAX to visit my stepson, Jeremy. The problem being that I hadn’t been on a plane in 33 years. Hummm, d’ya think maybe I had a problem with trusting God?
I could hardly wait for the movie to be over so I could take the book home and devour it–and when I did my eyes were immediately opened to my lack of trust. I said I believed in God; I said I had faith–but did I really? To that point in my life I had been unwilling to trust God with giving up the false sense of control that most of us so-called Christians have. I wasn’t so worried about the plane crashing, but more my fate resting in the hands of others. At 37,000 feet one can’t get out and walk–you sit still until the flight is over, and LAX was five hours distant non-stop. That whole story, with probably more details than you’d care to know, can be found on my website: wellbless.com under the title “Losing Control.”
In a nutshell, the trip to California worked out wonderfully well–so much so that in the past 10 years I’ve flown about 20 times–four times across the big pond to Europe, and several times to the Caribbean on mission trips. I now look forward to getting on planes, and if I don’t have a flight planned I get sad and edgy–and I now love the loss of control. When the pilot throttles back and the landing gear is about to leave the runway I close my eyes, palms outstretched and say, “Into Your hands I commit my soul.” Well, that often freaks out the person in the seat next to me.
After Ruthless Trust, over the next two years I read Abba’s Child, The Ragamuffin Gospel and The Wisdom of Tenderness and several other books by Brennan. His insights about grace, trusting God in all circumstances, God’s unrelenting love for us, and thinking about God as “Dad” were all life changing insights for me. He said over and over again that God loves us just as we are, and not as we think we should be–and allowing myself to think in those terms was a big step back from performance-based Christianity and a giant step forward for my self-worth.
In the Fall of ’03, I attended a weekend retreat that he conducted, and then the following April he spoke at my church. I brought my copy of Ruthless Trust and had him sign it. He seemed tired and so I didn’t try to engage him in conversation, but he did say, “Thank you for your faithfulness.” He probably said that to all of his fans but at the moment I was sure it was meant especially for me.
I know there have been hundreds of well-known writers who’s main message was God’s grace, but Brennan was the one who God chose for me–and his books were life-changing. And it was only after first flight in ’02, that I started a real walk of faith–trips aplenty outside of my comfort zone, and also in some way it gave me the confidence to start writing and publishing books myself.
I know Brennan wasn’t a saint. He was a lapsed Franciscan priest, a serious alcoholic with a few relapses under his belt, and I also know it’s documented that he aggrandized some of the exploits in his official bio. But I also know his sins are forgiven for like the women in scripture he loved much (Luke 7:47), and I know that he was chosen by God to minister to thousands of us. His final book was co-authored and it has just hit the bookstores. It’s title was his favorite theme:
All is Grace