《杨腓力(Philip Yancey)》

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I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret. A facility with words may make writers sound confident and wise but most often we write about what we long for. Thus books on marriage often emerge from difficult marriages and books on prayer trace back to the authors’ frustrations with prayer. No one demonstrates this pattern better than Brennan Manning, a friend who died two weeks shy of his 79th birthday, which would have been today. Brennan piped a one-note tune, the melody of grace, and his own life both embodied and belied that theme.

When he got around to writing a memoir, Brennan titled it All Is Grace. I had agreed to write the foreword and behind the scenes the publisher wondered whether the memoir would ever get written. Brennan sank into a depression, gave in once more to his lifelong struggle with alcoholism, and suffered a broken shoulder and ribs from falls. Several times I got calls from people who had booked him to speak to a college or church audience. “We’ve heard he drinks a lot,” they said. “And that he makes up some of the stories he tells.”

Guilty on both counts. As revealed in his memoir, by age 18 Brennan was drinking a dozen beers every night to wash down lesser amounts of rye whiskey and Japanese sake, and he had relapses throughout his speaking career. He describes standing before an audience to impart spiritual wisdom just before checking himself into a motel and drinking himself into a stupor. After several days on a bender he would fly directly to his next speaking engagement. No wonder he sometimes made up stories—he had lost his grip on reality.

The memoir tells of a loveless, miserable childhood in a tough Irish Catholic family not far from New York City. From there Brennan joined the Marine Corps and, after a dramatic conversion experience, made a U-turn into the Franciscan priesthood. He served for a time as a campus minister at a college and seminary, joined the Little Brothers of Jesus in France where he worked as a mason’s assistant and dishwasher, spent six months in a desert cave in Spain, then returned to the U.S. to work with poor shrimp farmers and their families. After settling in New Orleans, he left the Franciscans in order to marry, a relationship that ended in divorce after 18 years, yet another consequence of his addiction to alcohol.

Brennan began speaking to mostly evangelical Protestant audiences since his status as an “inactive priest” made him unwelcome in many Catholic gatherings. A small,trim man with a head of snow-white hair, he would usually begin with this corny opening: “In the words of Francis of Assisi when he met Brother Dominic on the road to Umbria, ‘Hi.’” But then something akin to possession would take place and with a strong voice and the poetic rhythm of a rap artist he would begin a riff about the grace of God.

Why is Brennan Manning lovable in the eyes of God? Because on February 8th of 1956, in a shattering, life-changing experience, I committed my life to Jesus. Does God love me because ever since I was ordained a priest in 1963, I roamed the country and lately all over the world proclaiming the Good News of the gospel of grace? Does God love me because I tithe to the poor? Does he love me because back in New Orleans I work on skid row with alcoholics, addicts, and those who suffer with AIDS? Does God love me because I spend two hours every day in prayer? If I believe that stuff I’m a Pharisee! Then I feel I’m entitled to be comfortably close to Christ because of my good works. The gospel of grace says, “Brennan, you’re lovable for one reason only—because God loves you. Period.”

Rising in eloquence, he held audiences spellbound. One university chaplain told me that no speaker had ever had more impact on his fickle students than this aging, alcoholic failed-priest from New Jersey.

Brennan reminded me of the “whisky priest” in Graham Greene’s great novel, The Power and the Glory. Though we never learn the priest’s name, and he considers himself a failure, a fool who “loves all the wrong things,” at the end of the book we meet those who have been changed—transformed even—by his life and witness. You need only Google “Brennan Manning” to catch a glimpse of those likewise affected by him. They include celebrities like Bono, Rich Mullins, and Billy Graham’s grandson Tully Tchvidjian as well as ordinary “ragamuffins” who first encountered the truth of God’s love through a modern whisky priest.

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark,” Brennan wrote. “In admitting my shadow side, I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.” He joined an accountability group called “Notorious Sinners,” which had mixed success in holding him accountable. “In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve,” Brennan also wrote, in Abba’s Child. Those of us who loved him wished him not so wounded, because we knew the toll alcohol was taking on his liver and his mind. In the end he lost most of his eyesight, fell often, and became nearly catatonic.

Using his best Irish brogue, Brennan liked to tell the story of a priest in Ireland who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, saw an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest said to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looked up from his prayers, thought for a moment, and then smiled, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.” I think he told that story because he wanted so desperately to believe it. He more than anyone knew his flaws. He as much as anyone I know strove to serve God despite them. I wonder, though, if in his 78+ years on earth Brennan Manning truly felt the love of God he proclaimed so powerfully to others.

Happy Birthday, Brennan. Now, you know for sure whereof you spoke.


我要跟读者透露一个不可告人的小秘密:作家遣词用字,看起来胸有成竹,颇具见解,但是我们写的,通常是自己心向往之而不可及的题目。所以,论婚姻的书往往生自于困难的婚姻;论祷告的书可以追溯到作者对祷告的窘迫。没有人比我的朋友曼宁(Brennan Manning)更淋漓地流露出这一点。今天(4/27)应该是他七十九岁生日,不过他于两周前过世。曼宁的笔只吹奏一个单音符曲调--恩典的音籁--而他的一生体现,也辜负了这个题目。

当他要写回忆录,书名取为《一切都是恩典》(All Is Grace),我答应写推荐序,但出版社私下却怀疑能不能写得出来。曼宁的忧郁症复发,又落入一生都在奋战的酗酒问题,也摔坏了肩膀与肋骨。有好几次请他到大学或教会演讲的人打电话给我,说「我们听说他喝酒过量,而且讲的事情有些是捏造的。」


回忆录也提到自己在纽约市的一个艰困的爱尔兰天主教家庭长大,那个没有爱,不堪回首的童年。他后来加入海军陆战队,体验到一次出奇的悔改经历之后,生命大转弯进了方济修会。有段时间他在大学或神学院作校牧;参加法国的「耶稣小兄弟会」(Little Brother of Jesus),作工匠的助手或是洗盘子;在西班牙的沙漠洞穴住了六个月;回到美国帮助捕虾工人与他们的家庭。在纽奥尔良定居后,他为了结婚离开方济会,但十八年后黯然离异,这也是酗酒无法自拔的另一下场。





权力与荣耀曼宁让我想起小说家葛林的杰作《权力与荣耀》里的「威士忌神父」。我们固然永远不会知道他的名字,他自己也认为自己是个人生败将,是个「喜欢不该喜欢的东西」的笨蛋,但是小说结束之际,我们看见被他改变,甚至可以说被他的生命与见证转化的一群人。你若在Google上键入曼宁的英文名字Brennan Manning,能稍微体会哪些人曾受到他的春风化雨。其中包括波诺(Bono)、福音歌手理查.慕林思(Richard Mullins)、葛理翰的外孙查维进(Tully Tchvidjian)这些名人,以及平凡不起眼、「衣衫褴褛」的人。他们都从这位当代的威士忌神父,初次体验上帝的爱真确无比。

阿爸的孩子「靠恩典生活,就是要承认自己的整个生命,光明或是黑暗」曼宁写道。「坦承我的阴暗面,就发现自己的真貌,以及什么是上帝的恩典。」他生前加入一个叫作「恶名昭彰罪人」(Notorious Sinners)的当责团体,不过对于他当责的成效则不一。他在《阿爸的孩子》(Abba’s Child)也写道,「在爱的行伍,只有受伤的军人才能服役。」我们这些爱惜他的人都希望他不要受这么多伤,因为我们知道酒精对他的肝脏与头脑造成的损坏。最后,他几近失明,常常摔倒,可说是完全患了紧张性精神分裂症。



about 杨腓力(Philip Yancey)《今日基督教》(Christianity Today)杂志的特约编辑;其着作丰富,多本着作荣获美国ECPA书藉金牌奖。