《楊腓力(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.


我要跟讀者透露一個不可告人的小秘密:作家遣詞用字,看起來胸有成竹,頗具見解,但是我們寫的,通常是自己心嚮往之而不可及的題目。所以,論婚姻的書往往生自於困難的婚姻;論禱告的書可以追溯到作者對禱告的窘迫。沒有人比我的朋友曼寧(Brennan Manning)更淋漓地流露出這一點。今天(4/27)應該是他七十九歲生日,不過他於兩週前過世。曼寧的筆只吹奏一個單音符曲調--恩典的音籟--而他的一生體現,也辜負了這個題目。

當他要寫回憶錄,書名取為《一切都是恩典》(All Is Grace),我答應寫推荐序,但出版社私下卻懷疑能不能寫得出來。曼寧的憂鬱症復發,又落入一生都在奮戰的酗酒問題,也摔壞了肩膀與肋骨。有好幾次請他到大學或教會演講的人打電話給我,說「我們聽說他喝酒過量,而且講的事情有些是捏造的。」


回憶錄也提到自己在紐約市的一個艱困的愛爾蘭天主教家庭長大,那個沒有愛,不堪回首的童年。他後來加入海軍陸戰隊,體驗到一次出奇的悔改經歷之後,生命大轉彎進了方濟修會。有段時間他在大學或神學院作校牧;參加法國的「耶穌小兄弟會」(Little Brother of Jesus),作工匠的助手或是洗盤子;在西班牙的沙漠洞穴住了六個月;回到美國幫助捕蝦工人與他們的家庭。在紐奧爾良定居後,他為了結婚離開方濟會,但十八年後黯然離異,這也是酗酒無法自拔的另一下場。





權力與榮耀曼寧讓我想起小說家葛林的傑作《權力與榮耀》裡的「威士忌神父」。我們固然永遠不會知道他的名字,他自己也認為自己是個人生敗將,是個「喜歡不該喜歡的東西」的笨蛋,但是小說結束之際,我們看見被他改變,甚至可以說被他的生命與見證轉化的一群人。你若在Google上鍵入曼寧的英文名字Brennan Manning,能稍微體會哪些人曾受到他的春風化雨。其中包括波諾(Bono)、福音歌手理查.慕林思(Richard Mullins)、葛理翰的外孫查維進(Tully Tchvidjian)這些名人,以及平凡不起眼、「衣衫襤褸」的人。他們都從這位當代的威士忌神父,初次體驗上帝的愛真確無比。

阿爸的孩子「靠恩典生活,就是要承認自己的整個生命,光明或是黑暗」曼寧寫道。「坦承我的陰暗面,就發現自己的真貌,以及什麼是上帝的恩典。」他生前加入一個叫作「惡名昭彰罪人」(Notorious Sinners)的當責團體,不過對於他當責的成效則不一。他在《阿爸的孩子》(Abba’s Child)也寫道,「在愛的行伍,只有受傷的軍人才能服役。」我們這些愛惜他的人都希望他不要受這麼多傷,因為我們知道酒精對他的肝臟與頭腦造成的損壞。最後,他幾近失明,常常摔倒,可說是完全患了緊張性精神分裂症。



about 楊腓力(Philip Yancey)《今日基督教》(Christianity Today)雜誌的特約編輯;其著作豐富,多本著作榮獲美國ECPA書藉金牌獎。