Impostors in the Spirit always prefer appearances to reality. Rationalization begins with a look in the mirror. We don't like the sight of ourselves as we really are, so we try cosmetics, makeup, the right light, and the proper accessories to develop an acceptable image of ourselves. We rely on the stylish disguise that has made us look good or at least look away from our true self. Self-deception mortgages our sinfulness and prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are - ragamuffins.
The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behavior. Suddenly I discover that I am ministering to AIDS victims to enhance my résumé. I find I renounced ice cream for Lent to lose five excess pounds. I drop hints about the absolute priority of meditation and contemplation to create the impression that I am a man of prayer. At some unremembered moment I have lost the connection between internal purity of heart and external works of piety. In the most humiliating sense of the word, I have become a legalist. I have fallen victim to what TS Eliot calls the greatest sin: to do the right thing for the wrong reason.
At Sunday worship, as in every dimension of our existence, many of us pretend to believe we are sinners. Consequently, all we can do is pretend to believe we have been forgiven. As a result, our whole spiritual life is pseudo-repentance and pseudo-bliss.
The appeal of paste jewelry and sawdust hot dogs is powerful....[t]o the extent that I reject my ragamuffin identity, I turn away from God, the community, and myself. I become a man obsessed with illusion, a man of false power and fearful weakness, unable to think, act, or love.
I have a confession. My impetus for reading this chapter was to help me ponder why certain things other people do bother and disturb me. Things such as posting photos on social media about how wonderful they are, and all their self-congratulating.
Then honesty and truth show themselves to me. I ultimately realize this post may be more about me and my pretensions. I like what I have heard Brennan Manning say in interviews and various lectures he gave - how he's broken every one of the 10 Commandments... 6 times on Tuesday. I, too, am guilty in like manner. And I'm positive that's not hyperbole.
Even after I came to this realization, my prayer was "Christ, have mercy." But even then I realized I was praying with a bit of self-righteousness. Still angered by others, and just wishing some of those that share their public self-congratulations could get a hint of my apparent humbleness and piety.
And it's not just this time, but so many other times when I pray something as similar as "Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner." I ask myself, "Am I really asking for mercy and forgiveness, or am I really doing my own version of the humble brag?"
It's at these times I realize the truth of what Manning wrote earlier in The Ragamuffin Gospel: "At the cross, Jesus unmasked the sinner not only as a beggar, but as a criminal before God."
There's no escaping this guilt as we are all not merely beggars, but absolutely guilty of our crimes. Yet there is true redemption by the love and mercy of God. We are truly forgiven. In Christ Jesus.
Lord Jesus, we are silly sheep who have dared to stand before You and try to bribe You with our preposterous portfolios. Suddenly we have come to our senses. We are sorry and ask You to forgive us. Give us the grace to admit we are ragamuffins, to embrace our brokenness, to celebrate Your mercy when we are at our weakest, to rely on Your mercy no matter what we may do. Dear Jesus, gift us to stop grandstanding and trying to get attention, to do the truth quietly without display, to let the dishonesties in our lives fade away, to accept our limitations, to cling to the gospel of grace, and to delight in Your love. Amen.
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.