Brennan Manning passed away on April 12, 2013, leaving behind the world he trudged through toilful step after toilful step. And leaving us all his collection of vulnerable writings, powerful enough to peel back years of misbeliefs and expose the truth.

You may not know who he is…I didn’t know of him until a couple years ago. Manning was a lot of things:  A soldier, priest, alcoholic, husband…then ex-husband, speaker and author. But above…or through…or because of all these things, he was also a guy who believed in God. He saw himself as a ragamuffin—a “bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out” soul who’d become “wobbly and weak-kneed” by the heaviness of life. And he wrote a book about it (The Ragamuffin Gospel) that turned things upside down—or right side up—in my life.

I finally realized that someone actually loved me as I am…not as I’m “supposed” to be. My scratching and crawling to gain approval through all my vain efforts was such a waste of time. The love was already there. I just had to accept it.

And I learned that part of that acceptance process included learning how to love myself (a dangerous concept in my upbringing). But I now know it’s actually good and necessary to offer myself some grace along the way. My expectations for perfection—expectations that came from a God of legalism who would surely punish me when I failed—were completely unrealistic and unattainable. Instead, I needed to, as Manning suggested, get honest with myself and “admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games.” I’m not perfect, and that’s ok. No one else thinks I am…God included.

When I was able to grasp hold of this, my spiritual self exhaled. I began to embrace grace for the first time. Grace from God. Grace for me. Grace for others.

So why write about Manning on this blog? What’s it have to do with photography?

Manning’s writings helped me begin to see the world around me in a new way, my God in a new form, and myself in a new light. Today, I’m enjoying the fresh taste of freedom from overwhelming insecurities that surged and sank with people’s approval and disapproval. Today, I’m embracing moments of relief from constant strivings to be perfect—learning to be okay with imperfection. As I continue to uncover the beautiful ugly inside my own ragamuffin soul, I’m better able to find that same beauty in other “bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out” things.

Thank you Mr. Manning.




  1. Well said Joe!

  2. Great stuff Joe. It’s so hard to overcome those biases of our youth. It helps when we step aside and realize that our parents, pastors, teachers, etc, all brought their past biases with them and passed them along to us. None of them being right or wrong in an of themselves but all little slices that show up in us. We have to do inventory from time to time to clear out the un-useful ones

    • Doing inventory is a great way to say it, Jeb. I’ve always thought that regular self-reflection and self-evaluation—seemingly stepping outside yourself—to be very necessary and healthy.