“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.”
– Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
As an artist and a Christian, I have been heavily influenced by writer Brennan Manning and his book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel”, as introduced to me by the late singer Rich Mullins. The thesis of Manning’s book is that we need to re-examine our concepts of God’s saving grace, and realize that when Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned, he means that all have sinned. Not just the ones who we stereotype as sinners, but all.
This is the Greek word πᾶς, which means: each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything.
Those of us who have been raised in the church often forget this – spending too much time condemning others (in our innermost thoughts, if not in our words and actions) rather than engaging in the incredibly fruitful exercise of truthful self-examination.
Personally, when I look honestly in the mirror, I see an incredibly screwed up person who is loved by God because God has chosen to love the unlovable. As Manning suggested in The Ragamuffin Gospel, we are like ragamuffins, dirty, unkempt kids living alone on the street, begging for bread. And God saves us despite of who we are, not because of who we are.
Manning’s ideas are found at the heart of Thimblerig’s Ark, my middle grade novel. Thimblerig, the groundhog protagonist of the story, is as unlikely and unlikable a hero as one could expect to find: He’s greedy; he’s self-absorbed to the point of not caring a whit about others; he’s willing to lie or cheat or steal to get what he wants out of life…
…and he’s the one chosen by the unicorn to lead the other animals to the safety of the ark.
Like so many of us who come to recognize the depths of our wretchedness, Thimblerig can’t fathom that he would be saved from the coming destruction.
“You’ve made a big mistake,” Thimblerig said. “I should be at the bottom of your list, not leading anyone to safety. The choices I’ve made…”
The way the unicorn was looking at him, Thimblerig felt shame. He hadn’t felt that emotion since the last time he’d seen his groundmother, and he didn’t like it. Not one bit. Maybe confessing his bad choices would help alleviate the emotion somehow. He took a deep breath, and then spoke.
“I’ve cheated and lied. I’ve taken advantage of animals who had nothing, stealing their last fig right out of their mouth and congratulating myself for my cleverness. I’ve spent my life looking out for nobody but myself, not giving a rip what happens to others. And you think I should be the one to lead these other animals? Well, you’re wrong. It’s as plain and simple as that. You’re wrong!”
“Let’s get something straight, Thimblerig,” Tannier Isa said forcefully. “When I say I chose you for the job it’s not because I see some redeeming quality in you that makes you worth choosing. Not at all. I say it’s you because you are the one that I choose.” The unicorn’s voice softened a bit as he pulled his head back. “Yes, you’ve made bad choices, Thimblerig, but don’t be defined by those choices. Be defined by my choice. And I choose you to lead.”
May that be true for all of us, that we will be defined by the fact that He chose us – not by the choices that we’ve made. Because deep down, we’re all ragamuffins in need of the grace of the savior.
Please download a copy of Thimblerig’s Ark for your Kindle by visiting Amazon today.