Saturday, July 28, 2012

Taking Time To Love The Unlovable

From Brennan Manning's 2009 book "The Furious Longing of God"


"Back in the late 1960's, I was teaching at a university in Ohio and there was a student on campus who by society's standards would've been called ugly. He was short, extremely obese, he had a terrible case of acne, a bad lisp, and his hair was growing like Lancelot's horse - in four directions at one time. He wore the uniform of the day: a T-shirt that hadn't been washed since the Spanish American War, jeans with a butterfly on the back, and of course, no shoes.

In all my days, I have never met anybody with such low self-esteem. He told me that when he looked in the mirror each morning, he spit at it. Of course no campus girl would date him. No fraternity wanted him as a pledge.

He walked into my office one day and said, his lisp evident, "Ah, you're a new face on campus. Well, my name is Larry Malaney and I'm an athgnostic."

I said, "You're what?"

He repeated himself and I said, "Wow, congratulations! If you ever become an atheist, I'll take you out to dinner and we'll celebrate you're conversion."

The story I'm about to tell you is what Larry got for Christmas one year.

Christmas came along for Larry Malaney and he found himself back with his parents in Providence, Rhode Island. Larry's father is a typical lace-curtain Irishman. Now there are lace-curtain Irish and there are shanty Irish. A lace-curtain Irishman, even on the hottest day in summer, will not come to the dining room table without wearing a suit, usually a dark pinstripe, starched white shirt, and a tie swollen at the top. He will never allow his sideburns to grow to the top of his ears and he always speaks in a low, subdued voice.

Well, Larry comes to the dinner table that first night home, smelling like a Billy goat. He and his father have the usual number of quarrels and reconciliations. And thus begins a typical vacation in the Malaney household. Several nights later, Larry tells his father that he's got to get back to school the next day.

"What time, son?"

"Six o'clock."

"Well, I'll ride the bus with you."

The next morning, the father and son ride the bus in silence. They get off the bus, as Larry has to catch a second one to get to the airport. Directly across the street are six men standing under an awning, all men who work in the same textile factory as Larry's father. They begin making loud and degrading remarks like "Oink, oink, look at that fat pig. I tell you, if that pig was my kid, I'd hide him in the basement, I'd be so embarrassed." Another said, "I wouldn't. If that that slob was my kid, he'd be out the door so fast, he wouldn't know if he's on foot or horseback. Hey, pig! Give us your best oink!"

These brutal salvos continued.

Larry Malaney told me that in that moment, for the first time in his life, his father reached out and embraced him, kissed him on the lips, and said, "Larry, if your mother and I live to be two hundred years old, that wouldn't be long enough to thank God for the gift He gave to us in you. I am so proud that you're my son!"

It would be hard to describe in words the transformation that took place in Larry Malaney, but I'll try. He came back to school and remained a hippie, but he cleaned up the best he could. Miracle of miracles, Larry began dating a girl. And to top it off, he became the president of one of the fraternities. By the way, he was the first student in the history of our university to graduate with a 4.2 grade point average. Larry Malaney had a brilliant mind.

Larry came to my office one day and said, "Tell me about this man Jesus." And for the next six weeks, in half-hour increments, I shared with Larry what the Holy Spirit had revealed to me about Jesus. At the end of those six weeks, Larry said, "Okay."

June 14, 1974, Larry Malaney was ordained a priest in the diocese of Providence, Rhode Island. And for the past twenty years he's been a missionary in South America, a man totally sold out to Jesus Christ. Do you know why? It wasn't because of the six weeks of sitting in Brennan Manning's office while I talked about Jesus. No, it was because of a day, long ago, during a Christmas vacation, standing at a bus stop, when his lace-curtain Irish father healed him. Yes, his father healed him. His father had the guts to get out of the foxhole and choose the high road of blessing in the face of cursing and taunts. His father looked deeply into his son's eyes, saw the good in Larry Malaney that Larry couldn't see for himself, affirmed him with a furious love, and changed the whole direction of his son's life."