That last part is the biggest, if not only, difference between Hamilton’s story and mine. (Or yours.) His struggles and failure are public and, thus, the stuff of potential humiliation; mine are private and “only” the stuff of guilt and shame.
Many years ago, I heard someone change the words of the Apostle’s Creed from I believe in “the communion of saints [and] the forgiveness of sin” to “the communion of sins [and] the forgiveness of saints.” The phrase has stuck with me all these years because I’m frankly counting on God enjoying the play on words as much as I do. I derive comfort from the possibility that when St. Paul told the Philippians that he was confident “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” he was suggesting that along the way forgiveness will abound.
I need it. We all do.
My favorite illustration of what the “communion of sins” might look like comes from Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel.” In it, he tells the story of an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting in which a guy he calls “Phil” admits that he fell off the wagon after being sober for seven years.
Phil knows he screwed up. He even has an idea of why: He didn’t pay enough attention to what A.A. calls “H.A.L.T.,” which stands for “hungry,” “angry,” “lonely,” and “tired,” the emotional states that make you more vulnerable to taking that first drink.
The response to Phil’s confession wasn’t condemnation, disappointment, or even surprise. Instead, his fellow recovering alcoholics said things like “Thank God you’re back,” “Boy, that took a lot of guts,” and “Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from.” At the end of the meeting a woman Manning calls “Denise” kissed Phil and told him, “You old ragamuffin! Let’s go. I’m treating you to a banana split at the Tastee Freeze.”
Phil’s confession did take guts. It also took belonging to a communion of sinners where the forgiveness of saints, or people who would be saints, is lived out. Stated plainly, Phil felt safe to be what he was, a man struggling with his demons, instead of striving to be what Manning calls “the imposter,” the false self that everyone admires and no one knows.
I don’t know if your church feels safe. I suspect not. Unlike A.A. meetings, where, in Manning’s words, “Everyone is there because he or she made a big slobbering mess of his or her life,” churches are invested in seeming to be filled with shiny, happy people even when they’re not. I know. I’m one of those people who doesn't always find it easy to be shiny and happy.
So I pray that Josh Hamilton finds such a safe place. And that I do, too.