The Public’s place in Josh Hamilton’s sin

Even with the Cowboys in training camp, the Dallas/ Fort Worth area has been talking about the Rangers. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the fact that they have the fourth best record in the Major Leagues, and that they just won a series in LA against the Angels behind Derrik Holland’s 3-hit complete game shutout. But a lot of the buzz has also to do with Josh Hamilton’s night in a bar this past January.

The two-time All Star slugger – whose year has been derailed by injury, surgery, and a seemingly endless slump – is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. As a once touted prospect and number one pick he developed major addictions which eventually cost him a chance to play for Major League Baseball. Broken, alone, and ashamed, he turned up on his grandmother’s doorstep looking for mercy and redemption. Though the Prodigal did not enjoy the fatted calf that night, he did receive the love and support that would earn him a second chance with MLB. Josh found Jesus, a wife and family, and through the Grace of God and those around him, turned his life around. He was last years feel-good story; a living, breathing, Lifetime movie. He released a book, and became an inspiration for millions of people.

Then one night, while staying in Tempe AZ for preseason workouts, he decided to try a drink. This drink led to another drink, and then several more, and then a night of reckless relapse. During the night, which Josh does not entirely remember the details of, Josh did not ingest any controlled substances, or engage in anything illegal.

The next morning Josh did was he was supposed to do, activate his support structure. He called his wife, telling her everything that happened that he could remember. He called Major League Baseball, sparing no details. And he called his team, the Texas Rangers, letting them handle the situation as they saw fit.

Since the release of photos from his relapse this past week, the response from the Dallas area has been supportive, the only question is: should he have also informed the public, which he wooed and won over, of his fall off the wagon? Should he have shown those that he had invited to see his transformation– physical, behavioral, and spiritual– the embarrasing and indiscreet photos that document his sin? He invited us into his personal life to show us the good, is he now obligated to show us the bad?

As far as I’m concerned, just because someone invites you into their house a couple times, it doesn’t follow that they should give you the key. I’m a fan of Hamilton’s and I do not feel betrayed or deceived by him, just because he handled his sin “privately”. On the contrary, Hamilton responded to his sin more publically than most of us do, by honestly airing it out to those who he has real relationships with and real accoutability to. He owes me, and the rest of his fans, honesty: not an all access open door.

While most Rangers’ fans seem to feel this way, much of the media does not. Some of them whine about how Hamilton is not forthcoming enough, others marvel at how mismanged the PR was, and several are quick to label him a hypocrite about his spirituality. For once I appreciated Michael Irvin on this matter: a recovering addict who winsomely expressed how “drawing nearer to Christ” really does help an addict, but that falls still do happen. Irvin also was quick to point out that while many people think about how this news affects them, they fail to consider what Hamilton needs. He has to fight shame and hopelessness, and this is not a battle that the public can help him win.

While I am inclined to get angry with those who are all too happy to say, “I knew it, the whole Jesus thing never helped anybody”, I also realize that this is not exactly their fault. They are used to hearing Jesus envoked by salesmen, as if he were OxiClean or ShamWow. This is not Christianity, and adding Jesus to your life never made them instantly say “Wow!”. Or if He did, it certainly wasn’t that way “every time”.

But to many (including many Christians) Josh Hamilton’s slip up creates a sort of theological dillema for them. If Jesus was responsible for Hamilton’s recovery, as we want to claim He is, than how could Josh fail? If Christ is not responsible for Josh’s profound change, then what does Christ have to offer us broken humans? It seems that we are either forced to accept the virtues of will power and 12 step programs, or the fallability of God’s work in human life.

The horns of this dillema are illusory, created by a misunderstanding of Grace; a misunderstanding that threatens to take the hope out of relationship with Christ. Grace is not a product, or even a discrete “thing” that is dispensed upon humanity. We are not beings with Grace shaped wholes in us, that some missing piece clicks into upon entering into a relationship with the Almighty. Grace is the Divine Energies, Holy Light that burns brightly during every second of existence; and Christ’s work is that which enables us to join our energies to that of Persons of the Trinity. His working becomes our working. The life of the Trinity becomes the power by which we live, and have life more abundantly. The gifts of God come out of union with this Grace, as does our transformation into the likeness of God. When failure happens it is because we have rejected God’s Grace, and like St. Paul did at the beginning of his Christian life, we “kick against the goads”. The victory is ours, and yet not because of us; because the standard state human life is to be being part of that which is most beyond us.