From The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning:
On a sweltering summer night in New Orleans, sixteen recovering alcoholics and drug addicts gather for their weekly AA meeting. Although several members attend other meetings during the week, this is their home group. They have been meeting on Tuesday nights for several years and know each other well. Some talk to each other daily on the telephone; others socialize outside the meetings. The personal investment in one another’s sobriety is sizable. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is there because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together. Each meeting is marked by levity and seriousness. Some members are wealthy, others middle class or poor. Some smoke, others don’t. Most drink coffee. Some have graduate degrees, others have not finished high school. For one small hour, the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise. The result is fellowship.
The meeting opened with the Serenity Prayer followed by a moment of silence. The prologue to Alcoholics Anonymous was read from the Big Book by Harry, followed by the Twelve Steps of the program from Michelle. That night, Jack was the appointed leader. “The theme I would like to talk about tonight is gratitude,” he began, “But if anyone wants to talk about something else, let’s hear it.”
Immediately Phil’s hand shot up. “As you know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. You also know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days.”
The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner.
“You all know the buzz word, H.A.L.T., in this program.” he continued. “Don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired or you will be very vulnerable for the first drink. The last three got to me. I unplugged the jug and . . . ”
Phil’s voice choked and he lowered his head. I glanced around the table – moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room.
“The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year.”
“Thank God you’re back.”
“Boy, that took a lot of guts.”
“Relapse spells relief, Phil,” said a substance abuse counselor. “Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you needed relief from and why.”
“I’m so proud of you.”
“Hell, I never made even close to seven years.”
As the meeting ended, Phil stood up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck and cheek. “You old ragamuffin,” said Denise. “Let’s go. I’m treating you to a banana split at Tastee Freeze.”
If only our churches and communities of faith were more like this AA meeting. Humility breaks down walls. Honesty builds bridges. Compassion nurtures love. Our Loving Father changes lives and uses our brokenness and our wounds to do it.
Why are we quick to judge and slow to extend grace when our God is completely opposite? Why do we fear being honest and transparent in churches? Don’t worry – I am asking this of myself, too.