About 10 years ago I was asked to speak to a group of people at a camp/retreat setting in Newfoundland. I was there with friends to make some new friends and tell stories about Jesus. I was speaking a few times, it’s just something I do, talking about God, the Bible and how Jesus gives us the real picture of what God is like. At the Wednesday night gathering we sang some songs that my friend Will led and then it was my turn to talk. I love a good story and that night I chose to tell the story of an Old Testament character named Hosea.
The short version is that Hosea, while minding his own business, is called by God to be a prophet, ie. an official spokesperson for God. His first assignment was to find a prostitute, marry her and start making babies with her. God told him this relationship was supposed to be an object lesson, a living picture, of how things were between God and Israel. The cynical among us might think that Hosea did just what any good Jewish boy would do who met, fell in love with and brought home a prostitute to meet the parents. “God told me to.” Personally I’ve been enough of a whore to take Hosea’s story for what he says it is.
So I start telling this story, which is weird and beautiful and funny and heartbreaking all at once. But rather than just read it out I tell the story as if I’m Hosea. And rather than leave it in the context of ancient Israel I tell it as if it’s happened in my lifetime. To me. I wanted to bring everyone inside the story so they not only got the details but could feel the tension and the emotion of this love story gone horribly wrong. I told about being called into ministry and going off to Bible College. I spoke about feeling led to minister to people on the street and meeting this beautiful young woman there who I felt God tell me to take as my wife. I talked about marrying her and about the pain I felt when she disappeared for a few days during our first week of wedded bliss. I talked about how that felt and how it wrecked me when she suddenly re-appeared without a word of explanation about where she’d been or what she’d been up to. I told how her absences stretched out and the time I was with her became less and less. Finally, one day I discovered her back on the street again.
The room was as silent as death as I told about saving my money, working multiple jobs and giving up my college savings until I had enough to pay off her pimp and make her my own again. This, I told them, is a true story, the story of Hosea and the story of God’s love for us. People cried and that night quite a few decided they wanted to experience that kind of love from God for themselves.
A few days later we left for home.
Weeks go by. Weeks turn into months and they go by too. Then it’s summer again and this group of people from Newfoundland load up on a bus and come over to our Island for a visit. I offer to host a barbecue at our place so that our group and their group can reconnect
The bus pulled up and parked in front of our house. My wife, the elusive Donna, was inside getting food ready to but on the barbecue as I went to welcome everyone to our home. As couple after couple got off the bus I welcomed them to our home. Each one asked the same question as their eyes darted back and forth taking in our place, “Where’s your wife?” “Getting things ready…” I’d tell them. They hadn’t met her, she wasn’t with us on our trip and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why everyone was so un-interested in me and so keen to meet Donna.
When Donna finally came out you’d have thought a celebrity had just rolled into town. Several people in the group asked to have their pictures taken with her. Some just stood back and stared but never walked up themselves to say hello to her. Donna, when the two of us were in the house for a second getting more food out, asked me, “WHAT is going on here?” She never likes being the focus of attention and for that night she was positively in the spotlight or under the microscope depending on who was looking at her.
Later that night, after the crowd had boarded their bus and took off I was talking to one of my friends who stuck around to help with clean up. “What was up with the way everyone was acting towards Donna? Did you notice that?” I asked. “Seriously?” He started. “Did you forget the story you told when we were over there?” I had. “The one about the guy marrying the prostitute?” Got it. That story. I remembered. “Brian, they didn’t realize that was from the Bible.”
We don’t entertain much anymore.
We also don’t travel to Newfoundland.