By Hugh Halter
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He loves the smell of warm dog breath and milk.
Bosco is now 42 years of age. An atheist. A really benevolent one, who travels the globe making documentaries to expose homelessness, hunger, and horrific exploitation of people.
Thirty-seven years earlier, at the age of 5, Bosco found himself hiding under a table in his family’s small Northern Irish cottage, desperately trying to keep his dog quiet by distracting him with a bowl of milk. He was hiding under the table because a band of IRA henchmen were coming to kill his father, who was a rival kingpin in the resistance.
In that moment Bosco prayed a sincere prayer that God would spare his father’s life. Two seconds went by and then he heard the gunshot and saw his father fall to the ground. He still remembers the aroma of the puppy and the milk. He also remembers seeing his father’s killer two weeks later in mass, singing hymns and bowing his head in prayer. That day, he decided there was no God.
How do I know Bosco? I just performed a marriage between him and his fiancée. Terri, a struggling God-seeker, was trying to give me some context for his life. “Bosco has been the most gentle, kind, and respectful man I’ve ever known. I do hope that someday as I try to figure God out, he may be more open with me. Deb told me that you would be a good person for him to meet, and I really appreciate you doing our wedding ceremony.”
I started with this story because a person’s story really matters to God. He doesn’t categorize people as atheists, agnostics, good Christians or bad Christians, pagans or saints. He simply sees people where they are and understands the disorientation or spiritual vertigo people fight through, especially the vertigo caused by religion and religious people.
This is why the incarnation of Christ happened. In John 1:14, it says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
We overspiritualize or theologize why God came to earth through His son, but the real reason is that He knew that men and women were unable to understand, see, or perceive His true glory unless He came and lived among us as the least religious person they would have ever met.
That was the sacrilegious beauty of Jesus.
He hung with the wrong people, He was kind to the sinners, He embraced those who were sick, He allowed the children to come to Him, and His disciples were even worse. They didn’t wash their hands correctly, they ate, played, and worked on the Sabbath, and He constantly deconstructed their religious systems of temple and priest-focused faith. He was the holiest man they had seen, but for sure He was eccentrically irreligious … even sacrilegious!
Sacrilege may sound bad, but it simply means to challenge what others think is religious in order to expose the true God. And out of all the things Jesus did as an “incarnated God-man,” the most sacrilegious aspect of His life was how He dignified each person's story.
Now, this may be off the grid for many of you, but just 30 minutes before the ceremony I called Bosco over to my jeep and drove him off the “alcohol-free church premises,” parked the car, and took a small flask of Jameson Irish Whiskey from my glove box. As I handed it to him, he got teary-eyed and said, “I can’t believe you did this for me. I have flown my friends from all over the country to come celebrate my wedding, but the Christians here forbid me from having any alcohol. I have been embarrassed all day.
“Why have you as the pastor gotten me this gift?” I replied, “Because God knows your story and He seemed to be fine with letting people drink at weddings.”
He took a swig, then I took a swig, and without a gap in time, he put his arm around me and said an Irish blessing over me. Then I prayed an Irish prayer over him.
“So why don’t you finish the shot,” I asked. As he screwed the lid back on, he said, “because I want to share the rest with my friends. Thanks for honoring me and my friends today.”
It was a good moment, a God moment, and he knew his story mattered to me and maybe he began to see God differently.
Incarnation calls you to care about everyone’s story. The incarnational life is about listening with a specific ear to those things that have disoriented a person’s heart and mind. And as you learn to lay down trite generalizations, debilitating dogma, useless legalism, and out-of-context Bible verses, you’ll understand the true context of a person’s heart and find the most strangely appropriate ways of helping people move toward Jesus.
Sacrilege is the key to your friends finding God, and if you will be a disciple of Jesus and make it your life’s goal to be as irreligious, and even sacrilegious, you may find that all the cold, black-and-white world of Christianity explodes with colors of the kingdom.
Published on Anchor July 2012. Read by Stephen Larriva.