This letter began as an exercise as I was meditating on Hosea 11:1-11 in preparation for preaching this coming Sunday. It quickly morphed into a piece inspired by the Hosea text, the Good Friday Reproaches, and Luke 15:11-32, among other things. I imagined this from the perspective of God, and while traditionally, God is referred to as Father (even though God is not actually gendered), I chose to sign the letter as “Mama,” since as I was writing I couldn’t help but to tap into my own love for the toddler who calls me “mama.”
My Beloved Church,
When you were a child, dear Church, I loved you. Out of bondage I called you. From worldly institutions I freed you. When the categories of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free mattered for where you stood, I rendered them void. You were my own beloved child, the center of my heart. I brought you up sitting at my dinner table. At my table there was no superior or inferior. From the margins and from the center, I brought you in and gave you a new vision of the world.
When Caesar saw fit to lay the yoke of oppression upon you, I gave you a kingdom far more beautiful and expansive than the Pax Romana could ever provide. When death cornered you, I opened up the door to life that can never be extinguished.
I touched the lame, the leper, the bleeding woman. I called them by name, just as I call you by name. I gave the outcast the seat of honor at my banquet. I showed you that you do not have to live by the rules of the world – the rules that keep the rich in power and keep the poor down and out. I showed you that the categories you place upon one another don’t mean a thing in my home.
When you were a child, dear Church, I dreamed that you would grow and start a revolution of grace and love – of care for your neighbor, just as I taught you and showed you how to do. I dreamed that my kingdom would spread on earth – not through conquest or the use of forced conversion, but through the abundant love you would give to everyone created in my image.
Remember how you would call upon my name? How you would only have eyes for me? Remember the zeal the Spirit put within you at the start? To you I was like the one who would lift you to my cheek and then gleefully run with you in the field, as you experienced the freedom from the constraints of empire.
To you, I was like the one who held your hand as you learned to take your first steps of your fledgling faith and community. I picked you up when you stumbled and comforted you when you were afraid.
But soon, you were walking on your own. And then you were running. And before I knew it, I found that you preferred the company of emperors and kings to mine. Before I knew it, you had traded in your white robe and basin for the imperial purple and a scepter. You made friends with the war hammer and sword, with the crossbow and battle axe. You carried them in my name. You used my cross as a symbol of dominance rather than sacrificial love.
As you strayed further afield, all while keeping the name I gave you, the name of Church, you forced baptisms of peoples under threat of death – not so they could know my grace, but so that you could make them pliable citizens of your earthly kingdom. How quickly did you forget the ways that I raised you!
Oh, you had moments where you remembered your true self. There were moments where those voices from within you tried to call you back to justice, to mercy, to reach out for my hand and walk with me. But all too quickly, you silenced those voices.
There were other times when I thought you might be finding your way back to me. When I thought your vision was clearing and you were remembering the joy of your life in my home. But you were still so entrenched in the power systems of the world that you could not or would not fully untie yourself.
You forgot that I had rendered null and void the categories of master and slave when you embarked on a centuries-long endeavor to buy and sell human beings as chattel, to prop up the economic systems that kept you powerful, all while invoking my name and twisting my words to justify it. Did you forget that I broke you free from these very things when I gave birth to you, my Church? Why, oh why, do you keep going back?
You tore people from their land, land you claimed “for me.” You brutally ravaged a people you called uncivilized savages. You forgot that they, too, were my children. You, my Church, acted the savage!
You watched and even helped as my firstborn, Israel, was rounded up and sent to death camps. You used the words of my holy book to embolden and enflame hatred against them. You forgot that you are not my only child and that I love my firstborn as much as I love you!
Why, my beloved Church have you strayed so far? Why have you set up flaming crosses and lynching trees? Why do you continue to worship the god of nationalism and white supremacy? Why do you still trample my children who don’t look like you or behave like you do? Why have you tried so hard to hold on to riches and power? Why do you endlessly debate the worth of any of my children? Why do you fight so hard to protect unjust institutions? Why do you build walls, when on the cross, I tore them all down? Do you not remember the true nature of my kingdom? Do you not remember that the last shall be first?
What shall I do with you, my Church? Shall I leave you to your own devices? Shall I wash my hands of you? I should leave you to your own destruction. I should let your rage and fear tear you apart. I’ll turn my back and leave you out in the cold. Not that you would even notice. It has been so long since we’ve truly shared life in the home I made for you. I should disown you and be done with it. I’m sick and tired of watching you live this way. It breaks my heart every time I think of how I’ve loved you. I am heartsick over you, my wayward Church.
I should lock my door and take away your place at my dinner table. I should close your bedroom door and let your things collect dust as I put you out of my mind. I should stop standing at the end of the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of you. You are too far gone. You are not the same child I once loved. You are never coming back.
But O, how can I give you up, my child?
How can I hand you over, my Church?
How can I treat you as one long dead?
How can I make you as a distant, closed off memory?
My heart will not let me. You are mine, and always will be.
How I love you still! How I will always long for you!
My heart will never grow weary of waiting for you.
There will always be a place for you at my dinner table.
Every day I will go to the end of the road, waiting to catch a glimpse of you.
Every day I will call out for you.
Every day I will sing the songs I sang to you as an infant, hoping the song will reach your ears;
Hoping the song will remind you of your true home.
I will keep on singing the songs of justice, of mercy, of love.
One day you will hear. One day, they will bring you out of your palaces, out of your stupor, out of yourselves. One day they will bring you back down the highway, the road, and then the narrow path to my home – to your home. You’ll find the door open and the table set.
My child, my beloved Church, I dream of this day. Please, let it be soon.
With Love Always,