Set a spell; take your shoes off. Y’all come back now, y’ hear?

The one thing church should feel like is home.

Well, maybe not home, but at least a home away from home. A place like a repair shop for the heart, where you come dragging yourself in saying something is making a whirring noise and it just doesn’t sound right and when you try to just move forward, you find yourself heading toward a ditch.

There are a lot of problems with the church. If the general list of complaints from the peanut gallery wasn’t long enough, we could all pull out our notepads and lick the tip of our pencils before adding our own personal gripe. It’s just the way it is, and I would bet from my three semesters of church history that it’s always been that way.

And so the church, self-aware enough to know that there are lots of people who have “issues” with the church, begin to chase an ideal. This reaction isn’t different from any institution. Instead of relaxing and letting go and trusting the claim that the church doesn’t belong to us anyway, we begin to clutch at things, looking for the right cultural groove, marketing the church as a place to find answers instead of being a place to ask questions (which are two very different things).

In many ways, the church has gone corporate as it works to iron out better quality control, all the while turning Jesus into a our own personal, self-help product. If we could just package Jesus more slickly, if we could make our churches run more like the business world, if we could offer just the right programming and get the latest sound system or put in a coffee bar, our numbers would improve. Now, that’s exactly the kind of church some people need and I certainly have no qualms with well-oiled, quality products. I appreciate a dependable refrigerator, public transportation in Switzerland, and well-behaved dogs, but in a way, the church shouldn’t be about efficiency or quality marketing at all.

The church should be exactly the place where we bring our broken down selves. The church should be the soft spot to land when the world is so hard. It should be the place to show up with our most vulnerable, questioning, doubting selves. It should be a place of refuge and inclusion, and it should never, ever be about living up to some ideal.

Because at the center of the church is a God who has been broken, for you. For us, for the world. We do not preach a god who triumphs over us; we do not preach an idea, or an ideal. We preach a God who became as vulnerable as creation can be, and who, through the foolishness of the cross, really did overcome sin and death. There could have been a better way, a showier way, or something far easier.

When God became flesh, the Trinity’s HR and marketing divisions seemed to be taking a long coffee break, or at least allowing high standards to go. In this messy human space, God chose to become the least of these so that God might sink deep to undo all our ways of selfishness and violence and exclusion and death. Everything about God becoming flesh is unreasonable, but then, the most important things in life always are. There are no handbooks for things like love and kindness, or not being able to keep our composure; all the things of the heart.

If the church is anything, it is where we remember how love works and how once, a promise was fulfilled. It’s the place where you remember exactly who it is that gets the kingdom of heaven, and as you know, it’s hardly ideal. It’s not about who keeps their cubicle the neatest, or about selling the most product, or even about who shows up on time.

If we remember for a moment who it is that gets the kingdom, it’s the lost and the merciful, the poor, the mourning, and the meek. It’s all the mess, it’s all the stuff inside of us that veers into ditches, the voices that tell us that we don’t matter or we matter too much, it’s the complicated systems of our beings that seem like they might cost a lot to repair. It’s all the stuff we don’t want.

But the One who creates and loves all things into being wants it. This One even asks for it, becoming broken, so we might become whole. And in return, we are granted all freedom to be merely human, to slip off our shoes on such holy ground. To relax, because this is what it feels like to be home.