Dear Hank; Dear church(es)

His name was Hank (not really), and he sat in the back.

Hank never sang and pretty much just sat there with his arms folded.  He had had some particularly tough stuff to deal with, throughout the latter half of his adult life — some of it his own doing, and some of it, his “lot in life.”  (Side note:  it’s not easy to find an image of someone like Hank.  No one wants to be photographed looking like he did, and no one representing a church wants to publicize photographs of such people, either.)

I had no use for Hank, really.  He was a poor excuse for a “member” of the congregation, although he had been in a previous phase of life.  (This may somewhat explain, although not excuse, my lack of sense of mission or ministry toward him.)  He appeared to be disenfranchised, disenchanted, and deeply disgruntled.  A barely religious bump on a somewhat more religious log, he didn’t participate, and he would have been a discouragement to anyone who noticed him during the assembly activities.

Thus ends the historical caption of Hank.  And here begins the retrospective introspection.

Dear Hank,

I think I have more sympathy for you now.  It must’ve been so difficult for you to be involved when you were in a sinkhole of negative events and feelings.

I still think you were dead wrong in your shallow, uneducated, un-spiritual rant that day — a day when a good brother got excited while reading publicly about Jesus’ resurrection.  And I nearly went to you several times to let you know how you were such a regular discouragement to leaders who glanced toward your pew.  The longer I live, though, the more I find some justification for some of your dejected, human withdrawal.

Why couldn’t you be inspired along with so many others?  I have more sympathy now, because I know you were in spiritual and emotional pain.


Dear church(es),

Please seek to understand me, because I am afraid of becoming Hank.  I have some “stuff,” too, and can justify the periodic resemblance between him and me, but I don’t really want to be like he was.

I may be wrong in my manner and approach.  It may well be primarily my own fault that I am unable to find an ounce of inspiration and encouragement in many church things; I experience so much of it as pompous drivel or misconceived game-playing or bland, social clubby nothingness.  My head knows there is a lot of good going on at the hands of church people at other times, and sometimes wish I could feel the inspiration you others seem to feel, but my heart often beats slowly, nearly flat-lining in disappointment and disillusionment, “in church.”

I think there are a lot of others out there like us.  Please empathize with us, because the experiences of our lives make church stuff seem disconnected a lot of the time.


6 thoughts on “Dear Hank; Dear church(es)

  1. John Eoff 01/13/2014 / 12:41 pm

    Brian, Sounds like you are hurting. That makes me hurt. What can I do—say?


    • Brian Casey 01/13/2014 / 1:03 pm

      John, thanks. I know this appears more dejected than I feel currently. (I wrote that about 3 weeks ago and honed it later.) I am wanting to identify with others who don’t feel connected at times. And, as you know, I believe in the value of assemblies, but am often left high and dry by them. I think they can and should be improved for all our sakes — especially for those who don’t have the wherewithal or gumption to make appropriate changes. Personally, I do exercise some freedoms, such hydrating instead of suffering along with the listless masses during a particularly parching pew period. 🙂 Thanks for your reach.


  2. Bob Bell 01/13/2014 / 4:57 pm

    Brian, Once again I am astonished by your “word-smithing”. I particularly liked “pompous drivel” and “bland, social clubby nothingness”! Anyway, you have achieved your purpose at least incrementally…you have connected with me and I have felt that disconnected fugue in the past. Of course I don’t believe I fit Hank’s mold. By the way, your story reminds me of a Hank that you and I were both acquainted with several years back. Sadly, our Hank passed away several years back…may God bless his soul.


    • Brian Casey 01/13/2014 / 5:33 pm

      Bob, I had a good deal of time to work on this post and came back to it many times. Only this morning, when I should have been working, I made a couple last-min. revisions. It was important to me, and I can see my “Hank” as though it were Sunday a week ago, although it’s been many years. (I remember your and my Hank, too, and am sorry to hear.)

      The sad thing is, coming up with those words (I loved ’em and hated ’em simultaneously) gave me no pleasure. It only gave voice to a feeling.

      Disconnection is sometimes painful, and never what God wants. I suppose it’s sometimes imagined and often brought on ourselves, to a degree . . . yet I can’t escape the feeling that I am somehow to speak about the insufficiency of 98% of churches to connect. Thank you so much for taking time to read and connect here. Means a lot.


  3. Hank Theophilus 01/22/2014 / 3:58 pm

    My name is Hank (not really), and I sit by the west wall, behind the support column. Not in your church, but one like it; medium sized, not particularly conservative, not particularly liberal.

    I love to sing, and even lead singing, but there are some songs I refuse to sing*, and some times when the notes can’t get by the lump in my throat. Sometimes I do sit with my arms folded, and though I rarely voice my opinion, I’m sure I would often be a discouragement to some of the leaders if I did. I’m not uneducated, I don’t rant, and I like to pretend I’m not shallow; but I’m aware I come across as negative, withdrawn and pedantic. If you want to know me, that’s part of the package. I would gladly be your close friend, but I don’t have the time, energy or inclination to swap small talk and become a part of your church persona’s clique. My church attendance is sometimes irregular, but I don’t have a problem with God, I have a problem with you (plural) because I lack the patience to deal with sinful humans, despite being one.

    I’m a Winter Christian.

    (See , even if you don’t read the rest of my polemic.)

    I’ve had some particularly tough stuff to deal with, and here are some of the details, because this is real and shouldn’t be glossed over :

    – My wife suffered from chronic depression and schizophrenia, refusing most treatment for nearly ten years before she left me to be a single father to five children. …but not before spending a fair amount of time portraying me as the villain to everyone at the church(es) who would listen.
    – Her condition and behavior forced us into bankruptcy shortly before she left.
    – All five of the children have needed counseling for the emotional scars. Most are doing better, one is getting worse.
    – I’ve been through my own bouts of clinical depression, and developed chronic fatigue from the associated insomnia. I also have a weight problem, to the point of metabolic syndrome. These health problems, at least, I realize are my own doing, not my “lot in life.”
    – Oh, BTW, in the middle of all this there was a major church split.
    – I’ve contemplated, and rejected, suicide. I claim no great virtue in this, I’m just too stubborn.

    Divorce, even when you didn’t initiate the process and have no viable legal alternative, is a great way to become a pariah in many churches, but especially the Church of Christ. That took years to overcome, but I do appreciate the elders taking a stand and letting me participate in the service. On the other hand, it’s been made clear that I will not be welcome should I consider remarriage. (I strongly believe, but cannot prove, she was involved in adultery prior to the final decree. She’s been remarried, divorced again, and is living with a man who is not her husband.) From a theological standpoint, I could argue this, but it is a moot point, as I do not want to inflict my baggage on someone else anyway.

    Having chronic problems (as opposed to crises and terminal problems) is another good way to isolate yourself. There’s a great deal of sympathy and support for a month or so, but then you’re expected to get over it and move on. I do sympathize with the congregation; it’s hard to mourn with those who mourn, and to keep doing it for an extended period. When folks politely ask how I’m doing, I usually politely lie and say “fine”. I also usually don’t put my name on the prayer list, because I don’t want to be “that whiny guy” that is on the list every week…and frankly, years of prayer didn’t change my lot in life, but it did change my perspective on the function of prayer. I do find it telling that no one, including the elders that know all the sordid details, has ever put my name on there for me, and that only once in the last seven years have I been invited to another member’s home. I have less sympathy for those that want to be my personal Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar. I’m very, very tired of platitudes – like Romans 8:28 taken out of context – and if one more person quotes Neitzsche** to me, I will start chucking shards of pottery at them.

    I may be wrong in my manner and approach.  It may well be primarily my own fault that I am unable to find an ounce of inspiration and encouragement in many church things; I experience so much of it as shallow drivel  or bland, social clubby nothingness.  My head knows there is a lot of good going on at the hands of church people at other times, and sometimes wish I could feel the inspiration you others seem to feel, but my heart often beats slowly, nearly flat-lining in disappointment and disillusionment, “in church.”

    What would resonate with me? Let’s study Job, Ecclesiates or maybe just Psalms without skipping the mournful and angry ones. Let’s sing a song in a minor key.*** Let’s drop the masks and admit the we are all broken. Let’s make room for the Winter Christians.

    Thus ends my Hankiography; gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle.****

    * That’s another topic, for another time
    *** And no, the insipid camp songs in Dorian mode don’t count.
    **** No, I’m not Catholic or even remotely Marian, but that line from Salve Regina speaks to me.


    Note to Brian: Yes, you know me. Yes, I’ve commented here before. Yes, Hank Theophilus is obviously a pseudonym. Feel free to contact me at this email if you want my real name, (and haven’t guessed it,) but frankly I don’t have the courage to share something like this on the internet using it. If for no other reason, my children know how to use Google.


  4. Brian Casey 01/28/2014 / 8:32 am

    “Hank Theophilus,” it is has been nearly a week since you wrote this extraordinarily resonant response. Because of its length, I think, it was flagged as needing “moderation,” and when I first read it, I approved it, but the software fouled, so it was another day, I think, before it appeared here.

    You do have me guessing as to your identity. None of the details you mention can be put into one person I know; you may be fashioning a sort of composite personage here, e.g., maybe you have two or four children instead of five, or maybe it wasn’t your wife but the wife of a dear friend of yours. Or, you might have adopted a different writing style for sake of concealing your identity, or I just may be too thick to get who you are. At least the latter is true. Please write me privately if you see this comment, or I’ll do the same soon.

    As for the substance of what you wrote, I am so very sympathetic. There is not much else to say, it seems.


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