Doing Easter as a "Done"

Friday, March 25, 2016

All across the progressive Christian Twitterverse I see happy tweets of folks anticipating Easter. But I have very mixed feelings about it all. Holidays like Easter and Christmas always leave me feeling that way. I know I’m supposed to really be into it. But sometimes it feels more like opening an old wound. It feels disconnected rather than joyous.

That’s because I am what is known as a “Done.” We are the legions of people who went to church for decades, faithfully attending every service, home group, Bible study, and members meeting. But now we are just done with it. We are not done with God or Jesus mind you. But we are definitely done with church.

It’s a lonely place to be because I find that even my progressive Christian friends feel a need to “re-church” me. What they don’t seem to get is that the reason I don’t go is not because I am bitter or backslidden. It’s not because I think I’m superior, or that I don’t need community. It’s because I deeply believe in community and in church. It's a long story, but it comes down to looking for all the things that church is supposed to be, looking for community, looking for Koinonea, and not finding it. 

After years and years of looking for that, what I am "done" with is, I'm done with pretending. I'm done with settling for the fake and the hollow. That's a hard choice I made after lots of struggle and prayer. That kind of choice feels is especially hard on times like Easter.

There’s not much talk about this among progressive Christians. I remember being really excited to read Rachel Held Evan’s new book Searching for Sunday, thinking that maybe she was going through the same things I was. But in the end ... warning: spoiler alert ... she ends up deciding that she wants to go to a Mainline church instead of her Evangelical one.

I just can’t do that. 

Believe me, I’ve tried... and tried and tried and tried. But I feel completely out of place there, like a fish out of water. Same thing goes for Orthodox churches. I just can’t. I'm honestly glad Rachel found her Sunday, but I never did.

Let me stress that I know that lots of folks have found homes in these churches like Rachel has. If that's your story then that’s great. Really, it is. But it just does not work for me, and does not work for a lot of us. So I’m homeless. I’m a “Done.” 

Most of the time that’s okay. But Easter is one of the times in the year where all those longings get stirred up. Listening to all the happy tweets, it can feel sort of like I’m the Grinch sitting on Mt. Crumpit listening to all the little Whos singing their happy carols.

Go ahead little Whos, and keep singing. I like your songs. 

But I’m writing just in case maybe there’s someone else out there who feels the same. I'm writing to all the other "Dones" this Easter. I don’t have a solution for you, but I can tell you that you are not alone. I want to say to all of us that if the risen Jesus could come and find Thomas, that same risen Jesus can find you and me wherever we are at, too. Here’s hoping.

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41 Comments:

At 8:05 PM, Blogger David Norling said...

Me, too. You are not alone.

 
At 8:17 PM, Blogger Kenneth Nichols said...

Wow, am I right here with you. I want to go to an Easter service, but it feels like I'd just be pretending to enjoy it. It would feel forced and uncomfortable.

Heck, I'm not even 100% positive I believe in a literal resurrection anymore (*gasp*). How can I celebrate THAT?

And then there's the whole deal with Easter (the holiday) really having nothing to do with the event anyway. It's just a made-up holiday. Like Christmas (though, for some reason, that one is easier to deal with).

So, yeah, the mixture of guilt and wondering what to believe and do (Should I have a private Eucharist for my family?) makes this very stressful this year. (My first full year 'out of the (religious) box'.)

So, you pray for me and I'll do the same for you. May the Spirit give us both wisdom and unexplainable joy.

If there's ONE thing I DO know, it's that Christ has risen in our HEARTS, and that makes it worth proclaiming. "He is risen, indeed!"

 
At 8:28 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks David. Brene Brown says the two most powerful words in the English language are "me too"

 
At 8:35 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Kenneth,

Yes, totally. I have those struggles too. Very well said.

Thanks for your prayers, it means a lot. We misfits need to stick together.

 
At 8:53 PM, Blogger Barbara Robinson said...

Me too!!! I do actually go to Mass because I love ritual and I adjust the meanings to be meaningful to me. I also feel that maybe some are called to change from within. But mostly I feel separated from the majority and I think this post was more beautiful than words can say!!!

 
At 9:33 PM, Blogger Suzy said...

I left my church group this week and have no plan to look for another. I could sense the hurt, confusion, and fear as I tried to explain why I can no longer stay. I could also sense my mental health being questioned (in a very loving way, of course). I finally blurted out, 'God is bigger than this and I'm tired of feeling alone here.' So there it is: me three.

 
At 9:47 PM, Blogger Pamela J Merten said...

"It is finished!" The more those words and what they mean sink into my soul,the more of I am OK with being a "done". Freedom reigns.

 
At 9:57 PM, Blogger Todd Williams said...

I'm with you, Derek, and I had the same reaction to RHE's book. It's an empty experience for me. I find so much more meaning and joy eating and talking with other "dones."

 
At 10:19 PM, Blogger Linda Holt said...

Done. The indoctrination still creeps in unbidden and zings me with fear - not discernment, thank God I can tell the difference now.

 
At 1:02 AM, Blogger Martin Scott said...

Thanks. So sad that the 'body of (the living) Christ' has been effectively reduced to those who can find a place in the various institutions that claim legitimacy to the word 'church'. Maybe in a sense the body of Christ has been gradually entombed again? Glad many find life within, but also glad there is life in Christ without!

 
At 5:40 AM, Blogger Duh-sciple Tim said...

Your books and blog have kept me from being DONE.

Meanwhile, as a mainline pastor, I find my connection by going out and sharing meals with people. Deeper conversation. I learn as much as preach

Anyway, I love you all where you are and hope something finds you even when you are not finding it. Thank you all for your integrity and the Jesus I see in you

 
At 5:44 AM, Blogger kent said...

me too, guys...but, i will be attending a service. i do it for the family. i have become one of those "christmas/easter christians" i used to look down on. ha, now i feel everyone else's disapproval...oh how the tables have turned...but don't get me wrong, i love it out here. like you said derek...i can't pretend anymore.

 
At 6:19 AM, Blogger Pastor Gary Taylor said...

Even though I am a mainline Protestant pastor (United Methodist actually) I understand all of your thoughts and sentiments. However, part of the Resurrection story (I am moving away from the word "Easter") is Hope. Hope in Life after Death. Hope that God has a place for us. Hope that there is a community of faith where we can live out that hope in fellowship with others. Maybe that community isn't "church" but maybe it can be. My work as a pastor is to lead the church into being that koinonia fellowship. I pray that God will lead all of us into that community. Blessings, everyone!

 
At 6:45 AM, Blogger SteveO said...

I can certainly identify.

My daughter and son-in-law have followed my example by being very active in church service. Last month we had a heart to heart talk where I told them I was on the way out, 90% sure. In her amazing wisdom my daughter said, "Dad, you're not going to just turn around and jump into another church are you?" I told her about a blog on "how to leave your church" which advised on leaving as quietly as possible and taking at least 6 months to grieve. As an Elder in a leadership position, the silent part was going to be a challenge.

I sought counsel from a very wise brother and best friend who, as a leading Elder, left his church a few years ago. He had soured on the institutional church altogether. But he told me there's a larger story unfolding here, that it's not just about my disaffection but about being an instrument to the body. (Why is it so much harder to be a light to the church than it is to be a light to the world?) He advised me not to leave until I was sure it was a complete dead end with no possibility of change.

So I had a come-to-Jesus lunch with the Pastor and laid it all out. What followed was fruit worthy of repentance. Not only was there a 180 degree turn around, he called all the Elders together and they too turned completely around. I was stunned!

So I guess the lesson here is that while leaving the dysfunctional church may be justifiable and virtuous, make sure you have faithfully walked the full path.

And if you ever find a church with theologically perfect Koinonea expression, whatever you do, don't join that church, because you in your imperfection will have mucked up the whole works.
:-)

 
At 7:19 AM, Blogger David Norling said...

I'm glad you changed from None to Done on header, I keep having to explain to people that I haven't lost my faith, that, in fact, I trust more profoundly than ever.

 
At 7:38 AM, Blogger Aaron Lengel said...

I feel your loss, last couple sips pour it out... https://youtu.be/Frajtgrgi3w

 
At 8:16 AM, Blogger Lewis Schofield said...

Institution of any sort is the problem.
But jumping ship without an obvious alternative is difficult especially when the status quo does provide some positives - real fellowship is difficult to find anywhere. We have all learned to live even without the expectation if it.

 
At 9:52 AM, Blogger anneb said...

Oh Derek, I did not know you were disenfranchised, but I should have since I identify with what you write so much and I myself left the organized church. It was a solitary and scary process. I did not fully understand it, but I did trust my gut and found some community through others online and Wayne Jacobsen's ministry ("So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore"). After 6 years I visited a local body and returned just because I was ready and wanted to be around more fellow believers. Being ready means not depending on the church for And God is bringing a new healing because this body is more about relationship. I do not like the ritual or regime anymore, nor do I get anything from the pulpit, but the relationship part is what I wanted and needed for this season. That all said, I understand exactly what you are saying, where you are at. I cannot "do" church anymore, feeling like an alien at times there while struggling to get through the sermons, and many of my friends struggle with it. The U.S. Christian church is too packaged in all its ways. As my best disenfranchised friend says, "world goals, world ways"... I am trusting God is strengthening our hearts for the end days. But there is still a sorrow for the loss.

 
At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

It's great to see all the comments here. What I observe is that we are in many different places, including different versions of what we are "done" with.

In all of this, what I really appreciate, is the grace everyone is showing one another here. I regard all of you--no matter where you are at, no matter what you are "done" with, and even if you are "not done"-- as my brothers and sisters in Christ, as the body of Christ identified by our fruits, and I am grateful for all of you.


 
At 12:53 PM, Blogger Matt Stenson said...

Right there with you man. Keep writing, thinking and being you.

 
At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Tim,

"Your books and blog have kept me from being DONE"

Yes, that's why I wrote them! I don't want to convert anyone to being a done. I hope instead to help people to remain in hope, to find grace and love, to deepen their faith, and to find ways to be in relationship and community.

"I love you all where you are and hope something finds you even when you are not finding it. Thank you all for your integrity and the Jesus I see in you"

Same to you my brother. Thank you your integrity as well, and the Jesus I see in you.

 
At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Anneb,

Yeah, I get a lot of emails and comments saying "where do you go to church?" hoping that if they can find out my secret that they will find that place they are looking for too.

Maybe it's out there, but I have not found it. What I want to say is, it's possible to be okay, and to be in Christ, in the meantime. We can be okay right now. That does not mean we give up or stop searching, but it does mean that we accept that we are loved and good right where we find ourselves today.

 
At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Todd,

One thing I think with RHE is that she is speaking to millennials. So she is describing an exodus of 20-somethings out of Evangelicalism and into Mainline churches.

That's not really the same thing as being a "done" which generally refers to people who have spend years and years being deeply involved in church, acting as leaders there, working from the inside for change, before finally, after all that, deciding that they are "done."

In other words, a 20-something is too young to say they are "done" yet. They are at a different place than a done is at simply because they are much younger. Maybe we can call them "medium rare."

 
At 6:46 PM, Blogger SteveO said...

Would you leave the first century church?

You know, that new church plant established by the former criminal murderer by the name of Saul/Paul? That church filled with racists and bigots where gender equality was barely on the horizon? That church where members owned slaves? That church where some members were polygamists? That church where some still wanted to keep the Law? That church filled with Israeli nationalists? That church where some had weird beliefs in asceticism, Gnosticism, weird mysticism, astrology and genealogy? That church subject to constant strife, dissension and church splits where church politics ran rampant? That church that desperately needed spiritual whole people like you just to hold it together?

Thankfully many stuck it out and the gates of hell did not prevail.

Rather than leave the church, start a church. Start a small but powerful church where every member is a minister and no one gets paid. Start small but start strong with a church that supports one another and even has enough money to help non-member neighbors in need. A church that is fun where everyone is the best of friends. Let me know when you get this church going, I know a LOT of people who would like to go there.

 
At 6:54 PM, Blogger Daniel Wright said...

Excellent post Derek, thanks for sharing. Sadly I'm in that in between place where I want to be a Done, but haven't made the leap. I'm not sure if it's fear, duty, or what that is holding me back, but church lost its luster a long time ago.

 
At 7:30 PM, Blogger Becky Miller said...

Include me as a done. Thanks for this post, Derek.

 
At 8:07 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

SteveO,

I'm sure your comment is meant well, but I'd like to request that all of us here simply speak for ourselves, and not try to persuade others what they ought to do. We all have complex stories, and so we really can't know all the details of what brought each of us to where we are now. So let's just trust each other that no one makes these choices lightly, share where we are at, listen to where others are at, and not try to change each other.

So if you want to tell us that you want to start a small but powerful church where every member is a minister and no one gets paid, then we will cheer you on. But if you tell us that you've had it, we will stand by you too.

I think one thing the institutional church does not do enough is simply listen. So I hope we can do our best to do that part of "being church" with each other here.

 
At 9:53 PM, Blogger SteveO said...

Derek,

I'm done with dysfunctional church. I'm done with salaried people pleasing pastors too timorous to preach radical grace because it could impact their livelihood. I'm done with churches who feed themselves but do nothing for the needy neighbors who go hungry. I'm done with churches flying national flags, churches which say nothing about remote control robots bombing wedding parties in lands too far away to care about. I'm done with churches more enamored with the politics of this world than the Kingdom of God. I'm done with church politics altogether. I'm done with plastic churches filled with plastic people pretending to be good to other plastic people.

Are you done with that church? Yes, please leave that church. And after you've left that church take your time. Be alone. Be quiet. Meditate. Then in a quiet moment ask yourself, "Am I done looking for koinonea fellowship? Where can I find it?" Why is it that my online "fellowship" seems more authentic than what I experienced in church? Where two or three are gathered together in HIS name... I'd just like to start there. I can handle that. And if we're extremely fortunate it could grow to six or seven.

Per Bono, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for." There's a holy longing. So let's talk about it. What are we looking for?

 
At 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This makes me sad. In the same way as the Gospel remind me that it was I who crucified Christ,I feel as though it was I who drove you out of church (little c). My journey was actually a lot like RHE's, except it was 25 years ago. I switched from the Assemblies of God to a UCC church. These days, I am finding my congregation a bit difficult as they have drifted a bit left even for me. I am also aware of the emerging Progressive Evangelical movement and would be ready to move that way, just as soon as I can find a church without a "Worship Team". I do love my Organ, Choir and hymns, they are what feed me. To your post, Derek, I would be curious to know what hurts have prevented you from belonging. Perhaps over time you can share as a caution and instruction to those of us who stay. Especially those of us who are on the Adult Faith Formation board and want to use your books and maybe even host you via Skype for a discussion...... Just sayin'

 
At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Anon,

I don't think you should assume that those who identify as dones are "hurt" in some way. Some may be, but many are not. I am not.

The reason I say this is because if we assume that people who leave must be hurt, then the further assumption is that they need to be healed so they can then return to "church." This gets into the whole "if you leave church you must be fallen away and back-slidden" thing, with the only change that we see people as "wounded" rather than as "rebellious," but the assumption still stays that if we leave it must be because we are somehow "broken" rather than the possibility that the institution or system is broken. That results in individuals needing to change (by healing, forgiving, reconciling, etc.) while the system remains the same.

The reason I left is that I found the institutional structure of church was not conducive to the things that we call church -- for example to the building relationships in community, or challenging people to make a difference in the world in Jesus name.

In fact, what I found is that the institutional structures, the things that drive the institutions, actually often made it much harder to do those things, at times actively working to oppose them. So I found that if I wanted to do the stuff that we call "church" the best way to do that was by leaving.

I'm not saying that this is the case with all church institutions. I can only speak of my own experiences. But my reason for leaving has nothing to do with being hurt in any way, nor does it have to do with bad doctrine, or unloving people. Other people, of course, may have different experiences, but these are mine.

 
At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So...... you're not hurt, but you're spending the biggest celebration of the Christian Religion without a community that you feel comfortable enough to celebrate it with - even as a visitor. The doctrine was all good and the people were all loving yet you couldn't stay. You tell me that it was the structures of the Church that prevented you from actually putting the call of Christ into action..... Hmmmm.....

Ok - so we're on the same page - I don't have any inkling that this is about backsliding etc. nor did it ever occur to me. Also, while I do have some frustrations with my current congregation, I certainly can't relate with the specific concerns that you've run into in your experiences. But we're liberals - doing stuff is what we do, even in the doctrine is so optional as to make me feel that I'm visiting a Unitarian church at times.

I do have a couple of thoughts - one - I was born in the crib room and I understand that you came to faith much older than that. I suspect this has something to do with our different views on sticking it out in the institutional church.

Mostly, however, my thoughts are still the same - I'm sad. Derek, I discovered Progressive Evanglicalism through you. For me, it was like wandering alone for years and then turning around and finding that I wasn't alone, just way out in front of a whole lot of people in my journey from Evangelicalism. So perhaps I take this more personally that you would expect a reader to. But yeah, you describe that the way the churches you've attempted to be a part of, prevented you from being part of the Church. As a Church member, as well as a church member, that makes me sad. I don't like the idea that I'm a part of something that would keep you out. Now maybe if you attended my church, everything would be perfect. Probaly not - perfect isn't really likely anywhere. So my other thought is - could you write about those systems that you see as counterproductive to the Church functioning as the Body of Christ? Unless you've had a couple of spectacular, public blowups with well known Churches/Preachers - I would think that you could write generically enough to not step on any toes.

Naturally, if something would land you back in a church that worked for you and your family, I'd be happy to hear it. More importantly, I value your contribution to the Church (big C) and hope that we'll be able to learn from you for a long time.

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger bpb said...

Ditto to everything you wrote. I'm a pastor who resigned several years ago from doing church after a lifetime of being a core church person. Just couldn't continue with the emptiness, busyness and expectations. Guess what? God and I are just fine.

 
At 9:12 PM, Anonymous Phillip said...

My unsolicited advice is that you should stay out of church until it starts to feel comfortable, like the easiest thing to do. Then you should come back! ... Phil

 
At 4:47 AM, Blogger Brad said...

Keep looking for an expression of Jesus in a local people. My friend just got ousted from a non-denominational denomination accused of being divisive and not conforming. He doesn't care where his family goes. But he values his friends all over and his wife and kids gravel long distances to stay in touch. That inspires me. He says it's all a matter of who's crap you want. Baptist, Pentecostal, Mainline, etc... He reminds me everyone's got crap, just pick your crap and make peace with the imperfection. But most of all stay yourself even if you don't fit perfectly. I endeavor to find a people that will allow me to stay myself around them. I think they are out there. I strongly believe God cares and strongly desires to set us in families, where we can live life together and be a local expression of the called out ones, ekklesia, the church.

 
At 8:44 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Derek,

I've written to you a few times, and I occasionally visit your blogs as I very much enjoy your writings. As far as Christian writings go, you, in my humble opinion, are the top of my list. I appreciate both your writing as well as that of Scot McKnight.

Practically, I appreciate yours as it's not laden with theological suppositions and infinitives. These things are precisely why I gave up apologetics--I found that might drunkard dad to be a better example of Christ when I wake up to four garbage men in rural East Texas having breakfast on a Thursday morning with my dad than the philosophical jargon that gets said on Tuesday evening Bible Study. Feeding a person goes a lot further than a great argument any day, even in a Socratic society.

Lo and Behold, I come here today listening to Trevor Hall (as is often my accompaniment) and read this. This Easter, my family and I did not go to church....not one of us is happy with being there on Sundays: not my wife, not my young son, not me. We really didn't celebrate except for gift giving from the Easter Bunny and seeing family.

We're not hurt by church. We just find the resources wasted; Brian McClaren's video of "Worship Industry" speaks to the reason I don't like to go...and I'm on the worship team. My wife and I would rather be volunteering--not in Africa, just in our home community; we don't want to be in bible study. We don't want to go door to door resorting to Dante's Inferno or the hope that the next life is better than this one as a means of salvation. We just want to find a community striving to make a better life here and now for everyone, because that is a community that expresses "sozos" and the Kingdom life. Part of me thinks that the only way to find this type of life is to set aside my theological suppositions and just serve people.

I'm trying not to be a done. The hardest part isn't leaving church; it's having to come clean about it with those I serve. I just find it bland, impractical, and thus ineffective.

So while I recognize you hope not to convert people to "done-ism", rest assured you're not. It's a cold hard fact that yuppie Christianity is not an effectual faith; thus, those dissatisfied with it must leave it. And my family probably will, soon.

 
At 5:19 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Anonymous,

You sound upset, and I get the impression that it is because you feel disappointed. Perhaps it's because you have looked up to me, and see what I am saying here as some sort of moral failing. I should try harder, I should make it work, etc.

Regardless, I believe that you mean well, but I hope you can hear when I give you the feedback that you post comes across as hurtful. By saying “Sooo...” and “hmmm...” you are expressing your doubts about my experiences; You're not buying it, and therefore are dismissing it.

You keep asking what it is that congregations do that push people away. Well, it's that type of thing-- judging people's choices that are different from your own, not taking their word for how they feel, showing disappointment and disapproval. That communicates judgment, and shuts off relationship.

So if you genuinely want to move in the opposite direction, you can start right here and now by listening without judging, not second guessing people when they tell you their reasons, and conversing in a way that communicates respect and grace. I think that's how we all would like to be treated.

 
At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Brad writes, "Keep looking for an expression of Jesus in a local people"

I should stress that I am not "done" with maintaining relationships and friendships. I just find that the institution that has a program in a building once a week does not really help much with that. So I'm looking for better ways.

 
At 7:32 PM, Blogger IrishEddieOHara said...

Derek -

You have the same problem that I have - you think the Church is all about "you" and you are still looking for something that you can't quite put your finger upon. Who knows if you will find that perfect situation, but as one who myself is struggling with this, when we stop looking in the mirror and start looking at Jesus.....problem over

 
At 8:03 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

No, that's just your problem Irish.

 
At 8:12 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Unknown,

"Brian McClaren's video of "Worship Industry" speaks to the reason I don't like to go...and I'm on the worship team"

Jut watched this. Really hits home. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHGyHCm4jhA

 
At 3:22 PM, Blogger Jenifer Carter said...

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