Letters to the Editor: Introduction

letter to the editor

Over the next few weeks, I plan to post many of my past Letters to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News and the written responses local Christians have had to my letters. I hope you will enjoy these letters. They provide an interesting look at my thought progression from 2008 to today. The first letters I plan to post are from Bruce the Evangelical pastor. Most of the letters are from the post-pastor, post-Christian era of my life.

I have been able to locate and retrieve about 70 letters, some from me and the rest from those who disagree with me. There are even two letters from people who agree with me. I had forgotten that there are actually a few people in rural NW Ohio that are actually sympathetic to my views on politics and religion.

The Defiance Crescent-News is a libertarian leaning, solidly Republican and Christian newspaper. For every 50 letters to the editor, there might be one that I would label as non-Christian or liberal or progressive.  Sadly, Defiance County is pretty much a monoculture, where difference is a matter of shade rather than sharp disagreement. Even the normally liberal Christian sects in this area have pastors that are quite conservative. I have met a couple of pastors who are liberals, but, for the sake of keeping their job, they don’t make their liberal views known.  I have even met a pastor who is no longer a Christian, a man who finds himself in a difficult place.

As I post these letters they will be added to a series titled Letters to the Editor. This post will be the first one and then every post that follows will be ordered chronologically, from 2008 to today.

I hope you find these letters interesting.

Bruce

Note

This series does not contain every letter I wrote or every response to my letters. Due to the crazy way the Defiance Crescent-News’s database works, it is impossible to find every single letter. I am confident that I have retrieved most of them.

Pastor Ron Adkins and the Agnostic

letter to the editor

Republished from August 2010 with slight grammatical corrections.

The Sunday edition of the Defiance Crescent-News has the first, of what I am sure will be many more, letters to the Editor concerning my recently published rebuttal letter.

My youngest son asked me today if anyone has ever written a letter to the editor in support of my views about religion. I laughed and said No. As far as I know, I am the only person who has  written to the newspaper and said “I am an agnostic.” (Some days I wonder, “what was I thinking”?) I hope my willingness to stand up and be counted will encourage others to do so. I know I am not alone. I have received their letters and email. They fear what might happen to them socially or economically if their agnosticism or atheism were made public. Their fears are well-grounded and I would not encourage anyone to take the same path as I have.

My children have to live with the fact that their dad is “the man who writes in the newspaper”. They have to field questions like “are you related to Bruce Gerencser”? If they answer yes, what often follows is a queer look, a look that says I want to tell you what I think or I want to ask you a question or two. Usually, once my children affirm their connection to me a nervous silence ensues,. It’s like, the questioner, all of a sudden, finds out he has been working alongside a spawn of Satan.

The first letter to the editor response I want to deal with is written by Ron Adkins, pastor of the Ney and Farmer United Methodist churches. I know Ron personally. Our family attended the Ney church for a number of months and it was the last Church we ever attended. One might say our last experience proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. (though we met many wonderful people at the Ney church)

Ron is a young man. This is his first pastorate. Prior to this he was a professor at Ohio Christian University. Ohio Christian University is a fundamentalist institution affiliated with the Churches of Christ in Christian Union. (I am sure Ron will chafe at the fundamentalist label but he also knows what my response is to that)

Ron has pastored the Ney/Farmer churches for about 2 years. When I asked him what his philosophy of ministry was he told me it was “loving on people”. Evidently, as you shall see from his letter, that doesn’t include me. Some of what Ron writes in his letter reflects personal, private discussions he and  I had during the time we attended the Ney church. One could object saying “I told you that in private” but one thing I know about preachers, “don’t tell them anything you don’t want others to know.” (I take privacy far more seriously NOW than I did when I was a pastor)

From reading Ron’s letter to the editor it is safe to assume that my rebuttal letter upset some people in his church. Here I am, almost two years removed from attending church, and I am still causing trouble. I realize my letter put Ron in a no-win situation. He is a great guy and he doesn’t like conflict. He has a wonderful wife and great kids. The last thing he needs is to tangle with Bruce. But, my heresy demands an answer, so Ron penned typed a reply to my letter.

As you shall see in a moment, Ron tries to avoid making this personal. He never calls me by name. Instead he calls me THE agnostic. Since the is a definite article and I am the only agnostic that has written to the paper, it is safe to assume that THE agnostic=Bruce Gerencser.

Now to Pastor Adkin’s letter. Ron’s letter appears as normal type. My response appears as bold italics.

To the Editor:

I have been averse to reading the latest letter to the editor from the agnostic because I personally find agnosticism trite for two major reasons.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. Ron is writing about my letter, and since I am the only agnostic who has written to the newspaper, he is directing his response to me and what I have written. Of course, his greater objective is to cheer on the faithful.

My response is personal. I guess I could hide my response target by saying I am responding to THE pastor, but, I am not one known for such subterfuge so I want to make it clear that my response is directed to Pastor Adkins and his letter to the editor. I do hope that the faithful will be challenged and forced to ask hard questions about Christianity, the Bible, and their certainty that what they say they believe is the truth is really the truth. I also hope my fellow atheists and agnostics will be encouraged to continue on the path of intellectual freedom.

I am amused somewhat that Ron considers agnosticism trite, yet he expends quite a bit of verbiage in his attack of the agnostic view. Perhaps it was not as trite as he thought is was.

First, agnosticism is predicated on the premise of skepticism concerning the existence of God. The agnostic doubts the absolute truth about God (although some may believe in a First Cause), yet states an absolute truth by claiming God does not exist and that the answer is a humanistic worldview. If consistent, the agnostic would doubt his own statements, and furthermore, would doubt his own doubt that God does not exist, thus resulting in the probability that God could exist.

I don’t believe I have ever said God does not exist.  I am, after all, an agnostic. In fact, Ron might be surprised to know that I have quite a bit of room in my agnostic worldview for a god (or gods). (much to the consternation of some hard-core atheists) I am fairly certain that the gods that man has created so far are not gods at all. I can not state categorically or infallibly (I’ll leave that to the Pope) there is NO God. Even Christopher Hitchens does not say there is No God.

The best answer,the best philosophy of living, in my humble opinion, is humanism. With humanism the focus is on reality, the here and now. Surely, Ron, the history major that he is, knows that many humanists have a spiritual or religious dimension to their beliefs. But, the humanist always comes back to what they can see. The humanist does not have time to spend on pining about a future in heaven, the rapture, and the many other events in the eternal future that preoccupy and keep Christians from engaging a suffering, hurting, and dying world.

What is humanism? The best statement I have found comes from the Humanist magazine:

“Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of theism and other supernatural beliefs, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.”

Christians often prop up the straw man of absolute truth. Everyone believes in absolute truth, they claim.  Evidently Ron needs to meet a few real agnostics and atheists before he claims such a thing.

Personally, there are many things I believe to be true or factual. Based on what knowledge and information I have at hand, I have concluded that certain things are factual and true. I know that the earth revolves around the sun and that the earth is not flat. I am relatively certain the science behind these claims is true. If I was left with only the absolute truth of the Bible, I would have to ignore what science teaches and I would be forced to accept that the sun revolves around the earth and the earth is flat. (among countless other incredible, yet false claims found in the Bible)

Ron writes of the absolute truth of God, and by God, lets be clear, Ron means the Christian God. Where does one find this absolute truth? The Bible. Ah, finally a concrete piece of information we can weigh in the balances. And that is exactly what I have done. I have weighed the claims of the Bible in the balances and found it wanting.

I find the claims made by academics like Bart Ehrman and Robert Price to be compelling. I find Richard Wright’s book The Evolution of God to be a fascinating  alternative story to the monotheism of orthodox Christianity.

My agnosticism rests squarely on the belief that the Bible is not what it claims to be and that it is not inspired, divine truth. At the end of the day it all boils down to the Bible. If I do not accept the claims of the Bible, or the claims of what Churches, denominations, popes or pastors say the Bible says, then I can not believe in the God that the Bible presents.  I may still believe in a god  but not the god of the Christian Bible.

Ron, I am sure, will appeal to nature and conscience as proof of God, but I would counter  how can one necessarily conclude that the God who gave us nature and a conscience is necessarily the Christian God? Would a person not initiated in Christian thinking come to the conclusion, by looking at nature, that there is a God and that that God is the triune God of the Christian religion? Doubtful. In fact, I can say impossible. Such a faith requires the Bible to give it structure.

Second, if then, the agnostic is not a true agnostic,because of the self-defeating premise, then there is another motivation behind his self-proclaimed agnosticism.

Answered above, so I assume this makes mute the next point Ron makes. But, Ron gets personal (divulging a bit of inside information about me) in what follows so I want to deal with it.

I have found that agnostics, who are not true agnostics,typically are angry at God because God does not operate the way they think God should operate. At other times they are angry because they have not received what they wanted from God. Like the undisciplined child who is angry at a parent using their only means of power, knowing they are powerless, will proclaim, “I hate you!” Nothing could hurt a parent more, and they know this.

The agnostic stands before God and proclaims in anger,‘”You don’t exist!” Isn’t it interesting then that humans, created beings, desire God to act the way they perceive God should act? Furthermore, I find it pathetic to claim a humanistic worldview in which there is nothing, or no one, greater than ourselves to rely.

Anger. Ron, is right about my anger but he is wrong about the focus of my anger.

The Christian God, the God of Ron Adkins does not exist. Why would I be angry at a fictional being?

No, my anger is directed towards organized religion.  My anger is directed at Evangelical Christianity. I am angry over what was taken from me over the 25 years I spent in the ministry.  I am angry over the wasted time and effort spent “doing  Church”. I am angry over my own selfish ambitions and my attempts at building a kingdom in my own name. (as all pastors do, after all why is their name on the church sign?)

I am angry over what the ministry and the church did to my wonderful wife and children. I am angry over countless parishioners whose lives are now shipwrecked because they drank from the well of organized religion.

Yes, I am angry and it feels good. For 33 years I lived in denial of my emotions, serving a God who was no god at all, a god that demanded self-sacrifice and self-denial. It feels good to be out from under such a burdensome weight.

Ron may consider humanism pathetic, and I might be tempted to say back at ya, but what humanism provides for me is reality. It is rooted in the common humanity we all share. I no longer have need to pray, fast, tithe, and attend. What humanism demands of me is doing, It demands of me the very things Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount. Humanism calls me to be fully human, in an imperfect, marred world. It calls me to use what talents I have for the betterment of my fellow man.

Becoming an agnostic and a humanist has forced me to admit that most of the supposed altruistic works I did as a pastor had an ulterior motive. I didn’t love people  for who they were. I loved them because I wanted Jesus to change them . If Jesus changed them then they would become a part of the church I pastored . End result? Bigger attendance and bigger offerings. (Trying to get a pastor to admit this is nigh impossible.)

It is an exhilarating experience to truly love people as they are.

Last, I would like to briefly answer the question which became the title for the agnostic’s editorial, “Writers espoused different views.”

I am glad of one thing……..Ron used the word last. I despise the use of the word lastly. Ron gets 1 brownie point for using last instead of lastly.

I hope Ron is aware that the newspaper determines what the letter title is. I have been writing letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc for over 28 years and I have yet been allowed to write my own title.

First, let me give some advice to all of those wonderful Christians who have been troubled by THE Agnostic. Remember an agnostic asks questions based on skepticism. Don’t feel as though you are in a corner. The quote at hand read, “Every letter writer has their own version of God and what constitutes a right, saving relationship with that God. This shows me that there is no such thing as Christianity (singular) in America”.

Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way. It is obvious that one comes to the truth of Christianity or more generally religious truth, differently than one would come to scientific truth. God is not an object to be observed. God has made himself known. Faith, therefore, is a response in obedience, the thing agnostics hate.

I find Ron’s statement here astounding. Ron writes “Truth is an objective fact expressed in a subjective way”. Ron certainly believes the Bible to be absolute truth.  I would love to  know if he really, really, believes the Bible is absolute truth. (I have my doubts) Ron, without any evidence, believes that what the Bible teaches is objective fact.

How does one know this? By a subjective experience with God. God has made himself known. How do we know that? Because the Christian says so. Because Ron says so. Ultimately, it is a matter of faith.

If it is a matter of faith, why  do so many Christians try and prove the truth of Christianity? Why do they attempt to use scientific methods to prove the veracity of the claims the Bible makes?

If it is a matter of faith then why write letters to the editor attempting to discredit and refute my rebuttal letter? Would it not be better to rest in the belief that the God of faith, through the holy Spirit will take care of things? Surely God can take care of one lowly, insignificant, pimple on the ass, agnostic named Bruce?

Ron might be surprised to know that I still have faith. I have faith in the gods I can see, my fellow human beings. In my Christian days I put my faith in a God who I said  was always there, but quite honestly I never really could find him. God was all-knowing and all-powerful. He was supposedly intimately involved in the minutia of my life, yet when it came to things that mattered, matters of life and death, God was nowhere to be found.

I would assume that Ron considers his weekly sermons to be subjective? After all he is preaching absolute truth in a subjective manner, yes? I don’t know of any preacher that would embrace such a claim, especially  an Evangelical preacher. After all, the preacher is the man of God who speaks the word of God to the people of God. Not much subjectivity  here.

I find no conflict in the different responses to the agnostic because the different individuals have expressed their belief and experience (“Pascal’s Wager”) in the one, absolute God in different ways. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world is truth and is experienced by individuals.

Ron is being disingenuous here OR his two years in the Methodist church has worn down his Evangelical resolve. I realize he is preaching to the choir here, but any cursory reading of the letters written in reply to either of my recent letters will reveal full-blown heresy. Is Ron suggesting that subjective heresy is fine as long as it is done with the right intention? If so, it is time to give all the heretics of the past a place at the orthodox table once again. Each of them had sincere intentions. They loved their version of Jesus. Welcome Brother Pelagius!

It is clear for all  who are willing to see……….no two Christians have the same version of Christianity. Christianity for most Christians is akin to going to a buffet, taking what you want and leaving the rest. I don’t have a problem with this approach, but I would, at least, like Christians to admit it. They speak of orthodoxy and common belief, but such singularity does not exist except in  denominational or church confessions or theological texts. Real world experience tells me that every Christian believes what they want to believe and ignores the rest. (any righteous men out there that want to offer their virgin daughter to the men of the city as righteous Lot did?)

This is why all Christians can describe some kind of personal experience, or relationship, with God through the Holy Spirit. Christian faith is an assent and obedience to the revelation of God.

On  this point  I  agree with Ron. It is all about the revelation of God. In other words it is ALL about the Bible. As I have said time and time again, there is no Christianity without the Bible. I am an agnostic because I reject the truth claims of the Bible. I reject its claim that it is a supernatural, divine book that reveals God to humankind. It is  a spiritual book written by men thousands of years ago.  Certainly the Bible has much to offer in way of personal spiritual guidance, but it is just a  book and it has no authority in my life. It has as much authority, and is just as inspired, as the writings of Mark Twain. (And no Christian can prove otherwise because the doctrine of inspiration is presupposed and can not be empirically proved.)

Ron knew I was heading down the slippery slope towards agnosticism. Surely he can recall our discussions about the Bible. He, at one time, read my blog. Yet, when I stopped attending his church that ended our interaction. Evidently time was better spent rescuing those who wanted rescued.

Yet, one would think that over the course of two years, in a town of 325 people, Ron or someone from the church would have stopped by and looked in on us. As I have struggled with debilitating neurological problems, problems Ron was well aware of, one would think that a visit might be in order. How can we help? Is there anything you need? One never knows what love and kindness might accomplish.

As is always the case…why spend time helping people who have no intentions of joining the happy band. If their ass is not in the seat why bother?

This is my subjective experience of the objective truth called the Church.

There are six churches within a few miles of the home where my family and I reside. Prior to my recent coming out as an agnostic, our family would have been a great catch for any church. We are clean-cut, clean-livers. We look like Christians. We are talented. We have skills that any church would be grateful to use. We are loyal, faithful people. We are loving and kind. We are great non-Christian Christians.

But, not one pastor, one church leader, one church member, ever knocked on our door to invite us to their church. Even after we visited four of the six churches, no one bothered to try to befriend us and love us as Jesus would.

No, the truth is……..no one gave a shit.

And then one day………neither did we.

Ron Adkins
Ney

Bruce Gerencser
Ney

An Old Man and Two Young Women

limaland motorsports park
Wrecked Sprint Car 2012

A summer or so ago, my oldest son and I went to LimaLand Motorsports Park in Lima Ohio to watch a dirt track race. LimaLand is a 1/4 mile dirt track owned by the University of Northwestern Ohio. Their regular program features 360 Sprints, Modifieds, and Thunder Stocks.

During the heat races I got up to walk a bit and buy some health food. I walked up to one of the food vendors and told the two young women working there that I would like a Snickers bar. Here’s what transpired next:

One girl: I am sorry I can’t wait on you.

Bruce: Why not?

One girl: It’s the hat you are wearing. (A Cincinnati Bengals hat)

Bruce: My hat? What are you a Cleveland Browns fan?

One girl: How dare you insult me. I am a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Bruce: Well….What’s your favorite baseball team?

One girl: The Reds.

Bruce: Well that’s good.

One girl: (pointing to other girl) She’s from Michigan.

Bruce: I rescued my wife from Michigan. She is from Bay City. Where are you from?

Other girl: Sterling Heights.

Bruce: I see. I went to college in Pontiac.

Other girl: Oh that’s a bad place.

Bruce: Yes it is, but I went to college there probably before you were born.

One girl: Are you saying we are not very old?

Bruce: Yes.

This was a 90 second conversation of fun bantering back and forth.

The old man could think……”hey these young girls are hitting on me.” But then the old man comes out of his delusional state and thinks, “I probably remind them of their dad or grandfather.”

Typical Midwestern “shooting the breeze.” All in good fun.

30 Ways TV Distorts Our View of the World

CSI Miami Eva LaRue

I watch a lot of TV and it never ceases to amaze how often, even on basic stuff, TV programs either get it wrong or distort things. What follows is my Top 30 ways TV distorts our view of the world. Feel free to add to the list in the comment section.

  1. Everyone has sex standing up.
  2. Married people don’t have sex.
  3. If married people have sex, it isn’t fun or enjoyable and it last for 5 minutes.
  4. A man can drink all the alcohol he wants and still get an erection, have sex with three women and be ready to go again in 10 minutes.
  5. Prostitutes are always drop dead gorgeous with a degree in economics from Harvard.
  6. Policeman are crack shots who drop their suspect with one shot.
  7. Revolvers never run out of bullets, neither does any other firearm.
  8. Spraying a car with machine gun fire never hits the star (s) of the show.
  9. Drug dealers are black.
  10. Terrorists are brown.
  11. Rich people are white.
  12. The FBI, CIA, NSA, NCIS, and the Secret Service have instantaneous access to every bit of information about your life.
  13. The FBI, CIA, NSA, NCIS, and the Secret Service do not need a warrant to access every bit of information about your life.
  14. A 120 pound female police officer can always fight, take down, and restrain any and all men 2-3 times her size.
  15. News reports on minutia that makes viewers think the minutia is important.
  16. Reports on what is trending on Twitter, as if Twitter matters.
  17. Reports on what is trending on Facebook, as if Facebook matters.
  18. Sideline reporters asking football coaches touchy-feely questions, giving the impression coaches love to answer such questions.
  19. Sports reports that make the mundane, every day lives of athletes into larger than life stories that is breaking, must-see TV.
  20. Women should be blonde, thin, have big breasts,have perfectly straight white teeth, no acne, and perfectly manicured nails.
  21. Women in  crime laboratories are either geeks like Abby on NCIS or drop dead gorgeous wearing white, tight clothing like Natalia Boa Vista on CSI Miami. (see picture at top of post)
  22. Policeman, FBI agents, and NCIS operatives are expert drivers who can weave in and out of traffic in both directions at  100 mph.
  23. Men don’t have penises but women have breasts and vaginas and viewers only want to see breasts and vaginas.
  24. Everyone with Down Syndrome can read and graduate from high school.
  25. Every man in America has erectile dysfunction and needs Viagra.
  26. Whatever the United States makes or does is awesome and way more awesomer (yes I know it is not a word) than China, Russia, Mexico, and, well any other country that is not the United States.
  27. Iraq is better off today than it was under Saddam Hussein.
  28. American soldiers conduct themselves with the highest regard for human life and it is always our enemy that slaughters and commits war crimes.
  29. The news channels, with a straight face, say they report nothing but the news with no political spin. Fox News is fair and balanced, yes?
  30. On Fox News, Dick Cheney is an honorable man who has never made a mistake or lied. On MSNBC, George Bush is a dishonorable man who did nothing but make mistakes and lie. On CNN, wait is CNN still on? Al Jazeera? Why everyone knows they are owned by Muslims, right?

I better stop at 30. Do you have a few distortions you would like to add?

Doing Good Because it is the Right Thing to Do

Imagine for a moment that you find a wallet that someone has accidentally dropped on the ground. In the wallet is the person’s ID, credit cards, and $300. What would you do?

I suspect most of us would attempt to track the person down and return the wallet. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

The Christian Post reported a story about an anonymous Christian finding a wallet and returning it to its rightful owner. The Christian did the right thing and he should be commended for doing so. If you have ever lost your wallet or ID you know how stressful and gut wrenching  the experience is, especially in this day of identity theft.

The problem I have with the Christian Post story is the motivation the Christian had for returning the wallet. Instead of it being a good, decent, honorable thing to do, the Christian had a “Biblical” reason for returning the wallet.

The Christian attached a Post-it note to the wallet:

returned wallet
The Christian who returned the wallet stated that his reason/motivation for returning the wallet was:

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Luke 10:27

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke 16:10

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth. Psalm 83:18

In other words, the Christian’s act of decency and kindness was all about God.

From my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that religion and the Bible complicate the issue. Would the Christian have returned the wallet if these verses weren’t in the Bible? Would he have returned the wallet if he wasn’t a Christian? While these questions might be viewed as trying to turn a good deed into an argument, I think motivations are important.

This story is connected quite closely to the argument over morality and ethics. Many Christians think morality and ethics require religion and a divine text. In their thinking, they do good because of their religion and its teachings. It is God that keeps them from being a bad person.

It is not enough then for an act of goodness to be performed just because it is the right thing to do. Instead, it is God who get all the praise and glory because without him, humans would do bad things. In others words, without God the Christian would have kept the wallet.

If the Christian had left a Post-it note with these two verses:

And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Luke 6:31

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39

perhaps I would see this story differently.

All of us should treat others as we would want to be treated. Isn’t that a universal moral value?

I commend the Christian for returning the man’s wallet. It was the right things to do, whether the man was a fundamentalist, an Episcopalian, or an atheist. Would an atheist have returned the wallet? I’d like to think so. But, I know among atheists and Christians alike, there are those that would have viewed the lost wallet as an opportunity to steal. As we all well know, religious belief does not inoculate a person from being a bad person.  The religious and the godless have the capability and power to do bad things.  Why? Because bad people do bad things. Avarice is found too often among the human species.  A narcissistic view of the world often motivates people to only think of self. When presented with an opportunity to return the lost wallet, the narcissist is only concerned with what he can gain. In this case, he gains the money that is in the wallet.

We should all strive for a higher ideal regardless of our religious belief. As a humanist, I try to treat others as I would want to be treated. If I lost my wallet, I hope someone would return it and I would gladly offer them a reward.  Far more important than lost cash is lost ID.  And I know if I found a person’s wallet I would return it to them. How do I know I would do this? Because that is what I have done in the past. It is the moral/ethical code I live by. I know how panicked I get when I can’t find my wallet in the house and I can only imagine how stressed out I would be if I knew I had lost it at a store or parking lot somewhere.

Here’s the point I want to make…good people do good. Yes, sometimes good people fail and might, at times, do bad things, but the arc of their life is toward good. The same can be said of those who lack moral and ethical character. They may, at times, do good things, but the arc of their life is toward bad. It is not religion that determines goodness or badness, though it certainly can, for some people, play a part. What determines the kind of person we are is our character. People with good character do good things like returning a lost wallet. People with bad character, don’t.

A Moment of Kindness Remembered for a Lifetime

kindness
It’s early spring in NW Ohio, the year is 1972.

A fourteen-year-old boy is playing with his Lionel trains in the basement of a rented house on Cherry St. in Findlay, Ohio.  He loves playing with the trains, a love picked up from working at his Dad’s hobby store.

The boy hears footsteps coming down the basement stairs, it’s his Dad.

His Dad says, I need to talk to you.

This is strange, the boy thought. Dad never talks to me about anything.

Your Mom and I don’t love each other anymore, says the boy’s Dad, and we are getting a divorce.

And just like that, whatever shred of family the boy had was destroyed.

It wasn’t long before the divorce was final.

The boy is in ninth grade and it is graduation time. His parents both want to come to his graduation but the boy says, I am not going to graduation, and that was that.

Tenth grade. High School. All the ninth graders from Central, Donnell, and Glenwood would join the older students at Findlay High School, making the school one of the largest in Ohio.

The boy’s friends would all be there, His school friends, his church friends, and the boys he played baseball and basketball with.

The boy’s Dad remarried, a girl 18 years younger than his Dad. She has a baby. In a few short years the boy would be dating women the age of his Dad’s new wife. She was never more than Dad’s new wife. The boy had a mother, and he only needed one of those.

Fall turned to Winter and then one early Spring day the boy’s Dad says, we are moving to Arizona.

What? the boy thought. You can’t do this to me. All my friends are here. You promised, no more moving. 2 1/2 years, the longest the boy ever lived in one place and now he had to move.

Upset, angry, bitter and no one seemed to care.

On a Saturday in March, 1973 the auctioneer’s voice rang out and everything but essentials are sold to strangers who came to gawk at household goods.  And with auction proceeds in hand the Gerencser’s pile into two cars and move to Tucson, Arizona. Later and the finance company would track down the boy’s Dad and repossess the cars. When the boy became a man he then understood why he had to move so suddenly and quickly 1,900 miles from his home.

The boy, despite hating his Dad for taking him away from his friends, is excited about the prospect of traveling across the country. So many things to see, so many new experiences to be had.

The first thing the boy does is find a new church to attend. Isn’t amazing, the boy thought, right in our backyard is the Tucson Baptist Temple, a Baptist Bible Fellowship church! Just like the church in Findlay, this must be God working things out, the boy quietly hopes.

The Tucson Baptist Temple was a large church pastored by Louis Johnson, a preacher from Kentucky. The boy joined the church and started attending youth group. But, try as he might he couldn’t make friends. It wasn’t like his church home in Findlay where the boy had all kinds of  friends, and even a few girl church friends.  He feels very much alone.

With the move, the boy has to ride a city bus to his new school, Rincon High School. Right away he notices that some of the kids from the youth group attended Rincon, but they pretend they don’t know him. He feels quite alone.

Rincon had what was called open lunch. Every day the boy would go outside and sit on the grass and eat his lunch. One day, a beautiful Asian girl comes near the boy and sits down to eat her lunch. She is warm and friendly, and treats the boy like she has known him for years. And for the next ten weeks, on most days, she ate lunch with the boy from Ohio. Outside of the fat boy everyone made fun of who rode the bus, this would be the only friend the boy would make.

And then came summer, and the boy hopped a Greyhound bus and moved back to Ohio. With the help of his church and friends, the boy was able to go back to his old school, his old church, with his old friends. Life for the next year was grand, just like he had never left.

The boy would have to move home to his Mom’s home at the end of the school year. This move brought great unrest and turmoil to the boy’s life, but that is a story for another day.

The boy is an old man now, and as he watches The Sing-Off, there is a girl that brings to his mind a time long ago when a beautiful girl took the time to befriend a friendless boy from Ohio. It reminds him that moments of kindness are often remembered for a lifetime.

Nuclear War and the Prince of Peace

“I am against war, against violence, against violent revolution, for peaceful settlement of differences, for nonviolent but nevertheless radical changes. Change is needed, and violence will not really change anything: at most it will only transfer power from one set of bull-headed authorities to another.”

Thomas Merton

“Technically I am not a pure pacifist in theory, though today in practice I don’t see how anyone can be anything else since limited wars (however ‘just’) present an almost certain danger of nuclear war on an all-out scale. It is absolutely clear to me that we are faced with the obligation, both as human beings and as Christians, of striving in every way possible to abolish war”.  

Thomas Merton 1961

“Nonviolence seeks to “win” not by destroying or even by humiliating the adversary, but by convincing him that there is a higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs and blood. Nonviolence, ideally speaking, does not try to overcome the adversary by winning over him, but to turn him from an adversary into a collaborator by winning him over.”

Thomas Merton 1968

“Perhaps peace is not, after all, something you work for, or “fight for.” It is indeed “fighting for peace” that starts all the wars. What, after all, are the pretexts of all these Cold War crises, but “fighting for peace”? Peace is something you have or you do not have. If you yourself are at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world. Then you share your peace with everyone, and everyone will be at peace. Of course I realize that arguments like this can be used as a pretext for passivity, for indifferent acceptance of every iniquity. Quietism leads to war as surely as anything does. But I am not speaking of quietism, because quietism is not peace, nor is it the way to peace.”

Thomas Merton 1966

I wrote the following on Christmas Day 2002. At the time, I was a Christian pastor. As you can see, I had wandered far from my Fundamentalist/Evangelical roots. This was published the next week in The Bryan Times.

Dear Editor,

What a wonderful and beautiful Christmas Day! The ground is blanketed with six or so inches of snow and all is peaceful and quiet. There is nothing more beautiful than a crisp winter morning after an overnight snowfall. This wintry scene causes me to reflect on the glory of Christmas Day and the meaning of it. Christmas is about redemption. Christmas is about Jesus the Son of God taking on human flesh, and being born of the virgin Mary in the city of Bethlehem. Jesus came into the world at the appointed time to bring redemption to all men. He came to proclaim peace and justice for all. He is called the Prince of Peace. Later in His life, Jesus would declare that peace and justice were to be character traits of those who profess to be followers of Him.

It is my thoughts of peace and justice that now begin to cloud my thoughts on this Christmas Day. Jesus came to bring peace, yet there is no peace. Jesus came to bring justice, yet there is no justice. Those who claim to be His followers show little concern for peace and justice. It seems they are all too busy with eating, drinking, and being merry to concern themselves with such weighty notions of peace and justice. But, concern ourselves with them we must.

I have been reading of late the Social Essays of the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton. These essays were written at the height of the cold war and the Vietnam war. I am amazed at how timely Merton’s essays are for today, though they were written 40 years ago. In his time, Merton had to constantly battle censors within the Catholic Church who attempted to silence his anti-war message. Merton was quite creative in the ways he got his message to the public. His voice still speaks loudly today.

Merton’s essays on nuclear war, unilateralism, and preemptive war should be required reading for all Americans. Merton reminds us of the lunacy of the notion that a nuclear war can be fought and won. Once the buttons are pushed, the world as we know it ceases to exist. Thoughts of non-defensive, unilateral, preemptive war, Merton reminds us, is immoral and should be condemned by all Christians.

Today, America sits on the precipice of nuclear world war. We have become the big bully who thinks he can get his way by bluffing and threatening. Every once in a while the bully even whips some weakling to show who is the toughest. Such is the case with Iraq. But now we have added North Korea to our list of nations we are intent on bullying. Unfortunately, North Korea does not quiver and shake at our threatenings. They well remember an America who could not defeat them during the Korean War. Since then, the North Koreans have added nuclear and biological weapons to their arsenal. According to recent newspaper reports, the North Koreans are quite willing to use what weapons they have to defend themselves.

What troubles me the most in all of this is the silence emanating from the pulpits of America. It seems the only voice that is heard is from war mongers like Jerry Falwell. Does he, and those like him, speak for the rest of us? The German Church silently sat by while Hitler put into force the plans and programs that would later give us World War II and the Holocaust. Now, the clergy of America sit by silently as George Bush and Company put into force programs like the Patriot Act and the Home Security Act. George Bush threatens war and destruction on any nation that opposes him. Our insane notion of national superiority, coupled with immoral capitalistic greed, is leading us down a path that is certain to have catastrophic results, yet nary a word is heard from our pulpits.

The Scriptures are clear, Christians are called to be people of peace and justice. We are to be peace makers. It is absurd to suggest, as George Bush does, that by waging war we will have peace. War always begets war and history bears this out. Only peace begets peace. It is time for all nations, including America, to lay aside and destroy ALL weapons of mass destruction. Our nation needs to repudiate its doctrine concerning preemptive first strikes against other nations. The world needs to know that America will be a peacemaking nation who desires peace and freedom for all men. While we must leave place for the need of defensive war or even what the theologians call “just war”, we must forsake attacking and killing others just because we do not like their government structure or way of life. Muslims have a right to live as they live without America interfering in their affairs. It is time we stop exporting Western civilization as the answer to the world’s problems. Better for us to concern ourselves with our own moral, ethical, and civil failures than trying to fix the problems of the world.

Fifty or so years ago the phrase “better dead than Red” was coined. Unfortunately, that philosophy is still alive and well. The proponents of this notion believe it is better for us all to be dead than to have any government or civilization than we have now. We best think about the reality of such a notion because when the nuclear bombs start falling it will be too late. The Reagan/Bush Star War notion of missile defense will not save us once the bombs start to fall. It will only take a few bombs to render this world unlivable. Those who survive will wish that had not.

It is not too late. Voices need to be raised in opposition and protest to the war policy of the Bush administration. Protesters need to make their voice heard via letters and public protest. Conscientious men and women in the military need to say “I will not” to their leaders who want to slaughter them on the altar of political and economic gain. Politicians need to get some backbone and be willing to stand up to the war mongering hawks on Capitol Hill. They have been raised up “for such a time as this!”

Bruce Gerencser
Alvordton, Ohio

How Fundamentalist Christians Ruin Christmas

candy cane
Now that I am no longer a Christian, I really enjoy Christmas. I know this might be hard for some to believe, but I enjoy Christmas now more than I ever did when I was a card-carrying member of Club Christian®. The reason is simple. From Thanksgiving to New Years, there were services to prepare, food drives to coördinate, and season-themed sermons to preach. Like the Easter season, Christmas was a high stress, lots of work, time for me. Quite frankly, I found it exhausting and rarely did I have time to enjoy Christmas.

And of course, Christmas was that time of year when it was my duty to focus on and harass any relative or friend that did not know Jesus. I mean know in the Fundamentalist sense. There’s Christianity and then there’s hell is real, souls are dying, I must make an ass of myself every Christmas Fundamentalist Christianity.

Consider these words from John R. Rice, the late Fundamentalist evangelist and editor of the Sword of the Lord:

“I still, from my armchair, preach in great revival campaigns. I still vision hundreds walking the aisles to accept Christ. I still feel hot tears for the lost. I still see God working miracles. Oh, how I long to see great revivals, to hear about revival crowds once again!…I want no Christmas without a burden for lost souls, a message for sinners, a heart to bring in the lost sheep so dear to the Shepherd, the sinning souls for whom Christ died. May food be tasteless, and music a discord, and Christmas a farce if I forget the dying millions to whom I am debtor; if this fire in my bones does not still flame! Not till I die or not till Jesus comes, will I ever be eased of this burden, these tears, this toil to save souls.”

John R. Rice Christians can’t just enjoy the season. To them it is not enough to sit back and enjoy the food, gift giving, and family connection. Oh no, they must see every non-Fundamentalist family member as a hell-bound prospect for heaven. Rather than chatting up atheist Uncle Ricky Bobby about family and life, the souls for Jesus is my battle cry Christian must, with little delay, attempt to witness to their heathen relative. Far more important than love, kindness, and family is the Fundamentalist’s belief system. It matters not  Uncle Ricky Bobby has been witnessed to countless times before. In the Fundamentalist’s mind, this might be the day, the moment when the Holy Spirit comes over Uncle Ricky Bobby and causes him to repent of his sins and put his faith and trust in Jesus. It matters not how unlikely this is, as rare as an ivory-billed woodpecker sighting,  if Uncle Ricky Bobby is breathing, the Fundamentalist thinks they have the duty, obligation, and right to badger them.

Sometimes, Fundamentalist Christians can become so aggressive, argumentative, and pushy that it ruins the family gathering. Even when families gather for Christmas with Jesus being the reason for the season, many families focus on, you know, the most important thing, f-a-m-i-l-y. It’s the Fundamentalist, blinded by their certainty, that refuses to leave the salvation of others in God’s hands. After all, it is God that does the saving, right?

I suspect some evangelizing Fundamentalists have a deep need to be perceived as right.  They spend their life hearing that only Jesus gives life true meaning and that every non-Christian has a God-shaped void in their soul. They are reminded by their preacher that non-Christians have horrible, miserable lives that will ultimately land them in hell. How can they not witness to Uncle Ricky Bobbie?

But, Uncle Ricky Bobby seems happy. He and this wife Betty Boo have been married forever. They have great jobs, treat others well, and come Christmas do their best to avoid any Christian/atheist conflict. They are content to enjoy the food and festivities and leave the God debate for another day.  To Ricky Bobby and Betty Boo, heaven, hell, and eternity can wait.

Tomorrow will be our family Christmas. I am looking forward to it. It is a day when we celebrate family. It is a day when we eat Polly’s awesome cooking and cookies. (and it is a real bummer I don’t feel like eating) It is a day when grandchildren get to open the crazy gifts Nana and Grandpa bought for them. It’s a day for laughter and reminding ourselves of how good we have it.

Our First Christmas, 1978

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly, in front of our first apartment, Fall of 1978

On a hot summer day in July of 1978, a young, naïve couple recited their wedding vows, and with a kiss for luck they were on their way.  Little did they know that they really didn’t know each other as well as they thought they did. Young love, also known as mutual infatuation, will do that, obscuring character traits and flaws in your one and only.

Polly and I were college freshmen at Midwestern Baptist College when we started dating in September 1976. Five months later, with a 1/4 caret, $225 engagement ring I bought at Sears and Roebuck in hand, I asked Polly to marry me. She enthusiastically said yes. Polly was 18 and I was 19.

We had grand plans, 3 kids, a house with a white picket fence, and a lifelong pastorate in a nice community somewhere. Like all such fantasies, it didn’t take long for us to see that being married to one another was not quite what we expected.

In the spring before our wedding, we rented an upstairs apartment on Premont Ave. in Waterford Township (Pontiac) Michigan. Our apartment had four rooms, a living room, bathroom, bedroom and kitchen. The walls were freshly painted and there was new green and white shag carpeting in the living room. (I would come home from school one day to find a discolored, brown stain on the carpet. Polly had spilled her tea and she used bleach to try to clean the carpet. Yeah,we both really were that naïve)

After classes ended in May, Polly went home to prepare for our wedding and I lived in the apartment. I worked at nearby grocery store, Felice’s Market. I also took on tarring Felice’s roof with aluminum reflective tar. They paid me well and I used this money to furnish our new apartment.

polly gerencser 1978
Polly standing in front of our apartment, late summer 1978

One day, while out and about with Wendell Uhl, a friend of mine from college, we stopped at a yard sale that had a bunch of furniture for sale. I made them an offer for the all the furniture and that’s how I furnished our apartment. I did buy a new double bed from Hudson’s. After a few months of marriage we bought a love seat from Kay’s Furniture to replace the futon couch I had bought at the yard sale.

After our wedding we had about 6 weeks before classes started again. We settled in as newlyweds to a wonderful life of wedded bliss. Little did we know how quickly life could throw you a curve.

polly gerencser 1978
Polly with my sister and niece a few days after our wedding, 1978

Not long after classed started, we found out Polly was pregnant. We had everything planned out, yet it seemed “God” had a different plan for us. We now know that Polly got pregnant because of the ineffective form of birth control we were using. Polly was quite sick from the pregnancy, forcing her to reduce her class load.

We planned to go to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve and then get up early the next morning and drive to my Mom’s home in Rochester, Indiana. At the time, we were driving an old beater of a station wagon, one of many such cars we would own over the years,  so we borrowed Polly’s parent’s car to make the trip to Rochester. We returned later that night.

Even though we were spending Christmas with family, we still wanted to have our very own Christmas tree. We had a few decorations that our Mom’s had given us and we bought a few more. We were ready to decorate our very first Christmas tree!

We decided to buy our tree from the Boy Scouts. We put it in the back of our Ford station wagon and drove home. Once there, I drug the tree up the long flight of stairs to our apartment. I put the tree in the cheap tree stand we had bought, tightened the screws, and let go of the tree so I could admire my handiwork. The tree proceeded to fall over. No matter what I did, the tree would not stand up.

The more I tried to get the tree to stand up the angrier I got. For the first time, Polly saw how angry I could get. That redheaded temper people talk about. I finally reached a breaking point and I opened the upstairs window and threw the Christmas tree out the window. It landed with a thud in the front yard, the same yard where a badly beaten man would be found lying a few months later.

After I cooled down, we went out and bought another tree. And just like before, I couldn’t get it to stand up straight. As I look back on it now, I suspect the problem was the cheap, undersized tree stand.  My answer for the falling tree was simple; I nailed the tree stand to the floor.

And that was our first Christmas.

Old Posts

Several readers have asked about reporting my previous writing. I will not be reposting my past writing, except for 20-30 old posts that I think are important and will give context to those reading my story for the first time. I want to revisit some of the things I wrote about years ago. Over the past 8 years I have changed a good bit and I think my writing should reflect this change.

Thank you for your understanding.

Bruce