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

Health Update

health news

A number of readers have inquired about my health so I thought I would take a few moments to share with you how things are t-o-d-a-y. I am hesitant to write anything since there are still some tests that need to be run, but I don’t want to keep my friends (and enemies) in the dark.

When I stopped blogging 4 months ago, I said “that’s it.” My health is such that it is very hard on me to write. But, I learned that my health didn’t get any better after I stopped blogging. Mentally and emotionally things got worse.

Since I am pretty much home bound, this blog allows me to connect with people who I consider friends. This is very important to me. Just today, I received a Christmas card from one of my Canadian friends, Carmen. We have never met, likely will never meet, yet I consider her a friend. More than a few times, her cheerful emails and letters have encouraged me. My life would be much poorer without the internet friendships I have made over the past 8 years.

I remain passionate about life and writing allows me to express that passion. I thought I could just turn it off and move on, but I found out I couldn’t. So, I plan to continue blogging until I d-i-e. Which, brings me to the health update.

About six months ago, I started having wild fluctuations in body temperature, similar to the hot flashes women have. One moment I am cold and wearing a beanie and the next moment I need to turn the fan on. This happens numerous times a day.

Over the past ten weeks I have lost 35 pounds, and no I am not on a diet. I have lost my appetite and my stomach often feels full. Simply put, I don’t feel like eating. And believe me, developing the svelte body I now have has required a good bit of eating. My weight is the lowest it has been in over a decade.

I have blood work done 4-6 times a year. Over the past 3 years, my SED rate has been slowly increasing.  15 is the norm and it reached 35 two months ago. Well, last week I had blood work done and the SED rate had jumped from 35 to 67. This rate increase can mean many things, from infection to inflammation to cancer.

During this time, I am also dealing with an unexplained problem with my left foot. 4 months ago, all of a sudden, my foot started swelling and turned yellow and red. I also had sustained spikes in body temperature. Infection right?  Blood tests were normal. The first doctor said I had cellulitus, the next doctor said I had phlebitis. The foot doctor said I have a ganglion cyst in my foot.

The discoloration went away, but the foot continues to swell if I don’t keep it elevated. Compared to the pervasive, unrelenting pain I have to deal with, the pain from the foot is barely noticeable. My family doctor ordered an ultrasound of my foot. I went in for the ultrasound  and they tested my left leg instead. I tried to tell them they were doing the wrong test but they assured me…doctor’s order. I have been unable to pin down whether it was the doctor or the lab that made the error, but in the process of doing the ultrasound on my leg they found an enlarged lymph node in my groin.

Taking all of these factors together, my primary doctor ordered a CT scan of my chest, abdomen, and groin. This test was done on Monday and was, in itself, a comedy of errors. Due to an ER emergency I had to wait 50 minutes for my scan. Then the tech had problems getting an IV started and it took 2 people 15 minutes to put my IV in. I have thick skin, deep veins. As any nurse or phlebotomist will tell you, redheads are a pain in the ass to stick.  Once the IV was in it was time to start the contrast. Technical error again. The contrast diffuser wasn’t working. 15 minutes later the problem was located, a disconnected cable on the back of the computer.

Finally, I had the CT scan. The scan itself only took a few minutes, one quick scan, one slow scan, one slow scan with contrast. Here’s the results:

  • MEDIASTINUM: No significant paracardiac effusion. No enlarged mediastinal or hilar lymph nodes are seen. Mild dilatation of the ascending thoracic aorta to 4.1 cm.
  • LUNGS: No focal lung opacities or pleural effusions. Calcified granuloma in the left upper lobe.
  • LIVER: Mild fatty infiltration with no focal lesions identified.
  • GALLBLADDER AND BILIARY SYSTEM: The gallbladder lumen is replaced by high attenuation, which may reflect numerous gallstones or high density sludge.
  • SPLEEN: No significant abnormality.
  • PANCREAS: There is a small hypodense lesion in the uncinate process of the pancreas, measuring approximately 7 x 5 mm axially (image 71 ) and 12 mm craniocaudally (coronal image 55). There is no pancreatic duct dilatation. There are mildly prominent peripancreatic lymph nodes measuring 11 and 8 mm in short axis (axial images 64 and 65).
  • ADRENAL GLANDS: No significant abnormality. KIDNEYS: No significant abnormality.
  • BOWEL AND MESENTERY: No focal bowel wall thickening or dilatation. Normal appendix. Sigmoid diverticula with no evidence of acute diverticulitis.
  • URINARY BLADDER: No significant abnormality.
  • OTHER PELVIC STRUCTURES: No significant abnormality.
  • BONES AND SOFT TISSUES: 4 cm intramuscular lipoma is seen in the left lateral abdominal musculature (axial image 58). Sclerotic focus in the anterior column of the left acetabulum may represent a benign bone island in isolation. Degenerative changes affect the thoracolumbar spine.
  • OTHER: Minimal atherosclerotic calcifications affect the abdominal aorta and branch vessels.
  • IMPRESSION: 1. Small lesion in the pancreatic head. While this may represent fatty infiltration, neoplasm cannot be excluded. Followup contrast-enhanced MRI is recommended. 2. Prominent peripancreatic lymph nodes. 3. Abnormal high attenuation in the lumen of the gallbladder may reflect numerous gallstones or high-density sludge. Right upper quadrant ultrasound is recommended for further evaluation. 4. Other findings as above. Professional Interpretations by FW RADIOLOGY

I texted my primary care doctor today and he plans to call me tomorrow morning. Here’s what he texted me:

At children’s christmas program. Can’t call. Abnormal pancreas. May need ERCP instead of MRI. But could do MRI first. Concerning but sometimes turns out benign cyst. Will call you in AM.

That’s it for now. When I know more, I will let you all know.  These problems are new problems, above and beyond the other health problems I have. I remain stoic, as always. It is what it is and we live until we die. I know some want to cheer me on but I am OK. Long ago, I realized that health problems are my lot in life. I embrace them and try to manage the best I can. Right now I am focused on what’s ahead and having enough appetite to eat all those awesome cookies Polly makes for me. That and looking forward to an awesome Sunday Christmas gathering with my kids and grandkids.

Note

If you are unfamiliar with what an ERCP is, here’s the Wikipedia page. Another option may be an EUS.

Christmas, 1957-2014

christmas tree new lexington 1984
Our Christmas Tree, New Lexington, Ohio 1984

Christmas has played a part in my life ever since I entered the world in June of 1957. In this post I want to detail some of my memories about Christmas.

As a child, Christmas at the Gerencser home was a typical American Christmas. Family, food, and gifts. While there were never many gifts, my siblings and I always received several gifts from our parents. My Dad filmed many Christmases with his 8mm movie camera. Sadly, after Dad died in 1985, the movies were either lost or destroyed.

christmas 1950's
Christmas, late 1950’s. Dad with his movie camera.

In the 1960’s Christmas at our home changed, and not for the best. My grandfather, on my Mom’s side, remarried.  My grandmother remarried several times, but was divorced by the mid-1960’s. My grandparents on my Dad’s side died in 1963. Grandpa Gerencser died February 1, 1963 and Grandma Gerencser died a month later on March 5th.  So, I was left with Grandpa and Grandma Tieken and Grandma Rausch, and they didn’t get along.

In the 1950’s, Grandpa Tieken and Grandma Rausch went through an acrimonious divorce, a divorce that resulted in neither parent being deemed  fit to raise their children. They had two children, my mother Barbara and her brother Steve. This acrimony was on display in the 1960’s when Bob and Barbara Gerencser gathered for Christmas with their three children, Butch (that’s me), Bobby, and Robin. Into our family gathering would come the grandparents, teeth bared, hateful towards the other, likely fueled by alcohol. The fighting got so bad that it was necessary for us to have two Christmas gatherings, one for each grandparent.

In the summer of 1970, we moved from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced. Dad would marry a 19-year-old girl a few months later and Mom would marry her first cousin, a recent Texas prison parolee. From this point forward until I entered college, I have no recollections of Christmas. I am sure we celebrated Christmas. I am sure we had a tree, perhaps gave gifts, etc, but I have no recollection of it.

In the fall of 1976, I left Bryan, Ohio and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll at Midwestern Baptist College, a fundamentalist Christian college noted for training men for the ministry. In September of 1976, I began dating a young, beautiful 17-year-old freshman girl named Polly. She would be the last girl I dated and two years later, in July of 1978, we married. This Sunday, Polly and I will celebrate our 39th Christmas together.

My first Christmas with Polly was in 1976. I drove from Bryan, Ohio to Polly’s parent’s home in Newark, Ohio. Polly’s Dad, Lee Shope, was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, a church pastored by her uncle Jim Dennis. The Shope family Christmas was a multifamily affair, with two sisters joining together to have the celebration. Christmas of 1976 was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis.

Being Polly’s boyfriend, I was topic of discussion and inspection. Needless to say, I failed the inspection and I am still the topic of discussion all these years later. I vividly remember Polly’s Uncle Jim letting the whole church know that I was there visiting Polly. He said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirt tail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirt tail is.” While I have no doubt Jim was trying to be funny, Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed.  This coming year we will celebrate 37 years of marriage, so the shirt tail have proven to be quite long.

As I entered the Dennis home, I was taken aback by how many gifts there were. Underneath the tree and flowing out from the tree were countless gifts, more gifts than my siblings and I received our entire childhood.  The amount of gifts, what I would later label an “orgy to consumerism”, continued unabated for many Christmases.

Polly’s family being a family of preachers, her Dad, Uncle, and Grandfather were preachers, they made sure they put a good word in for Jesus before the gift opening commenced. Every Christmas, one of the preachers, which later included Polly’s cousins and nephew, gave a short devotional reminding everyone that the birth of Jesus was the real meaning of Christmas. Interestingly, even though I was a pastor for 25 years, I was never asked to give the devotional.

After Polly and I married, we began to develop our own Christmas traditions. We spent Christmas Eve with Polly’s parents and Christmas Day with either my family in Bryan, Ohio or with my Mom at her home in Rochester, Indiana, and later Columbus, Ohio. Polly’s family Christmas continued to be marked by the gift giving orgy and lots of great food. Christmas with my Mom and family was much more of a measured affair. Mom made sure her grandkids got several gifts, as did my grandparents and Aunt Marijene.  Christmas at Mom’s house continued until around 1990 when she and her husband Michael moved to Michigan. The move was somewhat unexpected and I came to understand later that they likely moved due to Michael’s shady business dealings with people who threatened to kill him.  Mom would commit suicide in April 1992, while living near my sister in Quincy, Michigan.

Christmas 1983, Polly and I decided to have Christmas with my extended family at our home in Glenford, Ohio . I only remember two things from this Christmas: Grandpa and Grandma Tieken being their usual judgmental, pushy self and Mom being upset with me because I made her go outside to smoke. This would be the first and last time my extended family came to our home. For the next decade, not one member of my extended family came to our home, save a couple visits by the Tiekens. (whose visits were excruciatingly unpleasant)

Over time, I drifted away from my extended family. I began to see them as outsiders, someone of them in need of salvation. I regret distancing myself from my family, but like everything in the past there are no do-overs. We continued going to my Mom’s for Christmas until she moved to Michigan. We continued going to Polly’s parents home for Christmas until circumstances forced us to stop going. I will detail those circumstances in a moment.

In the late 1980’s, I came to the conclusion that Christmas was a pagan holiday, a holiday that no sold-out, on-fire Christian could ever celebrate. I unilaterally gave away all our Christmas decorations and we stopped giving our children gifts for Christmas. It’s not that we didn’t buy our children anything, we did. Our children, to this day, will joke that Christmas for them came when the income tax refund check showed up. Living in poverty with six children resulted in us, thanks to the Earned Income Credit, receiving a large income tax refund. When the check arrived, a one-time large infusion of cash into our bank account, we bought our children everything they needed, with “needed” being the key operative. While we bought the children clothes, shoes, underwear, and the like, we bought them very few toys. We left it to grandparents to buy them toys. We did make sure they had bicycles, BB guns, and firearms, but very few toys. Living as we did, 8 people in a 720 square foot, 12×60 battered, old trailer, required our children to spend a significant amount of time outside. Toys became whatever the kids picked up in the yard or woods. I have often wondered, looking at the wealth of toys our grandchildren have, if our children are not compensating for their childhood. I know, as we buy for our grandchildren, that we are.

During my “Christmas is Pagan Holiday” years, I routinely disparaged the gift orgy that went on at Polly’s parent’s home.  At the time, I thought the money being spent on gifts could be better spent on evangelizing the lost. While I would later move away from the view that Christmas is a pagan holiday, I never lost the belief that many Christians are quite hypocritical when it comes to Christmas. Jesus is the Reason for the Season and Wise Men Still Seek Him, devout Christians tell us, but their orgiastic celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, consumerism, betrays what they really believe. After all, conduct reveals what we truly believe.

Over time, I allowed, remember, we were patriarchal in family structure, Polly to resume a low-key celebration of Christmas in our home. We had to buy new decorations because I gave all away our old antique decorations, given to us by our mothers, to Goodwill. For a time, we had an artificial Christmas tree. For the past decade  or so we have bought a fresh Christmas tree. Since we moved back to rural NW Ohio in 2005, we have bought our tree each Christmas from the Lion’s Club in Bryan.

With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family shattering letter, Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter fundamentally changed our relationship with Polly’s fundamentalist family.

Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room, that elephant being Polly and I and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.

2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family.  We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005)

I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.

Christmas of 2010 was 2 years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephew’s had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit.  This was the last straw for us.

On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it any more and she said neither could she. So, we decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see Polly’s parents during the holiday, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve.  Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (BTW, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering)

We moved back to NW Ohio is July of 2005. Since then, our family has gathered for Christmas on the Sunday before Christmas. Doing this allows our children to avoid conflicts with their spouses family plans for Christmas. This past year, Polly’s parents drove up and joined us and they may do so again this year.

christmas 2011
Christmas 2011

These days, Christmas for Polly and I is all about family, especially the grandkids. For us, Christmas has become a celebration of love, a celebration of the gift of a wonderful family.  While we do not believe in the Christian God, we still enjoy Christmas music and all the other trappings of the Christmas season. It’s a cultural thing, no need to complicate things with religious demands. When 23 people pile into our grossly undersized living room to open presents, we will be reminded of how good we have it.

christmas 2013
Christmas 2013

How about you? How has how you celebrate Christmas changed over the years? If you are now a non-Christian, how do you handle your Christian family? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Dear Ann

blood of jesus

What follows is a letter I wrote to my Fundamentalist Christian step-grandmother, Ann Tieken, in 2012. She was married for many years to my grandfather John Tieken. They lived in Pontiac, Michigan and attended Sunnyvale Chapel. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Ann,

Grandchildren don’t get to choose who their grandparents are. When we are born they just show up and we have to accept them.

My Dad’s parents died when I was five. I really don’t remember very much about them at all. I remember the Gerencser farm, the outhouse, the wood cook stove, and the funny language Grandma and Grandpa spoke.

My Mom’s side of the family “blessed” me with two sets of grandparents, Grandma Rausch and Grandma and Grandpa Tieken.

I don’t know how old I was before I realized that Grandma Rausch used to be Grandma Tieken.

For most of my life, Grandma Rausch was the only grandparent I had. She wasn’t perfect but she loved me. I was, after all, grandson number one. She taught me to love baseball and to be passionate about life. She had her faults, but I never doubted for one moment that she loved me.

Here is what I remember about you and Grandpa Tieken.

I remember every Christmas being a day of anxiety and turmoil. I remember the fights and you and Grandma Rausch not being able to be in the same room together. This was resolved by having two Christmases, two of every holiday

I remember Grandpa’s nasty and violent temper.

I remember Grandpa slugging your son David, my teen age uncle, knocking him off his chair on to the kitchen floor. I saw Grandpa hit him more than a few times.

I remember Grandpa beating the shit out of my brother and I because we took apart an old telephone that was in the garage.

Wonderful childhood memories.

Do I have any good memories of you and Grandpa Tieken?

I have two.

I remember Grandpa taking us up in an airplane he had just overhauled and I vividly remember Grandpa taking me to a Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians game at Briggs Stadium in 1968. I got to see Mickey Lolich pitch. He bought me a Tiger’s pennant.

That’s it.

You were always a church going Christian. What were you thinking when you married the drinking, carousing John Tieken? But you won, and Grandpa Tieken found Jesus.

For the next 30 plus years you and Grandpa were devoted followers of Jesus. I remember going to Sunnyvale Chapel every time we came to visit you. I remember singing the Countdown song (see notes)  in junior church.

As I got older I began to understand things from my Mom’s perspective. Her relationship with you and her Dad was always strained. Lots of turmoil, lots of stress. Lots of angry words and cussing.

She showed me the letters you and her traded. So much anger, so little Jesus.

Mom told me about her younger years. She told me about what went on and what happened to her. Awful things. Shameful things. She told me about confronting Grandpa about these things and he told her that God had forgiven him and they were under the blood. Not one word of sorrow or admission of guilt, not even a sorry.  A new life in Christ wiped the slate clean.

I have often wondered if Mom’s mental illness found its root in the events that took place on a Missouri farm when she was but a youth.  I know she felt she could never measure up and you and Grandpa had a real knack for reminding family of their shortcomings. After all, we were Bob Gerencser’s kids.

When I went to college I lived a few miles away from you. For the first time I learned how controlling and demanding you and Grandpa could be. Now I know I wasn’t the perfect grandson; I remember charging to your home phone long distance phone calls to Polly. That aside, you did your best to manipulate and control my life.

When I started pastoring churches you and Grandpa started sending us money through the church. We really appreciated it and it was a big help. And then it stopped. Why? The church treasurer didn’t send you your giving statement when you expected it and just like that you stopped sending the money. Did our need change?

When I was pastoring in Somerset, Ohio you and Grandpa came to visit a few times. Polly and I will never forget these visits, how could we?

I remember you and Grandpa sitting in the last pew in the back, on the left side. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I had preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. Grandpa did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die. He thoroughly embarrassed and shamed me.

I remember when you came to visit us in Junction City. Again, who can forget the visit? This was your last visit to my home, twenty-three years ago.

Grandpa spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty. Evidently, having a dirty car was a bad testimony. Too bad he didn’t take that same approach with Mom.

After dinner, oh I remember it like yesterday, we were sitting in the living room and one of our young children got too close to Grandpa. What did he do? He kicked them. I knew then and there that regardless of his love for Jesus he didn’t love our family and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.

I think we saw you and Grandpa once or twice after that. I remember driving to Pontiac to see Grandpa after his cancer surgery. He was out of it. If I remember right you took us to lunch at a buffet.

For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.

I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you preceded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.

Finally, after forty years,  I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train.

And that is where things remained for a long time.

In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan to pastor a Southern Baptist church. In what can only be a cruel twist of fate, our family moved to the same gated community that you and your new husband lived in. What are the odds? You lived less than 2 miles from my home.

You came to visit the church I pastored and invited us over to dinner. I didn’t want to come, but I thought, what kind of Christian am I? Surely, I can forgive and let the past be the past.

And so we went. Things went fairly well until you decided to let me know, as if it was a fact that everyone knew, that my father was not really my father. I showed no reaction to this revelation, but it stunned me and cut me right to the quick. I knew my Mom was pregnant when she married Dad but I had never  before heard what you were telling me.

Why did you tell me this? What good could ever come of it? Believe me, I still have not gotten past this. I have come to see that what you told me is probably the truth, but to what end was the telling of this truth?

Church members were excited to find out that I was the grandson to Gramma Clarke, a fine, kind, loving, Christian woman if there ever was one, they told me. All I ever told them is that things are not always as they seem.

Of course I understood how this dualistic view of you was possible. You and Grandpa were always  good at the smile real big, I love Jesus game, all the while stabbing your family in the back. It is a game that a lot of Christians play.

Nine years have passed since I last saw you in Clare, Michigan. Life moves on. I have a wonderful wife, six kids, and eight grandchildren. And I am an atheist.

You must have done a Facebook search for me because you “found” me. You sent me an email that said:

What ? An athiest ?? Sorry Sorry Sorry !!!What happened ? How’s Polly & your family??

Nine years and this is what you send me?

Ann, you need to understand something. I am not interested in reviving any kind of relationship with you. One of the things I have learned in counseling is that I get to choose who I want to associate with, who I want to be friends with.

My counselor and I spend a lot of time talking about family and the past. He told me, Bruce it is OK to not be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with. No more loving everyone because Jesus loves everyone. I am free to love who I want.

I don’t wish you any ill will. That said, I don’t want to have a relationship with you, especially a pretend Facebook friendship. Ooh Look! Bruce got reconnected with his estranged Grandmother. Isn’t God good!!

Not gonna happen. I have exactly zero interest in pursuing a relationship with you. It is too late.

My “good” memories of you and Grandpa are few and far between. (and I haven’t even mentioned things that I am still, to this day, embarrassed to mention) You really don’t know me and I don’t know you. And that’s OK.

Life is messy  Ann and this is one mess in aisle three that no one can clean up. I have been told that I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. This is perhaps a true assessment of me. I told Polly tonight that I am quite willing to forgive but it is hard to do when there is never an admission of guilt or the words I am sorry are never uttered. How can there be since the blood of Jesus wipes away every shitty thing  a person has ever done? Talk about a get out of responsibility for sin card.

I am sure you will think I am just like my mother. I am.

You know what my last memory of my Mom is? After I tearfully and with a broken heart concluded my 54-year-old Mom’s graveside service, Grandpa Tieken took the “opportunity” to preach at us and tell us that Mom was in heaven. Just days before she had put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. We all were reeling with grief and pain and Grandpa, in a classic Grandma and Grandpa Tieken moment, decided to preach instead of love.

Bruce

Notes

The Countdown Song

Somewhere in outer space
God has prepared a place
For those who trust Him and obey
Jesus will come again
And though we don’t know when
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

CHORUS:

10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4,
Call upon the Savior while you may,
3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
BLAST OFF!

Jesus was crucified, suffered and bled he died,
But on the cross He did not stay
He made this promise true, I will come back for you,
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

CHORUS

Soon will the trumpet sound, and we’ll rise off the ground
With Christ forever will we be
Children where will you be, throughout eternity?
The countdown’s getting lower everyday!

CHORUS

Dear Bruce Turner

bruce turner
Bruce Turner

Bruce Turner was my youth pastor in the early 1970’s. Bruce played a very important part in my life, from my profession of faith in Christ to my call to the ministry. I have published this letter before. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Bruce,

I see you found my blog. I am sure the current state of my “soul” troubles you. My “spiritual” condition troubles many as they try to wrap their theological minds around my twenty-five years in the ministry and my present atheistic views.

I plan to address the comment you left at the end of the letter, but before I do so I want to talk about the relationship you and I had and about the influence you had on my life.

You came to Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, fresh out of Baptist Bible College. Trinity was looking to hire a full-time youth pastor and you were the one they hired. You joined the staff of a busy, growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church.

You were there when I put my faith and trust in Jesus. You were there when I was called to preach. You helped me prepare my first sermon.(2 Corinthians 5:20) You and I worked a bus route together and went out on visitation.

My parents had recently divorced and you became a surrogate father to me. When my Dad remarried and moved us to Arizona I was devastated. In a few months, I returned to Ohio, and in late summer of 1973, I moved from Bryan to Findlay.

You helped me find a place to live, first with the Bolanders, and then with Gladys Canterbury. For almost a year I went to school, worked a job at Bill Knapp’s, and immersed myself in the ministry of Trinity Baptist Church.  You were there to guide me every step of the way.

When I first moved to Findlay a divorcee and her young daughter wanted to take me in. You wisely made sure that didn’t happen, knowing such a home would not be healthy for me.

When I became enamored with Bob Harrington ( I loved his It’s Fun Being Saved record) you warned me about worshiping big name preachers and you told me to pay attention not only to what they preached but what they didn’t.

You even catered to my personal desires. In the summer of 1973, I had a whirlwind romance with Charlotte Brandenburg. Charlotte was the daughter of the couple who came to hold a Super Summer Bible Rally (VBS) at Trinity. For one solid week, we spent every day with each other. I was smitten with Charlotte.

Later that same year you planned a youth outing to the Troy Baptist Temple, the church Charlotte attended. We went to see the movie, A Thief in the Night, but my real reason for going was to see Charlotte.

bruce gerencser 1971
Bruce Gerencser, 1971, Ninth Grade

When it came time to leave I lingered as long as possible, I didn’t want to leave Charlotte. Finally, I heard a voice the said, Gerencser, get on the bus. (for some reason you liked to call me by my last name) As I came hand-in-hand with Charlotte to the bus you turned a way for a moment and told me to get it over with. I quickly kissed Charlotte goodbye and that was the last time I would see her. We wrote back and forth for a few months but, like all such relationships, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity.

You were my basketball coach. Trinity sponsored a team in the ultra-competitive high school age Church Basketball League. One game I had a terrible night shooting the ball. I was frustrated and I told you I wanted out of the game. You refused and made me play the whole game. My shooting didn’t get any better but I learned a life lesson that I passed on to all my children years later.

I remember when this or that person in the youth group got in trouble. You and Reva were there to help them pick up the pieces of their life. You were a kind, compassionate man.

I remember you helping us get a singing group started. I still remember singing the song  Yesterday during a church service (YouTube video of Cathedral Quartet singing this song) I also remember you singing Fill My Cup Lord. Polly and I sang this same song for many years in most every church I pastored.

Who can ever forget your Youth Group survey? You surveyed our attitudes about alcohol, drugs, music and sex and then you dared to use your findings in a sermon. I remember what a stir your sermon caused. You peeled back the façade and revealed that many of the church’s youth were not unlike their non-Christian peers. (it was the 70’s)

I saw your bad side too. I remember the youth canoe outing where Reva lost her teeth. Boy were you angry. I felt bad for Reva, but in a strange way I loved you even more. I saw that you were h-u-m-a-n. I already knew Gene Milioni and Ron Johnson, the other pastors, were human, having seen their angry outbursts, and now you were mortal too. (remember I am writing this from the perspective of a fifteen year old boy)

In May of 1974, I abruptly left Findlay, one week away from the end of school. (a move that resulted in Findlay High School denying me credit for my entire 11th grade year. Subsequently, I dropped out of high school.  My Mom was in a world of hurt mentally and she needed me. (and I needed her) In the fall of 1974 she would be admitted to the state mental hospital and my Dad would come and move my siblings and I back to Arizona.

In 1976 I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I met my wife at Midwestern, and after leaving there in the Spring of 1979, we embarked on a twenty-five year journey in the pastorate, a journey that took us to seven churches.

bill beard bruce turner 1986
Bill Beard and Bruce Turner, 1986

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. I put to use the things I learned from you, Dr. Tom Malone, and my professors at Midwestern. I put soulwinning first. I committed myself to being a faithful preacher of the truths found in the King James Bible. And “God” blessed the work I did. Somerset Baptist Church grew from a handful people to over two-hundred. We were the largest non-Catholic church in Perry County.

You and I reconnected and I had you come and preach for us. I believe it was a special service and the church was packed with people. The people loved you and I was thrilled to show off my mentor to them. I suppose, deep down, I needed your approbation.

You invited me to come and preach at your church, Braintree Baptist Temple in Braintree Massachusetts. I now know that the real reason you had me come and preach was because you saw some things that concerned you. My work-a-holic, Type-A personality was good for growing a church but not so good for me or my family. Sadly, it took me many more years before I realized this.

We stayed in your home in Massachusetts and spent a few days traveling around the area. This was the first “vacation” our family had ever taken and it would be the last one for many years. I was too busy and thought I was too important to take any time off.  Even when I later took vacations, I never took them just to be taking one. I always had a church or conference to preach at while we were on “vacation.”

bruce turner 1986
Bruce Turner with our three oldest children, 1986

You and your dear wife treated us well. You gave us some “run-around” money and we went out to the Cape. My oldest children still remember dipping their feet in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

We parted, promising to keep in touch, but like Charlotte and I years ago, our relationship died due to a lack of proximity. I suspect my later adoption of Calvinism ended any chance of a continued relationship.

I did write you several times in the 1990’s. I read somewhere that you had Fibromyalgia, and when I was diagnosed with the same I wrote you. You never responded. I was disappointed that you never wrote back, but I chalked up to you being busy.

Bruce, I wrote all of this to say that you had a profound effect on my life. I will always appreciate what you did for me.

Now to your comment.

You wrote:

Sorry to see your blog and obvious bitterness toward Baptists. Not all of us preached an easy believing Gospel and certainly not all of us lived a perverted life. These King makers you blog about have never had my respect.

Reva and I have been happily married for 44 years. I am sorry your health is so bad and though you apparently have rejected what you once professed, I am praying for you to the God (not preachers) that I trust.

I sincerely hope your health improves and remember some good times in the old days. Stay healthy friend.

Bruce Turner

I am often accused of being bitter, angry, or some other negative emotion. On one hand, I have every reason to be bitter and angry, but my rejection of Christianity is not ultimately defined by anger or bitterness.

I rejected Christianity because I no longer believed the claims made about the Bible and its teachings. I came to see that the Bible was not inspired, inerrant, or infallible. I came to see that a belief in the God of the Bible could not be sustained rationally, (this is why faith is necessary) and even if it could be, I wanted nothing to do with such a capricious, vengeful, homicidal God. I later came to see that the Bible claims for Jesus could not be sustained. While I certainly think a man named Jesus roamed the Judean hillside during the time recorded in the Bible, the Jesus of the Bible is a myth. At best he was a revolutionary, a prophet who was executed for his political and religious beliefs. (and I still, to this day, have a real appreciation for the sermon on the Mount and a few other sayings attributed to Jesus)

My journey away from Christianity and the ministry took many anguished filled years.  I didn’t arrive to where I am today overnight. I looked at progressive Christianity, the Emergent church, liberal Christianity, and even universalism. None of these met my intellectual need. None of them rang true to me. I made many stops along the slippery slope until I came to the place where I had to admit that I was an atheist. (and I still think saying I am a Christian means something)

I am not a hater of Christianity. I have no desire to stop people from worshiping the Christian God. I am well aware of the need many people have for certainty. They want to know their life matters and they want to know that there is life beyond the grave. Christianity meets their need.  Who am I to stand in the way of what helps people get through life?  It matters not if it is true. They think it is true and that is fine by me.

The Christianity I oppose is the Evangelical form of Christianity that demands everyone worship their God, believe what they believe, and damns to hell all those who disagree with them. I oppose their attempts to turn America into a theocracy. I oppose their hijacking of the Republican Party. I oppose their incessant whining about persecution and their demands for special status. I oppose their attempts to deny some Americans of the civil and legal rights others have. (what happened to Baptists believing in a strict separation of church and state?) I oppose their attempt to infiltrate our public schools and teach Creationism or its kissing cousin Intelligent Design as science.(this is what Christian schools are for) I oppose their attempt to make the Ten Commandments the law of the Land.

The kind of Christianity I mentioned above hurts people and hurts our Country politically and socially. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement has harmed countless people, sometimes scarring their lives so severely that recovery is almost impossible. (and telling people to get over it is not the answer) I weep often as I read emails from people whose lives have been destroyed by the extremes found in the IFB church movement. My blog exists because I want to help people like this. I want them to have a safe place to work through the wreckage of their lives, lives ruined by their involvement in Evangelical and IFB churches.

In many ways, I am still a pastor.  I want to help other people. The difference now, or course, is that I don’t have an agenda. I don’t have a list beliefs that must be believed. If I can help someone walk the journey they are on with openness, honesty, and integrity, I am happy. I am concerned with their journey not their destination. (since I think we are all headed for the same final destination, death)

I too, Bruce, have prayed thousands of times to the Christian God and yet, like the universe itself, he yawns and remains silent. Instead of hoping for a God to fix what ails me, I have chosen to embrace my life as it is. I have chosen to try to change what I can and accept what I can’t.  Above all, I have learned that it is what it is.

Through this blog I try to flesh out my understanding of the past and examine the path I am now on. I try to be open and honest. I don’t have all the answers and, for that matter, I don’t even know all the questions. All I know to do is continue to walk forward, however halting my gait may be.

I shall always remember our days in Findlay and I will always appreciate what you did for me. When I write my autobiography some day there will be a chapter titled Bruce Turner.

Thank you!

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Turner’s website

Dear Friend

bill beard lighthouse memorial church
Bill Beard, pastor Lighthouse Memorial Church

This is a letter I sent to a dear friend of mine, Bill Beard, pastor of Lighthouse Memorial Church in Millersport, Ohio. I was Bill’s pastor several times in the 1980’s, I baptized him, and I took part in his ordination with the Church of the Nazarene. After Bill received the letter Dear Family, Friends, and Parishioners in April 2009, he drove from is home near Lancaster, Ohio to my home here in Ney. This letter explains my understanding of our conversation and where I thought our friendship was headed. I have published this letter before. Like with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

I saw Bill again recently at a funeral service I conducted this past summer in New Lexington, Ohio for a former friend and church member. After exchanging pleasantries, he made an offhand snide comment about his car. Evidently, he did not appreciate the one line in this letter mentioning that he drove to my house in a Lincoln. I meant nothing by it, but he must have thought I did. We chatted for a bit and then it was time for the service. I am sure he curious about what I would say or do and I have no doubt that the non-religious service disappointed him. This was but another reminder of how far his former friend has fallen.

Dear Friend,

You got my letter.

I am certain that my letter troubled you and caused you to wonder what in the world was going on with Bruce.

You have been my friend since 1983. When I met you for the first time I was a young man pastoring a new Church in Somerset, Ohio. I remember you and your dear wife vividly because you put a 100.00 bill in the offering plate. Up to that point we had never seen a 100.00 bill in the offering plate.

And so our friendship began. You helped us buy our first Church bus (third picture below). You helped us buy our Church building (second picture below). In later years you gave my wife and I a generous gift to buy a mobile home. It was old, but we were grateful to have our own place to live in. You were a good friend.

Yet, our common bond was the Christianity we both held dear. I doubt you would have done any of the above for the local Methodist minister, whom we both thought was an apostate.

I baptized you and was privileged to be your pastor on and off over my 11 years in Somerset. You left several times because our doctrinal beliefs conflicted, you being an Arminian and I being a Calvinist.

One day you came to place where you believed God was leading you to abandon your life work, farming, and enter the ministry. I was thrilled for you. I also said to myself, “now Bill can really  see what the ministry is all about!”

So you entered the ministry and you are now a pastor of a thriving fundamentalist Church. I am quite glad you found your place in life and are endeavoring to do what you believe is right. Of course, I would think the same of you if you were still farming.

You have often told me that much of what you know about the ministry I taught you. I suppose, to some degree or another, I must take credit for what you have become. (whether I view it as good or bad)

Yesterday, you got into your Lincoln and drove three plus hours to see me. I wish you had called first. I had made up my mind to make up some excuse why I couldn’t see you, but since you came unannounced I had  no other option but to open and the door and warmly welcome you. Just like always…

I have never wanted to hurt you or cause you to lose your faith. I would rather you not know the truth about me than to hurt you in any way.

But your visit forced the issue. I had no choice.

Why did you come to my home? I know you came as my friend, but it seemed by the time our three-hour discussion ended our friendship had died and I was someone you needed to pray for, that I might be saved. After all, in your Arminian theology there can be no question that a person with beliefs such as mine has fallen from grace.

Do you know what troubled me the most? You didn’t shake my hand as you left. For 26 years we have shook hands as we came and went. The significance of this is overwhelming. You can no longer give me the right hand of fellowship because we no longer have a common Christian faith.

Over the course of three hours you constantly reminded me of the what I used to preach, what I used to believe. I must tell you forthrightly that that  Bruce is dead. He no longer exists, but in the memory of a distant past. Whatever good may have been done I am grateful, but I bear the scars and memories of much evil done in the name of Jesus. Whatever my intentions, I must bear the responsibility for what I did through my preaching, ministry style, etc.

You seem to think that if I just got back in the ministry everything would be fine. Evidently, I can not make you understand that the ministry is the problem. Even if I had any desire to re-enter the ministry, where would I go? What sect would take someone with such beliefs as mine?  I ask you to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a pastor again. Does not the Bible teach that if a man desires the office of a bishop (pastor) he desires a good work? I have no desire for such an office. Whatever desire I had died in the rubble of my 25 plus year ministry.

We talked about many things didn’t we? But I wonder if you really heard me?

I told you my view on abortion, Barack Obama, the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ.

You told me that a Christian couldn’t hold such views. According to your worldview that is indeed true. I have stopped using the Christian label. I am content to be a seeker of truth, a man on a quest for answers. I now know I never will have all the answers. I am now content to live in the shadows of ambiguity and the unknown.

What I do know tells me life does not begin at conception, that Barack Obama is a far better President than George Bush , that the Bible is not inerrant or inspired, and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven. (if there is a Heaven at all)

This does not mean that I deny the historicity of Jesus or that I believe there is no God. I am an agnostic. While I reject the God of my past it remains uncertain that I will reject God altogether. Perhaps…

In recent years you have told me that my incessant reading of books is the foundation of the problems I now face. Yes, I read a lot. Reading is a joy I revel in.  I read quickly and I usually comprehend things quite easily. (though I am finding Science to be a much bigger challenge) Far from being the cause of my demise, books have opened up a world to me that I never knew existed. Reading has allowed me to see life in all its shades and complexities. I can no more stop reading than I can stop eating. The passion for knowledge and truth remain strong in my being. In fact it is stronger now than it ever was in my days at Somerset Baptist Church.

I was also troubled by your suggestion that I not share my beliefs with anyone. You told me my beliefs could cause others to lose their faith! Is the Christian faith so tenuous that one man can cause others to lose their faith? Surely, the Holy Spirit is far more powerful than Bruce. (even if I am Bruce Almighty)

I am aware of the fact that my apostasy has troubled some people. If Bruce can walk away from the faith…how can any of us stand? I have no answer for this line of thinking. I am but one man…shall I live in denial of what I believe? Shall I say nothing when I am asked of the hope that lies within me? Christians are implored to share their faith at all times. Are agnostics and atheists not allowed to have the same freedom?

I suspect the time has come that we part as friends. The glue that held us together is gone. We no longer have a common foundation for a mutual relationship. I can accept you as you are,  but I know you can’t do the same for me. I MUST be reclaimed. I must be prayed for. The bloodhound of heaven must be unleashed on my soul.

Knowing all this, it is better for us to part company.  I have many fond memories of the years we spent together. Let’s mutually remember the good times of the past and each continue down the path we have chosen.

Rarer than a Ivory-billed woodpecker is a friendship that lasts a lifetime. 26 years is a good run.

Thanks for the memories.

Bruce

somerset baptist church 1983
Somerset Baptist Church, Landmark Building 1983

This is the place where I first met Bill and Peggie Beard

somerset baptist church 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard gave us 5,000.00 to buy this building

somerset baptist church 1985-2
Somerset Baptist Church, First Church Bus, 1985

Bill and Peggie Beard helped us buy our first church bus