Life

Blast From the Past: My Mom’s Bible

As I was going through some old stuff, the collected mementos of the life Polly and I have shared, I came across the Bible that I had given my Mom in January of 1989.

moms bible

Dear Mom,

May this precious book be THE book of truth for your life. In this book we have all we need to know about life. How we got here, how to live here, and where we’re going from here. I trust this Bible will be a source of strength for you. It is comforting to know in the midst of life’s storms God said be still and know that I am God. God is there always for us. May we diligently commit our ways to him (Proverbs 3:5.6). Thanks so much for being there in my life. Much of what I am, I owe to my upbringing and training I received. I love you very much. My prayers are with you daily!!

Your Son
1-6-89

On December 6, 1990, Mom wrote in the Bible:

moms bible 2

If anything happens to me. I would like to be buried at the church cemetery at Butch’s church if possible. Please play the tape by Pavarotti–side “Oh Holy Night”

For scripture–I would like Job: chapter in its entirety, no sermon.

Barbara Ann Monshine
December 6, 1990

Also if my grandchildren are there, please have them say the pledge of allegiance to our great flag for me.

Mom

15 months later, my mother, possibly with the help of her husband, turned a Ruger .357 on herself and pulled the trigger. She was 54 when she died.

This Bible is a poignant reminder of my past devotion to Jesus and the Bible. Strange words if I was a pretender, don’t you think? As I read Mom’s words, I was reminded of her patriotism, her love for America. Yes, she was a Barry Goldwater, John Birch Republican, but she deeply loved our country.

I wish I could say that my Mom’s last wishes were carried out. They weren’t . Grief stricken, I performed the service, a graveyard service that lasted a few minutes. Even her last wish of no sermon was denied. Her father, who sexually molested her and was one of the meanest men on earth, a man who found Jesus and thought the blood of God’s son washed away all his past sins, made sure everyone heard the gospel. At that moment, I wanted to murder him and throw him in the ground with my Mom.

Note

Butch is a family nickname.

Published: July 31, 2014 | Comments: 0

Blast From the Past: The Doodling of a Love Struck Young Woman

Students at Midwestern Baptist College were required to attend Emmanuel Baptist Church. Dr Tom Malone,chancellor of the college, was the pastor. Students were expected to sit up and pay attention. Failure to do so, if noticed, could bring the wrath of Malone down on your head or you could be reported to the college dean. As I was going through some stuff looking for a picture, I paused for a moment, as old people tend to do, to leaf through some of the mementos from the thirty-eight years Polly and I have known each other. I found two offering envelopes that Polly doodled on while sitting in church. She later gave them to me. Enjoy! (I am sure these will be taken as a sure sign that Polly never was saved OR as a sure sign she was a love struck young woman)

polly doodle from college

polly doodle from college

Published: July 31, 2014 | Comments: 0

Blast From the Past: Our Dates to Remember

I was going through some stuff looking for a picture and I paused for a moment, as old people tend to do, to leaf through some of the mementos from the thirty-eight years Polly and I have known each other. Here’s a page I wrote and gave to Polly, a list of dates to remember. We were students at Midwestern Baptist College and living in the dorm when I wrote this:

dates to remember

Ah yes, the wonders and simplicity of youth.

Published: July 31, 2014 | Comments: 1

How and Why I Write the Way I Do

bud man

During the eleven years I attended public school, I showed myself to be an average student. Somewhere around seventh grade, I figured out that getting A’s required lots of work and getting C’s required little effort on my part. Since I loved playing sports, going to church, and hanging out with my friends a lot more than I did excelling in school, I chose the C route. My grade cards reflect the effort of a student who could have had all A’s but didn’t want to do the work necessary to earn them. Mr. Brobst, my ninth grade counselor, told me I had the potential to be a straight A student IF I worked hard and applied myself. At the time, I thought, why work hard when I can breeze through school without doing much work. More time for sports, church, and girls, right?

Fortunately, I was a proficient reader and speller. My mother taught me to read before I entered school and this opened up the world to me on my own terms. Instead of the required reading in school, I could go to the library and choose any subject I wanted to read about. My reading naturally gravitated towards sports stories. As I got older, my reading habits moved from fiction to nonfiction. These days, I rarely read fiction.

In the fall of 1976, I left rural NW Ohio to study for the ministry at Midwestern Baptist College. From this point forward, my reading was focused on theology, Christian biographies, church history, and inspirational books. As a young pastor, I read books written by Independent Baptist and Southern Baptist writers. As I got older and my theological beliefs matured, so did the type of books I read. After I embraced Calvinism, I began reading the Puritans and the Reformers, along with the English Baptists and the writers that were prominent during the First and Second Great Awakening. Most of my reading focused on authors from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century.

I also began reading twentieth century Calvinistic authors like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, and countless other defenders of Calvinistic orthodoxy. After my theology moved away from Calvinistic orthodoxy, I began reading books by Mennonite and Catholic authors. My reading proclivities reflected the leftward shift of my political  views. I entered the ministry as a Fundamentalist Baptist with extreme right-wing political views. I left the ministry as a progressive Christian with liberal/socialistic political views. As a young pastor, I was a diehard pro-life. homosexual hating, war mongering Republican. As I exited the ministry at the age of 46, I was a pro-choice, LGBT sympathetic, pacifistic liberal Democrat.

As a  pastor, I was a diligent student of the Bible. I spent countless hours reading and studying as I prepared the sermons I would preach each Sunday. I read complex, dry theological texts because I thought it was important for me to accurately instruct others. My sermons could have been deep, dry acts of theological masturbation; sermons that only a theology addict would appreciate. Instead, I took complex theological subjects and taught them in such a way that the factory worker, waitress, and farmer could understand them. It’s not that I couldn’t wax eloquently on the various lapsarian and eschatological views; I could , but to what end? The average person in the pew worked long hours at work and had little time to read Calvin, Turretin, or Gill. What they needed from me was hope, strength, encouragement, and motivation and I did my best to give it to them.

For seven years, I pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio. The church started as a Reformed Baptist church and morphed into an nondenominational church that used the tagline, the church where the only label that matters is Christian. For a short time, a man with a PhD from Westminster attended the church. He and I would spend hours talking theology. I thoroughly enjoyed our Bible bull sessions. However, when it came to teaching, he and I were vastly different. For a few weeks on Sunday night, this man tried to teach the church about the importance of philosophy. His lessons were a mixture of theology, philosophy, Greek, and Hebrew. I loved his teachings. The rest of the church? Right over their head. He never taught again. Church members were polite but they made sure that I knew that they preferred my teaching.

The brilliance of Bart Ehrman is his ability to take complex theological, textual, and historical subjects and make them accessible to a wide spectrum of people. And this is exactly how I approached preaching. While I loved reading John Gill, I found his sermons stuffy, dry, and mind numbing. I thought, who would want to listen to this stuff? Not many, according to historians. In the nineteenth century,  a man by the name of Charles Spurgeon became the pastor of the church once pastored by John Gill. People thronged to hear Spurgeon preach. Why? The style and content of his preaching appealed to the masses. Spurgeon had a massive library and certainly could have preached sermons that only a clergyman would love. Instead, he took complex theological beliefs and made them accessible to working class people. To this day, we remember Spurgeon as the prince of preachers. Gill? Forgotten.

And now let me bring this around to blogging. When I started blogging in 2007, my goal was to be one man telling his story. Early on, blogging was a cheap form of therapy. Over time, people started reading what I wrote. I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t. I still have days when I say to myself, who wants to read this shit? I spent most of my life as a public speaker. Early readers of this blog remember how difficult it was for me to stop writing like I talk. What made for a great sermon made for a lousy blog post. I continue to work on being a better writer. I know I have a lot to learn.

My sermons were passionate, with every message being a call to action. I was just as open and honest in my sermons as I am now in my writing.  My sermons, to a large degree, were an extension of who and what I was and I want blogging to be the same. I could, if I was so inclined, write long, complex, wordy theological tomes. I am sure there would be people who would read it. But, that’s not what I want to do. I still want to be one man with a story to tell. I want my writing to appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. I know who my target audience is and I want to write posts that reach this audience. Those who are looking for scholarly, deep, complex 5,000 word posts are going to be sorely disappointed with my writing. I can’t be all things to all men, so I try to focus on doing a few things well. I know my story resonates with many people, so I intend to continue writing about the past and my understanding of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity. I want to frame my story in such a way that it is an inspiration and help to others.

Years ago, I wrote frequent Community Voice articles for The Bryan Times. Christopher Cullis, the publisher of the Times, gave me some advice I have tried to remember as a writer. Cullis told me that my articles could be as long as I wanted them to be, but people tend to quit reading after a thousand or so words. Some of you voiced your frustration and boredom as you  tried to read Joshua Whipps’ three post, 10,000 word deconstruction of my life. One post was over 5,000 words. Too dense, too many words. Even I was bored and I was the subject of his screed. I am sure his posts appealed to the high brow, John Gill loving Calvinists he runs with. That’s not my crowd.

My crowd continues to be the everyday people who frequent this blog. Our common bond is our stories and experiences. Through them we help, comfort, and support one another. That’s the great thing about the internet. Wherever your interests lie, you can find people to hang with. There was a day when I would have enjoyed sipping Dom Perignon from time to time with my uptown friends. These  days, I am content to drink Budweiser with the good people who frequent The Way Forward.  For those who want Dom Perignon, there are plenty of places that serve it. Continuing to hang out at The Way Forward pub hoping to get an expensive bottle of wine will only leave a person frustrated and as sober as an AA crowd. Why not go and drink where you will feel at home?

Published: July 24, 2014 | Comments: 18

Out on The Town with the Boys, July 20th 2014

Last Sunday, I attended, with my sons and grandson, the minor league baseball game between the Louisville Bats and the Toledo Mud Hens. As always, I had my camera with me:

toledo louisville baseball game july 20 2014
Levi, Jaime, son #3, and Jason, son #1.

toledo louisville baseball game july 20 2014

Jason and Nathan, son #2.

toledo louisville baseball game july 20 2014

Grandpa and  grandson Levi

toledo louisville baseball game july 20 2014

Levi

toledo louisville baseball game july 20 2014

Levi

toledo louisville baseball game july 20 2014

Levi

toledo louisville baseball game july 20 2014

Levi

Published: July 23, 2014 | Comments: 8

A Kiss For Luck And We’re On Our Way

bruce polly gerencser may 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

Thirty-six years ago today, on a hot sweltering day, the most beautiful girl in the world walked down the aisle of the Newark Baptist Temple to meet her husband to be. Polly was nineteen and I was twenty-one. We were young, naïve, inexperienced Baptist kids, ill prepared for marriage, but here we are, thirty-six years later, still married.

We spent our honeymoon at the French Lick Hotel in French Lick, Indiana. A month before our honeymoon, I sent a check to the Hotel to guarantee our reservation. The check bounced, the first of many bounced checks during the early years of our marriage. We had no experience with handling money, and it took us a few years to figure out how to keep a checkbook. It also took us a few years to figure out that if you pay the light, telephone, and gas bill they don’t shut them off.

The groomsmen and I ordered our tuxes from a place in Pontiac, Michigan, not far from Midwestern Baptist College where we all were students. We didn’t try them on before the wedding, so imagine our surprise when we found out one of the tuxes was the wrong size. My soon to be mother-in-law altered the pants so my groomsman could squeeze into them. All would be well, or so we thought. As we were walking into the church auditorium, all of sudden the altered seam ripped open. There stood Mike Lavery with the crotch ripped out of his pants. We all snickered and he walked ever so carefully to the front of the church. No one was the wiser.

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978-005

Our Wedding Party, July 15 1978

The soloist for our wedding was one of our best friends from college, Mark Bullock. Mark often led the singing during chapel and was quite a gifted singer. He also drove one bad-ass Plymouth Barracuda. Mark sang three songs, All My Life by Tommy Malone Jr., The Wedding Song by Peter, Paul, and Mary and We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters. It is these last two songs that caused quite a stir at the Newark Baptist Temple. They were the first and last secular songs sung from the pulpit of the church. Thirty-six years later, all wedding music must still be approved ahead of time. Our wedding made a last impression.

Polly’s dad, Lee Shope and uncle Jim Dennis, both preachers and graduates of Midwestern Baptist College, performed the wedding. Polly’s eccentric uncle, Art  Robinson, volunteered to take pictures. Moments before the start of the wedding, the new flash he had just bought failed. As a result, we have no live photos of our wedding. All told, there were about 225 people at the wedding.

After the wedding, the Shope/Robinson family and the Gerencser family gathered at Polly’s parents home for a meal Since my Dad and his wife lived in Arizona, they had not met Polly before the day of the wedding. Finally it was time for us to leave and we went upstairs to change our clothes. Polly’s Mom was upstairs and as Polly was heading to a separate room to change, her Mom guided her to where I was changing and told us, you are married now.  This was the first time we had seen each other undressed. Needless to say, we were quite embarrassed.

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978

Post Wedding Picture, July 15 1978

We spent the first night at a motel in Springfield, Ohio. While I will not write much about our initial sexual experience, we were quite inexperienced, having had no training about sex. We did read Tim LaHaye’s book, The Act of Marriage, before our wedding, so we had a general idea of how things worked.  I can say, thirty-six years later, we have the sex thing down pat.

We spent several nights at the hotel in French Lick and then we drove up to Rochester, Indiana to see my mother. After visiting with her, we drove over to Bryan, Ohio to see my sister. That night, we stayed at the Exit 2 Motel near the Ohio Turnpike. The room was infested with mosquitoes and the air conditioner thumped and groaned all night long.  After we got up the next morning, we drove home to our 3 room upstairs apartment on Premont Street in Waterford, a community near the college.

Several weeks before our wedding, I stopped at a yard sale that had a bunch of furniture for sale. I asked them how much they would take for all the furniture. We agreed on a price and I hauled the furniture junk over to the apartment. Polly was not thrilled when she saw the w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l furniture I had bought just for her. It was not long before we went to debt to buy a couch from Kay’s Furniture and a bed from J.L. Hudson. Credit was easy to get, we had little understanding of how debt worked, and we quickly were over our heads in debt. We were kids playing in an adult world.

We enrolled for our junior year at Midwestern. Our plan was to continue our studies, graduate, and move somewhere to start a church. However, six weeks after our wedding we got a big surprise…Polly was pregnant. Oops!  Several months later, I lost my job, we were behind our rent, utilities, and bills, so we had to drop out of college. In February of 1979, seven months after our wedding, we moved to Bryan, Ohio. We lived with my sister for a few weeks until I could get a job and find a place to live. After getting settled, Jay Stuckey, the pastor of Montpelier Baptist Church, asked me to come work with him and I agreed to do so. Our nine months at the church revolved around me working two jobs and never being home and Polly taking care of a newborn. We saw very little of each other.

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978

Polly’s Father Walking Her Down the Aisle

In what should have been an early warning sign, I worked myself into exhaustion and landed myself in the county hospital. Two weeks after getting out of the hospital, we packed up and moved to Newark, Ohio. For the next fifteen years, we lived in central and SE Ohio. Five more children were born while I pastored churches in Buckeye Lake and Somerset. It was during this period that Polly and I grew up. We faced a lot of hard, difficult times, from my health problems to having a daughter born with Down Syndrome. Due to my commitment to pastoring full-time, we were poor, often without two nickels to rub together. We drove junk cars, lived in old houses or mobile homes, and made do.

And here’s my point in telling you this. These experiences, these hard, difficult times, are what helped to make us who we are today. We are survivors. We endured hardship. While we have no desire to go back and live the good old days, we do recognize that these experiences left a deep, lasting imprint on our lives. Through the pain and difficulty of the past we are better people today. Anyone who has been married a long time can tell a similar story.  The key to a lasting marriage, at least for Polly and I, is our commitment to endure whatever came our way.

bruce polly gerencser fall 1978

Polly’s Grandfather, parents, and us in front of our apartment. Polly is a three months pregnant

Thirty-six years ago, we were mutually infatuated kids thinking they were ready to join the real world. Our growth into adults was slow, painful, and quite humorous. Over time, puppy love began to turn into real, lasting love and here we are, all these years later, deeply in love with one another. A love that is not shown in cards, flowers, and candy but in our resolve to love one another in sickness and in heath, for richer or poorer, until death do us part. Our marriage is deeply flawed. We have had our share of failures and disappointments. Life certainly has not been what we expected it to be, especially since we are no longer Christians. But, regardless of our childish expectations and fanciful made for TV dreams, the adults we have become are well suited for the partnership we have developed.

Who knows what may yet lie ahead. It matter not as long as Polly is by my side. I love her dearly and I am glad she said Yes to me thirty-six years ago. I think the lyrics of We’ve Only Just Begun still aptly describe our marriage:

We’ve only just begun to live
White lace and promises
A kiss for luck and we’re on our way
We’ve only begun

Before the risin’ sun, we fly
So many roads to choose
We’ll start out walkin’ and learn to run
And yes, we’ve just begun

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day, together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun

Sharing horizons that are new to us
Watching the signs along the way
Talkin’ it over, just the two of us
Workin’ together day to day, together, together

And when the evening comes, we smile
So much of life ahead
We’ll find a place where there’s room to grow
And yes, we’ve just begun

Published: July 15, 2014 | Comments: 16

Kathy Kristof’s Six Easy Ways to Save a Million Dollars

kathy kristof

Kathy Kristof, a financial columnist for CBS MoneyWatch writes:

Getting rich is something of a Holy Grail for many Americans, who have been warned that their retirement will look like a scene out of “The Grapes of Wrath” if they fail to save up at least $1 million before they’re old. Although many, perhaps most, people doubt they can save and invest that much, in reality building up a $1 million nest-egg is pretty easy. In fact, if you start young and follow these six steps, you can do it without really trying.

Kristof’s six sure-fire ways to save $1 million before retirement age?

  1. Contribute to a 401(k)
  2. Invest in stocks
  3. Stretch out your student loans
  4. Pay off your credit cards
  5. Learn to cook
  6. Procrastinate on consumer purchases.

There ya go boys and girls. Do what Kristof says and you will be rolling in cash when you  reach retirement age, that is if you started right after college. Never mind the fact that the $1 million Kristof says you will have will come nowhere near meeting your retirements needs 40 years from now. Oops, she forgot about inflation and rising consumers costs that aren’t part of the inflation calculation. Never mind the fact that the majority of college students can no longer find a job in their chosen field, and the jobs they do find often pay poorly, so poorly that they have to move back in with their parents.

Real wages in the US are stagnant or in decline. Most Americans have no hope of ever making enough money to follow Kristof’s six steps to a million bucks.  Consider:

income and productivity

Consider:

change in annual wages

So who is Kathy Kristof writing to? Most likely, the top 10% of wage earners. For the rest? Kristof’s six easy ways to a million bucks are no more likely to pay off than buying a lottery ticket. (and I am not suggesting that saving money is NOT a good idea)

Last night, John Oliver on Last Week Tonight hilariously, yet pointedly, explained what Kristof is seemingly oblivious to:

YouTube Preview Image

Kathy Kristof’s column is a reminder that most financial reporters and writers have no clue about how most Americans really live.

Published: July 14, 2014 | Comments: 19

If There is No Life After Death, I Might as Well Kill Myself Now

happiness

A recent commenter stated:

Second, you mention in one post that you care about the journey, not the destination, of your readers. If the destination for all of us is only death, I can’t think of anything more depressing, anything less motivating for caring about the journey. Who gives a flip about the journey if the end is death? The journey for all of us is full of pain and suffering, in one way or another. If death is the only end for all of us, I’d rather end it right now. The last person I would trust to help me on my journey is a preacher of a hopeless death.

Over the years, countless Christians have said to me that if they believed that this life is all there is that they would kill themselves. Of course, this is little more than hyperbole since I seriously doubt people like this commenter would actually kill themselves just because they are disappointed there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The above mentioned comment reveals a view held by many Christians, that life is filled with pain and suffering and our journey is one long test of endurance. For Christians who think like this, the only reason for enduring life is that there is a divine payoff after death.

I know a good bit about pain and suffering. Long time readers know well my story and the health problems I have. Yet, I would never say that my journey is all about pain and suffering. Yes, I wish I didn’t have to live with pervasive, chronic, unrelenting pain. But, the pain is not the sum of my life. If it was, I would be the first to say that it is time for me to hop on the long black train.

I have everything to live for. A wonderful wife, six awesome children, and nine grandchildren. Need I say more about why, whatever pain I suffer on my journey to the grave, is worth it? There is so much to live for and I don’t need the promise of a divine payoff to make my life worth living. I don’t need a God for my life to have meaning, purpose, and direction.

Many Christians have a hard time understanding people like me. They can not envision a life without God. Their life revolves around God, Jesus, the Bible, and the church. I totally understand where they are coming from. For most of my life, I thought the same way.

When I first deconverted, I was lost for a time. This is a common problem for people who were once deeply immersed in Christianity. Once God, the church, and the Bible no longer had any authority over my life, I was forced to determine for myself how I wanted to live my life. In humanism I found purpose, meaning and direction. Since this life is the ONLY life I have, I have EVERYTHING to live for.

The above mentioned commenter thinks my life is hopeless. Without a promise of life after death and eternity in heaven, what is there to live for?  Atheists live such a hopeless life, or so many Christians think. Let me close out this post with some of my hopes:

  1. I hope my family lives long, prosperous, peaceful lives.
  2. I hope my grandson grows up to play baseball for the Cincinnati Reds so I can watch him play.
  3. I hope at least one of my granddaughters becomes a scientist.
  4. I hope the Cincinnati Reds win the World Series and the Cincinnati Bengals win the Super Bowl.
  5. I hope that someday all the weapons of violence in the world will be destroyed.
  6. I hope that my wife and I will grow old together and that we will continue to have a blessed life.
  7. I hope to travel to many of the places on my bucket list.
  8. I hope we will end income inequality in America.
  9. I hope we will pass immigration reform, allowing millions of hard-working people to become US citizens.
  10. I hope scientists will find cures for many of the diseases that kill us.
  11. I hope we will figure out a way to control world population and in doing so make sure that every human has enough food to eat and clean water to drink.
  12. I hope Americans will begin to take the threat of global climate change seriously.
  13. I hope I win or inherit a few million dollars so I can have one awesome party and buy a house for each of my children.
  14. I hope to someday get my book done and publish it.
  15. I hope to take a photograph that is published in National Geographic or a photography magazine.
  16. I hope to master Photoshop.
  17. I hope all my internet friends  live long, happy, prosperous lives. For those of them that live with pain and disability like I do, I hope that they find purpose, meaning, and happiness, despite their suffering.
  18. I hope Bernie Sanders is the next president.

And for today? I hope that the Cincinnati Reds continue to pound the Pittsburgh Pirates and end up in first place at the All Star break. Most of all, as Polly and I go out tonight to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary, I hope we have a wonderful time. (anniversary is on the 15th) I hope both of us will reflect on how our marriage has prospered and endured despite of us. And I hope that maybe, just maybe, if I am not too tired when we get home that we might…………….

ricky gervais quote about life

 

 

Published: July 12, 2014 | Comments: 24