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Category: Family

Only Those of Us Who Believe in Heaven Have Hope

stairway to heaven

My wife, Polly, and I were talking about death: about how we are the youngest of the older adults in her family; that we could have a spate of deaths over the next decade. Polly’s parents are in their 80s and her surviving aunts and uncles are getting up there in age too. (Since I wrote this post in 2017, Polly’s father died, as well as several of her aunts and uncles.) Death comes for one and all. Sooner, and not later, death will come knocking on our doors and say it’s time to go. We will be permitted no protestations, given no second chances. For me personally, at that moment I will have written my last blog post, watched my last Reds game, and hugged and loved my family for the last time. Death brings an end to everything but the memories we leave behind in the minds of those who loved us or called us friend.

The permanence of death is one of the reasons men invented Gods, the afterlife, Heaven, and Hell. Most people have a hard time believing that this life is all there is. Believing that humans are somehow, someway superior to other animals or are their deity’s special creation, people hope life continues after death. For Christians, the Bible promises them if they worship the right God, believe the right things, and live a certain way, that one day their God will resurrect them from their graves, give them new bodies that will never suffer, age, feel pain, or die, and grant them title to a mansion in a New Heaven and a New Earth. Those of us raised in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches likely remember the song, Mansion Over the Hilltop:

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined

[Chorus]

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own

I’m satisfied with just a cottage below
A little silver and a little gold
But in that city where the ransomed will shine
I want a gold one that’s silver lined

I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we’ll never grow old
And some day yonder we’ll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold

Tho’ often tempted, tormented and tested
And, like the prophet, my pillow a stone
And tho’ I find here no permanent dwelling
I know He’ll give me a mansion my own

Video Link

This song perfectly illustrates the view of eternity held by millions and millions of Christians. Life is viewed as little more than a preparation time for death and moving into new digs in the sweet by and by. Atheists, on the other hand, place great value on this life, on the here and now, because this is the only life we will ever have. Once we draw our last breath, we will either be turned into ashes or worm food.

I woke up to find Polly in something of an agitated mood — an uncommon state of mind for her. Her IFB mother had called earlier in the morning to let her know that her elderly IFB preacher uncle was in the hospital. He had to have emergency surgery to remove 12 inches of his bowel that had turned septic. Polly told her mom about the conversation we had last night about how everyone is getting old and dying. Polly mentioned to her mom that our oldest son had been looking at some old family photographs and said of one photo, sixty-six percent of the people in this picture are dead. Polly’s mom replied, well you know, only those of us who believe in Heaven have hope.

That’s been Mom’s approach of late, to begin every sermon one-liner with well, you know, reminding her daughter that what she plans to say next Polly already knows. Out of respect for her mom, Polly says nothing, but I fear the volcano is rumbling and will someday erupt. Polly said to me, this is what I should have told her: Those of us who don’t believe that shit don’t have to worry about getting into Heaven or worry about did we pray the prayer, believe the right things, or do the right things. If Polly actually said these things to her mom what would cause the most offense and outrage is that Polly said the word shit. 🙂 Imagine the outrage if it became known that Polly can, on occasion, use the F word. I am sure that her salty speech would be blamed on her continued corruption at the hands of Satan’s emissary, Bruce Gerencser.

I have no doubt that Mom is feeling her mortality and she wants to make certain that she will see Polly again in Heaven after d-e-a-t-h. You know, the whole unbroken family circle thing. While Polly understands her mom’s angst and wishfulness, she does find the mini-sermons irritating and offensive. Mom likely thinks, with death lurking in the shadows, that she needs to put as many good words in for Jesus as she can; that repeating Bible Truths® will turn back her daughter’s godlessness and worldliness; that if just the right words are spoken, the Holy Spirit will use them to pull Polly kicking and screaming back to the one true IFB faith. Now THAT would be entertaining!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bob Sexually Assaulted Three Generations of Women, Yet He Went to Heaven When He Died

barbara tieken 1940s
My mom, Barbara Tieken, 1940s

Men have been sexually preying on women for as long as anyone can remember. Millions of women have been sexually harassed, assaulted, or raped. Worse yet, many of these crimes are never reported, let alone prosecuted. Some women feel shame after being assaulted and don’t want anyone to know what happened. Others fear retribution, job loss, or family ostracization. Still others fear they will not be believed. One such woman was my mother.

Mom was sexually molested as a child by her father. (Please read Barbara.) I know this because she told me. As an adult, Mom tried one day to confront her father over his “sins.” His response? Without ever acknowledging what he had done, he told Mom that his past sins had been forgiven by God, and if God had forgiven him, so should she. Mom’s lack of forgiveness became an issue when Grandpa’s wife, using Bill Gothard’s Basic Life Principles, decided to “confront” Mom’s bitterness. She let it be known that Mom’s bitterness was due to her unwillingness to forgive. Needless to say, the discussion turned into an angry shouting match. (Please read Dear Ann.)

In the late 1960s, we lived west of Farmer, Ohio in a rented farmhouse owned by my Dad’s sister, Mary. I attended fifth and sixth grade at Farmer Elementary School. One day, I was home sick from school. Unbeknownst to me, my uncle, whom I will call Bob out of respect for his wife and son, unexpectedly came to our home. Bob only stayed for a short while, but what he did during that time left a lasting impression on a mother and her twelve-year-old son.

I learned as an adult that Bob was known for sexually harassing and assaulting women, including teen girls. Many of the women in my family have stories to tell about Bob inappropriately touching them or coming on to them. Everyone knew about Bob. Oh, that’s just how Bob was, one close family member told me. As far as I know, no one has ever publicly accused Bob of sexually assaulting them; except for my mom, that is.

Whether Bob stopped at our house on a whim or knew that Mom would be home alone and wanted to use that opportunity to take sexual advantage of her, I’ll never know, but one thing is for certain: Bob raped my mother. I know, because she told me he did. After Bob left, Mom had me run down to the neighbor’s house to use their phone to call someone. For the life of me, I can’t remember whom she had me call. I do know that no one believed her. She was Crazy Barb, the woman with mental problems.

Is it any wonder Mom had mental health problems? Born into a family where both parents were violent alcoholics, she suffered significant trauma, including being sexually molested by her father. At age seventeen, she had an unplanned pregnancy, and by age eighteen she was married and had a redheaded baby boy — yours truly. Mom married a young Hungarian man, but he was not my father. Two years ago, I learned that my father was a married truck driver from Chicago. He met my teen mom at the truck stop where she worked in Bryan. (Please see What an Ancestry DNA Test Revealed About Me.)

A few years ago, Bob died. His funeral was held at First Baptist Church in Bryan, Ohio — the family church. Bob’s parents, Mom and Pop Daugherty, were instrumental in starting First Baptist, and they were lifelong members, as were several of their children. Bob didn’t attend First Baptist. As far as I know, he didn’t attend any church and hadn’t been to First Baptist in decades. The church is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, pastored by John MacFarlane, a man who was a boy in the church when I was a teenager. This boy, now a college-educated man of God, conducted Bob’s funeral.

barbara gerencser 1957
Barbara Gerencser, 1957, age 18. Holding her newborn son Bruce (Butch)

Having attended numerous IFB funerals, I knew what to expect: preaching and an invitation to accept Jesus as my Savior. I endured this nonsense for the sake of my family. During the service, the pastor spoke glowingly of Bob’s life. I began to feel anger rise up in me, knowing that the pastor was painting faux gold on a piece of shit. Even worse, the pastor shared a story about Bob coming to the church altar as a teenager and asking Jesus to save him. And glory to God in the highest, God saved Bob and he is, thanks to Jesus, in Heaven today, said the pastor, or something to that effect. I’m sure hearing that Bob was in Heaven brought great joy and peace to his elderly mother. But what about my mother — who at age fifty-four, turned a Ruger .357 magnum towards her heart and pulled the trigger, killing herself instantly? What about all the girls, who are now grownups, and their mothers, who endured the indignity of Bob groping and sexually harassing them (and who knows what else he might have done, secrets never spoken of)? How is it that everyone who took sexual advantage of my mother died and went to Heaven — all praise be to the one who overlooks the sexually predatory ways of his followers — yet my mother is burning in Hell because she committed the one “sin” that can never be forgiven — self-murder?

barbara gerencser 1956
Barbara Gerencser, 1956, age 17

Mom is buried at Fountain Grove Cemetery in Bryan, Ohio. From time to time, I will stop by the cemetery and ponder what life might have been like for my mom had it not been for the men in her life. She certainly had her faults, but I wonder how much of the carnage that became her life can be traced back to her being sexually molested as a child and being raped as a young woman. Mom would divorce my father three years after Bob raped her. She would go on to marry three more times, always thinking that she needed a man in her life to survive. Such were the times, I suppose, but I know this for sure: I miss my mother and curse those who harmed her and caused her so much anguish and suffering.

As for Bob, he is where all people — good and bad — end up when they die: the grave. There is no Heaven or Hell, except for that which we experience in this life. While Mom had moments where she experienced the joys of Heaven, sadly much of her life was Hell. I so wish for her that she could have a second run at this thing we call life, but alas there are no re-dos. All I can do now is tell her story and work to make sure that the Bobs of the world don’t have a chance to harm others. And when they do sexually harm others, I want to be a voice calling for their arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment. Perhaps then, those who sexually assault and rape young girls, teens, and adult women will experience a bit of the hell they so richly deserve — Jesus and his forgiveness be damned.

And for the preacher who preached Bob into Heaven? Fuck you, John. Your theology has turned you into a bad person.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Family Driven Faith — Part Two

bruce and polly gerencser 2008
Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2008

This article was first published in 2011 on the blog No Longer Quivering. Corrected, revised, and updated.

As an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) pastor, I taught parishioners that the Bible clearly defined the roles (a hierarchy) of men (husbands), women (wives), and children. The Bible, from an IFB perspective, is clear: the husband is the head of the home and the wife is commanded to submit to his authority and rule. Much like the pastor in the church, the husband is the final authority in the home. It matters not if he is worthy of such responsibility. A husband is disobedient to God if he refuses to be the head of the home. The wife, if she refuses to submit to her husband’s authority, is a Jezebel and risks the judgment of God.

I taught women that God’s highest calling for them was marriage, having children, and keeping the home. I discouraged women from going to college. After all, why waste money going to college if you are going to be busy having children and keeping the home.

I taught men that God’s highest calling is for them to be a leader. Men are called by God to lead the church, the home, and the government. The strength or weakness of any nation, culture, church, or home depends on whether men are fulfilling their divine calling to lead.

Children are at the bottom of this hierarchical system. They are under the authority of God, the Bible, the pastor, their father, and their mother. Children have one divine calling in life: obedience!

This kind of hierarchical family structure has been a part of American society since the day the Pilgrims stepped ashore on the eastern coast of America. Over time, due to social, political, and economic pressure, the hierarchical family structure has weakened. As women gained the right to vote, began working outside of the home, and began using birth control, they realized they could live without being under the control and authority of a man. Modern American women are free to pursue their own life path, free to live lives independent of men. When women marry, they are no longer considered the helpmeets of their husbands. They are equal partners in marriage. Their values, beliefs, and opinions matter.

However, in the IFB church movement, women still live in the eighteenth century. Bound by commands and teachings from an antiquated book — the Bible — they live lives strangely and sadly out of touch with the modern world. Every aspect of family life is controlled by what the Bible teaches. Better put, their lives are controlled by what authoritarian pastors and authoritarian husbands/fathers say the Bible teaches.

I have no objection to a woman willingly choosing to live and participate in a hierarchical family structure. If an Amish woman wants to live as the Amish do, then I have no reason or right to object. It is, however, difficult to determine if they willingly choose. Is it a free choice when there are no other options? So it is with women in the IFB church movement and other Fundamentalist sects.

For my family and me, moving away from a hierarchical family structure was and is difficult. We had to relearn what mattered in life. We had to examine sincerely held beliefs and determine if they still were applicable to the new way we wanted to live our lives. I realized that I had lorded over my family. I had dominated and controlled their lives, all in the name of Jesus. By doing so, I had robbed them of the ability to live their lives independent of my control. Every decision had to have my stamp of approval. Nothing escaped my purview. After all, God had commanded me to be the head of the home. Someday, I would give an account to God for how I managed the affairs of my family. I took the threat of judgment seriously. This motivated me to be a “Biblical” husband, father, and pastor.

The biggest problem we faced was that since I was the one who always made the final decision, my children and wife lacked the skills necessary to make good decisions. My children quickly adapted to their newfound freedom, shouting a Martin Luther King Jr-like FREE, FREE AT LAST. However, my wife, Polly, did not fare so well.

Raised in a Fundamentalist home, her father an IFB pastor, Polly had spent her entire life under the thumb of someone else. She rarely had to make a decision because there was always someone else making decisions for her. To say our newfound freedom was difficult for Polly would be a gross underestimation. Suddenly, she was forced to make decisions on her own. For a time, she panicked when faced with making a decision on her own. Simple decisions, like what to order at the fast-food drive-thru or whether or not to put gas in the car, were monumental decisions for her.

Over time, Polly’s decision-making skills improved. Years ago, she was promoted to a management position at a local manufacturing concern, Sauder Woodworking. One night, she came home from work all upset. She told me that she had made a decision about something and several people were now upset with her. I laughed and told her, rule number one about making decisions: you will likely piss someone off.

polly gerencser graduation 2012
Polly Gerencser, Graduating from Northwest State Community College, Archbold, Ohio

In 2010, Polly returned to college. She struggled at first, and it took quite a bit of willpower for me not to bail her out. Over time, she adapted to using the computer (she was computer illiterate) and doing the various things necessary to be a good college student. In 2012, Polly graduated with an Associate of Arts degree from Northwest State Community College. I wept as I saw her walk down the aisle on graduation day. Her graduation was a reminder of how far both of us have come (Polly actually has five years of college credit. Unfortunately, three of those years were spent at an unaccredited Bible college).

Polly was forty-six years old before she wore her first pair of pants. Same goes for going to the movie theater, drinking alcohol, cutting her hair short, reading a non-Christian romance novel, etc., etc., etc. As many people know, the IFB movement is all about what a Christian CAN’T do. Some of these choices were fearful choices, God lurking in the shadows of the mind, ready to punish her for making“sinful” choices.”

With change comes new life. In many ways, we have been “born again.” In 2005, I left the pastorate and we began a slow, painful process of reexamining our Christian beliefs. For many years, my family believed what I believed, went to church when I went to church, and obeyed any and every command I gave, complete with proof texts from the Bible. Now it is different.

We left Christianity in 2008. I told Polly and our six children that I was setting them free. I am no longer the spiritual head of the home or the patriarch of the family.  They are free to be whatever they want to be. I sincerely mean this. If they want to be Wiccan, Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, or atheist, I am fine with it. The bottom line is this: I want them to be happy. If they are happy, I am happy.

This last decision has caused quite a bit of controversy and conflict. Freed from my control, my entire family quickly abandoned the Evangelical church. I am now an atheist, Polly is an agnostic, and our children, for the most part, do not attend church. Religion is still a big topic of discussion in our family and I still like a rousing debate or discussion about religion, politics, or sports. The difference now is that there is no test of fidelity. No, “did you guys go to church today?” No, “what was the sermon about?” 

Our family remains a work in progress. Polly continues to work on her decision-making skills, and I’m learning that the world doesn’t revolve around me. I am learning to shut up and allow my family to make decisions for themselves, even when I think their choices are ill-advised. I have a new rule I live by: if I think someone is making a bad decision on an important issue, I will voice my opinion, but that is the end of it. I stay out of my children’s business, even when they want me to meddle. They are responsible adults and I support whatever decisions they make, even if I disagree with them.

We are far from a finished product. Polly still freezes at the drive-thru and I still know what I want before we pull into the restaurant. We still have the same peculiar character traits we’ve always had. You know, those things that annoy and bug the hell out of each other. The difference now is that we have learned to embrace each other’s peculiarities, knowing that these are what make us unique individuals.

I have Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) and Polly is happy with clutter. Ours is a match made in hell. For many years, my OCPD dominated everything. I have had to learn that while I have every right to want things perfectly ordered, everything in its place, Polly also has the right not to want things perfectly ordered, everything in its place. We each have personal spaces where we are free to practice our peculiar habits and traits. We know to stay out of each other’s “stuff”. In the common spaces, we try to find a happy medium, though I must admit I have a hard time doing this. MY declining health has helped me with my obsession with order. I simply can no longer keep everything perfectly ordered. At times, this frustrates me, but I am learning to embrace my new reality.

It is good to be free.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Depression and Lightening the Load

eeyore

Updated, corrected, rewritten, expanded

I have battled depression most of my adult life. For many years, I denied that I was depressed, attributing my melancholy to God testing or trying me, Satan tempting me, or God punishing me for this or that sin. My religious beliefs told me that depression was a sign of a backslidden, sinful, or rebellious life. After all, the Bible says in Isaiah 26:3:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee [God]: because he trusteth in thee.

Psalm 43:5 states:

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

The Apostle Paul — a First Century Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer — had this to say:

 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

And if these verses weren’t enough, there was always the “look at all Jesus suffered on the cross just so you could be saved and go to Heaven someday!” Compared to what Jesus went through, my depression was nothing. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.)

I had numerous colleagues in the ministry, but talking to them about my depression was not an option. Talking to them meant admitting I was weak or “sinful.” I never considered seeking out the help of a psychiatrist or a psychologist. How could I? I had preached numerous sermons on the aforementioned verses, and on my bookshelf sat books such as Psycho-Heresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Wayne and Deidre Bobgan and PsychoBabble: The Failure of Modern Psychology–and the Biblical Alternative by Richard Ganz. No, I concluded that I was the problem.

I now know that having a Type A personality and being a perfectionist and a workaholic didn’t help matters. No matter how hard I worked, I never measured up. The church growth craze of the 1970s and 1980s only exacerbated my depression. The ministry was reduced to a set of numbers: attendance, souls saved, and offerings. Push, push, push. Go, go, go. Do, do, do. Much like a crack addict seeking his latest fix, I focused on attendance increases and souls brought to Jesus to push my depression into the background. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, declining attendance and a lack of “God working in our midst” forced my depression to the forefront. I spent countless nights alone in the darkness of the church building praying to God, pleading that he would fill me with the Holy Spirit and use me to bring in a large harvest of souls. In the end, no matter how hard I worked or how much I sacrificed— money, family, and health — it was never enough. Success was a temporary elixir that soothed my depression, but its effect soon wore off and I retreated for the thousandth time into the deep, dark recesses of my mind.

depression

In 2005, two years after I left the ministry, I told Polly I needed professional psychological help. It took me another three years before I was willing to pick up the phone and make an appointment. At first, finding a “Christian” counselor was important to me. Once I found one, I then had second thoughts about people seeing me entering his office or noticing my car in the parking lot. I live in an area where almost everyone knows me — both as a pastor and now as an atheist. It wasn’t until I deconverted that I began calling counselors, hoping to find a non-religious, secular counselor. Fortunately, I found just the right person to help peel away the layers of my life, allowing me to finally embrace my depression and find ways of handling what Dexter the serial killer called his “dark passenger.” Late last year, I started seeing a new counselor, a woman. My first counselor and I had become friends (a common problem in long-term counseling relationships), so I knew it was time for me to see someone new.

Readers who have been with me since the days of blogs named Bruce Droppings, NW Ohio Skeptic, The Way Forward, and Fallen From Grace have helplessly watched me repeatedly psychologically crash and burn, only to rise again out of the ashes like a phoenix. Surprisingly, the current iteration of my blog has been active for seven years. I attribute the length of my success to the help I’ve received from my counselors. That said, I can’t guarantee that I might not, in the future, crash. I’ve told myself that if that happens again, I’m done blogging.

Some days, I feel like I have tied a knot on the rope of my life and I am desperately trying to hold on. There are days when I feel my grip slipping, leaving me to wonder if I can make it through another day. I do what I can. Whether that will be enough remains to be seen. Health problems, especially chronic pain and bowel problems, continue to drive my depression and virtually every other aspect of my life. I can’t escape these things. All I know to do is endure.

As depressives will tell you, small problems often pile up for them and turn into full-blown depressive episodes. I mean, suicide level, I can’t deal with this any longer episodes. My counselor is keenly aware of how quickly things can pile up for me. Starting with chronic illnesses, unrelenting pain, loss of mobility, and decreased cognitive function, my plate is quite full before I even get out of bed — that is, if I can get out of bed.

Recent events have filled my plate as I would on Thanksgiving Day. What’s one more helping of ham, turkey, and candied sweet potatoes, right? While I find it too painful to write about many of the things that have been added to my plate, I have talked to my counselor about how overwhelmed I am with life. She encourages me to focus on what is best for me, and not “fixing” the problems of others. I am not sure how well I can heed his advice, but I am trying.

I have written all this to say that I must continue to find ways to “lighten my load.” My health will never be as good as it is today, and someday I will likely be unable to leave my home. In the interest of improving the quality of what life I have left, I must identify the unnecessary things that are weighing me down and cast them aside. This is not easy for me to do. Giving in has never been my strong suit. I hate to let go of things (and people) who have been very much a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Over the past few months, I have made a concerted to downsize and simplify my life. I sold all my photography equipment. Boy, was this hard. Even worse, I am turning my office into a pantry and a storage room. Gone will be the metal desk I’ve owned for almost forty years — a M.A.S.H. era desk. Most of my 4,000+ plus sermons were crafted on my desk. Countless couples and church members sat across from me, telling me their woes. I used this desk every day for most of my adult life — until I couldn’t. Thanks to herniated discs in my back and neck, I can no longer use the desk. Saying goodbye to my dear friend brought tears, but I knew it was the right thing to do. My oldest son will soon move my desk to his home. I wonder if I should tell him what Mom and Dad did on that desk? 🙂

It goes without saying, that above everything I could ever do or own, I deeply love my wife, children, and grandchildren (and yes, my daughters-in-law and son-in-law too). As illness and pain whittle down my life, I am learning that what matters most is love and family. The praise of congregants and the approbation of fellow clergy are but distant memories. I would trade all of them for one day without pain. We silly humans so often focus on things that don’t matter. Age brings perspective, and what really matters — at least to me — fits on a small Post-it note. And even now, I continue to mark through things on my list. I suspect that when death claims me for its own, my list will contain a handful of names and the words “they loved me until the end.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

My Hungarian Grandparents, Paul and Mary Gerencser

gerencser family 1950's
Paul and Mary Gerencser and Children, 1950s

The Gerencser Family, circa 1950s Front: Robert (my Dad) and Irene Middle: Grandpa Paul Rear: Paul (Paulie), Grandma Mary, Mary, and Helen (As you can readily see, I look nothing like my dad and his family)

Dates and ages are approximate. My recollections are not what they once were. One reason for writing this post is to have a written record of these things before I someday can no longer remember them.

My grandparents immigrated from Hungary in the early part of the 20th century. I don’t know much about them. I was six years old when they died in 1963. Paul was born in 1888 and died of a heart attack in February of 1963. Mary, six years younger than her husband, died of a heart attack six weeks later.

Paul and Mary Nemett Gerencser (grr IN’ sir or grinsir) immigrated through Ellis Island and settled in Ohio. (I don’t think Paul and Mary were their given names.) They originally settled in the Akron/Cleveland area and then moved to Northwest Ohio. Best I can tell from what few official records remain, Paul and Mary Gerencser owned a farm in Defiance County, lost it during the Depression, and then bought a 100-acre farm in Williams County on the northwest corner of Williams County Road 14 and Williams-Defiance County Line Road. It was here I first met my grandparents and where they died.

mary gerencser 1919
Grandma Mary Gerencser, 1919

Paul and Mary Gerencser had six children: Irene, Paul Jr, Steven, Helen, Mary, and Robert. Steven died in a farming accident (he fell off the tractor and was hit by a plow or disc) as a young boy. Irene died in 2009 at the age of 87. Paul (Paulie) died in 2012 at the age of 88. Marry died in 2018 at the age of 88. Robert, my father, died in 1987 at the age of 49. Helen is still living.

The Gerencser homestead was torn down decades ago. The new owners built a ranch home in its place. The old farmhouse was a white two-story structure.  I do remember a few things about the house. There was an enclosed back porch and Grandma kept big sacks of flour and sugar on the porch. I also remember the wood-fired stove. I think there was a water pump at the kitchen sink. The house did not have indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse for necessary daily functions.

mary paulie paul robert gerencser 1940's
Mary, Paulie, Paul, Robert Gerencser, 1940s

I do have a vivid memory of the creek that ran a few hundred yards from the back of the house. One year, Beaver Creek overran its banks, and floodwaters turned a portion of the low-lying farm ground into a lake. To a little boy, the flood water looked like a huge lake, but I am sure it was probably much smaller.

I don’t remember anything about my grandparents’ demeanor. I do remember they spoke Hungarian to each other. I don’t know if they spoke English at home. My father, aunts, and uncle, were schooled at the nearby one-room schoolhouse that sat on the southeast corner of Williams County Road 14 and  US Highway 6. The one-room schoolhouse was torn down many years ago. My dad also went to school at Farmer, Ney, and Bryan. I do not know where any of my aunts or uncle attended school.

mary robert gerencser 1930's
Mary and Robert Gerencser, 1930s

Paul and Mary Gerencser settled in northwest Ohio, Williams County because a number of Hungarian immigrants already lived here. Derek Harvey, a Toledo, Ohio man, wrote an interesting article about the Hungarians who settled in NW Ohio:

An important immigrant group to Toledo and Northwest Ohio were the people that came from the area in Central Europe known as the Magyars. This area stretched from Poland to the North to Belgrade in the southern region. The area would also encompass the large area known as Transylvania. (No Dracula jokes!) With the redrawing of borders after the first World War much would have been considered Hungary would have changed. Many large populations after this time would live in Romania, Slovakia and northern Yugoslavia. Some groups prior to World War 1 would be misidentified as Hungarians.

The largest group of this ethnic group 1.7 million came to the United States starting in 1880. Many would locate in the Birmingham neighborhood in Toledo. In 1900 there were almost 17,000 people living in Ohio that claimed this nationality. By 1920 the number would increase to 73,181. The primary group of immigration was males under the age of 30. Almost 90% of them were literate, but would take dangerous jobs that involved using their hands. This job areas in Toledo included automotive, glass and railroad industries. They tended to only come to the United States temporarily and over 50% would return to their homeland. Many would come back or just stay.

The religion of the Hungarians in Toledo was Catholic. Their home church in town St Stephen’s Catholic Church. The early population of this church was almost all Hungarian. This is a valuable place to check for church records for people of this nationality. The church was the center of their socialization activities. It would later become the center of their fraternal organizations. In Toledo a popular event was the Grape Harvest Festival and the Easter egg sprinkling. These groups and events played a important part of the assimilation of Hungarians into the fabric of Toledo. Family units in Hungarian early life extended beyond the immediate family. It was referred to as the “sib” and included aunts, uncles, cousins and godparents who might not be relatives.

A common practice after 1910 was for Hungarian families to take in recent immigrants primarily males. The husband and the boarders would work outside the home while the women would take care of the chores necessary for maintaining a household. The diet would lean towards meat and very few dairy, fruit or vegetables. Wonderful opportunities exist for more understanding of Hungarians genealogy. Great strides have taken place in many parts of the United States to get a better understanding of this group. There heritages are being preserved and new resources are being discovered daily.

From time to time I will run into local Hungarians who remember my dad or my aunts and uncle. Mary and Helen sang on the radio in the 1940s, and every so often someone will ask me if I am related to them. When someone notices my last name and asks me, are you related to ____________, the answer is always yes. All the Gerencsers in northwest Ohio are related to one another. I have second and third cousins in the Chicago, Benton Harbor Michigan, and Akron/Cleveland area whom I have never met. Locally, I have a few first and second cousins.

mary gerencser and pickles
Grandma Mary Gerencser with the Family Cat, Pickles.

When Aunt Helen with Alzheimer’s was over at our house several years ago, she didn’t know who the woman in the picture above was, but she with delight said, oh, there’s my cat Pickles.

I am not certain what my grandparent’s religion was, but I suspect they were Catholics.

I regret not taking time to know my family history while those who could tell it to me were still alive. My dad died 35 years ago, and my grandparents died almost 60 years ago. Such is the lament of an old man. As death comes nearer and nearer to my door, I think more and more about the past. I wonder . . . what was it like for my dad to grow up on a farm? I will never be able to ask questions like this. Sometimes, when we drive down US 15/127 to Bryan, I gaze off to the left as we pass the Williams-Defiance County Line. I try to picture my grandparents, my dad, and my aunts and uncle, working the ground and taking care of the farm. I wonder about their hardships, about the hard work it took to eke out a living from the flat as an ironing board land of Williams County Ohio.

I have lots of questions…

I originally wrote this post eight years ago. Since then, I have learned that “Dad” was not my biological father; that my father was a truck driver who had a brief fling with my 17-year-old mother; that I have half brothers and sisters. Regardless, for good or ill, Robert Gerencser was my father. (Please see Questions: Bruce, How Was Your Relationship with Your Father?)

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Short Stories: 1983: Smelly Carpet, Sprite, Psycho Bruce, and a Christmas Tree

christmas tree new lexington 1985
Christmas tree at another New Lexington house, 1984

In July 1983, I planted a new church in Somerset Ohio. I would, for the next eleven years, pastor Somerset Baptist Church, starting in a storefront and later holding services in a 150-year-old brick church building purchased from the Methodist Conference. I would learn a lot about myself during the time I spent pastoring this church For a few years, the church experienced rapid numerical growth (reaching 200 in attendance), leading to scores of professions of faith. And then, just as quickly, the church numerically receded, returning to a typical country church of fifty or so people. I could spend months writing about my experiences as pastor of this church, but for now, I want to focus on a house we lived in on Water Street in New Lexington, Ohio.

When I started the church, we lived in Buckeye Lake, twenty-five miles north and west of Somerset. Wanting to live in the area where I would be ministering, we sought out housing in Somerset. Unable to find housing, we rented a house in New Lexington — a community built on a hill nine miles south of Somerset. After moving into the home, we noticed the carpets had a smell. The longer we lived there the worse the smells became. I mentioned this to the owner. He said the previous tenants had animals and that’s why the carpet smelled. Determining that we were likely going to move if he didn’t do something about the smell, the owner had the carpets replaced in the living room and main bedroom. Despite the carpet replacement, the house still had a faint smell of animal urine. I suspect the urine had soaked into the wood floors underneath the carpet, and as anyone who has ever had to deal with such a problem knows, once this happens either the floors must be sanded and refinished or shellacked to seal in the odor. Six weeks later, we decided to move to a ramshackle farmhouse northeast of Somerset, near Glenford, Ohio.

There are several stories I would like to share from the few months we spent living on Water Street. I have always been a pop (soda) drinker. My drink of choice was/is Pepsi, but I would, from time to time, drink other brands such as Coke and Sprite. These were the days when pop came packaged as eight returnable 16-ounce glass bottles. Many of my fellow baby boomers have memories, I’m sure, of collecting pop bottles for money or using pop bottles for ashtrays or emergency urinals The returnable bottles were sent by grocery stores to bottlers who would sanitize the bottles and refill them with the proper soft drink. One day, I decided to drink a bottle of Sprite. I grabbed the bottle opener, popped the cap off the bottle, put it to my lips, and tipped the bottle so the sugary drink would flow. Suddenly, I felt something hit my teeth. I quickly stop drinking, and upon investigating I found a barrette with hair still attached in the bottle. Gagging, I quickly put the bottle down. To this day, I find it hard to drink Sprite. Irrational as it might be, all I can think of when I think about drinking a Sprite is that barrette with hair attached hitting me in the teeth.

As a young adult, I did a good bit of walking and talking in my sleep. My brother and sister have all sorts of stories about my sleepwalking escapades, including walking through the living room brushing my teeth. Not long after Polly and I were married, she awoke to find me standing in the corner of the bedroom urinating. Sound asleep, I thought I was in the bathroom. The sleepwalking continued into my later life. One night, while living in New Lexington, we had gone to bed, and as had been the custom for the past 43 years, Polly quickly fell asleep and I fitfully tossed and turned before finally drifting off into that night’s dream world. Several hours into the night, Polly awoke to find me crouched over her — eyes wide open. I was sound asleep, but Polly thought I was a psychopath fixing to kill her. After a few moments, I rolled over, while Polly was left shaking, fearing for her life. Both of us wondered if I would someday do something hurtful and not know that I did it. Fortunately, Polly and our six children survived. These days, the only sleepwalking I do is the wide-awake kind as I make one of my nightly trips to the bathroom or the kitchen. I still talk in my sleep from time to time. Polly no longer fears becoming the next day’s headline, though she does enjoy retelling what I said to her in one of my sleep-talking moments. I can, in her words, still be quite entertaining.

A few days after Thanksgiving, we decided to move from Water Street to our newly-rented house in Glenford. We had very few possessions, so we were able to do all the moving with a pickup truck. Having just put up our Christmas tree several days before, we decided to leave all the decorations on the tree as we moved it to its new location. I still remember how hilarious it was to see that Christmas tree sitting in the back of the pickup truck, fully decorated. As you might imagine, by the time we got to our new house, all the tinsel had blown off the tree, as had some of the glass bulbs. I know– the stupid stuff kids do, right? We put the tree back together, in preparation for what we still call to this day the Christmas from Hell. But that’s a story for another day.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Do We Need to Believe in the Christian God to Have a Meaningful Life?

jesus all about life

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Do we need to believe in the Christian (Evangelical) God for our lives to have meaning? Larry Dixon, a former professor of theology at Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina thinks so. In a post titled Man’s Significance, Dixon stated:

Why does man consider himself such a “big screaming deal”? Is there no basis for our thinking we are unique in the universe, that there is something about man that shouts “You have value! You have worth!”

Evolutionary theory essentially argues that man makes up his own significance. The Bible teaches that we are made in the image and likeness of GOD — and we, therefore, have meaning.

How sad to miss that fundamental truth of our creation, and to simply sit back in despair and entertain ourselves to death with our machines!

Listen carefully to what Dixon is saying: Those who deny that meaning is derived from belief in God, live lives of despair, spending their brief sojourn on this earth entertaining themselves. Dixon, an Evangelical, shows that he is clueless about how secularists, atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-Christians find meaning and purpose. One can reject a created by God anthropocentric view of life and still find great satisfaction in living life to its fullest. In fact, it is unbelievers who often value and cherish life the most because they only get one opportunity to walk the path of life. If you have taken the time to read my ABOUT page, you likely read my answer to the question If you had one piece of advice to give me, what would it be?  Here is what I said:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

Another explanation of how non-believers view life can be found in the Humanist Manifesto:

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

That Evangelicals can’t wrap their minds around this fact is their problem, not ours. Perhaps Evangelicals are unable to comprehend a meaningful, purposeful life without God is because life before death is viewed — in theory — as little more than:

I say in theory because — as observers of Evangelicalism know — God’s chosen ones love THIS life as much as atheists do. Christians profess to be ready to go home (Heaven), but few of them are lining up to board the next bus to the pearly gates. Blissful, pain-free eternal life might await Christians once they cross to the other side, but they don’t seem to be in a hurry to experience the pleasures of Club Heaven®.  Simply put, Evangelicals say one thing and do another.

life all about jesus

Believers and unbelievers should alike admit that this life matters, and how each of us finds meaning and purpose is no one’s business but ours. My wife’s mother is in her 80s. Her world (and that of her husband, who died in 2020), revolves around Jesus, the Bible, and her church — the Newark Baptist Temple. Six years ago, Polly’s father had his hip replaced. The surgery proved to be a disaster and he spent most of the last years of his life in a nursing home. My in-laws were forced to sell their home — a place they have lived for thirty-eight years. Knowing that they had to move, Polly suggested to her Mom that they move near our home so we could take care of them (We live 3 hours northwest of their home in Newark, Ohio). Polly’s Mom replied, I can’t. My church is here. I have known Polly Shope Gerencser for forty-six years and I have NEVER seen her so devastated as she was by her Mom’s words.

Polly’s sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. (Please see If One Soul Gets Saved It is Worth it All)  Polly is her parents’ only living child. Both Polly and I thought that they would not only want to be closer to their daughter (we see them two-three times a year), but also near our children, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. When Polly’s Mom said I can’t. My Church is here, Polly heard, My Church is more important than you! My “real” family is my church.

Polly’s parents have the right to choose what matters most to them. When Polly and I returned to rural Northwest Ohio, we did so because we made a conscious choice to be near our children and grandchildren — all of whom live less than twenty minutes from our home. Family matters to us. For me personally, I know that chronic illness and pain have likely shortened my life expectancy. Knowing this, I want to spend as much time as I can going to races with my sons, watching my grandchildren’s school and sporting events, and doing all I can to leave those I love with a lasting memory of a husband, father, and grandfather who lived life to its fullest. Some days, all I can do is sit quietly by and watch my grandchildren play. Other days, infused with a false sense of energy and vitality, I play hard, laugh, argue and debate, and remind my children that I am still the intellectual king of the hill (I can hear them snickering). Regardless of how I feel, it is my family that gives my life meaning and purpose. It saddens me that my in-laws chose a contrived family — one that will dump them if they ever fail to bow in obeisance to Jesus — over a flesh-and-blood family that loves them. It is, however, their choice, so I must live with it. Their decision is yet another reminder of the fact that Christians often forsake the earthly for what they think will improve their room size in God’s mansion in the sky.

Now, let me get back to aimlessly living a life of despair.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Learning to Say “No”

no

I was the type of pastor who could never say no. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, numerous pastors extended invitations to me to preach at their churches. I never said no, even when doing so would cause economic hardship. Church members knew that they could always count on me to say yes to whatever they needed me to do, even if it was an inconvenience for me or my family. If someone needed a loan, I always gave it to them, even when I knew it was unlikely they would pay me back. Need someone to watch your six kids? Just ask Pastor Bruce and Polly– they will do it. Need transportation to the doctor’s office, work, or the hospital? The Pastor Bruce Taxi Company provided a ride, free of charge. Need tools to fix your car or do a home repair? Borrow Pastor Bruce’s tools, and then fail to return them. The stories are endless. I recognize by telling these stories that a few readers might think that I am trying to paint myself as some sort of super saint, but I think anyone who knows me well would testify to the fact that I have always had a hard time saying no. Several years ago, my mother-in-law chided me for being so willing to give things to others. Quickly realizing how her comment might be interpreted, she said, “I suppose there are worst habits to have.” Why is it that I have such a hard time saying no?

My mother taught me always to be polite and respectful. My father was a salesman and business owner, so he taught me to always give the customers what they wanted. Generally, politeness and respectfulness are good things. Polly and I both taught our children to never be cross or disrespectful towards others. Doing so has served them well as adults. There are times, though, when I wonder if being taught always to be polite and respectful keeps us from properly responding to people who are assholes. Assholes tend to be narcissistic bullies who love to attack people who go through life trying to be decent and kind. I have learned — rather late in life — that sometimes it is okay to be impolite or disrespectful. Some people do not deserve politeness or respect. Over the years, I allowed countless church members to bully and berate me. I could spend the next hour writing about members who stormed in my office to give me a piece of their mind — what little of it they had. They would rant and rave, attacking my preaching, leadership, family, and even how I dressed. One church member was upset over the way Polly crinkled up her nose at him (I kid you not). Most often, I would try to appease them, not wanting to lose church members. Looking back on it now, I wish I had been more willing to tell them to get the hell out of my office and out of the church. These kinds of members rarely stayed in the church for the long term. Sooner or later I did something that so offended them that they picked up their toys and moved on to a new religious playground. Through the grapevine, I would hear that they blamed me for them having to leave the church. Rarely do such people accept responsibility for their own behavior.

I think my view of Jesus also impeded my ability to say no. I saw Jesus as a kind, compassionate, lover of people. Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and compassionately helping those who crossed his path, Jesus seemed to have had a hard time with saying no too. Like Jesus, I was driven by the fact that there was a deadline that awaited me — death. Knowing that after death I would be judged by God for what I had done in this life, I feared that by saying no I might miss doing something that God wanted me to do. So, I never said no. Well, I never said no to anyone but Polly and our children. They heard the word no all the time. Church members and the demands of the ministry got the best of their husband and father, so when it came time for him to spend time with them or help them with their needs, he far too often said no. I will always regret not putting the needs of my family first. Perhaps this is why I rarely tell my grandchildren no. They have become my do-over of sorts, and they know it. Nana is harder to manipulate than I am, so when the grandkids really want something they come running to Grandpa.

I suspect that my inability to say no will always be with me. Having watched Polly suffer through decades-long economic deprivation, I am determined to make the rest of her life one of comfort. If she wants something, I do everything I can to make sure she gets it. Fortunately, Polly does not abuse my willingness to give her what she wants/needs/desires. I know that life is short and there is no eternal reward beyond the grave, so why not enjoy the fruits of our labor? I know that I will be dead sooner than later. Ecclesiastes says we should enjoy life and the fruits of our labor. Why? Because tomorrow we die. Certainly, we must live life within the parameters of our financial and physical abilities, but there is no award for waiting to live life until you are too old or too sick to enjoy it. I know there is coming a day when physically, I will likely be unable to walk or ride in a car. Knowing this motivates me to walk and ride while I can. I am grateful that I have a partner who is willing to drive me where I want to go and walk with me, even if it means pushing my big ass in a wheelchair.

I am slowly beginning to recognize that it is in my best interest — psychologically and physically — to say no. I now have five grandchildren who are playing competitive sports. I have no doubt that someday eight or nine of them could easily be involved in school activities that I would like to attend. If I had my way, I would attend every one of their games. I thoroughly enjoy watching them play. But, I know that I cannot attend each and every game, especially in the COVID era. If I did so, I would be so physically worn out that I would not be able to do anything else. So, I have to say no when my heart says yes. It is the same with birthday parties and other family gatherings. I ALWAYS want to spend time with my family. We are very close and I want to spend as much time as possible with them, knowing that there is coming a day when all I will be is a memory in their minds and a photograph hanging on the wall. But, I also know that I cannot do everything, and there are times for the sake of my health that I have to say no. Polly’s mom is in declining health. While we have made several trips to Newark — a seven-hour round-trip — I feel guilty over not going to visit her more often. These trips are physically excruciating, and by the time we get home I often feel like I met Mike Tyson in an alley fight and lost. As much as I want to visit Mom every weekend, as we did years ago, I know I can’t. This is perhaps the best example of my physical limitations forcing me to say no.

Bit by bit I am learning that is okay to tell people no. It is not narcissistic to put self first. I am the only one who knows what it feels like to walk in my skin. Outwardly, I look like a typical overweight old man, one who certainly should not need to park in handicapped spaces. But inwardly, virtually every joint and muscle in my body hurts. Some days the pain medications work well, other days they don’t. These days no usually means I can’t. To quote the Bible, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Do you have a hard time saying no? Are you a people pleaser? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Life in the Ministry: Fifteen Years of Marriage and Not One ‘Just the Two of Us’ Date

bruce and polly gerencser 1985
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

A few months after our first wedding anniversary, Polly and I packed up all of our worldly goods into a late-60s Chey Impala and an AMC Gremlin that was missing its right front fender and moved three hours south to Newark, Ohio. We later moved to Buckeye Lake and then to the Southeast Ohio communities of New Lexington, Glenford, New Lexington (again), Somerset, Junction City, and Mount Perry. All told, we lived in Central and Southeast Ohio for fifteen years. During this time, I pastored churches in Somerset/Mount Perry and Buckeye Lake, Ohio. A consummate Type A workaholic and perfectionist, I neglected my wife and children. Thinking that all that mattered was serving Jesus, winning souls, and building churches, I worked day and night, rarely taking a day off. Work for the night is coming when no man can work, the Bible says. Jesus could return at any moment, I thought at the time. I want to be found busily laboring in God’s vineyard when Jesus splits the Eastern sky! Jesus said in Luke 18:8, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? When Jesus returned to earth, I wanted him to find me working hard at keeping the faith.

My children can testify to what I have written above. They watched their father walk out of the house in the morning, returning home later in the day, only to shower, change clothes, and head out the door once again, often not returning until they were in bed. For years, I worked a full-time secular job while also pastoring a church full-time. Even after I stopped working secular jobs and devoted all of my time to the work of the ministry, I still worked sixty-plus hours a week.

Fifteen years of busting-my-ass for Jesus. Fifteen years of sacrificing family and body. Fifteen years, one vacation — a preaching engagement in Braintree, Massachusetts. Fifteen years, and not ONE, just the two of us date with my wife. Let that sink in for a moment. Not ONE date. Polly and I have spent a good bit of time combing through our shared experiences. We couldn’t come up with ONE instance of the two of us — sans children — going out on a date during the first fifteen years we were married. Oh, we went to scores of special church events, Valentine’s banquets, and the like, but we never, not ONE time, got in the car, just the two of us, and went somewhere to spend an evening enjoying each other’s company.

I told Polly that it is a wonder that our marriage survived. While I was busy winning souls, studying for sermons, and building churches, Polly invested her time in keeping our home and raising our children. Now, I don’t want to paint a misleading picture. When I had time, I spent it with my family. We spent many a summer Saturday evening watching races at local dirt tracks in Zanesville, Crooksville, and other communities. We also— in the early 1990s — took numerous day trips to West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, and sundry other points in Ohio. Our older children have fond memories of crazy family road trips along the forgotten back — often unpaved — roads of Southeast Ohio and neighboring West Virginia. That said, what time I had for doing these kinds of things was limited. Jesus ALWAYS came first.

While these memories remind me of the fact that I did spend (some) time with my beautiful wife and children, I find myself saddened by the fact that I should have spent a lot more time with them, but didn’t. Southeast Ohio is a place of beauty, yet I rarely took the time to enjoy the scenery. Enjoying life was for those who didn’t take seriously the commands of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul said centuries before, I wanted my life to be a testimony of single-minded devotion to Jesus. Better to burn out than rust out, I thought at the time. Some day, I will enjoy the scenery of God’s eternal kingdom! Did not the Bible say, prepare to meet the Lord thy God? There will be plenty time later to relax and fish along the banks of the River of Life.

My children and Polly have long since forgiven me for not giving them the time they deserved. They understand why I worked as I did, but I have a hard time forgiving myself for putting God, Jesus, the church, preaching, and winning souls before my family. No matter how often I talk about this with my counselor, the guilt and sense of loss remain. I suspect other super-Christians-turned-atheists have similar stories to tell. We sacrificed the temporal for the eternal. Now that we understand the temporal is all we have, it is hard not to look at the past with regret. Particularly for those of us with chronic illnesses and pain, it is hard not to lament offering the best years of our lives on the altar of a non-existent God.

There is nothing I can do about the past. It is what it is, as I am fond of saying. All I can do is make the most of what life I have left. Fortunately, my six children and thirteen grandchildren live less than twenty minutes away from our home. Given an opportunity to do things differently, I do my best to spend time with them. Many days, it is difficult to do so. To quote a well-worn cliché, my spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I know there will come a day when I will permanently be in a wheelchair. It has been two years since I have driven a car. Forced to rely on others to haul my ass (and the rest of my body) around, I am unable to do all that I want to do. I do what I can, forcing myself — at times — to do things that I probably shouldn’t be doing. I know that this life is all that I have. As a Christian, I said, Only one life t’will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last. As an atheist, I see things differently. Only one life t’will soon be past, and then I’ll be dead. End of story. All that will remain are the memories I made with my family while I was alive.

And as far as the no date thing? I think Polly can attest to the fact that I have acquitted myself quite nicely. We now take short vacations, road trips, and go on frequent just the two of us dates. Are we making up for lost time? I think so. Polly has become my best friend. I genuinely enjoy her company, even when her driving puts me in fear of my life. 🙂 We have a bucket list of places we would like to visit. Will we successfully check off everything on the list? Probably not. As we wander together through life, we continue to find places we want to check out. So much to see, do, and experience. Funny what you find when you take your eyes off the heavens and look at what is right in front of you.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser