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Category: Family

Bruce, You Would Give the Shirt Off Your Back to Help Others

where your treasure is

My wife, Polly, is the daughter of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and his wife. Polly’s family on her mother’s side is littered with preachers, missionaries, and evangelists. Her grandfather was a United Baptist preacher. Most of my experience with Polly’s family over the past forty-seven years comes from Polly’s parents and her mother’s close family. One thing that I noticed is that while Polly’s mom and dad, along with her grandfather, aunt, and uncle were gracious, kind, and helpful towards IFB family members, they weren’t the same towards people outside of the family. This always troubled me. Why were they so hesitant or unwilling to help people who weren’t “blood?”

In 1989, our two oldest sons and a girl from the church I was pastoring at the time, attended the Licking County Christian Academy — a ministry of the Newark Baptist Temple, the church pastored for fifty years by Polly’s uncle, Jim Dennis. We would carpool the children to and from school, a thirty-mile drive each way. One day, it was the girl’s father’s turn to pick up the kids from school. Before arriving at the school, Harold picked up a homeless man and brought him to the Baptist Temple, thinking the church would help him. He quickly learned that the Baptist Temple was nothing like the church he attended. The church turned the homeless man away.

Harold wrongly thought all Christians were the same; that the Baptist Temple would treat poor people the same way we did at Somerset Baptist Church. Surely, the Baptist Temple, a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church, would follow the teachings of Christ, Harold thought. At Somerset Baptist, we fed and clothed the poor and the homeless. We paid the rent and utility bills of people in dire straits, even though Somerset Baptist took in only one-thirtieth the money each year the Baptist Temple did.

Jim and I got into an argument one day in his office over material wealth. We were struggling to pay our school tuition bill. I wanted to find out if there was anything the church could do to help us. The answer was no. I have never forgotten what Jim told me: “it is never God’s will for a Christian to live in poverty.” In other words, he was telling me that I was not doing the will of God. I retorted, “this would be news to Jesus, the disciples, and countless other Christians.” Our meeting ended on a sour note. Our children finished the year at LCCA. By the start of the next school year, I had started Somerset Baptist Academy — a tuition-free school for church children.

Was Jim a bad person? Of course not. He grew up in a middle-class home. He had never experienced poverty or doing without. I, on the other hand, had real-world experience with poverty. He and I had very different life experiences, and these lived experiences affected how we viewed the world and ministered to people. I have always been sensitive to the needs of the poor. Most of the people I pastored over the years were working-class poor or on public assistance. Sure, I pastored several millionaires and upper-middle-class families, but they were the exception to the rule. And quite honestly, poor church members tended to be more gracious and giving than affluent members. As a Baptist church, we believed Christians should give ten percent of their income to the church. It was the church, then, that decided how to spend donations. One millionaire wanted to control where his tithe went. He told me the church couldn’t be trusted with his money. No control, no donation. You can guess how that turned out. Not well. He later left the church.

I co-pastored Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf, Texas in 1994. After returning to Ohio and then moving back home to rural northwest Ohio, we started a new Baptist church in West Unity. Months after we started the church, a family from Community Baptist contacted me about moving to Ohio to be part of our church. I said yes, and began making plans for them to move from Texas to Ohio. A preacher friend and I drove to San Antonio to help them move. I rented a car for our trip, paying for our gas and meals. I also helped pay for some of this family’s moving expenses. All told, I spent almost $2,000 out of pocket to help them move. I sold my firearms to help fund this trip, a decision I deeply regret.

The family moved into the church until they could find employment and housing. The congregation went out of its way to help them. The family didn’t stay. I had warned them about how different it would be for them as a Hispanic family living in white rural Ohio. They assured me that this wouldn’t be a problem. It was. They missed their family and culture. I was disappointed (and angry, at the time) that they left, but years later I understand why they did.

One day, Polly’s mom and dad happened to be visiting our home. Polly and I were discussing moving this family from Texas to Ohio, when Mom interjected, “Bruce, you would give people the shirt off your back.” We just stared at her, wondering why this was a problem. It seemed to be the Christian thing to do; the way we had lived our married life from the get-go and still do to this day. Realizing how bad that sounded and that she had “stepped” in it, Mom added, “not that that is a bad thing.”

Our conversation moved on to other things, but her comments to me were a reminder that we lived in different worlds; that we had different beliefs about what it meant to be a Christian. What I always found odd is that Mom grew up dirt poor. Her parents were migrant farm workers. She had experienced poverty firsthand. Yet, once free of being poor, she had no interest in helping anyone outside of her immediate family. Was Mom a bad person? Of course not. That said, it is hard to read the Gospels and not have a heart for the poor and marginalized. And where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

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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Short Stories: George of the Jungle and a Dog Who Plays Basketball

george of the jungle

My wife, Polly, and I have six children — four boys, and two girls. As children of an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher and his wife, they lived sheltered lives, safe from Satan and the world. Our two oldest sons attended public school for two years. Outside of that, our children either attended a private Christian school or were homeschooled. Our two oldest children attended Licking County Christian Academy for one year and our three oldest children attended Somerset Baptist Academy, a school I started, for five years. Our youngest three were homeschooled from kindergarten through grade twelve.

We didn’t have a TV for years. I detail my battle with the TV here: The Preacher and His TV. And even after we got a television, I carefully controlled what our children could watch. Our youngest children fondly remember watching programs such as Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman Continue, Five Mile Creek, Quantum Leap, and Sliders. We also let them watch G-rated/PG-rated movies. The goal was always the same: to protect them from the “world.”

In the late 1990s, our (my) view of the “world” began to change. We were still quite Fundamentalist, but we loosened the reigns, so to speak, when it came to “entertainment. Our older sons were allowed to listen to contemporary Christian music. I remember when I brought home a PETRA CD. Polly thought God was going to strike us dead and burn our house to the ground. Alas, God didn’t give a shit about what kind of music we listened to.

air bud

In the summer of 1997, I told Polly I wanted to take the children to the drive-in theater. Polly and I hadn’t been to an evil Hollywood movie since our teen years, and our children had never been to a theater of any kind. Polly, ever worried about God getting us, thought it was a bad idea to go to the drive-in. I assured her that God would be okay with us going to the movies. After all, we were going to see Air Bud and George of the Jungle. 🙂 Sure enough, we learned that God didn’t give a shit about what kind of movies we watched either. Our family and a wonderful time at the Wauseon Drive-in Theater. Our children were 18, 16, 13, 8, 6, and 4 the day the “world” won and Satan took over our family. 🙂

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.

Our Relationship with the Newark Baptist Temple Began and Ended with Acts of Defiance

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, July 1978, with Bruce’s mom and dad

It is a hot July day in 1978. Soon Bruce Gerencser and Polly Shope will be married at the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by Polly’s uncle Jim Dennis (please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life With James Dennis). Her father, Lee Shope is the church’s assistant pastor.

Bruce and Polly faced much adversity from Polly’s mom leading up to their big day. Polly’s mom didn’t like Bruce, so she had spent the past two years trying to ruin their relationship. She miserably failed, and today was the day when a youthful, immature twenty-one-year-old Bruce and an equally youthful, naive nineteen-year-old Polly would stand before God, family, and friends and pledge their troth.

Bruce and Polly asked Mark Bullock, a fellow student at Midwestern Baptist College, to be their soloist. He agreed. The couple asked Mark to sing two songs: We’ve Only Just Begun by The Carpenters and Wedding Song (There is Love) by Noel Paul Stookey. Both were secular songs.

Little did Bruce and Polly know that secular songs were not permitted at the Baptist Temple. They had a niggling idea that maybe, just maybe they were pushing the envelope with their song choices, but no one asked, so Mark sang the songs Bruce and Polly requested. Afterward, they learned that Polly’s uncle and others in the church were outraged over their use of “worldly” music.

This was their first act of defiance.

Over the next forty-five years, Bruce and Polly faced a plethora of contentious moments with Polly’s mom, Jim Dennis, and the Newark Baptist Temple. Bruce and Polly were Baptist Fundamentalists, but they never seemed to “fit.” For a time, they attended the Baptist Temple. In 1981, they left the church to help Polly’s dad start a new IFB church in nearby Buckeye Lake. Bruce and Polly would remain there until July,1983, when they moved thirty minutes south to start a new IFB congregation in Somerset. The couple would serve God hand in hand at Somerset Baptist for eleven years. Bruce and Polly moved to Texas in 1994, returning to the Newark area later that same year. As they licked their wounds from a vicious experience as co-pastor of Community Baptist Church in Elmendorf (please see I am a Publican and a Heathen — Part One), Bruce and Polly made the decision to not attend the Baptist Temple. Instead, they took their six growing children to Fallsburg Baptist Church, a nearby IFB church pastored by Bruce’s best friend Keith Troyer. Needless to say, this move did not go over well with Polly’s family. Yet another conflict added to the growing pile of conflicts between the couple and Polly’s IFB family. Bruce and Polly were IFB, but it was becoming crystal clear that they intended to march to the beat of their own drum.

Seven months later, Bruce and Polly had their 14’x70′ mobile home moved to Alvordton, Ohio so Bruce could assume the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church. After a short stay at Olive Branch, Bruce and Polly started a new Baptist church five miles south of Alvordton in the rural community of West Unity. The church later dropped its Baptist name, renaming itself Our Father’s House — a non-denominational congregation. They would remain there for seven years.

By now, Bruce was having serious health problems. After a short pastorate at a Southern Baptist church in Clare, Michigan, Bruce and Polly decided to move to Yuma, Arizona in hope that the weather there would help Bruce’s pain and debility, His sister, married to a cardiologist, lived in Yuma at the time. While the couple thoroughly enjoyed their time in Yuma, the pull of family proved to be too much. Once again, Newark came into their lives. The couple moved back to Newark, thinking Polly’s mom and dad needed their help. Unfortunately, Polly’s parents didn’t want their help.

Bruce and Polly spent seven months in Newark, attending various Christian churches, none of which were IFB. Their unwillingness to attend the Baptist Temple caused more conflict with family. One preacher, Art Ball, wrote Bruce and told him, “Bruce, you know there is only one church in town, the Baptist Temple.” Bruce replied that there was a lot of family water under the proverbial bridge that Art knew nothing about, so, no, they would not be attending the Baptist Temple.

Bruce and Polly left Newark in July 2005 and moved back home to rural northwest Ohio so they could be close to their children. In 2007, they bought a home in Ney, Ohio, where they live to this day.

Over the past fifteen years, Bruce and Polly have returned to the Baptist Temple four times for funerals: the death of Jim Dennis (Polly’s uncle); Polly’s dad; Linda Dennis (Polly’s aunt); and several weeks ago, Polly’s mom. Each visit brought memories of family conflict and trauma. Good times too, to be sure, but no amount of good can wipe away the harm done by Polly’s IFB family. It is what it is.

Bruce and Polly knew Mom’s funeral would be a difficult time for them — and it was, and remains so to this day. Much ugliness happened at the end of Mom’s life; ugliness that destroyed what little relationship they had left with their IFB family and the Baptist Temple.

Bruce and Polly, now forty-five years older than when they recited their vows on that hot summer day long ago, were the first people to sit down in the church auditorium. No one from the church, outside of Mom’s best friend and Polly’s cousin and her IFB preacher husband, spoke to them. Sitting all around them were people who had known them for decades. Not one word of sympathy from anyone. Even the church’s pastor, Mark Falls, ignored the grieving couple. Bruce and Polly knew why, but still, why was there no compassion? That’s for the fine Christian folks at the Baptist Temple to answer.

Perhaps Bruce and Polly’s chickens had come home to roost. The funeral was the period at the end of a forty-five-year sentence.

At the appointed time, Pastor Falls mounted the pulpit and began the service — five minutes about Polly’s mom and thirty-five or so minutes about Jesus. Tis what the aged atheists expected. Bruce and Polly had talked about how to handle the IFB sermon they knew was coming. Both figured they could grit their teeth one last time and get through the sermon. Sure enough, Falls preached about Hell, Heaven, salvation, and death. In a sermon riddled with theological errors, Falls turned his attention to the unsaved in the room. Everyone in attendance was Christian, except for the Gerencser children and their spouses, grandchildren, and Grandpa and Nana. It was clear who Falls was preaching at. In the closing moments of his diatribe, Falls fixed his eyes on Bruce, the outspoken atheist and the pain in his ass, and preached at him. In a split second, forty-five years of trauma came bubbling to the surface. Bruce, sitting three rows from the front, said, loud enough for the bully in the pulpit to hear, Bullshit! Preach at someone else! (As of the publishing of this post, the church has removed the video of the funeral from YouTube.)

Defiance. That’s what Bruce and Polly Gerencser will be remembered for by the Newark Baptist Temple, Pastor Falls, and their IFB family. Why couldn’t we just believe in the tribal deity and play by the rules? Why did we have to be so stubborn? Why couldn’t we just submit and obey?

Previous posts about our IFB family and the Newark Baptist Temple

Sometime this year, I plan to write a series titled How the Newark Baptist Temple Affected Our Lives for Sixt Years. Stay tuned.

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.

1957-2020: Christmas Memories

christmas tree new lexington 1985
Our Christmas Tree, 1984, New Lexington, Ohio

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

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

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

robert gerencser 1950's
Christmas, Dad with his 8 mm Movie Camera

In the 1940s, Grandpa Tieken and Grandma Rausch went through an acrimonious divorce — a divorce that resulted in neither parent being deemed fit to raise their children. They had two children, my mother Barbara, and her brother Steve. Their hateful acrimony was on full display in the 1960s when Bob and Barbara Gerencser gathered for Christmas with their three children — Butch (that’s me), Bobby, and Robin. Into our family gathering would come the grandparents, teeth bared, hateful towards each other — likely fueled by alcohol. The fighting got so bad that it became necessary for us to have two Christmas gatherings, one for each grandparent.

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

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

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

Being Polly’s boyfriend, I was a topic of discussion and inspection. Needless to say, I failed the inspection. I vividly remember Polly’s uncle letting the whole church know that I was there visiting Polly. He said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirttail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirttail is.” While I have no doubt Jim was trying to be funny, Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. This coming year we will celebrate 45 years of marriage –so the shirttail has proven to be quite long and resilient.

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

Polly’s family was littered with Fundamentalist preachers — her dad, uncle, and grandfather, along with cousins who later became preachers or married one. They made sure they put a good word in for Jesus before the gift opening commenced. Every Christmas, one of the preachers, which later included Polly’s cousins and nephew, gave a short devotional reminding everyone that the birth of Jesus was the real meaning of Christmas. Interestingly, even though I was an Evangelical pastor for 25 years, I was never asked to give the devotional. Make of that what you will.

After Polly and I married in 1978, we began to develop our own Christmas traditions. We spent Christmas Eve with Polly’s parents and Christmas Day with either my family in Bryan, Ohio, or with my Mom at her home in Rochester, Indiana, and later Columbus, Ohio. Polly’s family Christmas continued to be marked by the gift-giving orgy and lots of great food. Christmas with my Mom and family was a much more measured affair. Mom made sure her grandkids got several gifts, as did my grandparents and Aunt Marijene. Christmas at Mom’s house continued until around 1990 when she and her husband Michael moved to Michigan. The move was sudden and unexpected, and I came to understand later that they likely moved due to Michael’s shady business dealings with people who threatened to kill him.  Mom would commit suicide in April 1992, while living near my sister in Quincy, Michigan. Please see Barbara.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Big Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, “to go poo-poo on” — poo-poo being the Fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us. (Please see The Family Patriarch is Dead: My Life with James Dennis.)

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

We moved back to Northwest Ohio in July of 2005. Since then, our family has gathered for Christmas at our home on the Sunday before Christmas. Doing this allows our children to avoid conflicts with their spouses’ family plans for Christmas.

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

This Christmas, thanks to a raging pandemic, our children and grandchildren will not be at our home celebrating with us. We have all our shopping done, and we plan on Christmas Eve to deliver our grandchildren’s gifts to their homes. Well, their driveways, anyway. It’s hard not to feel lonely this holiday season, but I hope by next Christmas COVID-19 will be behind us.

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

“Normal” is a Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

normal

Polly’s mom recently died. I always had a contentious relationship with my mother-in-law. She never wanted me to marry her daughter, and she went to great lengths to frustrate our dating relationship. It was not until Polly told her mother we were getting married with or without her blessing that she grudgingly gave in and helped Polly plan our wedding. We’ve been married for almost forty-five years. Polly’s mom was certain that marrying someone from a divorced family led to divorce. I assume, by now, we have put that bit of nonsense to rest. Over the years, Polly and I butted heads with her mom over how many children we planned to have, how we raised our children, ministerial moves, choices of secular employment, how we celebrated Christmas, and a host of other things.

In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, blocks away from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for them as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Five years ago, Polly’s dad (who died in November 2020) had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

As readers are aware, Mom made sure that the Gerencser family had nothing to do with her personal affairs and funeral. Mom’s behavior hurt her devoted daughter beyond measure. Why would she do these things? Our atheism. That’s the reason she gave us the last time we talked to her face to face. (Which was odd since she never, ever, not one time talked to us about our beliefs.) We, of course, respected her wishes. Her life, her choices, end of story.

I realize that if Polly had married a “normal” Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher boy things might have been different. Instead, Polly married a “bad boy”; a man who has always marched to the beat of his own drum; a man who has rarely been afraid to make hard, controversial decisions. In Mom’s eyes, I was an “odd duck”; I was “different.” Why couldn’t I have been like other IFB preachers? You know, like Polly’s Dad, Uncle, and cousins? Why couldn’t I have kept the faith? You see, the underlying issue is my unwillingness to hew to IFB belief. We left the IFB church movement years before we deconverted. Polly’s mom was upset with me numerous times during my years in the ministry; upset over decisions such as: me not wearing the IFB preacher uniform (white shirt, tie, and suit), letting Polly wear pants, allowing my children to listen to Christian rock, not preaching from behind a pulpit, not sending my children to a Christian college, removing the name “Baptist” from our church name, using praise and worship music during church services, and not using the KJV when I preached, to name a few. Nothing was as bad, though, as me leaving the ministry in 2005 and Polly and I walking away from Christianity in 2008. I suspect Mom believed that if I were out of the picture, Polly would come running back to Jesus and the family religion. Little did she know how independent her daughter really iwas and how anti-religion she has become. She may not be as vocal as her husband, but Polly has no use for anything associated with organized religion. She is, in every way, her own woman. The days when Bruce, the IFB Patriarch, ruled the home are long gone. Most of all, Mom blamed me for what our children have become. According to her, I  RUINED them! Actually, what I really did was set them free. Each of them is free to be whoever and whatever he or she wants to be. Yes, to a person each has abandoned IFB/Evangelical Christianity, and some don’t believe in gods at all. Yes, they have abandoned the social strictures of their Fundamentalist youth. OMG! They drink beer, cuss, go to movies, watch R-rated programs, and have sex outside of marriage. I can don’t imagine what Mom would have thought had we told her our youngest son is gay. In Mom’s eyes, my children (who are grown-ass adults in their thirties and forties) were “worldly,” and it is all MY fault. I was, after all, in her IFB worldview, the head of the home, even though all my children are out on their own with families, well-paying jobs, and own their homes. Mom might have lamented their worldliness, but I am quite proud of who and what ALL my children have become.

It’s Thanksgiving 2005. We are living in Bryan, Ohio, five miles from where we now live. Polly’s parents came to our home to join us for the day. Mom, as she often did, blew into our home like a tornado, moving furniture and changing meal preparations. It was noticeable to me that Polly was quite stressed by her mom’s behavior. She, however, said nothing. As the day wore on, I became increasingly agitated by Mom’s behavior, so much so that I reminded her that she was a guest in our home and asked her to please STOP micromanaging everything. Well, that went over well. Mom and Dad didn’t stay long that day. A day or so later, Mom called to apologize. During our conversation, she said, “Bruce, we have always accepted you. We knew you were ‘different.'”

Different? Sure, but does that make a bad husband, father, grandfather, or person? Since when is being different a bad thing? My mother had many faults, but she taught me to think for myself and be my own person. I carried her teachings into my life and they continue with me to this day. I refuse to follow the well-trodden path. I refuse to do something just because everyone is doing it. I choose, instead, to walk my own path, even if that means I am walking alone. I realize that Mom went to the grave saddened by what had become of her daughter, her son-in-law, and her grandchildren. Instead of seeing that we were happy and blessed, all Mom could see was our ungodly disobedience and lack of faith. Instead of seeing what awesome children and grandchildren we had, all she saw was their faithlessness and worldliness. Her religion kept her from truly embracing and enjoying our family. In mom’s world, the wash can only be cleaned if the washing machine is set to “normal” and Tide is used for detergent.

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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Short Stories: 1983: Drafty Windows, Bubbly Water, Dead Kittens, and the Christmas from Hell

somerset-baptist-church-somerset-ohio-1983
Storefront meeting place for Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in the southeast Ohio community of Somerset. I rented a storefront, spent a couple of weeks cleaning up and remodeling the space, and then on the second Sunday in July, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were sixteen people in attendance, including Polly and our two youngest children. At the time, we lived half an hour north of Somerset in the lakeside community of Buckeye Lake. I worked for the village as a grant writer, litter control program manager, workfare program manager, and property code enforcement officer. In September of 1983, we moved from Buckeye Lake to New Lexington, ten miles south of Somerset. We didn’t live but a few months in New Lexington, thanks to our rented home having a horrible odor from the previous renter’s animals peeing all through the house. Our landlord replaced the carpet and shellacked the underlying wood floors, but the awful smell remained. In early December, we packed up our meager belongings and moved to a ramshackle farmhouse near Glenford.

Our new home had been moved from Glenford proper to the top of a hill just outside of town. It was an uninsulated, drafty house that had free natural gas for heating. Perry County had a lot of oil/gas wells, including the one that sat behind our house. It was good that the gas was free. Ohio winters can be cold, and the winter of 1983-84 was one such winter. We set the furnace at eighty degrees, running it constantly, just to keep the house warm enough to live in. One of the side effects of having a natural gas well nearby was that our water well was infiltrated by the gas. Drinking water had to sit before use so the gas could dissipate. The gas levels were such that we could light the gas straight out of the kitchen faucet. Fun times. Worse yet, the gas made the water quite hard, so we had to use water-softening agents when we took baths.

The one nice thing about this house was that it had a fairly new basement. It became the inside playground for our two young children and our foster child. Of course, there were things our boys could get into. One day I went to the basement only to find our son Nathan and our foster son JR rolling up papers and sticking them in the standing pilot on the hot water tank so they could set them on fire! (The boys had seen me do the very same thing when lighting the pilot.) One spring day, the boys were playing in the basement when Polly called them up for lunch and a nap. At the time, we had two kittens. The boys had been playing with the kittens and left them in the basement when they came up to eat. Unbeknownst to us, they left them in the cooler and shut the lid. This, of course, killed the kittens.

Christmas 1983 was one we would never forget. My grandparents, John and Ann Tieken, along with my mother, her new husband Michael Monshine, and my sister and her family joined us for Christmas. Polly and I were excited about having my family over for Christmas — our first and only such event. The Tiekens joined us for church that morning, and everyone else arrived early afternoon. It was bitterly cold and snowy, and while driving the five miles to our home from church, the radiator on our car froze up, leaving me stranded. I walked to a nearby house, used their phone, and had someone come and get me. Little did I know that my car radiator freezing was the best thing that would happen to me on that day.

The radiator freezing, of course, elicited a lecture from my grandfather about making sure I had enough antifreeze in the radiator. Grandpa’s lectures, warranted or not, were a “gift” he gave me every time he saw me. Having my mom and the Tiekens in the same room was risky, thanks to past violence, sexual abuse, and Jesus-loves-you judgmental behavior. Grandpa was a mean, judgmental son-of-a-bitch who loved Jesus. Ann was more of a passive-aggressive type of person, but she too could cut you to the quick with her self-righteous judgments. Needless to say, the entire afternoon was filled with tension; so much so that Polly and I were relieved when it was over. I made matters worse by not letting Mom or her husband smoke inside our home. I told them they would have to stand outside on our front porch to smoke. The temperature that day? Nine degrees below zero. This “order,” of course, infuriated my mother. She let it be known that she would NOT come to my house again if she couldn’t smoke inside. She kept her word, killing herself a decade later without ever darkening the door of my home again.

1983 was quite the year for the Gerencser family. We would have many more eventful days in the years ahead. In fact, I suspect if I gave a full and honest reckoning of my life, I would find that EVERY year had life-altering moments. Sure, life is filled with the mundane, but there are those days and moments when the circumstances of life alter our present and transform our future. The eleven years Polly and I and our growing family spent in Somerset fundamentally changed us and laid the groundwork for what one day would result in us leaving the ministry and walking away from Christianity.

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.

Saying Goodbye to Newark, Ohio, and a Lifetime of Heartache

bruce and polly gerencser 1978
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

In the fall of 1976, I met a beautiful, dark-haired seventeen-year-old girl named Polly. We started dating, and before long we were in love. A month or so after we started dating, Polly’s parents, Lee and Bonnie, drove up from their apartment in the central Ohio community of Newark to Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan to visit Polly. Both of us were freshman students. Polly’s dad had graduated a few months earlier and was now the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple. Polly’s uncle, the pastor of the Baptist Temple, was a 1960s Midwestern graduate.

I vividly remember meeting Polly’s parents that fall day. Lee was cordial and friendly. Bonnie was standoffish, leaving me with the impression that she didn’t like me. Contrast my first experience with Polly’s mom and that of Polly meeting my mom and sister for the first time in the spring of 1978. Polly was met with love and acceptance and more than a few questions about whether she knew what she was getting into marrying Butch. (Polly would not meet my father until the day of our wedding).

On Valentine’s Day in 1977, Polly and I got engaged. I bought her a 1/4-carat diamond ring from Sears and Roebuck for $225. We set a July 15, 1978 date for our wedding at the Baptist Temple, officiated by Polly’s uncle and dad.

Over the next seventeen months, Polly’s mom went out of her way to make me feel unwelcome and unwanted. During holidays and summers, I would drive 4-6 hours to Newark to visit Polly. One summer, I lived in Bryan, working two full-time factory jobs. I would then get in my car early on Saturday and drive four hours south to see Polly. Late in the evening, I would return home. Polly pleaded with her mom (who wore the pants in the family) to let me spend the night, but to no avail. I was so tired when I left Newark that it was impossible for me to drive all the way home without spending several hours sleeping at a rest stop or along the berm of a highway. On several occasions, Ohio State Highway Patrolmen stopped, thinking my car was abandoned. On another occasion, I was stopped outside of Delaware for weaving due to being so tired.

On Valentine’s Day in 1978, Polly’s mom and dad came to visit her again. By then, we already had our wedding plans in place. Both of us were excitedly looking forward to our big day. During their visit, Polly’s mom told her that they (she) were forbidding her to marry me. Why? My parents were divorced, and divorce is hereditary, so Polly couldn’t marry me lest she ended up divorced. Left unsaid was the real reason for not allowing Polly to marry me: Bonnie didn’t like me. She thought Polly could do better than marrying a lowly boy such as I.

After Polly’s parents returned to Newark, we talked about eloping. We came a “let’s do it” away from jumping in my car, leaving college (eloping was cause for immediate expulsion), and getting married. Cooler heads prevailed. Polly called her mom and told her that with or without their (her) blessing we were getting married. This would be the first time that Polly ever stood up to her mom (who could be a passive-aggressive bully). Polly’s mom relented and the wedding was on. What didn’t change was Bonnie’s dislike of me as a person.

The weekend before our wedding, Polly and I drove out to Dawe’s Arboretum for some alone time. Boy, did we need it. Polly was told she had to be back home at a certain time. We lost track of time and arrived back home late. Here we were nineteen and twenty-one, a week away from getting married, and Bonnie lit into us like we were schoolchildren. Of course, what she was worried about is whether we had been fornicating. We said nothing and got ready for church.

Polly and I have been married for almost forty-five years. We have six wonderful children and thirteen grandchildren. (Bonnie refused to claim two of our grandchildren, saying they weren’t “blood.”) We have built a good life together. It’s not been easy. We have faced all sorts of trials and adversity, yet our love for one another has endured.

One constant in our marriage has been Bonnie’s disapproval. No matter what we did, where we lived, what church I pastored, or how we raised our children, Polly’s mom disapproved. This got worse after we left Christianity in 2008. Bonnie blamed me for ruining her daughter and grandchildren, even though she never had a meaningful conversation with us about why we deconverted. For the past fifteen years, the proverbial elephant in the middle of the room got bigger and bigger, so much so that we found it impossible to have a meaningful relationship with Polly’s mom. (Polly’s dad died in November 2020.)

For the past decade, Polly dutifully called her mom every Sunday at 9:00 pm. They would talk for exactly one hour. Bonnie was insistent that they talk for a least one hour, even when they had nothing to talk about. Out of love and duty, Polly called, even though on some Sundays it took a bit of push from me for her to do so. Why? She was estranged from her mom. Their relationship was strained, with Bonnie causing untold hurt and harm to her ever-faithful daughter with her passive-aggressive, at times, mean-spirited comments and judgments. To the end, we never measured up and I was to blame for everything.

bonnie shope obituary

Bonnie died on Tuesday at the age of eighty-seven. Her obituary speaks of the fact that she was a devoted follower of Jesus, a fifty-year (actually forty-six) member of the Newark Baptist Temple. In lieu of flowers, Bonnie asked that people make donations to her church’s missions fund.

The obituary spoke of her love for family. Which family? Her church family? Polly’s sister’s family? Bonnie’s sister’s family? Certainly not the Gerencsers. Oh, she “loved” us in the way disapproving mothers and grandmothers do. A begrudging love that wished we had worshipped the right God and lived our lives the IFB-approved way. Her love for my family was different from that of her love for her family in Newark. You see, they are all Christians. Some of them even attend the Baptist Temple. The Gerencsers? We are a bunch of mutts, beer-swilling, HBO-watching heathens who love to curse. We have forsaken the tribal God, choosing to live “worldly” lives.

We were legally responsible for Polly’s mom’s legal affairs until a few months ago. By then, she had moved in with our nephew and niece, both of whom attend the Baptist Temple. Two months ago, we went to Newark to visit Bonnie, knowing that her time was short. We had a delightful visit, until the last few minutes. As we were getting up to leave, Bonnie let us know that she no longer wanted us to care for her affairs; that she wanted our nephew and niece to take care of things. A few days later, our niece was placed on Bonnie’s bank accounts. After Bonnie died, we also learned that she had called the funeral home and told them she didn’t want us to have anything to do with her funeral. Why would she do these things?

Religion.

In particular, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christianity.

Bonnie was an IFB member her entire life. Her husband was an IFB pastor. Bonnie bought into every aspect of the “one true faith.” She viewed everything through IFB glasses. As long as Polly and I were IFB, she grudgingly accepted that I was a God-called preacher. Once we left the IFB fold, our relationship with her became more strained. And once we left Christianity altogether? We crossed a line that brought tension-filled relationships, hurt feelings, and harsh words. Both Polly and I tried to maintain a good relationship with Bonnie, but over time it became harder and harder to do so. Eventually, our relationship devolved into one where you see relatives a few times a year and go on with your lives until the next holiday.

Bonnie devoted her time and money to her church and what would be called in our neck of the woods her real family: her church, Polly’s sister’s children and grandchildren (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005), and her sister’s family, the Dennises. Certainly, proximity played a part. The Gerencsers lived four hours away. Everyone else lived around the corner.

Mom paid little to no attention to our grandchildren, while at the same time giving gifts and money to her “real” family. Sure, there were the proverbial gifts at Christmas, but birthdays, graduations, and other significant events were rarely acknowledged. Lee and Bonnie came to visit from time to time and we did the same, but our relationship was not what it could or should have been. I can think of no other reason for this except religion.

Recent events have hurt Polly beyond measure. She’s resilient, but her mom’s rejection of her and forty-five years of disapproval and harsh judgment have caused untold harm. Tomorrow, we will drive to Newark and spend the night at the Hampton Inn in preparation for the funeral on Saturday at 10:00 am. We will not attend the viewing — sorry we cannot handle two hours of Bonnie’s church friends. We want to avoid interaction with people as much as possible, especially our nephew who called awhile back and screamed at me for twenty minutes (I finally hung up on him), calling me names, disparaging my family, and threatening me with physical violence. But, hey, he loves Jesus. [He apologized at the funeral. I appreciate him doing so.]

We will attend the funeral at the church. I am not sure why we are going to do so. Bonnie is dead, we hate the church, and despise its pastor. I suppose we will go for the sake of our children. They don’t have the same baggage with the church (or Bonnie) as we do. We know what to expect. Five minutes of talk about the deceased and fifty-five minutes of Jesus. ‘Tis the way IFB churches do things. Bonnie’s pastor has already asked the church to pray for Mrs. Shope’s unsaved loved ones. The “Gerencsers” are those unsaved loved ones. The rest of the family in attendance is “saved.” We will be the targets of evangelization. It would be what Mrs. Shope would want, right?

Polly and I are left with what to make of our relationship with her mom. Both of us loved her, but what are we to make of our strained relationship; the disapproval; the harsh words, and judgment? We can’t unring the bell, so to speak, so we are left with thoughts of what might have been. If only Bonnie could have loved me as I am and loved us as we are, how different our relationship might have been. Instead, we are left with a fractured relationship, one that is now too late to repair.

We will quietly say our goodbyes on Saturday, lamenting all that has been lost thanks to Fundamentalist Christianity. And when we get in our car to return home, we will raise in the rearview mirror a middle finger salute to Newark and the Baptist Temple, glad that we will never, ever make the trek to Newark again. Nothing remains for us. Even the money that was supposed to go to Polly has been partially spent, and it wouldn’t surprise us if the rest of it ended up in other pockets or the church’s coffers. One more time for Mom to show who and what she really loves.

Note: Polly read this post beforehand and approves of what I wrote.

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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.

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.

Why I Hate Talking on the Telephone

talking on the telephone

People who know me well think of me as a conundrum of sorts; a mixture of behaviors that don’t normally fit together. For example, I was a preacher for twenty-five years. I preached thousands of sermons to thousands of people. You would think, then, that I love crowds. Actually, I don’t. I prefer small groups of people, and I usually try to blend in instead of being the life of the party. I would much rather spend a quiet evening with the love of my life than attend a concert or sporting event where I feel as if I am a sardine. Some of my children love Black Friday and other people-crammed shopping events. Not me. I am quite temperamental, and repeatedly being assaulted while shopping usually ends with me having homicidal thoughts. Amazon, then, was created for someone just like me. I can sit in my recliner wearing shorts and a robe, and shop to my heart’s content. No muss, no fuss; no bumps, no thumps. Click, click, click, done; all without having to resort to using mindfulness techniques to calm myself down.

I love the privacy my home affords me. Friends and family know that I do not like unannounced visitors. Want to stop by? Make an appointment. My children know that I don’t like them stopping in as they are passing through town. By all means, mow the grass, rake the leaves, or shovel the walks. Just don’t knock on the door. I see many of my children and grandchildren weekly, but it is always at pre-planned events such as dinner, parties, or ballgames. Rarely does a week go by that at least one of them isn’t at our home to visit and eat their mother’s cooking. Again, these lunch or dinner appointments are scheduled ahead of time. It’s not that I can’t do things spontaneously, I can. However, I much prefer living life by the calendar. I am a big Google Calendar fan. Every upcoming appointment, party, and event has an entry.

This brings me to the telephone. I HATE talking on the telephone. Over the past decade, countless readers of this blog have asked if they could call me. Unlike yours truly, they prefer to communicate via phone. I always decline. The greatest inventions of the internet era are email and text messaging. They are perfect for someone with my aversion to talking on the phone. Tell me what you want and I will then answer in as few words as possible. I will, on occasion, engage in longer discussions via text with close friends of mine, but I prefer short and sweet; yes or no; on time or late; Moose Tracks or Neapolitan, to War and Peace-sized text conversations.

My hatred for talking on the phone finds its nexus in my preaching days. Long before email and texting, there were rotary (and later push button) dial telephones. For a pastor, having a phone meant that he was on-call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There were days when I would be gone until late in the evening, only to arrive home and be greeted with numerous phone calls I had to return. Rarely were these calls of any great importance. Most calls were from congregants who either wanted advice or just wanted someone to talk to. I preferred they make an appointment to see me at the office, but, hey, I’m sure the preacher won’t mind if I call him at 10:00 P.M. after he has worked a twelve-hour day, is how many church members thought of the matter.

As thoughtful pastors are wont to do, I chose to put the wants and needs of congregants before my own. No matter how tired I was or what I had planned, if Sister Billy Jo or Brother Billy Bob called, I accepted their calls and politely listened to whatever it was they had to say. Some of these conversations would go on for an hour or more, and on more than one occasion my wife had to nudge me because I was starting to fall asleep.

You might be wondering, Bruce, why didn’t you just tell them you had to go? Good question. The short answer is that I never could bring myself to inconvenience people or make them feel as if they were a bother. I had colleagues in the ministry who refused to accept calls at home from church members. I had other pastor friends who had no problem with cutting off long-winded callers, even going so far as to lie if needed to get off the phone. Unfortunately, I never could do so. Thus, decades of listening to droning phone calls have developed into a hatred for telephone conversation And I suspect my desire to be left alone stems from the constant stream of church members stopping by my home and office unannounced so they could share with me their latest greatest burden, complaint, or prayer request.

If I had to trace all of this back to its source, I imagine the blame would lie at the feet of my obsessive-compulsive personality. Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) plays a prominent part in the day-to-day rhythm of my life. I desire and crave order. I like to be in control. My children heard me say to them countless times growing up: everything has a place. Forty-four years of marriage and a hell of a lot of marital squabbles have taught me that not everyone can or wants to live their lives as I do. I had to learn that it is okay for people to be different from me; that it is okay for people to be disordered and cluttery; that it is okay for people to fly by the seat of their pants. I also had to learn that it is okay for me to be the way I am as long as I don’t demand others conform to my way of life.  My relationships with family and friends are much better now that I have stopped trying to straighten everyone’s crooked pictures. All of us are who we are. For me, that means not liking to talk on the telephone. If I didn’t need a cell phone for medical emergencies, I wouldn’t have one. Send me a text or an email, if you must, but please don’t call; that is unless you want to give me a large sum of cash.  Why, for money I’ll do almost anything, including talking on the phone. 🙂

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.

Listen to My Interview on the Q-Dropped Podcast, Hosted by Courtney Simmonds

podcasting

Recently, I was interviewed by Courtney Simmonds for the inaugural episode of the Q-Dropped Podcast. The Q-Dropped Podcast focuses on:

telling the stories of families that have been torn apart by the Qanon cult and Qanon-adjacent ideas. Most of us know someone who has been affected by the deeply concerning beliefs of Qanon adherents. Many of us have had rifts form between us and people we care about. Unfortunately, however, not many of us are talking about the toll Qanon is having on average, everyday families in countries all over the world. This podcast aims to raise awareness about this issue by telling the stories of people who have lost someone they care about to Qanon.

Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Video Link

Listen to the podcast on Apple, Spotify, and other podcast providers.

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.

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

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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!

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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