Life

Sunday Night Hymn-Sing

hymn sing

I spent the first fifty years of my life faithfully attending Christian churches. In the mid-1970s, I enrolled in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. I think I can safely say that Christianity has made a deep imprint on my life — good and bad.

Many of my posts deal with the negative aspects of Evangelical Christianity. Inherently Fundamentalist, Evangelicalism causes untold pain, suffering, and dysfunction. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) It will be a good day when a future generation of freethinkers finally suffocates the life out of Evangelicalism. Already in the early stages of death, there is coming a day when the Fundamentalism many of us knew so well will no longer exist. Not today, not tomorrow, nor a year from now, but the signs are clear — at least to me — that Evangelicalism is rotting at its core and will one day tumble to the ground. All praise be to Loki!

This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t have many fond memories of the time I spent attending and pastoring Evangelical churches. In fact, my good memories far outnumber the bad ones. I found the work of the ministry quite satisfying. I suspect this is due to the fact that I enjoy helping people. In another life, I might have been a social worker, aid worker, or done some other work that put me in close contact with needy people. I am what you might call a fixer — someone who loves taking on rehab projects. Unfortunately, this impulse led me to take on several broken, dysfunctional churches that didn’t deserve my labors. The best thing that could have happened to these churches — here’s looking at you, Victory Baptist — is that they died a quick death. They didn’t deserve to have me as their pastor. While I would like to think that I have gotten smarter over the years, truth be told, I am still attracted to helping others, even when it is not in my best interest.

Being a pastor gave me opportunities to be around likeminded people. I thoroughly enjoyed communal events. One such event was Sunday Night Hymn Sings. Several times a year, I would schedule a night where all we did was sing. No preaching, just singing. There was no agenda, no program. I would take song requests from congregants. If the pianist couldn’t play a song, we would sing it acapella. Sometimes, only the men would sing, or the women. Sunday Night Hymn Sings were always a highlight of the year.

I can read music, and there was a day when I had what others called a golden tenor voice. Unfortunately, years of preaching and throat infections ruined my voice. It saddens me to think that my grandchildren will never hear me sing, never listen to Grandpa and Nana sing a duet (Polly was a member of a traveling music group during our Midwestern days). Such is life.

Last week, I was listening to some Southern Gospel music on YouTube. One of the songs was a thirty-minute recording of a Baptist hymn sing. Oh my, the memories that came flooding back to me. As tears filled my eyes, ruined voice or not, I sang along with the church and its music leader. I have mentioned before how connected I still am to the religious music of my past. While I don’t believe its lyrical content, there’s something about the music itself that elicits deep emotional feelings from me. I suspect I am not alone in having such feelings. Ironically, Polly HATES religious music — apart from Christmas music. She’s even gone as far as to ask me NOT to play hymns, Southern Gospel, and Contemporary Christian music while she’s home. Some readers might be surprised to know that many of my posts are written while Christian music is playing in the background. Not today. I am in a The Band Perry, Dixie Chicks, and Shania Twain mood.

Our Sunday Night Hymn Sings would last anywhere from ninety minutes to two hours. We would sing, and keep on singing until congregants stopped offering up requests. I found these sings to be emotionally — and at the time, spiritually — satisfying. There’s something about music that reaches deep into our beings. I can’t explain it, I just know that music is an essential part of my existence. If I had to name several things I miss from my Christian days, one thing would be hymn sings — especially those from my days as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in southeast Ohio. (The building was built in 1831, with oak floors and a 25-foot ceiling peak. The acoustics were phenomenal.)

Did the churches you grew up in have hymn sings? If you are an Evangelical-turned-atheist/agnostic/humanist/Pastafarian, do you miss the music? Do you miss belting out What a Friend We Have in Jesus or Amazing Grace? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Good and Bad of Midwestern Baptist College

polly shope bruce gerencser 1977

Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser, February 1977, Midwestern Baptist College Sweetheart Banquet

Recently, a man named Steven Tassell left the following comment:

I attended Midwestern from 1973-1979

I had my problems however I’m not trying to destroy anyone. If you had a problem with sex at school that was on you. I was a chaplin [sic] for USAF, taught school at Fort Knox and I’m a pastor with my Doctorate in counseling. So instead of telling the bad because any school has that tell the good.

Polly and I attended Midwestern Baptist College from 1976-1979. Polly’s father attended the college from 1972-1976. None of us knows a Steven Tassell. Now, that doesn’t mean he didn’t attend Midwestern. There were a number of married students who attended the college that neither Polly or I personally knew. We were dorm students for two years, marrying during the summer between our sophomore and junior years.

I attempted a cursory search on Tassell’s name. That, too, returned very little information, save a dated church listing, several funeral listings, and a Linkedin profile for a Steven Tassell who attended Midwestern, Faith Baptist College, and is currently a support supervisor at a Walmart Tire and Lube. I am uncertain as to why Tassell felt the need to recite his “important” work history, especially since it bears no relevance to the post he commented on. Tassell says he had a “Doctorate” in counseling. As readers know, most Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers sporting doctorates either “earned” them at unaccredited schools or through online classes, or were given an honorary degree. (Please see IFB Doctorates: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Everyone’s a Doctor) I have no idea if Tassell’s doctorate was earned at an accredited institution. My gut tells me no.

Now, to Tassell’s comment. In classic passive-aggressive fashion, Tassell stated, “I had my problems, however I’m not trying to destroy anyone.” He, too, had “problems” while attending Midwestern, but unlike Bruce, the atheist, he’s not trying to destroy anyone. I find it interesting that, according to Tassell, by telling my story and sharing my experiences as a student at Midwestern, I am trying to destroy people. Tassell suggests that I not speak of the bad things that happened at Midwestern and only speak of the good that I saw and experienced. That I refuse to only tell half the story makes me, in Tassell’s eyes, a bad person. How dare I speak poorly of the college, Dr. Tom Malone, my professors, or my fellow students. Just tell GOOD stories, Bruce! Sorry, but I can’t do that. I decided twelve years ago to be an honest, open, transparent storyteller. If that meant casting a bad light of myself and others, so be it. How can readers ever understand my experiences at Midwestern if I only tell them the good stuff? Honesty demands telling the truth, as best I remember it.

I have many fond memories of the three years I spent at Midwestern. Dorm life, even at an IFB college, was a blast!  I will never forget the fun, crazy times I shared with my fellow dorm students. Three weeks after moving into the dorm, I asked a preacher’s daughter named Polly if she wanted to go out on a date with me. She said yes, and forty-three years later, we are still going on dates, loving one another’s company, and roundly irritating the Hell out of each other. Ah, marital bliss.

I could spend hours sharing stories about the good times I experienced at Midwestern. Doing so, of course, would make Tassell happy. Just focus on the positive. Unfortunately, the bad experiences left an indelible impression on my life and that of my wife. For the first time, we saw the ugly, nasty, judgmental underbelly of the IFB church movement. Should I ignore the gay teacher who groomed younger male dorm students? Should I ignore the affair between the wife of the dean of men and a teacher? Should I ignore the rampant illicit sexual activity by dorm students; people who are now pompous, arrogant moralizers? Should I ignore the oppressive rules and repressive disciplinary system? Should I ignore the weak academics and unqualified teachers? Should I ignore the teacher who taught an IFB form of eugenics? Should I ignore the racism of one of the church’s pastors? (All dorm students had to attend nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church, pastored by Tom Malone.) Should I ignore the fact that Tom’s Malone’s wife and children violated the rules the rest of us were expected to obey, under threat of expulsion? Should I ignore being forced to quit a well-paying job, all because the business owner and Tom Malone had a falling out? Should I ignore . . .  You see, it takes the good and the bad to tell a complete story. And as long as I continue to tell my story, I intend to look at the entire structure, and not just the facade that gives readers a false picture of my life, Midwestern Baptist College, and the IFB church movement. That’s the prerogative of the storyteller.

(Please see other posts about Midwestern Baptist College)

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce’s Food Eccentricities

expiration date

This is not a post about food in general, dieting, or the future of the world food supply. I certainly have opinions on all of the subjects, but in this post, I want to share a list of a few of my eccentricities when it comes to food and drink. Enjoy

Ice Cream

I love ice cream. When I want seconds, I always have to have a new bowl and spoon.

Expiration Dates

I treat expiration dates as if they are etched in stone. Yes, I know many expiration dates are “best if used by” dates. It doesn’t matter. Out the item goes on its expiration date.

Leftovers

All leftovers must be eaten within seventy-two hours. Out they go, regardless of freshness.

Eating Food Made by Others at Church Potlucks

I pastored Baptist churches. Baptists are known for their love of potlucks — where individual church members bring a dish to share with everyone. As a pastor, I visited church families at their homes several times a year. This allowed me to develop personal relationships with them outside of a church setting. Of course, this also exposed me to how they lived — including how clean they kept their homes. I have seen more than a few homes posing as landfills. Filth everywhere. Over time, I developed a phobia about eating food cooked by anyone except Polly. I just couldn’t bring myself to eat so-and-so’s food, knowing the condition of their kitchens.

I passed this phobia on to my oldest two sons. They hate potlucks.

Drinking After Others

I don’t drink after other people — ever. I dated Polly for two years before we were married. I have known her for forty-three years. We have swapped a lot of spit, but I have never, ever drank after her. Not one time. The same goes for my children, grandchildren, siblings, and parents. I would die of thirst before I would drink after someone else.

Eating One Food Item at a Time

Generally, I eat my food one item at a time. Every once in a blue moon — say at a steak joint — I will only eat part of my baked potato before moving on to my steak.

Cleaning the Table at a Restaurant

I always stack up all the dishes and clean the table before we leave. I don’t want the server to think we are pigs.

Bread Balls

On occasion, I will take two or three pieces of cheap white bread and mash them into a ball and eat it. The first time Polly saw me do this, forty-something years ago, she thought I was nuts. She should have followed her gut instinct and run.

Lukewarm Food

I like my food either cold or hot. I refuse to eat lukewarm food, be it at a restaurant or at home. Thanks be to Loki for microwaves.

Cheap Hotdogs

I rarely will eat cheap hotdogs. I know how hot dogs are made; what cuts of meat are used. Something that sells for $1 a pound can’t be good. Well, unless it’s a fried corn dog. The batter turns the hot dog into a sirloin steak.

Beggar Cats and Dogs

We have a cat and a dog. Both of them are twelve or so years old. They have been part of our family for over a decade. Much to Polly’s consternation, I give both of them table scraps. They have turned into vultures who sit at my feet, waiting for me to give them food.

Thirty-Eight and Zero

Our refrigerator and freezer have thermometers that are regularly monitored by yours truly. The fridge is kept at exactly thirty-eight degrees. Not thirty-six or forty — exactly thirty-eight. The freezer is kept at zero at all times. We plan to buy a new freezer sometime next year. Our current one is twelve years old and is manual defrost. Who is the dumbass who bought a MANUAL defrost freezer? The freezer has to be unloaded and manually defrosted every two to three months, depending on the weather. On the bucket list: new auto defrost freezer.

Do you have food-related peculiarities or habits? Please share them in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce, You are a Liar

garfield liarLet me say from the start: I have, on occasion, lied. I am human, so it really would be a lie for me to say that I have never stretched the “truth,” told little white lies, whoppers, or an occasional big, fat black lie. (Why is it that black is the color always used for the really bad things in life?) I have lied on purpose, by accident, and told a few stories that were exaggerations I am sixty-two years old, and having lived on planet earth for 22,720 days, is it any surprise that I have told a lie or two or three hundred? Of course not. No one reaches the sunset years of life — including born-again Christians — without telling a few lies. That said, I rarely lie. In my day-to-day relationships with my wife, children, grandchildren, and my fellow homo sapiens, I do my best to be truthful and honest. I expect the same from others.

Over the years, I have developed skills that help me detect when someone is lying to me; when they are spinning a yarn; when they are regaling me with Grade-A bullshit. With family, I am pretty good at reading their body language. Polly, in particular, is not a very good liar. I can usually spot her untruths from a mile away. Me? I am not a very good liar, either. That’s why we rarely lie to each other. Oh, we might color the “facts” to present a certain narrative to each other, but generally we are plainspoken.

Now that I have that out of the way, let me address the Evangelicals who think anything I say that doesn’t fit within their narrow, defined theological and cultural box must be a lie. When it comes to telling my story, I try to be a truthful, honest storyteller. Granted, I don’t tell readers e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. I have secrets; things I have never told anyone, including Polly and my counselor. No, I haven’t murdered anyone, molested children, or robbed a bank, but I have done embarrassing things in my life that I am not comfortable with sharing with others. That said, I do my best to be an open book; transparent and honest. Thus, it irritates the Hell out of me when Evangelicals question, doubt, and deconstruct everything I write. Instead of accepting what I say at face value, zealots are Heaven-bent on stripping my story bare and exposing me as some sort of charlatan or deceiver.

Several years ago, one Evangelical preacher told anyone who would listen that I had NEVER been a pastor; that he had talked to someone who lived in rural northwest Ohio during the time I was pastoring churches, and that person had never heard of me! In his mind, that meant I was a liar; that I had never been a pastor. I have had more than a few pastors attempt to discredit me, telling people that I was a liar. At first, such accusations bothered me, but not any longer. I have learned that two people can look at the same events and circumstances and come to different conclusions. My siblings and I have different views of our childhood. Sometimes, I wonder if we are even related!  People can see things from different perspectives, and this colors their understanding. I am sure that can be said of the people I pastored over the years. Congregants who loved/liked me generally spoke well of me. Those who hated me or really, really, really disliked me tended to say negative things about me. I’m sure it’s hard to believe, but I know several former parishioners who would accelerate, hoping to run me over, if they say saw me in a crosswalk. Such is life, right? I used to care incessantly about what people thought of me. Today? Not so much. If being a public writer has taught me anything, it has taught me that I can’t please everyone. Read my writing long enough, and you are sure to see something that will piss you off.

I have concluded that Evangelicals who call me a liar do so because it allows them to dismiss my story out of hand. What better way to not have to deal with the truth, than to attack the messenger and discredit him? There’s nothing I can do to stop people from attacking my character. That said, one fact remains: thousands of people read this blog, and that suggests to me, at least that many readers think my story is true and helpful. And that’s good enough for me.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Life with a Down Syndrome Child

bethany 2019

Bethany, July 2019

Several days ago, Polly and I, along with our 30-year-old daughter Bethany, were slowly traversing the aisles at the Defiance Meijer. As we walked down one aisle, a woman in her early 30s hesitantly said to us, “I don’t want to offend you. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” I said, “sure,” not knowing exactly what the woman wanted to ask. She replied, “I have a year-old daughter with Down syndrome. I see you have a child with it, and I have some questions.”

This is not the first time someone has stopped us in a store to ask us questions about Bethany. We have never thought such inquiries to be intrusive. We vividly remember when Bethany was a toddler and all the questions we had about Down syndrome. This was before the Internet/Netscape/AOL/Google, so information was hard to come by. We, of course, asked our primary care doctor, Bill Fiorini, a lot of questions, and availed ourselves to whatever books on Down syndrome were available from the local public library. Over the years, we have continued to educate ourselves about Down syndrome.

The woman proudly showed us a picture of her beautiful redhead girl. She asked, “how old was your daughter before she walked?” Polly replied, “seventeen months.” The woman said, ” I am in several Down syndrome support groups, and several people told me that I shouldn’t expect my daughter to walk until she was seven or eight.” I could see the pain in this mother’s eyes, pondering what the future might hold for both her and her daughter. I proceeded to tell her what I have told numerous questioning parents about living with a Down syndrome child:

  • Children who have Down syndrome vary greatly one from the other. On a scale of 1-10, one being the Downs children you see on TV who can read and write, drive cars, and marry, and ten being the children who are so severely disabled that they require fulltime institutional care; every child is different.  Be honest about where your child falls on this scale.
  • Support groups and the opinions of friends and relatives are often unhelpful and can be harmful. Listen to what medical professionals tell you, and follow the course of treatment prescribed by them.
  • Educate yourself about Down syndrome. Sometimes, medical professionals and social workers can suggest or demand things that are not in the best interest of your child. Bethany was born in the 1980s in rural Perry County — one of the poorest areas in Ohio. At the time, children with developmental disabilities were warehoused at a “special” school. Polly and I took one look at what was going on at the school and said, “our child will NEVER go to this school!” I told the social worker, “all I see is retarded children learning to be more retarded.” Harsh? Sure, but that’s what I saw at the time. (I never considered that they might have been doing the best they could with limited financial resources.) Every child with Down syndrome was running around slobbering with their tongues hanging out. Whatever our motivations might have been at the time, we wanted a better life for our daughter.
  • Push your child. If you have older children, get them involved in helping your child grow physically and mentally. Having three older and two younger siblings really helped our daughter. We will forever be grateful for their help and support.
  • Don’t baby your child. There’s a tendency to coddle a child with Down syndrome. You don’t want to see her hurt, so you become an overly protective parent. Doing so actually impedes the child’s developmental advancement. When Bethany was born, doctors missed the fact that she had Down syndrome. Her features are quite mild. Bethany was two years old before we learned through genetic testing at Ohio State University that she had Down syndrome. Bethany benefitted from this lapse in diagnosis. Her parents and siblings treated her as they would any other child. It wasn’t until she was sixteen months old that we began to wonder if something was “wrong” with her.
gerencser-children

Our three youngest children, late 1980s. As you can see our youngest daughter is as tall as Bethany. Many people thought they were twins. It didn’t help matters that they both had red hair, and we often clothed them with matching dresses.

The woman asked us if Bethany had any health problems. We told her yes, and then recited the list of health problems she has had over the years. I reminded the woman that health ailments vary from child to child. Bethany has few health problems when compared to other people with Down syndrome: heart murmur, hyperthyroidism, an obsession with Rascal Flatts and vampires. Bethany has had surgery several times, including the removal of cataracts from both eyes. We went on to tell the woman all the things Bethany learned to do. Yes, later than when children typically learn things such as riding a bike, BUT she did successfully learn to do many of skills children typically conquer. It was an exciting day at the Gerencser home when Bethany — at age ten — finally learned to ride her bike without training wheels.

We could see the young woman’s demeanor lighten as she talked with us. We were glad that we could be of some help to her. Before we walked away, the woman shared a story about running into a “friend” at Walmart. The friend looked at her daughter and said, “you know, you can get an abortion for that now.” I thought, “OMG, I would have eviscerated her “friend” for daring to utter such stupidity.” Yes, many women have abortions once they find out that their child has the chromosome 21 abnormality. I would never fault them for having an abortion. I know that no test can show a woman to what degree her fetus will be affected by Down syndrome. Many women don’t want to take the risk of having a child who is severely disabled. That said, this woman’s child is already born. A real friend would support her and ask if there was anything she could do to help.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Fifteen Things I Learned as a Young Married Man

bruce polly gerencser wedding 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, July 1978, with Bruce’s mom and dad

What follows are fifteen things I learned as a young married man. Polly and I married in July, 1978. We recently celebrated our forty-first wedding anniversary. What were some of the lessons you learned as a young married person? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

  1. Love doesn’t pay the bills.
  2. If you put gas in your car, it won’t run out.
  3. The balder the tire, the more you will need to use your car jack.
  4. A spare tire is of no use if it’s flat.
  5. You will have to teach your wife to drive a stick shift, check the oil, start the car with a screwdriver, and change a flat tire.
  6. Children change everything.
  7. If you pay the light bill, you will always have electricity.
  8. Living across the street from your in-laws is not a good idea.
  9. It is not a good idea to quit your job before you have found a new one.
  10. Having sex in a car is not as much fun as the movies say it is.
  11. Driving too fast is a sure way to get speeding tickets — lots of them.
  12. If you write a check with no money in the bank, it’s going to cost you.
  13. Guinea pigs, hamsters, and gerbils die.
  14. It’s a miracle any couple stays married.
  15. Giving substantial sums of money to the church is not a good idea when you can’t pay your bills. Contrary to what preachers say, Jesus will not provide.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

What is Life?

life

I recently celebrated my sixty-second birthday. Next month, I will draw my first Social Security check. The following month, my wife and I will celebrate our forty-first wedding anniversary. And early next year, grandchild number thirteen will arrive on the scene. I am now, without question, an old man, a cranky curmudgeon. I have seen a few things and experienced a lot of this thing we humans call life. As I comb through my past, I have come to the conclusion that life is the sum of our choices, held together by the mortar of luck and circumstance. As I carefully examine my life, I can see how certain decisions I made in the past materially affect my life today. For example, as a married, full-of-life, physically fit young preacher, I decided to opt out of Social Security. For the next seventeen years, I paid no social security/Medicare taxes on my ministry-related income. I leveraged the clergy housing allowance and other legal tax avoidance schemes in such a way that I often ended up showing no personal income on my tax return and paid zero taxes for the year. This went on for years. Not bad, right? My motivation was simple: as a die-hard right-wing Republican, I believed that the government didn’t deserve my money. In my mind, the less money local, state, and federal agencies had, the better. I thought, at the time, “Why should I pay real estate taxes? My children attend a private Christian school or are homeschooled. Why should I pay for the world’s children to be educated?”  When I bought automobiles, I purchased them through the church, thus avoiding paying sales tax. I expensed everything I could, with the goal in mind that I was economically starving the government.

In the late 1990s, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized, for the first time, that I was one day going to be where I am now, and that I would need some sort of retirement income. I also started having niggling health problems, and in 1997, after months and months of unexplained fatigue and pain, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. At that moment, Bruce-with-a-big-S-on-his-chest learned that he was not invincible; that life was a kryptonite of sorts that will, in the end, lead to my demise.

I opted back into Social Security and started paying taxes again, but this was too little too late. Fortunately, over the course of my work career — from age fourteen to today — I worked numerous “secular” jobs:

janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, workfare/court offender program manager, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for an auditor’s office, farm worker, auto mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories

These jobs provided enough work quarters for me to qualify for a nominal monthly social security payment of about $700. While this is not a large amount of money, retirement-wise, it will make a meaningful difference for us. Neither of my parents lived long enough to collect social security, so I have outlived them and will win the prize. Woo-hoo! However, I can’t help but think about how much better off I would be as a disabled, retired man had I paid social security/Medicare taxes on my ministerial income. The difference would be significant, but due to a singular decision made long before I ever had a thought about getting old, I am forced to live with the consequences of that decision.

I always made more money working secular jobs than I did working for God. The most I ever made income-wise as a pastor was $24,000. Most years, I made $8,000-$20,000 (including housing) pastoring churches. If it hadn’t been for secular work, government assistance, and Medicaid insurance, we would have been destitute. As it was, we were dirt poor for most of the years I spent in the ministry. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that things improved for us. Polly started working for Sauder Woodworking (she just celebrated her twentieth anniversary there) and our oldest sons started working jobs of their own.

It’s unfortunate, though, that I had decided as a young husband and young father to let “God” take care of our wants and needs. As anyone who has ever done this has learned, “God” loves keeping his followers in the poor house. Why, if “God” had backed up a Brink’s truck to our home and unloaded some of the “treasure” he supposedly has, we wouldn’t have “needed” him any longer. So, “God” kept us on our knees, ever begging for divine assistance. I sincerely believed that “God” would meet our needs and even throw in a few wants from time to time, so I accepted that our poverty was God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will for our lives (Romans 12:1,2). (Of course, I never asked Polly or our children what they thought of this arrangement I had with God. I was the family patriarch. End of discussion.) I wonder how different our lives might have been had I put the financial and material welfare of my wife and children first; had I built a career managing restaurants or working in government alongside my work as a pastor? Would we have been better off? Probably. But, who really knows for sure?

Have you ever thought about certain decisions you have made in your life and wondered how things might have turned out differently? I call this the what-if or would-of, could-of, should-of game. While we like to think that life would have been different if we had only made this or that decision, there are too many variables for us to know for sure how things might have turned out. For example, at age eighteen, I was madly in love with a twenty-year-old college girl named Anita Farr. For much of 1975, we had a torrid relationship — as no-sex-before-marriage Baptist relationships went, anyway. I was sure she was the one. However, our relationship didn’t last, and in late ’75, I packed up my meager belongings, hopped a Greyhound bus, and returned to Ohio. As I look back at this time in my life, I see two people who had similar personalities and dispositions. Both of us were quite outgoing, personable, and temperamental. I told Polly a while back, as we were talking about past choices, “If I had married Anita, one of us would have murdered the other and ended up in prison.” Our relationship was very much one of a lit match and gasoline. A year later, I enrolled in ministerial classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. My game plan, girl-wise, was to play the field. I thought at the time, “what a blessing from God, a dormitory filled with fine Baptist women!” Sure enough, I started dating a girl by the name of Peggie. After a few weeks, our casual relationship petered out and we moved on to other people. Next up for me was a seventeen-year-old dark-haired preacher’s daughter named Polly. She was (and is) a beauty, but I had no thoughts at the time that she was a woman I was ready to settle down with. It was not long, however, before Bruce, the player, was smitten and in love. On Valentine’s Day in 1976, I proposed and Polly said “yes.” So much for playing the field!

Choosing to marry Polly — a choice I would make again — certainly changed the course of my life. On a hot day in July in 1978 at the Newark Baptist Temple, we stood before our family and friends (and God, or so we thought at the time) and pledged our lives to one another. We were two mutually infatuated children, ill-prepared for the pressures and challenges of married life. Six weeks after we married, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. Six months after that I was laid off from my job. This forced us to leave school and move to the home of my birth, Bryan, Ohio. So much for our “plans,” or God’s, for that matter. From there, my ministerial career and our married life took a completely different path.

I have written this trip down memory lane — one that will receive the voluminous treatment it deserves in my book — to illustrate how the many choices we make, along with external influences, materially and permanently affect our lives. I don’t believe in soul-mates. I don’t think for a moment that Polly is the only suitable woman on planet earth for me. She is, however, the woman I chose to love and marry, and together we have made a good life for ourselves. We have made a hell of a lot of bad decisions and wish we could have a do-over on more than a few things. But, on balance we’ve had a good life. The sum of our choices has led to where we are today. Hopefully, we have learned a thing or two over the past forty years, but I am confident that we still have a few fuck-ups left in our lives. Live and learn, right? Or, well, live anyway . . .

Do you ponder the decisions you have made in your life and how things have turned out for you? Do you wonder about how different life might have been for you had you made different decisions? Do you have a simple philosophy by which you govern your life? Please share your erudite thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Fundy World Tales — Part One

the-fundy-world-tales

One of the questions I am often asked is how I went from being an Evangelical pastor to an outspoken atheist. It is not uncommon for people to drift away from Evangelicalism as young adults, only to return years later with spouses and children in tow. And it is not uncommon for adults in their 20s and 30s to become so disaffected that they abandon Evangelicalism, never to return. Religious trends in the United States show that an increasing number of Millennials are self-described “nones” — people who are atheists, agnostics, pagans, or indifferent towards organized religion. Study after study reveals that for U.S. people under the age of 50, religion increasingly plays a less and less important role in their lives. However, for people over the age of 50, particularly Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation, religion remains vital to their day-to-day lives. Once people reach the latter stages of life, they are less likely to abandon religious beliefs and practices. While older people certainly have questions and doubts about their chosen faith, thoughts about death and whether there is an afterlife often keep them from seeking answers for that which troubles them. One old southern gospel song talks about coming “too far to turn back now.” That sentiment is what keeps countless older Evangelicals in the pews, regardless of the level of their disaffection. Throw in the fact that being a member of a church is similar to being part of a flesh and blood family, and it is not surprising that many older people cannot or will not leave Evangelicalism.

By the time Evangelicals reach their 50s, they have experienced decades of religious indoctrination. How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe the earth is 6,023 years old and accept as fact absurdities such as the virgin birth of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that an ancient religious text written thousands of years ago by sheepherders and fishermen was supernaturally written by God and is without errors or contradictions? How is it that otherwise smart, educated people can believe that Jesus walked on water, magically turned water into wine, walked through walls, and worked the miracles attributed to him in the New Testament? One of the thoughts people who deconvert from Evangelicalism often have is this: how in the world could I have ever believed such bat-shit crazy stuff? The answer is quite simple: intense, long-term religious indoctrination. Starting as toddlers in the nursery and going all the way to the silver-hair-dominated Senior Saints Sunday school class, older Evangelicals systematically and repeatedly have their beliefs reinforced. Told Sunday after Sunday for four, five, or six decades that their beliefs are the “way, truth, and life,” is it any surprise that older Evangelicals are certain that they are right, and are unwilling to entertain anything that challenges said beliefs?

Here in rural northwest Ohio, we have what are commonly called “weed trees.” These weeds grow quickly and are almost impossible to kill. One of the reasons for their hardiness is that they have rugged, deep roots. The only way to kill them is to remove the roots. I have had to dig down four feet to reach the root end of some weed trees. Cutting them off at ground level takes care of the immediate problem, but the following spring they return. Older Evangelicals are quite similar to weed trees. Their religious roots run deep, and unless they are willing to dig deep into the ground to remove the tap root, their worldview will continue to flourish. Thus, the older Evangelicals become, the less likely it is that they will ever abandon their beliefs. Why, then, did I, at the age of 50, walk away from the ministry and later file for divorce from Jesus? What made me different from other older Evangelicals?

Let me clear. I was in no way “special” or of superior intellect. That said, I can look back over my 62 years of life and see how certain circumstances and experiences set me on a path that ultimately led to atheism. While the ultimate reasons for my deconversion were intellectual in nature, I would be amiss and less than honest if I did not say that other considerations played a part in my loss of faith. Live long enough and you will experience things that make a mark upon your life. Some of these things make deep, lasting, and even painful scars on our psyche. I know, at least for me, these scars altered my thinking and the trajectory of my life. Many of you know what I am talking about. Your lives were on a certain path, yet something or many somethings happened that changed your direction. If you had asked me in 2005 if there was anything that could happen that would result in my wife and me walking away from Christianity, I would have laughed in your face. You are kidding, right? I would have said, I may be frustrated with Christianity as a whole, but I love Jesus and I would never, ever leave or forsake him! Yet, here I am in 2019, explaining to thousands of blog readers why I am now an apostate, a godless heathen, a hater of God, an atheist — people I once considered no better than murderers and child molesters. Who in their right mind would abandon a way of life that had given him purpose, meaning, and personal satisfaction? Yet, on a late November day in 2008, I walked out the door of the church house, never to return. Thousands of sermons preached, yet I would never again stand before a group of people and say, Thus saith the Lord . . . Fifty years of Sundays dominated by worship, singing, praying, and preaching, yet now I sleep in on the Lord’s Day, enjoying the comfort of godless living. From my teen years until age 50, I read and studied the Bible, humbly putting into practice that which I learned. Today, I live a life governed by self and the humanist ideal. How did I get to the place where the Bible no longer mattered to me? Is my life a cautionary taleas IFB preacher Ralph Wingate, Jr, said it was? Is my life a warning to Evangelicals who dare consider walking a similar path? Perhaps. I would like to think, however, that my story is in some way helpful to people with doubts and questions about Christianity; that perhaps in a small measure some people might find the account of my life encouraging or inspiring. I can’t control how people respond to my writing. All I know to do is tell my story, leaving people to do with it what they will. I hope you will find this series instructive.

The Fundy World Tales will be a cogent examination of my life, from my ignoble birth in Bryan, Ohio in 1957 to my present blessed life as a husband, father, grandfather, and atheist. From this series will FINALLY come my book. I am “feeling” my mortality these days more than in times past, so if I intend to leave behind for my grandchildren a written accounting of my life, I best get to it. Here’s to hoping I complete this series before death calls my name.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Day the Neighbor Tried to Murder His Wife

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Bruce “Butch” Gerencser and his younger brother and sister, 1960s, San Diego, California. First time I noticed that my pants are unzipped, underwear is above my waist, and no shoes. I was quite the fashion statement.

In the early 1960s, my dad packed up his family of five and moved us to San Diego, California in the hope of finding the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Dad never found his dream, but while there the Gerencser family found Jesus and became members of a large Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church. I attended kindergarten and first grade in California. My memories, as to be expected, are spotty, but one moment in time stands above all others, one I have not forgotten fifty-six years later.

Most of my time in California was spent living in a small single-story home on Columbine Street. The house sat across the street from a canyon that would provide my siblings and me with countless hours of fun. That said, I can’t imagine letting a 6-year-old, 5-year-old, and 3-year-old play by themselves without adult supervision. Such were the times, I suppose.

In our backyard was a courtyard of sorts, with three other homes closely situated to ours. One day, I heard a bunch of screaming in Spanish. Always a nosey little boy, I went to the courtyard to see what was up. Much to my fascination — at the time — a Mexican man was savagely beating his wife. Adults stood by and did nothing — out of fear, I suspect — as the man inflicted such damage on his wife that one eye popped out of its socket on her blood-soaked face. The man’s white T-shirt was covered with his wife’s blood. As I think about this event decades later, it’s clear that the man intended to murder his wife.

By the time the police arrived, the man had fled the scene, and could be seen attempting to escape via a water pipe of sorts that traversed the canyon. Soon apprehended, he was placed in the back seat of a police car. As the car began to pull away, the man turned to look out the back window. Still filled with rage, his mouth was foaming.

Little children should never have to experience such things in their lives. I am not sure where my mother was at the time, or why she didn’t shield us from the carnage. Perhaps she tried to do so, but my nosiness won the day. Regardless, this event made a deep mark on my life. When confronted with circumstances later in my life, I chose to intercede instead of standing by and fearfully doing nothing as those adults in the courtyard did over half a century ago. I refuse to stand by and do nothing when people use physical strength or power to psychologically or physically harm others. Yes, that means putting myself in harm’s way, but imagine if all of us stood up to bullies and those who use violence to make a point or get their way. If we don’t, who will?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Barbara

barbara tieken 1940s

My Mom, Barbara Tieken, 1940s

Born in rural Missouri to parents who were drunks and constantly fought

Barbara suffered the indignity and shame of being molested by her father

A heinous act he never acknowledged or apologized for

When he became a Christian his past was under the blood

God may have forgiven him

But she never did

barbara and steve tieken 1940s

Barbara and Steve Tieken 1940s

She was a beautiful child who grew up to be an attractive woman

A woman who attracted the attention of men

At seventeen she found herself pregnant

At the age of eighteen she married

Did she marry the father of her baby?

There are doubts

barbara gerencser 1956

Barbara Gerencser, 1956

She found her husband to unreliable, never able to keep the bills paid

He moved her from house to house, town to town, and state to state

Along the way she birthed another boy and then a girl

She loved to read and was passionate about politics

She wrote letters to the newspaper, a staunch defender of right-wing Conservatism

She campaigned for Barry Goldwater and George Wallace

Like so many white, rural Americans of her time, she was a racist

She loved to cook

When her oldest son started playing baseball she came to his games

Her son’s father couldn’t be bothered

When she was thirty-one, her brother-in-law raped her

Her oldest son was home sick from school when it happened

So much trauma

Is it any wonder she had mental problems?

Psychiatrists

Pills

Mental hospitals

Attempted suicides

Rage

Depression

Slit wrists, the kitchen floor, a pool of blood, her oldest son found her

Yet, she lived

Over time, her body collapsed, rendering her an invalid

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Barbara Gerencser, 1957, Holding her newborn son Bruce (Butch)

By then, her oldest son was a preacher

She was proud of him

He was not proud of her

She was an embarrassment, a pill junkie, she just needed to get right with God

Four marriages

Numerous men in and out of her life

Yet, she never lost her mental acuity or thirst for knowledge

She watched the news day and night, ever ready to rage against those she disagreed with

She told her oldest son she wanted him to do her funeral and she wanted everyone to sing the Star Spangled Banner and say the Pledge of Allegiance

barbara tieken 1950s

Barbara Tieken, 1950s

Over time, her oldest son came to accept her as she was

He would come to Columbus and take her shopping or to the doctor

She didn’t like his driving

Her phone was often disconnected

Her latest husband, just like everyone before him, couldn’t keep the bills paid

The oldest son’s father died from surgery complications at age forty-nine

Her oldest son had to call the police to give her a message since her phone was disconnected

Awhile later, in a pouring rain, she called from a phone booth

They talked and wept together

And then she moved to Quincy, Michigan, six hours away

Her oldest son only saw her a few times after the move

They talked on the phone every month or so and wrote to one another

After church one Sunday, her oldest son answered the phone at his house

His aunt was on the other end of the phone

He heard what he never hoped he would hear

His mom was dead

She had turned a Ruger .357 on herself, pulled the trigger, and ripped a hole in her heart

In a moment, her heart stopped and the life drained from her body

Her oldest son wonders why, but at the same time he knows the answer

The graveside service was an exercise in profound, excruciating grief and denial

The preacher son could barely speak

There would be no singing of the Star Spangled Banner or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance

Even in death she was ignored and denied

Her father spoke of Jesus

Her son saw only a father who molested his daughter and scarred his mother

She was fifty-four when she died

Her son misses her

Oh how he wishes for a do-over

To tell her, I love you

To proudly show off his grandchildren

But all he is left with is emptiness, pain, and regret

And memories

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Mom and Bruce, Rochester, Indiana, 1978

Tales From the Appalachian Foothills — Do You Want Some “Rose of Sheridan?”

somerset baptist church 1989

In July, 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

From time to time, I want to share a few short stories from the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist. I hope you’ll enjoy them. Today’s story is titled, Do You Want Some “Rose of Sheridan?”

One spring, a woman who attended our church with her husband and three children asked Polly is she would like some “Rose of Sheridan.” The year before, we had moved a 12’x60′ trailer on to the church property, parking it fifty feet from the main church building. The first thing we did was put a chain link fence around our small yard so Bethany couldn’t wander away and get hit by a car in the parking lot or fall down the cement stairs to what was commonly a called the basement building. After the fence was installed — we paid $400 for the fence out of our income tax refund — we set out to beautify our yard as best we could. Knowing this, Mrs. M made the offering of the “Rose of Sheridan.” We had no idea about what “Rose of Sheridan” was. All we knew is that we wanted “stuff” to plant in our newly fenced yard.

Several days later, Mrs. M brought us three “Rose of Sheridan” bushes. We planted them on the northeast corner where our yard met the basement building. The bushes didn’t bloom that much the first year, but the next summer they were in full bloom. Another church member asked Polly what the bushes were and she replied, “Rose of Sheridan.” The church member got a quizzical look on her face and said, you mean “Rose of SHARON,” right? You see, what Mrs. M gave us was Rose of Sharon and not “Rose of Sheridan.”

phil sheridan somerset ohio

How did Mrs. M confuse the name? Oh, that was easy. You see, nearby Somerset was home to Civil War general Phil Sheridan when he was a child. His boyhood home sits on the south edge of town on State Highway 13. A statute of Sheridan on a horse — the only equestrian Civil War monument in Ohio — adorns the center of town where two state highways meet. The local high school was named Sheridan High School. In Mrs. M’s mind, she confused Sharon with Sheridan, so that’s why the bushes she gave us the spring of 1990 were called “Rose of Sheridan.”

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.