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Category: Life

Short Stories: G&B Trains, Findlay, Ohio

train store
Not from G&B Trains, but similar to what the store looked like when I worked there.

In the early 1970s, my father, Robert Gerencser, and Gary Ziessler, fellow deacons at Trinity Baptist Church, started a hobby store business on North Main Street in Findlay, Ohio. G (Gary) & B (Bob) Trains sold new and used Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx trains and accessories, along with slot car tracks and cars. G&B Trains had one employee — teenager Bruce Gerencser, whom they paid twenty-five cents an hour minus the cost of the pop he drank from the pop machine. After school, I would walk or ride my bike five city blocks to the store, working until closing time. It was here that I was first exposed to the business world. It was also here that I fell in love with Lionel O Gauge trains. Over time, I collected a number of diesel and steam engines, along with a bunch of train cars and accessories. I hung on to these trains when Dad up and moved us to Arizona. When I moved back to Ohio for the last time in 1975, Dad promised to sell my trains for me and send me the money. Forty-seven years later, I’m still waiting. Dad also promised to sell my 1967 Chevy station wagon too. Evidently, that check got lost in the mail too. When it came to money, Dad was a hustler and a con artist. He had no problem sticking it to family and strangers. I knew Dad would likely keep my money, but I thought with him knowing how much I needed the money, he would refrain from stealing the proceeds of these sales. Alas, Dad proved that a leopard can’t change his spots. Gary would later learn that when he and Dad had a falling out over . . . you guessed it . . . money.

I worked at G&B Trains for a year. One night, I had a physical altercation with a relative of Gary’s wife named John, a recent returnee from Vietnam. John was hired to do repairs on engines and other train equipment. I was taking care of the front of the store while John repaired an engine in the back. I went to the back room to get a bottle of pop. I knew very little about John, but he and I had a conversation that quickly got out of hand. Best I can remember, I said something smart to him — not uncommon for me. All of a sudden, John stood up and kicked me as hard as he could, sending me flying, and knocking the wind out of me. While I was down, John kicked me again. Fearing for my life, I ran from the store and went home, never to work there again.

A year prior to this experience, my alcoholic uncle kicked the shit out of me because I moved his beer. In both instances, I was blamed for inciting these men to violence, even though I was a child and they were grown-ass men. I can only remember one time my Dad stood up for me — an altercation with a different drunken uncle. This uncle had raped my mother a few years before. We were at his home for a party when I decided to give Dad a ride in my 1970 Nova SS. As we were leaving, I tromped the gas, laying down a track of rubber. When we returned, my uncle got in my face and attempted to physically assault me. My uncle was a large man, and even in a drunken state, he would have likely caused serious physical harm to me. Fortunately, my dad grabbed a hold of my uncle and slammed him into the garage. This is the first and only time Dad stood up for me

Not long after I quit G&B Trains, Dad and Gary had a falling out over money. Gary took over sole possession of the business. Dad and Mom would later divorce, as would Gary and his wife. Both families would leave Trinity Baptist Church. I was the only one of the bunch that remained in the church. It was not long before G&B Trains closed its doors. The building the store was in no longer exists. The City of Findlay razed it and other downtown businesses to provide a green space to handle flood waters from the nearby Blanchard River.

Two years ago, after a forty-five-year hiatus, I picked up the Lionel train bug again, starting a layout project in an unused upstairs bedroom. I was so excited to pick up a hobby from my youth, especially after having to abandon photography due to my health. Unfortunately, increasing health problems, which severely limit my mobility, have kept me from completing this project. I refuse to give up, hoping that I can finish the project before Christmas. I want my grandchildren to experience the same joy I had decades ago as I maneuvered my trains along O-scale tracks.

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.

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

Short Stories: The Center Street Gas Station

1970-nova-ss

In the summer of 1975, I moved from Sierra Vista, Arizona to live with my mom in Bryan, Ohio, wanting to get as far away as I could from Arizona. I moved to my mom’s first-floor apartment on the corner of Center Street and Beech Street, two blocks away from the First Baptist Church, which I attended at the time. I lived with Mom until I left for college in August 1976.

I spent the year attending church, working a full-time job as dairy manager at Foodland, and running around with my friends. I rarely spent any time at home. I bought a 1970 Nova SS — a 350 CID, 375 HP muscle car — for $600. When I wasn’t at church or at work, I was in my car going somewhere with my friends or whoever I happened to be dating that week.

My Nova was a gas hog, requiring high test gasoline to run properly. I could go through a tank of gas on a Saturday cruising around the William’s County Courthouse square and racing from light to light. Fun times, to be sure. I have nothing but fond memories of this happy, busy year of my life.

In front of my mom’s apartment was a small gas station with a single repair bay. I befriended the man running the station (he could have been the owner), seeking his advice on repairing my car. Every day at closing, this man would shut off the power to the gas pumps. One night, he forgot to turn the pumps off.

As I was walking out the front door of my mom’s apartment to begin another night of cruising and goofing off, I noticed that the power was still on for the pumps. I quickly determined that this was a golden opportunity for me and my buddies to get free gas. I made a few calls, and soon my friends were lining up to fill their tanks. After everyone filled up, I did the same for my car. Being the good Christian I was at the time, I called the gas station manager and told him he left the pumps on.

The next day, as I was leaving for work, the station manager stopped me and thanked me for calling him about the pumps. Then he said, “I sticked (the long wooden stick used to mention tank levels) the tanks today, and I noticed that some gas was missing. Do you know anything about that?” Of course, knowing that I had committed a crime, I said “no.” The manager said nothing, but I have no doubt that he knew that my friends and I had ripped him off.

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.

The Tyranny and Oppression of the To-Do List

to-do-list

As a younger man, I pastored Evangelicals and worked secular jobs, mostly management-level employment. I was a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s, Long John Silvers, and Charley’s Steakery. I also was a grant manager and building code enforcement officer for the Village of Buckeye Lake. My last job (2004) was working for Allegro Medical, managing their Yuma office. While I worked blue-collar jobs, my skills were best suited for managerial positions. As a pastor and a manager, I was the man in charge. Blessed (or cursed) with a Type A personality and a driven, no-nonsense work ethic, I was well suited for the management world. By all accounts, I did my job well and my employers appreciated the work I did for them.

Over the years, I developed certain skills that helped me do my job. One skill was the use of a to-do list. Every day, I would make a list of the things I needed to do, and then I worked the list. Sometimes, I would keep this list in my mind, other times, I would write it down on a yellow pad. As I worked the list, I would mentally or physically draw a line through each completed task. Typically, my work day did not end until I completed the list.

Having an Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) certainly fueled my list-driven work ethic, as did my Fundamentalist Baptist religious beliefs. The Bible was a list of God’s laws, precepts, and commands. The thrice holy creator of the universe expected me obey each and every one of his commands. After all, the Bible says that followers of Jesus are to be perfect, even as their Father in Heaven is perfect. I never had much use for Christians who treated the teachings of the Bible as optional.

Over the years, I employed hundreds of people. If asked, I suspect these former employees would say I was a driven, no-nonsense boss who expected them to show up every day and do their jobs. I had no tolerance for idleness or horsing around. I had zero tolerance for “excuses.” Let me give you an example. When I started managing Charley’s Steakery in Zanesville, Ohio for a Taiwanese immigrant, I inherited two assistant managers. I would have hired neither of them had it been up to me. It wasn’t, so I had to try to work with them.

Jeff was an easygoing “praise Jesus” Evangelical Christian. One of the first things I had to deal with had to do with Jeff’s religious beliefs. Keep in mind, I was an Evangelical pastor, at the time. However, I checked my religion at the door when I came to work. I didn’t try to evangelize employees, nor did I invite them to church. If an employee asked about my church or religious beliefs, I would answer their questions, but when I was at work, I worked for my employer, not Jesus. I tried to model Christianity to my employees by my behavior, not my words.

When Jeff opened the store, he knew he had certain tasks that had to be done, every day, without exception. Yet, Jeff never seemed to get his work done. I would come in around 10:30 am and find the pre-opening tasks incomplete. Of course, I would get after Jeff for this, telling him that these tasks had to be done prior to opening. It was HIS job to make this happen.

No matter what I said, Jeff didn’t do his job. Finally, I decided to figure out what was going on. Come to find out, Jeff was spending the first hour of his work day — are you ready for it? — praying and reading his Bible! He was shocked when I told him he couldn’t do this; that I expected him to start working the moment he walked in the back door. He thought that I, as a pastor, would understand the importance of starting the day communing with God. Of course I did. I read the Bible and prayed every morning too. I did it, however, on my own time, before I came to work. (His excuse was that his home was too noisy for him to have devotions.)

Jeff was notorious for leaving work undone. Such a work ethic was foreign to me. My job. My responsibility. Get it done. No excuses. Ever. I expected Jeff (and my other manager) to account for the money every day. When I came to the store, they were using a communal till. No one was responsible for the money. I changed that by requiring new drawers every time a new employee was put on the register. I discouraged my managers from running the register, telling them that if they did and there was a problem with the money, I would hold them accountable for the missing money.

Every day, the opening manager was required to count the two cash drawers and the safe. There was an exact amount of money in the safe. The total amount had to be exact — no exceptions. And if it wasn’t, the opening manager was expected to figure out why. No excuses. I expected the money to be correct, right down to the penny. This process was repeated at night. At the end of the night, I expected the manager to count the drawers, balance the safe, and make the deposit. The money had to balance, each and every time. If it didn’t, I expected my managers to stay there until it did, and if they couldn’t figure it out, I expected them to call me.

I was having a problem with drawers coming up short on the night shift (when I wasn’t there). One drawer came up $50 short twice in a week. I determined that the cashier was stealing the money. I fired her. The next weekend, I was off work. Jeff was in charge. I came in on Monday morning to find a note taped on the safe that said, “Sorry, Bruce. The money is not right, and I couldn’t figure it out.” The safe was short $70. I recounted the safe and drawers several times. I removed the drawer mechanism from the register to make sure the money wasn’t there (unlikely since this amount required multiple bills). I went to the bank and made sure the previous night’s deposit amount was correct. It was. So, I was left with two possible explanations: either a customer was given too much change (unlikely since there were no $100 bills in the safe/deposit) or someone stole the money. I believed it was the latter, but I had no way of proving it.

When Jeff showed up for work, I took him aside and gave him the ass-chewing of his life. He knew it was his responsibility to make sure the money was right. He knew that he was required to call me if he couldn’t figure out what happened. Worse, when I asked him who was on the register over the weekend, he told me: numerous people. According to Jeff, he was so busy that he just didn’t have time to count the drawers and switch them. In other words, he ran a communal drawer all weekend. The thief could have been anyone — including him. Jeff is fortunate I didn’t fire him on the spot.

I had policies and procedures in place for a reason. I expected the people who worked for me to follow them.

Fast forward to today. The Bruce from yesteryear still lives in my mind. I still have an exacting work ethic. I still make to-do lists. The difference now, of course, is that I can no longer mentally or physically work the list. Oh, I want to (just ask Polly, my children, or my counselor), but I can’t. I need to, but I can’t. The drive is still there, but there’s no gas in the tank. Gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and degenerative spine disease have robbed me of the ability to do the things I used to do. My life is now measured by the things I have had to give up. Last year, I sold all my professional camera equipment. No longer able to hold a camera due to its weight, I had to give up on photography. Two years prior, I sold all my woodworking equipment, fearing that I would hurt or kill myself if I didn’t. I haven’t driven an automobile since March 2020. I sold my car, knowing that I will never physically be able to drive again. Two years ago, I was excited to rekindle my love affair with O-gauge Lionel trains. I spent months buying engines, cars, and equipment on eBay. Two of my sons helped me build my layout table. Polly painted it for me — a dirt tone. And then, the proverbial train ran out of fuel. A year later, the trains, buildings, and equipment gather dust. I wonder if I might as well give up on this too, and sell the things I have collected. Simply, I am not sure I can (mentally) do this and still want to get up in the morning. So, it sits.

I have kept our financial records our entire married life — forty-four years. Polly never had any interest in doing so. Our checkbook always balanced to the penny. I used programs such as Quicken or Microsoft Money to track income and spending. Always the list maker, I used categories to track everything from the money we spent for utilities to the money we spent buying candles (a lot 🙂 ) We have never been very good with money, but we knew exactly what we were spending money on. Come the first of the year, I would tell Polly, “do you know we spent X dollars on ___________?” We would both laugh/cry/groan, and then promise to do better in the new year.

Three years ago, I started having an increasing problem keeping up with our finances. Receipts would sit on the desk for months. The “checkbook” no longer balanced. I started missing payment due dates. So, I gave up. After talking with my oldest son about this, I was able to develop a system that worked for me in my present dilapidated condition.

I know that tomorrow will not be better than today. I have resigned myself to the fact, that I will be forced to give in until there is no more to give. That’s the nature of my afflictions. They rob me of my life, one inch at a time, launching at me and mocking me as they do. I try to focus my energy on Polly, our children and grandchildren, and writing. If I’m lucky, I will get to spend time sitting in the yard, taking a short road trip, attending one of my grandchildren’s games/performances (though I can rarely do so since I require someone to drive me to these events), going to the grocery store, or eating out with the love of my life.

Last night, Polly and I went out to eat at Sweetwater Chophouse in Defiance. Bethany stayed home and watched the new Elvis movie on HBO Max. After we were done eating, Polly asked if I wanted her to take the long way home. The answer is always “yes.” I never want to go home. So we drove west from Defiance to Sherwood (where we stopped at the Apache Dairy Bar and I had a chocolate malt) and then turned north and east to our home in Ney. When we arrived in Ney, I told Polly that I want to tour the town (population 356, about 100 houses). She asked, “which way?” I replied, “I want to go down all the streets.” “All of them?” Polly asked. I replied, “all.” And so we did, gossiping about our neighbors along the way. We noticed a block from our home six or so feral cats, six to eight months old. We love cats and have fed feral animals for decades, but we despise humans who show no regard for them and leave them to their own devices.

I returned home in time to watch Sunday Night Football. As I tiredly sat in my recliner, I opened up my iPad Pro to check for new blog comments, emails, and social media messages. There were — a couple of emails from people upset that I didn’t respond to their email when they thought I should. Of course, I will, when I can, politely respond to them, apologizing for my delinquent behavior. I want to ask them, “do you know how sick I am?” In recent days, I have thought about doing away with my comment form, but even if I did, people would still find ways to contact me. Last week, a man in his 70s from Chicago somehow found my phone number and called me — at 8:30 am. I had been asleep for two hours. His call disrupted my sleep for the rest of the day. Yes, he needed someone to talk to. Yes, he had questions about religion and atheism. But, damn, it has taken me several hours and a plethora of medications to fall asleep, and you woke me up!

Deeply engrained in my mind is the need to work the to-do list. The list is still there; it will always be there. The difference now, of course, is that I can no longer work the list like I used to. The list gets longer and longer and longer. On “good” days I will knock a few things off the list, but on most days, the list continues to grow. Three weeks ago, I bought a kit at Menard’s to repair our toilet. There it sits on the kitchen shelf, unused. Everywhere I look I see jobs half-done, projects incomplete. Whether it is my home or this blog, things left undone have become tyrants who love to mock my fragility and inability. On “good” days, I ignore their voices, telling them to fuck off. On “bad” days, I find their mockery and taunts to be overwhelming, constant reminders that I am a frail, dying man.

I am at a place where I have more decisions I must make. I am facing increasing physical problems. The memory problems that were just a niggling problem for years are now getting in the way of me doing what I want and need to do. (This is not dementia or Alzheimer’s. It is more likely driven by the cumulative effect of chronic illness and pain.) I will have days when I feel like the man on The Waterboy: “you can do it.” Such days are flights of fancy, much like an auto engine that runs its best just before it blows up. Reality says that I must use a cane, walker, or wheelchair everywhere I go. I am not stable on my feet. Prone to falls, I must plot out every step when in public. I know a bad fall could be the end for me. I am losing strength in my hands. A new problem, nerve-related, causes my left thumb (I’m left-handed) to fold under my fingers, numb and unmoveable for several minutes. This is likely caused by the herniated discs in my neck. I continue to have problems with my eyes. I have done from near-sighted to far-sighted. I have given up wearing glasses.

These days, even the basics of life are challenging. Nausea and vomiting have turned eating into a chore instead of a joy. I try, but I have found nausea to be an enemy I cannot defeat. Medicine helps, but I can only take so much Zofran. The rest of the time, I endure nausea. It’s really not fun when drinking ice tea makes you nauseous

I don’t write these things to whine or solicit sympathy (fuck you, Derrick Thomas Thiessen). Writing about my life is a distraction, a medication that lessens my suffering. And maybe, just maybe, my writing might resonate with a few of you, a reminder that you are not alone. I will continue to do what I can for as long as a can, but I know there will likely come a day when I must further trim my to-do list, reducing it to one line: breathe.

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.

How Asking “Why?” Can be Wrongly Used to Absolve People of Bad Behavior

why

I typically talk with my counselor once a week. Today was my scheduled appointment. We spent most of our time talking about my Fundamentalist Baptist grandparents, John and Ann Tieken. Last week, I wrote a lengthy post about John and Ann. You can read this post here. Afterward, I received a vile, nasty comment from Dr. David Tee, whose real name is Derrick Thomas Thiessen. I responded to his comment here.

Writing about John and Ann was necessary, but doing so dredged up a lot of shit, some of which was buried deep in the recesses of my mind. I felt a sense of release and relief after writing the post. My counselor asked me, “so how do you feel today?” Before I answered that question, we talked about how my pastors, youth leaders, and Sunday school teachers taught me that I was obligated to always love and forgive people, no matter what they did to me. We talked about how the “blood of Jesus” was used as a cover for bad behavior, allowing perpetrators to escape personal accountability for their behavior. We also talked about that seminal moment in the late 1990s when I finally had enough of John and Ann and cut them out of my life; a decision I do not regret. I am glad that my children and grandchildren will never know John and Ann; never have to listen to their lectures and be demeaned by them; never have to watch their parents be berated and diminished by their Jesus-loving, family-hating grandparents. (Our three oldest children have vague memories of them, mostly from Christmases at my mom’s home in Columbus. Our oldest son likely saw John and Ann less than a dozen times in his first twenty years of life.)

“So how do you feel today?” my counselor, Melissa, asked. I replied, “I find myself asking ‘why?’ Why did John and Ann behave the way they did? Were they abused as children? What were their childhoods like?” In asking this question, I was looking for some way to justify their behavior or gain understanding that would allow me to forgive them.”

My counselor told me that the “why” question is a common question asked by trauma survivors. They are desperately looking for an explanation for why their abuser harmed them. I had convinced myself that if I only knew about John’s and Ann’s upbringing it would help me understand why they treated me the way they did. “Here’s the thing, Bruce,” my counselor softly said. “The ‘why” doesn’t matter, even if they were abused as children. They are responsible for their behavior.”

— Light goes on in my head —

Of course, my asking “why” gives John and Ann a way out; a way to avoid being held accountable for the harm they caused to me personally, to Polly, and to my mother. Regardless of their upbringing, John and Ann did what they did, and they must be held responsible for their behavior, including the rape of my mother as a child by John.

Our discussion turned to “forgiveness.” I told my counselor that had no plans to forgive John and Ann; that forgiveness, in my mind, is predicated on owning one’s behavior and making restitution. Since John and Ann spent my entire life hiding behind the blood of Christ and God’s forgiveness, I see no reason to forgive them. I am a forgiving person, but I don’t owe anyone forgiveness. Even if my grandparents had owned their bad behavior and made amends, I am not sure I would have forgiven them. As a Christian? Probably. But as an atheist and a humanist, probably not. I suspect I would have thanked them and walked away, thinking of my mom’s last moments before she killed herself. “John and Ann, you played an instrumental part in my beautiful mom’s death. May you rot in Hell.”

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.

Is There a Silver Lining in Everything?

silver lining

Last night, Sherri Shepherd was a guest on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Shepherd is an actress, comedian, author, and television personality. She told Noah that her goal was to make people happy. Unfortunately, she does so by lying to people about reality. She’s an Evangelical Christian, so she’s used to people lying to her about reality. She returned the favor on Noah’s show.

Shepherd wanted Noah and viewers to know that there is “a silver lining in everything.” As soon as Shepherd uttered this, I said “bullshit.” This worn-out trope suggests that no matter what you are going through in your life, good will come from it. This thinking is rooted in the Christian idea that God is intimately involved in our lives; that no matter what happens to us, he will make lemonade out of our lemons. Christians are told this over and over by their pastors, so much so that they believe it to be true. Instead of rationally examining their lives and the experiences of others and coming to the obvious conclusion that there’s not a silver lining in everything, they allow a cheap cliche to distort reality.

I see no silver lining in my mother’s suicide.

I see no silver lining in being sexually molested by my step-grandmother.

I see no silver lining in my sister-in-law’s tragic death in a motorcycle accident.

I see no silver lining in my suffering and pain.

I see no silver lining in diseased, starving children.

I see no silver lining in homelessness.

I see no silver lining in violence and war.

I see no silver lining for the families who lose children to school shootings.

I see no silver living for the families who lose their sons, daughters, and spouses to drug addiction.

I see no silver lining for 45,000 families this year who will lose a loved one to suicide.

I see no silver lining for the children who will be sexually molested by their pastors, teachers, and family members.

I see no silver lining for those who will writhe in excruciating pain before they die this year.

I see no silver lining for the former church member, one of whose sons is serving a life sentence for murder, another who committed suicide, and a daughter who died from cancer in her 20s. And the final indignity? Her husband died in his fifties.

I know scores of people who have greatly suffered. I see no silver linings for them outside of the fact they survived.

No, the “silver lining” is a myth. Life is cold, brutal, and hard. The Bible says that all things work together for good (for Christians anyway), but this is a lie. All things don’t necessarily work for good. That’s just not how life works. The best any of us can do is embrace and hold on to the few ropes life throws our way. I see no silver lining in my life. There’s no hope or promise for a better tomorrow. My pain and suffering are ever with me, and will be until I die. Yet, I don’t act on the impulse to end my life. Why? Those ropes I mentioned: Polly, my six children, my thirteen grandchildren, my siblings, and the work I do through this blog. I have tied knots on these ropes and I am holding on. Will these be enough for me in the future? I don’t know. I just know that for today they are enough.

Let me conclude this post with a quote from the late-great Barbara Ehrenreich:

We need to brace ourselves for a struggle against terrifying obstacles, both of our own making and imposed by the natural world. And the first step is to recover from the mass delusion that is positive thinking.

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.

Does the IFB Church Movement Promote Ritual Child Abuse?

dennis the menance being spanked

The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement is a collection of loosely affiliated independent churches. (See Let’s Go Camping: Understanding Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Camps.) There are thousands of such churches in the United States and many foreign countries. What exactly is an IFB church? you ask. While IFB churches and pastors have varied peripheral beliefs, foundationally IFB churches, colleges, evangelists, missionaries, and pastors believe:

I stands for Independent

The local, visible church is an independent body of believers who are not associated or affiliated with any denomination. The pastor answers only to God, and to a lesser degree, the church. The church answers to no one but God. Most IFB churches oppose any form of government involvement or intrusion into its affairs (though, in recent years, thanks to their support of the culture war, some IFB preachers no longer believe in a strict separation of church and state). While some IFB churches have deacon boards or elders, almost all of them have a congregational form of government.

F stands for Fundamentalist (or Fundamental)

The independent church is fundamentalist in its doctrine and practice. IFB churches are social and theological fundamentalists. (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Fundamentalists adhere to an external code of social conduct. (See An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rule Book.) Often this code of conduct is called “church standards.” The Bible — or should I say the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible — is the rule by which church members are expected to live. IFB churches spend a significant amount of time preaching and teaching about how God and his spokesman, the pastor, expect people to live.

IFB churches are also theological fundamentalists. They adhere to a certain and specific theological standard, a standard by which all other Christians and denominations are judged. Every IFB pastor and church believe things such as:

  • The inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of the Bible
  • The sinfulness, depravity of man
  • The deity of Christ
  • The virgin birth of Christ
  • The blood atonement of Christ for man’s sin
  • The resurrection of Christ from the dead
  • The second coming of Christ
  • Separation from the world
  • Salvation from sin by and through Christ alone
  • Personal responsibility to share the gospel with sinners
  • Heaven and hell as literal places
  • Hierarchical authority (God, Jesus, church, pastor, husband, wife)
  • Autonomy and independence of the local church

I am sure there are other doctrines that could be added to this list, but the list above is a concise statement of ALL things an IFB church and pastor must believe to be considered an IFB church.

B stands for Baptist

IFB churches are Baptist churches adhering to the ecclesiology and theology mentioned above. Some IFB churches are Landmark Baptists or Baptist Briders. They believe the Baptist church is the true Christian church and all other churches are false churches. John the Baptist baptized Jesus, which made him a Baptist, and the first churches established by the Baptist apostles were Baptist churches. Churches like this go to great lengths to prove their Baptist lineage dates all the way back to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Apostles. (See The Trail of Blood by J.M. Carroll)

Other IFB churches and pastors believe that Baptist ecclesiology and theology are what the Bible clearly teaches. They grudgingly admit that other denominations “might” be Christian too, but they are quick to say why be a part of a bastardized form of Christianity when you can have the real deal?

What binds IFB churches together is their literalistic interpretation of the Protestant Bible, a book they believe is inspired, infallible, and inerrant. Thus, when it comes to training and raising children, IFB Christians look not to the “world,” but to the Bible. They are fond of saying, God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me! IFB pastors have a commitment to literalism and inerrancy that forces them to defend anything and everything the Bible says. In their minds, the Bible is God speaking to man. While humans wrote the Bible, they did so under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It was human hands that wrote the words, but it was God who determined what those words would be. Thus, whatever the Bible says about marriage, children, and discipline is viewed as a direct order from God. There is one way and one way only to raise and train children, and that is God’s way. Want to see what happens when people ignore God’s instructions? Just look at the “world,” preachers say. Look at how the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world raise their childrenWant to keep your children on the straight and narrow? Want them to grow up fearing God and keeping his commandments? Practice and obey whatever the Bible says about training children!

So when I ask the question, Does the IFB Church Movement Promote Ritual Child Abuse? the short answer is yes. Their theological beliefs and interpretive practices demand parents ritually abuse their children. The Bible says:

  • He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. (Proverbs 13:24)
  • Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13,14)
  • Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. (Proverbs 22:15)
  • The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. (Proverbs 29:15)
  • Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul. (Proverbs 29:17)
  • Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. (Proverbs 19:18)
  • And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
  • My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (Proverbs 3:11,12)
  • A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent. (Proverbs 15:5)
  • A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. (Proverbs 26:3)
  • The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly. (Proverbs 20:30)
  • If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. (Ephesians 6:1-3)
  • Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)

It is clear from these verses, and others, that God commands parents to beat their children if they are rebellious or disobedient. To say otherwise is to disagree with God.

spanking with belt

In the IFB church movement — which is complementarian and patriarchal — children are expected to obey their parents at all times. Why? So they “may live long on the earth” and be “well pleasing unto the Lord.” IFB parents genuinely love their children. This is why many parents either send their children to private Christian schools or homeschool them. They take their parental responsibilities seriously. Not only do they want their children to be saved, but they also want them to grow up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” — serving the Christian God all the days of their lives. IFB parents believe God made the following promise to them: Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) The question, then, is what methods should be used by parents to ensure that their children will be Christians all the days of their lives? The aforementioned Bible verses tell them all they need to know about how to reach this goal.

IFB parents believe that their children are born sinners, little hellions who are at variance with God. According to the Bible, children, by nature, are rebellious. 1 Samuel 15:23a says, For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. The goal, then, is to drive rebellion and stubbornness from the hearts of their children. God says that the way to do this is with the rod of correction. Not time outs; not grounding; not taking their toys away; not any of the other unbiblical disciplinary methods used by the “world.” God commands parents to beat their children with a rod. No, I won’t use the word spank. When a parent picks up a dowel rod, belt, toilet fill tube, brush, paddle, switch, electric cord, or, as the Gerencser children “fondly” remember, John R. Rice’s book, Home: Courtship, Marriage and Children: A Bible Manual of 22 Chapters on the Christian Home, and hits his child with it, it’s a beating, not a spanking. The goal of such physical violence is to drive rebellion and disobedience from the heart of the child.

Many IFB parents begin beating their children while they are still infants. Psalm 58:3 says, The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Infants are at odds with God from birth. They are liars. Just because they cry doesn’t mean they need tending to. If they are fed and dry, then their cries are viewed as the infant’s way of demanding his or her own way. What should a godly parent do? Beat their child into submission — just as God does with rebellious Christian adults. The goal is to break the child’s will. A willful child will not obey his parents or God, so it is crucial that parents thrash their children every time they rebel against the commands of God or disobey their parents.

These practices are, without a doubt, child abuse. Let me give you a recent example of this that was posted on Lori Alexander’s private discussion group — a haven for practitioners of ritual child abuse.

ritual child abuse
ritual child abuse 2

Of course, IFB parents don’t see themselves as child abusers. How can it be abusive to follow the teachings of the Bible? they ask. Pastors will point not only to the Bible as justification for ritual child abuse, but they will also point to history, saying that back in the good old days when America was great, parents weren’t afraid to beat their children. These preachers point to the decline of Western Civilization and say that one of the reasons for the decline is a lack of rigorous, through discipline of children.

I am sixty-five years old. I came of age in the IFB church. My parents, thankfully, did not beat me very often, but I knew countless children who were methodically beaten by their parents virtually every time they disobeyed their parents or failed to measure up to a certain standard. One dear friend of mine — a pastor’s son — was mercilessly whipped by his father if his grades weren’t up to expectations. I witnessed one of these beatings (my friend was in eighth grade at the time). It was violently brutal, yet the punisher believed he was doing what was best for his son. My friend’s grades, by the way, never improved.

I am sure someone is going to ask if I beat my own children and if I considered this discipline to be child abuse. Yep, the violent beatings my three oldest sons received were, in every way, without exception, ritual child abuse. I have apologized to them numerous times for how I disciplined them. They know, of course, that I did so because I thought that’s what God and the Bible required of me. They also know that I beat them out of some warped sense of “love.” The good news is that my three younger children were spared the rod. I came to see, while they were still young, that beating them, regardless of the reason, was child abuse. Unfortunately, I must bear the burden of my actions, not only as a parent, but as a pastor. I taught countless church members that it was their solemn duty to use the rod of correction on the back sides of their rebellious children. All I can do, at this point, is honestly write about my past life, including how I ritually abused my three older boys.

Were you raised in an IFB family? How were you disciplined? What did your pastor and church teach about training children?  Please share your thoughts 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.

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Short Stories: The Day the Neighbor Tried to Murder His Wife

gerencser-children-1960s
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 sixty 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 curiosity 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?

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.

Short Stories: The Old Man and the Old Woman

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

The old man is lying in bed, weary from yet another day of pain and suffering. He hears keys in the front door lock, announcing that the old woman has arrived home from work.

She too is weary and tired, ready to retire, but can’t because of insurance needs.

How was your night? the old man asked. Anything new?

The old woman shakes her head. She had already told the old man about the fire at the plant that night. No need to repeat that story.

The old man told the old woman about the eight raccoons that were in their yard tonight, three adults, and five babies.

After a few minutes of chit-chat about their day and what they planned to do on the morrow, the old woman asked, do you want something to eat?

Sure. What do you have in mind?

How about eggs and toast?

Sure, make them scrambled. I’ll take some orange juice too.

When the old woman returns to the room with that night’s cuisine, the old man said, Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary to YOU!, the old woman replied.

It’s 3:00 AM on the fifteenth of July. Forty-four years ago, the old man and the old woman, then twenty-one and nineteen, recited their vows and said I do at the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio.

Six weeks after they married, a baby was on the way. Over the next fourteen years, five more children would come their way, including a child with Down syndrome.

For many years, their lives were in perpetual motion. Serving the Lord and trying to make ends meet. There were stressors on their marriage, times when they wondered if their relationship would survive. Yet, they endured, and now they can’t imagine not being together.

Later years brought health problems, hospitalizations, and loss of faith. Parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins died, leaving them to wonder when it will be their obituaries in the pages of the local newspaper.

Blessed with thirteen grandchildren, the old man and old woman are grateful that they can enjoy them together. While life had brought them trials and adversity, both are glad they could walk this journey called life hand in hand.

Forty-four years ago, the soloist for their wedding sang We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters (causing controversy because it was the first and only secular song sung at the church):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Link

When evening comes, the old man and old woman still smile, happy that a kiss for luck and lots of hard work has given them a well-lived life. Not a perfect life, and certainly not a perfect marriage. A marriage that began with love is now one deeply rooted in an abiding friendship. Oh, they still fight, and all those irritating habits each of them had four decades ago are still there. Change is hard, they learned, so the old man and old woman learned to adapt, ignoring the niggling things that still annoy them to this day.

The old woman takes the dishes to the kitchen, heading to the bathroom to perform her nightly rituals before bed. Forty-four years, the old woman walked out of the bathroom of their hotel suite in a sexy negligee. Tonight, it is well-worn comfortable sleepwear. The old man looks at the old woman and reminds himself of how lucky he is. Of all the girls he could have dated and married, he married her. Fate? The old man wants to say yes, but he knows hormones, personalities, and common interests drew them together at a Fundamentalist Baptist college forty-six years ago.

The woman crawls into bed and snuggles up to the old man. He draws her close, putting his hand on her breast. After a few minutes, the old man can no longer lie in that position due to excruciating back and neck pain. With a gentle squeeze, he says to his beautiful bride, I love you. And to her man she replies, I love you too.

Another year together, what more could the old man and old woman ask for?

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: Living Life Like an Ant

black ant

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise!

— Proverbs 6:6

 There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer.

— Proverbs 30:24, 25

Several weeks ago, we took a vacation to southeast Ohio, a trip that turned into a disaster and left me in a precarious mental state (from which I have not recovered). Please read I’m Back From Vacation for further information about our trip.

One evening after we returned from our trip, I told Polly I wanted to go to the Jubilee — a fair and carnival that has encircled the William’s County Courthouse in Bryan, Ohio every June of my sixty-five years of existence. The Jubilee is a shell of what it once was, an empty reminder of glory days long since passed. Declining attendance and exorbitant prices likely will doom its existence sometime in the future. When I was a teenager, the Jubilee was THE place to be. The square would be packed with people. I typically went to the Jubilee every night, hoping to run into my friends. We’d eat high cholesterol, sugary food, ride the Ferris wheel or Scrambler, flirt with girls, and horse around.

The Jubilee has a deep, sentimental connection with me. Not so for Polly. She never liked going to the Jubilee. Of course, always having toddlers and children in tow will do that to you. Polly knew that going to the Jubilee might be good for me mentally, so she said “sure, let’s go.” We put on our go-to-town clothes, lathered up sunblock, got $60 from the ATM, and parked a couple of blocks away from the Square. Bethany was with us. I thought she might enjoy riding a couple of rides. She did, though Polly was not as excited since she had to ride with her. They rode the Ferris wheel and the carousel.

As I stood nearby watching them, I looked down to the ground and saw a big black ant. He quickly captured my attention. Long-time readers know that I love ants. My grandchildren are not permitted to kill them. As I watched this ant scurry about, I thought about his brief and dangerous existence. Here he was scuttling around, searching for food. All around him was danger, particularly thoughtless humans who wouldn’t give a moment’s pause before crushing his insignificant body on the sidewalk. Everywhere this ant went there were obstacles to avoid; threats to his very existence. With nary a thought (do ants think?) about the existential threats around him, the ant continued to look for food. For a few minutes, the sounds of the causeway faded away and my mind was focused on this diminutive, yet magnificent creature.

My mind went to the Bible, Proverbs 6:6: consider her [the ant’s] ways, and be wise. On this hot summer night, this ant had a lesson to teach me, reminding me that life is short, filled with danger, and all I can do is embrace my life as it is. I too am scurrying about, hoping to meet my needs and make it to another day. The threats to my existence are very different from those of the ant, but they are just as real. I know that I am running out of time. Days, weeks, months, or even a few years from now, Polly will post a final article on this site, announcing my demise. I’ve embraced my mortality, realizing there’s little I can do to stave off the inevitable. So how then should I live?

On the ABOUT page I give this advice:

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

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

Eight years later, I stand by this advice.

I continue to lose dexterity and motor function. These losses constantly chip away at the things I can safely do. Sometimes, I do things I shouldn’t, tempting fate — much to Polly’s consternation. Most days, I recognize my limitations. I am ready to die, but I prefer it not to be today.

This ant taught me a lot about life, about being focused on what matters. While I am still in a difficult place psychologically, a black ant did give me a brief respite from my struggles.

Thanks, Mr. Ant . . .

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.

Bruce Gerencser