Life

Is it Ever Okay to Lie?

pinocchio lying

I grew up in a religious culture where lying (bearing false witness) was always considered sin. It was never, ever right to tell a lie, even if the ends justified the means. This was more of an ideal than anything else. Pastors and congregants alike lied. I quickly learned that despite all their talk about moral/ethical absolutes, my pastors and other church leaders would lie if the situation demanded it. Despite frequent condemnations of situational morality/ethics, the Christians I looked up to would, on occasion, lie. One example that vividly comes to mind happened when I was fifteen and attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. As many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches of the 1970s did, Trinity Baptist had a large bus ministry. Each week the church’s buses brought hundreds of people to church. Many of these buses were rambling wrecks, yet parents rarely gave a second thought to letting their children ride the buses. Most parents, I suspect, saw the three or so hours their children were at church as a respite from caring for them.

Church buses had to be annually inspected by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Each bus had to pass a mechanical and safety inspection. One item of importance was the tires. Trinity Baptist was a fast-growing church that always seemed to be short of money. Properly outfitting each bus with safe tires would require a lot of money, so the church decided, instead, to lie about the tires. In the spring of 1972, it was once again time to have the buses inspected. Several of them needed to have their tires replaced. Instead of replacing the tires, the church outfitted one bus with new tires and took it to the Patrol Post for inspection. After passing inspection, the bus was driven to a garage owned by a church member so the new tires could be removed and put on the next bus needing inspection. This was done for every bus that had tires that would not pass inspection. What church leaders were doing, of course, was a lie. This particular lie was justified by arguing that running the buses and winning souls for Jesus were more important than following Caesar’s law. Over the next thirty-five years, I would see similar lies told time and again, with the justification always being that God’s work must go on and souls needed saving. But, what about not bearing false witness? I learned that for all their preaching on situational morality/ethics, Evangelical pastors and church leaders were willing to tell a fib it advanced their cause. In their minds, the end indeed justified the means.

Years ago, I pastored one man who believed it was ALWAYS wrong to lie. One time, a woman asked him if he liked her new hat. Wanting to always tell the truth, the man told her that he didn’t like the hat and thought it was ugly. Needless to say, he hurt his friend’s feelings. When asked by his wife whether an outfit looked nice on her or made her look fat, he would never consider what his wife was actually asking. Fundamentalist to the core, all that mattered to him was telling the truth. However, all his wife wanted to know is whether he accepted and loved her, as-is. Instead of understanding this, he dished out what he called “brutal honesty.” Needless to say, this man routinely offended his family and friends.

One time, after a blow-up over his truth-telling, I asked him, “Suppose you lived in Germany in World War II and harbored Jews in your home. One day, the Nazis come to your door and ask if you are harboring any Jews. Knowing that answering YES would lead to their deaths, what would you say? Would you lie to protect them?” Astoundingly, he told me that he would either tell the truth (yes) or say nothing at all. In his mind, always telling the truth was paramount even if it meant the death of others. I knew, then, that I had no hope of getting him to see that there might be circumstances where telling a lie was acceptable; that sometimes a lie serves the greater good.

Bruce, did you ever lie as a pastor? Of course, I did. Let me give you one example. The churches I pastored dedicated babies — the Baptist version of baptizing infants. Couples would stand before the congregation and promise before the church and God that they would raise their newborn up in the fear and admonition of God. Most of these parents lied, but then so did I. I would hold their babies in my arms and present them to the church, saying, isn’t he or she beautiful? when I believed then, and still do, that most newborns are ugly. Our firstborn came forth with wrinkly, scaly skin and a cone-shaped head — thanks to the doctor’s use of forceps. “Beautiful,” he was not!  I lied to the parents about their babies because I knew no parent wanted to hear the “truth.” The parents lied about their commitment to church and God because that’s what everyone in attendance wanted to hear — especially grandparents.

While I generally believe that telling the truth is a good idea, I don’t think this is an absolute. There are times when telling a lie is preferable to telling the truth. Let me share an example of when I should have lied and didn’t. The church I co-pastored in Texas held an annual preaching conference. I preached at this conference the year before the church hired me as their co-pastor. When discussing who we were going to have preach at the upcoming conference, I suggested a preacher friend of mine from Ohio. I thought it would be a great opportunity for him. He gladly accepted our invitation. One night after he preached, my friend asked me to critique his preaching. I thought, oh don’t ask me to do this. My friend had several annoying habits, one of which was failing to make eye contact with those to whom he was preaching. He insisted on me telling him what I thought of his preaching, so with great hesitation, I did. After I was done, I could tell that I had deeply wounded my friend, so much so that he talked very little to me the rest of the conference. Sadly, our friendship did not survive my honesty. Yes, he asked for it, but I really should have pondered whether he would benefit from me telling the truth. I should have, instead, recommended several books on preaching or encouraged him to use the gifts God had given him. Instead, I psychologically wounded him by being “brutally honest.”  Fifteen or so years ago, I tried to reestablish a connection with him. I sent him and email, asking him how he was doing.  He replied with a one word, FINE.

As a photographer, I am often asked for photography advice. I have learned that people don’t really want my opinion about their latest, greatest photographs. Instead of telling them how bad their photos are, I choose, instead, to encourage them to practice and learn the various functions of their cameras. (Most people never take their cameras off AUTO.) I told one person recently that I don’t critique the work of others. There’s no such thing as a perfect photograph, and taking photographs is all about capturing moments in time. As a professional, how my photos look matters to me, but I know that most people will never invest time and money into becoming a skilled photographer. Often, they don’t have the same passion about photography as I do. They wrongly thought that buying an expensive camera would automatically make their photos look good. It’s the photographer’s skill, not his equipment, that makes the difference. I try to encourage others, even if it means, at times, I stretch the truth a bit. I suspect all of us look for affirmation and encouragement instead of “brutal honesty.” If by withholding the unvarnished truth, someone is encouraged to keep taking photographs, then I have done a good deed. I certainly will do what I can to help them improve their skills, but I never want to drive them away from the craft.

Are you an “absolute” truth-teller? Do you believe it is ALWAYS wrong to lie, or do you believe there are circumstances when lying serves the greater good or causes the least harm? If you are a pastor/former clergy person, did you ever lie? Don’t lie!  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

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

normal

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

Polly’s mom is now on the last leg of life. She’s has congestive heart failure and has been give six or so months to live. In 2005, Polly’s younger sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All) leaving Polly alone responsible for her aged parents. In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, not far from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for Polly’s parents as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Two years ago, Polly’s dad had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church has pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

It will be left to Polly to take care of everything after her mom dies. Common sense says that Polly’s parents should have a will, but, unfortunately, common sense seems hard to find these days. Polly’s mom refuses to have a will drawn up, leaving Polly a colossal mess to deal with after her mom dies. Polly calls her mom every Sunday at 10:00 PM. They talk for one hour. In recent weeks, I have listened to Polly gently try to explain to her mom why having a will is important. Finally, I had enough and asked to Polly to put the phone on speaker. Bruce, the son-in-law she wishes she never had, is more blunt and direct than his wife. I let my mother-in-law know exactly what she was leaving behind for her daughter if she died intestate. In no uncertain terms I let her know that her view of the family was naïve. (She believes everyone will just get along after her death and there will be no problems settling the estate without a will.) She said nothing, thinking, I’m sure, “here’s another one of Bruce’s lectures.” Polly told me later that her mom let her know that she was putting her dad in a nursing home in Newark BEFORE she dies! I suspect she heard from one of her local grandsons that Polly and I had been talking about what to do with/for her dad after Mom died. One idea was to put him in a nursing home near us so we and children could provide for his needs. It seems that, even to the end, Mom intends to maintain the wall between us and her church and “godly” grandchildren in central Ohio. Her behavior has broken Polly’s heart, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Polly has always been the dutiful daughter, yet it seems her mom has chosen the rebellious daughter’s family over hers — much like in the Bible story about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). In the end, it’s Mom’s loss. She has an awesome daughter, and we have wonderful children and grandchildren; people with great empathy and compassion; people who value family. She doesn’t know this, of course, because she has chosen her dead daughter’s family over Polly’s. Such is life . . .

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

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

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

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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 Suddenness of Death

steve gupton

Steve Gupton

Eight years ago, I came in contact with a man by the name of Steve Gupton. Steve had been raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and attended Bob Gray’s IFB college in the 1980s. Steve and I spent countless hours talking about shared past experiences and our attempt to forge a new path in life sans God. Several years ago, Steve went through a divorce and suffered through long periods of depression. I talked him off of the ledge on more than one occasion. Steve deeply loved his children, and had plans to get married this year. Polly and I planned to travel to North Carolina for the wedding, hoping to meet Steve face-to-face for the first time. Sadly, I will never get to meet my friend in the flesh. On Saturday, Steve, a physically fit martial arts instructor, suddenly died from a heart attack. He was fifty-one.

Steve commented hundreds of times on this blog. We traded messages on Facebook hours before he died. We chatted about IFB pastor Donnie Romero being forced to resign over cavorting with prostitutes, smoking weed, and gambling. And now, just like that, the voice of my friend is forever silenced.

Earlier this week, another internet friend of mine, Justin Vollmar, woke up to discover that his three-year old daughter Clarisa had died suddenly in her sleep. Clarisa was deaf and blind, and was loved dearly by her parents. Justin rarely commented on this blog, but he did credit me with helping him on his journey out of Evangelical Christianity. Justin was a pastor of an Evangelical deaf church before he deconverted.

Both of these deaths are a reminder to me of the brevity of life and how suddenly it can end. The Bible is right when it says: Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

My friend Steve will face one final indignity as he is laid to rest: an Evangelical pastor has been asked to hold the funeral service. Steve and I often talked about what we wanted when we died. Having a Bible thumper preside over our funerals was definitely not something either one of us wanted. I suspect Steve’s IFB family is getting the last say on his funeral. Let this serve as reminder of the importance of putting into writing your last wishes.

Christianity offers the delusional hope that if people will just “believe” that they will be reunited someday in Heaven with their saved loved ones. As a Christian, I would have comforted myself with the promise of seeing Steve again. I would have comforted Justin with the promise that one day he would see Clarisa again and she would have a perfect body, one that could see and hear. Such promises are essential to Christian belief. Without the promise of a blessed afterlife, Christianity loses its power. People want to believe that there is more to life than the here and now; they want to believe that death is not the end; they want to believe that the family circle won’t be broken in the sweet by and by.  But life tells us a far different story — that death is certain and often comes when we expect it least; that death rips from us those we love, leaving only our memories. I wish it were different, but alas I must embrace reality, a reality that tells me I shall never see my friend Steve again; that Justin will never hold in his arms again his precious daughter. All we have are the memories of time spent with those we love. These untimely deaths are reminders, at least to me, that I should live life to its fullest and that I shouldn’t put off to another day experiencing life with those I love. Most of all, I am reminded of my own mortality. Steve was physically fit and in good health, yet he’s dead. Here am I with a broken-down, failing body. Dare I think for one moment that long life awaits me? As I helplessly watch, for the first time, my wife of forty years struggle with serious health problems, dare I think that we have forever in our future? No! We have today. We have now.

Let me conclude this post with the advice I give on my ABOUT page:

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.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Thanks for the Advice, but I Think I’ll Keep Doing it My Way

girls-high-school-basketball-game

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a . . . basketball.

I am often asked for photography or computer advice. I have a fair bit of expertise in these areas, so it doesn’t surprise me when people want my advice, have questions, or want me to fix something for them. I don’t mind helping people. It’s my nature to be helpful. Some people only contact me when they want something from me. This used to irritate the hell out of me, but I have since made peace with their neediness. Too bad I’m not still a Christian. Maybe I would get some heavenly rewards for helping family members and friends with computer repairs.

I started my own computer business years ago, only to fail miserably. My desire to be needed and helpful made me a terrible businessman. I could not bring myself to charge family and friends for the work I did for them. More than a few of them were quite happy to have me work for free. Fortunately, some of them do realize that a laborer is worthy of his hire and will pay me for services rendered. I have a similar problem now with my photography business. People ask me to do free work all the time, and I find it almost impossible to say no or charge them money for my work. This is my fault, not theirs. Being a pastor for so many years, constantly on-call and helping people, has made me a terrible businessman. I have tried to change my ways, but more often than not I revert to the norm and either work for free or charge a nominal fee. I am currently doing work for my sister. She, at least, insisted I charge her for my work.

Years ago, I had a then-family member ask me for advice about buying a new computer. I did a lot of research on her behalf, and then let her know what I thought would be the best computer for her. I patiently explained why she needed a computer with certain specifications, and why it was usually a bad idea to buy a budget/cheap computer. After a through explanation and thinking I had satisfactorily answered her questions, she said to me, thank you for your opinion. I thought, opinion? I didn’t give you an opinion. I gave you an expert’s answers to your questions. I naïvely thought she would follow my advice, but instead she went out and bought a cheap, under-performing computer.  I told her later, next time, don’t ask if you don’t want to know.

I frequently get asked sports related photography questions. People want to know why their sports photos don’t look like mine. Generally, it is not the equipment that makes a photograph, but the photographer. However, sports photography, especially poorly-lit interior events, requires fast lenses that are usually quite expensive. People often have cameras that come with slower lenses that are impossible to use suitably when taking inside sports photos. Using these lenses will almost always produce dark, noisy, blurry pictures.

One family member asked me to critique her basketball/baseball photos. She had an entry-level Nikon DSLR for which she had paid less than $500, including the two lenses that came with it. This equipment was not up to the task, and it naturally produced horrendous photos. I don’t like to critique the work of others, especially that of a family member. I tried to avoid doing so, asking her, are you really sure you want my advice? Yes, she told me. So, I sent her a long email detailing how to take sports photographs. I talked about equipment, ISO speed, aperture, shutter speed, and other settings. I talked about where to sit or stand and what the rules were for high school sports photography. It took me almost an hour to put everything together. Her response? Oh, wow. I think I will just keep doing what I am doing! I wanted to tear my mythical hair from its roots. Here I had taken the time to educate her and she blew me off with a wave of the hand, and what amounted to a thanks for your opinion, but I’m going to keep taking dark. blurry, grainy photos.

It’s not that I necessarily expect or demand people do exactly as I tell them, but when I lend them my expertise, I do expect them to at least pay attention to it. I have their satisfaction and success in mind when I give them advice. I know how frustrating it can be to use a cheap, slow computer and I most certainly know how to take shitty photographs. I have knowledge in these areas, which, if accepted, can make life easier and possibly produce photographs that are keepers.

I have always prided myself in being a writer, but it wasn’t until my editor contacted me the first time that I found out that I had great content but lousy grammar. In the early days of this blog, I tended to write like I talk. Sermons rarely make for great books, and so it was for my writing. I had to learn how to be a writer, complete with proper grammar. I like to think that my writing has gotten better over the past three years. Oh, I still make way too many mistakes, but I hope Carolyn can see my progress. When she makes a correction or suggests I change this or that in a story, I always comply. Why? Because she’s the expert, not I. I value her advice. Imagine how short our relationship would have been had I ignored her advice and corrections? The first time she contacted me, she said I love your writing, but your grammar really needs help. I was, at first, offended, but after a few edits by her, I realized she was right. Gawd, was she right! Sometime in early January, I will write my three-thousandth post. Currently, I have written 2,959 posts, totaling two-and-a-half million words. I can only imagine how my writing might be today without the patient instruction and correction of my editor. Expertise matters. None of us knows everything, and wise people realize this and seek out experts when they are lacking knowledge in a particular area. By seeking out experts and heeding their advice, we learn from them. And what is life if not a lifelong learning process?

Do you have family members or friends ask you advice about a particular skill for which you have expertise? Do you get frustrated when they ignore your advice? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Caring for Foster Children: Lice, Scabies, and a Stolen Car

bruce-and-polly-gerencser-1981

Bruce and Polly Gerencser with son #2, 1981

During the 1980s, Polly and I took in foster children from Licking and Perry counties in Ohio. We saw fostering children as an opportunity to not only help children psychologically and materially, but to also lead them to saving faith in Jesus. Most of the children placed with us were teenagers, though we did care for a two-year-old boy and a pair of sisters. We also took in a black girl, making her the only non-white student in the local school district. Some of the children were court referrals, teenagers who had been in trouble with the law. I suppose, if I am honest, I naïvely thought I could turn them around just by changing their home environment.  We also had a teen church girl live with us for a year. She had been living with her grandparents, and they were unable to control her. I don’t remember what the exact issues were.

One girl was from Buckeye Lake. She was a delightful child who had the bad luck of growing up in a dysfunctional home. She lived with us several times over the years. On occasion, she would spend the weekend with her parents and siblings. Their home was quite unkempt, to say the least. Without fail, she would return from these visits infested with head lice. We would treat her with RID, only to find reinfestations after she came back from seeing mom and dad. This, of course, led to our children also getting head lice.

One time, another child went home for a visit, only to pick up scabies while she was there. By the time we figured out she had scabies, so did Polly and I and our two sons. At the time, I was the assistant pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Buckeye, Lake, Ohio. The church was holding a revival service with John Babcock — a pastor and friend of Polly’s parents. John stayed with Polly’s parents that week. One day, he mentioned to them that he had this funny rash on his belly. It was quite itchy and all he wanted to do was scratch. Of course, when Polly’s parents let us know that John had some sort of “mystery” rash, we knew what it was right away: scabies.

In the mid-1980s, we took in two teen boys who had been referred to us by the Perry County Juvenile Court. The one boy lived us for quite some time, whereas the other boy was with us for only a short while. He would later attempt to rob someone at knife point. He spent time in prison for his crime. While living with us, he was quite a handful, constantly pushing the rules. The other boy was quite friendly and likeable. He loved our boys and we got along quite well with him. Years later, he and his wife would live for us a short time.

One day, Polly and I awoke to an epic nightmare. In the night, the boys had gotten up, stolen our money, checkbook, and car and run off. The one boy picked up his girlfriend, and off the three went to infinity and beyond. Their joyride was brought to an abrupt end by a New Jersey police officer who had stopped them for running a red light. The officer discovered they were driving a stolen automobile and promptly arrested them. Local law enforcement went to New Jersey to retrieve them, charging the boys with felony grand theft auto. The girl was not charged with a crime.

The boys were released to the custody of their parents to await prosecution. What complicated matters was the car they stole did not belong to us. Our car was at the Chrysler dealership getting the motor replaced. The car they took was a loaner car. New Jersey law enforcement informed the dealership it was up to them to retrieve the car. They did, and then tried to bill me for their costs. I knew they had insurance for such things, so I refused to pay — end of story.

One day, the Common Pleas Court judge’s office called and asked me to come to the judge’s office so he could talk to me. After arriving at his office, I could tell that he had already had a few to many. He asked me, Reverend, what do you think I should do with these boys? I pondered his question for a moment, and then replied, I think they need to be punished, but I don’t want them sent to prison. The judge decided to sentence them to one year at the youth detention facility in Columbus. Unbeknownst to the boys, he planned to set them free after thirty days — a sentence I totally agreed with. I knew these two white boys were in for a rude awakening when they found themselves locked up in a facility where being white made them a minority. As I mentioned above, the one boy went on to commit other crimes, but the boy who had lived with us the longest was scared straight and did not offend again.

Polly and I like to think that we made a difference in the lives of the foster children who spent time in our home. We did what we could to give them a stable place to live, along with a little — okay a lot — of Jesus, too. We hope our small acts of kindness made a mark on their lives. Several years ago, someone whom knew us let us know that one of our foster children had told them we had made a positive difference in her life. Hearing this made our day. I do wonder from time to time what has become of them. I think of our first foster child, a two-year-old boy. After a year in our home, he was returned to his drug-addicted mom. The boy’s father had gotten out of prison and they were attempting to make a new start in life. I wonder if the new start lasted. What kind of man did this little blond-haired boy become?

Have you ever taken in foster children? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Seeing the Christian God Where None Exists

god of the gaps

If there is a Christian apologetics argument that irritates the heaven out of me, it is the God of the gaps argument. Can’t explain something? God. Have something happen in your life for which there seems to be no rational explanation? God. Any place you have unanswered questions, you will find Evangelicals suggesting “God did it.”

Earlier this year, two Patrick Henry High School students, ages fourteen and seventeen, were killed in a tragic automobile accident. The Defiance Crescent-News reported at the time:

Two Henry County brothers were killed Wednesday morning when their vehicle became submerged in a Wood County creek just west of here.

Killed were Xavier Wensink, 17, and his passenger, Aidan Wensink, 14, both of Deshler. They were students at Patrick Henry Local Schools.

According to the Wood County Sheriff’s Office, at 11:20 a.m., a call was received concerning a vehicle completely submerged upside down in a creek on Sand Ridge Road, just west of Custar Road. Dispatched to the scene were deputies from the Wood County Sheriff’s Office and Weston Fire/EMS.

Grand Rapids Fire Department was dispatched to assist, as well as the Toledo Fire Department’s dive team. Rescue personnel discovered that the vehicle, a 2000 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, was occupied by the two teenagers.

I wept when I read of their deaths. So young, so much of life ahead of them, but in an instant the bright lights of their lives were snuffed out. Their deaths, of course, left their family and fellow classmates struggling to make sense of it all. God’s name was thrown around. Everyone was reminded of the “fact” that God is in control and he allows (or causes) tragedies to teach us to snuggle up close to him and trust that he is working out everything according to his purpose and plan. How about, don’t kill the fucking kids, God! That’s seems to be the right thing to do. You are the sovereign of the universe. Flex your pinky finger and stop the accident from happening. Nothing is too hard for God, right?

The oldest boy, who would have graduated in 2019, played varsity football. His jersey number was 28. Remember that number. It plays an essential part in the story that follows. Patrick Henry lost its first few games, and then one Friday night they scored 28 points and won the contest. They have in subsequent weeks won three more games, scoring 28 points each time. It’s a miracle, right?

The Defiance Crescent-News had a feature write-up yesterday about the 28 “miracle.” Here’s some of what the reporter had to say (behind a paywall):

Since Inselmann took over at his alma mater in 1991, the Patriots had given their frontman victories with 28 points on the scoreboard eight times going into this season. Never before in Inselmann’s tenure had PH won more than one game in a season with 28 tallies in a game, with the triumphs coming in: ‘91, ‘98, ‘00, ‘03, ‘05, ‘09, ‘13 and ‘14.

Fast-forward to the present day, where a glimpse at this season’s results shows four of the Patriots’ five triumphs coming with the squad lighting up 28 points on the scoreboards. Beginning with the Delta victory, that stat includes three in a row over the Panthers, Archbold and Swanton, with a huge 28-13 triumph over Bryan last week keeping PH undefeated in the league.

The significance?

Xavier Wensink’s jersey number is 28. The meaning?

“I really do believe that our team believes that Xavier is with us, and he is watching,” Inselmann insisted. “I don’t call that coincidence. I just think that the good Lord’s watching over us with Xavier, and the kids believe it.

How the season ends is anybody’s guess at the moment, as PH still has to contend with NWOAL rival Wauseon (3-5, 3-2 NWOAL) before hosting what should be an epic season-ending showdown with Henry County hammer Liberty Center (8-0, 5-0 NWOAL, No. 4 D-V).

But regardless of how it all shakes out, the 2018 Patrick Henry Patriots will forever be remembered as the team that didn’t quit, bringing together a school, program and community that, more than anything, needed something to believe in.

“As long as we keep getting better every week, believing in each other, becoming closer and closer as a team, only God knows where we’re gonna go,” concluded Healy.

As you can see, “God” features prominently in this “miracle.” Look, I get it. People want to make sense of a senseless accident. In the midst of their grief there appears a statistical oddity. This must be “God” sending everyone a message that number 28 is tearing up the turf on the heavenly football field. Or this is a sign that the dead boy is alive and well in Heaven, watching over his teammates.

I find it hard to criticize such nonsense. I certainly don’t want to cause anyone more heartache, but high school coaches and teachers and news reporters owe it the community at large to tell the truth. Suggesting that God is so tuned in to what is happening on earth that he takes time to “fix” the scores of football games is absurd. I wonder if the players on the losing teams had some sort of tragedy or loss in their lives too? Why, then, did God choose to give the W to Patrick Henry, but not them? Such arguments cheapen faith.

But, Bruce, four games with winning 28 point scores! What do you make of that? It’s a coincidence. Life is filled with such oddities. When they happen, we should say, hmm, that’s interesting. What we shouldn’t do attribute them to the Christian God. Just because something strange and out of the ordinary happens doesn’t mean God did it.

Patrick Henry’s football season will soon come to a close. The school will move on to its winter sports, but left behind will be family and friends who are still grieving their loss. Perhaps, in the still of night, they will sense God’s presence. If that’s what gets them through the night, fine by me. I suspect, however, that more than a few people will, as they toss to and fro on their beds, say, WHY? And to this question, Christians offer up religious platitudes and appeals to faith. However, from my seat in the atheist pew, it seems to me that God’s silence is deafening. Perhaps the reason this is so is because there is no God, and we humans are left to ourselves to figure out the reasons young lives are ended all too soon.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

I May Burn in Hell, But Until That Day Comes. . .

homosexuality hell

I am often contacted by Evangelical zealots who purportedly are concerned over my lack of belief and my indifference towards their threats of judgment and hell. Bruce, aren’t you worried that you might be wrong? Evangelicals ask. And right after they ask this question, they follow it up with an appeal to Pascal’s Wager (the number one apologetical argument used by defenders of Christianity). Evangelicals use Pascal’s Wager to attack the agnostic aspect of atheism. Since no one can be absolutely certain that God doesn’t exist, it is better to be safe than sorry. Of course, GOD in this equation is the Christian God. Evangelicals have deemed all other Gods false, even though they themselves can’t be certain these Gods do not exist. If Evangelicals were honest with themselves, they would do what they ask of atheists: embrace ALL other Gods just in case one of them might be the one true God. Better to be safe than sorry, right?

As an agnostic atheist, I can’t be certain a deity of some sort doesn’t exist. Of course, I can’t be certain that life on planet earth isn’t some sort of alien experiment or game. Perhaps, life on planet earth is more Westworld-like than we think. How can we know otherwise? Assuming that we are not AIs in a multilevel game, how, then, should rational beings deal with the God question? All any of us can do is look at the extant evidence and decide accordingly. I am confident that the Christian God of the Bible is no God at all. I don’t worry one bit over being wrong. Now, there’s .000000001 percent chance that I might be wrong, but do I really want to spend my life chasing after a deity that is infinitesimally unlikely to be real? I think not. Now, if I am asked whether I think a deistic God of some sort exists, that’s a different question. Not one, by the way, that changes how I live my life. The deistic God is the divine creator, a being who set everything into motion and said, there ya go, do with it what you will. This deity wants nothing from us, and is quite indifferent to the plight of the human race. Whether this God exists really doesn’t matter. She is little more than a thought exercise, an attempt to answer the “first cause” question.

Is it possible that I am wrong about the God question, and that after I die I am going to land in Hell? Life is all about probabilities, so yes anything is possible. However, when governing one’s life, our focus should be on what is likely, not on what might be possible. And what is likely is that there is no God, and it is up to us to make the world a better place to live. Evangelicals look to the Eastern Sky, hoping that Jesus soon returns to earth — thus validating their beliefs. This other-worldliness makes Evangelicals indifferent to things such as suffering, war, and global climate change. Jesus is Coming Soon, Evangelicals say. Fuck everything else! As an atheist, I live in the present, doing what I can to make a better tomorrow. I dare not ignore war and global warming because the future of my children and grandchildren is at stake. I want them to have a better tomorrow, knowing that all of us have only one shot at what we call “life.” It is irresponsible to spend time pining for a mythical God to come and rescue you. First century Christians believed Jesus was returning to earth in their lifetime. They all died believing that the second coming of Jesus was nigh. And for two thousand years, the followers of Jesus Christ have continued to believe that their Savior will come in their lifetimes to rescue them from pain, suffering, and death. Listen up, Christians. Jesus is dead, and he ain’t coming back.

I may land in hell someday, but until I do I plan to enjoy life. I plan to love those that matter to me and do what I can make this world a better place to live. I have no time for mythical religions and judgmental deities. I am sure some readers are wondering how I can live this way without knowing for certain that nothing lies beyond the grave. None of us knows everything. Those who say they are certain about this or that or know the absolute “truth” are arrogant fools. What any of us actually “knows” is quite small when compared to the vast expanse of inquiry and knowledge that lies before us. I know more today than I did yesterday, but that only means I learned that McDonald’s has added new menu items and the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t as good as I thought they were. Life is winding down for me, so my focus on family and friends. Well, that and photography and writing. One day, death will come for us, one and all, and what we will find out on that day is that most of what we thought mattered, didn’t. Perhaps, we should ponder this truth while we are among the living, allowing us to then focus on the few things that really matter. For me personally, God and the afterlife doesn’t make the list.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Abuse and Alienation: In The Church, Away From Yourself

alienation

Guest post by MJ Lisbeth

In a previous essay, I wrote about the conservative blue-collar community in which I was raised. Although it was in one of the world’s major cities, it very closely resembled, in many ways, a small town or village.

For one thing, everyone knew everyone else—or so it seemed. Also, nearly all of us were living at the same social and economic level, and our parents and grandparents had similar backgrounds. Most of them even came from the same places: the grandparents, and in some cases the parents, of just about every kid I knew, were immigrants. They came, not only from the same country, but from a group of towns and villages within a circle of 100 kilometers or so.

That meant we shared the same culture and, if we didn’t speak English at home, we spoke the same language—actually, the same dialect. In my earlier essay, I mentioned that nearly everyone had the same attitude about the Vietnam War, which claimed young men from my neighborhood. Well, there also wasn’t much diversity of opinion when it came to other issues of the day, as well as political figures and other famous people. Even someone like my uncle, who regarded Martin Luther King Jr. as a hero, believed—like most of my family and neighbors—that “Hanoi” Jane Fonda was a traitor or worse.

One more way in which my community resembled a small town in the South or Midwest (or even in the more rural areas of my Northeastern home state) is that on Sunday, nearly everyone went to the same church. While the churches in those far-flung villages and hamlets were, as often as not, Baptist or Presbyterian or of some other mainstream Protestant denomination, ours was Roman Catholic. But the effect it had on us was not unlike that of those small-town denominations on their congregants.

For one thing, going to the same church inculcated us with attitudes and values that some of us still hold to this day. (So, for that matter, did attending the Catholic school I attended along with many of my peers.) Perhaps even more important — at least for a child, especially the sort of child I was — it gave me a sense of belonging that I could find nowhere else. I made some of my first friends in the church, and being an altar boy was really the first experience I had of male camaraderie: not only did we practice and prepare together for the masses, weddings, funerals and other ceremonies in which we served, we also went on picnics and other outings, including ball games, together. It was, I just recently realized, my first attempt — however doomed it was to fail — to forge some kind of male identity.

You see, in the neighborhood in which I grew up, there weren’t many other ways to meet your peers while engaging in positive (or, at least, socially approved and legal) ways besides church. For that matter, it was difficult for people a bit older than myself to meet potential dates or get any sort of guidance about life without going to church, or someone connected with the church. And for adults, there weren’t many other things to do after a day or week of work, paid or unpaid, besides going to the church—or a bar.

That means, in such an environment, that if you are not part of the church, you are not part of the life of your community. It means that you will probably have few or no friends, and may find yourself alienated from family members. Ironically, not having the relationships most people take for granted — or, purely and simply, people to talk to — is just as detrimental to someone who is different and who is bound to leave one day as it is for someone who could, and wants to, be wholly integrated and raise his or her children in such a place.

I came to understand the way alienation — caused by sexual abuse from a priest — affected my own development as a transgender woman only recently, when by chance I found myself talking, for the first time, about my abuse with other survivors—and hearing their stories. One is a gay man from an insular community deep in the center of America. He told me that because he couldn’t talk about the attacks he endured from his parish priest, he essentially couldn’t talk — or learn — about his mind or body. He therefore couldn’t understand, until many years later, why his body reacted as it did even though, as he said, he didn’t feel any sexual attraction to the priest. And it took him even longer to know that there was no contradiction between feeling repulsed by that priest and being attracted to men. Why, even his first therapist told him that because he didn’t enjoy (or consciously elicit) what that priest did to him, he couldn’t possibly be gay.

It took him two more therapists and a failed marriage to understand, finally, that he is gay. Not coincidentally, he came to terms with it only after he was able to talk about his experience with that priest with someone who understood.

As you can imagine, I cried while listening to him. I finally started to clarify, for myself, my own gender identity and take steps to live by it after I told someone about my abuse. Until then, I couldn’t make any sense of how my body responded, involuntarily, to his, and how it — or his actions — had nothing to do with whether I was a girl or boy, or gay or straight, or anything else. Until then, I’d gone through my life trying to live as a gay man — something unsatisfying to me — or asserting a kind of masculinity some would call toxic but which, deep down, wasn’t any more mine than a same-sex attraction to men.

Of course, in the place and time in which I grew up — and in the world in which I’ve lived until recently — sex and gender identity issues weren’t discussed as openly, much less understood as broadly, as they are now. But even by the standards of my schools, communities, workplaces and other environments, I did not talk freely (actually, at all) about my own identity or inclinations. Because the priest who abused me swore me to silence — and because I knew that even if I could talk about it, I wouldn’t, because I would probably be disbelieved or blamed — I learned that talking about such things was not merely taboo: it could end my life. Or so it seemed.

So I kept quiet and, probably as a result, had a roof over my head, food in my mouth and the opportunity and means to an education. But I lived in isolation from all of those people who could talk with their friends, families and others about the issues that, as it turns out, almost everyone faces at some time or another. They learned what it was like to meet people, to form bonds and to support, and be supported, emotionally. Or, through interacting with other people, they realized how and why they were different and figured out what they needed to do before embarking on courses of study, careers, marriages and other relationships — including relationships with themselves — that were bound to fail.

In brief, when your church is the center of your community’s social life — whether in a rural village or an urban enclave — being alienated from it (even when you’re still participating in it) makes it much more difficult to define yourself, whether by or against or outside of it. For people like me and the gay man I’ve mentioned — and, I’m sure, many others who grew up in church-centered communities — that is what is so damaging about being abused by priests or other authority figures — or, more precisely, being sworn to silence and secrecy about it.

The “What If” Game

what if

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne

Thanks to modern medicine and clean water, most of us will live into our seventies and even our eighties. Compare our lifespan to that of the rabbits that hop through our yards or the cats sleeping their lives away on our couches, and we live relatively long lives. The difference between us and other animals is that we measure life by hours, days, and years. Rabbits and cats exist, until they don’t, with nary a thought about the brevity of their lives. They live, and then they die. We humans also live and die, but we tend to think a lot about our lives and their ultimate ends. We wonder, is there life after death? We strive to extend our lives as long as possible, fearing that despite what Christians tell us, there might not be anything waiting for us after we die; that death is the equivalent of shutting off our computers. As an atheist, I believe that the only thing that awaits me after death is endless darkness and silence. I have often pondered, in the still of night, being alive and then dead; that moment when all that went into making me who I am ceases to exist.

I don’t fear dying. It’s a waste of time to fear that which you cannot control. That said, I do ponder how best to live what life I have left. Age and health problems have done that to me. If I live to be seventy, I have less than eight years left before I am no more. It seems like yesterday that I was a young buck running free, thinking that I was immortal. It seems like yesterday that I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, married the love of my life, and fathered six children. It seems like yesterday that I was pastoring churches, winning souls, and investing my life in the work of the ministry. Now I am sixty-one years old, grandfather to twelve wonderful children, and come June I will draw my first social security check. Compared to my life when I was young, time is moving at breakneck speed. Come May, my oldest granddaughter will graduate from high school. Why, it seems like yesterday she was a toddler clumsily running through our home. Now she is a grown woman with plans to go to college. As I look at my grandchildren, I see how quickly they are growing, both in stature and intellect. Even my youngest grandchild, Ezra, has doubled in size from a few months ago. Born six weeks premature, Ezra is now growing faster than a feeder hog on corn. I suspect he’ll be an NFL linebacker by age two.

In two months, it will be Thanksgiving, and in three months we will celebrate Christmas. Didn’t we just celebrate these holidays a couple of months ago? On and on, with or without us, time moves along, never stopping for us to catch our breath or reset our navigation. I often find that I am in bondage to my to-do list. As my health declines and I feel the need to join the cat at the end of couch, the list gets longer and longer. I feel oppressed when I think about it. Damn, so much to do. I’m never going to get these things done. Silly, I know, because the fact of the matter is that most of what is on my list doesn’t really matter. If I get to the things on my list, fine, but if I don’t, will it make one bit of difference? I doubt it.  As I get closer and closer to the end of life, I find myself — on most days — focusing on the people that matter to me: my family and friends, especially Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, Aaliyah, Victoria, Karah, Levi, Emma, Guin, Gabby, Morgan, Alayna, Lily, Charlee, and Ezra. They are the sum of my life, or most it anyway.

One of the games older people play is the “What If” Game.  Have you played this game? I know I have. What if my dad didn’t move his family all over the place and I got to go to the same school instead of attending ten schools in twelve years? What if my mom and dad stayed married, instead of divorcing when I was fourteen? What if my dad was still alive instead of dying at age forty-nine and my mom was still alive instead of killing herself at age fifty-four? What if I married the first girl I loved instead of the last one? What if I went to Briercrest Bible College instead of Midwestern Baptist College? What if my parents stayed members of the Episcopal church instead of joining up with Fundamentalist Baptists? What if I stayed on as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church instead of moving 1,600 miles away to Texas to co-pastor Community Baptist Church? What if I never moved away from Southeast Ohio? Or Northwest Ohio? Or Central Michigan? Or Southwest Arizona? What if? What if? What if?

Life is made up of countless decisions. Each decision we make alters our lives, sometimes in insignificant ways, other times in ways that forever change us. Every decision moves us further down the path of life. While we would like to think that, if we had done differently at a certain point in life, things would have turned out better for us, how can we know for sure that that would be the case? Alter your timeline at one point and everything changes. And isn’t that the sum of what we call life?  Ever-moving, ever-changing. The most that any of us can do is use the information at hand to make the best possible decisions. I have made countless bad decisions, choices that altered my life and that of my family in profound ways. Shit, I tell myself, I would sure like a do-over. Well, there are no do-overs, no second chances. All any of us can do is learn from the past and try to do better the next time.

I have also made innumerable good decisions. I could play the “What If” Game and wonder if the good decisions I’ve made could have been better, but that’s a game for fools to play. I don’t believe in soulmates. I suspect had I gone to a different college or lived in a different place, I would have met a woman, fallen in love, gotten married, and lived happily ever after — or not. That said, that’s not what happened, and when I met a beautiful, dark-haired seventeen-year-old girl named Polly at Midwestern Baptist College, I knew she was the one for me. This one choice altered my life in more ways than I could ever imagine. We were naïve youths when we said I do, but here we are five decades later, still in love, and most of all, best friends (even after I boiled her fairly new enamel cast iron pot dry last night while I was forgetfully busy writing a blog post). Both of us could play the “What If” Game, but why would we? Is not what we have good enough? Is it not in fact more than we could ever have imagined? Instead of what wondering about what might have been, I choose to live in the present, grateful for all the blessings that have come my way. As life winds down for me, I choose to think about what I have instead of what might have been.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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, Did You Choose to Become an Evangelical?

headed for church 1960s

The Gerencser Family Headed for Church, Circa 1961-1962. I am the sharply dressed boy with a massive comb-over.

I was born in June 1957. My parents had me baptized in a mainline Protestant church (Lutheran or Episcopalian), but they moved to San Diego, California in the early 1960s, and I became a saved, baptized member of a Fundamentalist Baptist congregation — Scott Memorial Baptist Church, Tim LaHaye, pastor. From that time to my exit from Christianity in 2008, I was to some degree or another an Evangelical Christian. I say to some degree or another, because towards the end of my sojourn in Egypt I escaped Evangelicalism for a time. My wife and I visited numerous mainline churches, ranging from Greek Orthodox to United Methodist and from Roman Catholic to Lutheran. (Please read But Our Church is DIFFERENT!) The last church we attended before exiting out the back door never to return was a United Methodist church pastored by an Evangelical man who received his seminary education at Ohio Christian University.  So while I have visited and attended for a short while non-Evangelical churches, my pedigree is solidly Evangelical.

The question, then, is this: did I choose to become an Evangelical? The short answer is no. My religion (and politics) was chosen for me by my parents. From the 1960s to 2008, I was very much a part of the Evangelical church, its politics, and its subculture. Early on, the churches I attended were on the far right of the Evangelical spectrum. In the mid-1990s I abandoned the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and embraced generic Evangelicalism with a Calvinistic twist. Towards the end of time in the ministry, I found myself on the other end of the Evangelical spectrum. If I had continued on the leftward path, I have no doubt that I would have left Evangelicalism altogether. I suspect the only thing that stopped me from doing so was my lack of education. Leaving Evangelicalism to pastor liberal/progressive Christian churches was of interest to me, but having three years of Bible college education with no post-college seminary training barred me from walking that path. And just as well, I suppose, because the more I studied and learned the more I doubted the central claims of Christianity. It was only a matter of time before I came to the conclusion that Christianity no longer made sense. (Please read The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.)

My parents were attend-church-three-times-a-week Evangelical Christians. From the age of five through the age of fifty, I attended Sunday worship services at the Evangelical churches our family called home. As a fifteen-year-old boy, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, was baptized, and called into the ministry. For the next thirty-five years, I considered myself a God-called preacher. When I was a teenager, most of my friends were Evangelicals, and those who weren’t I tried to evangelize. Every girl I dated was an Evangelical. The college I attended was Evangelical. The girl I married was an Evangelical. Her parents and extended family were Evangelical. The six churches I pastored were Evangelical — IFB, Sovereign Grace Baptist, Christian Union, Non-denominational, Southern Baptist. All of my ministerial colleagues were Evangelical. In other words, I was, in every way, an Evangelical.

While I certainly made numerous choices as far as my theological beliefs and practices were concerned, I never strayed far, if at all, from the confines of the broad Evangelical tent. I may have thrown off the strictness of my IFB youth and early years in the ministry, but theologically I remained an Evangelical. Till the end, I believed the Bible was the Word of God. Till the end, I believed Jesus was the virgin-born, miracle-working, resurrected-from-the-dead son of the one true God. Till the end, I believed that Jesus was the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE. Till the end, I worshiped the triune God of Christianity. Till the end, I tried my best to live according to the commands, precepts, and laws of the Bible. Till the end, I modeled Christian faith to my children. Till the end, I was not ashamed to call myself a Christian.

As I look back over my life from a psychological and sociological perspective, it is evident that my religion was chosen for me; first by my parents and later by the pastors, teachers, church members, and friends I looked up to. No one ever suggested that faith might exist outside of Evangelicalism. No one ever recommended that I read the religious writings of other religions or consider whether Christianity was true. My life, in every way, was one long presupposition. Outlandish, irrational beliefs were accepted as facts because, well, everyone I knew believed these things. When your family, friends, pastors, and teachers all have the same beliefs (in a broad sense), it is unlikely that you are going to believe differently. At least, that was the case for me. As a true-blue believer, I was all-in. Even after my parents divorced and my entire family stopped attending church, I held on to the family God. In fact, I became more devoted to Jesus and his church. Is it any surprise that I was saved and called into the ministry the same year my parents divorced (and remarried)? I think not. In the church, I found a familial connection. In the church, I found purpose, meaning, and direction. No matter how much turmoil there was in my life, the church was always there for me. Well — until I said I was an atheist, anyway. THAT was a bridge too far, even for more “enlightened” Evangelicals.

Evangelicalism is bubble, the bubble where I found love and safety for many years. The beliefs and practices that now seem irrational, delusional, and psychologically harmful, made perfect sense to me as long as I remained in the bubble. When you grow up in and spend most of your life in a monoculture, it is hard to imagine life outside of the bubble. Danger, damnation, and hell await those who stray from the fold, I was told countless times, and I warned others of the same when I was a pastor. It was only when I dared to consider that the Bible might not be an inspired, inerrant, infallible text that I had thoughts of life outside of the bubble. I could be wrong, I thought. What if Christianity is not what I believed it to be all these years? What if all paths lead to God? What if no paths lead to God because there is no God? Questions pushed opened the door, and once it was open, I was free to wander and roam; free to read whatever I wanted; free to have non-Christian friends; free to love the world and the things of the world; free to finally, for myself, choose whether I wanted to be an Evangelical or whether I wanted to be a Christian. And the choice I made, of course, was NO, I don’t want to be an Evangelical; I don’t want to be a Christian. But even here I have to admit that, to some degree, this choice was forced upon me. I could have ignored the voices in my head and remained a Christian, but I chose, instead, to listen to questions and challenges percolating in my mind as I, for the first time, looked at Christianity with a skeptical, critical eye. And once I dared to accept the full weight of the implications of what I learned, my house of faith came tumbling down.

I have spent the last decade building a new house, one that sits on a foundation of reason, freethought, and the humanistic ideal. I didn’t choose to become an Evangelical. But I have now chosen to become a humanist. I feel liberated from the bondage of past beliefs, and while humanism is not the end-all Christianity professes to be, it does provide me a solid moral and ethical foundation by which to live my life. And here’s the good news, I am free to change and adapt as my thinking evolves, and no one is going to threaten me with humanist hell if I do. I can’t begin to express how wonderful it is to to ponder and think about what we call the big issues of life without fearing that I have offended the God or one of his earthly messengers. Simply put, I am free to be me.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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.

Who or What Gives Life Meaning and Value?

meaning of life alan watts

Evangelicals believe that it is God and the salvation they find in Jesus that give life meaning and value. I have had numerous Christians tell me that they would kill themselves if this life was all that there is. Paul echoed this thinking in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19 when he said:

For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

For Evangelicals, life without Jesus is miserable, one not worth living. The sum of their existence is wrapped up in believing that God has a super-duper, awesome, wonderful plan for their lives and that there is coming a day when he will reward them for obediently sticking to the plan. Life is viewed as preparation to meet God after death. The goal is the divine payoff that awaits them in the sweet-by-and-by. Or so the official press release says, anyway.

Paying attention to how Evangelicals actually lives their lives tells a far different story. If life is all about God, you would think Evangelicals would spend their waking hours worshiping Jesus, praying, studying the Bible, and doing everything in their power to evangelize the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. If life is all about J-E-S-U-S, you would think Evangelical churches would have worship services every day of the week and twice on Sunday. If, as Evangelicals say, the second coming of Jesus is nigh, shouldn’t Evangelicals be about their Father’s business, working diligently, for their redemption draweth nigh?

What we find instead is that Evangelicals live lives no different from those of their non-Christian neighbors. I have been told countless times by Christian zealots that my life as an atheist has no meaning or purpose. I am just biding my time, living out a miserable existence until I die. However, when I carefully examine how Evangelicals live their lives, I quickly see that their wants, needs, and desires are no different from mine. I can’t help but notice that Evangelical homes have all the material trappings their unsaved neighbors have. It seems that Evangelicals have forgotten what the Bible says about loving the world and craving its goods and pleasures. Just yesterday, I perused the Facebook page of an Evangelical who loves posting Christian memes. And then, smack dab in the middle of his wall was a post about him looking forward to attending a KISS concert!  Oh, the irony, but that’s Evangelicalism to its core. The followers of Jesus talk a good line, but when it comes down to practicing what they preach, well they are no different from atheists, humanists, agnostics and other heathens who supposedly have empty, meaningless lives.

How about we agree that all of us — saint and sinner — find meaning and value in the same things; that all of us seek love and social connection; that all us crave to feel wanted and needed; that all of us enjoy the pleasures this life has to offer; that all us desire peace, comfort, and prosperity. No God needed. The fact that we are alive — think about THAT for a moment — is enough to fuel our quest for purpose and meaning. One need not turn to religion to find these things. All any of us needs to do is take a deep breath and LIVE!

Here are a few quotes from the book, A Better Life:100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy and Meaning in a World without God:

“I look around the world and see so many wonderful things that I love and enjoy and benefit from, whether it’s art or music or clothing or food and all the rest. And I’d like to add a little to that goodness.” — Daniel Dennett

“I thrive on maintaining a simple awe about the universe. No matter what struggles we are going through the miracles of existence continue on, forming and reforming patterns like an unstoppable kaleidoscope.”  — Marlene Winell

“Math . . . music . . . starry nights . . . These are secular ways of achieving transcendence, of feeling lifted into a grand perspective. It’s a sense of being awed by existence that almost obliterates the self. Religious people think of it as an essentially religious experience but it’s not. It’s an essentially human experience.”  — Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

“There is joy in the search for knowledge about the universe in all its manifestations.” — Janet Asimov

“Science and reason liberate us from the shackles of superstition by offering us a framework for understanding our shared humanity. Ultimately, we all have the capacity to treasure life and enrich the world in incalculable ways.”  — Gad Saad

“If you trace back all those links in the chain that had to be in place for me to be here, the laws of probability maintain that my very existence is miraculous. But then after however many decades, less than a hundred years, they disburse and I cease to be. So while they’re all congregated and coordinated to make me, then—and I speak her on behalf of all those trillions of atoms—I should really make the most of things.” — Jim Al-Khalili

You can read other powerful quotes here.

I know that I am in the waning years of life. My body is telling me that time is short, and it could be shorter yet if I have another fall like I did last week at my in-law’s home: full body slam, face first on a cement floor. The good news is that I saved my phone from getting broke! Talk about things that matter, right? I know that osteoarthritis continues to eat away at my spine. I was in college — a slim, trim, fit young whippersnapper — when I first consulted a doctor for my back. I have narrow disc spaces in my lower back, and age and arthritis continue to lessen that space, causing nerve compression. Several weeks ago, I saw my orthopedic doctor about a problem I was having with my right hip. I would stand up and start to move and then, all of a sudden my hip would give way and I would fall. After careful examination, my doctor told me my hip was fine; that it was my lower back that was causing the problem. Any one of these falls could do me in. I know that, and I do all I can to avoid hitting the deck. Try as I might to push back against the ravages of time and physical debility, I know, in the end, they will win. They ALWAYS win. Knowing this helps me focus on the things that really matter to me

Let me conclude this post with several quotes from an article by Tom Chivers titled, I Asked Atheists How They Find Meaning In A Purposeless Universe:

“The way I find meaning is the way that most people find meaning, even religious ones, which is to get pleasure and significance from your job, from your loved ones, from your avocation, art, literature, music. People like me don’t worry about what it’s all about in a cosmic sense, because we know it isn’t about anything. It’s what we make of this transitory existence that matters.

“If you’re an atheist and an evolutionary biologist, what you think is, I’m lucky to have these 80-odd years: How can I make the most of my existence here? Being an atheist means coming to grips with reality. And the reality is twofold. We’re going to die as individuals, and the whole of humanity, unless we find a way to colonise other planets, is going to go extinct. So there’s lots of things that we have to deal with that we don’t like. We just come to grips with the reality. Life is the result of natural selection, and death is the result of natural selection. We are evolved in such a way that death is almost inevitable. So you just deal with it.

“It says in the Bible that, ‘When I was a child I played with childish things, and when I became a man I put away those childish things.’ And one of those childish things is the superstition that there’s a higher purpose. Christopher Hitchens said it’s time to move beyond the mewling childhood of our species and deal with reality as it is, and that’s what we have to do.” — Jerry Coyne

“Life is a series of experiences, and the journey, rather than the end game, is what I live for. I know where it ends; that’s inevitable, so why not just make it a fun journey? I am surrounded by friends and family, and having a positive effect on them makes me happy, while giving my kids the opportunity, skills, and empathy to enjoy their lives gives me an immediate sense of purpose on a daily basis. I can’t stop the inevitable so I’ll just enjoy what life I have got, while I’ve got it. I won’t, after all, be around to regret that it was all for nothing. ” — Simon Coldham

“It’s honestly never bothered me. I suppose that’s because my definitions of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ are pretty thoroughly rooted in the world I know. I know what happiness is, and love, and fulfilment and all that; these things exist (intermittently) in my short earthly life, and it’s from these things I derive my ideas of what a meaningful, purposeful existence is.

“I am, like anyone, staggered when I consider my tininess in the multi-dimensional scheme of things, but – and I know this sounds a bit silly – I don’t really take it personally. Meaning has to be subjective; atheism actually makes it easier to live with this, as who is better placed than me to judge the meaningfulness of my work, or my relationship, or my piece of buttered toast?” — Richard Symth

“People ask how you can find any meaning in life when you know that one day you’ll be dead and in due course nothing of you will survive at all – not even people’s memories. This question has never made sense to me. When I’m reading a good book, or eating a good meal, or taking a scenic walk, or enjoying an evening with friends, or having sex, I don’t spend the whole time thinking, Oh no! This book won’t last forever; this food will be gone soon; my walk will stop; my evening will end! I enjoy the experiences. Although it’s stretched out over a (hopefully) much longer time, that’s the same way I think about life. We are here, we are alive. We can either choose to end that, or to embrace it and to live for as long as we can, as fully and richly as possible.

“Obviously this means that we all have different meanings in our lives, things that give us pleasure and purpose. The most meaningful experiences in my life have been relationships with people – friends and family, colleagues and classmates. I love connecting with other people and finding out more about them. I enjoy the novels and histories that I read for the same reason and I like to feel connected to the people who have gone before us. I hope that the work I do in different areas of my life will make the world a better place for people now and in the future, and I feel connected to those future people too, all as part of a bigger human story.” — Adam Copson

You can read other wonderful meaningless quotes here.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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