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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.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Democrats Are the ‘Party of Evil’

bill mitchell

This is what the Democrat Party believes in. This is what they are about. They are murderers. They are evil. They are racist. They want to open our borders to illegal aliens. They want to raise our taxes. I’ll tell you what, they are a scary, frightening party and as the righteous people of God, we must stand against them.

If you went out there and you voted Democrat this last time, you need to take a hard, long look in the mirror. The Democrats are the party of evil. They’re the party of death and open borders. Look at all the crime and the disease and the drugs these illegals are bringing across the border, look at how they’re driving down wages for hard-working Americans. And yet you’re voting for that. You’ve lost your minds. If you’re a Democrat and you’re voting Democrat, you’ve lost your mind and you’d better check your soul too, because you are voting for stuff that God is not for.

— Bill Mitchell, Right Wing Watch,The Democrats Are the Party of Evil, January 4, 2018

IFB Preacher Donnie Romero Caught Cavorting With Prostitutes, Smoking Weed, and Gambling

donnie romero

Donnie Romero is the pastor of Stedfast Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas. Romero is the bosom buddy of Steven Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. Yesterday, Anderson released a video detailing Romero’s resignation from Stedfast Baptist. According to Pope Anderson, Romero was cavorting with prostitutes, smoking weed, and gambling.  What’s next? Romero secretly used the NIV to study for his sermons? The good news is that according to Anderson’s and Romero’s soteriology, the fallen pastor is still saved. There’s nothing Romero can do to ever lose his salvation. Once saved, always saved, baby, even if Romero brings shame to his family or infects his wife with a STD.

Anderson must be livid over Romero exposing that his little club of IFB churches is just like the rest of the bunch; that for all their talk about soulwinning, homosexuality, and any human behavior they deem sinful, these “men of God” are no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.

Here’s Anderson  five-minute video:

Video Link

Here’s Anderson’s eighty minute speech to congregants at Stedfast Baptist. It is evident, at least to me, that Anderson views himself as the Apostle Paul of his little group of hyper-fundamentalist Baptist churches. Anderson has already chosen a new pastor for the church.

Video Link

Romero’s church bio states:

Pastor Donnie Romero was born in Western Colorado in 1982. He was raised as a Roman Catholic. In 2002 at the age of 19, he was saved through door to door soul winning. He met his wife ***** a few years later. In 2007, they started to attend an independent Baptist church and were married shortly thereafter. The Romero’s have been blessed with 7 wonderful children. Pastor Romero is now faithfully training up men to preach the gospel door to door as the bible teaches.

Pastor Romero does not believe that churches are started by bible colleges or denominations, but they are built by the Lord Jesus Christ, through soul winning and hard Bible preaching. He is a faithful soul winner and has a desire to see lives changed as a result of the Word of God. He also whole heartedly believes that the Bible is the final authority in all matters of life.

If you are up to it, please read the YouTube comments. You will gain fresh insight into how IFB Christians think. Some commenters believe Romero is a hero, a man of character for owning up to his “sins.”  That his confession shows that the “new” IFB church movement takes such behaviors seriously. Sure it does . . .

You can check out Romero’s sermons here. Please have a barf bag handy, you will need it!

Is It a Sin to Go to the Movie Theater?

mary poppinsBack in the days of my youth, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches I attended banned their members from going to indoor and outdoor movie theaters. Their logic went something like this:

  • By attending movies, you were supporting evil, immoral Hollywood.
  • By attending movies, you might cause other Christians to think poorly of you. What if they saw you leaving a multiplex theater that offered G-rated and R-rated movies? They could wrongly assume that you were watching an R-rated movie and not a God-approved G-rated movie. This would lead to you having a bad testimony in the eyes of other believers.
  • By attending movies, you could cause spiritually weaker Christians to stumble. If these spiritually immature believers saw you attending a movie, they would assume that it was all right for them to watch a movie too. And their spiritual immaturity could result in them watching non-G-rated movies.

This same logic was applied to watching television and eating in restaurants that served the Devil’s brew, alcohol. (Please see Catch-All Bible Verses: I Will Set No Wicked Thing Before My Eyes) Several years ago, I wrote a post titled, The Preacher and His TV. Here’s an excerpt from this post that best explains how IFB churches view things such as movies and television:

My wife and I married in 1978. One of our first purchases was a used tube console color TV that we purchased from Marv Hartman TV in Bryan, Ohio. We paid $125. We continued to watch TV for a few years, until one day I decided that watching TV was a sin. This was in the mid-1980s. After swearing off watching TV, I decided that no one, if he were a good Christian anyway, should be watching television. One Sunday, as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt Perry, Ohio, I preached a 90-minute sermon on the evils of watching television and going to the movies. I called on all true Christians to immediately get rid of their TVs and follow their preacher into the pure air of a Hollywood-free world.

To prove my point, I gathered the congregation out in front of the church for a physical demonstration of my commitment to following the TV-hating Jesus. I put our TV in the church yard and I hit it several times with a sledge-hammer, breaking the TV into pile of electronic rubble. Like the record burnings of the 1970s, my act was meant to show that I was willing to do whatever it took to be an on-fire, sold-out follower of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Just before I hit the TV with the sledge-hammer, a church member by the name of Gary said to me, Hey preacher, if you don’t want that TV I’ll take it.  How dare he ruin my sin-hating demonstration! I thought at the time. I gave Gary a scowling look and proceeded to knock the devil right out of the TV. I am happy to report that not one church member followed in my TV-hating footsteps.  What church members did do is make sure that their televisions were OFF when the man of God made an appearance at their home.

….

In the early 1990s, I would, from time to time, rent a television from a local rent-to-own business. Two times come to mind: the World Series and the 1991 Gulf War. Outside of that, my oldest three children grew up in a television-free home. They were teenagers: 18, 16, and 13, before they watched TV (except for watching Saturday cartoons when they were little). Well, this isn’t entirely true. When they visited their grandparents, they were permitted to watch TV (even though I wasn’t happy about them doing so). Like Amish children, they were mesmerized by Disney movies and cartoons.

After our family attended their first movie, I decided I would buy a television, setting in motion seven years of what any competent psychologist would call bizarre behavior. While what I am about to share will sound hilarious to those who never spent any time in Christian Fundamentalism, at the time, there was nothing humorous about my actions.

From 1998 through 2005, I purchased and got rid of at least six television sets. I gave one TV to the local crisis pregnancy center. I also gave one set to my son. The rest I sold at a loss. Why all the televisions? you might ask. Simple. After watching TV for a time, like a moth to a flame, I was drawn towards watching shows that I promised God I would never watch. Dear Lord, I promise I will only watch G or PG rated programming, and if there is any nudity, cursing, or gore I will immediately turn off the TV. No matter how much I wanted to be holy and righteous, I found that I loved watching programs that contained things that I considered sin.

My “sinning’ would go on for a few weeks until the guilt would become so great that I would say to God, you are right God. This is sin. I will get rid of the TV and I promise to never, never watch it again. Out the TV would go, but months later I would get the hankering to watch TV again and I would, unbeknownst to Polly, go buy a television.

It is clear now that my beliefs made me mentally and emotionally unstable. I so wanted to be right with God and live a life untainted by the world, yet I loved to watch TV. One time, after I came to the decision to get rid of yet another TV, Polly arrived home from work and found me sitting on the steps of the porch, crying and despondent. I hated myself. I hated that I was so easily led astray by Satan. I hated that I was such a bad testimony. Look at ALL that Jesus did for me! Couldn’t I, at the very least, go without watching TV for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I have written before about my perfectionist tendencies. I wanted to be the perfect Christian. God’s Word said to abstain from the very appearance of evil. Psalm 101:3 was a driving force in my life: I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

Television was a wicked thing, I told myself, yet I continued to battle with my desire to watch sports and other programs on TV. Needless to say, the advent of internet, brought into our home a new way for me to be tempted to sin against the thrice holy God I pledged to serve, even unto death. I’m sure that my children will remember me putting a sign above our computer that quoted Psalm 101:3. This was meant as a reminder that we should NEVER view inappropriate, sinful things on the internet.

My three oldest children, now in their 30s, continue to rib me about my TV-crazed days. One of them will periodically ask if I am ready to get rid of our flat-screen TV. Their good-natured ribbing hails back to the day when their Dad acted like a psycho, buying and selling televisions. At the time, I am sure they thought I was crazy, and I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

….

In the late 1990s, I came to the conclusion that it was not a sin to watch a movie as long as it was G or PG-rated. One Saturday evening, Polly and I loaded our children into our car and drove to a nearby drive-in theater. Polly was fearful, thinking that God would judge or kill us for going to the theater. I told her that I was confident that God wouldn’t judge us for watching Air Bud and George of the Jungle. Not that I knew this, of course. I had concluded that some of our Fundamentalist phobias were legalistic nonsense, and the prohibition against movie attendance was one such phobia. Over time, we, however, proved that IFB preachers were “right” about movies; right in the sense that once you start watching movies, you are on a downhill slide that leads to R-rated, NC17-rated, and even X-rated movies. Over the years, our viewing habits did change, especially once we moved away from Evangelicalism. We didn’t, however, turn into vile, evil people who thirsted for the things of the flesh. Today, we watch what we want to watch, regardless of the rating. We generally prefer PG-13 or R-rated movies or M-rated TV programs.

Over the holidays, a monumental event took place with Polly’s parents; one that we NEVER, EVER thought would happen. Polly grew up in a home where movie attendance was verboten. Well, almost verboten. Her family had a dirty little secret. When they went on vacation to Florida, they would go to the movies. Their logic, if you call it that, was that no one from their church would see them. This same logic was played out at the college we attended. Female students were not permitted to wear pants. Students were also not permitted to travel more than ten miles from the school. One Saturday evening, while out on a double-date, Polly and I stopped at a mall that was outside of the ten-mile radius. Imagine our surprise when we saw the college president’s wife and her daughter strolling through the mall wearing pants! They never expected to run into students, so they felt safe wearing sinful, wicked, immoral pants. So it was with Polly’s family and movies while they were on vacation: out of sight, out of mind.

While at home, Polly’s family NEVER attended the movies. Doing so was a sin. But Bruce, weren’t Polly’s parents (and preacher uncle and aunt) being hypocritical; living one way at home and a different way while on vacation? Sure they were, but such inconsistencies were common among IFB preachers and congregants. As the case for almost all Evangelicals, they made it up as they went along. Behaviors that were sins in the 1970s became approved actions in the 1990s. In the late 1970s, the church Polly’s parents attend believed having facial hair was a big, fat s-i-n. Today? It is not uncommon to see male church members sporting mustaches and beards — but no long hair. I have concluded that IFB churches, standard-wise, are about 20 years behind the “world.” Just wait long enough, and things that once were sins will no longer be so.

Back to the monumental event that took place during the holidays. My oldest son and his children visited Polly’s parents over Christmas. While there, he and his cousins and their children got together and went to a movie. While the cousins claim varying degrees of Evangelical Christianity, none of them has a problem with movie attendance. The shocking part of this story is that Polly’s mom and dad went with them! This is the first time in over fifty years that they have attended a movie on their home turf. All told, twenty-two of them went to see a racy, violent movie — Mary Poppins Returns.

Only one family member held to the IFB standard: Polly’s recently widowed aunt. Her husband had been a hardcore IFB preacher for over fifty years. She couldn’t bring herself to violate the standard her husband had preached over all those years. Of course, once the movie comes out on DVD or Netflix, well then it will be okay to watch it. I remember having a “discussion” with her preacher husband back in late 1980s about the inconsistency of his stand on movies. He preached against attending movie theaters, mainly because doing so supported Hollywood and could lead to a bad testimony. However, he had no problem renting movies at the local video store; a store which, by the way, had a special room where they stocked explicit X-rated movies. Hypocritical? Yep, but that’s the norm in Evangelical churches, including IFB congregations. If a preacher or congregants want to do something that violates the law of Medes and Persians, well they will find a way to get around the law. My problem was that I was a perfectionist who demanded strict obedience to the law. If going to a movie theater was a sin, so was renting movies from a video store. In the early 1990s, I tried to live — quite comically — according to the standard of not doing business with any concern that sold alcohol. I found that it was IMPOSSIBLE to do so. Every grocery store and most gas stations sold alcohol, as did upscale restaurants. Thus, I had to — dare I say — compromise my beliefs. Purity of belief was impossible.

Today, things are far different for Polly and me. God and the Bible no longer have any authority over us. We are free to do what we want. Having such freedom makes for living a peaceable life. We no longer worry about God raining fire from Heaven down on our heads or afflicting us with leprosy. We are free to live our lives as we wish. This doesn’t mean we are hedonists, doing as we will without compulsion or fear of consequences. We still live our lives according to personal standards and cultural norms, but we no longer let Christian belief determine how we live.

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.

Songs of Sacrilege: Holy Smoke by Iron Maiden

iron maiden

This is the one hundred ninety-eighth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Holy Smoke by Iron Maiden.

Video Link

Lyrics

Believe in me – send no money
Died on the cross and that ain’t funny
But my so called friends are making me a joke
They missed out what I said like I never spoke
They choose what they wanna hear – they don’t tell a lie
They just leave out the truth as they’re watching you die
Saving your souls by taking your money
Flies round shit, bees around honey.

[Chorus]
Holy Smoke, Holy Smoke, plenty bad preachers for
The Devil to stoke
Feed ’em in feet first this is no joke
This is thirsty work making Holy Smoke

Jimmy Reptile and all his friends
Say they gonna be with you at the end
Burning records, burning books
Holy soldiers Nazi looks
Crocodile smiles just wait a while
Till the TV Queen gets her make up clean
I’ve lived in filth I’ve lived in sin
And I still smell cleaner than the shit you’re in

[Chorus]

They ain’t religious but they ain’t no fools
When Noah built his Cadillac it was cool
Two by two they’re still going down
And the satellite circus just left town
I think they’re strange and when they’re dead
They can have a Lincoln for their bed
Friend of the President – trick of the tail
Now they ain’t got a prayer – 100 years in jail

Sacrilegious Humor: Growing Up Fundamentalist by Taylor Tomlinson

taylor tomlinson

This is the fifty-sixth installment in the Sacrilegious Humor series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a comedy bit that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please email me the name of the bit or a link to it.

Today’s comedy bit is by Taylor Tomlinson.

Video Link

MERRY CHRISTMAS From the Atheist Santa

bruce santa 2018 (2)

I love Christmas. I even say “Merry Christmas.” I thoroughly enjoy the holiday season, and I might even listen to a few religious Christmas songs. At the Gerencser home, Christmas is all about family, good food, booze, gift-giving, lights, and a Lionel train circling our fresh-cut Fraser fir-tree. Tomorrow is our family Christmas. Our children, their spouses/girlfriends, and our twelve grandchildren will all be here if the fates allow.

Surprisingly, Christmas means more to me now and is more enjoyable than it ever was as a Christian. No dutiful sermonette before gifts are open; no boring reading from the Gospel of Luke; no verbose prayers reminding everyone that Jesus is the real reason for the Season.  While some in attendance still believe in Jesus, others do not. What we all agree on, however, is the importance of family and of love. Oh, we don’t always like each other, and we can fuss with the best of them, but we never forget how blessed we are to have each other.

I plan to take a break from writing until January 2. Polly and I continue to battle health problems, so we hope over the next two weeks unwind a bit, visit Polly’s parents (her mom has been given six months to live and her dad is slowly fading into the background of life), and maybe take a couple of day trips IF the damn Sun ever deigns to shine again in rural northwest Ohio. It’s winter in Ohio, and one thing seems constant: cold, dreary, gray days.

I hope you and yours have a blessed holiday season.

Bruce

bruce santa 2018 (1)bruce santa 2018 (3)

Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor John Schouten Impregnated Christian School Teen

pastor john schouten

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

In October 2018, I wrote a post detailing the resignation of John Schouten, pastor of Vineyard Grace Fellowship (VGF) in Newark (Heath), Ohio His congregation found out that he had a sex crime in his past. While neither Schouten or VGF is willing to name the crime, an email sent to congregants stated Schouten did something that was “wrong, evil, and illegal.” The use of the word “illegal” narrows the field to: rape, sex with a minor, sexual assault of a minor, and a handful of other underage sex crimes.  According to the Newark Advocate, since the incident occurred 30 years ago, the statute of limitations has passed.

Yesterday, the Newark Advocate published a story detailing exactly what it was that Schouten did:

The former pastor of VGF Church stepped down from the church he founded because about 30 years ago he had a relationship with a minor while he was a teacher.

John Schouten admitted to the relationship when confronted by church elders after the church received an email about the relationship during the summer, according to Advocate media partner 10TV.

Two people reached out to The Advocate corroborating the story.

While a teacher with Liberty Christian Academy in Pataskala during in the 1980s, Schouten had a relationship with a female teenage student. The two had a child together, according to 10TV.

….

You can read my original post here.

Previously, Schouten told congregants that he had committed “rebellious and sinful actions” in the past. He never admitted that what he actually did was commit a felony for which he should have went to prison. The good pastor waited until the statute of limitations expired before coming clean about his past criminal behavior.

 

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

somerset-baptist-church-somerset-ohio-1983

Storefront meeting place for Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.