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Tag: Death

Ruminations About My Mother: What We Have Now

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A guest post by MJ Lisbeth

A week and a half ago, my mother passed away.

Although she attended Mass and didn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent, she was hardly the Catholic version of a “Holy Roller.” She never talked about her concept of God, and of our many conversations, I can’t recall more than a couple that included any talk about our beliefs or even religion. What little she knew of Roman Catholic doctrines, she learned in Catholic schools during the ‘40s and ‘50s. And she knew even less of theology in general, or the Bible itself; even in my generation, Catholics weren’t encouraged to learn about those things for themselves. She often expressed disagreement, or even disdain, for much of what she heard from priests and fellow parishioners. I was only partially joking when, during one of our conversations, I exclaimed that she believed even less than I, an atheist, of what the church teaches.

The real reason she sent my siblings and me to Catholic schools, she said, was that she felt it offered “a better education” than the local public schools—and, on the money my then-blue-collar father was making, secular private schools were out of the question. To me, that is consistent with what she once told me was the main reason she continued to attend mass on Sundays (and on weekdays during times of crisis): “It’s comforting. It’s something that doesn’t change.” In other words, although I don’t doubt that she believed in God and adored Jesus, I think that she saw the church and its educational institutions as things she could depend on when other things in her life changed or failed.

Of course, I do not share my mother’s trust in the church, and not only because I survived sexual abuse from a priest. Other experiences, including my formal education, and my inquisitiveness, would undermine my ability to believe. I think that my mother understood as much, and saw my loss of faith in both the church and in God as more or less inevitable. (As far as I know, she never knew about the abuse.) My mother sometimes talked about what she might have done differently: She would have gotten more education (she didn’t finish high school), developed a career of her own and had her children later than she did. I have to wonder whether her church-going habit would have withstood such changes.

As it was, she began to hold views, and engage in practices that would have been unthinkable in the church of her youth. She was never homophobic or transphobic, but she told me—years before it became a popular view—she thought people should be allowed to marry people of their own gender. She expressed that belief even before I “came out” as transgender and started my own gender affirmation process. Although she didn’t think abortion “is a good thing,” she understood that there are times when it’s better than allowing a child to be born to someone unwilling or unable to be a loving, nurturing parent. Oh, and she had a Do Not Resuscitate order, which was carried out along with her wish to be cremated.

Signing the order to remove my mother’s life support was “the hardest thing I ever had to do,” my father said. But he knew of my mother’s wishes, and he has the same wishes for himself. While he has never declared himself an atheist or agnostic, my father doesn’t have much, if any, more belief in the church, or religion generally, than I have. Nor does one of my brothers, even though he was baptized into another church; something he did, he admits, mainly to be accepted by the family of the woman he married.

My sister-in-law, however, is firm, even adamant, in her religious beliefs. So are my other two siblings, who have remained in the Catholic Church, and their spouses, who were raised by families more devout than ours. Not surprisingly, all of those in-laws and the two still-Catholic siblings disassociated themselves from me as I began my gender-affirming process. As you can imagine, having to deal with them for the first time in many years has been stressful. Just as difficult, though, is having to countenance not only their religiosity, but their smugness about it. They believe that the only way to mourn my mother, or any other deceased, is through expressions of their religiosity, including ostentatious prayers. They do not understand that my way of mourning is more private because, for one thing, I’m simply more introverted and, for another, I care more about the relationship I’ve had with the person I just lost than with any appearance of piety. To them, the fact that I will enter the church only for my mother’s memorial mass—and not for any other ceremonies or prayers—is proof not only of my immorality (why else would I “change” my sex? they ask) but also that I didn’t truly love my mother. In their eyes, only the Godly—which is to say, those who adhere to their religious practices—can truly love anyone; never mind that one sibling and spouse, at least, have constructed their lives to avoid contact with those of different races and economic classes from themselves.

My mother did not approve of their “holier-than-thou” attitude, let alone that they shut me out of their lives. But she still loved them. Likewise, she didn’t always approve of everything I did—including, at first, my turning away from the church and faith altogether—but she loved me. And I love her. That is all we have now; that is all we ever could have, or could have had—whatever else we did or didn’t believe in.

Janice’s Cruel God, Yet She Loves Him Still

i love jesusSeveral days ago, the local newspaper reported that a police officer under investigation for perjury was dead. While the cause of death has not yet been released, rumor abounds to its cause. His death is currently under investigation by law enforcement and the county coroner’s office. [update: his death was ruled a suicide, death by a single gunshot to the head] Regardless of the cause of death, this man died way too young, leaving behind his wife, two married children, and his mother. It’s his mother I want to focus on with this post.

Janice — not her real name — attended a non-denominational Evangelical church I pastored in West Unity from 1997-2002. Janice was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. Every time the doors of the church were open, she was there. Any time we needed help in a particular ministry, Janice volunteered. She was what I call a one-percenter; the one-percent of church members who do ninety-nine percent of the work. Every church has a few Janices, and without them, the church would grind to a halt.

Janice’s husband, while a faithful attendee, was not as committed as she was. He was what I called a good-old-boy, a congregant who always had a story to tell, even if most of the tales were lies. Several years ago, Janice’s husband died of cancer. I believe he was 60 years old when he died. Janice remarried — her fourth. Today, she actively continues to serve Jesus with her new husband at a nearby Evangelical church.

During the seven years I was privileged to be Janice’s pastor, she went through three traumatic events.

I met Janice for the first time at a local restaurant which she and her husband operated. The restaurant was a greasy spoon and, thanks to its low ceiling, was often filled with cigarette smoke. This was in the days before No Smoking laws went into effect in Ohio. The smoke was so pervasive that after eating there, your clothing had the distinct odor of burning cigarettes (and greasy food). After Janice and her husband started attending our church, she asked if I could advise them about their business. She knew I had a business background, and had managed several fast-food and full-service restaurants. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Janice and her husband were drowning in debt with no way out. Owning a restaurant was Janice’s dream. Sadly, it was left to me to destroy her dream. No matter how I worked the numbers, it was clear that the restaurant would continue to lose money. Worse yet, Janice had stopped paying business and payroll taxes in the hope that the business would turn around. I finally told Janice that there was no possible way her business could survive, that throwing more money at it was a waste. This broke Janice’s heart, but I think she knew, deep down, that I was right. Several months later, she closed the restaurant.

One evening after church, I heard the office phone ring. Janice answered the phone. It was her youngest son, calling to say that he had just murdered his girlfriend while she worked at a nearby convenience store. In a fit of rage over being dumped, her son butchered his ex-girlfriend with a knife, leaving her young son motherless. Janice ran into the auditorium and asked for my help. I told her that her son needed to turn himself in before the police arrested him. I went with her to where her son was hiding and encouraged him to go to the sheriff’s office and surrender. He did and later pleaded guilty. Janice’s raised-in-church son is currently serving a life sentence in an Ohio penitentiary.

Janice had one daughter who loved Jesus, but loved having a good time too. She was quite the character, and would frequent our church off and on. Not long after getting married, Janice’s daughter came down with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She died ever so slowly, finally succumbing to the disease in her 20s. I had the sad privilege of performing her funeral.

And now, her son is dead. Four marriages, a failed business, a dead husband, two dead children, and a child behind bars for life. Yet, despite all of these things, Janice still lovingly and blindly worships, serves, and follows Jesus. (The day of and days after her son’s death, her Facebook wall was littered with dozens of memes extolling the wonders of Jesus.)  And for the life of me, I can’t understand why. Yes, Jesus supposedly saved Janice from her sins and promised her a mansion in Heaven after she died, but outside of that, her God has been a piss-poor father, friend, and lover. What is it, exactly, that God has done for Janice? Look at all she had suffered in this life. Yet, despite the abuse, she loves Him still.

Perhaps, believing in God and holding onto his promises is what helps Janice get through life. If so, I get it. That said, I want to scream, JANICE, LOOK AT YOUR LIFE! WHERE IS GOD? From my seat in the atheist pew, it’s clear the “friend that sticks closer than a brother” abandoned Janice long ago; that the deity — much like an abusive husband — who says “I love you” is a violent abuser; that Janice’s Heavenly Father is a child abuser, and is unworthy of her love, commitment, and devotion.

I am sure Janice hopes for great reward in Heaven after she dies. Sadly, what she won’t know is that her suffering came from the cruel roll of fate’s dice; that sometimes shit happens to good people; that time spent hoping and expecting God to come through is a fool’s errand. I wish Janice nothing but the best in the years that lie ahead. I wish most of all that she would tell her abusive deity to fuck off and spend her remaining days enjoying life without thoughts of worship, devotion, and commitment. Sadly, I suspect Janice will ride her God’s black train until the end.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Barbara

barbara tieken 1940s
My Mom, Barbara Tieken, 1940s

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

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

A heinous act he never acknowledged or apologized for

When he became a Christian his past was under the blood

God may have forgiven him

But she never did

barbara and steve tieken 1940s
Barbara and Steve Tieken 1940s

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

A woman who attracted the attention of men

At seventeen she found herself pregnant

At the age of eighteen she married

Did she marry the father of her baby?

There are doubts

barbara gerencser 1956
Barbara Gerencser, 1956

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

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

Along the way she birthed another boy and then a girl

She loved to read and was passionate about politics

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

She campaigned for Barry Goldwater and George Wallace

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

She loved to cook

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

Her son’s father couldn’t be bothered

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

Her oldest son was home sick from school when it happened

So much trauma

Is it any wonder she had mental problems?

Psychiatrists

Pills

Mental hospitals

Attempted suicides

Rage

Depression

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

Yet, she lived

Over time, her body collapsed, rendering her an invalid

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

By then, her oldest son was a preacher

She was proud of him

He was not proud of her

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

Four marriages

Numerous men in and out of her life

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

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

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

barbara tieken 1950s
Barbara Tieken, 1950s

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

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

She didn’t like his driving

Her phone was often disconnected

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

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

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

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

They talked and wept together

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

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

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

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

His aunt was on the other end of the phone

He heard what he never hoped he would hear

His mom was dead

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

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

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

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

The preacher son could barely speak

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

Even in death she was ignored and denied

Her father spoke of Jesus

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

She was fifty-four when she died

Her son misses her

Oh how he wishes for a do-over

To tell her, I love you

To proudly show off his grandchildren

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

And memories

barbara gerencser 1978
Mom and Bruce, Rochester, Indiana, 1978

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists Will Cry Out “God Help Me” When They Die

geri-ungurean

But I will say this:  Find a person who not only claims to be an Atheist, but obsesses on pushing their atheistic views on others so as to recruit them; and I guarantee that if truth be told, and this person opened up about their life, you would find an ANGRY person.  You would find a person who blames the God whom they say does not exist, for something that happened in their life.

It’s truly sad. 

There is a saying that goes like this:   “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  I believe this is true. A lifelong “atheist”  will cry out  “God help me” when faced with death.

VERY TELLING.

Do you have a person in your life who claims to be an atheist?  I have many. But I came to the point when I realized that God must be the One who gets through to the “haters.”  The more you push against them, the nastier they become. The more Scripture you give to them, the more they laugh.

— Geri Ungurean, Absolute Truth From the Word of God, GOD HATERS Masquerading as ATHEISTS: We Know the Truth, April 16, 2019

Quote of the Day: Theological Beliefs Force People to Endure Needless Suffering

assisted suicide
Cartoon by Ted Rall

Granting dying patients the power to determine when their lives will end has long been a serious point of contention with some American religious groups who view these right to die laws as government embracing a “culture of death.” Well-known right to die activists such as Jack Kevorkian have countered that religious ethics should not subvert sound medical reasoning. As of now, the argument against establishing right to die laws remains the dominant American position as only six states and the District of Columbia currently allow physicians to prescribe medications that hasten death. Another, more blunt way to put it, is that a theological belief is forcing millions of families and individual Americans to endure needless suffering that most of us spare our pets.

On its face, the religious objection to right to die laws is based on an otherwise morally praiseworthy worldview that all human life is sacred. Understanding how this seemingly positive belief became the chief impediment to ending so much needless human suffering presents a great lesson in the underlying conflict between science and dogmatic belief.

To be clear, I do not think this conflict needs be a zero-sum game. Indeed, the Constitution provides a great blueprint for how religious faith and science can interact in the same space to overall mutual benefit. Moreover, a strong argument can be made that a constant state of tension is how our market of ideas should function under. That said, I do agree with the critics of dogma such as neuroscientist and author Sam Harris in one very important respect; the main problem with dogma, no matter how benign, is that it is unresponsive to new evidence and discoveries.

The practical issue is the period in which most religious scripture takes place is centuries apart from the time period when modern science came about. Therefore, it is utterly impossible for scripture to take into account the evidence that modern science has produced. This places literal, dogmatic interpretation of spiritual text often in conflict with readily provable realities that modern science has revealed. For instance that the earth is billions, not thousands of years old. Often times, the descriptive conflict between religious dogma and modern science does not bear any direct impact on the everyday lives of most. When the subject matter spills into medical ethics however, the debate can have very real consequences.

— Tyler Broker, Above the Law, The Right to Die, March 12, 2019

Bruce Gerencser