Conservatives often blame liberals for the breakdown in society today. After all, liberals challenged an order that existed and replaced it with a situation that is now unraveling.
This unraveling can be traced to the efforts of liberal activists to influence legislation and elections and to liberal control of the media that shape the debate.
One characteristic of the liberal mind is its gradualist progression away from the objective truth. In its early stages, the liberal mind does not deny the existence of objective truth outright. Instead, liberals deplore its rigidity. Instead, they offer half-truths that mitigate the hard-hearted attitudes of conservatives, smoothing the slide into error. The liberal mind likewise does not initially embrace error but is drawn toward and harbors sympathy for it.
A second characteristic of the liberal mind is that it does not seek objective and external truths that explain reality. Liberals seek instead only those conclusions that please them. They search for perspectives that fit their temperaments, lifestyles and ways of being. These are the thoughts that guide their lives.
The liberal mind gives rise to a mode of action which is easily defined. The foundation of liberal action is a distorted vision of freedom that consists of doing only what one wants to do.
Thus, liberal action tends to be relativistic and subjective, following the whims of the individual. It can be imaginative and fantasy-driven when a person takes the action to its final consequences.
Liberal action is also characterized by a spirit of doubt toward that which does not correspond to personal whims. Such doubt, however, is never directed toward that which does not please liberal whims.
The final characteristic of the liberal mind is a dislike of rules and laws. Law by definition is restrictive.
Law consists of those reasonable precepts coming from a competent authority to which all must conform for the sake of the common good. Rules and laws upset the liberal mind, which feels attacked by them.
Thus, liberals dislike anything that imposes restraint such as laws, manners or morals. In more advanced stages, even the restrictive nature of clothing or grammar can irritate the sensibilities of the liberal mindset.
This explains the liberal hostility to the Church and traditional notions of religion. God is the First Lawgiver and punishes those who sin against His Commandments. The liberal mind prefers a god for whom nothing is a sin. This god is one of the liberals own making. In their view, he radiates compassion, not justice.
While these four psychological characteristics differ, they do have a common trait. They all are self-centered.
What governs liberal minds and actions are the dictates of each individual’s ideas, tastes and desires. The individual is the center of everything. Each person determines right and wrong, truth and error.
The problem today is that half-truths now dominate and error is pushing the envelope ever closer to chaos. The liberal mind naturally leads to anarchy when taken to its final consequences. It admits no authority other than its own. It will accept no law nor respect any institution that encroaches upon the individual “right” to do whatever one wants.
My wife and I have twelve grandchildren, ranging in age from two months to seventeen years. Each one of these precious children is part of the Gerencser family. Polly and I have never made a distinction between grandchildren and step-grandchildren. We’ve never understood this obsession with blood children. If a child is part of one of our children’s families, he or she is our grandchild. It matters not to us if Gerencser sperm or egg played a part in their conception. We have never said of our grandchildren, even one time, that this or that child is a step-grandchild. Come Christmas, every grandchild is treated equally. We’ve never had the thought of treating some of our grandchildren differently because they were not 100% Gerencser. Unfortunately, Polly’s Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family views things differently.
Polly and I recently traveled to Newark, Ohio to visit her mom in the hospital. My mother-in-law was scheduled for cancer surgery, and the day before surgery she developed heart problems which landed her in the hospital. Unbeknownst to me, Polly’s mom asked her how many grandchildren we had. When Polly said twelve, her mom replied, “yeah but all of them aren’t yours.” Polly replied, “yes they are,” to which her mom replied, “well, you know…. ” If I had been there I would’ve likely asked, “know what?” Of course, both Polly and I already know the answer to this question. In Polly’s parents’ minds, it’s blood that matters. This has been a common theme throughout the years. My youngest daughter received the same treatment the next day when asked about her oldest daughter — a child from a previous relationship of her husband. Much like her parents, our daughter does not make a distinction between stepchildren and “real” children. It’s absurd and offensive to even think this way. I like to think that this is a generational issue; one where older generations believe blood and name matter and that children and grandchildren who aren’t their blood or don’t carry their name shouldn’t expect the same kind gift or money on birthdays or Christmas as those who have the proper pedigree. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no hope of fixing this type of thinking apart from death. As with many social ills, it takes the death of a generation to get beyond them.
Ezra, our latest grandchild, two months old. Born six-weeks premature, he was released from NICU several weeks ago and he is now packing on the weight.
Polly and I have two grandchildren who have either a different father or mother than a Gerencser. One grandchild is seventeen and will graduate from high school this coming spring. This girl has been in our lives since she was a toddler. She may have a different name, but she is very much a part of our lives. My son and her mother went through divorce last year. There’s no Gerencser in the home; that is, except our four grandchildren. No matter who marries whom and what happens in the future, there’s a hard, fast rule in our family: once a Gerencser, always a Gerencser. It is cruel for someone to be a part of a child’s life for years, and then, due to divorce or other social upheaval, walk away from him or her. I’ve never understood people who can do this. When our granddaughter graduates in the spring, we will be there. When she plays basketball games this winter, we will be there. Whatever comes her way — today, tomorrow, or a decade from now — we will be there. The same goes for our four-year-old step-granddaughter. We have known her pretty much from birth. She is every bit as much our grandchild as any of our grandchildren who have the “proper” DNA. We will be in her life from preschool to the day that she says “I do” — that is, if we live long enough. You see, what grandchildren really need is love and support; and Polly and I have enough of that for all of them. We wish that Polly’s family had the same, but they don’t, and it’s their loss. They are missing out on wonderful opportunities to have awesome relationships with two beautiful children. It makes me wonder about all their talk about the love of Jesus for sinners. Are these children not sinners worthy of love? And if their daughter and son-in-law say “these are ours,” shouldn’t they accept that and do all they can to be the best great-grandparents possible? I will never understand the kind of thinking that divides families according to DNA. I don’t get it, and I never will.
For a number of years, Polly and I took in foster kids. At the time, we had three children of our own. Many of these children were teenagers. Some of them were with us for weeks, but others were long-term placements. Our three children have many memories of their experiences with JR, Steve, Floyd, Roseann, Tonya, and Linda. For a number of months, a black girl by the name Tracy lived with us. Her placement was unusual because this made her the only black child in the school district. When our first two children were very young, a troubled church girl lived with us for almost a year. Years later, she would tell someone we knew that we made a big difference in her life. It’s gratifying to hear from children who lived with us, thanking us for loving them. And therein lies the core issue for Polly and me. These children, regardless of whom their parents were or what horrific experiences they had their life, we loved them as if they were our own children. Granted, some of the teenagers who went through our home didn’t want our love. In fact, they didn’t want anything from us. But we loved them anyway. Why? First, because of Jesus. We believed, at the time, that Jesus loved everyone; and if Jesus loved everyone, so should we. Second, it was inconceivable to us that we could love one child more than another. Who thinks like this? “Oh, you have the right DNA so I’m gonna love you more than these children who are placed in our home after being raped by their stepfather or abused by their parents”? Where’s the Christianity in that kind of thinking?
Here’s what I know: Bruce and Polly Gerencser are going to love every child that comes into their lives, regardless of their lineage. By God, if we can unconditionally love the feral cats that frequent our backyard and care for them spring, summer, fall, and winter, we can certainly — without reservation and a test from 23andMe — unconditionally love our grandchildren — all twelve of them. That’s just how we are, and we feel sorry for people who can’t see beyond the names on birth certificates.
This is the time of year when Evangelicals spend significant amounts of time fawning and prostrating themselves before their God, thanking him for all that is good in their life. They go to great lengths to make themselves feel insignificant — little more than worms. I am nothing, you are everything, weeping Evangelicals say to their God. It’s all about you Jesus! For Evangelicals, life is all about God. He alone is worthy of praise, honor, and glory. Every bit of good that comes their way is due to Jesus. After all, the Bible says that without God Evangelicals can do nothing. The Bible also says that God gives Evangelicals the very breath they breathe and the ability to walk. Simply put, God is EVERYTHING!
The sum of Evangelical existence is to worship, praise, adore, and serve God. If they do so, their God promises to give them an eternal home in the sweet by and by after death. And what will they do in heaven for ten billion years? Why, they will worship, praise, adore, and serve their God. In other words, a narcissistic deity demands absolute fealty if Evangelicals hope to escape eternal torture in the flames of the Lake of Fire. Worship me or burn seems to be what the Evangelical God is saying. Is it any wonder that the majority of the human race rejects this God, and that the fastest growing American religious demographic is that of those who are atheists, agnostics, secularists, and those who are indifferent to organized religion. Who would want to serve a God who demands his servants give every waking moment to him. I know I don’t.
No one will argue the fact that Christians in general and Evangelicals in particular do many good things. The problem is that they are not allowed to accept praise from their fellow humans. How often have you thanked an Evangelical for doing good, only to have them say to you, give all the praise to Jesus! He is the only reason I can do anything good. Those of us raised in Evangelicalism know the drill. Someone says something nice to you, perhaps thanking you for helping them or giving something to them. Godly humility requires you to bow your head downward, staring at the floor while you tell them that it is Jesus they ought to be thanking, for he alone is the one doing good works through them. Is it any wonder that many Evangelicals have low self-esteem? How could it be otherwise. It should surprise no one that spending a lifetime being told that your life is nothing without Jesus and that — in and of yourself, you have no power to do good things — leads to Evangelicals thinking poorly of themselves. Sunday after Sunday, their pastors remind them that they should make much of Jesus, that life is all about him; that history is HIS-story. Remember the J-O-Y acronym? Jesus first, others second, yourself last. In many churches, the acronym goes something like this: Jesus first, others second, and you don’t matter.
Rarely do Evangelicals ponder the question of whether their thankfulness is misplaced. The Bible explicitly teaches that all praise and honor belong to God. As with many things the Bible says, Evangelicals accept this claim without further investigation. Why should anyone give praise and honor to the Evangelical God? What has he done for me, for you, for anyone? The fact is, if Evangelicals are willing to carefully examine their lives they will find out that their God hasn’t done jack-shit for them.
Several years ago, I decided to carefully examine all the prayers that I said God answered for me when I was an Evangelical pastor. I found that almost every answered prayer could be attributed to human intervention. I was left with a handful of “answered” prayers for which I could find no human connection. Now, this does not mean that God answered these prayers, it just means that I was unable to find who was behind answering my petition. I can think of several instances where I received money anonymously in the mail. Does this mean that God pulled some greenbacks out of his wallet, put them in an envelope, affixed a stamp, and mailed it to my home address? Of course not. A kind human did this, not God.
Look at all the hurt and heartache in the world today. Countless prayers are uttered to God by people starving, homeless, sick, or dying. Their prayers, for the most part, go unanswered. Sometimes their prayers are answered, not by God, but by kind, compassionate human beings. As our planet heaves and groans under the weight of an increasing population, global climate change, war, disease, and political unrest, where is God? Evangelicals are taught to never asked this question. God is on duty 24/7, Evangelical pastors tell congregants. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Yet, by any rational, reasonable estimation, God has indeed done just that. David said in Psalm 37:25: I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. Is this statement true? Of course not. Everywhere one looks, they see Evangelicals and unbelievers alike forsaken and begging for food. Should we not in Waldo-like fashion ask, where is God?
I am a firm believer in giving credit to whom credit is due. I don’t give credit to a deity because I see no evidence for a God of any sort being involved in our day-to-day lives. On Thursday most of us will celebrate Thanksgiving. Duty-bound Evangelicals will spend time going around the table thanking God for all that he is done. And when everyone is done giving Jesus all the praise, honor, and glory, everyone will bow their heads in prayer as someone thanks God for the food. No one will bother to consider exactly what God did to provide the food they are about to eat. It will be assumed that God did everything.
On Thursday, we will open up our home to twenty-three people — our children, grandchildren, and their significant others. While some of them are religious, none of them is Evangelical. So when it comes time to say thanks, the grateful utterances will go to those who prepared and cooked our meal. Most of that praise will go to my wife Polly. Tomorrow, she and our daughters and daughters-in-law will spend the day making pies. Our daughter Laura will devote Wednesday evening to making dinner rolls. Several of our sons will do the only baking they know how to do — writing a check to help pay for the meal. Polly will get up early on Thursday and put the turkey, ham, and pork roast in the oven. She will have, the night before, brined the turkey, thus making it moist and tender. As our sons arrive, several of them will be asked to get out the folding tables and chairs and put them in the kitchen. One of them will lengthen the dining room table so as many people as possible can sit there. Older grandchildren will wonder if this will be the year they get to sit at the big table. Someone will place the burgundy tablecloth on the table, and then set it with Mamaw Shope’s china. Wineglasses will be removed from the hutch and placed near each plate, as will silverware and linen napkins. Polly will go to the bedroom closet and retrieve several candleholders and candles and place them on the table. She will then light the candles. Now it is time for the meat to be cut and put on serving plates. Polly will likely ask one of our sons to do this. While the meat is being cut, several bottles of wine will be uncorked and taken to the table. Once the meat is carved, the mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, corn, sweet potatoes, and rolls will be put in serving bowls and placed on the table. Salt and pepper shakers will be put on each end of the table, along with butter and gravy. And then, finally, the words everyone wants to hear will be said, time to eat!
From start to finish the work that went into Thanksgiving dinner was provided, not by an invisible deity, but by real flesh-and-blood human beings. If I am going to praise anyone for the wonderful meal I will eat on Thanksgiving day, it will be my wife and those who helped her cook the food and desserts. If I wanted to extend my thankfulness further, I would thank my wife’s employer for giving her a job and thank the undocumented workers for harvesting much of the food that we will consume. Everywhere I look, I see, not the hand or foot prints of God, but the hands of a woman who loves to cook and enjoys blessing her children and grandchildren with her culinary skills.
Evangelical readers of this post will likely remind me that none of this would’ve been possible without God. They make such a statement based on the presupposition that their version of God is the one who gives us all things. They assume, without evidence, that God is behind everything. As a nonbeliever, I make no such assumption. I believe what I can see with my own eyes, and what I will see on Thanksgiving Day is a wonderful family pulling together to make the day memorable. It is to them and them alone that I say thanks. And most of all, it is to Polly that I will say thanks. For without her we would all be eating Thanksgiving dinner at the Golden Corral.
Most parents and grandparents go through periods of time when they wonder if their children/grandchildren like/love them. I know I’ve had moments where I’ve wondered if ___________ child or grandchild knew I even existed. Children go through phases ranging from clingy I need you to who are you? As a young parent, I was certain my two oldest boys wanted nothing to do with me. Same goes for several of my granddaughters. I intellectually know that this is all part of their development, but who doesn’t want to feel needed and liked, right?
Thanks to being all jacked up on Lyrica and narcotics, I’ve been able to attend some of my grandchildren’s sporting events. I am easy to spot, the big man who looks like Santa Claus, the man who always wears a hat and suspenders and walks with a cool hand carved cane. That, and always having a monopod and camera with him.
On Wednesday, I attended my 8-year-old granddaughter Karah’s softball game. During the home half of one of the innings, I shuffled over to the Stryker dugout so I could take some photographs. As I aimed my camera towards the girls in the dugout, one of Karah’s teammates said. Who’s grandfather are you? I thought, here’s THAT moment. Will she own me? Without even pausing to think, Karah replied, He’s MY grandfather! And then she added, can’t you tell? She seemed quite indignant that it was not evident to everyone that I was her grandfather.
These are the small moments that make your day, even when you are in tremendous pain.
Here’s some of the photographs I’ve shot in recent weeks.
To those who call me Bruce, Butch, Dad, or Grandpa:
In November 2008, Polly and I attended church for the last time. Since then, I have walked through the doors of a church three times, once for a baby baptism, and twice for a funeral. All three experiences left me angry and irritated.
The first service was a baby baptism at a local Catholic church. I thought, Bruce, ignore the bullshit, you are there to support your children. I was fine until the priest began exorcising the devil out of my granddaughter. I wanted to scream, but I didn’t. After the service, I made up my mind that I would never again attend such a service. No baptisms, no confirmations, no dedications, no nothing. Nada, zero, zip. All of my children and extended family know this. Polly is free to attend any or none of these services, but I can’t and I won’t.
The last two services were funerals. One was the funeral of my sexual predator uncle. The local Baptist preacher preached my uncle right into heaven. (I wrote about that here: Dear Pastor, Do You Believe in Hell) The second service was for Polly’s fundamentalist uncle. Nice guy, but the service was all about Jesus, complete with a sermon and call to salvation. Again, I wanted to scream, but I reminded myself that I was there to support our family.
I’ve decided I can suck it up and endure the Jesus talk for the sake of family. I know there are a lot of funerals in our future, that is if the rapture doesn’t take place. I wish it would so there would be no Christians left to bother me. I’ll do my best to support my family in their hour of grief. Anyone that tries to evangelize me does so at their own risk. I refuse to be bullied by sanctimonious Bible thumpers who think they are salvation dispensing machines.
I’ve decided that I will walk through the door of a church for two events: funerals and a weddings. That’s it. I don’t do church and the sooner family, friends, and local Christian zealots understand this the better. If the event doesn’t say funeral or wedding, I ain’t going. I can’t and I won’t. If this causes someone to be angry, upset, or irritated, there is nothing I can do about it. That’s their problem.
You see, eight years ago I said to my family, you are free. Be who and what you want to be. Be/stay a Christian, choose another religion or philosophical system, or choose nothing at all. With freedom comes choice. It seems the religious love their choice. They find great benefit, purpose, and meaning, through their particular religion. That’s great. If it makes them happy, then I am happy. But, shouldn’t I be afforded the same freedom and happiness? Why shouldn’t my wife and I have the freedom to NOT participate in church services, rituals, and the like?
Suppose I worship the Cat God Purr. Once a year, all the Purrites get together at my house for a very special service. Part of our ritual is the sacrifice of a female cat. Like the Israelites in the Bible, we offer up a cat as our sacrifice to Purr. Afterward, we roast the cat and eat it, and in doing so we are taking into our body and soul the blood and body of Cat God Purr.
Now imagine me inviting my Christian family to the service. I let them know when the service is and how important it is to me for them to be there. I also let them know that I would like them to partake of the roasted cat so they too could have inside of them the blood and body of Cat God Purr. Can you imagine how they would respond?
First, in their eyes Cat Purr God is a false God. Second, the cat roasting ritual is barbaric and offensive. While I may invite them to the service, I would certainly understand if they didn’t come. Why? Because my God is not their God and I respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe. I would never want to offend them.
It seems if one is an atheist, they are not afforded the same decency and respect. Did Polly and I become less of a person, parent, or grandparent the moment we stopped believing? Does our relationship with family and friends hinge on us sitting our ass in a pew for ten minutes or an hour? Frankly, I refuse to let any one circumstance harm a relationship. If someone asks me to go to a church service or a ritual and I say no and they never ask me again, it’s no big deal. However, once someone knows that I do NOT attend such services and they continue to ask me anyway, this tells me that they do not respect me.
I spent 50 years in the Christian church and 25 years in the ministry. I’ve had enough church to last me ten lifetimes. The best way for the religious and the nonreligious to get along is for both sides to compartmentalize their beliefs. I don’t talk about religion/atheism/humanism with my Christian family and friends unless they ask. If they ask, I will gladly give my opinion or share my viewpoint. I am not going to invite them to hear Sam Harris speak, nor am I going to give them Bart Ehrman’s books. If they ask or want to know, that’s different, but if they don’t then I choose to focus on the other things we have in common and leave religion/atheism in the closet. Christian family and friends need to do the same. If I ask, then by all means tell me. If not, let’s focus on the things we have in common. Life is too short to have conflict over religion.
I subscribe to the when in Rome Do as the Romans Do rule. When I am at a Christian’s home and they offer up a prayer to their deity, I respectfully bow my head. It’s their home and they are free to do what they want. Yes, I have an opinion about God and prayer, but their home is not the place to share it. The same goes for my home. We are not religious, we are not Christian. We don’t pray over our meals, nor do we give the gods one thought before we eat. While we do allow Polly’s dad to pray over the meal when he is here, that is out of respect for him. No big deal, just one more prayer hitting the ceiling. Thousands are already embedded in the paint, what’s one more.
When Christians come to my home, they shouldn’t expect me to change how I live or how I talk. I shouldn’t have to change the music I am listening to, change the TV channel, or remove books from the bookshelf. This is our home, and anyone, even family, who walks through the door is a guest. And the same goes for the Christian’s home. If I visit there, I don’t expect them to do anything different from what they normally do. I respect their space, their freedom.
Freedom is supposed to be a two-way street. Unfortunately, for many Christians it is a one way street called Their Way. They want the freedom to worship their God and practice their faith, but they don’t want to grant others the same freedom. Of course, I know why. They think they have the truth and Polly and I are on a false path that leads to judgment, hell, and eternal punishment. They don’t want us to continue driving on the highway to hell. But, here’s the thing…we don’t think we are on the highway to hell. Since we don’t believe there is a God, it naturally follows that we don’t believe in hell, judgment, heaven, or eternity. It’s up to us to determine what road we want to travel, and for Polly and I, we are quite happy to drive on the road named Reason.
Let me conclude this post with a personal thought about church services in general and why I can’t and won’t attend them. First, I know the Bible inside and out. I have a theological education, an education that began at a Bible college and continued through the 25 years I spent pastoring churches. So, when I hear preachers and priests preach, I can spot the bullshit from a mile away. I also have little tolerance for preachers who lack the requisite skills necessary to craft a good sermon and deliver it. In my opinion, there’s lots of anemic, pathetic preaching these days. Second, I find many of the rituals offensive. Casting the devil out an infant? Washing away sin with water? Services that are all show and no substance? Vows that are uttered and become lies before the service is over? Wine and wafers turning into real blood and flesh? Magic wand rituals and practices that pretend to make the past go away and make the present brand new? Preachers, pastors, bishops, and priests touching a person and conferring some sort of divine power? All of these things are offensive to me. They are reminders to me of the bankruptcy of religion and why I want nothing to do with it.
I know that I can’t force people to accept me as I am, but I can choose how and when I interact with them. Years ago, I was listening to Dr. Laura and a grandmother called up complaining about her daughter-in-law. Dr. Laura told her to quit her bitching. If she didn’t, she risked not being able to see her grandchildren. That was good advice and I remembered it years later when my fundamentalist step-grandmother called me. I wrote about this in the post Dear Ann:
…For his seventy-fifth birthday you had a party for Grandpa. You called a few days before the party and told me that if I was any kind of grandson at all that my family and I would be at the party. Never mind Polly would have to take off work. Never mind the party was on a night we had church. All that mattered to you was that we showed up to give Grandpa’s birthday party an air of respectability.
I remember what came next like it was yesterday. The true Ann rose to the surface and you preceded to tell me what a terrible grandson I was and how terrible my family was. You were vicious and vindictive.
Finally, after forty years, I had had enough. I told you that you should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told you that I was no longer interested in having any contact with you or Grandpa. Like my mother, I decided to get off the Tieken drama train…
That’s what can happen when we push, badger, and cajole. I am an atheist, not a Christian and I suspect I will remain so until I die. My family and friends need to come to terms with this, and if they don’t then it’s on them if they ruin our relationship.
When our children married, we vowed that we would NEVER be meddling parents/grandparents. If we offer our opinion on something, we do it once. That’s it. Unless someone asks, we don’t say another word. Every person in my family has the right to live freely and authentically. Yes, they make decisions that I think are foolish, but it’s their life and they are free to live it any way they want. Whether it is Polly’s parents, our children, our daughter-in-laws, or our grandchildren, we don’t meddle in their lives. We want them to be happy. If they are happy, then we are happy.
All that I want is the freedom to live my life authentically. Surely, that’s not too much to ask.
Christmas has played a part in my life ever since I entered the world in June of 1957. In this post I want to detail some of my memories about Christmas.
As a child, Christmas at the Gerencser home was a typical American Christmas. Family, food, and gifts. While there were never many gifts, my siblings and I always received several presents from our parents. My Dad filmed many Christmases with his 8mm movie camera. Sadly, after Dad died in 1985, the movies were either lost or destroyed.
Christmas, late 1950s. Dad with his movie camera.
In the 1960s Christmas at our home changed, and not for the best. My grandfather on my Mom’s side remarried. My grandmother remarried several times, but was divorced by the mid-1960s. My grandparents on my Dad’s side died in 1963. Grandpa Gerencser died February 1, 1963 and Grandma Gerencser died a month later on March 5th. So, I was left with Grandpa and Grandma Tieken and Grandma Rausch, and they didn’t get along.
In the 1950s, Grandpa Tieken and Grandma Rausch went through an acrimonious divorce, a divorce that resulted in neither parent being deemed fit to raise their children. They had two children, my mother Barbara and her brother Steve. This acrimony was on display in the 1960s when Bob and Barbara Gerencser gathered for Christmas with their three children, Butch (that’s me), Bobby, and Robin. Into our family gathering would come the grandparents, teeth bared, hateful towards the other, likely fueled by alcohol. The fighting got so bad that it was necessary for us to have two Christmas gatherings, one for each grandparent.
In the summer of 1970, we moved from Deshler, Ohio to Findlay, Ohio. In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced. Dad would marry a 19-year-old girl a few months later and Mom would marry her first cousin, a recent Texas prison parolee. From this point forward until I entered college, I have no recollections of Christmas. I am sure we celebrated Christmas. I am sure we had a tree, perhaps gave gifts, etc., but I have no recollection of it.
In the fall of 1976, I left Bryan, Ohio and moved to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll at Midwestern Baptist College, a fundamentalist Christian college noted for training men for the ministry. In September of 1976, I began dating a young, beautiful 17-year-old freshman girl named Polly. She would be the last girl I dated and two years later, in July of 1978, we married. This Sunday, Polly and I will celebrate our 39th Christmas together.
My first Christmas with Polly was in 1976. I drove from Bryan, Ohio to Polly’s parent’s home in Newark, Ohio. Polly’s Dad, Lee Shope, was the assistant pastor at the Newark Baptist Temple, a church pastored by her uncle Jim Dennis. The Shope family Christmas was a multifamily affair, with two sisters joining together to have the celebration. Christmas of 1976 was held at the home of Jim and Linda Dennis.
Being Polly’s boyfriend, I was topic of discussion and inspection. Needless to say, I failed the inspection and I am still the topic of discussion all these years later. I vividly remember Polly’s Uncle Jim letting the whole church know that I was there visiting Polly. He said, “Bruce and Polly have a shirt tail relationship. We just don’t know how long the shirt tail is.” While I have no doubt Jim was trying to be funny, Polly and I were thoroughly embarrassed. This coming year we will celebrate 37 years of marriage, so the shirt tail has proven to be quite long.
As I entered the Dennis home, I was taken aback by how many gifts there were. Underneath the tree and flowing out from the tree were countless gifts, more gifts than my siblings and I received our entire childhood. The number of gifts, what I would later label an “orgy to consumerism,” continued unabated for many Christmases.
Polly’s family being a family of preachers — her Dad, Uncle, and Grandfather were preachers — they made sure they put a good word in for Jesus before the gift opening commenced. Every Christmas, one of the preachers, which later included Polly’s cousins and nephew, gave a short devotional reminding everyone that the birth of Jesus was the real meaning of Christmas. Interestingly, even though I was a pastor for 25 years, I was never asked to give the devotional.
After Polly and I married, we began to develop our own Christmas traditions. We spent Christmas Eve with Polly’s parents and Christmas Day with either my family in Bryan, Ohio or with my Mom at her home in Rochester, Indiana, and later Columbus, Ohio. Polly’s family Christmas continued to be marked by the gift giving orgy and lots of great food. Christmas with my Mom and family was much more of a measured affair. Mom made sure her grandkids got several gifts, as did my grandparents and Aunt Marijene. Christmas at Mom’s house continued until around 1990 when she and her husband Michael moved to Michigan. The move was somewhat unexpected and I came to understand later that they likely moved due to Michael’s shady business dealings with people who threatened to kill him. Mom would commit suicide in April 1992, while living near my sister in Quincy, Michigan.
Christmas 1983, Polly and I decided to have Christmas with my extended family at our home in Glenford, Ohio . I only remember two things from this Christmas: Grandpa and Grandma Tieken being their usual judgmental, pushy self and Mom being upset with me because I made her go outside to smoke. This would be the first and last time my extended family came to our home. For the next decade, not one member of my extended family came to our home, save a couple visits by the Tiekens. (whose visits were excruciatingly unpleasant)
Over time, I drifted away from my extended family. I began to see them as outsiders, someone of them in need of salvation. I regret distancing myself from my family, but like everything in the past there are no do-overs. We continued going to my Mom’s for Christmas until she moved to Michigan. We continued going to Polly’s parents home for Christmas until circumstances forced us to stop going. I will detail those circumstances in a moment.
In the late 1980’s, I came to the conclusion that Christmas was a pagan holiday, a holiday that no sold-out, on-fire Christian could ever celebrate. I unilaterally gave away all our Christmas decorations and we stopped giving our children gifts for Christmas. It’s not that we didn’t buy our children anything, we did. Our children, to this day, will joke that Christmas for them came when the income tax refund check showed up. Living in poverty with six children resulted in us, thanks to the Earned Income Credit, receiving a large income tax refund. When the check arrived, a one-time large infusion of cash into our bank account, we bought our children everything they needed, with “needed” being the key operative. While we bought the children clothes, shoes, underwear, and the like, we bought them very few toys. We left it to grandparents to buy them toys. We did make sure they had bicycles, BB guns, and firearms, but very few toys. Living as we did, 8 people in a 720 square foot, 12×60 battered, old trailer, required our children to spend a significant amount of time outside. Toys became whatever the kids picked up in the yard or woods. I have often wondered, looking at the wealth of toys our grandchildren have, if our children are not compensating for their childhood. I know, as we buy for our grandchildren, that we are.
During my “Christmas is Pagan Holiday” years, I routinely disparaged the gift orgy that went on at Polly’s parent’s home. At the time, I thought the money being spent on gifts could be better spent on evangelizing the lost. While I would later move away from the view that Christmas is a pagan holiday, I never lost the belief that many Christians are quite hypocritical when it comes to Christmas. Jesus is the Reason for the Season and Wise Men Still Seek Him, devout Christians tell us, but their orgiastic celebration of the true meaning of Christmas, consumerism, betrays what they really believe. After all, conduct reveals what we truly believe.
Over time, I allowed, remember, we were patriarchal in family structure, Polly to resume a low-key celebration of Christmas in our home. We had to buy new decorations because I gave all away our old antique decorations, given to us by our mothers, to Goodwill. For a time, we had an artificial Christmas tree. For the past decade or so we have bought a fresh Christmas tree. Since we moved back to rural NW Ohio in 2005, we have bought our tree each Christmas from the Lion’s Club in Bryan.
With my parents being dead, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Polly’s parents. This abruptly changed in 2010. I left the ministry in 2003 and abandoned Christianity in November 2008. In early 2009, I sent out my family shattering letter,Dear Family Friends, and Former Parishioners. This letter fundamentally changed our relationship with Polly’s fundamentalist family.
Christmas of 2009 was best remembered by a huge elephant in the middle of the room, that elephant being Polly and I and the letter I sent the family. No one said anything, but the tension was quite noticeable.
2010 found us, just like every year since 1978, at Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve.This would be the last Christmas we would spend with Polly’s parents and her extended family. We decided to blend into the background, and besides short pleasantries, no one talked to us. Not that they didn’t want to. We found out later from one of our children that Polly’s uncle wanted to confront me about our defection from Christianity. Polly Mom’s put a kibosh on that, telling her brother-in-law that she had already lost one daughter and she was not going to lose another. (Polly’s sister was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005)
I appreciate Polly’s Mom being willing to stand up to the man who is generally viewed as the spiritual head of the family. I am glad she put family first. If Polly’s uncle had confronted me there surely would have been an ugly fight. Whatever our differences may be, I deeply respect Polly’s parents. They are kind, loving people and I couldn’t ask for better in-laws.
Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.
Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephew’s had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. One of Polly’s uncle’s grandchildren asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us.
On our way home the next day, I told Polly that I couldn’t do it any more and she said neither could she. So, we decided to stop going to Polly’s parent’s home for Christmas Eve. We do try to see Polly’s parents during the holiday, but we no longer attend the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Making this decision saddened us, but we knew we had to make it. (BTW, our children still attend the Christmas Eve gathering)
We moved back to NW Ohio is July of 2005. Since then, our family has gathered for Christmas on the Sunday before Christmas. Doing this allows our children to avoid conflicts with their spouses family plans for Christmas. This past year, Polly’s parents drove up and joined us and they may do so again this year.
These days, Christmas for Polly and I is all about family, especially the grandkids. For us, Christmas has become a celebration of love, a celebration of the gift of a wonderful family. While we do not believe in the Christian God, we still enjoy Christmas music and all the other trappings of the Christmas season. It’s a cultural thing, no need to complicate things with religious demands. When twenty-three people pile into our grossly undersized living room to open presents, we will be reminded of how good we have it.
How about you? How has how you celebrate Christmas changed over the years? If you are now a non-Christian, how do you handle your Christian family? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.
What follows is the letter I sent in April, 2009 to my family, friends and former parishioners. This letter came after Polly and I attended church on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2008. I am republishing it here so it is part of the historical narrative of my life. I know many of you have read this before but I hope you will read it again. As I reread this, I am reminded that what I wrote here is still, almost seven years later, the motivating factor of my life. The rough, sharp edges are gone, but I remain a man in love with his wife and family and a seeker of truth.
Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners,
I have come to a place in life where I can no longer put off writing this letter. I have dreaded this day because I know what is likely to follow after certain people receive it. I have decided I can’t control how others will react to this letter, so it is far more important to clear the air and make sure everyone knows the facts about Bruce Gerencser.
I won’t bore you with a long, drawn out history of my life. I am sure each of you has an opinion about how I have lived my life and the decisions I have made. I also have an opinion about how I have lived my life and decisions I made. I am my own worst critic.
Religion, in particular Baptist Evangelical and Fundamentalist religion, has been the essence of my life, from my youth up. My being is so intertwined with religion that the two are quite inseparable. My life has been shaped and molded by religion and religion touches virtually every fiber of my being.
I spent most of my adult life pastoring churches, preaching, and being involved in religious work to some degree or another. I pastored thousands of people over the years, preached thousands of sermons, and participated in, and led, thousands of worship services.
To say that the church was my life would be an understatement. As I have come to see, the Church was actually my mistress, and my adulterous affair with her was at the expense of my wife, children, and my own self-worth.
Today, I am publicly announcing that the affair is over. My wife and children have known this for a long time, but now everyone will know.
The church robbed me of so much of my life and I have no intention of allowing her to have one more moment of my time. Life is too short. I am dying. We all are. I don’t want to waste what is left of my life chasing after things I now see to be vain and empty.
I have always been known as a reader, a student of the Bible. I have read thousands of books in my lifetime and the knowledge gained from my reading and studies have led me to some conclusions about religion, particularly the Fundamentalist, Evangelical religion that played such a prominent part in my life.
I can no longer wholeheartedly embrace the doctrines of the Evangelical, Fundamentalist faith. Particularly, I do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture nor do I accept as fact the common Evangelical belief of the inspiration of Scripture.
Coming to this conclusion has forced me to reevaluate many of the doctrines I have held as true over these many years. I have concluded that I have been misinformed, poorly taught, and sometimes lied to. I can no longer accept as true many of the doctrines I once believed.
I point the finger of blame at no one. I sincerely believed and taught the things that I did and many of the men who taught me were honorable teachers. I don’t blame those who have influenced me over the years, nor do I blame the authors of the many books I have read. Simply, it is what it is.
I have no time to invest in the blame game. I am where I am today for any number of reasons and I must embrace where I am and move forward.
In moving forward, I have stopped attending church. I have not attended a church service since November of 2008. I have no interest of desire in attending any church on a regular basis. This does not mean I will never attend a church service again, but it does mean, for NOW, I have no intention of attending church services.
I pastored for the last time in 2003. Almost six years have passed by. I have no intentions of ever pastoring again. When people ask me about this I tell them I am retired. With the health problems that I have it is quite easy to make an excuse for not pastoring, but the fact is I don’t want to pastor.
People continue to ask me “what do you believe?” Rather than inquiring about how my life is, the quality of that life, etc., they reduce my life to what I believe. Life becomes nothing more than a set of religious constructs. A good life becomes believing the right things.
I can tell you this…I believe God is…and that is the sum of my confession of faith.
A precursor to my religious views changing was a seismic shift in my political views. My political views were so entangled with Fundamentalist beliefs that when my political views began to shift, my Fundamentalist beliefs began to unravel.
I can better describe my political and social views than I can my religious ones. I am a committed progressive, liberal Democrat, with the emphasis being on the progressive and liberal. My evolving views on women, abortion, homosexuality, war, socialism, social justice, and the environment have led me to the progressive, liberal viewpoint.
I know some of you are sure to ask, what does your wife think of all of this? Quite surprisingly, she is in agreement with me on many of these things. Not all of them, but close enough that I can still see her standing here. Polly is no theologian, She is not trained in theology as I am. She loves to read fiction. I was able to get her to read Bart Ehrman’s book Misquoting Jesus and she found the book to be quite an eye opener.
Polly is free to be whomever and whatever she wishes. If she wants to start attending the local Fundamentalist Baptist church she is free to do so, and even has my blessing. For now, she doesn’t. She may never believe as I believe, but in my new way of thinking that is OK. I really don’t care what others think. Are you happy? Are you at peace? Are you living a good, productive life? Do you enjoy life? Yes, to these questions is good enough for me.
I have six children, three of whom are out on their own. For many years I was the spiritual patriarch of the family. Everyone looked to me for the answers. I feel somewhat burdened over my children. I feel as if I have left them out on their own with no protection. But, I know they have good minds and can think and reason for themselves. Whatever they decide about God, religion, politics, or American League baseball is fine with me.
All I ask of my wife and children is that they allow me the freedom to be myself, that they allow me to journey on in peace and love. Of course, I still love a rousing discussion about religion, the Bible, politics, etc. I want my family to know that they can talk to me about these things, and anything else for that matter, any time they wish.
Opinions are welcome. Debate is good. All done? Let’s go to the tavern and have a round on me. Life is about the journey, and I want my wife and children to be a part of my journey and I want to be a part of theirs.
One of the reasons for writing this letter is to put an end to the rumors and gossip about me. Did you know Bruce is/or is not_____________? Did you know Bruce believes____________? Did you know Bruce is a universalist, agnostic, atheist, liberal ___________?
For you who have been friends or former parishioners I apologize to you if my change has unsettled you, or has caused you to question your own faith. That was never my intent.
The question is, what now?
Family and friends are not sure what to do with me.
I am still Bruce. I am still married. I am still your father, father in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, and son-in-law. I would expect you to love me as I am and treat me with respect.
Here is what I don’t want from you:
Attempts to show me the error of my way. Fact is, I have studied the Bible and read far more books than many of you. What do you really think you are going to show me that will be so powerful and unknown that it will cause me to return to the religion and politics of my past?
Constant reminders that you are praying for me. Please don’t think of me as unkind, but I don’t care that you are praying for me. I find no comfort, solace or strength from your prayers. Be my friend if you can, pray if you must, but leave the prayers in the closet. As long as God gets your prayer message, that will be sufficient.
Please don’t send me books, tracts, or magazines. You are wasting your time and money.
Invitations to attend your Church. The answer is NO. Please don’t ask. I used to attend Church for the sake of family but no longer. It is hypocritical for me to perform a religious act of worship just for the sake of family. I know how to find a Church if I am so inclined, after all I have visited more than 125 churches since 2003.
Offers of a church to pastor. It is not the lack of a church to pastor that has led me to where I am. If I would lie about what I believe, I could be pastoring again in a matter of weeks. I am not interested in ever pastoring a church again.
Threats about judgment and hell. I don’t believe in either, so your threats have no impact on me .
Phone calls. If you are my friend you know I don’t like talking on the phone. I have no interest in having a phone discussion about my religious or political views.
Here is what I do want from you:
I want you to unconditionally love me where I am and how I am.
Now I realize some (many) of you won’t be able to do that. My friendship, my familial relationship with you is cemented with the glue of Evangelical orthodoxy. Remove the Bible, God, and fidelity to a certain set of beliefs and there is no basis for a continued relationship.
I understand that. I want you to know I have appreciated and enjoyed our friendship over the years. I understand that you can not be my friend any more. I even understand you may have to publicly denounce me and warn others to stay away from me for fear of me contaminating them with my heresy. Do what you must. We had some wonderful times together and I will always remember those good times.
You are free from me if that is your wish.
I shall continue to journey on. I can’t stop. I must not stop.