Menu Close

Tag: John Tieken

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

why

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

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

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

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

— Light goes on in my head —

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

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

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Life with My Fundamentalist Baptist Grandparents, John and Ann Tieken

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

My mom was born in 1938 to John and Jeanette Tieken. John owned a farm in Missouri. He was also a pilot and an airplane mechanic. I don’t know much about my mom’s childhood, but three stories come to mind. (Please see John.)

Mom had a younger brother, Steve. Their dog had puppies that John didn’t want. Instead of giving them away, John forced his son to put them in a burlap bag, take them down to the creek, and drown them.

Mom told me towards the end of her life that John had repeatedly sexually molested her. (Look at the picture of my mom above. This is the little girl John molested.) When Mom confronted him about his crimes, John, now a Fundamentalist Baptist Christian, pleaded the blood of Christ over his SBC — sins before Christ. As you shall read later in this post, John did a lot of sinning post-Jesus too. John told my mom that “God had forgiven him and so should she!” No apology, no attempt to make amends. Just cheap, meaningless Christian cliches. This would be John’s approach throughout my life with him. Not one time did I ever hear him say he was sorry or wrong.

John was a violent drunk during my mom’s childhood. His wife Jeanette was an alcoholic too. (Grandma would later quit drinking cold turkey. I had a close relationship with her.) Their alcoholism created such dysfunction for my mom and her brother that a Missouri court took them out of their home and placed them with their grandparents.

John and Grandma divorced. John then married a woman named Margaret. They too would divorce. Mom had a close relationship with Margaret, corresponding with her for years. I remember reading several of her letters. John left Missouri in the 1950s/1960s and moved to Pontiac, Michigan (Waterford Township). He married a Fundamentalist Christian divorcee named Ann. She had a son named David who was a few years older than I.

Sometime in the 1960s, the alcoholic John Tieken was gloriously saved by Jesus at Sunnyvale Chapel — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation without the label. (Sunnyvale is now defunct.) My first memories of my grandparents come from this period of time. As I pondered what to write for this post, it dawned on me that I only have two good memories of my grandparents. That’s it. Try as I might, I can’t recollect any other good experiences with them. There are reasons for this as you shall see in a moment.

John may have been saved and alcohol-free, but he was still a violent man — at least to some family members. My siblings and I would stay with the Tiekens during the summer. One day, David, who was an avid high school baseball player and fisherman, was sitting at the dinner table with the rest of us. John said something to David and he smartly replied. John stood up from the table, and with a balled fist he struck David in the face, knocking him off his chair. I would also face his wrath one summer day. My younger brother and I were playing in the garage. We found an old Bell telephone, which I proceeded to take apart, doing what boys do. When John found out, he beat the living shit out of me; the worst beating I ever received besides the one my Dad’s farmer brother gave me for moving his beer. There would be many violent outbursts from John over the years, reminding me that Fundamentalism and violent temperaments don’t go well together.

One deep, dark secret in my life comes from my childhood with the Tiekens. As I mentioned previously, my siblings and I would spend time in the summer with them, both by ourselves and with our mom. Ann would have my brother and I get in the bathtub to take a bath. While bathing, Ann would come in and show us how to “clean our genitals.” She “taught” us this lesson several times. It would take years for me to realize that she was sexually molesting us.

I did say that I had two good memories of John and Ann, so I will share them now. John, a pilot, and mechanic, was the co-owner of T&W (Tieken and Wyman) Engine Service at Pontiac (Michigan) Airport. My first fond memory of John was when he took me up in a twin-prop cargo plane he had just overhauled. Boy, was that fun (and terrifying).

tigers indians 1968

My other fond memory dates back to the summer of 1968, the year the Detroit Tigers won the world series. For my eleventh birthday, John took me to watch the Tigers play the Cleveland Indians. I remember John buying me a pennant. On this day, I felt close to my grandfather. Just a grandfather and his oldest grandson enjoying their favorite sport. Alas, this would be the first and last time we did anything together.

John and Ann were devout Fundamentalist Baptists. They attended church every time the doors were open. John became an in-your-face soulwinner — a bully for Jesus. No matter where he went, he felt it his duty to witness to people, often embarrassing family and friends. He was also a big proponent of loud prayers before meals at restaurants, letting everyone around us know that we were born-again Christians.

I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in the fall of 1976, as did my future wife, Polly Shope. Midwestern was located in Pontiac, Michigan so this put me in contact with John and Ann. Polly quickly learned, as I had long known, that the Tiekens were domineering and controlling. By the time we started our junior year of college, we had distanced ourselves from them.

I saw John and Ann maybe once a year — Christmas at my mom’s home — from 1979 to 1986. By then, I was pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio — a fast-growing IFB congregation that eventually reached a high attendance of 206.

John and Ann came to visit the church twice in the eleven years I was there. One Sunday, John thoroughly embarrassed me in front of the entire congregation. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. John did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die (and murder him).

The last time John and Ann came to visit was in 1988. We were living in Junction City at the time. After church, we invited them over for dinner. John spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty — the beater we used to deliver newspapers. According to John, having a dirty car was a bad testimony.

After dinner — oh, I remember it as if it were yesterday! — we were sitting in the living room and one of our young boys got too close to John. What did he do? He kicked him. I knew then and there that, regardless of his love for Jesus, he didn’t love our family, and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.

From this time forward, we had little to no contact with the Tiekens. Sometime in the late 1990s — I was pastoring Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, at the time — Ann called me a few days before John’s seventy-fifth birthday and said she was having a party for him and expected our family to be there. When I explained that we couldn’t attend (it was on a church night and Polly had to work), Ann launched into a vitriolic tirade, telling me what a terrible grandson I was. Vicious and vindictive as always, Ann told me I had a terrible family.

Finally, after forty years, I had had enough. I told her that should have worried about the importance of family twenty years ago. I then told her that I was no longer interested in having any contact with them. And with that, I hung up the phone. I had finally learned to cut these toxic people out of my life — almost.

A few years later, I heard through the family grapevine that John was dying from colon cancer. I traveled three hours to Pontiac to visit him. Why? I don’t know. When I entered his hospital room, Ann wasn’t there — a small favor from God, I thought at the time. John was sedated and unable to communicate. I stood there for a few moments, with tears trickling down my face (as they are now). And then I walked away. He died a short time later. I did not attend his funeral. I knew it would be a masturbatory celebration of John, the Fundamentalist Baptist soulwinner. I had no appetite for yet another lie.

I never expected to see Ann again. When I said I wanted nothing to do with John and Ann, I meant it. They had caused so much pain in my life. I had no interest in my children knowing anything about them (and they don’t). In 2003, I began pastoring Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan — a Southern Baptist congregation. Unbeknownst to me, Ann had remarried and moved to Clare. She lived five minutes from our home in White Birch — a gated community outside of Farwell. What are the odds, right? Was God punishing me?

Ann attended a nearby Southern Baptist church. One Sunday, I looked out the church door while I was preaching and saw Ann sitting in the parking lot with her husband and David’s son. (David was murdered in Detriot in 1981, at the age of twenty-six.) After the service, I briefly talked to her. The next Sunday, Ann visited Victory Baptist, and after the service invited us over to dinner later in the week. I didn’t want to go, but I thought, what kind of Christian am I? Surely, I can forgive her and let the past be the past.

And so we went. Things went fairly well until Ann decided to let me know — as if it was a fact that everyone knew — that my dad was not really my father. I showed no reaction to this revelation, but it stunned me and cut me right to the quick. I knew my Mom was eighteen and pregnant when she married Dad, but I had never before heard what Ann was telling me. Why did she tell me this? What good could ever come of it? Two years ago, I took a DNA test, confirming that my father was actually a truck driver from Chicago. So Ann was right. But the fact remains that this was not hers to tell; that she did so to hurt me. I never saw Ann again. Last I heard, her husband died and she was in a nursing home.

Members at Victory Baptist were excited to find out that I was the oldest grandson of Gramma Clarke (her new married name) — a fine, kind, loving Christian woman if there ever was one, they told me. All I ever told them is that things are not always as they seem.

Years later, Ann did a Facebook search on my name and “found” me. She sent me a message that said:

What ? An athiest ?? Sorry Sorry Sorry !!!What happened ? How’s Polly & your family??

Nine years, and this is what she sent me. I sat down and wrote her a letter. You can read it here.

I wrote:

I don’t wish you any ill will. That said, I don’t want to have a relationship with you, especially a pretend Facebook friendship. Ooh Look! Bruce got reconnected with his estranged Grandmother. Isn’t God good!!

Not gonna happen. I have exactly zero interest in pursuing a relationship with you. It is too late.

My “good” memories of you and Grandpa are few and far between (and I haven’t even mentioned things that I am still, to this day, too embarrassed to mention). You really don’t know me and I don’t know you. And that’s okay.

Life is messy, Ann, and this is one mess in aisle three that no one can clean up. I have been told that I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. This is perhaps a true assessment of me. I told Polly tonight that I am quite willing to forgive but it is hard to do when there is never an admission of guilt or the words I am sorry are never uttered. How can there be since the blood of Jesus wipes away every shitty thing a person has ever done? Talk about a get out of responsibility for sin card.

I am sure you will think I am just like my mother. I am.

You know what my last memory of my Mom is? After I tearfully and with a broken heart concluded my 54-year-old Mom’s graveside service, Grandpa Tieken took the “opportunity” to preach at us and tell us that Mom was in Heaven. Just days before she had put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. We all were reeling with grief and pain and Grandpa, in a classic Grandma-and-Grandpa-Tieken moment, decided to preach instead of love.

A comment by Amy B actually provoked me — in a good way — to write this post tonight:

I’m astonished (and impressed) that you feel no bitterness towards your grandfather. I hate his guts, and I never met the man!

I certainly have plenty of reasons to be bitter towards John and Ann (I refuse to call them Grandpa and Grandma). Not wanting to write a tome, this post is just a summary of the heartache and harm caused by John and Ann. I am sure some Christians might think that my unwillingness to forgive them is a sign of bitterness. That’s the problem with Christianity and its demands that we forgive people no matter what they do to us, Fake, syrupy “love” demands they “forgive” regardless of the pain and trauma caused by others.

I reject this kind of thinking. I don’t owe anyone forgiveness, though I have asked for forgiveness and forgiven others countless times. In the name of God and in accordance with the teachings of the Bible, John and Ann showed nothing but contempt for me, my mother, and my younger siblings. We never measured up. They used money and gifts to manipulate us, demanding that we conform to their exacting Biblical standard. Imagine my surprise years later when I learned that Ann was a Valium addict. Even she couldn’t measure up.

John and Ann were big fans of Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles seminars. Year after year, John would badger me about attending the Detroit seminar, saying he would pay for it. I always said no, thinking that I could see no discernable difference IBLP made in their lives, so why should I bother?

I am now sixty-five years old. What am I to make of the terrible wound John and Ann left on my life? Some family members, mainly my uncle Dave’s family and my mom’s younger brother, Steve, view John and Ann differently from the way in which I do. Were their experiences so much different from mine? I don’t know. It seems more likely to me that Evangelical Christianity, with its dysfunctional teachings about love and forgiveness, keeps them from honestly giving an account of their experiences with John and Ann Tieken. The blood of Jesus continues to cover up trauma that caused untold heartache and harm.

I don’t blame them for doing so, but that’s not the approach I take. Instead, I value responsibility, accountability, repentance, and restitution. John and Ann wanted forgiveness without these things, and I am not going to give it to them. That I write about my life with John and Ann Tieken infuriates some people in my extended family. They want me to leave the deep, dark secrets of the past buried in the sea of God’s forgetfulness. How do we learn to do differently if we don’t tell our stories? I want my children to better understand me as a man. What better way to do that than tell my story — painful warts, and all? I want my grandchildren to know me as I am, not as a caricature or a facade. These experiences have made me into the man I am today. When people confide in me, speaking of the trauma they experienced in their lives, I understand. I am a deeply marred and wounded man, but I survived. That’s the key. I SURVIVED! I wish Mom were alive today so we could toast our survival together. Instead, the most important person in my life, save Polly, is dead, having killed herself at age 54. When I think of John and Ann Tieken, I can’t help but lay much of the blame for her suicide at their feet. They could have loved Barbara and her children, but they chose not to (or loved them in a warped Evangelical way). They could have helped by giving of their time and money, as Jesus would have done. Instead, they judged and berated us for not measuring up, withholding material help because we weren’t doing things the right way. Mom’s life was a mess. John and Ann could have lent a hand, loving her as they were commanded to do so in the Bible. Instead, they micro-judged every part of her life, raining judgment on her head, and when I got older they did the same with me, my wife, and our children. Is it any wonder that I wanted nothing to do with them; that when John died I felt nothing; that when I hear of Ann’s demise, I will likely feel the same? Whatever feelings I might have had for John and Ann Tieken died two decades ago. They are little more than a chapter in my autobiography now — that is except for the ugly marks they left on my life. These deep wounds will never go away. All I know to do is keep telling my story, and when I feel John and Ann closing in, call my therapist and say, let’s talk.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Evangelical Zealot Tries to Evangelize Us with a Picture of Bloody Jesus

bloody-hands-of-christians

Last Saturday, Polly and I, along with our daughter Bethany, celebrated my sixty-fourth birthday at Club Soda in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We had a delightful time. The food was awesome, as was our sever. I have zero complaints about the restaurant itself. We will certainly visit Club Soda again in the future.

As we were waiting for our entrees, a man came up to our table and complimented Polly and Bethany on their matching red-checked dresses. A little weird, right? And then he proceeded to compliment me on my hat and suspenders. Starting to be really weird now. I smiled, said thanks, and asked, “you are bullshitting us, right?” I thought, this guy is acting like someone who wants to sell us something. Sure enough, he did.

After assuring me he wasn’t bullshitting me, he whipped out his smartphone and showed us a picture of a bloody Jesus, with a caption that said, ” I Paid it All for You.” After putting in a quick word for Jesus, this man changed the subject, telling us about his job as an event planner and parking lot manager (including the parking lot Club Soda uses). We continued to smile outwardly, and once he came up for air, I told him to have a nice day. And with that, he walked away to speak to one of the restaurant managers.

I later talked to one of the managers about this man. He told me that he saw the man make a beeline to our table, thinking it was weird. The manager told me that we were the only people the man talked to. Evidently, I laughingly said to myself, “the Holy Ghost must have led him to talk to us.” I shared a bit of my story with the manager, telling him that I was an atheist, an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. He profusely apologized for the man’s inappropriate behavior. later told him, “Jesus is paying our check tonight.” 🙂 After all, the caption on the bloody Jesus picture said, “I Paid it All for You.” Surely, that included dinner, right? The manager and I had a good laugh.

After the manager left our table, Polly and I shared what we thought of the bloody-Jesus lover’s attempt to evangelize us. Bethany, our daughter with Down Syndrome, said: “I hope that guy doesn’t come back, he’s creepy.” Spot on, Bethany, spot on.

There’s no scenario where this man’s behavior was appropriate. He showed no respect for us nor our personal space. As is common with Evangelical zealots, they have no regard for social boundaries. Recently, an Evangelical commenter on this site told me that it didn’t matter what I thought of his bad behavior, going so far as to tell me that he was my friend regardless of whether I wanted to friends with him. In his mind, the Holy Ghost led him to me, and whatever he said about me personally was straight from the mouth of Jesus himself. If I didn’t like it, tough shit.

My grandfather, John Tieken (please see John), was an in-your-face evangelizer. Never mind the fact that he molested my mother as a child. Never mind that he had a violent temper. Never mind that he beat the shit out of me as a child for dismantling an unused rotary telephone stored in his garage. Never mind that he was a manipulative, judgmental prick (as was his wife) — please see Dear Ann. John was a Jesus-loving Fundamentalist Baptist. He and Ann attended Sunnyvale Chapel in Pontiac, Michigan, but make no mistake about it, Sunnyvale was Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) in everything but its name.

John publicly embarrassed me more times than I could count. One Sunday, he stood up after I had finished preaching and told the congregation what was wrong with my sermon content. At my mother’s funeral (she committed suicide), John decided to give his own sermon after my eulogy (imagine how hard it was for me to even do my mother’s funeral), discrediting much of what I said. John and Ann would take us out for dinner when they visited us in southeast Ohio. We hated going out to eat with them, but did so out of a misguided belief that we should ALWAYS show them respect. That and the fact that we NEVER got to eat out at a restaurant as a family.

We knew that if we went out to eat with my grandparents, John was going to embarrass us with his evangelizing efforts. Typically, John would force our server to “politely” listen to his presentation of his version of Evangelical gospel — a bastardized version of what the Bible actually taught. I, too, was an evangelizer, but I understood social boundaries. Not John. He went after servers like sharks and blood in the water. I am sure John wondered why I never harassed servers when we went out to eat. Had he asked (and he never asked me anything), I would have told him that there was a time and place for everything, including witnessing.

The man who flashed the bloody picture of Jesus (think of how traumatizing that could have been if a young child had been with us) and put in a word for Jesus needs to learn how to respect others. As long as he thinks that all that matters is evangelizing sinners, he will continue to harass people and violate social boundaries. I wonder how he would have felt if the roles were reversed? Suppose he was eating dinner with his wife and family at Club Soda. Suppose I went to his table and started preaching to him about atheism and skepticism. Suppose I showed him a picture of a bloody Jesus with a caption that said, “Ha! Ha! Ha! Jesus Died for Nothing.” Why, he would have been outraged and demanded that I leave him and his family alone. How dare I interrupt their meal! He might even have told the manager I was harassing them and ask that I be told to leave the restaurant.

The cranky curmudgeon (please see I Make No Apologies for Being a Cranky Curmudgeon) in me want to eviscerate this man where he stood. Polly later told me that she was surprised I didn’t do so. He deserved getting what is popularly called the Bruce Gerencser Treatment®. I didn’t do so because I didn’t want to ruin the wonderful time we were having out on the town.

The manager later comped us a dessert. As with the rest of our meal, this dessert was awesome. Once this post is published, I plan to send Club Soda’s owner/general manager a link to the article. I hope that they will call the man’s employer and let them know about his ill-bred behavior. I don’t want the man to lose his job, but someone needs to tell them that there are certain lines you don’t cross.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Short Stories: 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.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

John

blood of jesus

My mom’s parents, known to me as Grandma Rausch and Grandpa Tieken, divorced in the late 1940s. By all accounts, their marriage was an alcohol-fueled, violent brawl which caused untold heartache and pain to their two children. My mother, in particular, faced the indignity and shame of being sexually molested by her father, a deep wound she carried all the days of her life.

My grandfather’s name was John. My first recollections of him come from when I was a young child. On Christmas day, both sets of my grandparents would come to our home, often arriving at the same time. Instead of figuring out a way to avoid family conflict, both John and Grandma Rausch were determined to be the grandparent of choice. Every Christmas, they would square off, each in his or her own corner. The bitterness of their divorce carried over into our family. As a child, I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. All I knew was that Grandpa and Grandma didn’t like each other. As I got older, my grandparents finally figured out it was best if they steered clear of one another, so every year we had two Christmases and two Thanksgivings.

I saw a lot more of Grandma Rausch than I did Grandpa Tieken (John), and she became my favorite grandparent. My dad’s Hungarian parents died in 1963, weeks apart. I was six when they died, so I have very few memories of Grandpa and Grandma Gerencser. (Please see My Hungarian Grandparents, Paul and Mary Gerencser.)  Grandma Rausch, on the other hand, was very much a part of my life, all the way until she died of cancer in 1995. She bought me my first baseball glove and took me to my first baseball game, and she was the only grandparent to ever attend my Little League and Pony League games. I remember to this day hearing Grandma screaming at the umpire, telling him in no uncertain terms that the pitch to her grandson was NOT a strike. Not that it mattered. Strike or ball, I was a terrible batter, so it unlikely that I would have hit the pitch. Grandma Rausch, a stickler for proper grammar, would write me letters during my preaching days. I loved getting letters from her. I always appreciated her interest in my life and support of whatever it was that I was doing at the time. Grandma Rausch had her faults. She was an alcoholic until age sixty-five, when, due to health concerns, she quit cold turkey. Warts and all, I never doubted Grandma loved me.

I can’t say the same for John or his third wife Ann. (Please see Dear Ann.) I would love to write of my grandfather’s love and support, but alas I can’t remember a time where he told me he loved me or unconditionally supported what I was doing. On those rare occasions he “supported” my work in the ministry, there were always strings attached or criticisms heaped upon me when I didn’t meet his expectations.

I have two good memories of John, and that’s it. I am sure there were more, but I only remember two. Perhaps other good memories were drowned out by John’s violent temper and frequent criticisms of my mom, dad, and me personally. John, a pilot, and mechanic, was the co-owner of T&W (Tieken and Wyman) Engine Service at Pontiac (Michigan) Airport. My first fond memory of John was when he took me up in a twin-prop cargo plane he had just overhauled. My other fond memory dates back to the summer of 1968. For my eleventh birthday, John took me to watch the Detroit Tigers play the Cleveland Indians. This was the year the Tigers won the World Series. On this day, I felt close to my grandfather. Just a grandfather and his oldest grandson enjoying their favorite sport. Alas, this would be the first and last time we did anything together.

John married Ann in the late 1950s or early 1960s. She had a son by the name of David from a previous marriage. Dave was my uncle, but only a few years separated us age-wise. Dave was an avid fisherman and played baseball for Waterford Township High School. One summer, I remember us sitting around the dinner table eating and Dave saying something his stepfather didn’t like. All of a sudden, John stood, doubled up his fist, and hit Dave as hard as he could, knocking him onto the floor. Dave said nothing, but the message was clear: No one back talked to John Tieken. Dave and I became closer when I moved to Pontiac to attend Midwestern Baptist College. Dave was married and worked as a foreman for General Motors. I have fond memories of Dave helping me put a clutch in my car — he the teacher and I the student. Sadly, Dave was murdered in 1981.

Ann attended Sunnyvale Chapel, a generic Evangelical church. In the early to mid-1960s, John got “saved” and began attending church with Ann. He soon became a Fundamentalist zealot who was known for his aggressive witnessing. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it was to watch John corner a waitress so he could tell her the “truth” about Jesus and her need of salvation. John loved the Christian gospel. In his mind, when Jesus saved him, all his past sins were washed away and everything became new. He believed that whatever he did in the past was forgiven and forgotten. Forgotten by God, perhaps, but for those who were psychologically and physically harmed by him, no forgiveness was forthcoming. And John didn’t care. Jesus had forgiven him, and that’s all that mattered. My mom, late in her life, confronted her father over him sexually abusing her. She hoped he would at least admit what he did and ask for forgiveness. No admission was forthcoming. John told his daughter that his sins were under the blood and Jesus had forgiven him. Jesus may have forgiven him, but my mom sure hadn’t.

There’s so much more I could share here, but for the sake of brevity, I want to fast forward to the 1980s. From 1983-1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. John and Ann were quite proud of the fact that their grandson was a pastor. In their eyes, I, unlike my mother, father, and siblings, was doing the right things: serving the Evangelical God, preaching the gospel, and winning souls to Christ. For a time, they even financially supported me through donations to the church. These donations abruptly stopped when they didn’t get an annual donation statement when they thought they should have. That was the Tiekens. Much like their exacting God, displease them and judgment was sure to follow.

John and Ann came to visit the church twice in the eleven years I was there. One Sunday, John thoroughly embarrassed me in front of the entire congregation. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. John did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die.

The last time John and Ann came to visit was in 1988. We were living in Junction City at the time. After church, we invited them over for dinner. In the post Dear Ann, I describe their visit this way:

Grandpa spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty. Evidently, having a dirty car was a bad testimony. Too bad he didn’t take that same approach with Mom.

After dinner — oh, I remember it as if it were yesterday! — we were sitting in the living room and one of our young children got too close to Grandpa. What did he do? He kicked him. I knew then and there that, regardless of his love for Jesus, he didn’t love our family, and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.

A decade later, John died. Upon hearing of his death, I had no emotions; I felt nothing. I had no love for the man. After all, his wife a few years prior had called to let me know that I was a worthless grandson. In fact, according to Ann, the entire Gerencser family was worthless. My sin? I couldn’t attend John’s seventy-fifth birthday party. Ann’s vicious and vindictive words finally pushed me over the edge. I told her that I was no longer interested in having any contact with them. And with that, I hung up the phone. Whatever little feeling and connection I had for John and Ann Tieken died. I learned then, that some relationships — even family — aren’t worth keeping.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Dear Ann

blood of jesus

What follows is a letter I wrote to my Fundamentalist Christian step-grandmother, Ann Tieken, in 2012. She was married for many years to my grandfather John Tieken. They lived in Pontiac, Michigan and attended Sunnyvale Chapel. As with the previous letters I have posted, I want this letter to be a part of the historical narrative of my life.

Dear Ann,

Grandchildren don’t get to choose who their grandparents are. When we are born they just show up and we have to accept them.

My Dad’s parents died when I was five. I really don’t remember very much about them at all. I remember the Gerencser farm, the outhouse, the wood cook stove, and the funny language Grandma and Grandpa spoke.

My Mom’s side of the family “blessed” me with two sets of grandparents, Grandma Rausch and Grandma and Grandpa Tieken.

I don’t know how old I was before I realized that Grandma Rausch used to be Grandma Tieken.

For most of my life, Grandma Rausch was the only grandparent I had. She wasn’t perfect but she loved me. I was, after all, grandson number one. She taught me to love baseball and to be passionate about life. She had her faults, but I never doubted for one moment that she loved me.

Here is what I remember about you and Grandpa Tieken.

I remember every Christmas being a day of anxiety and turmoil. I remember the fights, and you and Grandma Rausch not being able to be in the same room together. This was resolved by having two Christmases, two of every holiday

I remember Grandpa’s nasty and violent temper.

I remember Grandpa slugging your son David, my teenage uncle, knocking him off his chair onto the kitchen floor. I saw Grandpa hit him more than a few times.

I remember Grandpa beating the shit out of my brother and me because we took apart an old telephone that was in the garage.

Wonderful childhood memories.

Do I have any good memories of you and Grandpa Tieken?

I have two.

I remember Grandpa taking us up in an airplane he had just overhauled, and I vividly remember Grandpa taking me to a Detroit Tigers vs. Cleveland Indians game at Briggs Stadium in 1968. I got to see Mickey Lolich pitch. He bought me a Tiger’s pennant.

That’s it.

You were always a church- going Christian. What were you thinking when you married the drinking, carousing John Tieken? But you won, and Grandpa Tieken found Jesus.

For the next 30- plus years you and Grandpa were devoted followers of Jesus. I remember going to Sunnyvale Chapel every time we came to visit you. I remember singing the Countdown song (see notes)  in junior church.

As I got older I began to understand things from my Mom’s perspective. Her relationship with you and her Dad was always strained. Lots of turmoil, lots of stress. Lots of angry words and cussing.

She showed me the letters you and she traded. So much anger, so little Jesus.

Mom told me about her younger years. She told me about what went on and what happened to her. Awful things. Shameful things. She told me about confronting Grandpa about these things and he told her that God had forgiven him and they were under the blood. Not one word of sorrow or admission of guilt, not even a sorry. A new life in Christ wiped the slate clean.

I have often wondered if Mom’s mental illness found its root in the events that took place on a Missouri farm when she was but a youth. I know she felt she could never measure up and you, and Grandpa had a real knack for reminding the family of their shortcomings. After all, we were Bob Gerencser’s kids.

When I went to college I lived a few miles away from you. For the first time I learned how controlling and demanding you and Grandpa could be. Now I know I wasn’t the perfect grandson; I remember charging to your home phone some long- distance phone calls to Polly. That aside, you did your best to manipulate and control my life.

When I started pastoring churches you and Grandpa started sending us money through the church. We really appreciated it and it was a big help. And then it stopped. Why? The church treasurer didn’t send you your giving statement when you expected it and just like that you stopped sending the money. Did our need change?

When I was pastoring in Somerset, Ohio you and Grandpa came to visit a few times. Polly and I will never forget these visits. How could we?

I remember you and Grandpa sitting in the last pew in the back, on the left side. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. Grandpa did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die. He thoroughly embarrassed and shamed me.

I remember when you came to visit us in Junction City. Again, how  can I forget the visit? This was your last visit to my home, twenty-three years ago.

Grandpa spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty. Evidently, having a dirty car was a bad testimony. Too bad he didn’t take that same approach with Mom.

After dinner — oh, I remember it as if it were yesterday! — we were sitting in the living room and one of our young children got too close to Grandpa. What did he do? He kicked  him. I knew then and there that, regardless of his love for Jesus, he didn’t love our family, and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.

I think we saw you and Grandpa once or twice after that. I remember driving to Pontiac to see Grandpa after his cancer surgery. He was out of it. If I remember  correctly, you took us to lunch at a buffet.

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 proceeded 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.

And that is where things remained for a long time.

In 2003, I moved to Clare, Michigan to pastor a Southern Baptist church. In what can only be a cruel twist of fate, our family moved to the same gated community that you and your new husband lived in. What are the odds? You lived less than two miles from my home.

You came to visit the church I pastored and invited us over to dinner. I didn’t want to come, but I thought, what kind of Christian am I? Surely, I can forgive and let the past be the past.

And so we went. Things went fairly well until you decided to let me know, as if it was a fact that everyone knew, that my father was not really my father. I showed no reaction to this revelation, but it stunned me and cut me right to the quick. I knew my Mom was pregnant when she married Dad but I had never  before heard what you were telling me.

Why did you tell me this? What good could ever come of it? Believe me, I still have not gotten past this. I have come to see that what you told me is probably the truth, but to what end was the telling of this truth?

Church members were excited to find out that I was the grandson to Gramma Clarke (her new married name) , a fine, kind, loving, Christian woman if there ever was one, they told me. All I ever told them is that things are not always as they seem.

Of course I understood how this dualistic view of you was possible. You and Grandpa were always good at the smile real big, I love Jesus game, all the while stabbing your family in the back. It is a game that a lot of Christians play.

Nine years have passed since I last saw you in Clare, Michigan. Life moves on. I have a wonderful wife, six kids, and eight grandchildren. And I am an atheist.

You must have done a Facebook search for me because you “found” me. You sent me an email that said:

What ? An athiest ?? Sorry Sorry Sorry !!!What happened ? How’s Polly & your family??

Nine years and this is what you send me?

Ann, you need to understand something. I am not interested in reviving any kind of relationship with you. One of the things I have learned in counseling is that I get to choose whom I want to associate with, whom I want to be friends with.

My counselor and I spend a lot of time talking about family and the past. He told me, Bruce it is OK to not be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with. No more loving everyone because Jesus loves everyone. I am free to love whom I want.

I don’t wish you any ill will. That said, I don’t want to have a relationship with you, especially a pretend Facebook friendship. Ooh Look! Bruce got reconnected with his estranged Grandmother. Isn’t God good!!

Not gonna happen. I have exactly zero interest in pursuing a relationship with you. It is too late.

My “good” memories of you and Grandpa are few and far between (and I haven’t even mentioned things that I am still, to this day, too embarrassed to mention). You really don’t know me and I don’t know you. And that’s okay.

Life is messy, Ann, and this is one mess in aisle three that no one can clean up. I have been told that I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. This is perhaps a true assessment of me. I told Polly tonight that I am quite willing to forgive but it is hard to do when there is never an admission of guilt or the words I am sorry are never uttered. How can there be since the blood of Jesus wipes away every shitty thing a person has ever done? Talk about a get out of responsibility for sin card.

I am sure you will think I am just like my mother. I am.

You know what my last memory of my Mom is? After I tearfully and with a broken heart concluded  my 54-year-old Mom’s graveside service, Grandpa Tieken took the “opportunity” to preach at us and tell us that Mom was in heaven. Just days before she had put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. We all were reeling with grief and pain and Grandpa, in a classic Grandma-and-Grandpa-Tieken moment, decided to preach instead of love.

Bruce

Notes

The Countdown Song

Somewhere in outer space
God has prepared a place
For those who trust Him and obey
Jesus will come again
And though we don’t know when
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

CHORUS:

10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4,
Call upon the Savior while you may,
3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

10
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
BLAST OFF!

Jesus was crucified, suffered and bled he died,
But on the cross He did not stay
He made this promise true, I will come back for you,
The countdown’s getting lower every day.

CHORUS

Soon will the trumpet sound, and we’ll rise off the ground
With Christ forever will we be
Children where will you be, throughout eternity?
The countdown’s getting lower every day!

CHORUS

072116

Bruce Gerencser