Tag Archive: Liberal Politics

Life in Rural Northwest Ohio: Committing Social Suicide

jesus-flag

Local home flying the team flag. Go TEAM JESUS!

I have spent most of my sixty years of life living in rural Ohio. I was born in Bryan, Ohio — a small community in Northwest Ohio. My dad’s parents immigrated to the United States from Hungary in the 1920s and settled down on a hundred acre farm a few miles south of Bryan. Dad and his siblings attended schools in the very district my wife and I now call home. We live in a small spot along State Highway 15. Ney, population 345, has two bars/restaurants and a convenience store/fast station. Dad graduated from Ney High School in 1954. I attended elementary school for several years west of here in the flashing-light, spot-in-the-road town called Farmer. Dad frequently moved us from town to town, unable, for some inexplicable reason, to pay the rent. It wasn’t until junior high that I got a taste of “big” city life.  For three and a half years, we lived in Findlay, the home of Marathon Oil. This allowed me to attend the same school for three straight years. I actually had the same friends from one school year to the next!

Divorce and Dad moving us to Arizona turned my happy world upside down. At age sixteen, I returned to Findlay for my eleventh-grade year. I then returned to Bryan to live with my mother. Lots of drama, including Mom being locked up in Toledo State Hospital, resulted in my siblings and me being uprooted and moved once again to Arizona. By then, I had dropped out of high school. In the fall of 1975, I moved back to Bryan and took a job working at a local grocery store. A year later, I left Bryan to attend classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. I returned to Bryan three years later, pregnant wife in tow.

Polly and I spent much of our married life living in small, rural communities. The churches I pastored were, for the most part, attended by white, working-class people. In 1995, we moved back to the flatland of rural Northwest Ohio. I pastored two nearby churches, moving away from the area to pastor a church in rural Michigan, along with a move to Yuma, Arizona. In the end, like the proverbial bad penny, I seem to always make my way back to Northwest Ohio. In 2007, we bought our house in Ney. Our six children and eleven grandchildren (soon to be twelve) all live within twenty minutes of our home.

There are times when Polly and I yearn for the big city; for the anonymity that living in such places provide. But, we love our family, and when we bought our home, we committed ourselves to living here until death do us part. This is the place and people we call home. We love the slowness of life, and when we need a big city fix, Fort Wayne and Toledo are but an hour away.

I write all this to say that my roots run deep into the soil of rural Ohio. No matter how often I fled the scene, looking for excitement and diversity, I always seemed to come right back to where life started for me. Polly was a city girl, but forty years of country living have turned her into a small-town girl who has embraced the rural way of life. Would we live where we do if it weren’t for our children and grandchildren? Probably not. And the reason for this is simple. While both of us feel quite at home in rural Ohio, our beliefs have changed greatly over the past two decades. This change of thinking puts us at odds with most of our neighbors — politically, religiously, and socially.

Rural northwest Ohio is the land of God, Guns, and the Republican Party. Hundreds of conservative churches dot the landscape, and virtually every public office is held by a Republican. In Defiance County where I live, the Democratic Party has fielded two winners in the last decade, neither of whom is currently in office. Living here means that I must accept  the monoculture of my surroundings, a society where it is assumed that everyone thinks and believes the same way. Someone like me, a socialist/pacifist/atheist, is a rare bird. While I have met more than a few people with similar views (particularly young adults), there are no liberal/humanist/atheist/secular groups or meet-ups in rural Northwest Ohio. People who don’t fit the rural Ohio political and religious mold exist, but few are vocal about their liberalness and unbelief. Why? Doing so would be socially suicidal.

One of my sons and I were talking about this tonight — about how being an out-of-the closet unbeliever or liberal leads to social suicide. While I am often lauded for my outspokenness about local politics and religion, my position has come at a high cost socially. I have in the past pondered whether, if I had it to do all over again, I would have been so vocal early on about my atheistic beliefs. I know that my outspokenness (and my age and disability) has made me unemployable. I own a photography business. When locals are given a choice between an Evangelical photographer and me, guess what? They usually choose the God-fearing one (regardless of the quality of work).

Over the past fifteen months, I have made a concerted effort to, outside of this blog, to tone down my public pronouncements. At times, I feel guilty for doing so; feeling as if I am a sell-out or a hypocrite. Everyone should be able to be who and what they are, right? Sure, but small-town life demands at least some modicum of outward conformity to tribal political, religious, and social beliefs. Disobey and you will pay the price. And for my family in particular, I don’t want them being socially and economically punished for who their father is. Some of my children may agree with me, but their futures depend on them not committing social suicide. Rarely does a week or two go by without one of my children telling me that someone at work — a boss, fellow employee, or customer — was inquiring about whether they were related to me. My children have become experts at fielding such interrogations, knowing that they are always free to say, Hmm, Bruce Gerencser? Don’t know the guy.

ney ohio village limits sign

Ney Village Limit Sign, Slightly Altered.

I plan to live the remaining days and years of my life in Ney, Ohio. As a committed liberal and atheist — who also wants to get along and be accepted by his neighbors — I have to find ways to be true to self while at the same time not being ostracized by locals. Everything, unfortunately, comes down to money. My wife and I need to earn money to live. Earning money requires acceptance by local employers/customers. While it would be wonderful to be a street-corner atheist (and some locals think I am way too outspoken, even at presently muted levels), I have to live here, and being one would be social suicide. The violations of separation of church and state are so common is this area that the Freedom From Religion Foundation could spend the next year or so filing lawsuits against local government agencies, schools, and businesses. Yes, I find these violations of the law egregious, and the street-corner atheist in me wants to call out and condemn their sins. But, I can’t, for in doing so I would cause great social harm not only to myself but to my wife, children, and grandchildren. If I made $40,000 a year blogging, things would be different, but as things now stand, I must swim in waters infested with Evangelical/right-wing Republican sharks, and being a lone fish is sure to turn me into a snack.

I have much hope in the belief that things are slowly changing here in rural Northwest Ohio. Local millennials are not as religious as their parents, and they most certainly don’t hold to the moral and religious values of their grandparents. It is in these young adults that I see promise. It is unlikely that this area will ever be as liberal as the West or East coasts, but I am hoping that there is coming a day when it won’t be social suicide to say that I am a liberal, a socialist, and non-Christian.

For now, I must choose my battles carefully, hoping that I can safely navigate the dangerous waters of rural Ohio. I have seen progress on this front thanks to my high school basketball photography. I have talked to more locals in the past few months than in the last ten years combined. I want them to see me as a family man, as a decent, kind curmudgeon who also happens to take really good pictures. I know that Google is not my friend, but there nothing I can do about the stories she might tell if someone asks her about Bruce Gerencser. Just last week, one my children ran into several people their age who were once members of a local church I pastored. These young adults have heard the gossip about me and read up on me, thanks to the Internet, but they still can’t understand how it is possible that the man they once called pastor is now a heathen. What happened? they asked, desperately trying to figure out how I ended up where I am today. Lost on such people is the fact that I am, in many ways, the same man I was when I was their pastor. Sure, I am a political liberal and an atheist. But, personality-wise I am pretty much the same guy. I am still a down-home friendly man with a wry sense of humor. I am…Bruce. [My editor commented, Your closing raises some interesting questions. Are you the same guy? I think it is hard for you to claim that you are. Sure, you are still a decent, hard-working man, but you have done an about-face in regard to many of your core beliefs of your prior life.]

I would love to hear from readers who find it difficult to navigate the waters of their communities. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

on tyranny

Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, recently wrote a short book detailing the threat of tyranny facing Americans (and the world) today. Snyder gives twenty important lessons we must learn from history if we are to avoid tyranny. History does not repeat, says Professor Snyder, but it does instruct.

What follows is a summary of Snyder’s Twenty Lessons. I have expanded the text on the points I found most thought-provoking.

  1. Do not obey in advance. Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.
  2. Defend institutions.
  3. Beware the one-party state. The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start. They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents. So support the multi-party system and defend the rules of democratic elections. Vote in local and state elections while you can. Consider running for office.
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world. The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourselves and set an example for others to do so.
  5. Remember professional ethics.
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries. When the men with guns who have always claimed to be against the system start wearing uniforms and marching with torches and pictures of a leader the end is nigh. When the pro-leader paramilitary and the official police and military intermingle, the end has come.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you carry a weapon in public service, may God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no.
  8. Stand out.
  9. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.
  10. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
  11. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on the internet is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate propaganda campaigns (some of which comes from abroad). Take responsibility for what you communicate with others.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk.
  13. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
  14. Establish a private life.
  15. Contribute to good causes.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries. Keep up your friendships abroad, or make new friends in other countries. The present difficulties in the United States are an element of a larger trend. And no country is going to find a solution by itself.
  17. Listen for dangerous words. Be alert to the use of the words extremism and terrorism. Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary.
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attacks comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of opposition parties, the suppression of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Do not fall for it.
  19. Be a patriot. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.
  20. Be as courageous as you can.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century can be read in one sitting. You can purchase the book here. Buying the book through the provided link will provide a few shekels for this site. Thank you!

Songs of Sacrilege: Conservative, Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight,White, American Males by Todd Snider

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

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Conservative, Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight White American Males by Todd Snider.

Video Link

Lyrics

Conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight, white, American male.
Gay bashin, black fearin, poor fightin, tree killin, regioal leaders of sales
Frat housin, keg tappin, shirt tuckin, back slappin haters of hippies like me.
Tree huggin, peace lovin, pot smokin, porn watchin lazyass hippies like me.
Tree huggin, love makin, pro choicen, gay weddin, widespread diggin hippies like me.
Skin color-blinded, conspiracy-minded, protestors of corporate greed,
We who have nothing and most likely will till we all wind up locked up in jails
By conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight, white, American males,.

Diamonds and dogs, boys and girls, living together in two separate worlds
Following leaders of mountains of shame, looking for someone to blame.

Diamonds and dogs, boys and girls, living together in two separate worlds
Following leaders of mountains of shame, looking for someone to blame.
I know who I like to blame:

Conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight, white, American males,
Soul savin, flag wavin, Rush lovin, land pavin personal friends to the Quayles
Quite diligently workin so hard to keep the free reins of this Democracy
From tree huggin, peace lovin, pot smokin, barefootin folk-singin hippies like me.
Tree huggin, peace lovin, pot smokin, porn watchin lazyass hippies like me.