Tag Archive: Life

The “What If” Game

what if

Cartoon by Tom Fishburne

Thanks to modern medicine and clean water, most of us will live into our seventies and even our eighties. Compare our lifespan to that of the rabbits that hop through our yards or the cats sleeping their lives away on our couches, and we live relatively long lives. The difference between us and other animals is that we measure life by hours, days, and years. Rabbits and cats exist, until they don’t, with nary a thought about the brevity of their lives. They live, and then they die. We humans also live and die, but we tend to think a lot about our lives and their ultimate ends. We wonder, is there life after death? We strive to extend our lives as long as possible, fearing that despite what Christians tell us, there might not be anything waiting for us after we die; that death is the equivalent of shutting off our computers. As an atheist, I believe that the only thing that awaits me after death is endless darkness and silence. I have often pondered, in the still of night, being alive and then dead; that moment when all that went into making me who I am ceases to exist.

I don’t fear dying. It’s a waste of time to fear that which you cannot control. That said, I do ponder how best to live what life I have left. Age and health problems have done that to me. If I live to be seventy, I have less than eight years left before I am no more. It seems like yesterday that I was a young buck running free, thinking that I was immortal. It seems like yesterday that I enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College, married the love of my life, and fathered six children. It seems like yesterday that I was pastoring churches, winning souls, and investing my life in the work of the ministry. Now I am sixty-one years old, grandfather to twelve wonderful children, and come June I will draw my first social security check. Compared to my life when I was young, time is moving at breakneck speed. Come May, my oldest granddaughter will graduate from high school. Why, it seems like yesterday she was a toddler clumsily running through our home. Now she is a grown woman with plans to go to college. As I look at my grandchildren, I see how quickly they are growing, both in stature and intellect. Even my youngest grandchild, Ezra, has doubled in size from a few months ago. Born six weeks premature, Ezra is now growing faster than a feeder hog on corn. I suspect he’ll be an NFL linebacker by age two.

In two months, it will be Thanksgiving, and in three months we will celebrate Christmas. Didn’t we just celebrate these holidays a couple of months ago? On and on, with or without us, time moves along, never stopping for us to catch our breath or reset our navigation. I often find that I am in bondage to my to-do list. As my health declines and I feel the need to join the cat at the end of couch, the list gets longer and longer. I feel oppressed when I think about it. Damn, so much to do. I’m never going to get these things done. Silly, I know, because the fact of the matter is that most of what is on my list doesn’t really matter. If I get to the things on my list, fine, but if I don’t, will it make one bit of difference? I doubt it.  As I get closer and closer to the end of life, I find myself — on most days — focusing on the people that matter to me: my family and friends, especially Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, Aaliyah, Victoria, Karah, Levi, Emma, Guin, Gabby, Morgan, Alayna, Lily, Charlee, and Ezra. They are the sum of my life, or most it anyway.

One of the games older people play is the “What If” Game.  Have you played this game? I know I have. What if my dad didn’t move his family all over the place and I got to go to the same school instead of attending ten schools in twelve years? What if my mom and dad stayed married, instead of divorcing when I was fourteen? What if my dad was still alive instead of dying at age forty-nine and my mom was still alive instead of killing herself at age fifty-four? What if I married the first girl I loved instead of the last one? What if I went to Briercrest Bible College instead of Midwestern Baptist College? What if my parents stayed members of the Episcopal church instead of joining up with Fundamentalist Baptists? What if I stayed on as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church instead of moving 1,600 miles away to Texas to co-pastor Community Baptist Church? What if I never moved away from Southeast Ohio? Or Northwest Ohio? Or Central Michigan? Or Southwest Arizona? What if? What if? What if?

Life is made up of countless decisions. Each decision we make alters our lives, sometimes in insignificant ways, other times in ways that forever change us. Every decision moves us further down the path of life. While we would like to think that, if we had done differently at a certain point in life, things would have turned out better for us, how can we know for sure that that would be the case? Alter your timeline at one point and everything changes. And isn’t that the sum of what we call life?  Ever-moving, ever-changing. The most that any of us can do is use the information at hand to make the best possible decisions. I have made countless bad decisions, choices that altered my life and that of my family in profound ways. Shit, I tell myself, I would sure like a do-over. Well, there are no do-overs, no second chances. All any of us can do is learn from the past and try to do better the next time.

I have also made innumerable good decisions. I could play the “What If” Game and wonder if the good decisions I’ve made could have been better, but that’s a game for fools to play. I don’t believe in soulmates. I suspect had I gone to a different college or lived in a different place, I would have met a woman, fallen in love, gotten married, and lived happily ever after — or not. That said, that’s not what happened, and when I met a beautiful, dark-haired seventeen-year-old girl named Polly at Midwestern Baptist College, I knew she was the one for me. This one choice altered my life in more ways than I could ever imagine. We were naïve youths when we said I do, but here we are five decades later, still in love, and most of all, best friends (even after I boiled her fairly new enamel cast iron pot dry last night while I was forgetfully busy writing a blog post). Both of us could play the “What If” Game, but why would we? Is not what we have good enough? Is it not in fact more than we could ever have imagined? Instead of what wondering about what might have been, I choose to live in the present, grateful for all the blessings that have come my way. As life winds down for me, I choose to think about what I have instead of what might have been.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Quote of the Day: The Brevity of Life by Clarence Darrow

clarence-darrow

When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the fact that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom; the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier… for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.

— Clarence Darrow, as found on James Haught’s blog

Quote of the Day: Death is the Only Fact We Have by James Baldwin

james baldwin

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.

— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time via the No Qualms blog

Quote of the Day: The Long Procession of Life

creamery road zanesville ohio

Creamery Road, Zanesville, Ohio

I often think of humankind as a long procession whose beginning and end are out of sight. We the living… have no control over when or where we enter the procession, or even how long we are part of it, but we do get to choose our marching companions. And we can all exercise some control over what direction the procession takes, what part we play, and how we play it.

— Marty Wilson, a friend of James Haught

Did My Philosophy of Ministry Change Over the Years I Spent in the Ministry?

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978

My editor recently asked me a question about how my philosophy of ministry had changed from when I first began preaching in 1976 until I left the ministry in 2005. I thought her question would make for an excellent blog post.

I typically date my entrance into the ministry from when I enrolled for classes at Midwestern Baptist College in the fall of 1976. I actually preached my first sermon at age 15, not long after I went forward during an evening service at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, and publicly declared to my church family that God was calling me into the ministry. My public affirmation of God’s call was the fulfillment of the desire I expressed as a five-year-old boy when someone asked me: what do you want to be when you grow up? My response was, I want to be a preacher. Unlike many people, I never had any doubts about what I wanted to do with my life. While I’m unsure as to why this is so, all I know is this: I always wanted to be a preacher.

Trinity Baptist Church was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, affiliated with the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). From my preschool years forward, every church I attended was either an IFB church or a generic Evangelical congregation. When I entered Midwestern in 1976, all that I knew about the Bible, the ministry, and life itself was a result of the preaching, teaching, and experiences I had at the churches I was part of. These churches, along with my training at Midwestern, profoundly affected my life, filling my mind with theological, political, and social beliefs that shaped my worldview. These things, then, became the foundation of my philosophy of ministry.

The fact that I grew up in a dysfunctional home also played a big part in the development of my ministerial philosophy. During my elementary and high school years, I attended numerous schools. The longest spell at one school was the two and a half years I spent at Central Junior High School and Findlay High School in Findlay Ohio. All told, I attended four high schools, two junior high schools, and five elementary schools. Someone asked me years ago if I went to a lot different schools because my dad got transferred a lot. I laughed, and replied, no, dad just never paid the rent. While my father was always gainfully employed, the Gerencser family was never far from the poorhouse, thanks to nefarious financial deals and money mismanagement. I quickly figured out that if I wanted clothing, spending money, and, at times, lunch money, it was up to me to find a way to get the money to pay for these things. There were times that I sneaked into my dad’s bedroom and stole money from his wallet so I could pay for my school lunches. Dad thought that the local Rink’s Bargain City — which I called Bargain Shitty — was the place to buy clothing for his children. I learned that if I wanted to look like my peers that I was going to have to find a way to get enough money to pay for things such as Converse tennis shoes, platform shoes, and Levi jeans. In my early junior high years, I turned to shoplifting for my clothing needs. From ninth grade forward, I had a job, whether it was mowing grass, raking leaves, shoveling snow, or holding down a job at the local Bill Knapp’s restaurant. I also worked at my dad’s hobby shop, for which he paid me twenty-five cents an hour, minus whatever I spent for soda from the pop machine.

My mother, sexually molested by her father as a child and later raped by her brother-in-law, spent most of her adult life battling mental illness. Mom was incarcerated against her will several times at the Toledo State Mental Hospital. She attempted suicide numerous times, using everything from automobiles, pills, and razor blades to bring about her demise. One such attempt when I was in fifth grade left an indelible mark, one that I can still, to this day, vividly remember. I rode the bus to school. One day, after arriving home, I entered the house and found my mom laying in a pool blood on the kitchen floor. She had slit her wrists. Fortunately, she survived, but suicide was never far from her mind. At the age of fifty-four, mom turned a .357 Magnum Ruger revolver towards her heart and pulled the trigger. She bled out on the bathroom floor.

It is fair to say that we humans are the sum of our experiences, and that our beliefs are molded and shaped by the things we experience in life. I know my life certainly was. As I reflect on my philosophy of ministry, I can see how these things affected how I ministered to others. The remainder of this post will detail that philosophy and how it changed over the course of my life.

When I entered the ministry, my philosophy was quite simple: preach the gospel and win souls to Christ. Jesus was the solution to every problem, and if people would just get saved, all would be well. I find it interesting that this Jesus-centric/gospel-centric philosophy was pretty much a denial of what I had, up until that point, experienced in life. While the churches I attended certainly preached this philosophy, my real-life experiences told me that Jesus and salvation, while great, did not change people as much as preachers said they did. But, that’s the philosophy I was taught, so I entered the ministry with a burning desire to win as many souls as possible, believing that if I did so it would have a profound effect on the people I ministered to.

I also believed that poor people (and blacks) were lazy, and if they would just get jobs and work really, really hard, they would have successful lives. I would quickly learn as a young married man that life was more complex than I first thought, and that countless Americans went to work every day, worked hard, did all they could to become part of the American middle class, yet they never experienced the American dream. I also learned that two people can be given the same opportunities in life and end up with vastly different lives. In other words, I learned that we humans are complex beings, and there’s nothing simple about life on planet earth. I also learned that good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. I would much later in life conclude that life is pretty much a crapshoot.

In 1983, I started the Somerset Baptist Church in Somerset, Ohio. Somerset Baptist was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. I pastored this church for almost twelve years. During this time, the church grew from a first service attendance of sixteen to an average attendance over two hundred. The church also experienced a decline in membership over time, with fifty or so people attending the last service of the church. Somerset Baptist was located in Perry County, the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. Coal mines and stripper oil wells dotted the landscape. Unemployment was high. In the 1980s, unemployment exceeded twenty percent. It should come as no surprise then, that most of the members of Somerset Baptist were poor. Thanks in part to my preaching of the Calvinistic work ethic (also known as the shaming of people who don’t have jobs), all the men of the church were gainfully employed, albeit most families were receiving food stamps and other government assistance. During the years I spent at this church, I received a world-class education concerning systemic poverty. I learned that people can work hard and still not get ahead. I also learned that family dysfunction, which included everything from drug/alcohol addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, and even incest, often was generational; that people were the way they were, with or without Jesus, because that’s all they knew. I pastored families that had never been more than fifty miles from their homes. At one point, some members of our church took a church auto trip to Virginia, and I recall how emotional some members were when they crossed the bridge from Ohio into West Virginia. It was the years I spent in Somerset Ohio that dramatically changed how I viewed the world. This, of course, led to an evolving philosophy of ministry.

bruce gerencser 1990's

Bruce Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church, Early 1990’s

While I never lost my zeal to win souls for Christ, my preaching, over time, took on a more comprehensive, holistic approach. Instead of preaching, get right with God and all would be well, I began to teach congregants how to apply the Bible to every aspect of their lives. I stop preaching textual and topical sermons, choosing instead to preach expositionally through various books of the Bible. I also realized that one way I could help the children of the church was to provide a quality education for them. Sure, religious indoctrination was a part of the plan, but I realized that if the children of the church were ever going to rise above their parents, they were going to have to be better educated. For my last five years at Somerset Baptist, I was the administrator and a teacher at Somerset Baptist Academy — a private, tuition-free school for church children. My wife and I, along with several other adults in the church, were the primary teachers. Our focus was on the basics: reading, English, writing, and arithmetic. Some of the students were years behind in their education. We used a one-room schoolhouse approach, and there were several instances of high school students doing math with third-grade students. We educated children where they were, regardless of their grade. Polly taught the younger students, and was instrumental in many of them learning to read. Most of the students, who are now in their thirties and forties, have fond memories of Polly teaching them reading and English. Their memories are not as fond of Preacher, the stern taskmaster.

During the five years we operated the school, I spent hours every day with the church’s children. I learned much about their home lives and how poverty and dysfunction affected them. Their experiences seem so similar to my own, and over time I began to realize that part of my ministerial responsibility was to minister to the temporal social needs of the people I came in contact with. This change of ministry philosophy would, over time, be shaped and strengthened by changing political and theological beliefs.

In 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio called Grace Baptist Church. The church would later change its name to Our Father’s House — reflecting my increasing ecumenicalism. During the seven years I spent in West Unity, my preaching moved leftward, so much so that a man who had known me in my younger years told me I was preaching another gospel — the social gospel. My theology moved from fundamentalist Calvinism to theological beliefs focused on good works. I came to believe that true Christian faith rested not on right beliefs. but good works; that faith without works was dead; that someday Jesus would judge us, not according to our beliefs, but by our works. While at Our Father’s House, I started a number of ministries which were no-strings-attached social outreaches to the poor. The church never grew to more than fifty or sixty people, but if I had to pick one church that was my favorite it would be this one. Outside of one kerfuffle where a handful of families left the church, my time at Our Father’s House was peaceful. For the most part, I pastored a great bunch of people who sincerely loved others and wanted to help them in any way they could.

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Our Father’s House, West Unity, Ohio Circa 2000

In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. He would be the last Republican I voted for. As my theology became more liberal, so did my politics, and by the time I left the ministry in 2005, I was politically far from the right-wing Republicanism of my early years in the ministry. Today, I am as liberal as they come. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the last presidential primary election. Politically, I am a Democratic Socialist. To some people, depending on where they met me in life, my liberal beliefs are shocking. One man was so bothered by not only my politics, but my loss of faith, that he told me he could no longer be friends with me; that he found my changing beliefs and practices too psychologically unsettling.

I’m now sixty years old, and come July, I will be married to my beautiful bride for forty years. Much has changed in my life, particularly in the last decade, but one constant remains: I genuinely love people and want to help them. This is why some people think I am still a pastor, albeit an atheist one. I suspect had I been born into a liberal Christian home I might have become a professor or a social worker, and if I had to do it all over again I probably would have pursued these types of careers, choosing to be a bi-vocational pastor instead of a full-time one. But, I didn’t, and my life story is what it is. Perhaps when I am reincarnated, I will get an opportunity to walk a different path. But, then again, who knows where that path might take me. As I stated previously, we humans are complex beings, and our lives are the sum of our experiences. Change the experiences, change the man.

I hope that I’ve adequately answered my editor’s question. This post turned out to be much longer than I thought it would be, much like my sermons years ago.

bruce and polly gerencser 2017

Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2017

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Evangelicals Talk a Good Line When it Comes to Death, but Change Their Tune When They Are Dying

mark twain death

Evangelicals love to talk about heaven and the afterlife. They love to talk about the imminent return of Jesus and the rapture of all Christians from earth. They love to brag about being ready to go; about being ready to check out; about wanting to see Jesus face to face. Listen to enough Evangelical sermons and you’ll conclude that believers, much like the Apostle Paul, want to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. But let sickness, disease, or accident usher them to the front door of the great unknown, getting ready to leave, pulling out tomorrow, saying goodbye to all earthly sorrows, and Christians aren’t so much in a hurry to check out after all. It seems when theory becomes reality, Evangelicals are just like the rest of us — they don’t want to die. For all their talk about heaven and living eternally with Jesus, Evangelicals really aren’t certain about what lies beyond their last breath. Since no one — including Jesus — has ever come back from the dead to tell us what, if anything, lies beyond death, all Evangelicals have to go on is the Bible. And based on my six-decade involvement with Evangelicalism, I can safely say that Christians fear death just like atheists, agnostics, and everyone else they have consigned to the eternal flames of hell.

If Jesus, God, and Heaven are all Evangelicals says they are, shouldn’t they want to leave this rotten, vile, sinful world as soon as possible? If this life is to be endured as some sort of test from God, shouldn’t Evangelicals want to graduate as soon as possible so they can move into their mansions in the sky? Why do Evangelicals do all they can to hang on to life as long as possible? Is it perhaps possible that they know that, despite all their talk of the sweet by and by, deep down they crave life and want to hang onto it at all costs? I suspect this is the case.

I am convinced that there is nothing beyond death; that we only have one life and it will, all too soon, be in the past. It seems like yesterday that I was a youthful ministerial student at Midwestern Baptist College. In but a blink of an eye, forty-plus years have passed. I am now sixty years old and have been married almost forty years. My oldest son is almost forty and my oldest granddaughter is a junior in high school. My once-carrot-red hair is white and my joints are filled with arthritis. I’m plagued with memory problems, and ever so quickly I have become my grandparents. I have owned dozens of cars and lived in dozens of houses. I’ve seen eleven presidents elected and lived long enough to see modern technology transform the world. While I hope to live many more years, I know that most of my life is now in the rear-view mirror; ten years left if I live to age seventy, twenty if I live to eighty. Where have all the years gone? people of my age ask.

I hope when it comes time to die that I will face my convictions head on, that I will reject efforts to keep me alive. We currently have an extended family member who is on life support. He was an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher for over fifty years. His body has shut down, yet his wife refuses to pull the plug. The snarky side of me says, why wait? Pull the plug. That way he will see Jesus and be ushered into his home in the sky. But the compassionate side of me gets it — his wife is not ready to let go; his children are not ready to let go. No one wants to face the prospect of sleeping alone or looking in the closet and seeing clothes that will never be worn again. None of us wants to face the emptiness and silence that comes when our significant others die. Who among us wants to lose their lover, friend, and confidant? I know I don’t.

Despite our protestations and acts of denial, when death comes knocking on the door, we can do nothing to keep ourselves alive. The curse of modern technology is that we can often put off the inevitable. But both the Christian and unbeliever must be brutally honest about life and death. Deny death’s reality all we want, it matters not. When it comes our time to die, we die.

Dylan Thomas was right when he said:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

While we can, let us rage against the dying light. But let us also be honest enough to embrace death. Death plays its part in what The Lion King called the circle of life. Being aware of our mortality is very much a part of what makes us human. Deny it all we want, death will still come knocking. Over the weekend, a fifty-nine-year-old local man died from a snowmobile accident. While he was snowmobiling on ice, a tree limb hit him in the head and killed him. I went to this man’s Facebook page to see what his last updates were about. He spoke of family, of grandchildren. I wonder if ,when he wrote about his grandchildren, he knew that would be the last status update that he would ever post; that but a few hours later he would be dead. I doubt it. Life is like that.

Are you ready to face death? What are your opinions about being kept on life support?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Believing Humans Have Eternal Life is Harmful and Wastes Life

eternal life

Cartoon by Mark Lynch

I am not suggesting that the reality of death isn’t painful, but just because something is painful doesn’t mean it can be avoided, or even that it should be.  I believe the promise of eternal life is a coping mechanism, and I don’t like it.  Pascal’s famous wager posits that if there is even one chance in a million that God exists, you should bet your life on it, but to me those are terrible odds.  Indeed, it may well be that the greatest mistake in this world is to live as if you have endless time…when in fact you don’t.

Bart Campolo, Why I Left, Why I Stayed, p. 133

What would Evangelical Christianity be without the belief that humans are eternal beings that will either dwell in Heaven (God’s Kingdom) or Hell (Lake of Fire)? Evangelicals give up a lot of living in order to earn a room in Heaven’s Trump Tower. I say “earn,” because despite talk of grace, Evangelicals know that gaining a golden ticket requires work and effort on their part. There are sins that must be confessed and forsaken, and Christians who wallow in the cesspool of the “world” likely will end up in Hell with Adolph Hitler, Barack Obama, and Bruce Gerencser. Thus, Evangelicals religiously attend church, pray, read their Bibles, witness, give tithes and offerings, buy Christian literature, listen to Christian radio, watch Christian TV, support Evangelical political candidates, and fight against abortion, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage. These same Evangelicals try their damnedest to follow the sexual mores of the Bible. From the moment they awake in the morning until they fall asleep at night, Evangelicals focus their minds on God, Jesus, the Bible, Christianity, and making sure that the evil agenda of Satan and the Antichrist is defeated. (I am aware of the fact that not all Evangelicals are zealots; that many of them are nominal, in-name-only Christians, but millions of Americans are committed followers of the Evangelical God. It is these people who are the focus of this post.)

Those of us who spent much of our lives living and breathing Evangelical beliefs and practices often find ourselves lamenting the time wasted serving a mythical deity. I was fifty years old before I saw the “light” and divorced myself from Jesus. From the age of fifteen to the age of fifty — thirty-five years — I devoted my life to Jesus and did all I could possibly do to live according to the teachings of the Bible — failing miserably, by the way. None of my six children played sports or enjoyed many of the things “normal” children do because their Dad demanded that they, too, devote their lives to Jesus. My children, for the most part, were either educated in unaccredited private Fundamentalist schools or home schooled. Rarely were they given the opportunity to do something that was not connected to either school or church. My oldest son attended over three thousand church services and heard virtually every sermon I preached. The same could be said for Polly and the rest of my children. We lived and breathed God, the Bible, and the church. To what end? What did we gain from such a life? So much wasted time. Hours, days, and years squandered with no hope of a do-over or a second chance. Lost time is just that — lost. All the weeping and wailing in the world doesn’t change the fact that the time wasted in service of a myth is forever lost.

Ephesians 6:16 says, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. James 4:14 states, Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. And Proverbs 27:1 says, Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.  For Evangelicals, these verses are reminders of the brevity of life and the importance of serving God while they have the opportunity. Amos 4:12 speaks of preparing to meet God. Evangelicals believe that this life is preparation for the life to come; that the pain, suffering, heartache, and loss faced in the here and now is meant to keep them from becoming attached to the world. 1 John 2:15-19 states:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Evangelicals are implored to not love the world with its pride and lusts. Someday, according to the Bible, Jesus is going to return to earth and destroy the heavens and the earth, making all things new. Knowing this to be “true,” Evangelicals forsake the world, knowing that, in the end, they will be glad they did. And for those Christians who love the world and its fleshly desires? Their behaviors reveal that they aren’t True Christians®.

Evangelicals know that life is short. Psalm 90:10 says, The days of our years are threescore years and ten (seventy); and if by reason of strength they be fourscore (eighty) years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.  All too soon, death will come knocking on their doors, thus it is crucial to live life in such a way that when Jesus calls their number he will say to them, well done thou good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of the Lord (Matthew 25:23).

It is too bad that Christians don’t live their lives according to Solomon’s book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes. Solomon reminds people of the brevity of life, and the best any of us can do is eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. And therein lies the point of the Bart Campolo quote at the beginning of this post. This life is the only one we will ever have. This is it. No re-dos. No second chances. No reincarnations. No coming back as ghosts or angels. Every breath, every heartbeat brings us one moment closer to death. I am sixty years old. If I live to age seventy, this means my life is six-sevenths gone. If I live to eighty, three-fourths of my life is in the rear-view mirror. I currently take drugs that prolong my life. Without them, I would have already gone up in the smoke of the local crematorium.

There are moments in the night when pain keeps me from sleeping, and I lie in bed listening to the tick-tock of the clock on the nearby nightstand. Tick-tock, tick-tock, two seconds of life is gone. Sixty tick-tocks and a minute is gone. Thirty-six-hundred tick-tocks and another hour of my life is dissipated into the night. Someday, sooner and not later, readers of this blog will be greeted with a post from my wife or one of my children. It will say that on such-and-such a date at such-and-such time, Bruce Gerencser drew his last breath. Cause of death? Life.

Knowing this to be true, I refuse to spend my time chasing ghosts, goblins, and gods. I refuse to offload the present in the hope that I might receive some sort of divine payoff from a mythical deity. Life is meant to be lived in the here and now, with no promise of tomorrow. Yes, it is okay to plan for the future, but not at the expense of enjoying the present. Campolo says belief in eternal life is harmful because it is, above all things, a lie; a lie based solely on some words written in an ancient religious text thousands of years ago. Believing this lie causes people to miss out on all that life has to offer. Believing this lie changes relationship dynamics, pitting believers and unbelievers against each other. If Heaven and Hell are real places, then it stands to reason that Evangelical concern for non-Christian family, friends, and neighbors is warranted. However, there is, based on all we know about the universe, no Heaven or Hell. The only heaven and hell any of us will ever know is that which is lived in this life. That’s why I want, with what little time I have left, to live and raise a little hell, and make earth as heavenly as I possibly can.

Let me conclude this post with the advice I give to new readers on my ABOUT page:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

That Makes Me Think of Eternity

polly 2016

Early Tuesday morning, my wife, Polly, got up to use the bathroom. Upon her return to bed she said to me, something is not right. My heart is beating like crazy. I could tell she was quite worried, so I got my blood pressure machine and had Polly check her blood pressure. Sure enough, Polly’s blood pressure was 158/100 and her pulse rate was 158. On Monday, Polly had her annual health exam. Her blood pressure was 120/70 and her pulse rate was 65.

I told Polly to get dressed so I could take to her the emergency room in nearby Bryan. Polly is Mrs. Healthy. She’s had never been to the emergency room and her only hospitalizations were for six pregnancies. Polly has worked for Sauder Woodworking for almost twenty years. She’s never missed a day’s work. She has been to the emergency room and hospital numerous times with me, but her experiences on Tuesday were new to her.

The ER doctor quickly determined that Polly had atrial fibrillation-rvr — a heart rhythm problem. The upper chambers of Polly’s heart were out of sync with the lower chambers. Left untreated, atrial fibrillation can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Polly was given several medications and put on an IV. The doctor informed her that she would likely be in the hospital overnight. For the next six hours, I watched the heart machine as it recorded Polly’s heart rate bouncing all over the place. The medication eventually brought her heart rate down, but it was still bouncing from 80 to 110. Finally, around 2:00 PM, Polly’s heart decided it was tired of jumping around and returned to a normal rhythm. The doctor released her at 5:00 PM and we came home, exhausted from a busy, frightening day.

I had let Polly’s parents know that she was in the hospital. That afternoon, Polly called her Mom to let her know what was up. During the conversation, Polly’s Mom tried to evangelize her, saying, that [Polly’s heart problem] makes me think of eternity. Polly quickly and angrily shut off this line of conversation, curtly saying, I’m fine. (It has been nine years since Polly and I left Christianity. Her parents have yet to have a conversation with us about why we are no longer Christians.)

The conversation ended shortly thereafter. Polly’s Mom told her, I’m praying for you daily. At a loss as to what to do about our turn from Jesus to Satan, Mom and Dad have taken to daily praying for us. In their minds, if we would just get back in church all would be well. They hold out the hope that we will return to Jesus and start serving him again. Deep down I wonder if Mom doesn’t think I am the reason for Polly’s deconversion, and that once I am dead and gone and she is free of me, her daughter will return to Christianity. Little does Mom know that Polly is much more strident in her unbelief than I am. I may be more vocal about it than Polly is, but she has zero interest in anything associated with religion.

As Mom was giving her evangelistic spiel, this daughter of a Baptist preacher, wife of former Evangelical preacher, mother of six, and grandmother to eleven, raised her hand and gave the phone a middle finger salute. Polly will never tell Mom to fuck off, but the sentiment is there. She’s done with religion, and so am I.

Polly’s heart problem is a screaming reminder to us that life is short. Everyone expects me to die first. After all, I’ve been dealing with chronic health problems for twenty years. It makes perfect sense that I would be the one to make it to the crematorium first. However, life often does not make sense, nor is life fair. Proverbs 27:1 is right when it says, Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. I was reminded on early Tuesday morning that those I love and hold dear can be quickly snatched from my hands. Treat every day as your last. Someday, it will be.

We’ve Only Just Begun

bruce and polly gerencser 2015

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2015

Forty years ago, a young man from the flatland of rural northwest Ohio moved to Pontiac, Michigan to study for the ministry. Also enrolled at Midwestern Baptist College was a young woman who hailed from Bay City, Michigan. What follows is their story.

The young man packed his worldly goods into his beater of a car, and waving goodbye to his Mom, drove out of the trailer park, turned east on U.S. Hwy 6 and set a course for Pontiac, Michigan. His mother had kissed him goodbye, letting the young man know how proud she was that he was the first Gerencser to go to college. He pushed her away, uncomfortable with her display of affection, a behavior he would one day regret. The young man thought, finally, away from the craziness and the drunkard husband.

Two-and-a-half hours later, the young man turned off of Golf Drive onto the driveway for Midwestern Baptist College. He stopped his car in front of the dormitory so he could unload his belongings and move them to his assigned dorm room — room 207. On that day, the young man wore a maize and blue shirt with the number 75 on the front and the word REV on the back. This shirt was a gift from a young woman who hoped the young man would remember her. He didn’t, knowing that enrolling at Midwestern would provide him ample opportunity to meet attractive Fundamentalist women. He would soon learn that a wide-open field of romance would quickly fade in the beauty of a dark-haired, beautiful young woman.

Shortly after classes began in the fall of 1976, the young man and young dark-haired woman began flirting with one another. At first, they sent flirtatious notes, often meeting up for card games in the dormitory kitchen. While both of them would briefly date other people, by the end of September, the young man and young woman decided to give dating one another a try.

They were an odd match. The young woman was quiet and reserved, rarely speaking more than a few words. The young man, on the other hand, was a talker, and opinionated. He lived life in the fast lane, serving Jesus, yet pushing the lines of Fundamentalist decorum and acceptability. Years later, the young woman would tell him that she was drawn to his wildness — her bad boy.

Midwestern Baptist College — a Fundamentalist institution founded by Dr. Tom Malone, the pastor of nearby Emmanuel Baptist Church  — had strict rules concerning dating and male/female interaction. Dating couples were only allowed to date on Saturday evening and after Sunday night church. Couples were required to double-date, and all dates had to be approved by dorm supervisors. Couples were not permitted to travel beyond a ten-mile radius from the college. Coupled were not permitted to have any physical contact with each other. Breaking this rule would result in being campused — meaning that offending couples were not allowed to date off campus. Repeated infractions led to being kicked out of school.

The young man and young woman quickly found that keeping the six-inch rule — the width of a songbook — was impossible. Fearing expulsion, they sought out other dating couples that also found the no-contact rule a strain on their relationships. On date nights, the young man and young woman could now snuggle close to one another and hold hands. As with all young couples with raging hormones, their desire for physical intimacy increased as time went along. Yet, fearing being discovered and expelled, the young man and young woman — for three months — didn’t kiss.

Christmas of 1976 found the young man visiting the young woman at the home of her parents in Newark, Ohio. The young woman’s father was a preacher — a recent graduate of Midwestern. Her father was the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church pastored by the young woman’s uncle, Jim Dennis.

One evening, the young woman’s mother asked her to retrieve their clothing from the laundry room. The young man followed along, and it was there, in an apartment laundry room, the young couple kissed one another for the first time. Many kisses would follow, but neither of them would ever forget that one brief moment where they were able for the first time to express their love for one another.

Love for one another? Yes, their relationship quickly moved from casual to serious, culminating in the young couple’s engagement on Valentine’s Day 1977. A quarter-carat diamond engagement ring was purchased from Sears and Roebuck for $225, sealing their commitment to marry in July of 1978. Little did they know that the young woman’s mother would do everything in her power to foil their plans, going so far as to tell her daughter that she forbade her to marry the young man. He comes from a divorced family, her mother said, and divorce is hereditary.

After a year of pressuring the young couple to abandon their plans, the young woman’s mother relented and consented to the wedding — not that she had any other option. For the first time, the young woman stood up to her mom, telling her that she planned to run off and get married if she continued to oppose her marriage to the young man.

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

July 15, 1978, was a hot and humid day. There was no air conditioning at the Newark Baptist Temple, not that this mattered to the young couple. Their special day had finally arrived, the day when they would become Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser. Their friends from college, along with family members and church members, filled the pews to witness the joining of the young man and young woman in holy matrimony. Songs were sung, vows were exchanged, and then, with a kiss for luck, they were on their way, innocent of where their life together would take them.

Six weeks after their wedding, the young man came home from work and was met with the news, I’m pregnant. Nine months later, the first of the young couple’s six children was born in Bryan, Ohio. After almost three years at Midwestern, the young couple was forced to drop out of college and move to the Bryan – the birthplace of the young man. This would be the first of many moves for them. Over the next thirty-eight years they would move numerous times, living in dozens of rental houses.

Life was not easy for the young married couple. Ignorance about how to manage money quickly led to all sorts of problems. Years later, the young man, now a seasoned Baptist preacher, would remark, it took us a few years to figure out that you had to pay the electric bill to keep the lights on. They faced numerous problems, wondering if their marriage would survive – thus proving the young woman’s mother right: divorce is hereditary. Survive they did, and here on July 15th they will celebrate their thirty-eighth wedding anniversary.

The young couple walked out of the Newark Baptist Temple, cheered on by family and friends — two innocents wondering what fate would hold for them. Six children, one with Down Syndrome. Poverty. Moves to Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and Ohio. Bankruptcy. Health problems. Constant struggles to survive, living on poor wages and food stamps. Leaving the ministry and losing faith. Yet, despite stresses that often cause marriage failure, the commitment and love of the young couple endured. Seasoned by adversity and failure, the pair — now nearing their 60th birthdays — continue to honor the vows they made to one another years ago.

Later today, the ageing couple will celebrate their wedding anniversary with a meal at a fancy restaurant and a night of watching races at a local dirt track. They will make jokes with another, promising hot, torrid sex before the night is over. And more than likely, once they arrive home, they will each give the other the look, the one that says, I’m tired, maybe tomorrow. Climbing into bed, they will turn to one another — just as they have thousands of times before — and say, I love you. The young woman, now with gray hair and weathered skin, will quickly fall to sleep, leaving the young man to his thoughts; thoughts of a well-lived life, of love and commitment and adversity and failure. But thoughts, most of all, of the fact that he is the luckiest man alive.

Soon the young man — now with a white beard and failing health — will gently run his fingers through his sleeping love’s hair, pondering the life they have shared together. His mind will likely return to a basement laundry room and the moment where he realized that the young woman in his embrace was his one and only. Forty years later, she remains not only his wife and lover, but also his best friend and confidante. Life is good, he will say to himself as he drifts off to sleep, hoping that come morning he will have one more opportunity to say, I love you.

Tim Minchin Addresses 2013 University of Western Australia Graduating Class

tim minchinIn 2013, atheist Tim Minchin received an honorary doctorate from the University of Western Australia (UWA). The video that follows is Minchin’s address to UWA’s 2013 graduating class. I hope readers will take the time to listen to Minchin’s address. In fact, if you have friends or family members who are graduating from high school or university, I encourage you to make them aware of this video. Minchin imparts nine simple, yet profound thoughts about life. Minchin, ever the comedian, challenges young adults to live life with passion, knowing that day will come when they will be dead.

Video Link

Transcript

In darker days, I did a corporate gig at a conference for this big company who made and sold accounting software. In a bid, I presume, to inspire their salespeople to greater heights, they’d forked out 12 grand for an Inspirational Speaker who was this extreme sports dude who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain. It was weird. Software salespeople need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic, ex-mountaineer. Some poor guy who arrived in the morning hoping to learn about better sales technique ended up going home worried about the blood flow to his extremities. It’s not inspirational – it’s confusing.

And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he? Cos he didn’t do an arts degree, did he? He should have. Arts degrees are awesome. And they help you find meaning where there is none. And let me assure you, there is none. Don’t go looking for it. Searching for meaning is like searching for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook: you won’t find it and you’ll bugger up your soufflé.

Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker. I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise. And I’m certainly not here to give career advice, cos… well I’ve never really had what most would call a proper job.

However, I have had large groups of people listening to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance. So I will now – at the ripe old age of 38 – bestow upon you nine life lessons. To echo, of course, the 9 lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service. Which are also a bit obscure.

You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you will find some of it boring, and you will definitely forget all of it within a week. And be warned, there will be lots of hokey similes, and obscure aphorisms which start well but end up not making sense.

So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.

Here we go:

1. You Don’t Have To Have A Dream.

Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.

I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right? Good. Advice. Metaphor. Look at me go.

2. Don’t Seek Happiness

Happiness is like an orgasm: if you think about it too much, it goes away. Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might find you get some as a side effect. We didn’t evolve to be constantly content. Contented Australophithecus Afarensis got eaten before passing on their genes.

3. Remember, It’s All Luck

You are lucky to be here. You were incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you get educated and encouraged you to go to Uni. Or if you were born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy… but you were still lucky: lucky that you happened to be made of the sort of DNA that made the sort of brain which – when placed in a horrible childhood environment – would make decisions that meant you ended up, eventually, graduating Uni. Well done you, for dragging yourself up by the shoelaces, but you were lucky. You didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up. They’re not even your shoelaces.

I suppose I worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved … but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of going to lectures while I was here at UWA.

Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures will humble you and make you more compassionate.

Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on, intellectually.

4. Exercise

I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob winding their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence: you are wrong and they are right. Well, you’re half right – you think, therefore you are… but also: you jog, therefore you sleep well, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst. You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.

Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run… whatever… but take care of your body. You’re going to need it. Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you will achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of. And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed!

But don’t despair! There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise. Do it. Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run. And don’t smoke. Natch.

5. Be Hard On Your Opinions

A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arse-holes, in that everyone has one. There is great wisdom in this… but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arse-holes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.

By the way, while I have science and arts grads in front of me: please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things.

If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.

You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.

Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.

The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated. The idea that many Australians – including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick – believe that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate. The fact that 30% of this room just bristled is further evidence still. The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

6. Be a teacher

Please? Please be a teacher. Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher. Just for your twenties. Be a primary school teacher. Especially if you’re a bloke – we need male primary school teachers. Even if you’re not a Teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don’t take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it.

7. Define Yourself By What You Love

I’ve found myself doing this thing a bit recently, where, if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say “well I don’t listen to the radio because pop lyrics annoy me”. Or if someone asks me what food I like, I say “I think truffle oil is overused and slightly obnoxious”. And I see it all the time online, people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party. We have tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff; as a comedian, I make a living out of it. But try to also express your passion for things you love. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations. Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

8. Respect People With Less Power Than You

I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with – agents and producers – based largely on how they treat wait staff in restaurants. I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you on how you treat the least powerful. So there.

9. Don’t Rush

You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I’m not saying sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic. Most people I know who were sure of their career path at 20 are having midlife crises now.

I said at the beginning of this ramble that life is meaningless. It was not a flippant assertion. I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking “meaning” in the set of circumstances that happens to exist after 13.8 billion years worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them. However, I am no nihilist. I am not even a cynic. I am, actually, rather romantic. And here’s my idea of romance:

You will soon be dead. Life will sometimes seem long and tough and, god, it’s tiring. And you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad. And then you’ll be old. And then you’ll be dead.

There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is: fill it. Not fillet. Fill. It.

And in my opinion (until I change it), life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running(!), being enthusiastic. And then there’s love, and travel, and wine, and sex, and art, and kids, and giving, and mountain climbing … but you know all that stuff already.

It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours. Good luck.

Thank you for indulging me.

Nancy Campbell’s “Vision” for Her Children and Grandchildren

all about jesus

According to the Above Rubies website, Nancy Campbell is an “internationally known author, speaker, and authority on Biblical Motherhood and Family.” Campbell preaches the old-time Fundamentalist  gospel of patriarchy — a world in which women marry, obey their husbands, bear lots of children, and keep the home. Recently, in a post titled A Higher Vision, Campbell detailed her vision for her children and grandchildren. Here’s what Campbell had to say:

I want children who love God above all else.
I want children who are growing into the likeness of Christ.
I want children who love righteousness and abhor evil.
I want children who have a biblical mindset and stand for God’s truth.
I want children who will not compromise godly standards.
I want children who will not be tainted by the spirit of this world.
I want children who will not give in to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, but who will pursue the will of God.
I want children who love God’s Word and love to pray.
I want children who will blaze across this world with the gospel and message of truth.

Amen.

As you can see, Campbell’s vision for her progeny focuses on the Evangelical God and the Bible. Like many Evangelicals, her vision is singular and blinkered, making Campbell blind to the wonders of the world outside the narrow confines of the Christian box. All that matters to Campbell is that her children and grandchildren turn out to be good little Christians who follow the approved way of life.

I too have children and grandchildren, and like Campbell I have a vision for them. However, my vision is far different from that of Campbell’s:

I want children who think for themselves.
I want children who enjoy life.
I want children who treat others with respect.
I want children who love their families.
I want children who value hard work and enjoy the fruits of their labors.
I want children who aren’t afraid to stand against bigotry and racism.
I want children who will live every moment to its fullest, realizing that life is short.
I want children who value fun, pleasure, and relaxation.
I want children who will travel far and wide, enjoying the wonders of earth.
And most of all, I want children who are happy.

Amen.

Campbell’s vision is one of exclusion, whereas my vision is one of inclusion. Campbell’s vision focuses on right beliefs and obedience, whereas my vision focuses on embracing and enjoying life. Campbell’s vision sees the goal as a room in God’s celestial kingdom, where my vision sees the goal as a life well lived. Campbell envisions life as that of Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s ProgressTrudge on dear Pilgrim, remembering that Heaven awaits you IF you make it to the end. What a sad way to live life, squandering the too-short time we have on earth.

I have more of a Dixie Chicks way of looking at life. In 1998, the Chicks released the single Wide Open Places. I think the song aptly describes how those of us who are rooted in there here and now view life:

Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

Many precede and many will follow
A young girl’s dream no longer hollow
It takes the shape of a place out west
But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed

[Chorus]
She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes

She traveled this road as a child
Wide eyed and grinning, she never tired
But now she won’t be coming back with the rest
If these are life’s lessons, she’ll take this test

[Repeat Chorus]
She knows the high stakes

As her folks drive away, her dad yells, “Check the oil!”
Mom stares out the window and says, “I’m leaving my girl”
She said, “It didn’t seem like that long ago”
When she stood there and let her own folks know

[Repeat Chorus]
She knows the highest stakes
She knows the highest stakes
She knows the highest stakes
She knows the highest stakes

Video Link

Wide open spaces, that’s what I hope my children and grandchildren find as the meander their ways through this life. Who knows what might lie ahead. Campbell wants to keep her children and grandchildren safe within the confines of the Evangelical box. (Please see The Danger of Being in a Box and Why it Makes Sense When You are in it and What I Found When I Left the Box) While there is great comfort and security that comes from knowing everyone is safely in the box, this is no way to live and enjoy life. That’s what Evangelicalism does. It confines people for life in Bible Prison, safe from the evil, sinful world. Humanism, however, opens wide the gate and says, You are FREE! Enjoy life. Embrace all that it has to offer, knowing that we don’t know what tomorrow might bring. Life is like the steam rising from a radiator on a cold winter’s day. It quickly dissipates into the air and then it is gone (James 4:14).  Solomon was surely right when he said:

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour
….
All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?
….
Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
….
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

Let me conclude this post with the advice I give on the ABOUT page of this blog:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Some day, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

 

The Differences Between Evangelical and Atheist Reality

reality christian magazine

No this is not a fake magazine cover. There really is a Reality Christian Magazine.

Each of us has a worldview. For Evangelicals, the Bible establishes the parameters of their worldview. God said it, I believe it, and that settles it, the Christian says. Anything that does not fit within the pages of their leather-bound Bible is rejected out-of-hand. Secularists and atheists, while prone to their own delusions, tend to view the world from a rational, materialistic point of view.

Evangelicals Christians view reality this way:

  • God has a wonderful plan for their lives and nothing happens that is not part of God’s purpose or plan for their life.
  • God uses pain, suffering, financial reversal, sickness, loss, and death to teach them a lesson, get their attention, make them stronger, or punish them for sin.
  • For those who love God and are the called according to his purpose, everything in life works out for good.
  • God loves them and would never do anything to hurt or harm them.
  • It only seems that God is not involved in the day-to-day machinations of his creation. Behind the scenes, in ways that no human can comprehend, God is working, moving, changing, correcting, tearing down, and building up.
  • God hears every Evangelical’s prayer and answers it according to his will.

Of course, the Evangelical view of reality is for Christians-only. Non-Christians are under the wrath and judgment of God and deserve to be cast into hell this very moment. Non-Christians may at times enjoy the blessing of God (it rains on the just and unjust), but God reserves his blessings for those who are his children. Non-Christians are the children of the devil.

I have come to see that Evangelical reality is delusional. It requires a suspension of reason, a shutting-off of oneself to what can be seen, experienced, and known. It requires the rose-colored glasses of faith, glasses which allow the Christian to see a reality that is not visible with human eyes.

What does a secular, atheist view of reality tell us about our world?

  • There is no purpose or plan.
  • Shit happens.
  • Life is a crap shoot and there are no guarantees that it will turn out one way or the other.
  • Genetics play a factor in our lives, and far too often condemn us to suffer horrifying diseases.
  • Being at the wrong place at the wrong time can have catastrophic consequences.
  • Human powers outside our lives make decisions over which we have no control.  Their decisions can, and do, materially affect our lives, both for good and for bad.
  • Talking to ourselves might be helpful psychologically and make us feel better, but we are cognizant of the fact that we are talking to ourselves and not some sort of mythical being.
  • Inanimate objects have no power of their own. Kicking the car and swearing at it when it breaks down may make us feel better, but it is just a car.
  • We understand, despite what the promoters of the American dream might tell us, that we can’t be anything we want to be. It is not true that anyone can be President and it is not true that we are destined to win American Idol/The Voice/The Sing Off/America’s Got Talent.
  • There are things that happen that we can not explain. The secularist and the atheist know that there are likely to always be unanswered questions or explainable events. They know that luck or being at the right place at the right time is often the sole reason for something happening.

Atheists and secularists know that the world is fraught with danger, and it is amazing that any newborn lives to old age. Christians, on the other hand, know that the world is fraught with danger, but newborns live to old age because God is merciful.  God controls the keys to life and death, and it is he alone who kills us at the appointed hour. I wonder, does God pencil in a time next to our name when we are born? How does God determine this? Is there an annual birth lottery where, like the military draft, God pulls death dates for each newborn?

What comfort is there in having a God who controls your life from birth to death? I much prefer a life where I at least have some say in the matter; a life where my choices and decisions materially affect my future; a life where disaster and death lurk in the shadows; a life that is a game, a chance to outrun the Grim Reaper.

I have no place in my worldview for letting go and letting God. I have no need of putting my hand in the hand of the man (Jesus), or stilled the waters and calmed the seas. With irreverent, even violent gusto, I refuse to surrender to the will of a mythical deity. I shan’t embrace death because a book-bound deity promises me a room in his mansion in the sky.

Life is harsh. If we live long enough it will bruise and bloody us, and ultimately it will kill us. I don’t intend to resign myself to anything. As much as lies within me, I plan on running hard, fighting long, and when I check out of this grand experiment called life, I hope to leave behind a testimony of one who lived life to its fullest.

[signoff]