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How Evangelicals Convince Themselves That What They Do Matters

fat sheep

I recently attended a sporting event for one of my grandchildren that brought me in close contact with a large group of Evangelicals. Over the course of ninety minutes, as I stood there photographing the game, I listened to these Evangelicals talk about their churches, other churches, summer missionary trips, and helping the poor, homeless, and downtrodden. I later told my son about my eavesdropping and how their discussions were very much like the discussions we would have had a decade or two ago. These Evangelicals spoke as if they and their churches were doing monumental works that were making tremendous differences in the lives of those they came in contact with. And from their seat in the pew, I’m quite sure it “seems” like they are doing things that matter, but when considered in a broader context, their mighty works for Jesus amount to little or nothing. Certainly, to the person given a meal or coat, their acts of charity made a difference, but when taken as a whole the charitable works performed by Evangelicals are little more than a drop of rain in the ocean. Within the Evangelical bubble, these acts of compassion often become larger-than-life. Evangelical teenagers raise money to take mission trips to third world countries. While no one would say that nothing good comes from these mission trips, when the work done is compared to the money spent, it becomes quite clear that money spent on travel, meals, and entertainment would be better spent by locals instead of Evangelical do-gooders from afar. The returning teens and adults have wondrous stories to share, but rarely will anyone bother to consider if any real, lasting good was done.

On the home front, Evangelical churches proudly speak of their ministries to those whom the Bible calls “the least of these.” Again, my purpose here is not to criticize Evangelicals for the good that they do, but I think is important to view their acts of charity in context and judge them according to overall church and ministry budgets. Jesus made clear in the Gospels that what Christians spend their money on shows what really matters to them. Matthew 6:19-21 states:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

And in Matthew 25:31-40, we find these words:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

While Evangelical churches have food pantries, clothing rooms, and ministries that help the poor and homeless, when the money spent on these programs is compared to the overall budgets, it becomes clear that what matters to Evangelicals the most is salaries, benefits, insurance, utilities, buildings, and programs geared towards keeping well-fed sheep comfortable, content, and happy. The overwhelming majority of budgeted money is spent within and not without the walls of the church. And this is fine if Evangelical churches are what I have long claimed they are — social clubs. However, most Evangelical churches, pastors, and congregants believe that the works they do in Jesus’ name are monumental in nature. So, because their works are often viewed as larger than life, it is fair for us to judge their actions in the larger context of how church offerings are spent. Churches are, by default, considered charitable, tax-exempt institutions. The difference, however, between churches and other charitable organizations is that churches are exempt from reporting requirements. When charitable groups are granted tax exemptions, we as taxpayers have a right to know whether they are actually spending most their money on acts of charity. Most people likely think that religious institutions spend most of their money helping out the downtrodden, but the fact is very little money actually goes towards caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, paying utility bills, or providing clothing and shelter to those in need. Over the years, I have touched on the issues raised in this post numerous times, often raising the hackles of offended Evangelicals. How dare you say that Evangelicals don’t do much for “the least of these.” Why, my church does ________________ . Fine, I say to them. Show me your church’s budget. Not the generic, one page summary. I want to see the entire budget, complete with statements of income and expenditures. I want to see exactly how much money is taken in and the percentage of that money that is spent doing actual works of mercy and charity outside of the four walls of the church. I’ve yet to have a church or a pastor provide me with these documents. Why?  Because they know, truth be told, that very little of their income actually goes towards helping those in need. The overwhelming majority of income keeps the machinery running. This is why it is laughable when Republican Evangelicals suggest that churches can take on meeting the needs of the poor. Cut taxes, they say, and let God’s people care for the sick, hungry, and impoverished. Imagine how much higher the poverty rate would be if it were left up to Evangelicals to take care of the welfare needs of others. They can’t even take care of their own, let alone those who live outside of their four walls.

Our local mall is in a steady state of decline, with store after store closing its doors or moving to cheaper locations. I told Polly that perhaps Evangelicals could get together and purchase the mall, turning it into a multi-denomination worship center. Every sect could have its own storefront. People visiting for the first time could choose from any of a number of ice cream flavors. Wouldn’t such a facility be a wonderful testimony to the unity that Christians are supposed to have? Expenses could be shared, and there would be no need to keep up one hundred separate buildings, each with its own pastor. Think of how much more money these churches would have to minister to the disadvantaged and marginalized. Yet, I know that having a one-stop church shopping center would never work. Why? Because every church thinks that they are special, and without them, bad things would happen in their communities. I have had more than a few Evangelicals argue that without churches, communities would become dens of iniquity and immorality. Churches are lighthouses in their communities, these Evangelical defenders say. I am convinced, however, that most churches could close their doors and no one outside of the membership would even notice. There are six churches within three miles or so of my home. These churches are filled with decent, kind, loving Midwestern farm folks, much like the people I mentioned at the start of this post. To them, their churches matter, but for those of us who sit outside of the church, we wonder what community good is being done by these churches? I suspect if these six nearby churches closed tomorrow, there would be no qualitative difference in the community in the weeks and months that follow.

For Evangelicals who stumble upon this post, I would ask them to be honest. Take a hard look at what your church does ministry-wise, and ask yourselves, are we doing anything that really matters? Are we doing anything outside of the four walls of our churches that justify us receiving a tax exemption and being financially supported by taxpayers? Well, indignant Evangelicals might say, our churches are focused on getting people saved. We don’t worry about temporal needs. Better to go to heaven hungry, then to hell with a full stomach. But even here, most Evangelical churches fail in their mission. Church baptismals are used to store Christmas decorations, with many churches rarely baptizing new converts. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest non-Catholic denomination in America — largely Evangelical — is known for its evangelistic efforts. Yet, most SBC churches baptize a few or no new converts. When new Evangelical churches are planted, most of their attendance growth comes, not from people getting saved, but by people leaving their churches and joining the new one. In nearby Defiance, there are several hot-to-trot Evangelical churches that are growing by leaps and bounds. Most of the people flooding into these churches come from nearby established congregations. We Americans are never satisfied with what we have. We are always looking for the latest and greatest whatever, and this applies to churches too. Bored Evangelicals seek out new thrills, using excuses such as “my needs are not being met” or “I’m not being fed” to justify their wanderlust. New churches grow, and established churches decline. While it seems that God is “moving “in these new churches, what’s really happening is that people are just changing pews.

While there certainly are a small number of churches that take seriously Christ’s command to minister to “the least of these,” most are social clubs that exist for the benefit of their membership. I don’t have a problem with this. People should be allowed to belong to whatever club they want. But I do object to taxpayer money being used to support these clubs. Churches should be required to fill out annual reporting forms that justify the tax exemption they receive. If most of their income is not being used for charitable means, then they should not be tax-exempt. Personally, I would like to see the Johnson amendment (please read The Johnson Amendment: I Agree With Donald Trump.) revoked. Churches and their ministers should be treated like any other business, with their income subject to taxation. Only congregations that can demonstrate that they exist for charitable purposes would be granted tax exemption. Like other charities, these churches would annually be required to justify their continued tax exemption. I suspect that less than ten percent of churches would qualify for tax exemption. Out of the almost three hundred churches in the Tri-County area where I live, I don’t know of one church that would qualify. No matter how many youth groups return from mission trips with stories of mighty works done for Jesus, and no matter how many “ministries” churches list on their website, the fact remains that most of the money collected goes toward making sure pastures are maintained and sheep are well fed.

Why Are So Many Evangelical Preachers Arrogant and Full of Themselves? Part Two

humble pastor

Read part One

Why are so many Evangelical preachers arrogant and full of themselves? While it would be easy to answer this question simply by saying that these so-called “men of God” are narcissistic Assholes for Jesus®, the correct answer is more complex and nuanced. In both yesterday’s and today’s posts, I will use the fifty years I spent in Christianity and the twenty-five years I pastored churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan as a backdrop in an attempt to answer this question. While no two life stories are exactly the same, I am confident that I can pick things out of my own story that can also be found in the life stories of many Evangelical preachers.

In the 1960s, my parents moved to San Diego, California hoping to improve their lives financially. Unfortunately, their California dream proved to be an illusion. Two years later, Mom and Dad packed up our earthly belongings and moved back to Ohio. The Robert and Barbara Gerencser who left Ohio for the promised land of California were very different people when they returned to Bryan, Ohio. While in California, my parents and I were saved at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church — Scott Memorial Baptist Church. Overnight, Mom and Dad became devout followers of Jesus.  Not long after I asked Jesus into my heart, I told Mom that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. I was six years old.

At the age of fifteen, during an Al Lacy revival meeting at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, I made another public profession of faith in Christ. I remember feeling a deep sense of conviction over my sin, and once I prayed to Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me, the shame and guilt I felt over my sins was gone. Several weeks later, feeling, yet again, a deep sense of God working in my heart, I went forward during an invitation — a time at the end of church services where people are asked to come forward to the altar to do business with God — and publicly confessed to the church that I believed God was calling me to preach. At that moment, I became the latest member of a special group called “preacher boys.”

Preacher boys, called by God to do the most important job on earth, are viewed by pastors and churches as the future of Christianity. Without a steady supply of preacher boys, churches wouldn’t have pastors, new churches wouldn’t be started, and the lost would go unsaved. Thus, preacher boys are treated in ways that make them feel unique and special. Pastors love to brag about how many preacher boys were called to preach under their ministry. Similar to gunslingers putting notches on their six-shooters’ wooden grips every time they killed someone, pastors see preacher boys as notches on their ministerial guns.

After announcing my call to the ministry, I spent the next four years being handled by pastors who took it on themselves to prepare me for the work of the ministry. In the fall of 1976, at the age of nineteen, I packed my meager belongings into the back of my rust-bucket of car and moved from my Mom’s trailer three hours northeast to Pontiac, Michigan. Pontiac was the home of Midwestern Baptist College — an IFB institution started in the 1950s by Dr. Tom Malone (who pastored a nearby megachurch, Emmanuel Baptist Church). Midwestern was established specifically for training preacher boys for the ministry.  Midwestern was an unaccredited school, so students received no financial aid. Most of the preacher boys had to work full-time jobs while attending classes. These future pastors were also required to work in one or more of the ministries at Emmanuel, along with being in attendance for Sunday school, two worship services, and midweek prayer meeting. Students were busy seven days a week, with little time for relaxation. It should come as no surprise, then, that many students washed out after their freshman year. Men who endured until the end were viewed as battle-tested preachers ready to enter the hard work of the ministry. Filled with pride and given the approval of IFB giant Tom Malone, these newly minted men of God fanned out over the world establishing new churches and pumping new life into older, established IFB churches. Forty years later, most of the men from my class are still plucking grapes in God’s vineyard. I am, as far as I know, the only person who attended Midwestern and later pastored churches who is now an atheist. (Please read The Midwestern Baptist College Preacher Who Became an Atheist.)

Evangelical young men who enter the ministry most often spend their entire lives in what I call “the Evangelical Bubble.”  Within this bubble, pastors are sheltered from the world; within the bubble Evangelical theology and practices make perfect sense; within the bubble pastors are rarely challenged concerning their beliefs; within the bubble pastors are viewed as God-called authority figures; within the bubble pastors receive the praise and adulation of congregants; within the bubble pastors are revered and treated as demigods; within the bubble pastors answer only to God; within the bubble pastors have no equal; within the bubble pastors put into motion their agendas, their God-given visions for their churches; within the bubble pastors’ birthdays and ministerial anniversaries are celebrated; and within the bubble God uses pastors in unique ways to supernaturally advance His kingdom.

Pastors who remain in this bubble are surrounded by like-minded people who believe the same things, sing the same songs, and generally live cookie-cutter lives (at least outwardly). Exposure to the outside world is limited, especially for those who are full-time pastors. I have long advocated for churches forcing pastors to be bi-vocational. Doing so exposes pastors to a world far different from that of the Evangelical bubble. Unfortunately, few churches see the value of having part-time pastors. Churches which, out of economic necessity, pay their pastors part-time wages often demand their pastors give them full-time attention.

Safely ensconced within the Evangelical bubble, pastors go about doing the work of the ministry.  These sheltered men frequent pastors’ fellowships and conferences — meetings where pastors get together to whine about how evil the world is and how hard it is to be a pastor.  These meetings provide pastors yet another opportunity to have their right-beliefs and right-practices reinforced and approved by fellow clergymen. Such meetings are pep rallies meant to rally and energize the generals of God’s army.

On Sundays, pastors mount the pulpit and preach sermons they believe God has laid upon their “hearts.”  Congregants gather to hear the Word of God from the man of God, showing their approval by shouting “amen,” nodding their heads, and raising their hands. After services, pastors stand at the back of their churches, shaking hands and listening to members tell them how wonderful their sermons were. In the twenty-five years I spent pastoring churches, I never had a church member shake my hand and say, Pastor Bruce, that sermon sucked or Pastor Bruce, are you sure God told you to preach that sermon?  I preached plenty of bad sermons over the years, but congregants still praised me for giving to them the Word of the Lord. Imagine being in an environment where no matter what you do, everyone tells you what a great job you are doing. Spend enough time being praised and never criticized, you will begin to think — to speak bluntly — your shit don’t stink.

Taking what I have written above, is it any wonder that many Evangelical pastors become arrogant and full of themselves, especially when their churches grow numerically? Outwardly, these men of God are humble, but inwardly they think, Wow! Look at what God is doing through me — ME! ME! ME! being the operative word. Praised by congregants and peers alike, preachers find it is easy for them to lose touch with reality.

Rare is the man who can withstand a lifetime of praise and adoration without negatively being affected. Over time, pastors start to believe their press clippings, thinking that they have arrived. Sunday after Sunday, congregants file into services to hear THEIR pastor preach. It is not too much stretch for me to say that many pastors begin to develop bigger-than-life personalities, thinking that congregants are there to see them perform. Credence is given to this when pastors leave their churches for new ministries. What happens?  Many congregants stop attending services. If Pastor Ain’t He Awesome isn’t preaching, I’m not going, they say. Let pastors take a sabbatical or vacation and what happens? Church attendance declines. Evidently, while the proverbial cat is away, the mice play.

Throw in certain personality and psychological traits pastors tend to have, it should come as no surprise that many Evangelical pastors are insufferable, arrogant, full-of-themselves assholes — especially in the view of those who live outside of the Evangelical bubble. Does this mean that Evangelical pastors are inherently bad people? Of course not. But years spent in the Evangelical bubble can change pastors, often for the worse. I have no doubt that some pastors will whine, complain, and howl over what I have written here, saying I AM NOT LIKE THIS!  Others, however, will admit that what I have written here hits too close to where they live.

Pastors can become so immersed in the work of the ministry that they lose all sight of reality. The solution, of course, is for pastors to leave the ministry and devote themselves to reconnecting with humanity by wallowing in the pigsty of the world. As long as they remain in the Evangelical bubble, pastors will not see things as they are. Of course, pastors aren’t going to listen to me. The calling of God is irrevocable, they will tell me, God has CALLED me, and I must not disappoint or disobey Him!  And therein lies the problem. Evangelical pastors believe that God is behind their call into the ministry, and that every sermon preached and every decision made is done by the mighty power of the Spirit of God. Until these Gods become men, I fear there is little that can be done to deliver them from the other-world, rarefied air of the Evangelical bubble.

For me, once I finally admitted that I was not what I claimed to be, that the wizard behind the curtain of Bruce Gerencser’s life was not the Evangelical God, but Bruce himself — then, and only then, could I make sense of a lifetime spent in the ministry.  Every decision I claimed was made according to God’s leading was, in fact, influenced not by God, but by my parents, pastors, peers, and my own wants, needs, and desires. I now know that I genuinely want to help other people; that I love trying to fix things that are broken; that I love the thrill of building things from scratch. And yes, I now know that I loved receiving the praise and adoration heaped on me by congregants. I loved being the center of attention, the decision-maker, the man with all the answers. Does this mean I was a bad person? I will leave that to others to decide. All I can do is give an honest accounting of my life. In doing so, I hope former Evangelicals and those trying to extricate themselves from the Evangelical bubble will be gain a bit of understanding about what they have experienced at the hands of God’s men. While I did many good works as a pastor, things that I am proud of, I must also admit that I was not always a good person; that I was, at times, filled with pride and arrogance. Am I better man today than I was as a pastor? Most certainly. I now know what it means to be human. And in reconnecting with my humanity, I have found that I still have much to offer, without, of course, the baggage of Christianity.

Songs of Sacrilege: Psalm 69 by Ministry

ministry

This is the one hundred and forty-second 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 Psalm 69 by Ministry.

Video Link

Lyrics

Congregation, please be seated and open your prayer guides to the book
Of revelations, Psalm sixty nine

Drinking the blood of Jesus
Drinking it right from his veins
Learning to swim in the ocean
Learning to prowl in his name

The body of Christ looked unto me
A preacher with God-given hands
He wants you to suck on the Holy Ghost
And swallow the sins of man

Psalm sixty nine

The invisible piss of the Holy Ghost
Comes down like acid rain
They’re making a bonnet of terminal guilt
The scavengers go on parade

The fathers who write that eternity
Is used to fight the sword
Have filled you up with the devil’s cock
And he’ll come in the name of the lord

The way to succeed and the way to suck eggs

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Fundamentalist Man Lets Bruce Gerencser Know What He Thinks of Him

peanut gallery

What follows is a comment received today on the post Why I Hate Jesus. The man who left this comment read the following posts before he began his rant against me. These posts are listed in the order the commenter accessed them.

From these five posts, Bill, the Fundamentalist — the son of a pastor — concluded:

Bruce, I scorn you. For over 25 years, you were a Christian leader. You loved your Rolexes, Lear Jets, and expensive suits. By your own definition of yourself, you either enjoyed these things or joined in the pursuit of them and weren’t clever enough to attain them. SHAME on you! My own father, a humble pastor, has NEVER owned a new car in his life. He gave up his career in early life to pursue what you NEVER did–the Jesus of the Bible. The jesus you described is not the American Jesus. Nope. He was the Bruce-Gerencse-Jesus. And, unarguably, there are many of your type out there to be sure. In fact, the pastors that I’ve sat under have continually warned me all my life about your type of pastor that you were. Now you’ve made your pile of money and decided to get out of the American-Bruce-Gerencse-Jesus business, and mock those still in it.

By your own admission, you spent at least 25 years as a horrible fiend. You served a personal version of jesus that a normal, decent Christian would have abhorred. You claim that you saw the multitudes and turned your back on them, and you were only concerned with those who said and believed “the right things.” Buddy, you are to be scorned.

You looked at Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Agnostics, Deists, Universalists, Secularists, Humanists, and Skeptics, and believed that they would burn forever in the Lake of Fire, yet you settled yourself down in cushy Ohio, Texas, Michigan–places where you could enjoy the praise of your fellow Gerencserites who, according to your own testimony, subjugated women, told widows it was their fault, and ignored the cries of orphans. You were one sick man.

You never left your comfy home and go to Africa or Asia or South America where you truly believed people had no access to what you believed was the only remedy that could spare them from eternal damnation. You and other “Christians” of your type disgust me. You were so heartless. Of course, you would one day cash out of enjoy your hard earned payoff and walk away from you “jesus,” now you gloat in the life you lived and lump everyone else in with you nasty old self. Your guilt and self-loathing has filled you with hate for the jesus got you your car

How could you repeatedly threaten to abandon your wife and children if they didn’t kowtow to you and your jesus? What an awful life you shoved their faces into! I couldn’t image my dad doing something to us like you did to your family. You were a monster!

Many of the ways you describe the jesus you served for over 25 years–TWENTY-FIVE YEARS!–is worthy of derision, mockery, and hate.

At your request, I shower on you the DERISION and MOCKERY you so richly deserve. Be a man, pal, and return all that money your bilked from all those widows and poor families.

Who am I? I am a little man who has spent the past decade living in a third-world country spreading the message that you refused to spread while claiming to believe that your negligence was damning precious souls to eternal fire. While you admittedly made a full career of lusting after fancy cars, palaces and cathedrals and of oppressing women, immigrants, orphans, homosexuals, and atheists, I have made a simple career of reading my Bible and trying–quite poorly–to emulate the Jesus who I found there. I have never asked anyone or any church for a penny. I work an honest job. More importantly, I am acquainted with many, many more folks who are the opposite of what you described yourself to have shamefully been for over a quarter of a century.

I hate the Gerencser jesus far more than you now claim to. Now your lifelong disingenuousness has morphed into a sly insistence that the Gerencser jesus represents all of us. You. Are. A. Liar.

I have no comment. I must go now. My Lear Jet is idling on the tarmac, ready to take me to the island where I have deposited the millions I made while in the ministry.

Fifteen Years of Marriage and Not One ‘Just the Two of Us’ Date

bruce and polly gerencser 1985
Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

A few months after our first wedding anniversary, Polly and I packed up all of our worldly goods and moved to Newark, Ohio. We later moved to Buckeye Lake and then to the Southeast Ohio communities of New Lexington, Glenford, New Lexington — again, Somerset, Junction City, and Mount Perry. All told, we lived in Central and Southeast Ohio for fifteen years. During this time, I pastored churches in Somerset/Mount Perry and Buckeye Lake, Ohio. A consummate Type A workaholic, I neglected my wife and children. Thinking that all that mattered was serving Jesus, winning souls, and building churches, I worked day and night, rarely taking a day off. Work for the night is coming when no man can work, the Bible says. Jesus could return at any moment, I thought at the time. I want to be found busily laboring in God’s vineyard when Jesus splits the Eastern sky! Jesus said in Luke 18:8, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? When Jesus returned to earth, I wanted him to find me working hard at keeping the faith.

My children can testify to what I have written above. They watched their father walk out of the house in the morning, returning home later in the day, only to shower, change clothes, and head out the door once again, often not returning until they were in bed. For years, I worked a full-time secular job while also pastoring a church full-time. Even when I stopped working secular jobs and devoted all of my time to the work of the ministry, I still worked 60 plus hours a week.

Fifteen years of busting-my-ass for Jesus. Fifteen years of sacrificing family and body. Fifteen years, one vacation — a preaching engagement in Braintree, Massachusetts. Fifteen years, and not ONE, just the two of us date with my wife. Let that sink in for a moment. Not ONE date. Polly and I spent a good bit of time last night combing through our shared memories. We couldn’t come up with ONE instance of the two of us — sans children — going out on a date. Oh, we went to scores of special church events, Valentine’s banquets, and the like, but we never, not ONE time, got in the car, just the two of us, and went somewhere to spend an evening enjoying each other’s company.

I told Polly that it is a wonder that our marriage survived. While I was busy winning souls, studying for sermons, and building churches, Polly invested her time in raising our children. Now, I don’t want to paint a misleading picture. When I had time, I spent it with my family. We spent many a summer Saturday evening watching races at local dirt tracks. We also— in the early 1990s — took numerous day trips to West Virginia and Kentucky. Our older children have fond memories of crazy family road trips along the forgotten back — often unpaved — roads of Southeast Ohio and neighboring West Virginia. That said, what time I had for doing these kind of things was limited. Jesus ALWAYS came first.

While these memories remind me of the fact that I did spend time with my beautiful wife and children, I find myself saddened by the fact that I should have spent a lot more time with them, but didn’t. Southeast Ohio is a place of beauty, yet I rarely took the time to enjoy the scenery. Enjoying life was for those who didn’t take seriously the commands of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul centuries before, I wanted my life to be a testimony of single-minded devotion to Jesus. Better to burn out than rust out, I thought at the time. Some day, I will enjoy the scenery of God’s eternal kingdom! Did not the Bible say, prepare to meet the Lord thy God? There will be plenty time later to relax and fish along the banks of the River of Life.

My children and Polly have long since forgiven me for not giving them the time they deserved. They understand why I worked like I did, but I have a hard time forgiving myself for putting God, Jesus, the church, preaching, and winning souls before my family. No matter how often I talk about this with my counselor, the guilt and sense of loss remain. I suspect other super-Christians-turned-atheists have similar stories to tell. We sacrificed the temporal for the eternal. Now that we understand the temporal is all we have, it is hard not to look at the past with bitter regret. Particularly for those of us with chronic illnesses and pain, it is hard not to lament offering the best years of our lives on the altar of a non-existent God.

There is nothing I can do about the past. It is what it is, as I am fond of saying. All I can do is make the most of what life I have left. Fortunately, my six children and eleven grandchildren live less than 20 minutes away. Given an opportunity to do things differently, I do my best to spend time with them. Some days, it is difficult. To quote a well-worn cliché, my spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I know there will come a day when I will be in a wheelchair. It has been 18 months since I have driven a car. Forced to rely on others to haul my ass (and the rest of my body) around, I am unable to do all that I want to do. I do what I can, forcing myself — at times — to do things that I probably shouldn’t be doing. I know that this life is all that I have. As a Christian, I said, Only one life t’will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last. As an atheist, I see things differently. Only one life t’will soon be past. End of story. All that will remain are the memories I made with my family while I was alive.

And as far as the no date thing? I think Polly can attest to the fact that I have acquitted myself quite nicely. We now take short vacations, road trips, and go on frequent just the two of us dates. Are we making up for lost time? I think so. Polly has become my best friend. I genuinely enjoy her company, even when her driving puts me in fear of my life. We have a bucket list of places we would like to visit. Will we successfully check off everything on the list? Probably not. As we wander together through life, we continue to find places we want to check out. So much to see, do, and experience. Funny what you find when you take your eyes off the heavens and look at what is right in front of you.

Bruce Gerencser