Tag Archive: Northwest Ohio

Typical Example of Racism in Rural Northwest Ohio

 

trump im not a racist

Please see Does Racism Exist in Rural Northwest Ohio? and Ignoring Any History Before White People)

Yesterday, I posted an excellent guest post by my editor, Grammar Gramma. I appreciate her willingness to respond to a drive-by reader’s racist comment on The Curse of Cain: Why Blacks Have Dark Skin.

Racism is in the air thanks to Donald Trump. What was once said in secret behind closed doors is now publicly vomited on social media, blogs, and news sites. I live in an overwhelmingly white area. Confederate flag-waving knuckle-draggers are common, as are make Make America White Again® Trump supporters. In 2016, Trump overwhelmingly won in the Ohio counties of Williams, Defiance, Henry, and Fulton — rural northwest Ohio. Blacks make up less than one percent of the population, Hispanics/Latinos, seven percent. The Hispanic/Latino population is a reflection of the fact that farmers once used large numbers of migrant workers to pick crops. Some migrants who made the trek from Mexico to Ohio stayed after completing their work. They quietly go about their lives, increasingly worried that ICE might show up at their doors, destroying everything they have built and worked for. As a teenager, I knew a number of people who were in the United States “illegally.” To the person, they were productive members of society.

Rural northwest Ohio is my home, even though politically, religiously, and socially I have little in common with most locals. I have been surrounded by overtly racist people most of my life, including in the churches I pastored in this area. If you think Jesus is an antidote for racism, think again. Some of the most racist people I know, both here in rural northwest Ohio and in my extended family, love the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus H. Christ. As a pastor, I did what I could to combat racist attitudes and behaviors. Sometimes, it was just small rebukes, such as when one congregant would talk about “colored” people. I would respond, “what “color” were they, exactly?” “Oh preacher, you know.” “No, I don’t, tell me.” Or when one woman would incessantly talk about all those lazy “blacks” on welfare who won’t work for a living. I told her several times, “You do know most of the people who are on welfare and receive food stamps are white, right?” Sadly, my soft admonishments did little to correct deep-seated multi-generational racism.

Recently, a young woman (Erin) who attended a nearby church I pastored for seven years, engaged in an overtly racist discussion with a friend of hers (Tobias) from South Africa:

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These comments reveal that racism is often passed on from parents to children, and until someone in the family tree sees the light, racist beliefs and practices will continue to flourish in my part of rural northwest Ohio. If you met this young woman, you would think that she is a wonderful person — and she is. But in her heart lie bigotry and hate, both birthed and  nurtured by her parents, friends, church, and community.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 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.

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.

An Atheist in the Land of Jesus: Living a Compartmentalized Life

compartments

I live in rural northwest Ohio. I have spent most of my life living in rural communities. I am, in every way, a country boy; that is, in every way except my politics and religious beliefs. It is a well-known fact that it’s rural people who put Donald Trump in the White House and delivered solid Republican majorities to Congress and state legislatures. Here in Ohio, virtually every major state office is occupied by right-wing, pro-life, anti-same-sex-marriage, white Christians. Go to the major cities and college communities and you will find progressive/liberal/Democratic/socialist political beliefs. Drive ten miles outside of town, and everything quickly turns from red to blue. Here in Defiance County, almost three out of four voters vote Republican, and in the last presidential election, Donald Trump won by a sixty-four percent to twenty-nine percent margin. (Seventy-three percent of registered voters voted in the 2016 election.)

Religiously, Evangelical (and conservative Catholic/Lutheran/Methodist) Christianity rules the roost. In the four-county area where I live, there are roughly 140 thousand people and 400 Christian churches. Christian belief and practice colors every aspect of local life. It is assumed that everyone is Christian. Over the past decade, I have witnessed countless church-state violations. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) could spend months here dealing with schools and other government agencies that don’t have a clue about the First Amendment, the establishment clause, or the separation of church and state. It’s not that local leaders deliberately set out to violate the law. It’s just that giving Christianity preferential treatment is very much part of the ebb and flow of life around here. It is just how it is.

hicksville high school christian materials

Let me give an example. Recently, nearby Hicksville High School gave its 2018 graduates bags of Evangelical literature and DVDs. Here’s what FFRF had to say on the matter:

A concerned student reported that during Hicksville High School’s commencement practice on May 30, a guidance counselor handed every graduating student a package that contained Christian materials. The package included a copy of “Evolution vs. God,” an anti-evolution film created by Christian evangelist Ray Comfort, “Rich in Christ: A Dead Dog at the King’s Table,” a religious tract titled “Are you a Good Person,” and a religious pamphlet that “explains the plan of salvation in easy-to-understand terms” called “Life’s Most Important Question.” FFRF’s complainant reports that this package was put together by a science teacher at the school.

This package included a letter titled “Hicksville High School Class of 2018,” which reads:

Congratulations 2018 Graduate!

As you look ahead to your future with excitement and great anticipation, may you also come to discover God’s very best for your life. God loves you so very much that He sent His Son Jesus to earth to die for your sins so that you may have a personal relationship with God, and be assured of an eternal home in Heaven.

Rich in Christ is filled with hope and encouragement for you. It contains dozens of wonderful promises from the Bible, that God wants you to understand and claim as your very own. May you find God’s richest blessings as you follow His leading and His blueprint for true success. Enjoy your riches!

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”  II Corinthians 8:9

The letter indicates that a number of local individuals and businesses, including Hicksville Exempted Village School Superintendent Keith Countryman and his wife, sponsored the gift package.

“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a public school may not advance, prefer, or promote religion,” FFRF Legal Fellow Chris Line writes to Countryman. “As a public school, Hicksville High School cannot promote Christian religious doctrine by distributing proselytizing materials to students as part of graduation rehearsal, a school function. This violates the principle that ‘the preservation and transmission of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere,’” to quote the U.S. Supreme Court.

The school district has an obligation under the law to make certain that “subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion,” to again quote the U.S. Supreme Court. When faculty use school time to proselytize to students, whether it be through distribution of literature or through religious statements, they are taking religion out of the private sphere and violating parental trust.

Religion is a divisive force in public schools, FFRF emphasizes. When a school distributes sectarian religious literature to its students it entangles itself with those religious messages. As well as alienating non-Christian students, teachers, and members of the public whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the school, these practices estrange the 24 percent of Americans, including 38 percent of young adults, who identify as nonreligious. prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/PRRI-Religion-Report.pdf

“It is a violation of the duties and responsibilities of public school staff to proselytize students,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Imagine the uproar if a staff member was propagating atheism or Islam.”

Gaylor calls the school officials’ actions “bizarre,” saying that it is particularly concerning that a science teacher had a hand in distributing anti-evolution propaganda to graduating seniors and that the superintendent sponsored the unconstitutional distribution.

FFRF insists that to avoid constitutional violations, any future graduation “gifts” distributed by Hicksville Exempted Village School staff as part of a school function not contain religious materials.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 33,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 800 members and a chapter in Ohio. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

According to the latest issue of Freethought Today, the Hicksville school district agreed to stop distributing sectarian religious materials to its students. Did the school administrators deliberately ignore the law, choosing, instead, to evangelistically promote Christianity? Of course not. They just did what has always been done. It is assumed that everyone is Christian.

I am an atheist and a humanist. I am a political liberal who aligns himself with the Democratic Socialist party. I generally vote Democratic, but many local Democrats, thanks to their religious beliefs, skew to the right. This is especially true for those who are forty-five and older. Even local mainline Christian churches — which are historically liberal — tend to be conservative politically and socially. True liberals such as myself are as rare the ivory-billed woodpecker. We exist, but there aren’t many of us. We tend to lurk in the shadows, pining for the day when progressive values prevail. The good news is that younger locals are far more liberal than their parents and grandparents. I see a better day ahead, but in the short-term, people such as myself must bite our lips, hold our tongues, and silently swear.

Last month, Polly and I attended a tractor pull at the Fulton County fairgrounds. The event was sponsored by the National Tractor Pullers Association. Events such as this one are gaudy displays of American exceptionalism, nationalism, and conservative Christianity. Imagine sitting through nine minutes of masturbation to the Christian God and the American flag. First, the crowd was asked to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Second, the PA announcer read a four-minute monologue set to music about the greatness of America and its military, reminding everyone that REAL PATRIOTS stand and honor the flag. Then it was time to sing the Star Spangled Banner. And last, but not least, the preacher/announcer prayed a sectarian prayer in the name of Jesus, amen.

By the time all this nonsense was over, I was ready to scream. My son asked me, Dad, why do you subject yourself to this stuff? I replied, because I love watching tractor pulls. I endure the religious/nationalist nonsense because I know what waits on the other side of the Amen.

I willingly choose to live in rural Northwest Ohio. Twelve years ago, Polly and I returned to this part of the state so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. We do not regret doing so. We love the slowness of small town life, and when we want to experience big city life, Toledo and Fort Wayne are but an hour away. Applebee’s is considered “fine” dining around here. When we want to enjoy a meal at an upscale restaurant, we drive to Fort Wayne or Findlay. In every way, we have a good life. That said, choosing to live in a place where Jesus and the GOP are joined at the hip requires us to practice the fine art of compartmentalization.

I own a photography business: Defiance County Photo. I shoot many of the local high school’s sporting events. I don’t advertise my politics or lack of religious beliefs. It is hard enough to make a few meager bucks off my photography work without limiting my business opportunities by being an in-your-face atheist and socialist. I don’t hide my beliefs, but I don’t talk about them either. Recently, I had a job interview where the business owner tried three times to goad me into a religious discussion. He really, really, really wanted to share his “testimony” with me, but every time he mentioned God/Jesus/faith, I said nothing. That was my way of telling him, I AIN’T INTERESTED! Polly has a similar problem at work. She’s a pro at ignoring attempts to drag her into discussions about this or that Christian belief.

I have one compartment that contains my business. I am sure some locals know I am an unbeliever and a political liberal. I suspect these facts cost me business. As an atheist, I want to live and conduct my business in such a way that Christians around me will be perplexed by my good works. I know doing so confuses some of them, as they have been told by their preachers that atheists are Satan worshipers, baby killers, and lovers of sin. Much like Jesus commands Christians to live, I want people to see that you can live a good, meaningful life without God or the Bible. I want to “let my little light shine!”

I have another compartment that contains Bruce Gerencser, the father and grandfather. I attend a number of school events every year. Ten of our twelve grandchildren attend three different local school districts. Many of them play summer sports, and several of them play junior high and high school sports. I always have my camera with me, shooting this or that event or game. Thanks to my white beard, ruddy complexion, and portly build, I look like Santa Claus. The school mates of my younger grandchildren wonder if I am the “real” Santa. Of course I am! I enjoy playing the role.

In this compartment, it’s all about family. I don’t talk about politics or religion. When people extol the virtues of the Tyrant King, I outwardly smile and say nothing. Why? I don’t want my politics or godlessness to negatively affect my grandchildren. Believe me, I would love to be a fire-breathing atheist. I would love to eviscerate those who blindly and ignorantly support our Toddler-in-chief. However, for the sake of my family, I say nothing.

Finally, I have a compartment where I am a vocal, outspoken atheist, humanist, and Democratic socialist. This blog is home to my writings on religion and politics. Few locals read my writing, though I suspect more than a few have done a Google search on my name and have come across this blog. I make no apologies for the subject matter of my writing. It is here that I can be open and honest. If locals stumble across this site and are offended, that’s their problem. This is my “ministry,” so to speak. The Bible spoke of Jesus not being able to do mighty works among his own people because of their unbelief. I understand Jesus’ plight; the difference being, of course, that I can’t do many mighty works among my own people because of their religious and political beliefs. I am, in every way, a stranger in a land I dearly love. That’s not to say that there are not other atheists or socialists around here. There are, but due to family and employment concerns, they, too, keep a low profile. From time to time I will receive emails from local heathens thanking me for my writing. They often say they wish they could be an out-of-the-closet atheist such as myself. Fear keeps them in the closet. Maybe someday we will be more in number, but for now, we choose to keep our heads down, knowing that being a vocal atheist would be social and career suicide. It’s not fair, but I learned long ago that little in life is.

Do you live in rural America? Please share your experiences in the comment section. Are you forced to compartmentalize your life? How do you balance your unbelief with societal and familial norms?

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.

Just Say No to Ed Kidston and His Plan to Deplete the Michindoh Aquifer

michindoh aquifer

The Michindoh Aquifer — covering two million acres underground — provides water for all of Williams County and parts of Defiance and Fulton Counties in Ohio, parts of Steuben, DeKalb and Allen counties in Indiana, and parts of Michigan’s Hillsdale and Lenawee counties. I live in the rural Northwest Ohio community of Ney in Defiance County. Our sole source of water is the Michindoh Aquifer.

According to an October 5, 2009 KPC news story, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — acting on a 2007 petition from the city of Bryan, Ohio — proposed designating the Michindoh Aquifer a sole-source aquifer. A recent news story stated:

A sole-source designation means the aquifer is the only source of drinking water for people in the nine-county area; it would guarantee EPA protection against pollution under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The sole-source designation was suspended by the EPA in March 2013 following comments received in a study in April 2010.

Thanks to the U.S. EPA’s suspension of the Michindoh Aquifer’s sole-source designation, there are no federal laws prohibiting outside communities from tapping the Aquifer.

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Ed Kidston, the mayor of Pioneer, Ohio and the owner of Artesian of Pioneer, wants to tap the Michindoh Aquifer and sell the water to local communities for drinking purposes. First, Kidston must drill a well to test the feasibility of pumping copious amounts water from the Aquifer.

July 14, 2018 Toledo Blade report states that Toledo-area communities are looking at the possibility of gaining access to Michindoh Aquifer water:

City councils in Maumee and Sylvania want to explore the possibility of tapping into the aquifer and have agreed to conduct a study. Officials in Perrysburg, Whitehouse, Fulton County, Henry County, and the Northwestern Water & Sewer District also are considering the aquifer as an alternative to Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz’s plan to form a regional water commission.

The cost for each entity to perform the study, using a company called Artesian of Pioneer, depends on how many agree to it. The study’s total cost is capped at $35,000.

According to the Toledo Blade, Kidston’s:

… preliminary plans call for a pair of 36-inch pipes to be installed; one along the southern portion of the region and another to the north. An additional 36-inch line could be built along the eastern edge of Fulton County to connect the two lines and build redundancy in case either line needs to be shut down.

Mr. Kidston said above-ground storage would be built along the eastern border of the lines to supply each community for one day in case of an emergency. A treatment plant would also be constructed, although groundwater requires minimal treatment.

The Williams County Alliance has started a petition that states:

Artesian of Pioneer’s plan to make money by selling our drinking water to consumers outside the aquifer is self-serving and shortsighted.The Michindoh Aquifer is Williams County’s sole source of drinking water. If we lose it to depletion, we have no other economically feasible source of drinking water. Once a pipeline to extract and sell water to entities outside the aquifer is built, there will be no turning back. Rather than a business selling our drinking water for profit, we should conserve the aquifer for future generations.

The water of the Michindoh Aquifer is a precious resource that is essential for life. Water resources should not be privatized. Existing law needs to be changed to ensure that aquifers like the Michindoh remain sustainable sources of water for future generations.

Many of the people directly affected by Kidston’s commercial water operations are up in arms, demanding that local, county and state government put a stop to Kidston’s profiteering off of the Michindoh Aquifer — a finite resource. Kidston would have locals believe the Aquifer is a limitless resource that can easily handle pumping millions more gallons a day. The City of Bryan uses one million gallons of water a day. If Maumee, Sylvania, Perrysburg, Whitehouse, and other local communities start using Aquifer water, we are talking about millions of gallons of increased daily draw-down. Based on current rain and recharge levels, the Aquifer will, if Kidston gets his way, draw down faster than it can be replenished. And once this happens, communities such as Ney could face dry wells. And what happens then? Will Kidston be required to turn the tap off that supplies water to larger local communities? Of course not. Ney will just have to figure out how to best provide water for its insignificant, non-consequential 356 residents. This very scenario has played out countless times across the United States in recent years as commercial entities draw down water tables and cause dry or under-performing wells. Even worse, numerous ground drinking water supplies have been compromised by pollution and farm runoff.

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It is up to local, county, and state government officials to use their collective power to put an end to Ed Kidston’s money-making scheme to deplete the Michindoh Aquifer. Local leaders might argue that it is not against the law for Kidston to tap the Aquifer and sell its water to communities outside of the Michindoh watershed. However, just because someone CAN do something, doesn’t mean he should. This issue is clearly one of doing what is best for the people who rely on the Aquifer for drinking water.

Once Kidston starts pumping water to the highest bidder, there is no turning back. Not only will thirsty local communities be drawing millions of gallons of water a day out the Michindoh Aquifer, so will local manufacturing concerns and large-scale farming operations. The answer is to kill Kidston’s plan before it can gain traction. Local protests and anti-Kidston signs are important, but these alone will not stop Ed Kidston from continuing with his plan. Why? Because it is all about money. It’s always about money. If Kidston was concerned with doing what’s best for Northwest Ohio, Southern Michigan, and Eastern Indiana he would, without delay, cancel his plan to drill a test well. Unfortunately, every gallon pumped out the ground and sent eastward means more money for Artesian of Pioneer and its owner Ed Kidston.

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For Further Information

Save Michindoh Water

Save Our Water: Protect the Michindoh Aquifer Facebook Page

Dear Salesman, Don’t Assume Every Prospective Customer is a Christian

pay attention

Dear Salesman,

You came into our home today to sell us your company’s product. We received a flyer from your company last week, touting its new, low-priced rental program of your equipment. We’ve been wanting to buy or rent your product for some time, so the new rental program was all the motivation necessary for us to call your company and schedule a sales call. What follows in this letter is a mixture of advice and critique. I hope you will learn from what I have written.

You arrived promptly for the sales call — and that’s a good thing. Tardiness — especially without notification — is a sure way to get us to reject out of hand what you are selling. If my wife and I, who are just as busy as you are, set time aside for your sales pitch, we expect you to arrive on time. And if you can’t, we expect a telephone call or text message. Last week, I offered for sale two Amazon Fire TV Sticks on a local buy-and-sell forum. The first person to say he wanted them asked if I could wait until Friday for him to pick them up. I said, sure. Friday came and went without the man picking up the Sticks. So, I offered them to the next person who wanted them. She promptly came and picked up the Sticks. The next day, the man who stood us up sent me a Facebook message, asking if he could come and pick up the Sticks. I told him no; that I had offered them to someone else. The man became upset with me, suggesting that I was a terrible person. I took a few moments to educate him on the value of timeliness and keeping your commitments. All that did was aggravate him further. The man told me that he would never do business with me again. Little did he know that I don’t give people who don’t keep appointments a second chance; even those who use the lame excuse that their grandmother was in the hospital and no one had a cell phone. He and his siblings were Millennials, so there was no chance in hell that one of them didn’t have a cell phone. So as a salesman, you get one point for being on time. Unfortunately, as this letter will detail, our interaction with you cost you quite a few other points.

You parked on the street in front of our home, directly in front of the two-foot by six-foot sign for my business, Defiance County Photo. It’s hard to miss, with its blue frame, but somehow you missed it. That’s why you were surprised when you found out I was photographer, and that I, in particular, did local high school sports photography (you proceeded to then spend way too much time telling me of your own photo prowess, complete with dick pics — also known as your “awesome” sports photos). Years ago, I tried my hand at sales. My dad was a salesman for several decades. He was as smooth as silk when it came to selling people things they didn’t need; things such as Kirby vacuüm cleaners and Combined Insurance Company supplemental medical policies. Unfortunately, I was not like my dad, and I failed miserably at selling stuff. I even tried my hand at selling the product you tried to sell us today.

One lesson I did learn from my foray into sales is that it is very important to pay attention to your prospective customers’ homes. How do they live? What’s hanging on their walls? Years later, I would use this technique in my selling of Jesus to sinners. As someone who’s been in sales for years should know, it is important to make a connection with customers. The easiest way to do that is to talk about them, and not yourself. Unfortunately, you didn’t pay attention to your surroundings as you walked into our home, and as a result you made assumptions about us that were invalid. You are much like the Amway salesman that came to our home years ago thinking that by mentioning his Cadillac sitting in our driveway and showing us his Rolex watch and diamond ring, we would be so impressed that we would immediately want to become salesman for Con-way. Nothing in our home — a mobile home — told this man that we were people who placed a premium on material wealth. He missed all the cues that our home, dress, and demeanor told him. You did the same, by not paying attention to us, and by spending way too much time talking about yourself; building yourself into a larger-than-life master of industry. One thing I have learned over my sixty years of life is to spot a bull-shitter from a mile away. Soon as you started regaling us with your exploits, I knew we were talking to a first-class, Grade-A biped manure spreader.

Had you been paying attention, you never would have repeatedly referenced the Evangelical God in your conversation with us. You wouldn’t have told us that God has a plan for everyone’s life or that the Christian God is in control of everything. You also wouldn’t have mentioned how my wife’s employer — for whom she has worked twenty years — has gone downhill since its Evangelical founder died; that the third-generation now running the company is only concerned with profits and the bottom line. What was it about how we lived, dressed, or carried ourselves that said to you we are Christians? There’s nothing in our home that even remotely suggests that we are Christian; no Jesus Junk®, no Bibles lying around, no Evangelical books in our bookcase; nothing that suggests that we are Jesus-loving, church-going Christians. I suspect you wrongly assume that everyone in rural Northwest Ohio believes in God, so you thought it safe to use God to warm us up and entice us to say yes. Little did you know we are atheists. I wonder how uncomfortable that fact might have made you feel had you known.

My wife and I are kind and generous to a fault. We said nothing as you blabbered on about your omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent mythical deity. After you left, my wife even complimented me — with a chuckle in her voice — for using the word darn instead of damn in one of my responses to you. You see, I pay attention to my surroundings. I don’t go out of my way to offend Christians. When my wife’s Evangelical parents come to our home to visit, we temper our language, change the TV channel to Hallmark, and play G-rated music. We don’t want to unnecessarily offend them; even though they find plenty to be offended over by our stocked liquor cabinet, their daughter’s worldly apparel, the atheist books on my bookshelves, our children’s lack of faith, and our lack of church attendance and prayer before meals (though we do allow Polly’s dad to say a prayer before meals). You might learn something from our behavior: that unless you know a prospective customer is a member of the Jesus Club®, perhaps it’s better to not assume. You came to our home to sell us your company’s product, not to sell Jesus. Had we known that Jesus was going to be part of the sales presentation, we certainly would not have invited you into our home.

There is much more that I could say about your interaction with us; stuff that should have resulted in us saying no thanks. But, thanks to me researching your company and its product, and thoroughly educating myself about what it does, we decided to buy your product anyway. While we were turned off by your sales presentation, including the part that treated us like aged imbeciles, we had decided beforehand that if the price in your company’s flyer was indeed correct, we were going to rent your product. So then, it was your lucky day, Mister Jesus Freak, that you ran into customers who could ignore your religious drivel, and instead base their decision on whether your product would meet their needs.

Next time you go into someone’s home to sell them your product, pay attention. Your next prospective customer might not be as thoughtful and deferring as we are. Perhaps it would just be better if you left religion out of your sales pitch altogether. There’s something dirty and shallow about trying to hook prospects with Jesus talk. While I suspect my wife and I are in the minority when it comes to not wanting to hear salesmen talk about their love life with Jesus, an increasing number of local residents are choosing to label themselves as NONES — people who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent towards religion. These prospective customers want to hear about your product, not your God. Keep that in mind next time you start telling a customer about the God who controls everything. You might find out that the only God who control something is the customer who has the power to say yes or no to your sales pitch; and for customers who aren’t religious, they are more likely to say no to someone who uses religion in an attempt to reel them in.

Sincerely,

Bruce Gerencser

Life in Rural Northwest Ohio: Committing Social Suicide

jesus-flag

Local home flying the team flag. Go TEAM JESUS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ney Village Limit Sign, Slightly Altered.

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

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

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

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

Letter to the Editor: I Support the Kneeling Defiance College Football Players

letter to the editor

Letter submitted to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News on November 13, 2017

Dear Editor,

I write to lend my support to the Defiance College football players who have knelt during the playing of the national anthem. I commend them for their courage, knowing that most local residents oppose their actions. Their continued protest has brought calls for discipline, including expulsion from school. I commend college administrators and coaches for not bowing to public pressure to silence protest. These students, along with their counterparts in professional sports, need to be heard. Their protests have nothing to do with respect for the military or flag.

What lies behind their kneeling is inequality, injustice, and racism. While these issues might seem to locals to be the problems of urban areas, the truth is that we denizens of rural Northwest Ohio have our own problems related to these things. I recently participated in a forum discussion on racism in Northwest Ohio. Having lived most of my sixty years of life in this area, I can say with great certainty that we are not immune from charges of racism and injustice. We may hide it better, covering it with white, middle-class Christian respectability, but it exists, nonetheless.

Years ago, my family and I walked into a church towards the end of the adult Sunday school class. Teaching the class was a matronly white woman — a pillar of the church. She was telling the class that her grandson was not getting playing time on the college football team because blacks got all the playing time. She reminded me of a retired white school teacher I knew when I lived in Southeast Ohio. At the time, we had a black foster daughter. I had just started a new church in the area, and we were looking for a house to rent. This school teacher had a house available, so we agreed to rent it. When it came time to pick up the keys, she told us she decided to rent to someone else. We later learned that she said she wasn’t going to have a ni***r living in her house.

These stories are apt reminders of what lies underneath our country respectability. It is time we quit wrapping ourselves in the flag, pretending that racism, inequality, and injustice doesn’t exist. Our flag and anthem represent many things, but for many Americans, they represent oppression and denial of human rights; and it is for these reasons, among others, that players kneel.

Bruce Gerencser

Ney, Ohio

Let’s Play Smear the Queer

smear the queer

Last night, I attended a high school football game in which the fans on both sides of the field stood with hands over hearts as the band played our post-9/11 national anthem — God Bless America. This largely Evangelical, conservative, Republican crowd views religion and patriotism as one and the same. In their minds, the United States is a uniquely chosen and blessed nation, a people whose God is the deity found within the pages of the Bible. I doubt that any of these uber-patriotic Christians thought, as they stood to praise of Jesus, that what they were doing turned faith into a political football to be tossed to and fro according to the whims of our political elites. From their perspective, the United States has always been God’s Country®. Other religions are grudgingly permitted, and even atheists are allowed the freedom to live as they please, but no one should ever doubt that there is one true God, and J-E-S-U-S is his name.

Once the crowd was finished masturbating to the American flag and our country’s phallic “greatness,” they settled in to watch two-plus hours of rock-em-sock-em, mano a-mano organized violence. Christianity quickly faded into the distance as each side cheered their team, calling on them to pummel their opponent into submission. Players were encouraged to hit hard, incapacitating their enemy. So much was on the line: future tales of gridiron glory and a conference championship awaited the team with the most points at the end of the game. As the game wore on, one team got the upper hand and handily beat their rival into the ground. From both sides of the field, the people who just an hour or so ago were singing praises to their God were now screaming and cursing at the officials. One offended fan even went so far as to attack one of the officials because he was fat, leading my son to say, what does the official’s weight have to do with the call he made?

After the game, as I walking to my car, a man and his son passed by me. As they did, the father asked the son what he had been doing during the game (many children “attend” football games, but don’t actually watch the event). The boy replied, we were playing smear the queer. I thought, oh my God, here we are in the 21st century and a boyhood game is STILL called, with nary a thought, smear the QUEER. The boy’s father said nothing, giving tacit approval to his son’s disparaging use of the word “queer.” I suspect the boy has never bothered to consider that using the word QUEER (or any other pejorative word for LGBTQ people) might be offensive. But the father knew better, and yet he said nothing.

I am not surprised by the things I observed last night. After all, I live in rural Northwest Ohio; a land primarily inhabited by white Republican Christians; a land that gives white preference its color; a monoculture proud of its ignorance and simplistic view of the world. While I thoroughly enjoy watching (and photographing) high school sporting events, I find the cultural trappings surrounding these contests to be disheartening. I know that most fellow locals have never ventured far from the farm fields, manufacturing facilities, and Christian churches of Northwest Ohio. They are simply living out what they know, rarely, if ever, exposed to the complex, contradictory world that lies outside their borders. When those who live in a particular locality never come in contact with people different from them, and when the few who are different are dismissed and marginalized, it is no surprise that the locals think and behave the way they do. In their world, smearing a queer is just another childhood game; a game, however, that says much about place where it is played.

Note

It goes without saying, that not every local is as described above. I am deliberately painting with a broad brush. Over the past decade, I have met a few liberal-minded people who value pluralism and multiculturalism; people who know something about life beyond the flatlands and corn fields of rural Northwest Ohio. Personally, I love the place I call home, even if I am not loved back. I appreciate the slowness of small town life. I love living in town where I never have to worry about being burglarized or murdered; and if I leave my car unlocked it will still be there in the morning. I don’t want readers to think that I hate where I live. I don’t.  This is home. My children and grandchildren live here, and it is for them I continue to confront local bigotry, racism, and religious extremism. I want them to have a better tomorrow.

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.

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Zane Zeedyk and His Traveling Trump Show

Rural Northwest Ohio resident Zane Zeedyk wants to make sure that everyone votes for Donald Trump. Zeedyk did the same for Mitt Romney in 2012. Zeedyk believes God has given him a mission to preach the good news of the Republican gospel. In an October 10, 2012 Times Bulletin article, Zeedyk stated:

I get frustrated and feel the need to do something I feel that God has given me this opportunity as I still have the energy to get up here and do this. I am willing to travel to any community, to anyone who needs me.

In Zeedyk’s mind, President Obama has spent the last eight years destroying America, and only the pussy grabbing psychopath Donald Trump can make America great again. As things stand now, Zeedyk is going to be quite disappointed come November 9th. 

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In many places, Zeedyk would be considered a fanatic, a nut job. Not here in rural Northwest Ohio. Zeedyk is a respected farmer, active in many political and social activities. Oh, and he loves Jesus too.

Eastern Gray Squirrel Loves Corn on the Cob

I recently added a new feature to our backyard feeders — dried corn on the cob. The goal is to draw squirrels to the living room window so I can photograph them. So far, four different squirrels have munched on the corn. The squirrels take a circuitous route to get to the corn. They begin their jaunt in the towering pine in our front yard. From there the squirrels jump on the two-story part of our house, run down the roof, jump on the one-story part, and make their way to the corn.

eastern gray squirrel

eastern gray squirrel

eastern gray squirrel

eastern gray squirrel

eastern gray squirrel

eastern gray squirrel

eastern gray squirrel

eastern gray squirrel

The Least of These: Sparrows and Finches

Colder temperatures and snow have led to an increase of birds stopping by our feeders to eat. What follows are photographs of some of the sparrows and finches that have graced us with their presence. I love watching them swarm the feeders, only to quickly retreat at the slightest sound of unexpected movement. While many people find such birds boring, I am fascinated by their diversity, with no two birds exactly the same.  These photographs were shot from our living room window.

sparrows and finches

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Feral Barn Cats Part Two

Last week, I asked my son and daughter-in-law if I could photograph the feral cats that reside in their barn. After giving me a quizzical look that said why?, they told me I could, but warned me that I would find it hard to get close enough to the cats to photograph them.  Sufficiently warned, I went to the barn, camera and flash in hand and took the following photographs. I hope you enjoy them.

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What follows is not a new cat breed. My daughter-in-law told me these two chickens are quite old.

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chickens

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Part One

Feral Barn Cats Part One

Last week, I asked my son and daughter-in-law if I could photograph the feral cats that reside in their barn. After giving me a quizzical look that said why?, they told me I could, but warned me that I would find it hard to get close enough to the cats to photograph them.  Sufficiently warned, I went to the barn, camera and flash in hand and took the following photographs. I hope you enjoy them.

feral cats in barn

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Part Two