Tag Archive: Northwestern Ohio

Life in Rural Northwest Ohio: Committing Social Suicide

jesus-flag

Local home flying the team flag. Go TEAM JESUS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ney ohio village limits sign

Ney Village Limit Sign, Slightly Altered.

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

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

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

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

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.

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

Eight Years Later — Part Three

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, in front of first apartment in Pontiac, Michigan, Fall 1978 with Polly’s Grandfather and Parents

On the last Sunday of November 2008, my wife and I attended a Christian worship service for the last time. This series details how things have changed for us over the past eight years.

Polly and I will celebrate our thirty-ninth anniversary in July. We first met as college freshman at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. Polly was seventeen and I was nineteen. Both of us enrolled at Midwestern to pursue God’s calling on our lives. At the age of fifteen, I felt God calling me to be a preacher. Polly had a similar teenage experience — not to be a preacher, but to be a pastor’s wife. On July 15, 1978, Polly and I stood before family and friends at the Newark Baptist Temple and confessed that we would love each other unto death. In joining together as husband and wife, we were also saying to God and to the church that we were committed to fulfilling God’s calling upon our lives. This commitment of ours to the ministry would take us to seven churches in three states over the next twenty-five years. This post will begin to detail our marriage during our years in the ministry and how it has changed — dramatically so — since we left the ministry in 2005 and left Christianity altogether in 2008. Adequately telling our story will require several posts.

bruce and polly gerencser 1978

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, May 1978, Two Months Before Their Wedding

Both Polly and I were quite naïve about life and the ministry when we married. Our idea of being Pastor and Mrs. Bruce Gerencser proved to be a fantasy. We thought we would, after graduating college, move to a rural Midwestern community so I could either pastor a church or start one. I would be a long-tenured, adequately paid minister, while Polly would be the keeper of our two children — Jason and Bethany —  and our white two-story home surrounded by a picket fence. The only thing that came of our fantasy? We have a son named Jason and a daughter named Bethany. Virtually everything we were told about how wonderful it was to be a pastor and a pastor’s wife proved to be a lie or, at the very least, gross distortions of reality. Much like selling Amway, with those at the top of pyramid getting all the accolades and money, so it was with the ministry. Big-name preachers pastoring churches with large attendances were well-paid and received the loving adoration of those who thronged to hear them preach. Believing that these preachers were the norm, young pastors and their wives would enter the ministry thinking that they too would one day be used mightily by God. The big-name preachers traveled the conference circuit, telling young pastors that if they would just work harder, sacrifice more, and follow their examples, that God would surely bless them and use them to build large, soulwinning churches. John R. Rice, famed Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist and editor of the Sword of the Lord, was fond of saying, There is nothing wrong with pastoring a small church — for a while. The message was clear: a sign of God’s blessing was a thriving church with an ever-increasing attendance. (In the 1960s and 1970s, most of the churches on the Top 100 Churches in America were IFB churches. Today? Only two or three IFB churches are on the list.)

In the spring of 1979, Polly and I left Midwestern and moved to the place of my birth, Bryan, Ohio. Polly became pregnant six weeks after our wedding, and several months later I was laid off from my machine shop job. With a child on the way, no insurance, and out of money, we decided to drop out of college and move to Bryan so I could find employment. I took a union job in the shipping and receiving department at ARO — a large manufacturing concern that years later was bought by Ingersoll-Rand and closed.

bruce and polly gerencser 1985

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Somerset Baptist Church Sweetheart Banquet, 1985

Six weeks after moving to Bryan, I became the assistant pastor for nearby Montpelier Baptist Church. The church didn’t pay me a salary, so it was necessary for me to continue working at ARO while I took on near-full-time responsibilities at the church. Believing that God called us into the ministry, Polly and I were willing to make any and every sacrifice to fulfill our calling, even if it meant burning the candle at both ends and being forced to earn a living outside of the church. This thinking would permeate our thoughts and drive our behavior for most of the next twenty-five years.

Polly and I established our marital relationship according to what we believed the Bible taught about marriage and the family. Having a traditional marriage meant that I would be the breadwinner and Polly would care for the children, cook meals, and be the keeper of the home. Complementarian to the core, I expected Polly to submit to my God-given authority in the home. Wanting to be pleasing to God and her husband, Polly submitted herself to what can best be described as an authoritarian ruler. Passive by nature, Polly was fine with me running the show, making all the decisions, including taking care of the finances and disciplining the children. In many ways, we lived lives that were modeled to us by our parents and older ministers and their wives. Little did we know how corrosive and psychologically harmful such thinking was, and to this day we deal with the after-effects of patterning our lives after Evangelical beliefs concerning marriage and the family.

bruce polly gerencser our fathers house west unity

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

It was not until the late 1990s — twenty years into our marriage — that Polly and I began to question the foundation our marriage was built upon. As we looked at not only the people I pastored but many of our colleagues in the ministry, we noticed that many of them were building comfortable middle-class lifestyles, complete with all the trappings of American capitalistic culture. Here we were living in poverty, working day and night, and sacrificing our lives for the sake of the ministry while everyone else seemed to be enjoying the good life. Why weren’t these church members and preachers living according to the teachings of the Bible? Why did it seem they loved the things of the world in direct contradiction to what the Bible taught in 1 John 2:15,16:

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.

Where were the churches and pastors who were willing to sacrifice their lives for Jesus, even unto death? Polly and I had made the mistake of actually believing what we were taught in church and Bible college. We actually took to heart what we read in Evangelical books and heard at conferences. Silly us! we would learn.

In the next post in this series, I want to talk about the subtle marital and family changes we made while still in the ministry, and how these changes laid the groundwork for where our marriage is today.

Eight Years Later — Part Two

bruce and polly gerencser 2015

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2015

On the last Sunday of November 2008, my wife and I attended a Christian worship service for the last time. This series details how things have changed for us over the past eight years. —

My wife and I are blessed to have six children, eleven grandchildren, three daughters-in-law, one son-in-law, a cocker spaniel, and one overfed, lazy cat. While our dog’s and cat’s lives have changed very little since we divorced ourselves from God, the same cannot be said for our children. This post will detail, from my perspective, how our deconversion affected our offspring.

Our children range in age from thirty-eight to twenty-four. We have two distinct families, three boys ages thirty-eight, thirty-six, and thirty-three and two girls and one boy ages twenty-eight, twenty-six, and twenty-four. Our older children spent most of their younger years in the hills of poverty-ridden Southeast Ohio, while our younger children have spent most of their lives in middle-class Northwest Ohio. The one thing all of our children have in common is that they spent most of their lives attending church three times a week and providing free labor for whatever church their father happened to be pastoring. All of them grew up in a devoutly Christian home, one that demanded fealty to God, submission to parental and religious authority, and centering life around the “work of the ministry.”

I pastored my last church in 2003 — Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. By the time I took on yet another hopelessly broken church that I was sure could be fixed by the miracle-working power of the one and only Pastor Bruce Gerencser, our oldest three children had left home — remaining in Northwest Ohio —  while our youngest three were still at home. When I candidated (the dog and pony show used by Baptist churches to hire a new pastor) at Victory, I told the church that I was not a fighter; and that if there was major church conflict I would resign. Sure enough, seven months later, the church and I butted heads and I resigned.

Someday I will write in-depth about my experiences at this church, but for now let me hit a few of the highlights. In retrospect, I know I never should have become this church’s pastor. I saw the dysfunction, but I thought, as I always did, that I could bring reformation and change. You would think after decades in the pastorate I would have known better, but I didn’t. I never quite learned that most churches will never change; that many congregants view a new pastor with a new agenda as a threat to their power and control; that many churches don’t deserve a pastor and should be left to die.

After a contentious church business meeting in which one leader in the church — a pastor’s wife — informed me that my agenda and vision were not theirs, I resigned and made plans to return to Ohio. On the day we moved, not one church member wished us well or offered to help us load up our things. One family, who lived right across the street from us and to whom we were quite close, left early in the morning on moving day so they wouldn’t have to help. Prior to resigning, I had talked to them about the problems I was facing at the church, and I thought they were at least sympathetic to my viewpoint. Unfortunately, I was wrong.  They denied talking to me and sided with the church’s power brokers.

One older man in the church reminded everyone that there were children sitting in the meeting watching what was going on. Some of those children were our youngest three, then aged fourteen, twelve, and ten. They had watched their Dad work eighty-hour work weeks at the church, and their Mom go off to work at a local dry cleaners so she could help supplement their pastor father’s meager pay (no benefits, no insurance, $200 a week). I have no doubt that their experiences at Victory Baptist played a big part in their current views on religion in general and Evangelicalism in particular.

After leaving Victory Baptist, we returned to Northwest Ohio so Polly could resume her job at Sauder Woodworking. We rented a cramped ranch home in Stryker, hoping that we would gain some clarity about what the future might hold. By this time, I was almost certain that I never wanted to pastor again. During the six months we spent in Stryker, my health took a serious turn for the worse. Thinking that warmer weather would improve my health, my sister suggested we move to Yuma, Arizona,  so we did. Our stay in the Southwest Arizona last all of seven months. The pull of family became so strong that we decided to move back to Ohio, living for ten months in Newark before moving north to Bryan where our children lived. (During our time in Newark, I did candidate at several Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia and considered an offer to start a new Christian Union church in Zanesville, Ohio. I concluded that whatever ministerial desire I once had was gone, and that my Evangelical traveling days were over.)

By the time we returned to Northwest Ohio, our three oldest children had married. One would soon divorce, and the other two were talking about bringing new little Gerencsers into the world. For the next three years Polly and I, along with our three youngest children, visited numerous churches, hoping that we would find a place to call home; a church that took seriously the teachings of Christ; a church that was willing to use our gifts and talents. Alas, all we learned was that Christian churches are pretty much all the same. The names were different, as were the liturgies and styles of worship, but apart from these things the churches we visited showed little interest in us as people, concerned only with putting five more asses in their pews and more money in their offering plates.

While our children were surprised by their father’s leaving the ministry, nothing prepared them for the nuclear bomb that exploded when we abandoned Christianity, choosing to first embrace agnosticism, then atheism and humanism. (Please see Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners.) These choices of ours caused confusion and upheaval. What do you mean you aren’t Christians? What do you mean you aren’t going to church anymore? These questions, and others, came bubbling to the surface, questions which continue to arise to this day. While several of our children have had multiple discussions with us about our decisions to leave the ministry and Christianity, others have chosen to leave matters alone. One of our children tells people who ask about us that we left Christianity due to burn-out. While certainly our disaffection towards Christianity played a part in our deconversion, saying that the primary reason we are now unbelievers is burn-out does not tell the whole story. I suspect that, for this child, attributing our unbelief to burn-out allows him to stop follow-up questions about our spiritual state and current church attendance.

One thing I made clear to our children: when it came to God, church, Christianity, Jesus, and religion in general, they were on their own. I may have been the patriarch and spiritual head of our home for most of their lives, but now it was up to them to choose which paths they wished to walk. For a time, our children found our unbelieving ways unsettling and confusing, but over time each of them has found his or her own path. (I was criticized for cutting them loose like this, accused of throwing them into the deep end of the pool to teach them how to swim. Perhaps this is true, but all of them eventually learned to swim.)  We have made it clear that our children are free to life as they wish. We, for the most part, don’t meddle in their lives. This doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions about the choices they make. We do, but as long as our children are not physically harming themselves, we are content to let them live their lives as they see fit.

While there have been a few religion-related skirmishes, mostly connected to baptisms and first communions, as time as gone along our family has settled into its secular way of life. Several of our children and their spouses attend local Catholic churches, several are atheists or agnostics, and the rest are NONES who are indifferent to organized religion. While Polly and I at first couldn’t bring ourselves to attend anything remotely connected to Christianity, we are now at the place where we are comfortable with attending baptisms, first communions, and the like as long as we aren’t asked to participate. We do so for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

It is not my place to explain the philosophical and religious views of our children. Neither is it their place — as they are often called on to do — to defend our decision to divorce God. During my Christian days, I was quite vocal about my beliefs, writing frequent letters to local newspapers in defense of Christianity.  Today, as an atheist, humanist, and democratic socialist, I continue to write letters and I have added blogging to my repertoire. My public expressions of unbelief have put my children in the unenviable position of having to listen to locals — at work, college, and social engagements — express their anger and disfavor towards my viewpoints. While they are free to disown me, so far they have chosen to stand their ground, pointing my critics to the various ways they can contact me to express their outrage first hand.

According to Polly’s parents and our extended families, who are still mired in Christian Fundamentalism, our loss of faith has wreaked untold havoc on our children and their families. More than a few family members, former colleagues in the ministry, and former parishioners have point-blank told me that I have ruined my children. Not Polly, but I, because I am the head of the home, and God holds me accountable for how my godlessness has affected my children and grandchildren. In their minds, if I would just repent and return to the church, all would be well. In their minds, if I came back to Jesus, Polly and our six children and their children would line up behind me and return to the front rows of a nearby Baptist church. Such people fail to see that the children of Bruce and Polly Gerencser are all grown up, free to make their own choices, free to live life as they please. Yes, their lifestyles are considered abominations by some Independent Fundamentalist Baptist family members, but remember, these people live in an alternate universe where normal biological acts and social behaviors are considered vile sins against a thrice holy God.

A non-Evangelical accounting of the lives of our children reveals successes, failures, and complexities — typical of human existence. All of our children are gainfully employed, busy enjoying the fruits of their labors. Rarely does a week or two go by that we don’t see all of our children, either at a family gathering or a school event.  Our family is close. Love abounds, and when sibling squabbling causes conflict, it is short-lived. If we have learned anything over the past eight years it is this: family is what matters. For most of my adult life, family was not my first priority. God, Jesus, the ministry, and the church, all came before Polly and the kids. Now I am free to focus the fleeting days of my life on our family. Things are, in every way, better now that God and the Bible no longer dominate our lives. Liberated from religious servitude, we are now free to devote our lives to that which matters most — family. Polly and I know that we are lucky. Our loss of faith could have imploded our family, especially if some of them remained Evangelicals. Fortunately, our children also fled the pernicious clutches of Fundamentalism, and we are now free to build deeper, richer relationships without worrying about what God thinks or what the Bible says. Our family remains a work in progress, but I think Polly and our children would agree with me when I say, life is good. Not perfect, not without conflict, not without loss, but good, nonetheless. I can safely say that if any of us were asked if we are interested in returning to the garlic and leeks of Evangelicalism, we in unison would say H-E-L-L NO!

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. 

zane-zeedyk-donald-trump-2016-1 zane-zeedyk-donald-trump-2016-2 zane-zeedyk-donald-trump-2016-3 zane-zeedyk-donald-trump-2016-4 zane-zeedyk-donald-trump-2016-5 zane-zeedyk-donald-trump-2016-6 zane-zeedyk-donald-trump-2016-7

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

sparrows and finches-001

sparrows and finches-002

sparrows and finches-004

sparrows and finches-005

sparrows and finches-006

sparrows and finches-007

sparrows and finches-008

sparrows and finches-009

sparrows and finches-003

sparrows and finches-010

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.

feral cats in barn-008

feral cats in barn-009

feral cats in barn-010

feral cats in barn-011

feral cats in barn-012

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

chickens-002

chickens

chickens-001

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

feral cats in barn-001

feral cats in barn-002

feral cats in barn-003

feral cats in barn-004

feral cats in barn-005

feral cats in barn-006

feral cats in barn-007

Part Two

Get Right With God,Consult the Bible When Making A Decision, and Keep America Communist Free,

Now that’s a headline. What follows are photographs I shot while out and about in rural NW Ohio.

get right with god

High Resolution Photo

I found this sign along U.S. Hwy 127 south of Sherwood, Ohio.  Recently, the Defiance Crescent-News featured an article written by Isaiah Ross about this sign:

Along U.S. 127 and Paulding County Road 424 is a cross that simply states: “Get right with God.” Amid word that the beloved cross would be removed, the past few weeks have been filled with heated emotional debate.

The cross was to be picked up by the American Sign Museum located in Cincinnati, whose founder Tod Swormstedt said the acquisition was supposed to be a birthday surprise from his girlfriend, Nancy Herbert. Herbert’s friend Cate O’Hara was heading up to Bryan with her daughter when she noticed the sign off the side of the road. O’Hara, knowing Swormstedt’s involvement with the American Sign Museum, contacted Herbert to inform her of the cross. The surprise was reportedly ruined when Swormstedt was notified of it after a local newspaper ran a historic account of the cross last week. However, Thursday morning, he received news that the sign was no longer available for pickup.

The cross was placed there by Rev. Harrison Mayes around 1966 in his journeys throughout the country. Mayes took to working in the coal mines at a young age, and when he was a young man, an accident caused him to be trapped in a mine. He prayed and prayed to God, vowing to live the rest of his life in God’s service if he survived the predicament.

His prayers were answered. Mayes made it through to fulfill his side of the covenant, so he took to his bike and used his building skills to construct, paint, and place his signs where he saw fit.

Through the course of his life, Mayes made many signs, each of which is large enough to be easily seen and read from the road. All of them share a similar message of being prepared and getting saved. Several signs stand erect in the greater region around his home in Fork Ridge, Tenn., but they are present in 22 different states. Some are as far north as northwest Ohio, where locals have seen the Cecil area cross and one that used to be near Antwerp before an accident destroyed it. As he knew his days were coming to a close, he began writing on his signs where he wanted them placed, in hopes someone would continue the efforts of his lifelong promise…

Across the road from the Get Right With God sign I found this billboard:

decision to make

High Resolution Photo

Isn’t it good to know that the Bible is a one-stop shop for all your decision-making needs. Need to decide what to make for dinner? Check the Bible? Need to know if brown shoes go with blue slacks? I’m sure that the billboard owner has a more spiritual intent in mind, something along the lines of getting saved.

Tuesday, Polly and I drove to Fort Wayne to attend the Dayton Dragons vs. Fort Wayne Tin Caps baseball game. I’ve been battling an upper respiratory infection for the past week or so, and by the time we got to the stadium I was in no shape to sit in 93 degree heat and watch a game. So we turned around and came home. Here’s a sign I photographed on a country road outside of Antwerp, Ohio.

keep america communist free

High Resolution Photo

Ah yes, Joseph McCarthy lives on.

Please click the high-resolution links to see photo full size. Most photos on this site are resized to 600×400, resulting in 60-90% reduction in size. This reduction flattens and softens most photos. I hate it, I mean I really, really, really hate it, but you’d hate it even more if I uploaded all my photos as shot and it took 5 minutes for the site to load. If you would like to save, print, or use one of my photos, please use the high-resolution photos. Any noncommercial use is permitted.

 

I Love Black People, Said the White Man

i'm not racist

A couple of weeks ago, I followed a discussion among rural northwest Ohio white people about racism. The discussion was quite entertaining. None of them admitted to being racist, and many of them felt that whatever racism there may have been in  the past, it no longer exists (or it is just the product of a few racist outliers).

One man, wanting to show how proud he was not to be a racist, informed everyone that he lived near some black people and they had a really nice house and yard!

Like I said, there is no racism around here.

And there’s not, if you think racism=KKK.

What we do have is a latent, subtle racism that shows up in comments like the one I just mentioned. He was surprised that the blacks who lived near him had a nice house and yard. Why? Are blacks somehow predisposed to having trashy houses and yards?

Using this kind of logic, I could make the same statement about white people. Near my son and daughter-in-law’s home in Defiance, there are four or so homes that WHITE people have thoroughly trashed. All of the houses are rentals, owned by white slum lords who rent to people who don’t care about where they live.

So, what’s up with these white people?

Or, we can stop thinking like this and realize that red, brown, yellow, black and white, some people are pigs in Jesus’s sight (shameless use of  Jesus Loves the Little Children). Some landlords are slum lords who don’t care about the community. Their only objective is to maximize their profits and hope the house burns down in a few years.

I know a good bit about poverty, When I lived with my Mom, we were on food stamps and AFDC. I know the shame that comes from using food stamps at the local grocery or having to get welfare eyeglasses. But, despite the poverty, my Mom kept a clean home — too cluttered for her son with OCPD, but clean. We took care of what little stuff we owned.

These life lessons my Mom taught me, Polly and I taught to our children:

  • There is no shame in being poor
  • Work hard
  • Take care of what you own
  • Keep your bedroom/car/house clean

Just because you are poor doesn’t mean you have to make your surroundings look like the county landfill. Taking care of what’s yours and showing respect for the property of others are issues of character, not of race.

090416