I Hope You (Fill in the Blank)

meaning of life

Well meaning people have all kinds of expectations and desires for me. Their expectations and desires for me often reveal how they view my life and me as a person. Often, they view me as hurt, broken, damaged, angry, bitter, disillusioned, unhappy, pessimistic, or jaded. Instead of allowing me to define who and what I am, they use their own version of who and what I am and then come to certain conclusions about me. It’s like me saying I am a cat and someone saying no you are a dog and then all their subsequent judgments about me are based on their belief that I am a dog. No matter how loud I meow, they still think I am a dog.

These kind of people think there is something wrong with me. Take my friend Bill. Here is what he said in a blog comment:

But in my not very humble opinion as a person who has known your thinking for more than 20 years (?), the topic of “god” is disturbing your mind to no good end.

Now, on one hand, Bill has known me for a long time. He lives thousands of miles away from me and we have met face-to-face one time in the late 1990’s. Years ago, I sponsored the CHARIS discussion list and Bill was a regular participant. He has, on and off, read my writing for almost 20 years. He has followed my evolution from a Calvinistic pastor to an atheist. Surely, he should “know” me, right?

While I consider Bill a friend, I would never say that Bill “knows” me. In fact, the number of people who really know me can be counted on one hand. And even then, can someone ever really completely “know” me? During the course of our friendship, Bill has mentally developed his own version of Bruce Gerencser. While this Bruce bears some resemblance to the real Bruce, it is not the real Bruce and if Bill doesn’t understand this he will likely, like in his comment above, come to a wrong conclusion about me.

I think Dale summed up things quite well when he said to Bill:

What Bruce is doing is therapeutic for him and for many of us.

Dale precisely summed up why I write. I am not sitting here raging at God. I am not, on most days, hurt, broken, damaged, angry, bitter, disillusioned, unhappy, pessimistic, or jaded. Outside of the constant pain I live with, I am quite happy. I have a wonderful marriage and family and I love interacting with my internet friends through this blog. Yes, I can go through bouts of deep depression, but people like Bill wrongly assume that my depression is driven by my questions about god and religion.  It’s not. My health problems are what drive my depression. Feel better=less depression. Lots of pain=more depression.

These days, the only time I think about God and religion is when I am writing. There are no unanswered questions for me when it comes to God. I don’t think there is a God, so this pretty well answers all the “God” questions for me. My interest in religion has more to do with sociology, philosophy, and politics, than it does anything else.

I frequently get emails, blog comments, and comments on other blogs that start with, I hope you _____________________. These people have read something I have written and have made a judgment about me. They think I am lacking in some way, and if I would just have what they are hoping I will have, then all would be well for me.  They hope I find peace, deliverance, salvation, or faith. They are internet psychiatrists who think they can discern who I really am and what my life consists of by reading a few blog posts.

I know that this is the nature of the internet. People make snap judgments about a person based on the scantiest of information. They think they “know” you after they have read 1,500 words, and they are then ready to pass judgment on what you need.  Everyone who writes in the public space faces this problem, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

This is me saying, I don’t like it. I am not a problem in need of solving. I am not a broken toy that needs fixed. I don’t need what my critics are hoping for me. I am quite happy with who and what I am. It is atheism that has allowed me the freedom to be who I am. I realize this presents a real problem for Evangelicals because they believe that a person can not be happy, satisfied, or at peace without Jesus. But, here I am.

One commenter stated:

Dear Bruce, I hope you are delivered from your delusions of a happy, satisfied, peaceful life. You are living in denial of how things REALLY are for you.

All I can say to this is that I am enjoying every delusional moment of this life and I suspect many of my fellow atheists are doing the same.

Have You Tried (blank)?

chronic illness

Because I am forthcoming about the health problems I have, well-meaning people often give me unsolicited medical advice. Sometimes, they don’t know what to say so have you tried ________________ becomes the secular version of I’ll pray for you. Other times, the person refuses to believe that what’s wrong with me can’t be fixed. Surely modern medicine, alternative practitioners, and witch doctors can fix anything, yes? Or so the thinking goes.

Many people have a simplistic view of health, sickness, and how the body works. They wrongly think that if I just eat right or takes this or that vitamin/supplement that every health problem I have will be cured. Some people think that doctors deliberately keep us sick so they can make money; that there is a grand conspiracy between doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies to keep people sick so they can profit from their sickness. According to people who think like this, I should see a herbalist, homeopath, reflexologist, acupuncturist, accupressurist, aromatherapist, chiropractor, or irridologist, anyone but a doctor. Armed with anecdotal, subjective stories about miraculous healing, they are certain if I would just get away from Western doctors that all would be well.

I am all for trying anything that is evidence based and has a proven track record. What I’m not willing to do is waste my time on woo-woo (pseudoscience, quackery). Every week a family member, friend, or reader of this blog sends me an email with a link to a surefire cure for what ails me. They are certain, based on their superficial reading of an article, that if I will just try __________ I will be cured. Again, if there is peer-reviewed, double-blind studied treatments that hold out the possibility of helping me, then I am all for it. Sadly, most of the links sent to me are woo-woo.

When you’ve suffered for a long time and have to deal with unrelenting pain each and every day, it is easy to get upset when someone with good intentions says have you tried _______________. I try to be polite, realizing the person just wants me to be better, but the constant unsolicited medical advice does wear on me.  My health problems are very much a part of the fabric of my life and I think it is important for me to write about them, but I find I am less willing to do so because of the unsolicited medical advice that comes when I do.

I am well read on the subject of Fibromyalgia, auto immune diseases, and arthritis. When I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 17 years ago, I read every book about Fibromyalgia I could get my hands on. When new studies come out I read them and try to look at the methodology the study used to come to its conclusions. Many studies have come and gone, with most of them offering little hope to people with Fibromyalgia. While doctors and researchers continue to study the various diseases that afflict me, so far there are no cures.

Over the years, I’ve tried numerous drugs, supplements, and treatments, all to no avail. (along with tens of thousands of dollars of tests) At this point in my life, I am satisfied that I have done all I can do. For someone like me, hope can be a cruel thing. Better to embrace life as it is than to constantly hope for that which will never happen. It’s unlikely that a new drug or a new treatment for Fibromyalgia will be found in my lifetime. (and no Lyrica is not a cure for Fibromyalgia) Researchers are a long way from definitely understanding what causes Fibromyalgia, let alone coming up with a treatment for it. And even if a cure for Fibromyalgia is found, I would still be left to deal with arthritis, a disease that can be managed but not cured.

I appreciate everyone of you who have supported me over the years. Your gentle encouragement and love mean the world to me. While doctors can do no more for me, your support  gives me strength and motivates me to get up in the morning (or early afternoon) and continue to write for this blog.  Thank you for making a real difference in my life.



Last night, Polly and I watched the first episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. (It was awesome, BTW) Comedian Kevin Hart was Noah’s guest. Noah asked Hart about his commitment to physical fitness and Hart told him that running was the most important part of his fitness regime. He then went on to say that he sees himself as an evangelist of sorts for running.  Hart said, everyone can run!  I hollered, no dumb shit, they can’t. I can’t run, nor can I walk long distances. I know I will never run again and I have no doubts that I will someday be wheelchair bound. As it is, I can walk or stand on my feet for, at most, an hour. When we go to the grocery, I must hold on to the cart so I can stand upright. (it also keeps me from falling) 15-30 minutes into our shopping I will feel warm, stabbing pain in my upper thighs, face, and lower back. A few minutes later, these areas will burn and feel like when your foot falls asleep. Doctors theorize this has to do with my back and the numerous narrow disk spaces I have, especially in the lower back. So, run? Not a chance. I’m just happy to walk through Meijer without having to bend over the cart or sit down to relieve the pain.

One thing that would help is medical marijuana, but it is not legalized in Ohio.

And Just Like That

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977

Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

It’s late August in 1976 and I have just walked through the doors of the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory.

A few days later, a young seventeen year old girl from Bay City, Michigan walked through the same doors.

A few weeks later, we went out on our first date.

It wasn’t long before we were in love, well we thought it was love any way.

I knew she was the one.

I proposed, she said yes, her parents said no, we said we are going to get married anyway, and so we did on a hot July day in 1978.

Pontiac, Michigan, Bryan, Ohio, Montpelier, Ohio, Newark, Ohio, Buckeye Lake, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio, Glenford, Ohio, New Lexington, Ohio, Somerset, Ohio, Junction City, Ohio, Mt. Perry, Ohio, Elmendorf, Texas, Frazeysburg, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio, Clare, Michigan, Stryker, Ohio, Yuma, Arizona, Newark, Ohio, Bryan, Ohio, Alvordton, Ohio, and Ney, Ohio…all the communities Polly and I have lived in over the past thirty-seven years.

Jason was born in Bryan, Nathan was born in Newark, Jaime was born in Zanesville, Bethany was born in Newark, and Laura and Josiah were born in Zanesville. Just yesterday, they were newborns and now they are 36, 34, 31, 26, 24, and 22.

Where did the time go, Polly and I ask ourselves?

Now we have ten grandchildren.

My Mom and Dad are long gone and Polly’s parents are 80.

I am no longer in the ministry and Polly and I have left the faith.

Never would we have considered such a thing possible.

Yet, here we are.

For decades, Polly was a stay-at-home Mom, but now the roles are reversed.

We started married life full of life, strong in body. Now my body is broken and Polly is reminded every day that she is no longer young.

Our two youngest moved out, joining their older brothers in the world, and…just like that…there is the two of us…and Bethany. Dear, dear Bethany.

Our life has had one constant, change.

Time marches on and stops for no one.

More of life is now in the rear view mirror.

Death lurks in the shadows.

If I died today, I will die happy.

Happy that I have seen my children grow up into fine adults.

Happy that I have seen my sons marry wonderful women.

Happy that I have spent time with ten wonderful grandchildren.

Happy that I own my home and that I have lived a gratifying life of love with Polly.

If I had to sum up my life I would say, it has been good.

I am often asked, if I had to do it all over again would I _____________________?

I can’t answer this question.

Life is what it is and playing the what if game holds no value for me.

I know this one thing…

If I could marry one girl in the world…

it would be Polly.

My Dark Passenger

eeyoreDexter Morgan, crime lab blood spatter expert by day and serial killer at night, described his need to kill as his dark passenger. While I’m certainly not a serial killer, I understand what Dexter was talking about. For me, depression is my dark passenger; always lurking just below the surface of my life, ready to show itself at any moment.

I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. For many years I thought that if I got closer to Jesus that the depression would go away. I thought if I just worked harder, prayed more, and denied self as Jesus commanded that I would find peace. I found that the closer I got to Jesus the more depressed I became. No matter how hard I worked for the King of Kings my dark passenger refused to leave.

When I began having health problems my depression worsened. As unrelenting pain, daily fatigue, and loss of mobility robbed me of the man I once was, my depression deepened and the periods of depression became longer. Going from bread-winner to recliner manager left a deep psychological wound, as did the loss of mental acuity. It’s hard to look in the mirror and wonder what happened to you.

Three years ago, I started seeing a secular counselor, a local psychologist who has become my confidant and friend. He has, over time, peeled back the layers of my life, helping me to gain a better understanding of who I am and why I battle with depression.

My counselor helped me to see that it is quite normal for someone with pervasive health problems and unrelenting pain to be depressed. He’s never told to put mind over matter or told me to get over it. He also knows that my Evangelical past has done a number on me mentally and emotionally. I expect no cure and he doesn’t offer one.

Sometimes, my dark passenger so overwhelms me that I find myself wishing I were dead. It comes as no surprise that when the pain is off the charts and I am bedfast that thoughts of suicide enter my mind. My counselor says my suicidal thoughts are situational. When my pain is managed and I can write a bit and get out of the house, rarely do I ponder ending my life.

I no longer plan for the future. It’s all I can do to make though the day. From the moment my feet hit the floor when I get up the struggle is on. Another day, another battle with pain and suffering. Some days are “better” than others, with better being a relative term. Better for me is being able to walk and work for a few hours. Worse is lying in bed or sitting in the recliner waiting for the next dose of narcotic pain medicine. Better is going to the store or taking a photography trip. Worse is stumbling through the house, cane in hand, wishing the day would be over.

I’ve accepted that this is my lot in life. Whatever the reasons, and they are many, this is how it is. Wanting things to be different doesn’t change reality. While I do my best to stay positive and Polly continues to be my biggest cheerleader, I make no promises that I’ll be here five, ten, or twenty years from now. I’m like a high mileage car that has been repurposed for use as a demolition derby car. Sooner than later I will be hauled off to the junk yard, crushed, and melted down.

cure for a bad weekI want to live until I die, or so I tell myself. Some days, I just want the pain to stop, knowing that death is the only way to make this happen. For now Polly,the kids, and the grandchildren fuel my desire to live. Will this always be the case? I can’t say. Maybe, maybe not. All I can do is meet each day as it comes and hope that I find the strength and will to carry on. Will my dark passenger, like it did for my mother, ultimately win the battle? I don’t know. I no longer try think about such things. Just live one minute, one hour, one day at a time. If I can do this then perhaps I can force my dark passenger to remain in the shadows. If not, those who know me best will know I fought the good fight until I could fight it no more.

Today, I got up at noon after finally falling to sleep seven hours before. My legs and feet hurt like I had been standing on concrete all day. I suspect the pain is from standing while I photographed my grandson’s football game on Saturday and later helping Polly can applesauce. The two-day rule is in effect. The true physical price paid for any activity is not paid until the second day. So many times, the next day I’ve thought that I got by with something only to find out on the second day that I did far more than I should have.

Winter is looming and I feel the pressure of all the things that need done before the snow flies. I asked Polly what she wanted me to do. Knowing I was already having a bad day, she said NOTHING. She wants me to rest, to hope for a better day. I want to work, to reduce the increasing burden she has because of being married to a cripple. As always I ignored her and went outside to cut down the sunflowers, pull some weeds, and pick the ornamental corn. Within an hour I was sweating profusely and I could hear my heart thumping quickly in my chest. Polly was right…I should have done nothing.

I came into the house, peeled off my sweat laden clothes and tried to cool off. Lunch came and went, Polly left for work, and I shuffled into my office. Time to do some writing. Write I did, but I found myself increasingly depressed. I soldiered on only to find my dark passenger waiting for me, knife in hand. I cried for a bit, picked myself up out of the wheelchair and moved to the recliner in the living room. Time for football. Hopefully, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will take my mind off my mortality.

I think I’ll make through today. Tomorrow? We’ll see.

What Does It Mean To Walk In The Light?

jesus night light

That’s what Fundamentalist Mike Ratliff, a writer for the Christian Research Network, asked in a  blog post.  Ratliff was trying to make a serious, spiritual point in his post, but my perverse, Satanically influenced, reprobate mind quickly  answered the question in quite a different way. What follows is atheist pastor Bruce Gerencser’s answer to the question, what does it mean to walk in the light?

Walking in the light means:

  • Not tripping over the clothes I left on the floor
  • Not tripping over the cat snoozing on the floor
  • Not tripping over Polly’s shoes
  • Not banging my shin on the metal bed frame
  • Not running into the TV tray that Bethany said she would put away
  • Not stepping on the LEGO my granddaughter left on the floor
  • Not bumping into the dining room table and falling
  • Not stepping on the Matchbox car my grandson left on the living room floor
  • Not missing the step down into the kitchen
  • My neighbors can see my nakedness as I run to the bathroom
  • I won’t step in the barf present the cat left on the dining room floor

Do you think these are the answers Mike Ratliff was looking for?

We have six night lights on the first floor of our home. These lights are like Jesus, the Lighthouse, except they shine the way, not to heavenly bliss, but to the bathroom, kitchen, office, and living room.

The Secret to a Successful Marriage, Not Really

bruce and polly gerencser 2015

Bruce and Polly Gerencser, Summer 2015

Those of us raised in the Evangelical church have seen countless books titled like this post. Authors think that they have figured out a part of life and are qualified to dispense advice about it.  Every book takes the same approach: follow these steps, follow this formula, do what I did,  and you will have success.  After all, isn’t it the American dream to be considered s-u-c-c-e-s-s-f-u-l?

Looks can be deceiving. One woman who attended a church I pastored had been married for 40 years. That’s a long time. Surely this woman and her husband had a successful marriage, right? One day, I decided to pay a visit to this couple’s home. When I got there the husband was nowhere to be found. I said, your husband isn’t home? The woman replied, oh no, he’s here, and she hollered up the stairs for her husband. Come to find out, he had been living in the upstairs for 25 years and they RARELY spoke to each other. Their marriage was anything BUT happy and successful. But, then again, maybe it was. How do we even define what a happy or successful marriage is?  What is the objective standard for happiness or success? Should we even try to judge whether a person or a couple is happy or a success?

When we look at a marriage from the outside it is almost impossible to judge whether the couple is happy and the marriage is a success. Several years ago, my counselor told me that almost everything he learned in college 37 years ago about marriage was wrong. For example, he was taught that couples who fight a lot are unhappy and have a troubled/bad marriage. He said, this is completely untrue. Now researchers are finding out that the level of arguing plays very little part in the happiness of the couple or the success of the marriage. He told me that some of the most happy and successful marriages are ones where the couple frequently argue.

As Evangelicals, Polly and I were taught to NEVER argue. After all, the Bible says, never let the sun go down on your wrath. Anger is a sin and a person who is a devoted follower of Jesus never gets angry, right? Evangelicals often excuse their anger by saying their anger is RIGHTEOUS ANGER. You know the kind, the anger displayed by the preacher when he is angrily shouting in his sermon about this or that sin. The truth is, Christian or not, we all get angry and we all argue. Some couples argue more than others and the style, length, and level of arguing is different from couple to couple, but every couple argues. (and anyone who says they NEVER argue or get angry is taking way too much Prozac or lying)

Polly and I have been married for 37 years, 2 months, and 11 days.  During this time, we have had a fair number of fights and arguments. I am hotheaded and bullheaded and Polly is quite passive, yet inwardly defiant. Every so often, almost always over nothing, we will have an argument. For a few moments, our marriage becomes like heating a cup of water with a blow torch. It heats up quickly but with a quick turn of the blow torch knob off goes the flame and the heat quickly dies down. Our arguments tend to last a few moments, maybe for a few hours, but NEVER for a day. Neither of us hold a grudge and we usually quickly realize that what we are fighting over is stupid.

We both recognize that arguments are about two people wanting to be right. Sometimes, Polly and I argue because we have a difference of opinion. Other times, one of us is right and the other is wrong. If someone who didn’t know us stumbled upon us having an argument they would “think” that we had a troubled marriage or that we needed marriage counseling. Their judgment of the quality of our marriage would be dead wrong.  We argue, and just like that it is over. We may be arguing at 5:00 P.M. and sitting in a restaurant 3 hours later having a wonderful time. The arguments mean little to us and there seems to be no cumulative effect.

Here are some observations I have made about my marriage to Polly. These observations are not a road map to marital success or a blueprint for a long, happy marriage. I recognize that Polly and I being married for all these years took a lot of work AND luck. We know more than a few happy and successful couples who are now divorced and married to someone else. In the first few years of marriage, Polly and I could have easily become a statistic, thus proving Polly’s mom’s right, that divorce is hereditary. (a commonly held belief among their generation)

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Wedding July 1978

Polly and I did not marry for love. In fact, we had no idea what real love was. Oh, we told ourselves we were in love, but what we really were was mutually infatuated with each other. We had romantic feelings for each other, but LOVE? Love came over time. As we grew and matured, so did love.

Americans have many foolish notions about love. They think the proof of love is expensive gifts, jewelry, flowers, special nights out at fancy restaurants, and/or hot sex. Yes, all of these things are nice, but they have little to do with love.  Love is all about commitment and endurance. True lasting love takes time to plant and grow. I think the writer of 1 Corinthians 13 got it right when they wrote about the lasting qualities of love; things like patience, kindness, and being long-suffering.

Polly and I deeply love one another, yet we know that we still have the capacity to love each other more. We know that every marriage has its exciting moments and it also has long dry, monotonous spells. (and dry takes on a life of its own after menopause) Married life can become boring or predictable and this is not necessarily bad. No marriage can survive every day and night being like the first night of their honeymoon. Understanding this has kept Polly and I from having unreasonable expectations and making demands that the other person can not fulfill.

In the midst of normalcy, we try to have some unpredictability. Some times it is small things like Polly buying me a king size candy bar and leaving it in the desk. Other times, it is me tying a dildo to the front door knob so it will smack Polly when she comes home from work at 1:30 A.M. Since we have left Christianity, our banter has become more sexual and Polly is mastering the art of the double entendre. We have fun this way…and o-t-h-e-r ways.  (and all my kids are saying TMI)

Every year, we try to do a couple of big things like take a weekend trip or go on vacation. Now that our children are grown and 5 of them are out of the house, we are free to travel and do a lot more things as a couple. And here is the key for us, we LIKE each other. We like being together and doing things together. We like each others company. We have, over the years, become best friends. This was not the case when we first married.

Both of us have annoying character traits that drives the other nuts. And guess what, 37 years later those traits are still there. When we first married we ignored these traits or thought they would go away in time. Now we recognize that these irritating character traits are part of who we are. We STILL fight about them and we STILL irritate the hell out of each other, but we recognize that both of us are flawed and we are not going to change. I will still want perfect order and Polly still won’t be able to figure out where we are going even with a map, a Google map print out and a GPS. We fuss, fume, and then laugh.  We are who we are.

We now know that we are not completely compatible. We each like things the other dislikes. And that’s OK. While in many ways we are very different from one another, we do share many of the same likes, wants, and desires.  We both have our own space and we are free to do our own thing. We don’t need the approval of the other. Polly reads fiction and I don’t. There are certain shows on TV that I love and Polly rolls her eyes every time I watch them. We still care about what the other thinks, but we have learned that each others approval is not needed. So much of life is made up of things that don’t matter, so why spend a lot of time fussing and fighting over inconsequential things? Accept each other as they are and learn to keep your distance when they are driving you nuts.

We are becoming more and more comfortable in our skin. We no longer let others, including our family, define for us, what a “good” marriage is. We stay married because we love each other and like each other. I may not be the most demonstrative of husbands, and this irritates the hell out of some of my children, but I more than make up for it when and where it matters. All those noises in the night are Polly singing out her approval. (our daughter Laura now knows that there is NOT an owl living outside our house, an explanation I gave her when she was a child for the noises she heard)

Here’s the bottom line. It works for us and that is all that matters. We are not our parents and we don’t want our children to emulate our marriage. Each couple must find their own way.  Maybe their marriage will last a lifetime, maybe it won’t. For Polly and I, we have come too far to turn back now.

Why Are Some Evangelicals Obsessed With My Weight?

bruce gerencser 2015-002

Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog or find my page on Facebook take a look at my profile picture and, based on what they see, personally attack me by making derogatory comments about my weight or physical features. (see Did You Atheism Will Make You Fat?) Let me give you a good example of this. Several years ago, I received an email from a man named Bill Higgins. Higgins came to this blog via a Google search for “David Hyles Scandal.” His search gives away his religious preference; he is likely a Fundamentalist Baptist, the meanest and nastiest of the Christian species. Here’s what Higgins had to say:

I’m not that good of a Christian so I don’t mind saying this.

Why would you put a picture of you fat face on your website. I don’t respect fat people unless they have an excuse. I think you are just fat because you are lazy and spend to much time on your computer.

I don’t dare respond via email to people like Bill Higgins. To do so means I am giving a low-life like Higgins my email address and once I do that the emails never end.

I want to be clear about a few things. I know I am overweight, I am fat, obese, a lard-ass, whatever term people want to use for people like me. On most days, I am not ashamed of this fact. I don’t try to hide who I really am by using a picture of me taken 35 years ago. I am quite comfortable in my own skin, even if I have a lot more of it these days.

I wasn’t always overweight. When  I was 18 I was 6 foot tall and weighed 160 pounds. I played competitive sports all through school and continued to do so until I was in my early 30s. When Polly and I married in 1978 I weighed 180 pounds. After a few years of marriage, my weight reached 225 pounds and as long as I was physically active my weight stayed in the 225-250 pound range.

I have what people call a fire-plug build. My weight is pretty well-distributed from top to bottom. I don’t have a huge pot-gut like many men my size do. Ironically, because of my physical build, people often underestimate my weight. When I stopped playing competitive sports and started spending more time in the study, my weight began to climb. As I reached middle age, it became harder and harder to lose weight.

24 years ago, I came down with mononucleosis. My doctor treated me for months before he decided to do a mono test. By then, I was in big trouble and I ended up in the hospital. My liver and spleen were swollen, my tonsils and adenoids were white from the infection that was overrunning my body, and the internist told me there was nothing he could do for me. Unless my immune system kicked in and started fighting the infection, I would likely die. Well, it’s 2015, so it looks like I made it.

Mononucleosis in older adults is a serious matter. It can kill you. While I survived, the mono did a number on my body.  Mono left me with a severely compromised immune system and oddly it altered my  normal body temperature from 98.6  to 97.0. A few years later, I began to have widespread muscle and joint pain and I was fatigued all the time.  After a few years of seeing  specialists, they determined I have Fibromyalgia.  I was officially diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 18 years ago.

In 2006, I began to develop neurological problems; numbness in my thighs, face, arms and hands; loss of motor skills; memory problems. After tens of thousands of dollars of tests, several brain scans, MRI’s, CT scans,  and multiple specialists, it was determined that I have “we don’t know what the hell is wrong with you.”   While many of my symptoms point to multiple sclerosis, no doctor has been willing to say I have MS.

Last month, I wrote:

Earlier this week I saw the orthopedic doctor. He told me my body is like numerous wildfires. Put one out and others pop up. He gathered up my x-rays and MRI scans and we looked at them. He was quite blunt, telling me that I have arthritis in EVERY joint and that some of the damage is severe. Knees, shoulders, feet, hands, and back, all have arthritis that is causing joint damage. The why is unknown. Some days, the pain from the arthritis is severe, some days it is tolerable. Added to this is the muscle pain I have from Fibromyalgia. Every day is a pain day with some days worse than others. I haven’t had a pain-free day in almost twenty years.

We talked about options. He was quite frank with me, saying that because the arthritis is so pervasive that I was not a good candidate for surgery. Even with my knees and shoulders, scoping them could actually make things worse, resulting in more pain. I like this doctor because he doesn’t bullshit me. His advice? Live with it. Unless I want to have total joint replacements, surgeries that have a huge risk of complications for someone like me who has a compromised immune system, I must learn to live the pain, debility, and the ever so slow loss of function. All that he and other doctors can do for me is help manage the pain and try to improve my quality of life.

bruce 2015

Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Earlier this year I had an endoscopic ultrasound and a colonoscopy done in the hope that doctors could pinpoint why I have no appetite and why I am losing weight. (I’ve lost 50 pounds since Christmas 2014). While the weight loss has leveled off, I still have days where I have no appetite.  The tests found a lesion on my pancreas, and stones in my gallbladder. Good news? No cancer, though the lesion on my pancreas must be carefully monitored.

And then there’s my battle with skin cancer. Two months ago, I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my hip. In 2007, I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I am currently going through topical chemotherapy treatment for cancer and precancer on my lower lip. My lower lip is a bloody, ugly mess, but it beats having to have invasive, disfiguring surgery done on my lip. Thanks to being a fair-skinned redhead  and repeated blistering burns as a child and young adult, I suspect I will be battling skin cancer the rest of my life.

As you can see, my health plate is full. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that unless someone comes up with a cure things won’t get better for me. I choose to embrace my life as it is. Wishing things were different doesn’t change how things are. The pervasive pain, muscle problems, and neurological problems, have debilitated me to such a degree that, on most days, it is all I can do to get up, do a little work in the office, and then spend the rest of the day in the recliner.

On the days when I think I am feeling better, I try to do some of the projects that need to be done around the house or yard. These activities tend to wear me out quickly and I often pay a heavy price for overdoing it. A few hours of work in the garage or yard often results in me having to spend a couple of days in bed or sitting in my recliner. Part of my problem is that I have never been good at doing anything halfway. Moderation? Not in my dictionary. Unfortunately, my inability or unwillingness to pace myself often extracts a hefty physical price from me. Like my friend Michael Mock told me, Bruce you are just one of those kind of people who just have to crash and burn. Out of the ashes I rise again only to start the process all over again.

An inability to do much of anything physically means I don’t burn off a lot of calories. I am not a glutton and Polly and I, for the most part, eat healthily. Because I am quite sedentary, it’s hard to have meaningful weight loss. It is not that I don’t do anything physically, but due to the physical problems I have I simply cannot do the physical things I want or need to do. It doesn’t help that I have to use a wheelchair or a cane to get around. I have turned into a slow-moving vehicle. I do what I can, but there are days and weeks that the pain is so severe that all the mind over matter pep talks in the world won’t help me move.

karah and bruce gerencser 2015

Karah and Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some days, I can’t even bear to have anyone touch me. It just hurts too much. I love it when the grand kids come over, but by the time they are done tramping by my recliner, bumping into me, and jumping in my lap, I feel like the day after a bruising football game. I love having my grand kids around and they are one of the big reasons I get up in the morning and face another day. When they are here I grin, grit, and bear it, giving praise to the gods, of Vicodin, Tramadol, Naproxen, and Zanaflex. I would rather die than not be able to have my grandchildren sit on my lap. (see Please, Don’t Touch Me)

Back to Bill Higgins and his comments about my weight. Yes, I am overweight and there is little I can do about it. I try to watch what I eat, limit my carbohydrate intake, and eat my veggies. Yes, I do spend a lot of time in front of the computer and I watch a lot of TV. I also spend hours a day blogging, answering email, and reading. I would probably do less of these things if I could, but I can’t, so I am grateful for being able to read, write, watch TV, and search the internet.

Of course, Higgins, and others like him, don’t care about any of these things. In their mind, I am a fat, lazy, worthless human being and they enjoy trying to destroy me with their words. Do Higgins’s words hurt? Sure. Like most people, I want to be liked and respected. No one like being verbally assaulted. The internet protects people like Higgins from being held accountable for what they say. There is nothing I can do about this. As long as I am a public figure and write about the things I do, I know I am going to attract people who take great pleasure in demeaning me. Little do they know that their hateful words say more about them than they do me.

Thanks for reading. This is not a plea for understanding or support or a request for links to the latest, greatest cure-all or diet. This is me talking out loud. Maybe someone will find a bit of encouragement or understanding from what I have written.

How Religion Obscures Seeing People as They Are

greg brown somerset baptist church

Repost from May 2014

On Saturday, Polly and I will drive to SE Ohio to pay our respects to a man who was once a vital part of the church I pastored in Somerset. The family has asked me to conduct the funeral and I am delighted that they asked me to do so. (they asked for a non-religious service) It’s been 20 years since I have seen this family face to face. In recent years, I have reconnected with some of the children via Facebook. It will be good to see them, the children now in their 30′s with children of their own.

As I ponder what to say on Saturday, I can’t help but think about the 11 years I spent as their pastor. They knew me when I was a fire-breathing Baptist fundamentalist preacher and school administrator and they also knew me when I was a fundamentalist Calvinistic Baptist. They remember my preaching, the rules, and the standards.  They remember my commitment to the God and the Bible. I hope they also remember my goodness and kindness. While these things will certainly provide the backdrop for our reconnection on Saturday, they will not be the substance of what I will say at the service. Why? Because the past, with all its religious and Biblical trappings will obscure the man we will be honoring.

You see, he was a good man. He was a friend who would do anything for me, any time, day or night. When I needed help, he always made himself available. While he could be temperamental at times, most of the time he was a kind, compassionate man. But these traits were obscured and mattered little years ago. Instead of seeing the man, I tended to see the sin. Isn’t that what we were taught to do? Holiness and purity were the objective, without which no man shall see the Lord.

He and I were different in many ways. When it came to sin, I could always hide my sin better than he could. Over time, preachers get good at hiding their sin, their failures. After all, they are supposed to be a shining example of spiritual maturity and holiness. No one wants a preacher who is like them. They want a Moses, a Paul, or a Jesus, someone to inspire them and show them the way. So preacher’s lie, giving the appearance that they, if need be, could walk on water. Deep down they know, that like everyone else, if they walked on water they would drown. Strip away the clerical façade and what you see is a man no different from those sitting in the pew.

I remember the first time he came to church. He was wearing a shirt that said Zig-Zag; and no he didn’t roll his own cigarettes. This is a perfect picture of the kind of man he was. He had little pretense; what you saw is what you got. So when he sinned he didn’t hide it well. I remember one Sunday afternoon he went to the movies with his wife. They saw Born on the Fourth of July. Now, this was a big sin at our church. No movies, especially  R-rated movies. I could tell that he was a little antsy at evening service, but he said nothing about the movie. The next day at school one of his children mentioned that Mom and Dad had gone to see a movie. I asked them, WHAT movie? They confessed, with nary a thought that they had just got their Dad in trouble. Of course, the good pastor that I was, watching out for his soul, I called him and asked him to come to my office so we could talk. Nothing like getting called to the principal’s office, right?

Before he started coming to the church he had been an avid listener of rock and roll music. Well, at Somerset Baptist Church, we didn’t listen to THAT kind of music! One day he came to church all excited. He had found out that there was music called Christian rock. He had bought a cassette tape of a group by the name of Stryper. (he loved the song To Hell with the Devil)  I took one look at the pictures on the cassette box and I knew that Stryper was nothing more than a tool used by Satan to deceive  Christians. I told him it was a bad idea for him to listen to such worldly music. I think he was deeply discouraged by my “Godly”  opinion. He thought he had finally found something that was not only Christ honoring but also met his desire to listen to rock music. I, the arbiter of what was Christ honoring, knew better.

There were a lot of these sinful moments, and as I look back on it, I can see how discouraging it must have been for him. Most of the things I called sin were not sin at all. But, because I thought they were, they kept me from seeing the man for who and what he really was. My religion, and I think all religion does this to some degree or the other, obscured this man’s humanity. Instead of seeing the man, I saw him through the lens of the Bible and my interpretation of it. My sin list and my dogma got in the way of me seeing this man as a flawed and frail good man. Like his preacher, he wasn’t perfect.

We spent a lot of non-religious time together, and it is from those times I will draw the stories I plan to share with his family. Great stories. Crazy stories. Funny stories. Stories that will testify of the kind of man he was. Yes, I could share the “other” stories too, but to what end? As I told Polly today, if we live long enough, we all will have moments that are less than stellar. We will have those times where we went the wrong way or made a bad choice where  we hurt others and hurt ourselves. But these stories are not who we really are. They are the exceptions to the rule, the reminder that no one is perfect, including Jesus.

So on Saturday I will mourn the loss of a man I once knew, but I will also rejoice with his family as we share stories about the good man that he was. This will be my first time doing a funeral where there are no religious expectations. No preaching, no need to get a word in for Jesus; no evangelizing or making everything about the church.  On this spring day, in the hills of SE Ohio, we will celebrate the life of a man who others loved dearly. While his body will be put into the ground, he will live on in the memories we have of him. In the end, this is all the living have.