Tag Archive: Chronic Pain

Pastor Brian Tome: God Knows What You Are Going Through, He Lost His Son

brian tome

I was listening to the Bill Cunningham show on WLW-700 on my way home from my doctor’s appointment today. Cunningham had as his guest Brian Tome, pastor of Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cunningham and Tome were discussing the untimely deaths of children, young adults, and family members. Tome, evidently, was brought on the show to give advice on handling such deaths. What he did, instead, was spend the time throwing up cheap, worn-out Evangelical clichés. On one hand, Tome went out of his way to say, hey, I am just a regular guy who is looking for answers to questions concerning life and death. On the other hand, he was the typical preacher, ever ready to give an answer when he should have, instead, kept his damn mouth shut.

According to Christianity Today, Crossroads is the fastest growing church in the United States with fourteen restaurants –uh, I mean locations – and thirty-eight thousand attendees. Crossroads is using the franchise model to build its brand:

Like about a third of US megachurches, Crossroads relies on technology and resources to support church growth beyond physical buildings. Leaders see Crossroads Anywhere—groups that gather in homes to view the weekend service together—as a crucial part of the church’s future.

At least 38 groups meet together for Crossroads Anywhere in far-flung cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, and Houston. The church spends over $100,000 a month to keep the app’s digital infrastructure running.

The Crossroads Anywhere app also acts as a data-driven feasibility study for possible new campuses. If more than 100 people are convening in a certain location, Crossroads evaluates if it should begin providing on-location resources in that region.

In January, the newest Crossroads campus opened in one of the outlying Cincinnati regions where the staff had seen growing interest—and 8,000 people showed up the first weekend.

To expand beyond the Midwest, Crossroads will rely upon technology to liberate where brick and mortar have limited. Consistent with a business startup mentality, Tome stated, “No matter how big one building is, it is still too small for the growth that God wants for his church.”

Jenn Sperry, whose team oversees media at Crossroads, said the staff had always sensed that the church was growing beyond regional borders. But starting last summer, Crossroads team members were asked to use new language when speaking of the church to communicate a more unlimited scope. Sperry’s department, for instance, has been recast as a “national team.”

Early on in the job, Sperry watched the speed of change going on, caught her breath, and asked her supervisor, “Is it always going to be this way?” At a church like Crossroads, the answer is almost always yes. The fast-paced environment shattered her expectations that working at a church could be boring.

“It’s invigorating and also frustrating to be in an environment of change all the time,” Tome acknowledged.

The rate of growth and change can also create trepidation and questions for church members. One longtime member who worships and serves at the original Crossroads campus in Oakley, a neighborhood of young professionals near the city center, heard whispers of concern after the national announcement was made.

“People hear this declaration of Crossroads becoming a national church, and they wonder, ‘What does that mean for us? Do we lose our identity?’ ” said Marie, who asked to only be identified by her first name. She had her own questions, too. “If God has placed this on the hearts of our leaders, then we must trust what God is doing.”

….

Where is all of this growth coming from? Are thousands of sinners finding salvation through the evangelistic efforts of the church? Of course not. Most new church growth comes from pilfering congregants from other churches. In Cincinnati, there are countless hamburger joints, each offering up its distinctive burgers. What happens when a new hamburger joint comes to town? People flock to the new place looking for something new and different. That’s what we do as Americans. We want diversity and choice. Religious hucksters such as Tome tap into that “need” with their new, exciting churches. Tired of their own places of worship, people seek out new adventures and experiences. Off to Crossroads they go, leaving McDonald’s and Wendy’s to die.

A glimpse of  Crossroads’ website reveals a sneaky Evangelical church that goes out of its way to position itself as not-one-of-those-churches. Crossroads advertises itself as a church for people who don’t like church; a church that doesn’t care what you believe; a church that is cool, relevant, and oh-so-hip; a church that has an awesome band. However, their beliefs are typical of Fundamentalist churches (see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?), despite how the church hides them at the bottom of a colander filled with word-salad.

Here are two things that sum up, for me anyway, the essence of Crossroads’ beliefs and ministry methodology. These statements are found on a page titled, Seven Hills We Die On:

  • Crossroads is a place for people on every part of the spiritual journey, from those just investigating whether there is a God to those who have made following Christ the priority of their life. The Bible presents a dangerous message of life change. We don’t assume everyone believes, or even knows the Bible, but we do assume everyone who comes through our doors is open to exploring it. We believe the Bible is God’s inerrant truth and it’s the foundation to everything we do.
  • We don’t expect anyone who walks into Crossroads to be a committed Christ-follower, but we do expect everyone who is around our community for any length of time to be growing. We expect every person to be moving closer to reflecting the complete image of Christ in every area of life. This is a safe place for everyone. But safe doesn’t mean comfortable. The answers aren’t always comfortable. In fact, we often grow only when we are pushed out of our comfort zone.

All that talk about believing whatever ever you want? Well, that’s fine when you walk in the front door for the first time, but if you stick around, Tome and the two hundred Crossroads paid staff members expect you to grow into their version of what it means to be a Christian. On the FAQ page, Crossroads answers the question, is this place a cult? Here’s their response:

Great question. After all, it’s full of people singing songs and drinking the same beloved liquid (in this case, great coffee). Plus, numerous guitars and people dressed comfortably. But seriously. No. Cults tell you what to believe, take away your freedoms and forbid you to leave. Here, you’re welcome no matter what you believe, and we want you to experience freedom (including the freedom to leave whenever you want). If that still isn’t enough for you, then the answer is “Fine, we’re a cult.” But we’re rubber and you’re glue.

god knowsThe church would have you believe that its pastors and teachers don’t tell people what to believe. R-i-g-h-t. Of course they do. That’s why Tome preaches on Sundays. Here’s truth! Believe, lest you perish in your sins and go to hell. Why not admit this? Crossroads’ statement of faith claims that the Bible is inspired and inerrant. This is an objective — albeit false – “truth” claim. Could Joe Blow become involved in the teaching ministry at Crossroads and teach people that the Bible is just another book, and is not, as the church’s statement of faith states, a timeless book different from and superior to all the books ever written? Of course not. Tome and his church have all sort of objective, non-negotiable beliefs. Why not lay all the cards on the table for visitors?  Why not tell them what the church really believes and what will be expected of them? Surely, Tome has nothing to hide, right?

Preachers like Tome are professional bullshitters. They cover their bullshit with a patina of religious words, but underneath it all you will find generic Evangelical beliefs. Such men hide their true beliefs because they are offensive, and if their churches are going to continue to grow numerically and generate larger offerings, new people must not get a whiff of their bullshit until they have been thoroughly courted, fucked, and married.

I am not the only one who sees through Tome’s loving and accepting shtick. At one time, Crossroads was known for being welcoming to gays and lesbians. Remember, the church likely IS welcoming when people come through the front door. But, once embraced by the church and immersed in its teachings, attendees are expected to embrace the church’s beliefs and practices. In 2004, a gay man who was also a volunteer youth leader became engaged to another man. Once it became known that this man was engaged, according to City Beat, he was forced to resign. Here’s an excerpt from the City Beat article:

Leaders at Crossroads found out about Jones’ sexual orientation after a member of his Bible study group told others what Jones thought had been communicated in confidence. When leaders ousted him, Jones asked for a written explanation. They talked to him over the phone but refused his request for something in writing.

“I almost feel it’s because they’re afraid to have a written policy stating anything that would stop someone from coming in and giving them money,” Jones says.

As the church’s pastor, Tome says he can’t talk about the particulars of any dealings with individuals in his church. But he said Crossroads communicates openly and directly about the issue of homosexuality.

In a Sunday message last year, Tome addressed homosexuality in response to the many questions he’d received about the issue.

“You cannot say the Bible supports homosexuality,” he said. “It does not.”

Still, almost a year later, many homosexuals continue to attend the church.

“We would believe that homosexual sex is just as wrong as two people not married having sex,” Tome says.

He admits that he has looked at Internet pornography, which he considers just as wrong as homosexuality.

“(Homosexuals) should not be singled out as committing the capital ‘S’ sin here at the church,” he says.

There is a reason the church doesn’t want a written policy on homosexuality, according to Tome.

“The church in America, and might I also say Cincinnati, is pretty much irrelevant, and it’s because we make things like sexuality our rallying issue,” he says. “The church is not supposed to be God’s political weather vane.”

Gays ‘very confused’
The Bible speaks to particular sins in a manner that doesn’t require additional written doctrine, Tome says. He interprets passages such as 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 to clearly indicate that homosexuality, even within the confines of marriage, displeases God.

“Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God,” the passage says.

Jones, however, differs in his interpretation. He says the reference is to homosexuality associated with male prostitution, not to homosexuality within marriage.

Jones suspects that Crossroads isn’t just interested in what the Bible says. He thinks discrimination and stereotypes play a role.

When Crossroads let him go, he asked, “Is it because you want to protect the children from me?”

Jones says the response was, ” ‘We’re sorry you interpret it that way … We need to put the child first and err on the side of the child.’ I asked them, ‘What are you protecting them from?’ ”

Jones is a doctoral candidate in child and adolescent psychology at Xavier University.

But Tome says Crossroads doesn’t advocate the false stereotype of homosexuals as pedophiles.

“We would not say that homosexuals are pedophiles,” he says. “We would not say that and we would not say homosexuals cannot be around kids in any way shape or form. That has not been the way we practice.”

Tome says an abstinent homosexual Christian who slips up sometimes but is trying to abstain is welcome to teach at the church, but that someone who believes homosexuality is not a sin would be asked to serve in some other role.

….

Sadly, way too many LGBTQ people get sucked into Evangelical churches through believing a particular church’s marketing slogans. And believe me, Tome sees himself as an entrepreneur, a seller of the greatest story ever told. LGBTQ people hear Tome and his church say, you are WELCOME here. Come as you are. Believe what you want. We won’t judge you. And these things might be true — for a time – but the longer LGBTQ people are in the church the more likely it is that they will face pressure to conform. And if they refuse? Why, they are free to leave. No harm, no foul, except to the LBGTQ people who thought that Tome and Crossroads really loved and accepted them as they are. Sorry folks, no matter how an Evangelical church markets itself, the Bible will have the final say.

Tome made several absurd statements during his time on Bill Cunningham’s show. First, Tome said, “We have to have an answer for pain and suffering.” Both my wife and I said, “why?” Why do we have to have an answer for pain and suffering? Is it not sufficient to say, shit happens? Tome is looking for answers where there are none. Tome and Cunningham, a vulgar, right-wing Catholic and political extremist, want to “see” God in the midst of pain and suffering. However, as many ex-Christians have found out, God is nowhere to be found.

Second, Tome said, “God knows what you are going through, he lost his son.” Polly and I both were shocked that the good pastor let this nonsense slip from his lips. How could God, the father, know what we are going through? He has never been human. He’s never experienced pain and suffering. According to orthodox Christianity, pain and suffering are the consequences of humanity’s fall into sin. God’s never sinned, Evangelicals say — though the Bible reveals a deity who has little regard for his own moral commands — so how is it possible for him to “know” pain and suffering?

Did God, the father, really lose his son? In what way was Jesus “lost?” According to the Bible, Jesus spent a long weekend in Hell preaching to sinners. I am sure his father knew exactly where he was. Oh, what great pain and suffering God faced when his son was on a forty-eight to seventy-two-hour vacation in Cancun! Is God’s “suffering” over the “loss” of his son comparable in any way to the pain and agony faced by countless humans, day in and day out? Of course not.

God, the father, is a work of fiction. The fact that the pain and suffering exist in the world — both for humans and animals — suggests that God is not the kind of deity Evangelicals claim he is. Would an all-powerful God of love ignore pain and suffering when it was in his power to put an end to it? What better way to show your love, mercy, and kindness than to alleviate pain and suffering. Instead, God does nothing, suggesting that either he doesn’t care or he doesn’t exist. My money is on the latter.

Jesus, on the other hand, was very much a flesh and-blood human being. Not a God, Jesus was the son of Mary and an unknown man. Jesus had the same wants, needs, passions, and desires, as the rest of us. Ask yourself, did Jesus masturbate? Is the Pope Catholic? Of course Jesus masturbated! He did all the things that were common to man. Why? Because he was human. Thus, when Jesus got himself crossways with the Roman government and the local Jewish community, he experienced great pain and suffering. Why? Because he was human. And then, when he body couldn’t take any more pounding, he died. Why? Because he was human.

Tome should immediately, without delay, put away the vacuous cliché, God knows what you are going through, he lost his son. Saying this makes light of human pain and suffering. It’s the equivalent of saying, Hey, suck it up. God suffered loss too when Jesus didn’t come home one weekend. He knows what you are going throughGod made it to the other side and you will too! 

Oh, how I wish I could “suffer” as Jesus supposedly did two thousand years ago. I would gladly trade a long weekend of pain and suffering for my current experiences with chronic pain and illness. I have met countless chronic pain sufferers over the years. I have also known people who have gone through great heartache and tragedy. In every way, the suffering faced by these people far eclipsed that of the man, the myth, the legend, Jesus, the Christ. Tome wants to believe that his God is an ever-present reality, a deity who understands — yet, does nothing for — their pain. Why bother with such a God?  Why waste your energy worshiping and serving a heartless, helpless God who cannot or will not do what supposedly is in his power to do? No thanks. I much prefer humanism’s view of pain and suffering; that such things are common to man; and all any of us can do is love and support one another.

Learning to Live With Chronic Pain When You Know It’s Never Going Away

suck it up garfield

The war against chronic pain sufferers continues unabated as they face being collateral damage in the government’s attempt to combat the opioid crisis. Numerous restrictions — almost all of them unnecessary or harmful — have been enacted in the hope that they will stem the illegal use of narcotic drugs. Unfortunately, the only result of these restrictions is make it harder for chronic pain sufferers to get the medications they need. Just this past weekend, my Hydrocodone fill date fell on Easter Sunday. Thanks to new regulations, the prescription cannot be refilled sooner than one day before it was last filled (and within a fourteen-day window from the may fill date written on the script. In years past, I would have several weeks of Hydrocodone in reserve, just in case I didn’t get the prescription filled in a timely fashion. Not anymore; not filling the prescription on its fill date could leave me without medication. Fortunately, Meijer’s pharmacy was open for a short time on Easter and I was able to refill my prescription.

Last month, I took the script for my Tramadol prescription to the pharmacy to be filled, just to find out that the doctor had written the wrong date on the script — beyond the fourteen-day refill window. The pharmacy refused to call my doctor, telling me that I would have to get a new script. I was unaware that Tramadol was being treated the same way as Hydrocodone. Had I known this, I would have paid closer attention to the date on the script. Fortunately, I had enough Tramadol to last me until my upcoming doctor’s appointment.

Today, I read an article on The Outline titled, Is Chronic Pain Something More People Should Accept?  The article states:

Research dating back more than a decade suggests  that people with chronic pain may be able to improve their quality of life if they stop trying to avoid or get rid of their pain and instead learn to live as well as they can as the pain persists, a concept referred to in clinical settings as pain acceptance. Some psychologists and psychiatrists believe that pain acceptance might even help counteract opioid abuse in the United States, a problem so severe that it has contributed to a decline in American life expectancy. The idea that pain acceptance might serve as an effective alternative to opioids is an emerging area of research and not something that has been definitively established. As the idea attracts attention in the world of pain management and in the media, it has also generated controversy.

An estimated five to eight million Americans take opioids to manage long-term chronic pain, and the number of people in the U.S. who have died from overdosing on opioids — a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers like oxycodone and illicit substances like heroin — has risen dramatically in recent years. In 2016, prescription opioids were involved in roughly 40 percent of opioid overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There are plenty of people who don’t become addicted to prescription opioids, but taking them involves serious risks, from adverse side effects to the potential for dependence. A backlash against the drugs, from state laws limiting access to federal guidelines warning of their risks, has sent doctors searching for alternative treatments. In the midst of the crisis, some pain and addiction researchers are interested in determining whether pain acceptance could help people cut back on opioids.

Several studies have raised the possibility that people who are less accepting of pain may be more likely to become dependent on painkillers. A 2015 article in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that people who were better able to live with pain without attempting to reduce or avoid it had less severe problems with opioids. The study reported that pain intensity itself was not significantly associated with the severity of problematic opioid use. That led the authors to conclude that the extent to which a person accepts and adapts to pain, or doesn’t, may be “more important as a risk factor for the misuse of prescription opioids or heroin than is the actual severity of pain.”

In September 2017, an article in the Clinical Journal of Pain found that people who were more accepting of chronic pain used less pain medication, including opioids, regardless of the severity of their pain. “We think that’s a good indicator that increasing pain acceptance in people with chronic pain might reduce their reliance on pain medication,” said Dr. Anna Kratz, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan who helped carry out the study. “They might turn less to medications on a day-to-day basis if they have more pain acceptance.”

….

It may not be surprising that people with chronic pain don’t necessarily like the idea of accepting it. When researchers at the University of New Brunswick asked women with chronic pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia what they thought about pain acceptance, many had a negative reaction. Most of the women associated acceptance with “giving up or giving in to their pain,” the researchers wrote in the journal Pain Research and Management in 2008. But many of the women had learned to live with their pain in a way that roughly aligned with the concept of pain acceptance: They were determined to live as well as they could despite their conditions. Rather than describing that as acceptance, the women preferred to use words like “embracing,” “coming to terms with” or “dealing” with their pain.

There’s no one way that people learn to accept and live with chronic pain. What works for one person might not work for another. But some individuals participate in a form of therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy — commonly referred to as ACT. Developed in the 1980s and 1990s, acceptance and commitment therapy emerged out of the tradition of cognitive behavioral therapy. In contrast to traditional cognitive therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy asks people to accept thoughts, feelings, memories, and bodily sensations that are beyond their control, rather than attempt to change or get rid of them. The therapy then encourages people with chronic pain to take part in activities that add value and meaning to their lives, even as pain persists.

….

In other words, people with unrelenting chronic pain just need to suck it up and embrace the fact that their pain is never, ever going away. The false assumption here is that chronic pain sufferers are not already doing this. They are, and reaching out to a broader pool of pain sufferers would have revealed this to the article’s author, Clare Foran. While a tip of the hat is given to the idea that the goal should be pain elimination, the gist of the article is the importance of chronic pain sufferers doing their part to combat the opioid crisis. Again, it is people who are on pain management regimens that are being singled out and expected to forgo needed pain meds, not because this would be better for them, but in doing so they give the appearance that something concrete is being done about the opioid crisis.

Most of the chronic pain sufferers I know are already “living” with their pain.” They have been sucking it up for so long that they have concave chests. Here’s a grossly under-reported fact: narcotic drugs, when taken as prescribed, do NOT take pain away. What these drugs are meant to do is level out what are called pain spikes. When this occurs, chronic pain suffers achieve a certain quality of life, often allowing them to work and do other things they would not be able to do without taking narcotic prescription drugs. Without taking them, life is unbearable, leading to depression and, at times, suicide.

I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1997. Since then, my health has deteriorated ever-so-slowly. As I have aged, osteoarthritis has spread from joint to joint, and today it’s found in my spine, shoulders, neck, hands, knees, and feet — pretty much everywhere. And then there’s a neurological problem that causes burning pain in my thighs, face, and lower back. There’s not a day or an hour that goes by where I don’t feel pain somewhere from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. I take narcotics, then, so I can have some semblance of a life. Without these drugs (and others), I would not be able to write, shoot photographs, or attend my grandchildren’s sporting events. It’s the drugs that level off the pain highs so I can do these things, even though I know there is a price to pay for doing so. You see, all narcotics do is mask (reduce) pain. The underlying diseases are there, and, in my case, they are exacerbated when I do anything more than lie in bed and wish I could die. I know that doing physically active things aggravates my joints, nerve endings, and muscles. I ignore this outcome because taking photographs, going out on the town with my girlfriend, or attending a sixth-grade softball game are more important to me. I want to do these things, knowing that by doing so I will pay what I call “the price of admission.” The days after attending such events are, on a pain scale of 1 to 10, off the charts. All I can do is pray to Zeus, curl up in my recliner, and cry my way to a better day. On these kind of days, narcotics do not give the advertised relief. They help, but not enough to allow me to do much of anything. I have to wait until pain levels reach “normal” levels.

Earlier this year, I agreed to take photographs for the local high school’s spring sporting events. I did the same for winter sports. The difference between shooting a basketball game and photographing a softball game is that for the former, I can sit, but for baseball and softball games I must stand  And standing for longer than fifteen minutes is a big problem for me. If you have ever seen me walking though one of the local stores you’ve likely noticed that I am often hunched over the shopping cart (pride keeps me from using a battery-powered scooter). After about fifteen minutes of walking, my thighs and face turn numb and begin to burn. Hunching over the cart, brings some relief. In 2007, when this problem first appeared, I had an extensive neurological workup — $20k worth of tests. Doctors thought, at the time, that I had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The tests came back negative or inconclusive. I have had three brain scans since then, but still no definitive signs of MS. So, for now, I live with the effects of an unnamed affliction (not that naming it would make a difference). Personally, I think the numbness and burning is related to my lower back and a narrow disc space I have had for twenty-five years.

Standing, of course, is impossible to avoid if I want to be a photographer, grandfather, or a living, breathing human being. So, I stand, and when the numbness and burning pain screams in my ears, I put a mental stick in my mouth, bite down, and bear it. I’ve done this countless times over the years, knowing that if I do this or that the pain — narcotics or not – is going to come in waves with no possible relief, save death. I wonder if the twenty-eight-year-old Clare Foran has ever experienced pain such as this? I doubt it. Had she experienced it, I suspect she wouldn’t have been so quick to preach the gospel of suck-it-up.

I wrote the above to say this: I have been “sucking it up” for two decades. I have made peace with the fact that my pain problem will be with me until I die. And I am fine with that. I am quite stoic about life. It is what it is. I accept that life for me means living with chronic pain and illness. There are no cures on the horizons; no magic drugs that will make life’s boo-boos go away. All that I ask is that the government and so-called experts quit fucking around with my pain management regimen. I am not an addict. I don’t abuse the narcotics I take, nor do I use illegal drugs. Am I drug dependent? Sure. How could I not be after a decade of taking narcotics. But dependency is not the problem, addiction is. I am dependent on blood pressure drugs too. Should I just suck it up and live with high blood pressure? Of course not. These drugs have likely added years to my life, as has taking narcotics. Without pain medication, I would have long ago put an end to my suffering. With the drugs, I am able to carve out a decent life for myself, not without pain, but with pain that is, on most days, manageable. I don’t expect doctors to fix what can’t be fixed. All I ask of them is that they do what they can to improve my quality of life. And for now, quality of life requires narcotics, along with anti-inflammatory drugs.

For those who say, just suck it up, I say, walk in my shoes and then we will talk. Until then, talk to the hand. Until you have experienced and lived with long-term, unrelenting pain, there’s really no frame of reference for you to understand how it is for chronic pain sufferers. And I hope you never have to experience such a life. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I don’t want pity, and I sure as hell don’t want lectures about what’s “best” for me (as a pharmacist and an optometrist once tried to do). I have a primary care doctor whom I trust to do what is best for me. I also have specialists I can see, if needed. I am in good hands, even if there are days when I can hardly bear to have those hands touch me. I will soon be sixty-one-years old. I know most of my life is now in the rear-view mirror. All I want now is to live what life I have left to its fullest, hoping that I see the Cincinnati Reds win the World Series before I die. Well, that and see my grandchildren graduate from college. I can then go to the happy hunting grounds in peace.

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. 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.

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Living with Chronic Pain and Disability: “It’s Not Too Far Away, You Can Walk it”

girls high school basketball february 24 2918What follows is a letter I wrote  several days ago to the athletic director at Miller City High School and the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA):

February 27, 2018

Dear Deb,

Today, I attended the Fairview vs. Spencerville High School Tournament basketball game. I arrived at the venue seventy-five minutes before the doors opened. I asked the parking lot attendant to point me to the handicapped parking spaces nearest the gymnasium. He had me park in the handicapped spots in front of the main entrance. Indeed, this allowed me a short, easy path to my seat.

After the game, attendees were required to exit via the doors opposite of where I entered. When I realized that this path was going to take me away from where I was parked, I asked a man handling crowd control to tell me the best way to get to where I was parked. I told him exactly where I was parked. Instead of allowing me (or anyone else who parked in the front handicapped spaces) short, easy access to my parking space, he told me I had to exit the far side of the building. He then said, and I quote, “it’s not too far away, you can walk it.”

First, how did he know what “not to far away” was for me? There was a reason I parked where I did, and I expected to be able to return to my vehicle via the same path I entered the venue. Second, how did he know I could walk it? Did he have magic powers that enabled him to divine my handicap and physical abilities? Not wanting to press the matter further, I walked the long hallway to the far exit and exited the building. I then had to walk around the building to the front where my car was parked. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the time I reached my vehicle.

I am writing this letter to make you aware of this issue, asking that you please address my concerns with the relevant people. In the future, if people parking in handicapped spaces are expected to exit the far side of the building, then the parking spaces should be on that side. If the parking spaces remain at the front of building, then handicapped attendees parking in them should be able to exit the venue the same way they entered.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter.

Bruce Gerencser
345 East Main Street
Ney, Ohio 43549

I received a prompt reply from Miller City’s athletic director. She assured me the matter would be looked into and changes made so handicapped people don’t face this or similar problems in the future. I appreciated Deb’s thoughtful reply. As of the writing of this post, I have not heard back from the OHSAA.

I am a professional photographer. During the winter months, I attend local high school basketball games. I take numerous photographs, sharing them with the players and their families on Facebook. On a few occasions, I have even made a few bucks off my work. I thoroughly enjoy watching high school sports (both boys’ and girls’), so attending the games and photographing them provides a brief respite for me as I struggle with chronic pain and disability.

This past season, I attended thirty or so games. It’s tournament time now, so opportunities to see local teams play are becoming fewer and fewer. I have grandchildren in the Tinora and Stryker school districts, and my oldest granddaughter plays for Stryker, so I try to attend as many Tinora and Stryker games as I can. I live in the Fairview school district, so I try to attend their games as well. During the latest holiday season, I donned my red stocking hat as I attended games, leading to countless adults calling me Santa Claus, and more than a few children wondering if I was the “real” Santa. (Seriously, if I was Santa Claus, would I be spending winters in Ohio? Not a chance!) Bit by bit, high school players I have photographed have struck up conversations with me. I have learned much about high schoolers through these conversations. Attending games gives me opportunities to get out of the house, even when I don’t want to. As people with chronic pain and illness will tell you, they have to battle the tendency to want to curl up in a corner and be left alone. In my case, I know it’s good for me to be out and about, even if it causes my pain levels to rise.

In 1997, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Since then, the list of my afflictions continues to grow. I daily battle unrelenting chronic pain from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Over the weekend, I was sitting in my recliner watching TV with lover, friend, and caretaker, AKA Polly. All of a sudden, my left foot felt like it had been repeatedly hit with a hammer. My toe, if you can imagine this, was pulled back to about the ten o’clock position. For thirty or so minutes my foot throbbed with pain. I tried to walk, but I couldn’t. Finally, the pain subsided, the tears dried, and I returned to watching TV. Just another day in the life of a chronic pain sufferer. You never know what you’ll face on any given day.

I also have osteoarthritis in my neck, hands, hips, shoulders, upper back, lower back, knees, and feet. In other words, Uncle Arthur is my constant companion. Throw in high blood pressure, diabetes, incontinence, and bowel problems . . . well, life is grand. It is what it is. I embrace every day as it comes, grateful that I am still among the living.

When I attend public events such as the aforementioned basketball game, I plan my day carefully. I always arrive at least an hour early. This allows me to get parking close to the entrance, and it helps me avoid dealing with rude and inconsiderate people as they push and shove their way towards their seats. Arriving early also allows me to find seating that accommodates my handicap. At basketball games, I prefer to sit on the first row at floor level. I haltingly walk with a cane, so it is best for all involved that I don’t attempt to walk up or down bleachers. I have fallen on more than a few occasions. I suspect if three-hundred-and-fifty-pound Bruce Gerencser landed on someone it would cause serious harm. I do all I can to avoid contact with others.

Seating, of course, is not my only concern. I also have to contend with access to concession stands and bathrooms. I try to go to the concession stand when there are not a lot of people in line. Bathrooms provide a unique and, at times, harrowing experience. Public school bathrooms are supposed to be ADA compliant, but older schools are not required to follow the code. On several occasions I have had to back into stalls, shut the door, and then turn around just be pee. Zeus help me if my bladder is screaming, Gotta go NOW! Accidents happen, and all I can do is hope that no one notices the dark wet stain on my blue jeans. And going #2, as my grandchildren say? I avoid that like the plague. Everything from small stalls, cheap single-ply toilet paper, and my suspenders coming loose, conspire to make taking a dump — another euphemism for defecation which my grandchildren use — a nightmare.

I write all this to give some context as to why someone saying to me, “It’s Not Too Far Away, You Can Walk it” is a big deal. The last thing I need is for someone to dismiss my disability — even if the person does so innocently — because he was in a hurry, or just following the “rules.” I have learned that the only way for disabled people to be heard is for them to shout loudly above the noise of the crowd. In my case, shouting loudly means writing letters, emails, or blog posts. By doing so, I hope that people will be educated about the difficulties the disabled face when attending public events.

How the War on Opioids Hurts People With Chronic Pain

new pain schedule

Thanks to rampant opioid abuse, chronic pain sufferers face increased scrutiny and hassle when their doctors prescribe them narcotic medications for their pain. Five years ago, my doctor would write me a prescription for Vicodin with two refills. My Tramadol prescription had five refills. Today? I am treated like a drug addict, not because my doctor wants to treat me this way, but because state and federal law requires him to do so. Here’s what’s required today for me to get my pain meds:

  • I must see the doctor every two to three months at a cost of $175 per visit.
  • The script cannot be electronically submitted. The doctor must give me the scripts to take to the pharmacy.
  • The script cannot have any refills. This necessitates the doctor writing and giving me two or three scripts at a time.
  • The script must list what I am be prescribed the medications for.
  • The doctor must write the fill date on the script.
  • The doctor is required to fill out an opioid load report on me.
  • I am required to sign an annual pain management agreement that says my doctor can drug test me at any time without warning.

After I receive the script:

  • I have fourteen days to fill the prescription, from the fill date written on the script by the doctor.
  • In the case of refills, I can only fill the prescriptions twenty-four hours before they are due to be refilled.

Zeus help you if you lose a script or try to fill your prescription a day too early. You are immediately treated like a criminal. Today, Polly went to the Meijer pharmacy to have my prescriptions filled. The pharmacist and one of the techs had a discussion about whether I was trying to refill my Vicodin prescription too soon. The pharmacy tech had to explain to the pharmacists how to count to one. Worse yet, I didn’t know that the fourteen-day rule applied to Tramadol. It does, and because my doctor listed January 28, 2018 as the fill date, the pharmacist said the script was invalid and he refused to fill it (nor did he make any attempt to call the doctor to get the date straightened out).

I get it, people are dying from opioid addiction (primarily from Fentanyl use), but law-abiding chronic pain sufferers are facing increased indignities as government and law enforcement take a one-size-fits-all approach to illegal narcotic use.

A report posted today by KETV-7 aptly describes what many chronic pain sufferers are going through to get their pain medications. Reporter Rob McCartney writes:

But some say that war creates collateral damage, innocent victims who rely on those opioids to keep their chronic pain at bay.

Joni Pilmaier is one of those patients.

Her entire spine is covered with titanium rods and screws.

She had major surgery ten years ago, for scoliosis and osteoarthritis.

“I was hoping after I wouldn’t have any pain, but that big of surgery it’s not that surprising I guess,” said Pilmaier.

But a decade later she is still dealing with chronic pain.

The former occupational therapist tried physical therapy, spinal injections and bio-feedback.

The best relief though came from opioid treatment.

That medication helps Pilmaier just get out of bed and function at a minimal level.

When asked what she would do if she was forced to give up the drugs, Pilmaier said, “I don’t know. I’m not sure what would happen.”

But a lot of chronic pain patients have to face that very decision right now.

In trying to stem a flow of opioid overdoses, in 2016 the Centers for Disease Control released these Opioid Guidelines for doctors..

The CDC recommends a daily limit of 90-morphine milligrams (MME).

That would be a severe cutback for many patients.

Omaha doctor Kurt Gold prefers using a non-opioid methods [sic] like exercise to treat his pain patients. But he tells me about half of them can’t be helped that way because of painful, permanent nerve damage.

“In those cases I think opiates would be appropriate for them to continue so that they can function,” said Gold.

….

“In Nebraska, the suicides are going up. And as of 2016 we surpassed the national average for suicides per capita. That’s a problem,” said Gold.

The problem is caused by chronic pain patients who see their long-time access to medications reduced or even eliminated.

They think there’s no way out, preferring to end their pain forever.

“In my current practice I’m aware of seven patients that are suicidal. Seven people are on the brink,” worries Gold.

The State of Nebraska said it doesn’t track of why people commit suicide, but The Kim Foundation, an Omaha-based mental health and suicide support group, told me they do hear of that happening.

Pilmaier stresses she is not going to go to that extreme.

But she does see the desperation across the country, as she monitors several chronic pain chat rooms.

“Everybody’s extremely ticked-off at what’s going on,” Pilmaier said, “Some are saying, “Oh my God, what if it happens to me?””

Many pain patients, like Pilmaier, agree the government should go after people who are “gaming the system”. People who illegally obtain prescription painkillers.

But she says politicians should not tell doctors how to do their jobs, nor should they discount what many people will live with the rest of their lives.

“You need to walk a day in my shoes. You don’t know what it feels like to have pain every day, to wake up in pain, to go to sleep in pain. And to be in a climate where the only thing that helps your pain is being taken away from you…,” Pilmaier said shaking her head.

….

Jerry Mitchell, a reporter for the Clarion Ledger, writes:

Many chronic pain patients, who don’t suffer from cancer or other fatal diseases, worry they will become the casualties in the battle against the opioid epidemic.

“It’s like a war on chronic pain patients,” said Jaqueline Schneider, a 56-year-old Pittsburgh woman who suffers from two rare spine diseases. “Nobody mentions legitimate pain patients. It’s like we have the plague.”

She calls what is happening now “opioid hysteria,” saying the federal government’s “overzealous tactics … are creating fear in the chronic pain community.”

Many doctors and pharmacists fear they may become targets and are limiting the opioids they prescribe or distribute, she said. “It’s all trickling down.”

She is hardly alone in those fears.

Dennis Ewing Sr., a 61-year-old disabled printer in San Antonio, takes the equivalent of 135 mg of morphine a day for his intense spinal pain.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended health care providers prescribe no more than a 90 mg morphine equivalent and justify it whenever they go beyond that amount.

If reduced to that limit, “I wouldn’t be functional at all,” Ewing said, adding that he fears he might commit suicide in that case. “It scares the hell out of me.”

He has already changed pain doctors because the previous one took away his longtime prescription for muscle relaxers, which are the only way he can sleep, he said.

He knows he is physically dependent on opioids and would encounter withdrawal if he went off the drug, “but I’m not an addict,” he said. “I’ve been fighting this pain since the 1990s.”

Blogger Emily Falk writes:

I have lived in persistent chronic pain for 17 years. My body chemistry has physically changed to believe that pain is normal. I’ve gone through every test and every diagnostic procedure imaginable, and pursued every treatment available to me. I’ve repeated treatment options countless times hoping many of them will one day bring relief. I have adjusted my lifestyle countless times, changed my diet countless times, incorporated methods of healing from other cultures, pulled from all resources in Eastern and Western medicine and beyond.

I remain in constant pain, despite all my efforts. This abnormality is my normal, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

There are millions of people in this country alone who struggle with chronic pain every day, just like me. Chronic pain conditions are notoriously misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

For 17 years, I have taken painkillers to help manage my pain. I don’t take them every day. I don’t rely on them as a solution to a never-ending problem or view them as a cure. I take painkillers when I literally think about throwing myself into a wall because being unconscious is preferable to being in that much pain.

Yes, it is that extreme, because taking painkillers has never been a casual decision, for me or for my doctors (past and present) that prescribe them to me. Doctors shouldn’t prescribe painkillers unless they are absolutely, medically necessary and patients shouldn’t be reckless about taking them.

The uncomfortable truth that no one wants to talk about is some patients need painkillers to survive. Yes, need. This is not debatable. This is not politics. But myself and patients like me are severely punished in this war on opioid addiction. We are the people whose quality of life will be greatly affected, even though we have done nothing wrong and have taken our medication as directed. We are the people who are constantly shamed, every day, for this reality we live in and cannot change. And we are the last people who should apologize for needing this legitimate medical treatment.

….

Many people living with chronic pain conditions already live with constant guilt about their circumstances. The shame and stigma I have encountered living with a chronic pain has driven me to hide it from the world. It is only recently I have begun to speak openly about the side of my life I never let anyone see. Early on, my honesty was met with hostility and rejection. People don’t understand what they cannot see.

I chose to live a life that includes more than being a professional patient with four doctor appointments a month. But this choice comes with the price of being misunderstood even more. The daily physical and emotional struggles I have are enough. I don’t need government officials completely destroying the quality of life I have come to know with medication.

In an effort to save the lives of people who abuse prescription drugs or become addicted to illegal drugs, this “war on opioids” is setting up a medical system that will only bring misery to patients who are not addicted to drugs and in genuine need of painkillers. My rights and my fellow chronic pain patients’ rights are on the line. When you live in constant physical pain and you find something that provides you with any kind of relief, it cannot and should not be taken away.

Chronic pain sufferers are low-hanging fruit; easy targets for the DEA and state law enforcement as they wage war against drug addiction. Quite frankly, I am tired of being a target. But what other choices do I have? Without pain medications I would be dead, murdered by my own hands. The drugs I take provide me a respite from pain. Narcotics don’t make the pain go away, but they do lessen the pain and smooth out (on most days) spikes in pain levels. Is it too much to ask that, in the midst of my suffering, I not be harassed and shamed by medical professionals, pharmacists, and government officials?

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 was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1997. He is an advocate for people struggling with chronic pain and debility.

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.

A Plea From a Chronic Pain Sufferer: Please Be Aware of Others

not all disabilities are visibleI have spent the past two decades battling Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and neurological problems. I say battling, but perhaps I should say, being BATTLED, by people who are often unaware of their surroundings. Not a day goes by without never-ending, unrelenting bodily pain. Even with being on narcotics and NSAIDS, along with steroids and muscle relaxers, I find that the pain remains. Without the drugs, the pain is unbearable. With the drugs, I can have what my doctor calls “quality of life” — quality, of course, being loosely defined and I suspect meaning something different to my doctor from what it means to me. I could take drugs that make me oblivious to the pain, but there’s no “quality” in such a life — at least for me. If I want to drive, attend my grandchildren’s school events, and photograph high school sporting events, I must accept a certain level of managed pain; pain that is not so severe that doing most anything is impossible.

In the eyes of many people, I look quite normal. Yes, I walk haltingly with a cane, and probably should have a “slow-moving vehicle” sign attached to my ass. Aside from this, I hide my pain well. Family and friends, of course, are well acquainted with my suffering, and usually go out of their way to make things easier and less painful for me. It is when I come in contact with the public that I often find myself beaten and battered by people who seem clueless about how their behavior affects others around them, especially someone such as myself, who doesn’t need any more pain added to his plate.

Tonight, I went to a high school basketball game. I arrive at games early so I can secure a front row seat. This allows me to have a court-level view of games. My daughter with Down Syndrome — we are quite a pair, she and I — usually sits in the row in back of me, slightly to the left or right of my back. By doing so, she typically wards off people from sitting in back of me. Not tonight. Ten minutes prior to the start of the junior varsity game, a middle-aged couple and their early-20s daughter planted themselves directly in back of me. For the next three hours, I was subjected to knees, feet, and purses being pushed into my back. After being battered during the first game, I decided to sit on the edge of my seat, hoping that this would place me beyond their reach. Unfortunately, the unaware batterers saw my move as an opportunity to increase their real estate, and the thumps, bangs, and jabs continued.

If I was a cranky curmudgeon, perhaps I would have asked them to stop, but instead, just as I have done for years, I endured their cluelessness. I don’t expect people to innately know that a chronic pain sufferer is sitting in front of them. That said, it perplexes me that so many people never learned to be aware of their surroundings, nor did they learn to pay attention to how their behavior affects others. My children were taught at an early age to pay attention to who is around them. Respect the space of others, and don’t do anything that could cause harm to someone else. I have been kicked half to death by more booted five-year-olds than I can count. Kids are kids, and I don’t expect them to necessarily understand respecting the person of others. However, these little kickers have parents who should, at their advanced stage of development, understand that their children beating on a man who looks like Santa Claus is not respectful and can, if Santa is so inclined, result in Little Johnny getting coal in his stocking on Christmas.

My children will tell you that I was hyper-aware of my surroundings, never wanting to do anything that would inconvenience or harm others. I passed this awareness on to them, and I see it in the behavior of my grandchildren. Learning simple things such as not standing in the middle of the grocery aisle blocking the lane or running up and down bleachers causing them to bounce — both of which can and do affect others — should be part of standard child training. My grandchildren have had to learn that, yes, I want to hug each of them, but they mustn’t launch themselves into my lap, causing me pain, or, in some instances, sending my testicles into my eye sockets. My grandchildren know that they must be gentle with Gramps, not because I will yell at them if they don’t, but because the fact of their doing so means they understand, at some level, my physical struggles.

I realize there will be times when people inadvertently run into me. Such is life. But what bothers me is people who seem to have no awareness of anyone but themselves. I feel, at times, when such people physically assault me, that they are saying to me, Hey old man, get out of my way. Move it, I have got places to go and people to see. (I do all I can to stay out of the way, knowing that other people are busy and have things to do. I consciously try to make it easy for people to avoid contact with me.) Smartphones have made such behavior worse. People zoned-out on their phones careen through stores and public places with nary a thought about the people around them. This is one of the reasons that I avoid department stores during the holidays. After being repeatedly banged into with shopping carts and oversize purses as women pass by, I find my anger increasing, and I begin to have thoughts of clobbering someone with my cane. I know having such thoughts is normal, but I find it better to avoid supermarket Mike Tysons if at all possible. On more than one occasion, my wife has arrived home from work at 1:30 AM and I have said to her, Hey, let’s go to the grocery! Why? you ask. Simple, there are very few people shopping at the local Meijer or Walmart at 2:00 AM. I don’t have to worry about cart kamikazes running me over or “important” people rushing through the store, binging and banging into people like a steel ball in a pinball machine.

Chronic pain sufferers, along with people with chronic diseases, will likely say AMEN to this post. They, unfortunately, understand exactly what I am talking about. My plea to healthy bipeds is that they be aware of the people around them and pay attention to how their behavior affects others. Kindness, compassion, and respect go a long way towards helping people such as myself to have public forays without coming home feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck. No one can cure me or make my pain go away. All that I ask is that they lift up their eyes and survey their surroundings. See the man walking with a cane? Don’t push your shopping cart quickly around him and then stop on a dime, forcing him to tense up his entire body to avoid running into you. See the man haltingly walking down the bleacher aisle. Wait. Let him get down the steps and on solid footing before you hop on the autobahn and swiftly pass him by. And above all, respect his personal space, as he most certainly does yours. Someday, you might be cursed to walk in his skin, and I guarantee you that you will then want people to pay attention and not do things that further hurt you.

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.

How NOT to Talk to Someone With Chronic Pain or Debilitating Illness

new pain schedule

Several days ago, I received an unsigned letter from a sixty-four year old atheist woman. After reading my member introduction in the September 2017 Freedom From Religion Foundation newsletter, Freethought Today,  and rooting through my blog looking for personal health information, this woman decided to send me a typed two-page letter detailing her uneducated, ill-founded opinion of my weight and health, along with numerous paragraphs detailing what I should do to regain the Bruce of the 1970s.  At the end of her deconstruction of my physical being, she spent thirty-eight words complimenting me on my beard and thanking me for my story in the newsletter.

I sat on this letter for several days, waiting for my anger to calm before answering it. Yesterday, I talked to my counselor about the letter and why it is that people who don’t know me and don’t know my health background think it is appropriate to send me letters such as this one. It would be one thing if someone who was close to me talked to me about this or that health matter, but even then, no one, not even my wife, knows the depth and complexities of my health problems. People only know what I tell them, and trust me, there is a lot I don’t talk about. That I am willing to talk about my struggles with chronic pain and debilitating illness at all is deemed by zealots and nuts as an opening for them to preach their gospel — complete with shaming me for “sin” and using my children and grandchildren as bait to attract me to their particular way of life or “cure.”

I have received numerous letters from people offering unsolicited medical and lifestyle advice. Over the years, I have been told that the following will “cure” me or transform my pain and illness to a mere afterthought: essential oils, chiropractic care, magnets, acupuncture, reiki massage, homeopathic remedies, meditation, getting my chakras aligned, drinking magical shakes, and taking this or that supplement — more times than I can count. According to many of the people offering advice, Western medicine is evil, drug companies are out to kill me, and medical professionals are deliberately withholding care and treatment  that would cure me because they want to make money off my pain and health.

My latest letter writer takes a more simplistic approach, albeit she is every bit as ignorant of the latest science related to my health as the purveyors of the woo mentioned above. She contends that if I would just exercise more, lessen calorie intake, and not drink soda pop my life would be transformed. She assumes, of course, that I am NOT already doing these things, choosing instead to look at my photograph, seeing that I am fat/overweight/obese, and conclude that I am not following her prescription for having a born-again experience. The letter writer assumes that what worked for her will work for everyone else. She ignores the fact that human bodies are complex and what may work for one person won’t work for others.. She also ignores genetic and environmental factors, choosing instead to focus on my body size. In many ways, she is much like Evangelicals who attempt to deconstruct my life, refusing to allow me to tell my own story. Instead she takes her atheistic religious health experiences and uses them as a standard by which to judge me.

Simply put, the letter writer is not in the position to make ANY judgments about my health or offer ANY advice as to proper treatment. I have a primary care doctor, along with medical specialists who provide me necessary and adequate care. I am satisfied with their care, knowing that the health problems I have, for the most part, cannot be cured. All my doctors can do for me is try to improve my quality of life and lessen my pain. I have told my primary care doctor several times that I don’t expect him to fix what can’t be fixed. I have accepted that this is my life — live with it, Bruce! I know that my health problems began when I was a slim, trim athletic fourteen-year-old teen. Genetics, exposure to dangerous chemicals that landed me in the emergency room, and communicable diseases set the stage for how things are for me today. A near-death experience with mononucleosis in 1991 and two bouts with pneumonia left my immune system wrecked beyond repair. The letter writer understood none of these things, choosing instead to just see a fat guy who, she thinks, eats too much.

The letter writer is offended by my stoic, matter-of-fact approach to my life and health. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia twenty years ago, and with neurological problems in 2007. For a time, doctors thought I might have multiple sclerosis. The symptoms fit, but the tests, so far, are inconclusive. Over the past two decades, osteoarthritis has slowly marched its way through my skeletal system. A visit to an orthopedic specialist last year revealed osteoarthritis in my hands, knees, feet, lower spine, neck, and shoulders. In other words — everywhere. The combination of these three diseases (and joint injuries) has left me disabled — another word the letter writer hates. Tough shit. That’s what I am: d-i-s-a-b-l-e-d.  Most days, I walk with a cane, steadying myself so I don’t fall and break something. Sometimes, I use a wheelchair — a sign to the letter writer that I am giving up. (Want to guess how many times I wanted to say go fuck yourself as I read her letter? You will need all your fingers and toes.)

The letter writer spends most of her sermon preaching about my weight. Evidently, she doesn’t care for fat people, nor does she understand that body shaming is no longer considered acceptable conduct in polite company. Friends accept people as they are. I know I would never, ever write someone a letter like the one this woman wrote to me. Perhaps she thinks that because she is in her sixties, she has earned the right to say whatever she wants. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but it is hard to do so when I view her letter as a personal attack — an assault on who and what I am.

The letter writer reveals that she really doesn’t understand current scientific evidence about body weight and weight loss. She wrongly says that weight loss is as simple as reducing caloric intake. This thinking is patently false, and can, at times, be dangerous or even life-threatening. She also assumes that I don’t manage caloric intake and eat healthily. I do, about ninety-five percent of the time. Since last November, I have lost forty pounds. Massive bowel movements? Fluid loss? I don’t really care. I try to eat healthily, and when I do not, I don’t lose one moment of sleep over it. Life is too short. If eating ice cream is going to be the end of me, so be it. Praise Jesus, I will leave this life with the sweet taste of rocky road ice cream on my lips!

The letter writer tells me in capital letters, DO NOT EAT IN RESTAURANTS. This must be one of her religion’s commandments, and if it is, NO THANK YOU. Polly and I spent the first twenty-five years of marriage rarely eating out. We couldn’t afford it. Now we can, and me and the Mrs. plan on enjoying as much good food (and wine) as we possibly can. At home, my wife is a first-rate gourmet cook. She has the pans, knives, oven and cookbooks to prove it. Only food zealots would have a problem with what we eat.

The letter writer also shows a lack of understanding about pain and how narcotics work — wrongly believing that narcotics make pain go away. Sorry, but that’s not how it works. Massive amounts of narcotics might take pain away, but they also render people unable to do much of anything but sleep. I have been on a pain management regimen for twelve years. The goal is to break the pain cycle so I can have a better quality of life. Pain levels, rise and fall, but the pain never goes away. I haven’t had a pain-free day in years.

The letter writer tells me that a pain-free life is overrated, that I shouldn’t take narcotics (take aspirin or ibuprofen instead), and that since I AM taking narcotics I shouldn’t need to use a cane or wheelchair. According to her, if I would just lose weight, exercise more, all would be well and I would no longer have to use my cane or wheelchair. Calling my pain medications a crutch, she implores me to let pain have its way with me. This woman has serious health problems herself, including a major bout with cancer. I wonder how she might have felt had I come into the room after her surgery and told her what she had told me about pain. No need for morphine! Own your pain! Just take Aleve!

I am of the opinion that there is little value in ignoring pain or embracing it because there is some sort of nobility gained from not taking pain medications. Sorry, but I choose to live as pain-free of a life as possible. I choose to embrace my pain, but I am sure as hell not going to let it ruin my life by reducing me to an old man curled up in a fetal position wishing he could die. By properly managing my pain (and other aspects of my health), I have the ability most days to do the things I want to do. Some days, the pain meds simply don’t work. On such days, I endure, knowing that surely better days lie ahead. And if they don’t? Then I will embrace the present as my new normal.

you can do it

Finally, the letter writer should have plumbed the depths of my personality before sending her sermon my way. Had she done so, she would not have taken the motivational YOU CAN DO IT, OH YES YOU CAN approach. I loathe such approaches to life, and when someone tries to “motivate” me this way, their attempt always fails. I am a rationalist who approaches life in a matter-of-fact way. I don’t need anyone to cheer me on. I am quite capable of determining for myself what I need to do, and then doing it. And if I do ever need a bit of Richard Simmons-like motivation, I look to my wife, children, and grandchildren for reasons to get up in the morning and keep moving. I drove my ex-daughter-in-law crazy (as did her husband) because I wasn’t happy as a seal with a ball at parties and family events. I tend to be quite reserved emotionally, choosing to show my gratitude or praise with words such as fine, that’s good, good job, thank you, or I appreciate it. I don’t get all wide-eyed and slap-happy. People who know me understand that when I say something is fine, that is a high praise coming from me (except when I say fine when answering, How are you doing? Then, I am usually lying). I, for one, am quite tired of being treated as if there is something wrong with me if I don’t have excitable emotional outbursts when expressing my approval of people or events. Who decided that being all jacked up on Mountain Dew is the only proper way to respond to things?  (Please read Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America by Barbara Ehrenreich.) Fuck that. I am who I am, and I am quite happy with being the one and only Bruce Gerencser on planet earth. Woo! Hoo! Ain’t I a special snowflake!

Let me be clear, when it comes to my health and the medical treatment I receive, please keep your thoughts, opinions, sermons, and dogma to yourself. You may have stayed in a Holiday Inn, but you are not my doctor. I’m fine with close friends or family members sending me links and asking me if I have read this or that report or study. Most often, since I am an INFORMED sufferer of chronic pain and debilitating illness, I have already read the report/study. I appreciate that they genuinely care about me and hope that something will come along and improve my lot in life (money, lots of money – that will work). For everyone else? Please don’t. Don’t email me, don’t write me letters, and don’t post on my Facebook wall whatever it is you think will transform my life. Chances are it won’t, or I have already tried it without success. Love me as I am and when you hear of my demise, be it today, tomorrow, or ten years from now, I hope you will remember me for the good I have done. Like everyone else, I want acceptance and respect from others. This letter writer demonstrated neither.

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.

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Better to Try and Fail Than Not Try at All?

failure-homer-simpson

People who suffer with chronic illnesses are often accused of giving up or giving in. Irrational hyper-optimism has so infected the American psyche, that those who embrace their lives as they are often are looked down upon. Put mind over matter; never give in; be pro-active, always hope for a better tomorrow; these and other cheap clichés are often recited to the chronically ill, implying that their illnesses are somehow their own fault. If they would just take this drug, have this treatment, or see this doctor, then all would be well. An unwillingness to do these things is often viewed as laziness or giving in. Often, people take their own experiences and project them onto others, thinking that their outcomes would be the same for everyone if they would just follow the same course of treatment. People who think in this manner can often oppress and hurt chronic-illness sufferers, even when they don’t intend to do so. A recent health-related dust-up on social media has left me wondering if I should continue to write about my health problems and my battle with chronic pain. While I find writing about these things to be psychologically and physically helpful, sometimes the responses from readers can undo any of the health benefits gained from the writing.

I’ve repeatedly been told that I need to keep trying; that it is better to try and fail than not try at all. While I am sure people who say this to me mean well, I wonder if they have ever considered how such cheerleading can actually hurt those who are struggling just to make it to another day. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 18 years ago. Since then, the laundry list of health problems I have has continued to grow. No matter how many doctors I see, how many tests I have, or how many different drugs I try, I still wake up every morning in pain. I know that there is no cure on the horizon. No magic potion is going to undo the damage done by two decades of fighting with the medical equivalent Mohammed Ali.

I have moments when I pretend that I can ignore my body and do what I want. Thanks to a decade of medical treatment, we are swimming in medical debt. Because of changes in our medical insurance, twenty-five to thirty percent of our income is spent on medical bills — mostly mine. I find it almost unbearable to watch Polly walk out the door every day, knowing that 25% of that day’s earnings will go towards my medical expenses.

Recently, I once again ignored reality and decided that I would get a job so I could help pay the medical bills. I need employment that will allow me to sit while I work and take frequent breaks. Showing up for an interview in a wheelchair or haltingly walking with a cane usually results in the interviewer telling me, thanks for applying. We will keep your application on file. So, as I did recently with an interview with Meijer, I pretended that I am not a cripple. And just like that they offered me a job. Would they have offered me the job if I was in a wheelchair or walk with a cane? I doubt it. I’m sure if I told them that I have arthritis of the spine and can only stand for 15 or so minutes at a time, they would have politely told me that they had no job for me. Yes, the law says employers must accommodate the handicapped, but in the real world a 60-year-old cripple has little chance of winning a job over a healthy 25-year-old. Discrimination against the handicapped and older prospective employees happens without employers ever saying a word. I try to remember back when I was young man responsible for hiring employees for the various companies I worked for. Young and able-bodied were always preferable to old and crippled. In the case of Meijer, they are so desperate for workers, that they were willing to hire a broken-down old man such as I. As my orientation day drew near, Polly and I had a heart-to-heart talk about whether I could really do this job. Mentally, I told myself, sure, I can do this. But, knowing that I can’t stand for longer than 15 minutes at a time means that it’s impossible for me to work the floor or run a cash register at Meijer. Polly, who knows better than anyone (including myself) what I can and can’t do finally persuaded me to not take the job. As is often the case when it comes to my health, she has a lot more sense than I do. I can deceive myself into thinking that I can do something, when Polly knows I can’t. This is not me giving up or giving in as much as it is accepting things as they are.

After turning down Meijer, I decided to try my hand at a work-from-home job with Amazon. I entered training with grand ambition, thinking that I had finally found something that I could do. Amazon’s training was quite extensive and grueling, yet I passed all the exams and was in the top five percent of my class of 650. Based on several conference calls with other new hires and management, I determined I was by far the oldest man in my group. Most of the new hires were in their twenties and thirties, as were many of the members of management.

Encouraged by Polly and my counselor, I continued to slog through the training even though I was worried about remembering everything I had learned. Both of them told me they were sure I could do the job.  After completing the  training, I was deemed a newly-minted customer service representative — ready to start taking live calls. I thought, I know I can do this. A part of me knew better, but all I could think of was our increasing debt, so I pushed my better judgment aside and answered my first call. The call started well — a man wanting to know why his order hadn’t been delivered — and then what I feared would happen, did. I couldn’t remember what I needed to do next. My mind literally froze — covered with a pain-laden, fatigued cloud. The customer became frustrated with me and hung up. After emotionally regrouping from my failure,  I took another call only to have continued cognitive problems. I could not remember what I needed to do. This customer, instead of hanging up on me started screaming, so much so that I hung up on her. After this call, I mentally collapsed, knowing that I was unable to do what the job required. Several days later, Amazon and I agreed that it was best if I resigned, and so I did.

The Amazon catastrophe has caused great psychological damage and pain. Pushed to the very edge of the abyss, my thoughts turned to suicide. While the suicidal thoughts faded after a couple of days, the assault on my mind remains the same. It’s hard not to feel worthless, that I am little more than a burden on my wife and family. They will certainly tell me that I am not, but it’s hard not to think that I am. This is usually the point where well-meaning people interject one of their cheap clichés about making lemonade when life gives you lemons. I am always polite when people say one of their Oprah-like maxims, but there are days when I want to tell them, until you’ve walked in my shoes, shut the fuck up.

If you’ve noticed in recent months that the volume of my writing has diminished, now you know why. Things are better than they were a month ago, but I’m far from being ready to tackle another job opportunity. I do have thoughts of trying to make some money using my photography skills. In particular, I am considering starting a real estate photography business. Several of my children have recently bought homes, and the common denominator with all the homes they looked at was that the property photographs were terrible. I mean a-w-f-u-l. I plan to send out letters to local realtors offering to do their property photography. Several years ago, I applied for such a job with a local realtor only to be told by her that I was so overqualified that she didn’t believe I would keep the job for long. I tried to explain to her that she need not worry about that, but her mind was made up.

I hope this new business venture will prove to be viable and profitable. If it’s not, we will be forced  to make some serious cuts in our budget. Hoping for a better day doesn’t change the fact that there are bills to pay. It used to be that it was easy to work out payment plans for medical debt, but now the physicians group my doctors are a part of will only make a payment arrangements for up to 12 months. After that, they demand you borrow the money to pay the debt. Last year, we had to borrow $5,000 to pay for my previous round of tests and procedures. While I’m not ready to throw in the towel, the daily pressure of these things makes it hard to focus on a better tomorrow. For those who have walked a similar path, you know what I’m talking about.

[signoff]

Chronic Pain and a Football Game

tinora-vs-ayersville-2016

It is a beautiful Friday night in rural Northwest Ohio. Football weather — the time of year when I go to local high school football games with my sons. While none of my grandchildren is old enough to play football, I do enjoy watching young men battle it out on the gridiron, each hoping to be that night’s victor.

On this Friday, the game of choice is Ayersville vs. Tinora — billed as THE must-see game. I arrive early at the field so I can secure a good seat. Second row up, 50 yard line, perfect for viewing and photography. As always, I have brought my camera, hoping to shoot a few keepers before the darkness of the night forces me to stop.

I am the first person in the stands, but not for long. Soon the bleachers start to fill. By game time, late arrivers will be forced to stand along the fence that cordons off the stands from the field. I smile as I think of those who will have to park great distances away from the stadium. The early bird gets the best seat, I think to myself, and Bruce Gerencser is ALWAYS early.

I soon settle into my seat. I sit, thinking of nothing but how nice the weather is for a September football game. By the time the Ohio High School Athletic Association crowns its divisional champions, the weather will have turned cold and snow will blanket the landscape. Today, I will enjoy the warmth of the sun and the balmy breeze that make it a perfect night for a football game.

Eyes closed and head tilted slightly towards the sun, I bask in the nothingness of the moment; that is, until my state of mindfulness is rudely interrupted by an elementary school boy. A younger family with children arrived a few minutes ago, taking up seats several rows above mine. Their restless son, unable to contain his energy, jumps from his row to mine, landing on the metal stands with a big thud. My seat bounces as his feet hit my row, causing me to abruptly return to reality. Not thinking, I said, quite loudly JESUS! Better than a swear word, right? The mother is offended by my utterance, choosing to ignore how her son actions in using the stands as a trampoline might affect others.

The young family soon moves to different seats. Did my taking the Lord’s name in vain cause them to move? I don’t know. Not that I care. As the stands continue to fill, an elderly man and his forty-something son make their way into the bleachers. I always sit on the end of the row. This allows me to control who sits next to me and it also allows me to stand up and move when people need to go to the bathrooms or concessions. I know I am a big guy, and not wanting a night filled with lap dances, I prefer to stand up and move into the common aisle so people can get by me.

Sitting on the end of the row has its disadvantage too. Over the years, I have been repeatedly beaten with purses, coolers, and the like as people make their way to their seats. Some people say sorry, but most often they ignore their personal assaults on my body. I accept that this is the price I pay for sitting near the common aisle. Tonight is no different. As the father and the son make their way up to their seats, both of them plow into me as if I didn’t exist. Soon they settle into their seats right in back of mine. This begins what will be a night-long beating from both of them. I have suffered many such beatings before, so I smile, grit my teeth, and say nothing. I am still the polite Christian, I think to myself. I want to tell my oppressors, Dammit, PLEASE stop hitting me. But I say nothing, choosing instead to slide forward on my seat, hoping that the extra distance will keep me clear of their feet and knees.

The son brought with him an oversized stadium seat, a seat so large that my son asks him to move it so he can sit next to me. My sons are far less “Christian” than I am these days and are quite willing to ask people to remove themselves from their personal space. The man quickly complies, but as he does, his metal-framed chair smashes into my back, causing my pain-wracked body to scream its objection. Before I can turn towards the man and give him my really, asshole? face, he slaps me hard on the back twice and says, sorry ’bout that.

I can feel my face flushing with anger. I want to tell the man what I think about his assaults on my body and personal space, but I say nothing, choosing instead to weakly say, that’s okay. It’s not okay, I tell myself, but what’s to be gained by telling this man what I really think? My grandchildren are sitting next to me, and their friends’ families sit nearby. What will they think of me and our family if I give this man the verbal lashing he so richly deserves?

I reach for my pain medication, taking a double dose, choosing to suffer in silence. I am here to watch the game, my inner Bruce says. Ignore this asshole. Half time arrives and the game of the year is a blowout. The Tinora stands are quiet, shocked by the beat-down Ayersville is putting on the home team. With four minutes left in the game, I decide to leave, hoping to escape the throng that will soon pour from the stands.

I gingerly make my way down the stands to the walkway that leads to the parking lot. I walk haltingly, relying on my cane to keep me from falling over. Free from the man who assaulted me, I wrongly assume that I am safe from further indignities. As I walk slowly to my car, filled-with-life teens run into me. With a quick sorry uttered to a stranger, these youths continue to playfully run, hoping to catch friends. I don’t blame them for running into me. I remember when I was their age. I had little thought of others and how my actions might affect them. I don’t, however, have the same sympathies for the adults who rush by me, hoping to beat the traffic. Surely, they know better, I think to myself. By the time I reach my car, I have been run into countless times. I feel as if I have been forced to run a gauntlet. I unlock the car door, open it, and slowly pull myself into seat. I sit for a few moments, a tear of exhaustion in my eye. I can’t do this anymore, I tell myself.

In a few moments, my mind and body settle down enough for me to start the car and head for home. Several hours later, I text my son: “Tinora vs. Holgate next Friday. Want to go?”

The Indifference of God

starving children

Spend time on Sundays at Evangelical churches and you will hear all sorts of talk about how God is intimately involved in our lives. God is everywhere, Evangelicals say, and he knows everything. Not only is God omnipresent and omniscient, he is also omnipotent! God holds the universe in the palm of his hand, Evangelical preachers say. God is the Kings of Kings, Lord of Lords, the supreme potentate of heaven and earth. He is, as Calvinists love to say, sovereign. In other words, God is in control of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. There is no thought, word, or deed that escapes his notice. No matter where humans travel — be it to the farthest reaches of the universe or to the depths of the oceans — they can not escape God. God is the king of voyeurs, his eyes peering into the darkest corners of human existence.

This God of the Evangelicals must  be one busy deity. Knowing everything, including what will happen in the future, God surely acts in ways to lessen suffering, pain, loss, and death, right?  Certainly there is ample evidence for the Evangelical God’s involvement in the smallest details of life, right?  While Evangelicals will certainly answer YES! to these questions, when pressed for objective, verifiable evidence for such claims, they quickly retreat to their houses of faith and claims that God’s ways are not our ways.

Theodicy — the branch of theology that [attempts to] defends God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil and suffering — continues to be a big problem for Evangelicals. The more apologists attempt to defend God in light of not only evil, but also suffering, pain, and death, the less people think God is good. All people have to do is read the newspaper to realize that IF God is the powerful deity Evangelicals say he is, then he is horrible being who delights in unfeigned worship while doing nothing as countless men, women, and children face untold agony and death.

One of the marks of psychopathy is a lack of empathy. God can, if he chooses, put an end to suffering. Yet, he does, by all accounts, absolutely nothing. In 2008, New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman wrote a book titled God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer. Ehrman had this to say about why he wrote the book:

For most of my life I was a devout Christian, believing in God, trusting in Christ for salvation, knowing that God was actively involved in this world. During my young adulthood, I was an evangelical, with a firm belief in the Bible as the inspired and inerrant word of God. During those years I had fairly simple but commonly held views about how there can be so much pain and misery in the world. God had given us free will (we weren’t programmed like robots), but since we were free to do good we were also free to do evil—hence the Holocaust, the genocide in Cambodia, and so on. To be sure, this view did not explain all evil in the world, but a good deal of suffering was a mystery and in the end, God would make right all that was wrong.

….

Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn’t he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn’t he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?

….

Eventually, while still a Christian thinker, I came to believe that God himself is deeply concerned with suffering and intimately involved with it. The Christian message, for me, at the time, was that Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to us humans, and that in Jesus we can see how God deals with the world and relates to it. He relates to it, I thought, not by conquering it but by suffering for it. Jesus was not set on a throne in Jerusalem to rule over the Kingdom of God. He was crucified by the Romans, suffering a painful, excruciating, and humiliating death for us. What is God like? He is a God who suffers. The way he deals with suffering is by suffering both for us and alongside us.

….

About nine or ten years ago I came to realize that I simply no longer believed the Christian message. A large part of my movement away from the faith was driven by my concern for suffering. I simply no longer could hold to the view—which I took to be essential to Christian faith—that God was active in the world, that he answered prayer, that he intervened on behalf of his faithful, that he brought salvation in the past and that in the future, eventually in the coming eschaton, he would set to rights all that was wrong, that he would vindicate his name and his people and bring in a good kingdom (either at our deaths or here on earth in a future utopian existence).

We live in a world in which a child dies every five seconds of starvation. Every five seconds. Every minute there are twenty-five people who die because they do not have clean water to drink. Every hour 700 people die of malaria. Where is God in all this? We live in a world in which earthquakes in the Himalayas kill 50,000 people and leave 3 million without shelter in the face of oncoming winter. We live in a world where a hurricane destroys New Orleans. Where a tsunami kills 300,000 people in one fell swoop. Where millions of children are born with horrible birth defects. And where is God? To say that he eventually will make right all that is wrong seems to me, now, to be pure wishful thinking.

Ehrman states in God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer:

Eventually, though, I felt compelled to leave Christianity altogether. I did not go easily. On the contrary, I left kicking and screaming, wanting desperately to hold on to the faith I had known since childhood and had come to know intimately from my teenaged years onward. But I came to a point where I could no longer believe. It’s a very long story, but the short version is this: I realized that I could no longer reconcile the claims of faith with the facts of life. In particular, I could no longer explain how there can be a good and all-powerful God actively involved with this world, given the state of things. For many people who inhabit this planet, life is a cesspool of misery and suffering. I came to a point where I simply could not believe that there is a good and kindly disposed Ruler who is in charge of it.

The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith. After many years of grappling with the problem, trying to explain it, thinking through the explanations that others have offered—some of them pat answers charming for their simplicity, others highly sophisticated and nuanced reflections of serious philosophers and theologians—after thinking about the alleged answers and continuing to wrestle with the problem, about nine or ten years ago I finally admitted defeat, came to realize that I could no longer believe in the God of my tradition, and acknowledged that I was an agnostic: I don’t “know” if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he certainly isn’t the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one who is actively and powerfully involved in this world. And so I stopped going to church.

For most Evangelicals-turned-atheists, the issue of suffering looms large in their decisions to leave Christianity. When I am asked why I left Christianity, I usually point to the intellectual problems I have with Christian theology and practice. In particular, I call attention to the unsupportable notion that the Protestant Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible words of God. I generally avoid discussions about suffering and death because such engagements usually end with Evangelicals apologists telling me that the REAL reason I am no longer a Christian is the personal pain and suffering I deal with each and every day of my life. Bruce, you are just mad that God didn’t heal you, Evangelicals say. So, you quit on God, all because he wouldn’t do what you wanted him to do — heal you.

While there was a time when I would bristle at such claims, I now admit that God’s indifference towards not only the suffering of family, friends, and parishioners, but also my own suffering played a pertinent part in my deconverson. It was not THE reason, but certainly one of the reasons that I was no longer was willing to believe in the existence of the Christian God. The Bible speaks of a Jesus who healed the sick, blind, and deaf, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. Surely, if, as the Bible says, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why is there so much suffering in the world? What better way for God to reveal himself to us than to heal the sick and feed the hungry. I am aware of all the Evangelical apologetical arguments that are used to justify God’s indifference, so don’t bother, but the fact remains that most suffering goes unrequited. As Bart Ehrman mentioned earlier, untold suffering will happen today and, come tomorrow and every other day after that, pain, sickness, and incalculable loss will test and try countless people. In fact, few of us get through this life without facing things that can and do turn our lives into piles of ashes. Despite prayers and voices crying to God for help, the triune God of the Bible acts if he lives in an area where there is no cellphone service. Christians and non-Christians alike cry to the heavens, pleading and begging its inhabitants to help them, yet all they hear is deafening silence.

Let me conclude this posts with two recent news stories that amply illustrate the indifference of God.

mark and megan short

Mark and Megan Short with their three children

On August 6, 2016, in an apparent murder-suicide, a Pennsylvanian husband or wife murdered their spouse and three children before committing suicide. CBS News reports:

A Pennsylvania couple who were featured in news stories about their difficulties getting medication for their youngest daughter who had a heart transplant were found shot to death in their home along with their three children.

Prosecutor John Adams says an apparent “murder/suicide” note was found in the family’s Sinking Spring home Saturday. Police found a handgun near one of the adults. They didn’t say who they believe was the shooter.

Officials say the parents had had “domestic issues.” Police had gone to the home to check on the family after a call from a concerned relative who said the mom did not show up for a pre-arranged lunch date.

The victims were identified as 40-year-old Mark Short Sr., 33-year-old Megan Short; 8-year-old Lianna, 5-year-old Mark Jr., and 2-year-old Willow.

….

Willow had undergone a heart transplant as a baby. Her family had been featured in articles in The Reading Eagle in 2014 and The New York Times in 2015 about her condition and the family’s difficulties obtaining anti-rejection medication for her.

….

Once inside the home, officers discovered the family’s deceased bodies and a deceased dog in the living room area of the residence. A handgun was discovered near one of the deceased adults.

Jamison and Kathryne Pals

Jamison and Kathryne Pals with their three children

On July 31, 2016 a young couple with three children was headed to Palmer Lake, Colorado, “for a five-week session on learning a language and assimilating into another culture” when a semi-truck rammed the rear of their minivan killing all of them. The Omaha-Herald reports:

The semitrailer truck driver involved in a crash that claimed six lives on Interstate 80 was “inattentive and distracted by outside influences” when he rammed into a minivan “at a high rate of speed,” a Nebraska State Patrol trooper said in an arrest affidavit.

The driver, Tony Weekly Jr., 53, of Baker, Florida, was charged in Keith County Court on Tuesday with five counts of felony motor vehicle homicide — one for each member of the St. Paul, Minnesota, family who died Sunday in the fiery crash four miles west of Brule’s I-80 interchange — and a single misdemeanor count of reckless driving.

….

Witnesses said Weekly’s truck “did not slow down until hitting the first vehicle,” Trooper Darrell Crawford said in the arrest affidavit.

That vehicle was the minivan carrying the Pals family of Minnesota. Jamison and Kathryne Pals and their three children died as a direct result of the initial impact,” Crawford said. Before coming to rest, the vehicles’ forward momentum pushed them into a Plymouth minivan driven by Sullivan, then a Nissan sport utility vehicle and finally a Ford van.

Killed Sunday were: Jamison and Kathryne Pals, both 29, and their children, Ezra, 3; Violet, almost 2; and 2½-month-old Calvin.

….

The Palses intended to serve as long-term missionaries in Nagoya, Japan. They were headed to Palmer Lake, Colorado, for a five-week session on learning a language and assimilating into another culture, said Dennis Vogan, vice president of personnel development of the ministry organization WorldVenture.

“The Palses fit perfectly within our organization,” Vogan said. The missionaries in Japan “were thrilled and looking so forward to their coming,” he said.

The Palses had raised enough money to fund their mission work, which was to start in October, he said.

Rick Pals, Jamison’s father, said Tuesday that funeral services would be held at Jamison and Kathryne’s church, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He said the families of Jamison and Kathryne “have been very touched” by the “outpouring of sincere support” they have received.

….

Jamison Pals worked for just over three years as a grant writer for Feed My Starving Children. The Christian nonprofit based in Eagan, Minnesota, sends meals specially formulated for malnourished children to orphanages, schools, clinics and feeding programs around the world.

Andy Carr, the group’s vice president of marketing and development, said Jamison and Kathryne Pals were “amazing people” and good friends.

“They were the most humble and selfless people that you could ever meet,” he said. “In today’s world where it’s so much about me, me, me, it was never about them. It was always about others.”

The first story is likely to be explained in Evangelical circles as an example of human depravity. Human sinfulness leads people to do awful things, Evangelicals say. If this couple had known Jesus, perhaps things would have turned out differently!

The second story is being portrayed as an example of the “mysteries” of God. We dare not question God’s purpose and plan! Calvinist pastor John Piper attributes their deaths to the mysterious, unknown plan of the sovereign God of the universe. Evangelicals must never ask why. God knows best!

In both of these horrific, mind-numbing tragedies, one thing is for certain: God stood by and did nothing. If God can’t be counted on to rescue children and those who have devoted themselves to “serving” him, why should any of us bother to worship him? If God helps a young child through a heart transplant, only to later stand by twiddling his thumbs while this same girl is murdered, should we not at least question the actions of the compassionate, loving, kind, God who promises to never leave or forsake us?

Evangelicals should not fault people such as myself when we conclude that their God is either a work of fiction or is simply not interested in what happens to us. I have concluded that there is no God and that life can be cruel and hard. Disease, pain, hunger, violence, and death are very much a part of life, and all of us will likely be marred or broken by one or more of these things. Try as we might to escape suffering, it will track us down and arrest us, often sentencing us to lives of pain and agony. I wish things could be different, but they are what they are. All the prayers and religious pronouncements in the world won’t change the fact that people (and animals) suffer. The best we can do is to work at reducing suffering and its effects. It is up to us to alleviate the suffering of others (and our own). Waiting on God accomplishes nothing. As the stories mentioned above make clear, when it comes to things that matter, God is nowhere to be found.

Quit Complaining, Your Suffering is Nothing Compared to What Jesus Faced

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Snark Ahead! Easily offended Evangelicals should avoid reading this post. You’ve been warned!

One way Evangelical preachers shame complaining congregants into silence is to remind them of Jesus’ suffering on the cross for sin. One such example of this kind of thinking was recently posted on the Seeking His Kingdom blog. In a July 18, 2016 post titled Why Do You Make Me Suffer?, Andi Garcia — a woman who believes she is “supposed to share His [God’s]  message and to let others know that we are to seek Him at all times” — had this to say about those who complain:

I said to a coworker who are we to question God about anything? Like when will He answer our prayer or ask Him why do we suffer? Why this or that?..I said did any of you ever think that our little problems, the problems our kids give us, are nothing compared to what He suffered for us all. I continued on and said I have 3 kids plus myself and yes worry for them and the problems they may have or situations they may put me through and it hurts me, of course, I’m their mother…BUT..He..He carries all of our sins …ALL OF OUR SINS for us. Can you imagine that suffering?? I said so whatever problems we have or our kids put us through aren’t problems..we shouldn’t worry, we shouldn’t complain, we shouldn’t ask WHY DO YOU MAKE ME SUFFER? See, 2 weeks ago I was going through some things with my 2 older children, 19 and 23, and I actually asked Him, I said it out loud, God why do you make me suffer? As soon as it came out, I slapped my hand to my mouth and legit, heard this in my thoughts, You are suffering? I felt ashamed. So I took some inventory and thought I’m alive, I wake up with no pain, I have a home, I have my 3 kids with or without problems, I have a job, food to eat, a car, the list goes on. I sat back that night and said I’m sorry about a million times because I thought to myself, if I hurt for my 3 kids when something or someone hurts them or their behavior is less than acceptable, can we imagine what He feels for every single one of us who sin? We will never know that pain.

I told myself, I will never complain or think that I suffer. I also will always remember the immense love He has for us, His children. Amen? Amen!!!

Now, Garcia is not a preacher, but her post reflects that she has been taught to never, ever voice complaints about whatever difficulty she might be facing. Just remember what Jesus suffered on our behalf, Evangelical preachers say, as if saying this is supposed to magically take away pain, suffering, and emotional distress. This thinking flows from the belief that Jesus is the answer for every question and he is cure for every ailment. As former Evangelicals well know, the curative power of thinking about a man being beaten and executed is grossly overrated.

According to the Bible, a man by the name of Jesus was beaten and executed for crimes against the Jewish people. Jesus’ suffering took place over a short period of time. Yes, if the Bible account is accurate, Jesus suffered greatly before he was executed. I certainly don’t want to minimize his pain and agony, though I have to wonder if Jesus, being God in the flesh, perhaps made it look like he was horrifically suffering, but in reality he actually turned off all his pain receptors and felt nothing. I know that’s what I would do TODAY, if I could. No more pain! Regardless, his suffering was short-lived. After he was taken down from the cross and buried, the Bible tells us he went to hell to preach the gospel to its captives. (Ephesians 4:7-10Luke 23:39-43, Luke 16:19-311 Peter 3:18-20) The traditional English version of the Apostles’ Creed states:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic* Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

Amen.

According to God’s inspired, inerrant Word and the Apostles’ Creed, after his death Jesus took a vacation to hades/paradise to do some soul-saving preaching. And then, several days later, on a Sunday, Jesus — in Arnold Schwarzenegger-like fashion —  walked out of the grave and said I’m back! Time to start a new religion! His body should have shown the marks of a man brutally beaten, but all that remained for people to see were the holes in his hands and feet — reminders of his recent crucifixion. Evidently, no plastic surgeon was available, so Jesus had to go through his last forty days on earth with ugly-looking hands and feet.

Was Jesus’ suffering worse than any human has ever experienced? Of course not. Only those who are religiously blinded to reality dare to make such false assumptions. Having watched numerous people die, I can tell you that some of them suffered far greater agony and pain than Jesus. Think of all the horrific things you have watched people experience or you have gone through. Are all of these experiences, to quote Garcia, “little problems” and “nothing compared to what He suffered for us all”? Is Garcia and others like her diminishing the suffering of others, treating their agony as little more than inconveniences?

This kind of thinking finds its roots in Evangelical belief about the purpose of this life. Most Evangelicals think that their present life is preparation for the life to come — eternal life. According to Amos 4:12Hebrews 9:27Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14  and numerous other verses, life is all about preparing to meet God. Through frequent reminders from pastors that this life is temporary and transitory, Evangelicals are conditioned to believe that in this life comes suffering and loss and in the next life God will reward them for being faithful servants. This is why Garcia can so easily dismiss the suffering of billions of people. With a wave of the Bible Wand®, Garcia declares that all of humanity’s sickness, diseases, and sufferings are little more than minor inconveniences. In Garcia’s mind, Jesus was biggest bad-ass sufferer of all time. No one can kick Jesus off the Throne of Suffering!

Thinking this way causes Evangelicals to be callously indifferent to the suffering others. Hungry? Thirsty? Have AIDS? Infected with the Zika virus? Have cancer? Carrying a severely deformed fetus? Unrelenting pain? Homeless? Mentally ill? Victim of sexual abuse? Victim of domestic violence? Stoke? Alzheimer disease? Dementia? Ebola?  S-h-i-t, such suffering is a walk in the park when compared to Jesus’ 24 hour beat down and death, says Evangelicals. Don’t sweat it! Get saved, and then when you die a horrible, miserable death you will get to go to heaven. This is why Evangelicals can oppose universal healthcare, birth control, and any other program meant to ease human suffering. Better to go to heaven with an empty stomach than to hell with a full one, Evangelical preachers say. Life is all about getting saved, not getting healthy and living a better life. Sure, if Jesus wants to give Evangelicals fancy cars, expensive clothes, organic food, private schools for their children, health, eye, and dental coverage, and vacations to Fiji, they will take it, but those who are left groveling in the dirt of human existence, why they should get saved, thank Jesus for being worthy of such suffering, and quickly die so Evangelicals don’t have to pay for their care.

Did you, at one time, view life and suffering as Andi Garcia does? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

Your God is Not Here

barbara ehrenreich god quote

Last night I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of girl who survived the murder of her mother and sisters. After the killings, the murderer scrawled a message in blood on the bedroom wall. The message said: YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE

Your God is not here….five little words, yet they succinctly summarize one of the reasons many people walk away from Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that God hears and answers prayers and is intimately involved with the day-to-day machinations of life. This God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. For Evangelicals, they “see” God everywhere, even going so far as to say that God lives inside of them. He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, Evangelicals sing, rarely considering how often in their lives God is nowhere to be found.

Evangelicals are taught that God is everywhere, yet it seems, oh so often, that the everywhere-God is AWOL. In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets to an Old Testament Cook-off.  Verses 20-24 states:

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.

The prophets of Baal went first. As expected, their God was silent and no fire fell from heaven. Then it was Elijah’s turn, and sure enough God heard the prophet’s prayer and sent fire to burn up the sacrifice. Not only did God burn up the sacrifice, he also totally consumed the stone altar (imagine how hot the fire must have been to melt rock). Afterward, Elijah had the prophets of Baal restrained and taken to a nearby brook so he could murder them. All told, Elijah slaughtered 450 men.

I want to focus on one specific element of this story; Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal. As these prophets called out to their God, Elijah began to mock them:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

The Living Bible puts it this way:

“You’ll have to shout louder than that,” he scoffed, “to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

barbara ehrenreich god quote 2

Every time I read these words I think about the Evangelical God, a deity who is supposedly on the job 24/7. If this God is so intimately involved with his creation, why does it seems that he is nowhere to be found?  This God is supposedly the Great Physician, yet Christians and atheists alike suffer and die. Where, oh where, is the God who heals? This God supposedly controls the weather, yet tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches and mudslides maim and kill countless people, leaving those who survive without homes, food, and potable water. This God supposedly causes plants to grow, yet countless children will starve due to droughts and crop failures. This God is supposedly the God of Peace, yet hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children are maimed and slaughtered in wars and terrorist attacks. This God is supposedly the giver of life, yet everywhere people look they see death — both human and animal.

Perhaps it is the Evangelical God that is — to quote the Living Bible — ” talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” Taking a big picture view of life leads many of us to conclude that either the Evangelical God is a heartless, indifferent son of a bitch or he doesn’t exist. For atheists such as myself, our honest, rational observations makes one thing clear — there is no God. Perhaps — throwing a bone to deists and universalists — there is a hand-off God, but is he worthy of worship? This God created the universe, yet he chooses, in the midst of our suffering, to do nothing. What good is such a God as this? Warm “feelings”  will not suffice when there is so much pain, suffering, and death.

Imagine how different the world would be if the Evangelical God fed the hungry, gave water to thirsty, healed the sick, brought an end to violence and war,  and made sure all people had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone in their pockets. Imagine if this God tore the pages of the book of Revelation from the Bible and said, my perfect, eternal kingdom is now!

Christians have been promising for centuries that someday their God will make all things new. Evangelicals warn sinners that the second coming of Christ is nigh, after which God will make a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21:3-5 we find these words:

I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”

Yet, despite the promises of better days ahead, the world remains just as it always has been, an admixture of love, joy, and kindness and hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? As I type this I am watching ESPN. They are running clips of notable athletes, coaches, and reporters whose lives have been touched by cancer. I cry every time I hear cancer-stricken Jim Valvano’s  ESPY speech:

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Cancer-ridden Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech elicits the same emotional response:

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Today, I heard the story of a sports reporter who lost his daughter and son-in-law to cancer — both in their 30s. I wept as I pondered this man’s heart-wrenching pain. And then I said, where is God?

I think the murderer was right when he scrawled on the  bedroom wall, YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE. Surely, the cold reality and honesty of atheism is preferred to begging and pleading with a God who never answers. I spend each and every day of my life battling chronic illness and disease. My health problems started 15 years before I walked away from Christianity. Countless prayers were uttered on my behalf. I pleaded with God, Help me, Lord. Heal my broken body, take away my pain. God uttered not a word, nor did he lift a finger to help. As a pastor, I prayed for numerous dying Christians. I asked the churches I pastored to pray for the sick and the dying. Yet, despite our earnest petitions, all those we prayed for died.

The absence of God from the human narrative of life is but one of the reasons I no longer believe in the existence of God. I think Jimmy Stewart summed up my view best with his prayer on the movie Shenandoah:

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There is no God that coming to deliver us from pain, suffering, and loss. We are on our own, so it is up to us to ease the suffering of humans and animals alike. Knowing that death always wins shouldn’t keep us from attempting to alleviate the misfortunes of others. We shouldn’t need promises of homes in heaven to motivate us to help others.

Please Stop the War on Chronic Pain Sufferers

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Every day, there is a breaking news report warning readers about the opiate epidemic. These reports detail the alarming uptick in deaths related to opiate use. These deaths are ALWAYS caused by drug abuse, a fact that is often lost in the sensationalized details of death by opiates. The FDA and  federal and state governments have called for and enacted new laws and regulations meant to curb opiate use and abuse. One former FDA chief even went so far as to say that doctors were wrong to think that alleviating pain was an essential part of patient care. Some regulatory agencies suggest that doctors should encourage chronic sufferers to use over-the-counter medications or alternative treatments such as massage therapy or acupuncture. And for those sufferers who have tried everything and are still in pain? Suck it up. We have a drug epidemic on our hands and we don’t have the time to care about your pain and suffering.

As long-time readers know, I live with unrelenting, chronic pain. Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, narrowing lower back disc spacing, and non-specific neurological problems have landed me in a wheelchair and robbed me of any meaningful opportunities for working outside of my home. (Here’s hoping my upcoming book will be a New York Times bestseller.) There is no such thing as a good day for me. Days are rated on a scale of tolerable pain on one end to screaming pain that makes me want to end my life on the other. Each and every day I take four 12.5/325 mg. Vicodin and four 50 mg. Tramadol. When needed, I also use hot compresses and a TENS unit. One thing is for certain…when I go to bed tonight one thing that will await me when I awake in morning is pain.

I have been seeing the same primary care doctor for 19 years. I first saw him when I began to feel tired all the time. From that came a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. My doctor has had to helplessly watch as my body has turned on itself and rendered me an invalid. While he can treat my diabetes and high blood pressure, and send me to specialists to address other problems such as cancer that threaten my existence, there is little he can do for my pain except commiserate with me and then prescribe narcotic pain medications. He knows — because I remind him of it from time to time — that  I do not expect him to fix what can’t be fixed. I am a realist. I accept my life as it is. What I do expect from him is help with my chronic pain. He has always put my needs first, but thanks to increased government scrutiny, my doctor is increasingly finding it hard to properly help with my pain.

My doctor is now required to closely monitor the total narcotic load of his patients. My load stands at 60 percent, well below the 80 percent threshold where my doctor is required to justify his treatment of my pain. He is no longer permitted to write narcotic prescriptions with refills. I must see him every two months, at which time he writes me two prescriptions for my pain medications. My doctor believes the government is now standing between doctors and their ability to provide competent care to their patients. It now costs me $181 every time I see my doctor. This means that it costs me over $1,000 a year just to get my narcotic prescriptions. Drug companies, always looking to increase the bottom line, have increased the cost of my Vicodin prescription by 300 percent since 2013. All told, it costs over $1,500 a year just to treat my pain. Since I am on a consumer-driven, high deductible ($3,000, to reach 80/20 and $6,700 maximum out-of-pocket) insurance plan with no drug benefit, most of my pain relief costs come right out of my wallet.

And even worse, I am treated as if I were a criminal. I recently had to sign a drug contract that permits my doctor to randomly test my urine — at my expense —  to make sure I am actually using the prescribed pain medications. I have NEVER abused my pain medications, but because federal and state governments can’t or won’t regulate pill mills and illicit narcotic use, I am punished for the criminal behavior of others. As is often the case, people who play by the rules are punished because of the bad behavior of others.

If regulatory agencies don’t come to their senses, doctors will be forced to break the Hippocratic oath. No longer able to find affordable pain relief, patients will turn to street drugs or alcohol. Some patients will likely choose suicide over a life of unrelenting pain. Is this really the goal of another phase of the failed war on drugs? What about marijuana? you ask. When legalization comes to Ohio, chronic pain suffers such as myself will be likely be forced to see pain doctors who use draconian methods to manage their patients’ needs. Office calls will be more expensive and random drug testing will become mandatory every visit. As is always the case, this economic burden only adds to the sufferer’s pain, a reminder yet again that patient needs do not come first.

Do you suffer with chronic pain? How has your treatment changed in recent years? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.