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Tag: Chronic Pain

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?”

Facing Life and Death Without God

life

Christianity offers its followers the promise of life after death. No matter how difficult and painful this life is, Christians are promised wonderful lives after death living with Jesus and their fellow Christians in a perfect, pain-free heaven. While I wonder how heavenly it is to spend your life prostrate before God worshiping him, Christians live in the hope that someday they will take possession of a room in the Father’s house, built especially just for them. (John 14) Without the promise of life after death in heaven, I wonder if most Christians would still be willing to forgo the pleasures of this life? While some Christians would argue that living according to the laws, teachings, and precepts of the Bible is still a good way to live, I suspect most Christians — without the promise of eternal life and bliss — would quickly abandon their houses of worship, joining people such as myself at the local pub or the church of the NFL. After all, even the apostle Paul said, If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:19) Evidently, Paul thought that in this life only Christianity had little to offer. And so Sunday after Sunday, Christian preachers promise parishioners a home awaits them in heaven. According to the Bible, God promises some day to give Christians the desires of their hearts. Wait. Does that mean there will be booze, porn, cigars, dirt track racing, and hunting in heaven? Will heavenly citizens spend their days playing Nintendo or Xbox games? Will God really give Christians the desires of their hearts? Hmm, this got me thinking about the whole going-to-heaven thing. I know a con job when I hear it. What better way to get people to buy what you are selling than to promise them that they will have a wonderful life if they will just sign on the dotted line. A wonderful life, that is, someday, after you have made the 666 monthly payments and died.

Atheism offers no such promises. Atheism is rooted in a humanistic and secularist view of the world. No promises of a divine life in the sweet by and by. Life is hard, and then you die. No promises of blessings in this life or the life to come. Some have argued that atheists have a cold, sterile outlook on life. To some degree this is true. Atheists are realists, knowing they only get one shot at life— best get to living it. Life is what we make it, and even when hard times come (and they will most certainly come), atheists find a way to make the most of it. I could spend my days whining and complaining about my health problems, but what good would that do? Instead, I turn my pain and suffering into a platform for helping others. I can look at the five decades I spent in the Christian church and say, what a waste, but I choose to use these experiences as an opportunity to help others. I know that this is the only life I have, and it is up to me to make the most of it. Spending time wondering about what might have been accomplishes nothing. As my family has heard me say many times, it is what it is. Sure, if there were some magical way to redo certain things from my past I might do it. But maybe not. Polly and I will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary this July. We met at a Fundamentalist Bible college. If nothing else good came out of our past, both of us would say — on most days — that our relationship was the best thing about our years in Evangelicalism. I would not want anyone to follow the same path we did, yet we do have six wonderful children and 11 awesome grandchildren. They indeed are the bright spots of the years we spent working in God’s coal mine. I have learned, or perhaps I am learning, to reflect on the good of the past, and use the bad things to fuel my writing and my attempts to help others avoid similar paths.

I will celebrate my 59th birthday in June. I have lived 12 years longer than my mother and five years longer than my dad. There are days when my body is so overwhelmed with pain that I wonder if I can live another day. The means of my demise are always nearby, yet despite my suffering I choose to live. Why? Because this is the only life I will ever have. I only have one opportunity to love Polly, Jason, Nathan, Jaime, Bethany, Laura, Josiah, my grandchildren, my brother and sister, and Polly’s mom and dad. I know that when I draw my last breath, there will be no family circle meeting in the sky — sorry Johnny! This is why I want to live each and every day to its fullest. This is not a cliché to me. This life matters. My wife, children, grandchildren, son-in-law, daughters-in-law, siblings, extended family, and friends matter to me. I know that I am only going to see them and enjoy their company in this life. There are places I want to go to and see. I want to enjoy and experience the fullness of what it means to be human. And since casting off the shackles of religion, I have been free to drink deeply of the human experience. No longer fearful of God’s judgment or hell, I am free to see, touch, taste, and hear the things I desire. Yes, there is that dirty word that dare not be spoken in Evangelical churches — desire. I spent way too many years denying passions, desires, wants, and needs, all for the sake of God, Jesus, the church, and the ministry. No more. It is wonderful to do something just because I want to. I do not have to pray about it or see if the Bible approves of it. Bruce approves, end of discussion.

When I write posts such as this, there are always a few horse-bridled Christians who let me know that there is coming a day when I will regret not bowing to the will of the S&M master, Jesus. Someday Bruce, Evangelical zealots tell me, God is going to make you pay for your attacks on Christianity. Someday, God is going to judge you for your wanton living and rejection of the Bible. Sometimes, I think Christians such as these people relish the day when God is going to give atheist Bruce Gerencser an eternal ass-whipping. I am sure they will be standing among the crowd cheering and saying to God, hit him again! He deserves it, Lord.

I have been blogging now for going on nine years. I left Christianity in 2008, and since then countless Evangelicals — along with a few Catholics — have attempted to win me back to Jesus through the use of Pascal’s Wager. The basic premise is this, Bruce, what if you are wrong? Good question. Since I am not infallible, nor do I have at my disposal the sum of all human knowledge and experience, all I can do is make reasoned, knowledgeable decisions based on the evidence at hand. I can tell readers this much: I have been wrong many, many times. Not only that, I have made enough mistakes that if you piled them up they would reach to the International Space Station. I am, after all, a feeble, frail, and at times contradictory, human being. I can, like all people, be led astray by my passions, judgments, or incomplete information. I am not immune to irrationality and cognitive dissonance. However, when it comes to Christianity and its promises of eternal life in heaven or judgment in hell, it is my educated opinion that the claims of Christianity are false. Trying to get me to choose Jesus just in case I am wrong makes a mockery of intellectual inquiry (and Christianity). Having spent most of my adult life in the Christian church and 25 years studying and preaching the Bible, I think it is safe to say that I know a good bit about Christianity. I cannot remember the last time that some Christian presented me with something I have not heard before. I am not being arrogant here — as I am sure some Christians will allege. I spent decades reading and studying the Bible — devouring countless Christian books. I immersed myself in Christianity and its teachings, so when I say I am no longer a Christian because I think the claims of Christianity and the Bible are false, my conclusions — unlike many Christian opinions of atheism — come from an educated, reasoned, well-thought-out position. Do I know everything there is to know about Christianity? Of course not, but I sure as hell know more than most the Christians (and preachers) I come in contact with on a day-to-day basis. My point is this: I am an atheist today, not out of ignorance, but because I weighed Christianity in the balance and found it wanting.

If Christians come up with new evidences for the veracity of their claims — and I doubt they ever will —  then I will gladly consider them. Until then, I am content to number myself among the godless. And when I die, I hope to leave this life knowing that I did what I could to be a help to others. I hope, on the day that my ashes are scattered along the shores of Lake Michigan, that my family and friends will speak well of me. I hope that none of them will have to lie, but that they will truly believe that my good works outweigh the bad. This is why I think that is important to finish well. I am sure Polly and my children have less-than-complimentary stories they could tell at my wake, but I hope, because I have made a concerted effort to be a better man, that they will share stories about a good man who just so happened to be an atheist.

I am often asked if I fear death. Yes and no. Since no one has died and come back to life — including Jesus — I do fear the blackness that awaits. There are been those times, late at night, when I have pondered being alive one moment and dead the next; going to sleep and never waking up. But this fear does not overwhelm me. I know that I cannot do anything about dying. It is, to quote the Lion King, the circle of life. We are born, we live, we die. End of story. All I know to do is to live a good life and be a good husband, father, grandfather, friend, and fellow citizen of earth. I have had the privilege of living at this time on humanity’s calendar, and when it comes time for me to draw my last breath, I hope my dying thoughts will be those of love. Love of family, love of friends, love of writing, love of photography, and love of all those who have made my life worth living. Will that not be what all of us desire? To love and to be loved? As dying pushes away all the minutia of life, what remains is love. For me, that will be enough.

Chronic Illness: Convincing Yourself Things Are Not as They Seem

i am fine thanks

Regular readers know that I battle chronic illness and unrelenting pain from the moment I get up until the time I fitfully fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning. For those of you who are new readers, let me give you the short version of my medical resume:

I have Fibromyalgia, which causes pervasive fatigue and muscle pain. I also have nerve pain in my face, hands, and thighs, loss of motor function and strength, osteoarthritis in every joint, including my back, frequent loss of bladder control, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Since late last year I’ve gone through numerous tests in an attempt to figure out why I am losing weight and frequently don’t feel like eating. An endoscopic ultrasound found a lesion on my pancreas and enlarged lymph glands. So far, they have not turned cancerous. I’ve been treated twice this year for squamous cell carcinoma (hip and lip) and several years ago I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I have a labrum tear in my right shoulder and joint damage in my left shoulder, feet, and knees.  I require the use of a wheelchair and/or a cane to get around.

This is my life. There’s little I can do to change it. I hunker down and try to live the best way I know how. It’s been a decade since I’ve had what I call a good day. These days, a good day is one where the pain is manageable and I can work in the office for a few hours and maybe go to a football game with my sons. A bad day is one where narcotic pain medications do little to ameliorate my pain and I am left curled up in bed wishing I were dead. Depression is the dark passenger in my life, and there are times when I fight the desire to end the suffering and pain.

I know there is no cure on the horizon, no magical drug that will make everything better. I’ve been tested, retested, and tested again, so much so that I glow in the dark. I have blood work at least six times a year.  My last blood draw required seven vials of blood, and that was after the phlebotomist stuck me three times trying to find one of my deep veins that would give enough flow to fill seven tubes. Despite all these tests, I remain, to some degree, an enigma to doctors, a patient with symptoms that don’t neatly fit into a specific diagnosis box.

As a skeptic, atheist, and humanist, I accept that life is what it is. I know that a deity isn’t going to magically heal me, and I’ve concluded neither are doctors. I have two choices in life; either endure whatever life bring my way or roll over and die. So far, I’ve chosen to endure, Yes, I hope for better days and I certainly desire for the good days to outnumber the bad days. But, regardless of my thoughts and desires, the die of my life is cast. In eighteen months I’ll be 60 years old. I’ve lived a decade longer than my father, who died of a stroke at age 49, and five years longer than my mother, who killed herself 23 years ago. I’ve watched death rob me of those I love, and I have little doubt that death is lurking in the shadow of my life, ready to claim me for its own. Death, like life, is certain, and as anyone who is chronically ill can tell you, the prospect of death is an ever-present reality.

Yet, I can have delusional moments where I pretend I’m not sick. There are times I become quite depressed as Polly goes off to work each day. As a man who was taught that the husband is supposed to be the breadwinner, I find it emotionally and mentally  painful to watch the most important person in my life go to work every day so we can have a roof over our head, food to eat, and all the trappings of a typical Midwestern lifestyle. I tell myself that Polly was a stay-at-home mom for many years and now our roles are reversed, but I still wish I could be the one kissing my spouse goodbye and saying I love you as I walk out the door for work. I know this will never be the case, but I can, at times, trick myself into believing that I can once again be Bruce Before Illness and Pain.

The chronically ill are known for convincing themselves that things are not as they seem. Put mind over matter, well-wishers tell the sick person. I’ve tried just such an approach many times over the years. Sickness be gone, pain depart, I say to myself. I can do anything I want to do. The only thing standing my way is me! Try as I might to convince myself that a wonderful new day has dawned, it’s not long before reality slaps me up the side of the head and asserts its rule over my life.

I continue to scan the help wanted ads, looking for the perfect job for a broken down, incapacitated old man. Every once in awhile, I’ll apply for this or that job, thinking that the prospective employer will be sure to call. Rarely does the phone ring. Recently, I applied for a job that required 2-5 hours every other week stocking display counters at the local Meijer. I sent the company my resume, and a week or so later they contacted me for an interview. On the day of my interview, I made sure I looked my best, donning a crisply pressed shirt and dockers. Not wanting to give off the cripple vibe, I left my cane at home and uprightly walked into Meijer for the interview. I was sure that this was the perfect job for me. Just enough work to restore a bit of my self-esteem and provide added income for our household budget.

The interview went well. I generally interview well. Having hired hundreds of people in my day, I know what an interviewer is looking for. I was pleasant, made eye contact, and asked the interviewer questions about herself, the company, and the job. She seemed to be excited about the prospect of hiring someone like me. Or perhaps, I just thought she was excited. Regardless, I left the interview thinking I would soon be stocking batteries at the local Meijer. A few days later I learned the company chose someone else for the job.

Not being chosen for an inconsequential, low paying job resulted in a weeks of depression and thoughts of suicide. Try as she might, Polly couldn’t rescue me and all my counselor could do was keep me holding on to the proverbial knot at the end of life’s rope. In time, the dark clouds lifted and I was able to put the rejection behind me.

I can convince myself that I can still work like I did before 1997, the year I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I’ll convince myself that I can stand on my feet for hours at a time, even though I can rarely stand for more than an hour. Just shopping for groceries requires me leaning on a shopping cart, and by the time I leave the store my body is screaming in pain.

My body never lies, but I do. I lie to myself, and I often lie to Polly. I’ll tell Polly that I want to apply for a job at this or that store and she’ll give that look I’ve see uncounted times before. But I can do it, I tell her. I won’t know until I try, right?  The love of my life lets me drift on the sea of my delusion, knowing that I will sooner or later realize I can’t do what the job requires me to do. She never looks down on me or chides me for trying the impossible. She knows, based on almost 40 years of loving me, that I am a proud man, a man who has a hard time embracing his life as it now is.

Sometimes, I will inflict greater pain on myself, refusing to give in to what my body demands of me. Last Friday, my sons and I attended a local high school football game. The night before I got about 4 hours of sleep, and wisdom dictated that I cancel my plans to go to the game. So much for wisdom. I went to the game and endured three hours of being battered by people walking up and down the aisle. A man in back of me, thinking he still was in high school, spent the night cheering loudly and stomping his feet. Every time he stomped his feet my body rippled with painful shock waves. By the time the last touchdown was scored, I was ready to murder the man where he stood.

After the game was over, I haltingly made my way down to the ground. This particular school decided to build its football stadium a long distance from the parking lot, and I wondered if I was going to be able to make it back to the car. With head down, teeth gritted, I walked toward the car. My sons, still in their prime, quickly, even with grandchildren in tow, outdistanced me, and soon they were yards ahead of me. They stopped, allowing me to catch up, only to find me straggling behind a few minutes later.

During the game, we had been talking about Polly’s parents, her Dad’s upcoming hip replacement, and their unwillingness to change their way of life. Pride was their problem, we decided.  As I walked towards the car, a woman in a golf cart stopped and asked if I would like a ride to the car. Everything in my being said YES, but pride turned her offer of help away with a, no, I’m fine. Thank you. A few minutes later another woman in a golf cart stopped and  again asked if I needed a ride. I gave her the same answer I gave the first good Samaritan. My oldest son, watching my obstinate denial of reality, laughed and reminded me of my own pride. I chuckled, and then continued on my way to the car.

My son,of course, was right. It’s pride, the desire to rise above my illness and pain, that often brings more pain and debility. Try as I might to see my life as it is and embrace my new reality, I continue to have times when I attempt to conjure up the Bruce that existed before illness and pain took from me much of what made me a man. I look at old photographs and weep, lamenting a life that once was. And then I dry my eyes and remind myself that nothing I do can bring back that which is lost. The best I can do is embrace life as it is. I have a beautiful wife, six wonderful children, and ten awesome grandchildren. Surely, I’m blessed with that which many people would give anything for, I remind myself. I can choose to lament what’s been lost or rejoice over what I still have.

Today, I rejoice. Now, where’s the employment section of the paper?

[signoff]

How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain

sin can make you sick

Polly’s father is almost 80 years old. In poor health, suffering from severe spinal deterioration and arthritis, Dad has decided to have a total hip replacement. While Polly and I are absolutely against him having the surgery, it’s his life and he is free to do what he wants. Dad is in constant pain and he hopes that having the hip replaced will lessen his pain. The doctor gave no guarantees and, having worked with many hip replacement patients when I worked for Allegro Medical, a Phoenix based direct medical equipment supply company, I’m worried that the surgery could make his pain worse or land him in a nursing home. It’s hard to stand by and do nothing as parents make decisions like this, but Dad and Mom are competent to make this decision, so we will do all we can to love and support them. We remind ourselves that someday we will be where they are.

By now, you are probably trying figure out how the title of this post, How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain, fits with what I have written so far. Let me explain. Dad was always a hard worker, often able to work circles around men half his age. He and I got along well because we both had that workaholic drive, the need to constantly be busy and get things done. However, at the age of 65, Dad was in an industrial accident that injured his back and required immediate surgery.

Soon, pain became an ever-present reality. Dad, having been taught that taking narcotics could lead to addiction, refused to take anything more than Tylenol or aspirin. Later in life, Naproxen was added to the mix as was Darvocet, a drug that was later removed from the market due to serious side effects. Dad would do his best to only take what he thought he needed, often only taking half a pill or going without taking anything for several days. No matter how often I reminded him that it would be better if he took the drugs regularly and on schedule, he continued to endure the pain rather than take the drugs as the doctor ordered.  A year or so ago, Dad’s doctor gave him a prescription for Tramadol and a few weeks ago he gave him a script for Oxycontin. Finally, I thought, he will find some relief for his pain and suffering. Sadly, that was not to be the case.

You see, Dad is afraid of becoming addicted and this is one of the reasons he is having a total hip replacement. In his mind, if he has the hip replaced, perhaps the pain will lessen and he won’t need to take the Oxycontin. No addiction, and God will be happy.  I would try to explain to him the difference between addiction and dependence, but I don’t think he’d hear me. Having been a narcotic user for over a decade, I know that I am dependent; I’m not an addict. I take the drugs as prescribed. I wish that Dad could see that being dependent is no big deal and that regularly taking Oxycontin will reduce his pain and improve his quality of life.  Unfortunately, thinking drug dependence is a sin keeps Dad from getting the full benefit of the drug.

This is a perfect example of how fundamentalist prohibitions cause unneeded suffering and pain. From preaching that says addiction (dependence) is a sin to viewing pain and suffering as some sort of test from God, many fundamentalists eschew drugs and treatments that would likely improve their quality of life. Better to suffer for Jesus, the thought goes, than to become dependent on narcotics. In just a little while, Jesus is coming again…so endure until you see your Savior’s smiling face.

As an atheist, I am deeply troubled by this kind of thinking. Since I think this life is the only one we have, we should do all we can to eliminate not only our own pain and suffering, but the pain and suffering of others. Since there is no heaven and no reward in the sweet by and by, why needlessly suffer? Better to become dependent on narcotics and have some sort of pain relief and improved quality of life than to go through life suffering, only to die in the end.  While I certainly think having a chronic illness and living with unrelenting pain has made me more compassionate, I don’t wish such a life on anyone, especially those I love.

How about you? Were you taught that taking narcotics and becoming dependent on them was a sin? Please share your story in the comment section.

Note

I pastored numerous people over the years who thought taking pain medications was a sign of weakness or lack of dependence on God. I watched one man horrifically suffer from bowel cancer, unwilling to take drugs for the pain. I’ve come to see that this is the Evangelical version of the Catholic self-flagellation.

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[signoff]

Have You Tried (blank)?

chronic illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce

Note

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

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

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Why Are Some Evangelicals Obsessed With My Weight?

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Bruce Gerencser, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last month, I wrote:

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

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

bruce 2015
Bruce Gerencser, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

karah and bruce gerencser 2015
Karah and Bruce Gerencser, 2015

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

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

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

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

God Killed Our Baby: Isn’t God Awesome?

romans 8 28

Evangelical Christians believe that their God is the giver and taker of life and that he controls the universe. As the old song goes, he’s got the whole world in his hands. Everything that happens in their lives  is according to the purpose and plan of their God. When tragedy comes their way, they turn to prayer and the Bible to find hope and comfort. The Bible says in Romans 8:28:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

and in I Corinthians 10:12,13:

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.  There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

According to the Bible, everything that happens in the Evangelicals’ lives is for their good and God will not  create any burden in their life without making  a way for them to bear it.

The Bible says in Hebrews 13:5:

…I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

and in  Matthew 28:20:

…lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

and in Psalm 37:25

I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

According to the Bible, God/Jesus promises to always be with the Evangelical, even to the end of the world. He promises to never forsake them. No matter what, God will always be there for them.

It is important to understand what I have written above in order to make any sense of what I am about to write next. Jason Williams is the assistant pastor of High Street Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. (See church’s blog here.) High Street is an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church that was once pastored by one of the most hardcore IFB pastors I ever met, Charles Mainous.

A year or so ago, Williams and his wife lost their unborn child. Williams wrote a post for the Old Path’s Journal about the loss of his child. He wrote (page no longer active):

How many of you have been in a relationship and lost someone you love? Maybe it was because of a break up and you are hurting badly and feel rejected. Maybe you even lost someone dear to you because of death. If so, then perhaps you are like me and you are asking God, “Why did you take this person from me?”…

…It was during this very difficult time in my life when I was asking God why He took my child, that He showed me Psalm 61. Psalm 61 is a Psalm of healing. It details all the things that God gives us. As I read this chapter, it was as if God was saying to me. “Yes, I did take your baby, but look at all of the things that I have given you.”…

…Your loss is a gift from God! He looked down from Heaven and deemed you worthy to glorify Him! What a gift! To think that God would think I am worthy to praise Him blows my mind! I am just a sinner, but He looked past my sin and gave me a trial so that I can stand in front of others and tell them that He is good!

Because God took our baby, I have been able to stand in front of our church and praise Him! So many people came to me afterwards and told me that the testimony made them realize just how good God is! That night a politician texted me and told me our testimony caused his faith in God to grow! What a gift God gave me! The chance to glorify Him!…

Williams believes that God killing his baby was good for him and his wife, and that God used the death of their baby to advance his purpose. Through the death of their child, other people can see how GOOD, how AWESOME, God is! Only those indoctrinated in the Evangelical worldview could ever take the tragic death of a baby and turn it into an awesome event. Since God is good and only does what is good for the Evangelical, whatever happens in the Evangelical’s life is g-o-o-d. This kind of thinking forces the Evangelical to accept a warped view of the world, a view that has no place for bad things to happen.

Now, an Evangelical might object and say, bad things do happen, but God turns them into good. This is nothing more than semantics. Since the Evangelical must never call a good work of God bad, how can anything REALLY be bad? No matter what happens, God will turn it into good and Evangelicals must never, ever forget that God is always good and only does that which is good for them. Over and over they are told this, so when bad things happen in their  lives, they dismiss, discount, and reject how they really think and feel about the tragedy or circumstance they are going through. They are never permitted to say, what has happened to me is bad and nothing good can come from it.

Ten years ago, my sister-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident. I vividly remember how Polly’s Evangelical family went through the mental gymnastics necessary to turn Kathy’s death into good. During the invitation at her funeral, a person raised their hand and said that God had saved  him. Polly’s family thought, If one soul gets saved then Kathy’s death was worth it. At the time, I was still a Christian, but I made it very clear that I didn’t accept such thinking. I told them If I was asked to choose between the life of my sister-in-law and a soul getting saved, the whole world could go to hell. Nothing good has come from Kathy’s death. Polly lost her only sister, Polly’s parents lost a daughter, and she left behind a husband, children, and grandchildren who love her and miss her.

Look, I understand why people like the Williamses, Polly’s family, and many Evangelicals think like this. Bound by their literal interpretation of the Bible, they are forced to embrace a way of looking at life that is a complete denial of how life REALLY is. If thinking like this helps them to find peace and sleep through the night, then who am I to object, right? Fine, but they should not expect people like me to think the same way. I subscribe to the ‘you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse’ way of looking at life. I am a realist who tries to see the world as it is. This forces me to see that bad things do happen, things that lack any sort of goodness. Of course, seeing the world this way is part of the reason I am an atheist.

I want nothing to with a God who afflicts (tortures?) people so he can teach them a lesson, punish them for sin, or remind them of what an awesome God he is. Such a God is a psychopath  who derives pleasure from the suffering of others, a God who delights in tormenting and killing people. If such a person were my neighbor, I would quickly decide to move somewhere else.

Some Evangelicals think my refusal to accept that God is working all things for my good, in light of my pain and suffering, has turned me into a person who hates God. If such a God exists, then YES, I hate him. If the pervasive pain I have every day of my life is God teaching me a lesson then YES, I hate my tormentor. No decent human beings would treat someone they love this way, yet I am expected to believe that I am in pain tonight because God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life? Not a chance.

Yes, my pain and suffering informs and powers my writing. I doubt I could be the writer I am today without it. But, if you asked me to choose between being a writer and having a life free of the debilitating pain I am in, I would gladly not write another word. The only way for me to come to terms with where I am in my life is for me to realize that shit happens. Due to genetics, choices I have made, choices others have made, environmental exposure, and luck, my life is what it is. I accept my life as it is. If Polly and I were in the Williamses shoes, we would surely grieve as they have. However, we would not cling to the notion that God killing our child was somehow for our good. Instead, we would recognize that some babies die in the womb. Death is the one constant in our world. Every day, people die. When my sister-in-law died, she died because she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the woman in front of the motorcycle made a quick u-turn, there was no way to avoid hitting her.  Just like that, Kathy was thrown from the motorcycle, struck her head  on the pavement, and she was dead. I can still remember the anguish in my mother-in-law’s cries as she got the news while at our house on Memorial Day. Just like that, everything changed.

This is the reality of life. I understand why people use religion to escape this reality, but I cannot do so.  Bad things happen, and all the prayers and all the religious-speak in the world won’t change this fact. How about you? As a former Christian, how do you now view and understand the world and the bad things that happen? Do you ever wish you still had God and faith to hold on to when bad things happen?  If you are a Christian, how do you deal with the bad things that happen in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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The Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game

white birch clare michigan 2003
House we rented in White Birch, a wooded community north of Farwell, Michigan. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003

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House we rented in White Birch, a wooded community north of Farwell, Michigan. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003
Depression Sea is roiling today, my mind is twisting, turning, and dying.

She knows, she always knows. My face and body language tell a story she’s read time and again.

She worries that this time the story might have a different ending.

I’m at the doctor’s office.

Wasn’t I here last month? I already know the answer, having made the trip eight times and the year isn’t even half over.

As we wait for the nurse to call my name, we play the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®.

Playing the game allows me to change the monotonous, deadly channel that keeps playing over and over in mind.

We look at one another, smile, and begin the game.

The game always has the same answers, but we like to play anyway.

In the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®, we take shared places and experiences and meld them into one. A fantasy, to be sure, but who knows, maybe we’ll strike it rich, rob a bank, or write a book detailing where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

Spring in Ohio, with its promise of new life and flowers.

Fall in Ohio, with its crisp air and changing colors.

Winter in Arizona, no snow for us, we survived the Blizzard of 78.

Summer in the Upper Peninsula , nestled as close to our Canadian friends as possible.

Our rented  house from White Birch, Michigan, with a 1970 green Nova SS sitting in the drive.

bruce 1970 nova ss
Bruce putting water in 1970 Nova SS, March 1976, somewhere in Kentucky
Package these things together and magically move them to the eastern seaboard, to a small, out-of-the-way fishing community on the shore of the Atlantic.

Turn the house so it fronts the Ocean, allowing us to sit on our deck and watch the sunrise and the fishing boats making their way to the secret spots known only to those whose hands and face bear the weathered look of a lifetime spent fishing.

Nearby live our children and grandchildren. Not too close, yet not so far as to be beyond an invite to a Saturday night BBQ.

This is Bruce and Polly’s fantasy.

She remains worried, wondering if the slough of despondency will bury the man she loves.

All I want is for the pain to stop.

Is that too much to ask?

I already knows the answer. I always knows the answer.

The nurse calls my name and I  haltingly walk to the exam room.

No weight gain, medications the same, pulse 78, and blood pressure just a little high. Refills ordered, sure is hot, hate the humidity, how’s Bethany, he’ll be in to see you soon.

The doctor walks through the door and sits near me.  Eighteen years we’ve danced to this tune, both of us now dance much slower than we once did.

The doctor thinks I am chipper today, better than last month.  Little does he know what I’m really thinking. We talk about the Reds, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, and the All Star game. I promised the nurse that we wouldn’t do our thing, our thing being shooting the breeze while other patients wait. I lied. He’s behind and I’m to blame.

We shake hands and afterward I put my hand gently on his shoulder.  I tell him, see you in two months. This sounds like a lie, a hollow promise with no hope of fulfillment.

I want to live.

I want to die.

We stop at St. John’s produce tent and buy some local strawberries. $3.50 a quart. We buy some Georgia peaches too, which will turn into pies for Sunday. The strawberries will top the angel food cake she will make in the morning; just like every other June 19th for the past thirty-seven years.

bruce and mom 1957
Bruce and his mom, July 1957
June 19, 1957, in a building years ago torn down and replaced with a new one, at 9:01 AM I drew air into my lungs for the first time. A new life born into poverty in a nondescript rural Ohio community, delivered by a doctor who also worked as a veterinarian.

The path is now long and how much path remains is unknown.

Will the game be called today or will we get to play, for the nth time the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®?

I’m still betting on playing the game.

Note

For those who struggle with chronic pain and illness, a birthday can often lead to deep depression, a reminder of all that has been lost. While the healthy focus on all they have, those in pain and who suffer from years of chronic debility can, and often do, focus on how much they have lost. Yes, it is wonderful to have a sliver of life to hold on to, to have a spouse, children, and grandchildren who love you, but nothing can ameliorate the sense of loss.

This is not a cry for help. I am just talking out loud with friends.

Medical Marijuana and Relieving Pain and Suffering

letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, submitted on June 14, 2015

Dear Editor,

Rarely a week goes by when there is not a letter to the Editor from a fundamentalist Christian demanding their moral code and peculiar interpretation of the Bible be accepted by all.  Even when they aren’t quoting the Bible or reminding local unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of their impending doom, their letters reflect an addled worldview, one shaped by an ancient book they think offers them unchanging truth. If their beliefs were kept in the church house, non-Christians would care little and hope that one day they would see the light. However, their beliefs are not kept in the church house, and because of this people of science, reason, and common sense must continue to push back as Christian fundamentalists try by legal and political means to force people to live by a worldview that is better suited for the dustbin of human history.

Take a recent letter writer who vehemently opposes legalizing the use of medical marijuana in Ohio. Even though they didn’t mention one Bible verse, their letter dripped with the fundamentalist presupposition that suffering and pain are in some way noble and good for us. Numerous Bible verses would certainly lead one to conclude that suffering and pain have probative value and makes us closer to God and keeps us from clinging too closely to this life. If we buy into this kind of thinking and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, a life after death that is free of suffering and pain awaits us.

Sounds sublime, right? But, what if there is no life after death, no divine payoff for trudging through life suffering for Jesus and enduring pain because it will make us stronger?  What if the only life we have is this one? Well, that changes everything. If this life is it, and I think it is, then we should try to relieve not only our own pain and suffering, but that of others. As a committed humanist, I would never want to withhold from anyone that which would relieve or end their suffering and pain. Whether it is narcotic pain medications, medical marijuana, or physician assisted suicide, I want every human to have at their disposal the means to lessen their suffering and pain.

Any religion that values suffering and pain is one that should be roundly criticized and rejected. And if Jesus were alive today, I suspect he’d agree with me.

Bruce Gerencser
Ney, Ohio

Bruce Gerencser