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Tag: Chronic Pain

Vicodin is Better Than Jesus

jesus heals

There’s a masochistic vein that runs deep in the bedrock of Christianity. Believing that suffering and pain have higher purposes, many Christians will refuse narcotic pain medications even though taking them would provide immediate relief from many kinds of pain. Lurking in the shadows of this thinking is the notion that since Jesus — the sinless Son of God and redeemer of mankind — suffered unimaginable horrors on the cross, Christians should be willing to patiently and serenely face the just consequences for their sin: pain, suffering, and death. (Please see I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend.) And if they are willing to follow in the steps of the Suffering Servant, then God promises to reward them with eternal life in Heaven; a life free of pain, suffering, and death. Thus, many Christians believe that suffering in the here and now is required if they expect to gain eternal life.

Pain is considered one of the consequences of the curse. Women, for example, have painful childbirth because Adam and Eve ate fruit from a forbidden tree. Genesis 3:16-19 says:

Unto the woman [Eve] he [God] said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Countless Christian women refuse epidurals — my wife included — and other means of reducing pain because they believe that suffering in childbirth is their just desserts for being sinners.

While much is made about Jesus healing people in the Bible, he actually healed very few people. Consider Lazarus:

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

Lazarus suffered untold pain and agony — what the Bible calls “evil things” — yet Jesus didn’t lift a finger to feed him or relieve him of his suffering. Instead, Jesus uses Lazarus as a sermon illustration, a poignant reminder to everyone that pain relief awaits in the next life for those who passively suffer in this life. What’s a little bit of starving homelessness compared to a feast-filled lifetime living in a mansion (or room) in God’s Heaven?

Recently, a Fundamentalist Christian family member had surgery that left her in a good bit of pain. Thanks to the current war on opioids, the doctor prescribed her six days of Tramadol for her pain. While this drug certainly can help with light/moderate pain, it is not very effective for severe post-surgical pain (at least not at a one-tablet-every-six-hours level). One person sitting with us — also a devout Fundamentalist — encouraged the family member to take as little of the drug as possible. Whywhen I had a similar surgery, she said, all I took was Tylenol. After a few hours in post-op, the family member was sent home. As she settled in, she mentioned that she was in a lot of pain. How soon can I can another pain pill? she asked. Not for another three hours, my wife replied. I said, you don’t have to wait until six hours are up to take another one. It’s okay to take it every four hours if need be, and you can take Tylenol tooBoth? she incredulously replied. I said, yes, both. Dr. Bruce, on the job.

Many Christians Fundamentalists fear getting addicted to pain medications, so they won’t take them. They would rather suffer than risk addiction or dependence. Many of them have been taught that taking drugs is akin to sorcery. Seriously, Bruce? Yes, seriously. Let me give you an example of this thinking from the True Discernment blog:

The Greek word “pharmakia” literally means “drugs”, and appears five times in the New Testament: in Gal 5:20, Rev 9:21, 18:23, 21:8, and 22:15.

“Pharmakia” is translated into our English Bible as either “witchcraft” or “sorceries”. We also get our English word “pharmacy” from the Greek word “pharmakia”.

In each of the above five passages, “pharmakia”, or “drugs” is listed as a work of the flesh of man as opposed to the Spirit of God working in us.

….

The King James Bible translators translated “pharmakia” as “witchcraft”, because almost no one but witches and sorcerers used drugs 400 years ago. Drugs were most commonly used in pagan worship to hallucinate and to try to get in touch with evil spirits.

This can be serious stuff! In Rev. 21:8, God says that people who are continually characterized by drug use will have no part in the Kingdom of God.

Now many people think that when the New Testament speaks of drug use that it is only talking about Illegal drug use, but I believe it is also speaking of those people who call themselves Christians but are relying on Legal Prescription drugs.  Now I am not saying that everyone who has to take prescription drugs are [sic] part of the people that the New Testament is talking about here, but I have noticed the prevalent and growing disturbing trend within the church of “Christians using on a regular and continuing basis: mind altering prescription pain killers, anti-depressants, nerve pills , and also other strong prescription drugs that if the taker wanted to could not reduce or eliminate the use of  them via their own self control or a life style change.

I have even seen a person who was supposed to be heading up an addictive habit deliverance ministry who had Type 2 diabetes but refused to alter their eating habits but instead chose to rely on an insulin pump to control their sugar levels so the person could eat what they wanted and admittedly said so!  Yes there are people who have Type 1 diabetes and it wouldn’t matter if they altered their eating habits, they would still need to take insulin. But if you can control your eating habits but refuse to and have to rely on a drug because of your refusal then that is a sin. Not to mention the damage that too much unnecessary insulin dependence can do to your body over a long period of time.  How can you teach others how to be delivered of sinful addictive habits if you refuse to give up one yourself? Many people have the mistaken idea today that they need not bring their flesh under control where they are able to.

….

When you mix, prescription drugs, a heavy emphasis on revelation and experiential and emotion driven religion over Biblical Doctrine and obedience to the word then you wind up with a church ripe for deception and lying spirits. The gateways to satanic influences have been thrown wide open. And that is what we are seeing in churches today.

The husband of the aforementioned family member has lived with horrific pain for years — made worse by a botched hip replacement. He should be on narcotic pain management, but because he fears becoming a drug addict, he refuses to ask for help. Instead, he takes Naproxen and suffers. Years ago, when Darvon was still on the market, he would take half a tablet two or three times a day, but only when his pain was really bad. Mustn’t take more than that lest he enter the gateway that leads to addiction to heroin or some other feared street drug, the thinking goes. Taking pain medications would give him quality of life, but thanks to deeply embedded religious beliefs, he will endure needless suffering and pain until he dies.

I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five years. I visited countless sick, dying Christians in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, and their places of residence. I saw horrific suffering, often exacerbated by refusals to take pain relieving drugs. Many of them saw their suffering as a sign of their true devotion to Christ. After all, the Bible says, he that endureth to the end shall be saved. The Apostle Paul encouraged Christians to patiently endure whatever came their way, and in doing so they would reap great reward. I witnessed “loving” children refuse to let their cancer-ridden parents have morphine because it made them lethargic or caused them to sleep all the time. In their minds, they wanted their moms and dads to go unto the darkness of endless night screaming the name of Jesus.

jesus the great physician

Christians fondly call Jesus The Great Physician, rarely asking what is so “great” about his medical practice. Sure, in the Bible we see Jesus healing a few people, but most of suffering people who came into contact with him went away unchanged. In John 5, the Bible records a story about a pool of water called Bethesda. It was believed that God would periodically send Angels to Bethesda to “stir” the water; to give it healing properties. The first person in the water after the angel stirred the water would immediately be healed of his afflictions. Scores of sick, dying people would gather near the water, hoping to be the first person in when God’s whirlpool began churning.

One day, Jesus came to the pool and noticed a man who had been sick and afflicted for thirty-eight years. This man hoped to one day be the first person in the pool, but because he couldn’t walk, others always made it to the water before him.  Jesus, having oh so great compassion on the man, said to him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. Immediately, the man was made whole. He took up his bed and walked away. Amazing, right? Jesus healed someone! Woo Hoo! And what about all the other sick people lying near the Pool of Bethesda? Jesus left them as they were. The Bible says that the crowd was such that Jesus quickly got out of there.

Sick and afflicted Christians live in hope that Jesus will one day stir the water of their life and miraculously heal them. Such healing never comes, of course, because Jesus has no power to do so. He’s dead, and has remained so for two thousand years. The only Gods who can heal are doctors and other medical professionals. They hold in their hands the power to deliver people from pain and suffering, or to at the very least reduce needless grief and misery. Of course, many Christians believe God uses doctors to heal. Yes, doctors learn medical skills, but it is God who gives them the wherewithal to competently use those skills to alleviate pain and suffering. God is much like President Trump, always wanting/demanding credit for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g good that happens. If this is indeed so, why the middleman? Why not just heal people? With Jesus, The Great Physician, in the operating room, who needs a surgeon or anesthesiologist.

Despite Christian preachers saying otherwise, Jesus is not returning to earth. There is no Promised Land® awaiting his followers. Revelation 21:4 promises:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their [Christians] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Jesus’ disciples believed he would come back in their lifetime. Here we are two thousand years later — in what can best be described as a long con — and Jesus is nowhere to be found. Perhaps, it is time for Christians to admit that he ain’t coming back. He ain’t coming back to take them to their heavenly pain-free reward. He ain’t gonna deliver them from pain and suffering. If this is so, and everything we can see and know says it is, then there is no glory is needlessly suffering. There’s no value in not taking pain medications or refusing to accept other pain-relieving modalities. In this life, Vicodin is better than Jesus. Narcotic drugs (or marijuana) will not make your life free of pain, but they can and will help, often giving life quality you would not otherwise have. The less pain we have, the more we can do in life. Surely, THAT is a worthy goal.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend

pain and suffering

Kirsten Ryken, a writer for the Fundamentalist website The Gospel Coalition, recently wrote a post titled, Why I Thank God for Chronic Pain. Ryken’s article was part personal story and part justification for God allowing her to painfully suffer. Ryken concluded her post with this:

With the eye of faith, I saw Christ on the cross. God, in a human body, taking on physical pain far greater than my own. Thorns in his head, blood dripping down his face, nails in his hands and feet, love in his face. I felt his pain in my own body, the fire in my spine intensifying as I looked at him. But I also felt him holding me like a child.

I knew in my heart in that moment that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). I was completely overwhelmed with the knowledge that my God not only knows what’s wrong with my body even when no human doctor does, he also knows my physical pain more intimately than anyone else ever could. The loneliness of suffering and the frustration of not having answers were taken away in an instant. I felt a physical burden lifted from my body and my heart.

Until that moment, I had never understood the relevance of Christ’s death on the cross to the details of my daily life, my pains and my joys. It was only in the light of the cross that I could make sense of my own suffering. This reminder is the positive result of my pain. In moments when I feel overwhelmed, I remember Calvary. I thank God for the precious gift of my salvation, because on some (very small!) level I have begun to understand the cost of my salvation.

Chronic pain is a constant reminder that my life is not my own; it has been bought with a price.

The narrative Ryken spins is one often heard when Evangelicals try to explain pain and suffering: my suffering is next to nothing compared to the pain and agony Jesus suffered on the cross. In the minds of Christians such as Ryken, there’s no human suffering that can be compared to what Jesus faced on Calvary. This worn-out, tiresome trope gets repeated over and again by Evangelicals who never THINK about what they are actually saying. Jesus is the bad-ass suffering servant, Evangelicals would have us believe; but in fact Jesus’ suffering was minuscule compared to what countless people face every day.

Yes, Jesus was beaten and his beard was plucked from face. Yes, he was nailed to a Roman cross and suffered great indignity (that is assuming the gospel narratives are true). But how long did Jesus actually suffer? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Nope. How about less than a day? Then he died, descended to hell and hung out with its inhabitants, and then he resurrected from the dead good as new save the nail prints in his hands and feet. Pray tell, based on what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about Jesus’ suffering, how was his pain in any way worse than that which any human has ever experienced? By all means, compare Christ’s suffering to what children face when having radiation and chemotherapy treatments to eradicate cancer from their bodies. Go ahead, compare his suffering to that of people in burn units with third degree burns over most their bodies. Jesus may have faced intense levels of pain for a short amount of time, but how does his suffering compare to the pain of people who suffer with debilitating, chronic illnesses for years?

Jesus knew that his time of suffering would be short and sweet, and then he would die. Imagine a body wracked with pain day in and day out, years on end, with no relief in sight. I suspect such people might be willing to suffer what Jesus did if they knew afterward their bodies would be free from pain. I know I would. I would trade places in a heartbeat with the “suffering” Son of God if it meant come Sunday morning my body was no longer wracked with pain. And I suspect I am not alone in my blasphemy.

I don’t think for a moment that my short post will change Christian thinking on this subject. Ryken desperately needs a suffering Jesus to make sense of her own pain. Without Jesus, she is left with what? Shit happens? And to that I say “yes.” None of us is guaranteed a pain-free life. Genetics, environmental factors, personal choices, and yet-unknown factors go into what diseases we contract and what pain we suffer. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said in his book Mortality, ” . . . To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? . . .”  Why me, indeed.

Christians invoke the suffering Jesus because it covers up the fact they suffer just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, and that their God, much like the cosmos, yawns with indifference. Jesus, then, becomes the hospice nurse who holds their hands as they face cruelties, indignities, and sufferings beyond imagination. Jesus has promised Christians that he will never leave or forsake them, and he will never allow them to suffer more than they are able. Thus, whatever pain and suffering comes their way, God means it for their good, either to chastise them or teach them a lesson. If Christians will but endure what comes their way, words in an ancient religious text promise that they will be given pain-free bodies after death. Better to think this, many Evangelicals say, than to believe we live in a cold, heartless universe. Why, such a belief leads to despair! Christians say. To that, I reply, maybe for you it does, but it doesn’t have to.

I find comfort in the fact that shit happens, and chronic illness and intractable pain afflict rich and poor, young and old, religious or not. I know that I am not special, and that countless other people are going through pain and suffering as bad as mine and worse. I am not owed a pain-free existence. I have been given life — just one — and it is incumbent upon me to live life to its fullest. I embrace my suffering, not looking to a mythical deity for inspiration or help. I find comfort in the fact that my wife, children, and friends deeply care about me and do what they can to lessen my pain. And I try to do the same when dealing with others who are facing troubles and trials, physical or not. Is there any more any of us can do for each other?  A kind word, a thoughtful action, a tender embrace, these are enough. It is humanism, with its goal of lessening suffering, that shines the brightest. Christianity says endure, promising a divine payoff in the sweet by-and-by. Humanism says we only have one life, let’s do all we can to lessen pain and suffering. Christianity says pain and suffering have a higher purpose, be it correction or testing. Humanism says alleviating pain allows people to live happy lives, and in this cold universe of ours, that’s the best any of us can expect. Despite my pain, or perhaps because of it, I choose Humanism.

I Don’t Want to Die, I Just Want the Pain to Stop

pain to stopYet another visit to the doctor’s office, visit number eleven since November — primary care doctor, dermatologist, cardiologist, podiatrist, and today a visit to my orthopedic doctor. For the past six months or so, I have been having a problem with my right hip. I would get a dull ache in the hip and at times it would give out on me, sending me banging from wall to wall, much like a steel ball in a pinball machine. Over the past two weeks, the pain in my hip has gotten significantly worse, and on occasion I have been unable to walk without help or a cane. I thought, what the hell is going on now? Just what I need, another fucking problem to deal with!

My orthopedic doctor — a physician’s assistant — is a straight-shooting, no bullshit practitioner. He tells me the truth, and doesn’t promise medical miracles. I have osteoarthritis from my neck to my feet and in many joints in between. My doctor told me I have a wildfire spreading through my body. Surgery “might” help for some of your joint problems, he told me last time, but we could also make your problems worse and leave you in more pain. At a previous visit, he asked me how my right shoulder was. I have a labrum tear. I told him, it hurts, but I get by. He replied, see, here we are two years later and you are still getting by. If we had cut on you, things might have turned out worse for you. I appreciate his honesty.

The good news from today’s visit is that my hip is fine. The bad news is that the ever-narrowing disc spaces in my lower back are affecting the nerves that control my hip’s movement. Pressure on these nerves is causing my hip to give way. This is why when I sit for a long time, I can hardly stand straight and the hip doesn’t work as it should. Once I stand for a while and get straightened up posture-wise, the pressure on the nerves is decompressed and everything works as intended.

There are days when I just want to put an end to it all. People who suffer with chronic illnesses and endure unrelenting pain often have thoughts about suicide. Well-meaning people tell me that they are praying for me, or that I need to put mind over matter. I love it when someone tells me, you know, there are people who are worse off than you. And this helps how, exactly? There will always be people who are sicker than I am or have more pain than I do. And there are countless people who are in good health, and their biggest pain is a zit on the end of their nose or a backache from too much headboard banging. Each of us lives in a contained world unto ourselves. My health problems and my pain are mine alone to bear. Just think of Jesus’ suffering, Bruce. He did it all for you, Christians tell me. What, a day or so of pain, a long weekend, and then a pain-free body? Jesus had it easy I would trade places with him in a heartbeat. Let Jesus walk in my shoes for a while — not that he can, he’s dead. Conjuring up an imaginary suffering deity as a way to “encourage” those who are in real pain is not any more helpful than that same God spitting on the dirt making some mud, and using it to restore a blind man’s sight. Forget the theatrics. If Jesus is really the Great Physician, what’s he been up to for the past two thousand years? I know a lot of people who sure could use his help. His inattention makes me wonder if he is actually dead, and what’s really going on here is that the Christian church has been playing a con-game for the past twenty centuries. Just keep praying. Jesus will heal you — some day.

suffering and pain

People with chronic pain have often suffered for years. Their lives are an endless repeating of the movie Groundhog Day. I endure the day, collapse in bed, spending several hours getting to sleep, only to start the process all over again the next day. And pain is just one of the plethora of issues I must deal with every day. I am not complaining. I accept life as it is, doing what I can to lessen my suffering. I don’t expect my doctors to work miracles, nor do I anticipate waking up one day and finding myself miraculously healed. That’s not how things work in the real world. Thousands and thousands of prayers have been offered on my behalf, and I spent the better part of twenty years daily asking God for healing. As the mythical Christian God is wont to do, he remained silent.

When I write about suicide, people immediately worry that I am about to pull a David Foster Wallace. Not today, my friend, not today. All I am saying here is that chronic illness and pain drive people to ponder ending their lives. In fact, it is totally normal to have such thoughts. It’s not that I want to die — I don’t. I want to live. I want to watch more sunsets over Lake Michigan with the love of my life. I want to eat Polly’s food and make love to her. I want to hear Bethany laugh while watching a stupid movie. I want to go to stock car races and baseball games with my sons. I want share Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. I want to watch my grandchildren come of age, go off to college, and perhaps have families of their own. I want to watch the trees, bushes, and plants Polly and I have planted grow to maturity, covering our yard with summer beauty and shade. There are so many things I want to do, yet when my body is wracked with pain, all I can think is this: PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!

You see, that’s what healthy people don’t understand. It’s not that people such as myself want to die, we just want the pain to stop. Oh, how I yearn for a day  — just one day — of waking up in the morning pain-free. Some of you reading this post know what I am talking about. You understand longing for a day without pain, yet you know such hope doth fantasies make. For the present, we live between the one certain cure — death — and a life of finding meaning and purpose. For me personally, writing, photography, family, and hoping the Cincinnati Reds will, one more time in my lifetime, win the World Series, are those things which give me meaning and purpose. When I devote my energies to those things. thoughts of suicide diminish. That said, suicidal thoughts will never, ever go away, and I have, through anguish and tears, thought on more than one occasion this year, ENOUGH! But today I say to myself, LIVE. Who knows what tomorrow may bring. For now, I focus on the things that matter, hoping they continue to provide reasons for living.

I know the goodness in you will urge you to try to encourage me in the comment section, a text, or an email. There’s no need, friends. This is just me talking out loud and being brutally honest about life. I may die today, but it will not be by my own hands. My sister has a project she needs her wise, aged, technologically savvy smart-ass of a brother to take care of (she reads my blog, so I just had to say that).  I can’t leave her in a lurch. And besides, NFL football starts soon. How about them Bengals?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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

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 to 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 kinds 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 through 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 horizon, 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.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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Bruce Gerencser