Tag Archive: Depression

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: God’s Cure for Depression: The BIBLE

john piper

As Christian Hedonists, we’re not unfamiliar with the pain of depression. And we get a lot of questions in the inbox about how to work through those unavoidable times in life when depression hits. There’s often a physical and medical side to depression, but also a spiritual side to these seasons, too. In that vein, a question comes in an email from one female listener.

“Pastor John, what Scripture passages do you return to when you are suffering from depression? I am suffering from depression pretty bad at the moment, and I need some help from Scripture. Can you help me?”

This is the central question for her to ask — namely, “Where shall I turn in Scripture, in God’s word?” This is what God said we should listen to: his word.

Now, I don’t want to be naïve here. To be sure, there are many dimensions to depression — from genetic, to dietary, to exercise, to trauma, to demonic harassment, to relational stress, to financial burdens, to weather conditions, to sinful entanglements, to sleeplessness, and on and on. I don’t want to give the impression that I am oversimplifying the complexities of what might trigger a season of darkness, or depression.

Nevertheless, I’ll say it again: under and over and through all these issues that may need to be addressed — and I would encourage her to address all of them that are relevant — the key question is “What has God said to me?” That is, “What does the Scripture say?”

The reason this is so key is that the Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Depression regularly involves a weakening of our faith and our hope, and God is clear that reawakening of faith, reawakening of hope, will not come if we’re not hearing the word of God.

The Scriptures do not present themselves as an automatic guarantee of emotional turnaround, because the Scriptures themselves describe people who hear the word of God and do not emotionally turn around — like the parable of the soils, or 1 Corinthians 15:2 (“You believed in vain”), and so on.

The Scriptures aren’t naïve, as if they are the quick and easy panacea for every emotional blankness [Depression is emotional blankness? Really?]. But the point is that, without the Scriptures, there’s no hope of a Christ-exalting turnaround of our emotions.

Medication might turn us around emotionally, but by itself, without the word of God, it won’t put us on a right footing with Jesus Christ. It may feel good, but without the word of God, it may not have done you any long-term good.

— John Piper, Desiring God, What Hope Does God Offer in My Depression?, September 8, 2018

Was Fundamentalist Pastor Bruce Gerencser Mentally Ill?

bruce gerencser 1991

Bruce Gerencser, 1991, Somerset Baptist Academy. Surely everyone can see from this picture that I was a real Christian.

Telling my story often leads people to surmise that they only way someone could believe and behave as I did was to be mentally ill; that nobody in his right mind would live as I did; that only a crazy person would stand on a street corner and preach at passersby; that only a lunatic would sacrifice his life and that of his family to a non-existent God. Dismissing these things with the wave of a Freudian hand is far too easy, and it allows non-Christians to avoid thinking about how their own behavior might be deemed mental illness by those who do not have their beliefs. For example, countless people believe that essential oils can cure all sorts of diseases, as can chiropractic care. Evangelists from the First Church of Essential Oils and First Subluxation Church of the Spine use blogs, social media, newspapers, and face-to-face encounters to preach their gospel, hoping to convert people to their respective religions. The same could be said about homeopathy, iridology, acupuncture, and herbal cancer cures. Consider also that many political systems of thought, much like Christian Fundamentalists, demand fidelity, purity, and obedience. And we must not forget the God-above-all-Gods, American sports — particularly football and basketball. Spend some time around people whose lives revolve around this or that sports team, and it’s hard not to conclude that these people are delusional members of a cult. Yet, all of these beliefs and behaviors EXCEPT Christian Fundamentalism are considered “normal.” Why is that?

It is not helpful to lazily attach the “mentally ill” label to all Christian Fundamentalists. Now, that’s not to say that some Christian Fundamentalists aren’t mentally ill — they are. What troubles me is when non-Fundamentalists look at Evangelical beliefs and practices and conclude that only insane people would believe and live that way. This is a patently false conclusion. We must either conclude that all humans — yes you — have, to some degree or the other, a mental imbalance, or there are other explanations for why all of us believe and practice the things we do. I would posit that we humans are complex creatures, and our ways of life are shaped, molded, and controlled by our genetics, parents, childhood, environment, economic status, physical health, social strata, and a host of other exposures and variations. Thus, when someone reads one or more of my blog posts — say, posts such as My Life as a Street Preacher, I Did It For You Jesus: Crank Windows and Vinyl Floor Mats, and How the IFB Church Turned My Wife Into a Martyr — without thoughtfully and humbly considering the variables mentioned above, they will not come to a reasoned conclusion.

Part of the problem is that each of us has our own definition of “normal,” and we use that definition as the standard by which we judge the beliefs and practices of others. We rarely ask who it was (God?) that made us the “normal” police or why our standard of normality should be the inerrant, infallible rule (get my point now?) by which we determine whether someone is mentally ill or has a “screw loose.” Atheists love to say “each to his own,” except for religion, of course. Fundamentalists, in particular, have heaped upon their heads by atheists judgment and derision, without atheists making any attempt to understand. No need, many atheists say. Fundamentalists are delusional nut jobs — end of story.

Much of my writing focuses on my past life as a Fundamentalist Christian, especially the twenty-five years I spent pastoring Evangelical churches. I have willingly and openly chosen to be honest about my past, including my beliefs and behaviors. In doing so, I hope my story brings encouragement and understanding, and that doubting Christians or ex-Evangelicals might see that there is life after Jesus. What I don’t want my writing to be is exercises for non-Christians, ex-Christians, liberal Christians, or atheists to practice armchair psychology. Psychoanalyzing me — past and present — is best left to my counselor. Whether I was, in the past, mentally ill is impossible to know. I’m more inclined to think that my past is a reflection of someone who sincerely and resolutely believed certain things, little different from the countless other beliefs embraced by humans.

I have suffered with depression most of my adult life. The reasons for my struggle are many. Certainly, religion plays a part, but I would never say that the blame for my depression rests with Christianity alone. Again, I am a complex being, and the “whys” of my life are many. I left Christianity ten years ago. I pastored my last church fifteen years ago. Yet, here I am long removed from God, Jesus, the church, and all of trappings of Christianity and I still battle depression. Why is that? If Christianity is the root of psychological difficulties, one would think that I would have regained mental health once I was freed from my marriage to Jesus. However, that hasn’t proved to be the case. I have learned that depression can affect believer and unbeliever alike.

I hope readers will see my writing as an opportunity to understand, and not judge. When the day comes that I feel that that is no longer the case, I will have written my last blog post.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Jesus is the Only Cure for Depression

bethDepression has been something I have lived with for most of my life. Thoughts of hopelessness, despair, and a general sense of purposelessness have overwhelmed me on many occasions. Counseling and prescription drugs never helped me, nor did any other outside source I ever tried. The only relief I have ever found was through the redemptive healing of Jesus Christ in my life.

For many, depression is a regular part of your daily life. It can bring about a great swirling cloud of emotions that threaten to take over. Once depression settles in, it is very hard to get out of the thick of it. It can seem like you are living in a fog, with no way out.

The good news is, you are not alone, and you are not helplessly stuck in this bog. Depression does not have to be your normal. With the help of Jesus Christ, you can create a new normal for your life that is filled with hope and joy.

….

I personally know the battle within that is depression. I have come from suicidal to filled with hope and joy. I do still have days where depression starts to settle in, but with the help of the Lord, these days are nowhere near as bad as they used to be, and fewer then (sic) every before.

Jesus wants nothing more than to intercede for you (Rom 8:34). Allow His love to bring you strength and healing and most importantly, joy. You are not alone in this battle. Jesus is with you, and His love is greater than any depression or struggle we will ever face. Jesus faced the cross so that He could take all of our pain in this world.

— Beth, The Other Side of Darkness, How To Defeat Depression, February 5, 2018

Bible Thumpers: Dealing With Evangelical Bible Bullies

Most churchgoing Evangelicals are nice enough people. They may have irrational beliefs and, by their attendance and financial support, lend their names to social policies we progressives find offensive and harmful, but meet Evangelicals at local football games or restaurants and they will act very much like the rest of us. A small percentage of Evangelicals are Bible thumpers — people who live and breathe the Bible, Christian doctrine, and evangelization. Many of the Evangelicals-turned-atheists/agnostics who read this blog were, during their Christian days, Bible thumpers. Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog and comment are usually members of the Bible thumper club. Bible thumpers might be a minority within the broader context of Evangelicalism, but they have a larger-than-life presence on the internet, television, and radio. Most Evangelicals are Sunday-go-to-meeting Christians — people who love Jesus and their fellow man.  Bible thumpers, on the other hand, love doctrine and hearing themselves talk far more than they do other people. Bible thumpers are quite willing to psychologically eviscerate those deemed enemies — liberal Christians, Catholics, non-Christians, atheists, agnostics, and even Evangelicals who aren’t as “committed” as they are.

Earlier this week, I tried to engage a Bible thumper in a thoughtful discussion on the Rational Doubt blog. I should have known better. I ALWAYS should know better. It’s been years since I have had a lengthy discussion with an Evangelical that turned out well. By the time I figured out I had made a huge mistake, this Bible thumper, sensing emotional blood in the water, turned to attacking me personally, suggesting that I was intellectually inferior and a whiner. This man’s words cut to the quick, opening up wounds that lie buried deep in my being. It’s been almost three years now since I have returned to blogging. People who have been following my writing for years know that I quit blogging several times in the past because of vicious assholes for Jesus. A little voice in my head kept telling me to tell this Bible thumper exactly what I thought of him and move on, but since I was a guest on Rational Doubt (which periodically publishes my writing to their site, as does No Longer Quivering) I decided to refrain from giving the Bible thumper the Bruce Almighty treatment. I finally threw in the towel, much to the delight of the Bible-thumper. According to him, his superior “Biblical” arguments caused me to flee. He even suggested that deep-down I knew that his arguments were correct.

Readers who frequent this blog know the kind of man I am. They also know of my physical struggles and my decades-long battle with depression. Had they been following the Rational Doubt debacle, I am sure I would have gotten emails, instant messages, and texts asking me if I was okay. When a major depressive state sets in — as it now has — life gets quite dark for me. It is easy for me to lose sight of what matters. What doesn’t matter is a piss-ant Evangelical who uses the Bible to bully people. This particular man is just one more of the thousands of Bible thumpers who have come before him. I knew what kind of awful man he was, so why did I engage him anyway? I knew he described himself on his website as:

T.C. Howitt writes at the gospel crossroads of truth and reality, using the Bible to illuminate our benighted culture. He considers no subject sacred in this fallen world, relying on the power of God’s word alone to boldly declaim the shocking wickedness surrounding us in the forms of secular humanism, scientism and technological idolatry.

I knew that his Facebook page said: “I’m on Facebook to preach God’s word. Don’t be surprised when you hear it.” I knew his Medium profile said: “Writer, preacher of God’s word, destroyer of idols, giver of fair warning.” These three statements set off a warning in my mind that said, WARNING, BRUCE! BIBLE THUMPER AHEAD. Yet, despite knowing all I needed to know about what kind of man Todd Howitt is, I decided to engage him anyway. The fault, then, is mine, not his. Rabid dogs act like rabid dogs. I shouldn’t expect them to act like lovable puppies. Bible thumpers act the way they do because they believe the Bible is the answer to every question, and that they know everything. Every morning, these zealots arise and sing:

The B-I-B-L-E,
Yes that’s the book for me,
I stand alone on the Word of God,
The B-I-B-L-E.
BIBLE!

bible thumper 4

They have read countless books that reinforce their educated ignorance. Bible thumpers believe they have life figured out, and that if everyone would believe as they do, all would be well. Many of these Bible thumpers are Calvinists, adding another layer of arrogance and certainty to their behavior. I KNOW all of these things, so why, then, did I bother to engage Howitt? My counselor tells me that I wrongly think that if I just share with people my story and explain my journey from Evangelicalism to atheism, that Bible thumpers will understand. Dr. Deal had told me several times, Bruce, you think these people care about what you think. They don’t! They don’t give a shit about you or what you think.

Doc, of course, is right. I KNOW he is right. I have known for years that he is right. I know, I know, I know, yet every so often the “just explain yourself” Bruce nags me, demanding to speak, and so I let him. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, the moment I do, I realize I have made a big mistake. (I am not talking here about explaining myself to the regular readers of this blog. I owe it to readers who have invested their time (and money) in reading my writing to explain things that aren’t clear. Fortunately, regular readers rarely need an explanation. They understand my writing methodology and usually know what I mean when I say this or that.)

Earlier today, I read a Washington Post article about the turmoil in Spain over Catalonia’s attempt to secede from Spain. Speaking of the supposed dialog between the parties, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said:

The word dialogue is a lovely word. It creates good feelings. But dialogue has two enemies: those who abuse, ignore and forget the laws, and those who only want to listen to themselves, who do not want to understand the other party.”

I thought as I read it, Rajoy’s statement fits well with my recent “dialog” with Todd Howitt. Howitt is an enemy to open and honest dialog because his Fundamentalist religious beliefs have turned him into an abusive bully. He may smile and say Praise Jesus! while he is doing it, but Howitt and other Bible thumpers can and do cause psychological harm to people with sensitive sensibilities (which Bible thumpers view as weakness). Howitt had no interest in understanding where I was coming from. He stated from the get-go that he was a former atheist (doubtful) and he was there not to dialog or converse — already knowing how atheists think — but to preach the Word. In other words, he was only interested in hearing himself talk. Those of us who are former Evangelicals are quite familiar with people who only want to listen to themselves talk. Our pastors were people who believed they were men supernaturally chosen by a supernatural God to preach the inspired, inerrant supernatural Word of God. Our duty as hearers was to submit to the pastor’s — I mean God’s — authority and explicitly follow the laws, precepts, commands, and examples found within the pages of the one book that is different from all the books ever written — the Protestant Bible. As an Evangelical pastor, I did the same. Since I had been called by God to preach and teach at whatever church I was currently pastoring, I expected congregants to listen and obey. (Hebrews 13:17)

Bible thumpers believe they are plugged into God 24/7 — that is, except when they, under the cover of darkness, behave in ways that make them entries for the Black Collar Crime series. Bible thumpers believe that their knowledge of the Bible is superior to that of the vast majority of people on earth. Some of them think that they are so right that no church is good enough for them. They are infected with what I call A.W. Pink disease. Pink was a famous early twentieth-century Calvinistic writer who secluded himself on an island because he couldn’t find a pure enough church to attend.

Having risen to the level of being worthy to enter the inner temple of Biblical truth, Bible thumpers, girded with self-righteousness , fan out across the internet seeking forums to dispense their Trumpian-level knowledge. Scores of such people over the years have made their way to The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. These days, Bible thumpers are rarely permitted to sell their faux-gold plated turds on this site. A decade spent dealing with Bible thumpers has taught me that engagement is futile. While I, at times, forget this maxim, I am getting better at just letting Bible thumpers tilt at windmills. I took a big step backward this week. All I know to do is make an appointment with my therapist, rest my mind, hope Ohio State beats the shit out of Penn State on Saturday, and hopefully, most of all, learn from my mistake.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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

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

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

The Sounds of Fundamentalism: What God Says About Mental Illness by Todd Friel

todd friel

This is the eightieth installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section.  Let’s have some fun!

Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is a  video clip produced by Wretched Radio.— the ministry of Todd Friel.  This video also features part of a speech by medical doctor Charles Hodges,Jr. Hodges gave this speech at an  Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) conference. Just remember, no matter how much people such as Hodges use medical terminology, they are still Fundamentalists who believe that Jesus is the cure for everything. Hodges, by the way, is a graduate of Liberty University — a bastion of ignorance founded by Jerry Falwell.  While Hodges is a Indiana University School of Medicine trained medical doctor, I suspect his views on mental illness were birthed and nurtured during his time at Liberty.

Video Link

Dr. Patrick Johnston and His Dangerous Advice to Depressives

sin can make you sick

Dr. Patrick Johnston is an Ohio family practice physician, founder of the Association of Pro-life Physicians, and the director of Personhood Ohio. (link no longer active) He and his wife have nine children, all of whom are homeschooled. Several years ago, Johnston wrote a rebuttal to a post that I published about my views on abortion and personhood laws. Johnston believes there are no justifiable reasons for women to have abortions. Rape? Nope. Incest? Nope. Life of the mother? Nope or maybe. Severe physical malformation? Nope. Ectopic(tubal) pregnancy? Nope Huh? That’s right, Johnston does not think women should have access to abortion services if they have an ectopic pregnancy. In a December 2015 Personhood Ohio article, Johnston stated: (link no longer active)

Many sincere advocates of life fall prey to the argument that abortion is occasionally necessary to save the life of the mother. An example of an ectopic pregnancy is often given. However, a cursory investigation of the evidence reveals that many babies have survived ectopic pregnancies. There are life-saving alternatives to treat the mother and her ectopically-implanted baby. Successful transplantation of the embryo from the Fallopian tube to the uterus has been reported in the medical literature as far back as 1917. We do not have to kill these babies to save the mother. Their cases is not hopeless.

Johnston also wrote an article for his blog titled Saving Ectopically Implanted Boys and Girls. You can read it here.(link no longer active)

Johnston and Personhood Ohio have tried for several years to amend Ohio’s Constitution. If successful, Article 1, Section 16 will be amended to say: (link no longer active)

(A) The words “person” in Article 1, Section 16, and “men” in Article 1, Section 1, apply to every human being at every stage of the biological development of that human being or human organism, including fertilization.

(B) Nothing in this Section shall affect genuine contraception that acts solely by preventing the creation of a new human being; or human “eggs” or oocytes prior to the beginning of the life of a new human being; or reproductive technology or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) procedures that respect the right to life of newly created human beings.

So far, right-thinking citizens and politicians have kept the amendment initiative from being enacted. (For an in-depth look at how Johnston views government, please see the slides for his seminar titled How Christians Should Resist Tyranny.) If you want to plumb the depths of Johnston’s right-wing, Fundamentalist extremism, I encourage you to read his blog. (link no longer active)

In an undated article titled Curing the Miseries of the Mind: Anxiety and Depression, (link no longer active) Johnston and his wife Elizabeth offer up advice to those who suffering from mental problems. According to the Johnstons, the cure for depression and anxiety is found in the Bible:

If you are suffering from severe depression or anxiety, I want to let you know that there is light at the end of your dark tunnel – and it’s not found in a pill! The God who created you loves you, and does not want you to be miserable. I believe that God’s Word – the Holy Bible – holds the key that, if not cures, greatly alleviates psychological symptoms.

Ah yes, the time-tested Fundamentalist maxim: the B-i-b-l-e is the cure for everything. Johnston admits that he does “prescribe a lot of medication for anxiety and depression because they help alleviate symptoms,” but he wants people to know that many physical and mental ailments have “spiritual roots.”  The Johnstons list seven reasons people suffer with anxiety and depression:

  • Genetic and social influences (Yea! Dr. Johnston makes an appeal to science.)
  • So that the sufferers faith will be strengthened
  • Punishment for sin
  • Unforgiveness
  • Ingratitude
  • Unbelief
  • Excessive worry
bible the cure for depression

This graphic is not Dr. Johnston’s, but it does how similar “Biblical” cures for depression.

The Johnstons then gives their Jesus-infused prescription for overcoming depression. Are you ready to be delivered, fellow depressives? All right, let’s all get h-a-p-p-y! The Johnstons believe that the following tips will help people “overcome the daily onslaught of anxiety and depression”:

  • Write out encouraging Bible verses, quotes, or thoughts, and tape them up at your house or work, or carry them in your purse or wallet. Refer to them and memorize them whenever you are struggling with unhealthy thoughts.
  • Turn on uplifting Christian music. Sing and meditate on the principles of God’s Word. Praise and worship the Lord. Try dancing to praise music! By all means, turn OFF any music or television that saddens you or causes you to focus on your troubles.
  • Make a list of ten things to think about when you are tempted to think things you shouldn’t. Make your list very practical. For instance: “What will I buy at the store?”, “Where will we go on our next vacation?”, “What will I say to my friend/neighbor/family member next time we speak?”, etc. Always have this list on hand to refer to when tempted to be anxious, depressed, or angry.
  • Occupy yourself with a big project or many projects that direct your mind off of yourself and onto others. There is no end to the number of nursing home residents, hospitalized patients, struggling families, volunteer organizations, and ministries who need a letter or a helping hand. Do not sit around and wait for your problems to disappear. Busy yourself with projects and invest your time in caring for others.
  • Always fight the tendency to pity yourself. You will find one hundred reasons to believe that self-pity will make you feel better but it never solves anything. When tempted to pity yourself, think of others you know who are in much worse circumstances (i.e. the paralyzed teenager, the young husband who just lost his wife, Christians who are persecuted for their faith in China, Cuba, or Indonesia, etc.). Make a list of such people and remind yourself of how blessed you are. Stop and take a moment to pray for those who are less fortunate than yourself.
  • Journal!! Write out your thoughts, regardless of how troubling or embarrassing they may be. Often, when you see on paper what is going on in your head, you will be surprised by how manageable your problem is through changing your way of thinking!
  • A few good Scriptures on topics of importance are listed below for your edification. Suffering: 1 Pet. 4:12-16, Rom. 8:17-18, 2 Cor. 4:17, James 1:2-4  Forgiveness/Mercy: Matt. 6:14-15, Matt. 18:21-22, Heb. 8:12, Prov. 11:19, James 5:9 Thankfulness: Phil. 4:11, Heb. 13:5, Rom. 1:21 Fear/Worry/Doubt: Matt. 6:25-34, Phil. 4:6-7, 2 Tim. 1:7, I Cor. 10:13

Certainly some of the advice offered by the Johnstons can often help alleviate the effects (not the case) of anxiety and depression. However, make no mistake about it, the Johnstons believe that the Christian God and the Bible is the CURE for those suffering from mental difficulties. I suspect that Dr.Johnston tells depressives who are not Christians that Jesus can and will cure what ails them. For those who are Christians, Johnston tells them to put mind over matter and remember that there are always people worse off than you. Trust Jesus and all will be well.

If Johnston is prescribing God and the Bible as a cure for anxiety and depression then he is committing medical malpractice. His patients should expect treatment by a doctor thoroughly grounded in the scientific method. Using the tips mentioned above to “cure” depression might work for a time, but true healing comes through counseling, behavior, modification, and, if warranted, psychotropic drugs. As someone who has suffered with depression for most of my adult life — both as a Christian pastor and as an atheist — I know that the sort of Christian voodoo offered by Johnston does not cure depression. If Johnston objects to what I have said here, he is free to present empirical data that suggests otherwise. Until then, Dr. Johnston’s tips for curing anxiety and depression should be viewed in the same light as the chants and gimmickry of witch doctors.

Note

Totally unrelated to the subject of this post, while perusing Johnston’s blog I came across a post he wrote titled Proofs for the Existence of God — Even Atheists Presuppose God’s Existence (*sigh*).(link no longer active) If you have a few minutes to waste and need a hearty laugh, please read Johnston’s post. He concludes the post with this:

In response to this tract, many-an-atheist will doubtlessly conjure up another logical argument to refute mine. A very logical argument indeed. And what will be assumed in their counter-argument? The firm foundation of logic. What is assumed in this assumption? The Christian God, without which logic cannot be universal and unchanging, and the free will of man to reject or accept your persuasion. Objective truth will be assumed in the atheist’s rebuttal.

Your naturalism, Mr. Atheist, cannot account for the laws of logic any more than it can account for objective truth, and your empiricism could never know of the laws of logic even if they were real in spite of naturalism’s failure to account for them. In effect, your very counter-argument to rebut me assumes the Christian God against whom you so diligently and foolishly fight!

You’re too shallow, Mr. Atheist. That’s why you can’t see the truth of God in what you so hastily, and without basis, assume in your very own argument against the Christian God! You’re like the fellow tormented by thirst who sees his reflection in the pool and admires his cosmetic veneer rather than looks beyond the mirror to the life-giving liquid. Jesus is the living water which if who man who thirsts will drink freely as he may, he shall have rivers of living water flow from his own bosom! Be silent, parched mouth, long enough to see the ripples in the water from the pounding of the arguments you breathe forth. Hear what you are saying, then hear what He says, for without Him your argument is impossible. Then drink and never thirst again!

Be converted, oh atheist reader, to ALL the truth, beyond that which you arbitrarily assume, to all the truth of God. You are a fallen man with a depraved intellect whom Christ shed His blood on the cross to redeem, both spiritually and intellectually. Believe in Him, and be forgiven. Forsake Him to persist in your stubbornness and sin, and you will be damned.

 

Depression and Lightening the Load

eeyore

I have battled depression most of my adult life. For many years, I denied that I was depressed, attributing my melancholy to God testing or trying me, Satan tempting me, or God punishing me for this or that sin. My religious beliefs told me that depression was a sign of a backslidden, sinful, or rebellious life. After all, the Bible says in Isaiah 26:3:

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee [God]: because he trusteth in thee.

Psalm 43:5 states:

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

The Apostle Paul — a First Century Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer — had this to say:

 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

And if these verses weren’t enough, there was always the “look at all Jesus suffered just so you could be saved and go to Heaven someday!” Compared to what Jesus went through, my depression was nothing.

I had numerous colleagues in the ministry, but talking to them about my depression was not an option. Talking to them meant admitting I was weak or “sinful.” I never considered seeking out the help of a psychiatrist or a psychologist. How could I? I had preached numerous sermons on the aforementioned verses, and on my bookshelf sat books such as Psycho-Heresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Wayne and Deidre Bobgan and PsychoBabble: The Failure of Modern Psychology–and the Biblical Alternative by Richard Ganz. No, I concluded that I was the problem.

I now know that having a Type A personality and being a perfectionist and a workaholic didn’t help matters. No matter how hard I worked, I never measured up. The church growth craze of the 1970s and 1980s only exacerbated my depression. The ministry was reduced to a set of numbers: attendance, souls saved, and offerings. Push, push, push. Like a crack addict seeking his latest fix, I focused on attendance increases and souls brought to Jesus to push my depression into the background. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, declining attendance and a lack of “God working in our midst” forced my depression to the forefront. I spent countless nights alone in the darkness of the church building praying to God, pleading that he would fill me with his Spirit and use me to bring in a large harvest of souls. In the end, no matter how hard I worked or how much I sacrificed— money, family, and health — it was never enough. Success was a temporary elixir that soothed my depression, but its effect soon wore off and I retreated for the thousandth time into the deep, dark recesses of my mind.

depressionIn 2005, two years after I left the ministry, I told Polly I needed professional psychological help. It took me another three years before I was willing to pick up the phone and make an appointment. At first, finding a “Christian” counselor was important to me. Once I found one, I then had second thoughts about people seeing me entering his office or noticing my car in the parking lot. I live in an area where everyone knows me — both as a pastor and now as an atheist. It wasn’t until I deconverted that I began calling counselors, hoping to find a non-religious, secular counselor. Fortunately, I found just the right person to help peel away the layers of my life, allowing me to finally embrace my depression and find ways of handling what Dexter the serial killer called his “dark passenger.”

Readers who have been with me since the days of blogs named Bruce Droppings, NW Ohio Skeptic, The Way Forward, and Fallen From Grace have helplessly watched me psychologically crash and burn, only to rise again out of the ashes like a Phoenix. Surprisingly, the current iteration of my blog has been active for 18 months, besting the previous longevity record by 6 months. Let’s Party!!

In recent weeks, numerous readers have written to express their concern about my health and declining level of literary output. I deeply appreciate the fact that people care and that they are discerning enough — having studied the Bruce Gerencser species — to know when I am teetering on the brink of the abyss.

I mentioned earlier today on Facebook that I feel like I have tied a knot on the rope of my life and I am desperately trying to hold on. There are days when I feel my grip slipping, leaving me to wonder if I can make it through another day. I do what I can. Whether that will be enough remains to be seen.

Health problems continue to drive my depression and virtually every other aspect of my life. Tuesday I attended my granddaughter’s softball game; Wednesday, my grandson’s baseball game. I shot hundreds of photographs, hoping to leave for them a reminder of a Grandfather who loved them very much. They don’t understand it as such right now, thinking that I am an annoying old man who is always taking their picture, but someday, perhaps when they have children of their own, they will be glad that I — for a few hours on a summer day long ago — endured great pain to see them play. As it stands today, I am bedfast, hoping to recuperate enough from the previous two days to attend a dirt track race with several of my sons on Saturday.

As depressives will tell you, small problems often pile up for them and turn into full-blown depressive episodes. I mean, suicide level, I can’t deal with this any longer. My counselor — who is also my friend — is keenly aware of how quickly things can pile up for me. Starting with chronic illness, unrelenting pain, loss of mobility, and decreased cognitive function, my plate is quite full before I even get out of bed — that is, if I can get out of bed.

Recent events have filled my plate as I would on Thanksgiving Day. What’s one more helping of ham, turkey, and candied sweet potatoes, right? While I find it too painful to write about many of the things that have been added to my plate, I have talked to my counselor about how overwhelmed I am with life. His advice was quite direct. He told me that I like to help people and that my family sees me as some sort of “fixer,” but now declining health is forcing me to stop taking on everyone’s problems and burdens. It’s time for me to focus on what is best for me, and not what’s best for others. I am not sure how well I can heed his advice, but I am trying.

Last year I wrote about my father-in law who — contrary to our advice — had hip surgery. Six months later he is still in the nursing home and it likely that he will be in a wheelchair the rest of his life. I have had moments when I have wanted to scream, God dammit, I warned you that this could happen, but I know nothing good would come from such an outburst. My father-in-law will never return home to the house where he lived for 40 years. It was sold today, and now the hunt is on for a suitable apartment. But I won’t be joining in the hunt.

Having been blamed for countless things thing have befallen my in-laws, I can no longer be their go-to person when problems arise. One of my sons got a taste of their blaming when he helped them get a new car. They don’t like their new car, so whose fault it that? Not theirs. My son is to blame. This storyline has been played out numerous times over the 40 years Polly and I have known each other. I took away their daughter and now she no longer believes in God or goes to church. Who’s to blame? I am. They blame me for ruining their grandchildren, infecting them with my godlessness. In their minds, if Polly had just married the right preacher boy none of this would have happened. Year after year, I have lived with their slights and insults — mainly coming from my mother-in-law —  and being told that I wasn’t good enough for their daughter or that I was “different.” Several weeks ago my mother-in-law — unsolicited — took it upon herself to give a running report to my two youngest children about my past sins. Why? I have no idea.

When hearing of my latest attempt to assist them — selling their house and helping them find an apartment — my counselor advised me to stop doing so. You have too much on your plate, he told me, to have to also deal with their problems. Besides, they are your wife’s parents, not yours. If they are going to blame someone, let them blame her! I took his advice, decoupling myself from their train wreck. I still want what is best for them, but I can no longer be the target of their blame when things don’t go as planned.

I have written all this to say that I must continue to find ways to “lighten my load.” My health will never be as good as it is today, and someday I will likely be unable to leave my home. In the interest of improving the quality of what life I have left, I must identify the unnecessary things that are weighing me down and cast them aside. This is not easy for me to do. Giving in has never been my strong suit. I hate to let go of things (and people) who have been very much a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I am in the process of identifying what matters to me and how best to spend my time doing these things. As things stand today, writing and photography are number one and two on the list. I have sold my library and woodworking tools, knowing that I will never enjoy these things again. I still collect Library of America books, but I do so because I want to leave them for my grandchildren — several of whom are ravenous readers. I am left with my writing and my cameras. How long I can continue to productively write and shoot photographs is unknown. For now, I am holding on to the knot at the end of the rope.

It goes without saying that above everything I could ever do or own, I deeply love my wife, children, and grandchildren (and yes, my daughters-in-law and son-in-law too). As illness and pain whittle down my life, I am learning that what matters most is love and family. The praise of congregants and the approbation of fellow clergy are but distant memories. I would trade all of them for one day without pain. We silly humans so often focus on things that don’t matter. Age brings perspective, and what really matters — at least to me — fits on a small Post-it note. And even now, I continue to mark through things on my list. I suspect that when death claims me for its own, my list will contain a handful of names and the words “they loved me until the end.”

A Few Thoughts About Mental Illness and Depression

bruce and mom 1957

Bruce and his mom, July 1957

Originally written 2011, edited, corrected.

At the age of 54, my mother turned a .357 magnum Ruger revolver toward her chest and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore a hole in her heart and in a few moments she was dead. Mom had tried to kill herself many times before. This time she succeeded (please see the post Barbara).

When I was 11, Dad had to call for an emergency squad because Mom had taken several bottles of prescription drugs. They rushed her to the hospital and pumped her stomach, and she survived to die another day. Later in the year, Mom and the neighbor lady were in a serious automobile accident in Lima. I say accident, because it is possible that Mom pulled into the other lane of traffic, allowing the truck to hit them.

Mom made a third attempt on her life that same year. I came home from school and found Mom lying unconscious on the floor with blood pooling around her body. She had slit her wrists. Yet again, the emergency squad came, and her life was saved.

As best I can tell, Mom had mental problems her entire life. She was bright, witty, and well-read, but Mom could, in a split second, lapse into angry, incoherent tirades. Twice she was involuntarily committed to the Toledo State Mental Hospital, undergoing shock therapy numerous times. None of the treatments or drugs worked.

In the early 1960s my parents found Jesus. Jesus, according to the Bible, healed the mentally ill, but, for whatever reason, he didn’t heal Mom. The mental health crises I have shared in this post, and others that I haven’t shared, all occurred after Mom put her faith and trust in the loving Jesus who supposedly had a wonderful plan for her life. Mom died believing Jesus was her Savior. To this day, I lament the fact that I didn’t do more to help her. Sadly, I saw her mental illness as an inconvenience and an embarrassment. If she just got right with God, I thought at the time, all would be well. If she would just kick her drug habit, I told her, God would be there to help her. What she really needed was for her eldest son to pick her up, hold her close, and love her. I will go to my grave wishing I had been a better son, that I had loved Mom and my family more than I loved Jesus and the church.

findlay ohio 1971-1974

Mom, Bruce, and friend, Findlay, Ohio, summer 1971

Mom was quite talented. She played the piano and loved to do ceramics. Her real passion was reading, a habit she happily passed on to me. (Mom taught me to read.) She was active in politics. She was a member of the John Birch Society, and actively campaigned, first for Barry Goldwater, and later for George Wallace.

My parents divorced when I was 14. Not long after the divorce, Mom married her first cousin, a recent parolee from a Texas prison (he was serving time for armed robbery). He later died of a drug overdose. Mom would marry two more times before she died. She was quite passionate about anything she fixed her mind upon, a trait that I, for good or ill, share with her. In the early 1970s, Mom was an aide at Winebrenner Nursing Home in Findlay, Ohio. Winebrenner paid men more than they paid women for the same work. Mom, ever the crusader, sued Winebrenner under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The Federal Court decided in her favor.

We moved quite often, and I have no doubt this contributed greatly to Mom’s mental illness. She never knew what it was to have a place to call home. Our family lived in one rental after another, never stopping long enough to buy a home. I lived in 16 different houses by the time I left for college at the age of 19.

I have always wondered if my parents were ever happily married. Mom and Dad were married by an Indiana Justice of the Peace in November 1956. At the time of their marriage, Mom was 18 and pregnant. I learned later in life that it is doubtful that Dad was actually my biological father. There is more to the story of who might be my father, but I have never, for his sake, publicly told the story. Dad meant well, but the instability of their marriage, coupled with us moving all the time, caused my siblings and me great harm. Dad thought moving was a great experience. Little did he know that I hated him for moving us around. New schools (seven different school districts). New friends. Never having a place to call home. No child should have to live this way.

From time I was five until I was 14, my parents were faithful members of a Baptist church in whatever community we lived in. The Gerencser family attended church every time the doors were open (I have attended over 8,000 church services in my lifetime). Mom would play the piano from time to time, though she found it quite stressful to do so. One time, much to my embarrassment, she had a mental meltdown in front of the whole church. She never played again. For a time, Dad was a deacon, but he stopped being one because he couldn’t kick his smoking habit. I suspect the real reason was that he was having an affair.

No matter where we lived or what church we went to, one thing was certain, Mom was mentally ill and everyone pretended her illness didn’t exist. Evangelical churches such as the ones we attended had plenty of members who suffered with various mental maladies. For the most part, those who were sick in the head were ignored or marginalized.

Two decades ago, I co-pastored a Sovereign Grace Baptist church in San Antonio, Texas. (See the I am a Publican and a Heathen series.) One day we were at a church fellowship and my wife came around the corner just in time to hear one of the esteemed ladies of the church say to her daughter, you stay away from that girl, she is mentally retarded. “That girl” was our 5-year-old Down Syndrome daughter. This outstanding church member’s words pretty well sum up how many churches treat those with mental handicaps or illness. STAY AWAY from them!

Many Christians think mental illness is a sign of demonic oppression or possession. No need for doctors, drugs, or hospitals. Just come to Jesus, the great physician, and he will heal you. After all, the Bible does say in 2 Timothy 1:7: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. If someone is mentally unsound, it’s the person’s fault, not God’s. Get right with God and all will be well.

I have suffered with depression for most of my adult life. I am on the mountaintop one moment and in the valley the next. Plagued with a Type A personality, and being a consummate workaholic, I am often driven to despair. Work, Work, Work. Go, Go, Go. Do, Do, Do. I have no doubt that the way I lived my life as a Christian contributed to the health problems that now plague me. While I was busy burning the candle at both ends for Jesus, my body was screaming STOP! But I didn’t listen. I had no time for family, rest, or pleasure. Work for the night is coming, the Bible says. Better to burn out for Jesus than rust out, I told myself. And now, thanks to living this way for much of my adult life, I am a rusting 1957 Chevrolet, sitting on blocks, awaiting the day when the junkyard comes to tow me away.

For many years, I hid my depression from the outside world. While Polly and my children witnessed depression’s effect on husband and father, church members never had a clue. I have often wondered how parishioners might have responded had I told them the truth. I suspect some church members would have seen me as a fellow depressive, but others would likely have questioned whether I was “fit” to be a pastor.

In 2008, a few months before I deconverted, I told a pastor friend that I was really depressed. Instead of lending me a helping hand or encouraging me, he rebuked me for giving in to the attack of Satan. He told me I needed to confess my sin and get the victory over it immediately. A lot of Christians think just like this (former) pastor friend of mine.  Depression is a sign of weakness, and God only wants warriors and winners.

barbara gerencser 1956

Barbara Gerencser, 1956

Going to see a counselor was the single most important thing I have done in the last ten years. It took me leaving the ministry and departing from Christianity before I was willing to find someone to talk to. Several times, while I was still a Christian, I made appointments with counselors only to cancel them at the last minute. I feared that someone would see me going into the counselor’s office or they would drive by and see my car in the parking lot. I thought, My God, I am a pastor. I am supposed to have my life together.

Indeed, it took me leaving the church, the pastorate, and God to find any semblance of mental peace. I have no doubt some readers will object to the connection I make between religion and mental wellness, but for me, there was indeed a direct correlation between the two.

I still battle with depression, but with regular counseling and a slower pace of life I am confident that I can live a meaningful, somewhat peaceful life. As many of you know, I have chronic, unrelenting pain. I have not had a pain-free day in 15 years (my days are counted as less pain, normal pain, more pain, and off the fucking charts pain). The constant pain and debility certainly fuels my depression. My counselor says he would be surprised if I wasn’t depressed from time to time.  Embracing my depression and coming to grips with the pain and debility is absolutely essential to my mental well-being. This is my life. I am who I am. I accept this, and I do what I can to be a loving, kind, and productive human being.

To my Christian readers I say this: sitting near you in church this coming Sunday will be people who are suffering with mental illness. Maybe they are depressed. They hide it because they think they have to. Jesus only wants winners, remember? Pay attention to other people. The signs are there. Listen to those who you claim are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Embrace them in the midst of their weakness and psychosis. While I don’t think a mythical God is going to heal them, I do think that loving, understanding friends can be just the salvation the mentally ill need.

It is not easy being around those who are mentally ill. Let’s face it, depressed people are not fun to be with. We are not the life of the party. When I am in the midst of mental and emotional darkness, I am not the kind of person most people want to be around. I become withdrawn, cynical, and dark. These attributes, coupled with the physical pain I endure, can, at times, make me unbearable to be around. It is at these moments when I need the help of others. Sadly, most people, including my family and friends, tend to pull away from me when I need them the most. I understand why they do so, but the loneliest place on earth is sitting alone in the darkness of night wishing you were dead.

How do you respond to people who are mentally ill? How do you respond to those who are depressed?  Perhaps you suffer with mental illness or depression. Do you hide it? How are you treated by others? If you are a Christian, how are you treated by your church and pastor? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Note

This post is not a cry for help. This is just me talking out loud with my friends.

My Dark Passenger

eeyore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cure for a bad week

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

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

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

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

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

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My Life with Bill Gothard Part Three

guest-post

This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.

A guest post series written by Anonymous

Quite recently a friend of mine was found dead. We’re still not sure of the cause of death. It’s difficult to believe she intentionally committed suicide without leaving a note to her very beloved family. She was one of the most devoted mothers I’ve ever known and left four children and five grandchildren and many friends and other relatives, all who loved her immensely. She was my co-worker, my friend, my ‘happy hour’ buddy and was always good for a laugh or a chug. My heart is heavy; my stomach has been in knots for days. I will miss her greatly.

Her passing has renewed a few conversations in my mind I’ve been mulling off and on for several years. My next few posts will deal with some very personal issues but I think issues that must continually be brought to light in order for change to occur.

It seems the whole of Fundamentalism (including Gothard) reject the fact that depression exists and those who experience are not to blame. I grew up with a very depressed mother. I believe my father is depressed as well although he exhibits different symptoms (as men normally do). After their abusive childhoods and cultic/religious teachings full of blame and condemnation, depression is no surprise. My mother’s father was a depressed man. He turned to alcohol to ‘deal’, thereby circumventing displaying for his children alternative coping skills. My mother did not utilize alcohol. She had Jesus and a Bible full of verses to tell her what a horrible, rotten person she was and that even her good deeds were as filthy rags to him who died in her stead; if it weren’t for his death she would be nothing; and she was the reason God’s only Son suffered….and on and on it goes. If that’s not the most depressing ‘Good News’ I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.

One of the first stories I remember hearing Gothard relay to his audience was about a woman who had left a plastic bag in her infant son’s bedroom. While he was sleeping, a breeze blew the plastic bag into the baby’s bed and suffocated him. I can’t imagine losing one of my children, but knowing my choice not to pick-up the plastic bag is what took his life would haunt me forever. Of course, this woman was plagued with guilt and Gothard’s remedy was to remind her that all her sins were nailed with Jesus on the cross. Was that woman’s choice that cost her son’s life a sin? No. A bad decision? Yes.

But this seems to be the mind of Gothard: that every possible life choice or decision (seemingly major or minute) is a misstep in the eyes of god. Those who live under this teaching and believe it rack up hours and days, years & lifetimes of doubt, fear and guilt. It’s a vicious cycle I observed continuously as a child. My mother – beautiful, capable, classy and stylish- was never good enough for anyone in her own eyes. The condemnation was always there, but then she had the audacity to go and be human – feel emotions, speak her mind, react in anger or frustration and then the guilt would accumulate and we’d find verses written on 3×5 cards around the house or on the chalkboard in the school room reminding her of who she was ‘in Christ’ (only), not as a person who was loved and could choose to love herself without the permission of any ‘Savior’; accept her humanity (and that of others); to choose happiness. No, it was a constant search for affirmation and still is.

Even as a child, I remember feeling huge pangs of guilt and fear over small ‘sins.’ And in Gothard world, just about everything can be a sin. Any thoughts, feelings or behaviors that didn’t fall under the realm of his particular brand of ‘godliness’ were stressed over, creating compulsiveness I still find difficulty shaking. Most people in my family seem to possess a disposition for depression. When you are reared to believe ‘Jesus is enough’ and not taught to utilize positive coping skills, instead internalizing all the ‘sinful bad’ and shameful emotions, you become an accident waiting to happen. I internalized so much and created a very dark, depressed, narrow-minded world by the time I was 21 leading me to seriously consider taking my own life. I’m not sure why I didn’t but that day, I began a new journey out of the old thought patterns, belief system and mindsets that had led to so much bondage instead of the freedom purported by those I love and trusted.

Not too long ago, I was mopping the living room floor alone, enjoying the peace and quiet. I was in a good mood; I’d had accomplished a lot that day (always good for a happy high) and all of the sudden, out of nowhere, came a flood of depression, unhappiness and fear in such dark contrast to the sunlight I was feeling just seconds before. Tears escaped my eyes before I could not hold them back. At that point I realized the flood of depression and negative emotion I experienced was in no way related to my previous moments of happiness and that I had the say-so over the gloominess. I get to acknowledge its presence in my life, forego the guilt and blame and conquer its hold. That day was a life-changer for me. I came to a new state of POWERFUL self-awareness in my life and a new desire to find the strength to adequately cope with whatever comes my way.

It is not arrogance to believe you are worth whatever it takes to make this life YOUR BEST LIFE. It is not selfishness to take care of YOUR emotional, physical, spiritual self. Depression is not a sign of weakness. It is okay to acknowledge depression and get whatever help you may need. Depression is not a sin and never was.

I wrote this post in honor of my friend and for any and all of you reared within the condemning confines of Fundamentalism and Gothard’s teachings and who continue to self-flagellate, allowing those teachings to instill fear, obligation and guilt. My friend was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever known. She was constantly doing for others and may have forgotten about herself in the process. Perhaps she did not learn how to cope; to confess her humanity to others instead of constantly trying to please & make everything ‘look’ good on the outside, discounting her own sadness and fears by focusing on the thoughts and needs of others. While I don’t know for sure, my own experience with Gothard has created some difficult hurdles as I continue to learn how to manage my emotions and thoughts and not berate myself over my own humanity (faults, weaknesses, commissions/omissions, etc.). For every person set free from the stronghold of Gothard’s teachings, there is something to share, something to be learned.

How have you learned to cope with your depression and negative thoughts stemming from cultic teachings?

Depression: It’s the Little Things

little things

I have suffered with depression most of my adult life, especially since being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1997.

Over the past two decades, not only have I had to contend with Fibromyalgia, I’ve had to deal with neurological problems that are ever so-slowly-robbing me of my physical strength and ability to walk. My cane and wheelchair are never far away. Some days, most days, are cane days, other days are wheelchair days. Some days are cane and wheelchair days, days when I want to use my cane to club the thoughtless people who walk in front me, try to get in front of me, or just stand there ignoring the fact that I can’t get around them. If illness and debility have taught me anything, they have taught me that some of my fellow humans are narcissistic, self-absorbed assholes who have no time or empathy for others.

Every day is a pain day for me. Some days the pain is manageable and it fades into the background as I write. Other days, the pain is standing with both feet on my neck, threatening to turn me into a weeping, pathetic man. Most days are a balance between  these extremes. I take my pain meds, try to function, and live for another day.

Along with Fibromyalgia, neurological problems, loss of function, and pain, I’ve had to deal with skin cancer, cysts, a recent pancreatic cancer scare, loss of appetite, on-and-off loss of cognitive function, a not-yet-repaired labrum tear in my shoulder, torn menisci in both of my knees, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Healthwise, my plate is full. That said, I accept my life as it is. I am a realist. I don’t try to delude myself into thinking I am a young buck running through the forest in chase of a doe. I am a loving, kind, passionate man who, due to genetics, luck, environmental exposure, and personal lifestyle choices, has a body that is dying at a faster rate than others my age. I am a high mileage automobile that from a distance looks good, but close inspection reveals a lot of wear and tear.

All of this I embrace and own. It’s my life, I have to live it on the terms dictated to me by my body. Thinking happy thoughts, putting mind over matter, pretending things are different from what they are provide no help for me. Even when I was a young man, a healthy, strapping, strong man who hunted, hiked, cut wood, and could bend the world to my will, I tried to see things as they are.

Having a father die at 49 and a mother commit suicide at 54 tends to give one a particular perspective. Visiting sick and dying church members in the hospital tends to remind one that life is short. My experiences with the sick and dead have certainly shaped my understanding of life and I know path I am on, healthwise, leads to a fiery furnace. No not hell, silly. I am going to be cremated after I die.

My counselor has told me several times that it would be unusual for a person with the health problems I have to not be depressed. He knows I struggle with suicidal thoughts, but he also knows that these thoughts are driven by the chronic, unrelenting physical pain,  Through kindness, compassion, friendship, and support, he keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole, never to be seen again.

As many depressives will tell you, it is often little things that worsen their depression. For me, it’s not the chronic illness and unrelenting pain…it’s the little, unexpected things that push me towards the abyss. Things like:

  • Falling and wrenching the shoulder that has the labrum tear
  • Constipation
  • Getting out of the house so I can take photographs, only to find out I left the SD card in the card reader
  • Emails and texts to friends who never respond
  • Health advice from people I have repeatedly asked to stop pretending they are doctors
  • People asking me, have you tried this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that…
  • Dropping a dish on my foot
  • Stubbing my toe in the dark on something that is not where it is supposed to be
  • Nothing in the refrigerator I want to eat
  • No internet
  • The printer running out of ink or toner
  • Needing a quarter for a cart at Aldi and not having one
  • The batteries in the remote dying just as I get comfortable in my chair or bed
  • Making an error in the checkbook
  • Store clerks who treat me as if  I have a disease or worse yet, treat me as if I don’t exist
  • Finding out last night’s dinner stained my favorite shirt
  • The DVR not recording a show I wanted to watch
  • No milk and I want to eat a bowl of cereal

Silly stuff, I know. But, here’s what you need to understand: for those who live with chronic illness and pain, there’s a cumulative effect. Their lives are already filled to the brim with the struggles that come from their illness. It’s often all they can do just to live another day. So, when a small insignificant thing is thrown on top of their load, it can and does bring them crashing down.

Try to remember this the next time you think your suffering friend is overreacting to a small matter: it’s not that one thing that is the problem; it’s the accumulation of numerous small things that have left your friend or loved one curled up on the bed wanting to die.

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Beware of Christian Counselors

christian counseling

In communities where Christianity dominates the culture, it is often hard to find a counselor/psychologist that is not a Christian. It stands to reason, that in a predominantly Christian culture most counselors would be a Christian. This is not a problem if the counselor is able to compartmentalize their religious beliefs, but many counselors who are a Christian can’t or won’t do this.

When a counselor believes the Bible is an authoritative text and the standard for moral and ethical conduct, it is impossible for them to counsel a person objectively. No matter how much they tell themselves otherwise, sooner or later their religious beliefs will affect the advice they give a person.

Back when I was still an Evangelical pastor, I started taking classes to become a licensed social worker. It wasn’t long before my Bible-based beliefs were conflicting with what I was being taught in class. I asked the dean of the department:

Suppose I am a licensed social worker and I am working for the Department of Human Services.  The client is pregnant and is thinking about getting an abortion. Since I am a Christian and I think abortion is morally wrong, would I be able to counsel the woman according to my pro-life beliefs?

The department head made it very clear, based on my religious and moral beliefs, that I would have a hard time working in a secular/state environment. She suggested that I might be able to work for a private, religious service provider, but my religious beliefs would likely preclude me from working in a secular setting.

Of course, this offended me. I thought that I should be able to push my religious beliefs on others, but I now see that the department head gave me sound advice. Evangelical Christians often demand they be permitted to work any job in any profession and not be forced to compartmentalize their beliefs. But, there are some professions where a person’s religious beliefs would preclude them from working in that field because their beliefs would not allow them to provide a client or a customer certain services or goods. (like in a pharmacy)

Many pastors provide counseling services. Here in Ohio, a pastor is not required to have ANY training before counseling someone. The fact that the counseling is done through the church exempts the pastor from any governmental oversight. I knew several pastors who were high school dropouts, with no theological or counseling training, that regularly counseled people. In the twenty-five years I pastored churches, I never had one person ask me if I was qualified to be a counselor.

Many pastors don’t think they need specialized training to counsel people. After all, the Bible has the answer to every question and problem. All the pastor needs to do is figure out what the problem is and find the appropriate Bible verse that addresses the problem. Every problem is reduced to obedience/disobedience, sin/righteousness, God/Satan, flesh/spirit. These kind of pastors are very dangerous because they give simplistic answers for complex problems.

Before seeing a pastor for counseling, a person should ask about their training and qualifications. Even if a pastor has college-level training, the value and extent of that training depends on where they got the training. Many Evangelical colleges have counseling programs that are little more than programs that teach pastors how to proof-text any problem. Many Evangelical colleges teach some form of nouthetic counseling:

Nouthetic counseling (Greek: noutheteo, to admonish) is a form of pastoral counseling that holds that counseling should be based solely upon the Bible and focused upon sin. It repudiates mainstream psychology and psychiatry as humanistic, radically secular and fundamentally opposed to Christianity. Its viewpoint was originally articulated by Jay E. Adams, in Competent to Counsel (1970) and further books, and has led to the formation of a number of organizations and seminary courses promoting it. The viewpoint is opposed to those seeking to synthesize Christianity with secular psychological thought, but has failed to win them over to a purely Biblical approach. Since 1993, the movement has renamed itself Biblical counseling to emphasize its central emphasis on the Bible. The Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling states that “The aim of Nouthetic Counseling is to effect change in the counselee by encouraging greater conformity to the principles of Scripture.”

Some Evangelical pastors go so far as to say that mental illness is the result of demonic oppression or possession. Again, the Bible becomes the solution to whatever problem a person may be having. Whether the person’s problem is due to sin or a demon, God and the Bible are always the cure for whatever ails the person. This approach rarely addresses the core issues and, in some cases, can lead to more problems and even suicide.

Imagine for a moment, an Evangelical woman going to her pastor for help. He listens to her “confession” and then he prescribes whatever Bible verse is appropriate. The woman profusely thanks the pastor and leaves his office determined to put the Word of God into practice. Perhaps this works for a day, a week, or a month, but, sooner or later, the problem returns. She goes back to the pastor and he reminds her of what the Bible says. He tells her that she needs to repent, walk in the spirit, be filled with the spirit, put on the whole armor of God, or withstand the devil. The message is clear. If you are still having a problem it is YOUR FAULT!

I know some pastors will be offended by what I am about to say next, but I need to be clear: Most Evangelical  pastors are unqualified to counsel people.  They lack the necessary training to competently counsel people and their commitment to the Bible keeps them from being able to help people. It’s one thing if a person has a question about the Bible or is questioning their faith. Certainly, they should seek out their pastor’s counsel on spiritual matters. However, many so-called “spiritual” problems are mental/physical/emotional problems dressed up in religious garb. An untrained pastor has no business counseling people who have mental/physical/emotional problems.

Sadly, many people think that pastors are experts on everything. Little do they know that many pastors aren’t even an expert on the Bible let alone anything else. Many Evangelical colleges have turned their pastor-training program into a business and marketing program. Actual training in the fundamentals of the ministry and the Bible are often quite limited. Many pastors-in-training will graduate from college without ever studying most of the books of the Bible. (and OT or NT survey classes don’t count) Many Evangelical pastors-in-training only take one or two of counseling classes. Yet, because the pastor has taken a counseling class, he thinks he is qualified to be a counselor. He may not be a counselor but he did stay at a Holiday Inn. Smile I know several pastors who got counseling degrees from Christian mail order diploma mills. They proudly let everyone know that they have a degree in counseling and are qualified to counsel all comers.

Over the years, I counseled hundreds of people. Not one time did I tell a person that they needed to see a medical professional or a psychologist.  I firmly believed the Bible had all the answers. My judgment was further clouded by the fact that my mother was mentally ill, was on all kinds of drugs, was treated by psychiatrists, and attempted suicide numerous times before eventually killing herself at age 54. I considered psychologists and psychiatrists to be enablers who encouraged people to continue in their sin.

In the late 1980’s, I was visiting with a fellow pastor in his office when a severely agitated young man came into the office. The man was either high on drugs or mentally disturbed. I thought my pastor friend would try to calm the man down and offer him some Biblical counsel. Instead, he told the man that he needed medical help. My pastor friend took him to the hospital in Zanesville and dropped him off. I was shocked he did this. When I questioned him, he told me that he was unqualified to help the man. He was the first pastor I ever heard say such a thing. I now know he was right.

I did have two members end up seeking treatment at a stress center. I had tried to help them, and when I couldn’t they had sense enough to seek out competent help. Both of these women stopped going to church after they got out of the stress center. At the time, I saw this as an example of what happens when you go to the “world” for help.

Most of the people I counseled learned to play the game that long-time Evangelicals are expert at playing; they learn to pretend. The Bible, God, praying, confession, and self-denial, are little help to them; they can’t seek help outside the church, so they learn to fake having the “victory.”  This leads to living a schizophrenic life. Sadly, the person’s spouse, parent, or children know that their loved one doesn’t have the “victory” because, at home, they can’t or won’t hide their mental health problems. It is one thing to pretend for an hour or two on Sunday; rarely can a person pretend every hour of every day.

I spent most of my adult life playing the pretend game. I struggled with depression, perfectionism, and OCPD, and while I could hide it while at church, it was impossible to hide it at home. My wife and children suffered because I couldn’t get the “victory” over my sin, the flesh, or whatever else the Bible and preachers said I needed to get the “victory” over. I lived this way until 2010 when I finally decided that I needed to see a counselor. Next to marrying Polly, it was the single most important decision I ever made.

The psychologist I see has not “cured” me, but he does help me deal with the depression and the mental and emotional struggles I have as a result of being chronically ill and in constant pain. I consider him to be a lifesaver. He has helped me to embrace my life as it is and he has also helped me come to terms with my religious past. I know that I can talk to him about anything. He listens, and then tries to constructively help me. Sometimes, he listens and says nothing. He knows that sometimes the help I need is just having someone to talk to. He doesn’t view me as a problem that needs fixing and he allows me the space to be my authentic self. If I have learned one thing in counseling, it is who Bruce Gerencser really is. Before this could happen, layer after layer of religious belief and thinking had to be peeled away. At the heart of my difficulties was religion and the Bible and they had to be confronted head on.  Even now, as an atheist, my religious past and the beliefs I once held affect how I think and reason. I now realize that the scar of my religious past will always be there. The longer I live without religion and the Bible, the easier it becomes, but these things can, when I least expect it, come to the forefront and cause emotional and mental problems.

I know that some readers of this blog have a similar past and are all too familiar with pastoral counseling and how the Bible is not the answer for whatever ails a person. If you are able to do so, please share your thoughts in the comment section. I know that others will be helped by you sharing your story.