All posts by Gerhard Venter

Writing A Novel Can Be As Technical As Writing Code

I don’t think any writer starts off with the intention of writing a complex book. In fact, smart authors will do their utmost to write a simple book. Like Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Yesu's Baboon hardcover book
Yesu’s Baboon hardcover book

I didn’t even want to write this book. Initially. I was tinkering with a short story, and it ran away with me. By the time I started organizing things, I discovered that the book was intricate as hell. One does not want that to show. The principle is “write hard, read easy.” A reader must not even think about  technicalities. My slogan is, “the prose  mustn’t be easy to understand. It must be impossible to misunderstand.”

Let me just demonstrate how tricky things can get. Forgive me for mentioning Solzhenitsyn in my humble company, but my book is, time and tense-wise, similar to One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

The entire story is told by my protagonist, an 18-year-old Maasai boy, to a white toy heron who sits in his small woodcarving workshop, which is part of the prison in which he is not only incarcerated, but also on death row. How did this situation come about? It’s a long story. I’m not kidding.

Now as Koyati tells his story, he uses the past tense (As a small cattle herder I had to go out after the herd at five in the mornings), but also the present (Miss Heron, my secret weapon is Tung oil–it shows up the wood’s beautiful grain.) There are also recent events (Last night the Brute gave me two punches in the stomach). I must keep Koyati’s POV (point of view) in view (haha) every moment.

But then, towards the end of the book, Koyati runs out of true past tense, because the events he tells to Miss Heron, the plastic heron with a voice recorder under her wing, catches up to the present moment. Aha, I thought. Now I can tell the story blow-by-blow in the present tense. Man, will this create immediacy and action and drama!

Not so fast, dumbass. It’s still past tense. Miss Heron (his voice recorder) is still sitting on the top shelf in his tiny woodcarving workshop (which is nothing but a paint storage closet). Isidora (his young but brilliant lawyer) still comes by every Friday to download his narration to her laptop, looking for anything she can use in her hopeless effort to save him from the gallows.

So, even though we’re now dealing with current events, they are still narrated in the past tense, because Koyati has to wait until the next work day before he can tell Miss Heron about them: Yesterday in court Judge Zaidi swore he would rid the United Republic of Tanzania from a scourge like me.

This is how crazy it got sometimes: Koyati is working on a sculpture in his prison workshop (strict present tense: I am sanding the prodigal son) while at the same time telling how he worked on another carving project in the past: (Elder Nuru laughed at the way I attacked the stick with my pocket knife). At the same time he will mention the almost-present-tense of his current circumstances (Sparrow says they might bring back the death penalty), or recent past, (Shomari grabbed me by the shirt this morning and warned me not to try anything.)

Continuity was a nightmare. Koyati loves wood more than he loves people. He can identify tens of species of carving wood by appearance, weight, sound, smell, and taste. If he sits down in a chair he first examines the arm rests to see from what type of wood it is made. For that reason I decided to tell the readers the species of wood he used for every single project he carved. There is no such thing as ‘I carved a fearsome lion.’ There is ‘I took my best bubinga blank and carved a fearsome red lion.’ (Koyati’s constant struggle to find good carving wood is a theme in the book.)

So I needed to remember after  couple of hundred pages which wood Koyati used to carve a tiny lion as part of his Maasai rosary. Eventually I had to create a database for Koyati’s various carvings and sculptures and the wood varieties he used for each.

There is one more modality: the little baboon story. While Koyati carves and chisels and sands in his little workshop, he hums and sings his own made-up story about how the High God created a small, furry baboon right in the beginning, in the garden. Little Baboon’s story is given in a formal font, deeply indented as a block quote. Almost like a Bible story. He follows Yesu Kristo from his birth to that awful moment when Little Baboon falls down in a swoon at the foot of the cross and tries to bury his little head in the bloody mud. The block quoted text is a full story in its own right.

That is how crazy it got, and part of the reason why the book took me eight years to complete. But the final test of this book has nothing to do with how hard it was to write, and everything with how easy it is to read.

If You Want to Write, You Need To Blog

Whether you’re self-publishing or in the power of a publishing company, Bob Dylan’s lyric “You gotta serve somebody” applies. It’s even worse if you are working for yourself. Then your boss is a jerk.
That means, in my case, that I WILL blog regularly because my boss said so. It’s not so hard. I rather enjoy throwing out a few lines now and then. Blogging is to a writer what finger-exercises are to a pianist.
Yesu's Baboon hardcover book
Yesu’s Baboon will be available in hardcover

My novel, Yesu’s Baboon, is at 130,000 words. I’m looking forward to mercilessly cutting them by around 50%. If you cut all the crap and redundancy out of a novel you’re already pretty proud of, you get an even better book, right? That’s how I’m going to force Hemingway’s 80% of the iceberg underwater. There’s already a lot of stuff under the waterline.

The combat phase is almost over. I’ve got three or four scenes to finish, then the revisions begin. Towards the end, the timeline gets really complex. The court case concludes, Isidora escapes, she’s got business to attend to at the law office, Koyati experiences a riot and conducts a funeral — lots of stuff.These events must occur in exactly the right sequence. That gets tricky. I use a professional-grade timeline sequencing app called Aeon Timeline. Here’s a small section of its screen:

A section of Yesu's Baboon timeline
A section of Yesu’s Baboon timeline.
Now if you think that this level of detail is going to make the book hard to read — it’s just the opposite.  The principle is straightforward: Write hard, read easy. Or like Steven Taylor said: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” Or, “A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than for other people.”
Anyway, stay tuned. I’ll be keeping you up to date.



A doxology is any song or text or prayer that glorifies God.

This is mine.

Thanks be to Almighty God for deliverance from the scourge named opioids. Thank you, Lord, for giving me back to my family and my precious calling.

What are you talking about, you ask

Have you heard of the opioid epidemic? Here’s how it works: an unsuspecting patient goes to his doctor and complains about back pain that will not quit.

The doctor prescribes opioid pain medication, because the patient

Crocodile – one of those in the opioid river.

begs for relief. For a while, both are happy, because the patient’s pain does not make his life a living hell anymore.

Then, accidentally, one day he runs out of pills, and his body does a number on him, and he begins to learn that he cannot be without his pills. Ever. He is not addicted, but he is dependent.

In my case, I recorded every pill I took for the last five years in a database. I never took a single pill that wasn’t prescribed for me, but even so, I was as hooked to the stuff as any junkie. To miss a pill meant painful withdrawal.

What opioids do to you

Now, dear friends, listen carefully to what happens to a person, a normal, everyday man like me, who is in pain and takes opioids — pills legally prescribed by his doctor — for relief:

  1. The opioid pain medicine messes with your central nervous system and actually causes pain. This pain can only relieved with — you guessed it — more opioids.
  2. In this process you can eventually not distinguish between opioid-induced pain and the original pain. You cannot pinpoint your pain anymore. Where does it hurt? Everywhere. Everywhere.
  3. You gradually disappear into a fog. Names, places, spelling, all impaired. Writing is dreadfully slow, because every little thing has to be researched.
  4. You sleep all the time. Your family’s life passes you by, because you’re just not there.
  5. You become irritable, even irascible. I never did, but many people do.
  6. The pills become the most important thing in the world. More important that family or work or hobbies. And why shouldn’t it? After all you are punished horribly if you don’t give them all your attention.
  7. Your doctors and healthcare providers begin to treat you just a little bit differently. With just a little bit less respect. Because they know you’ll blow up if you don’t get your prescription.
  8. Your body changes. Much of it I cannot even mention in this family blog. You become constipated. You develop problems in your urinary tract, with your breathing, with your weight, with your vision. Your eyes are constantly leaking at the corners.
  9. You become isolated, because nobody — nobody — understands what you’re going through. You cannot make long trips to go and see your friends and family, because what if you run out of your pills?
  10. Your sparkling personality recedes into the fog and you start disappearing into it completely and seemingly forever. People start thinking they’re losing you. You look as if you’re will die soon. And maybe that’s true.

There’s probably more, but I’m tired of thinking back on this nightmare that is now, thanks be to Almighty God, receding in my rear view mirror.

How I escaped

I understood that I had to get off this devilish concoction.

I went to my pain doctor and said (verbatim), “I need to get this shit out of my body.” He started prescribing less and less every month to wean me off it. After a couple of months I said, “Please, I need to go faster and get this suffering over with. This slow tapering is hell on earth.” The doctor said, “At your age, that would be dangerous. You have to do it very gradually.” So I tapered on my own, without his knowledge. At that stage, I still had to have full prescriptions available, because I would go into a panic if the stuff wasn’t there.

God blessed me with a strong will and a very non-addictive personality. I stuck it out. What helped me a lot (apart from praying day and night like a mad monk), was CBD oil. That’s the part of cannabis oil that does not make you high. Trust me, there were many days that I wished it had some THC in! But cannabidiol  saved the day. It’s not a drug, has no side effects, and can be bought over the counter at most health shops. Its molecule (C21H30O2) is almost infinitely complex and does everything from killing cancer cells to opening your sinuses. No it’s not snake oil. It’s more like the 21st century equivalent of aspirin or penicillin. Oh, and it relieves pain.

I’ve been “clean” now for 165.08 hours; that is around 6 days. I don’t have to worry about ever going back, because I was never addicted, I was only physically dependent. And that was pure hell in itself. Besides, I gave the remaining pills a burial at sea down the toilet. And I will never get a prescription again, because I told the pain doctor’s nurse to shove the prescription up her ass, and the reception staff that they’re unfriendly and they disrespect the patients. I got applause from the waiting patients for this. I didn’t burn that bridge — I blew it the hell up with 20 pounds of C4. It felt better than — whatever.

Aftereffects of my ordeal

My central nervous system is now screwed up. I get spasms in my legs, for which I used to take Baclofen (a muscle relaxant). I don’t take that anymore, because it makes me sleep all day, and I cannot sleep all day, because I’m 75,000 words into my novel, Yesu’s Baboon, and I want to finish it.

I still take a lot of Gabapentin, an anti-spasm capsule. These things don’t have deadly side effects, and the help a lot.

I’ve become very emotional and I cannot speak about certain subjects. Farm murders? I stay away — they destroy me. Endings of Russian movies? Murder! I mean, emotionally, on me.

I look back on  lot of my writing and I wonder what the hell I was thinking.

The pain is still there, but now I know I have to deal with it in different ways. Somehow the pain is not so bad anymore, I think — I hope — probably because my nervous system is so screwed up.  Now I take two Ibuprofen and deal with it. It’s like a wildfire firefighter with his fireproof blanket: I pull it over me and wait for the burn to pass over me. I come out without eyebrows, maybe, but alive and full of beans.

What this nightmare has done for me
  1. I learned that to let go of your faith is to be lost. My faith, feeble as it is, was strengthened immensely by the wonder of seeing what God does for you when you ask.
  2. I wrote a book and the spiritual aspects of coping with chronic pain. This writing has kept me positive and has played a role in my turning it all around. I pray other people can be helped by the book.
  3. I finally started researching medicines, supplements, home remedies, and alternative medicine. I had a mental block against knowing exactly what medications were prescribed for me, and what they do to me. No mas!
  4. I feel as if I’ve come through a deep river, one full of crocodiles, and am now safe on the other side. I feel I am now qualified to finish my novel, Yesu’s Baboon, which will blow your socks off.
  5. I have my family back, and my family have me back. I am stronger than ever. I’m interested in their activities again. I participate again.
  6. I don’t see death ahead of me. I’m too busy writing. I need to write four or five lekker novels before I go.
  7. I have plans for the future again. I’m working on all kinds of projects. I’ve installed shelves for Anna to put her nick-knacks on, and I’m planning our spring garden.
  8. A spend more time on Facebook, which is our lifeline to our folks in the Old Country.
  9. I’ve become reluctant to use the word “pain.” I don’t take my walking cane along unless I’m going to walk a long distance. I don’t tell people about my chronic pain anymore (not that I accosted strangers to do that!). I am not defined by my pain anymore.
  10. I don’t catastrophize pain anymore. It hurts like hell. It will pass. I won’t die from it. Whatever…
  11. I work around my back pain. I know I have about 20 minutes in the morning when I get up in which I can do physical project, and from 5-20 minutes at a time during the rest of the day. So I get up and boogie during those times!
  12. I have forbidden my family to disable me. Anyone who dares tell me any object is to heavy for me to lift gets a scolding. I say to them: Do not disable me! There’s one person, and one person only, who will decide if I can push this wheelbarrow, and that is me! They respect that. They also let me nap whenever I want to (I get up between three and five in the morning and begin to write — I need the darned naps).

Again, there’s more, but this isn’t a school project. I’m just telling you stuff.  Now that I look back on what I’ve written, I realize that I don’t know exactly, in minute detail, how I was saved. I was just saved. I don’t remember all of my swim across that dark, crocodile-infested river.

Maybe some lifesaver dragged me part of the way.






The Psalmsinger

A Kudu horn shofar
A “modern” shofar, made from kudu horn.

I’ve got a novel idea (get it?) for a new book even as I’m still working on the current one. It is about an intelligent and inventive chief priest in the ancient Israelite temple who is always working to increase the loudness of the worship music. Why? Because they had no electronic amplification systems. I could probably find some support for this view in Scripture, i.e. the wish to produce loud music to please the Lord. There are references to shouting and detailed instructions from  God for the Levites to form large temple choirs. I’m still researching this. If he could only modify the shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet, to play a variety of notes …

Swearing and Journaling

Journal entry, Jan 19, 2017,
in Gerhard’s Day One* Personal Journal

#med_painlevel = 7
F**ng oooooow!**

The ROC (Rules of Conduct) for personal behavior of people with chronic pain states clearly that this type of whining and moaning is most unbecoming and should never ever be engaged in in public. I wouldn’t be caught dead (or near-dead) moaning like that (apart from that one time when I came out of back surgery and I was still

Ned Flanders cussing
Ned Flanders cussing

sedated. That doesn’t count).

Normally, even at home, you keep most of your ass-cramp to yourself and share it in a quiet and dignified way with a trusted loved one, or as a number on the pain scale (hash tag #med_level = 7) with your doctor. Level 1 is ‘no pain at all’. And level 9 is ‘preposterous’ — remember Space Balls where the speed of the spaceship is shown as ‘Ludicrous?’ That’s level 9 on the pain scale. If it lasted for a long time you’d be unconscious and go into shock and stuff. So, for instance, you never go to that level with your doctor. But level 9 does occasionally happen to people. Not good.

That’s why you have a journal.

Your journal is utterly private. This is where I write ‘Good morning, Lord’ between 4 and 5 am most mornings. But that is also where I let loose the most fearsome curses and abjurations. You have to do that cussing  somewhere, otherwise you’ll probably let it out on your loved ones, and they don’t deserve that. Not that early in the morning.

*Day One is a Mac/iPhone/iPad personal journaling app that I recommend. It is fantastic. No, they don’t pay me anything for the endorsement. Nobody does.
*I can back up my cussing: Richard Stephens & Claudia Umland  published an article titled Swearing as a Response to Pain — Effect of Daily Swearing Frequency in The Journal of Pain, 12 (2011) 1274-1281. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2011.09.004.

I feel like a sacrifice, sometimes

Consider Romans 12:1:
Nice graphic of Romans 12-1 with a hillside and an ancient building in the background
Romans 12-1

Came across it first thing this morning while trying to figure out how I could afford Logos 7, the latest incarnation of my electronic reference library. I was at pain level 7, which is pretty intense, but in my case doesn’t last forever, thank God. But while it’s in force, things get a bit crazy, and I sometimes flail around for spiritual support.

I grab at anything I can find — a Bible verse, a cat, a hot water bottle to put on my lap, a cup of coffee, my pain relief playlist — particularly Michael W. Smith, or even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Especially the MTC. And when something soothing comes my way, as it always does, I thankfully attribute it to God and thank Him for it, because the stuff provided to me to help me in my pain are often way more than coincidence.

During what was probably my worst pain flare-up of 2016, one of our wild barn cats, Alex, the loudest purrer on the farm, who has never come to me in my room, came to me and jumped up on my lap, where he proceeded to stretch his body out over my screaming upper legs. He had never done that before and has never done it since. The pain subsided almost immediately. And I could only thank God. By the way, if chemicals have stopped working for you, try a cat.

Ok, back to the business at hand. Offering myself as a living sacrifice. Wow. The implications are far-reaching. So how do I offer my body as a living sacrifice to God? We know from Church practice and theological evidence of centuries that God does not require (or will even tolerate) a Christian to go jump off a cliff or throw himself into the fire. That doesn’t make you a martyr. That makes you an idiot. And it has happened in Church history, trust me. So, offering my body as a “living sacrifice” to God is not like that. We’re Christians, not dumb-asses. And while there’s a huge overlap in the Venn diagram, there is a distinction.

So this is what I concluded about Romans 12:1 as applied to my life. Since my body is being consumed anyway, wouldn’t it be a God-pleasing “living sacrifice” if I used my pain to think of others who are in dire straits, to pray for them, and thereby to not focus on my own problems but to try and be useful to others? If I said: “I’m being sacrificed in the fire today, but I’m not sitting here feeling sorry for myself — rather, I’m praying for others; I’m deflecting my thoughts from my own physical pain and lifting my fellow-traveler up to God in my flawed and dirty, but nevertheless praying hands — am I then sacrificing myself as a living sacrifice?

And is that, according to the Apostle Paul, “true and proper worship?” Wouldn’t it be glorious if I could take this pestilence in my life and turn it into true and proper worship of God! I don’t think it’s an easy thing to do, but at least it gives me something to work on during those level 7 times. And it’s consoling to think, during a little level 7 tête à tête with old friend pain, that I might at the same time be glorifying God.

The apostle Paul was a clever dude. But he was only channeling one microscopic bit of the immense wisdom of God. One atom is enough for me.

*As a footnote: my dour Dutch Reformed Calvinist faith frowns upon the idea that I could ever please God in any way. We were taught in Sunday school that those Catholics (and others) who were trying to please God were delusional and had a works-based Old Testamentic faith that negated the atonement of Christ — nothing they did, as miserable sinners, would ever be acceptable to the Almighty. But that is too strict — and constricting — for me. I can’t subscribe to that. I’m not giving up my grace, but I’m gonna try, try, try to please God. I always do. And I always fail, of course. My best efforts are the ones that flame out most spectacularly. But I try. But besides my own feelings: the Calvinist doctrine does stipulate that we have to try to do good anyway in an effort to show God gratitude for His grace. That’s good enough for me. Even as I’m being tossed into the hearth as a piece of firewood to keep the room warm, I’ll be yelling: “I’m a sacred sacrifice to the Living God! I’m sacrificing myself!” Call me an opportunist.

I’m The Captain of my Soul

I started writing this post this morning, Pearl Harbor day, December 7, on my 62nd birthday, at 7:00 AM, at pain level 7. This is a victory for me, since before, at this level, I used to whimper and cower under a bush like a dog run over. But now I’m writing. I’m still whimpering a bit, but I’m making sure nobody hears me. But I’m writing. Writing admittedly grim stuff, with lots of typos and weird phrases, but writing. In some places I write those things that you edit out later, thinking: I was going to post THAT to my blog? In the background — OK, foreground — Michael W. Smith is singing “You are holy; holy are you, Lord God Almighty …” Anna doesn’t mind the music; in fact, I suspect that if I suddenly turned off the music she’d sit up and ask: “What was that?” She’s been doing this for forty years.

In my throes, the Victorian poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903), a contemporary of Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill, came to my attention. Henley’s leg was amputated due to tuberculosis, and he wrote the poem after he was informed that the other leg would have to go too. He refused to accept this latest blow, and eventually his remaining leg was saved by a competent doctor. But lots of pain, lots of anguish.

While you ponder the poem, I’ll make my way to the kitchen and get some coffee for Anna and myself. She’s the only person I know whom you can wake up in the middle of the night and give a cup of coffee. She’s the only person I really know, period, because the day before yesterday was our fortieth anniversary.

OK, here’s the poem. Read it and think about it. There will be a short quiz.

Out of the night that covers me,Black as the pit from pole to pole,I thank whatever gods may beFor my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstanceI have not winced nor cried aloud.Under the bludgeoning of chanceMy head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tearsLooms but the Horror of the shade,And yet the menace of the yearsFinds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,How charged with punishments the scroll,I am the master of my fate:I am the captain of my soul.

I’m back with coffee. Gave Anna her mug. Got a kiss for my trouble. Hey, Agamemnon started a war for less. [sip] I swear this stuff can not only cure cancer but possibly raise the dead. Cannot do without it. The coffee ain’t bad either. My name is Gerhard and I’ll be here all week.

Before we discuss, let’s just unpack some of the stuff between the lines.

In the first stanza,

But of the night that covers me,Black as the pit from pole to pole,I thank whatever gods may beFor my unconquerable soul

there are some clues to the eternal nature of the horror facing us: the “pit” in the second line refers to hell, “night” and “black” set a pretty dark tone as well. “Whatever gods may be” says the poet is not sure of the aid or even of the existence of a helping God. But in the mist of this picture of hell stands his soul: “unconquerable.” This “unconquerable” anchors the poem to its title; it’s simply the English word for the Latin title: Invictus.

The second stanza details the powers arrayed against him:

In the fell clutch of circumstanceI have not winced nor cried aloud.Under the bludgeoning of chanceMy head is bloody, but unbowed.

The first stanza already placed him in a hellish situation; now he is in the “fell clutch” of this random earth. “Fell” is the favorite word of Tolkien, for instance, to describe the hellish forces of orcs, demons, and evil gods (or “wizards” in Middle Earth). He is “bludgeoned” by this randomness (“chance”), and his head is bloody. But again, just as in the first stanza, his soul defies all these forces of darkness: he has not winced or cried out, and his head is still “unbowed.” Still invictus!

More of the same in third stanza:

Beyond this place of wrath and tearsLooms but the Horror of the shade,And yet the menace of the yearsFinds, and shall find me, unafraid.

This hellish earth is a place of “wrath and tears,” which is self-explanatory. There is also the horror of “the shade.” In antiquity, the souls of the departed were not the immortal rays of spiritual light they are now; the departed were thought of as weak and powerless versions of our vital selves — mere shadows of our human bodies. Shades. The final scene in the Russel Crowe movie “Gladiator,” which paints his return home after his death, although triumphant, is set in shades of gray and in slow motion. Thus “shade” refers to death here. The years “menace” us, because inexorably with the years come old age and, of course, death. “And yet,” he says, death will find him how? “Unafraid!” See the pattern? In each stanza, first the forces of evil, then his unconquered soul, still standing.

It matters not how strait the gate,How charged with punishments the scroll,I am the master of my fate:I am the captain of my soul.

As we’ve come to expect, the last stanza begins with a detailing of the forces arrayed against us. Note how easy it has become by now to substitute “ourselves” for “the poet.” By now, he is speaking for all of humanity. The “strait” gate refers to the fact, in my opinion, that the Christian way of salvation is not necessarily open to him. Matthew 7:13, (*NIV*) reads: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. “Strait” has the meaning of “narrow” in the poem, as in sea straits.

In a similar Biblical vein, the scroll into which his name should have been written is, instead, full of indictments of his past sins. The dice are loaded against him. But by now we know that he will defy all this. And he does. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Now pay attention, class. He is not saying that he is stronger than God or “whatever god (there) may be,” or resistant to the bludgeoning of fate, or even qualified to get into eternal glory through the narrow gate. No, he is the master and captain of his soul because he, and only he, and not even God, controls how he reacts to his circumstances.

Yes, I said “not even God.” How can I say this? Because God gave each human being free will. He wanted us to have the power to love him; to choose to serve him out of our own accord. There was no claw-back clause. We were stuck with our new, exciting world, the one in which we were master and captain.

I think Tom Petty is saying the same thing when he sings, in I won’t back down:

No, I won’t back downYou can stand me up at the gates of hellBut I won’t back downNo, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned aroundAnd I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me downGonna stand my ground and I won’t back down.

Being invictus means that you, my dear reader, are in full control of how you react to your circumstances, no matter how grim they may be. If you get gangrene in your leg, you cannot control the fact that your leg will have to be amputated. But when your loved one walks in you must decide whether you say: “I love you, thanks for coming” or “Leave me alone, I’m in pain. Go away.” The leg? Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (or God, if you’re so inclined) are responsible for that one. But how you react to its loss and the pain and heartache? Look to the captain of your soul.

How is a devoted Christian to read this poem? Well, the bludgeonings of chance have done a number on me, too, so on some days I can’t even manage to get out of bed without my faith (imperfect as it is) in God. Note very well that I’m not saying that I’m a man of God who has an angel sitting on my shoulder 24×7. I am saying that I’m a poor, broken human being and that I sometimes fall asleep while I’m praying and sometimes don’t say a word to God for a week. And we all worry about having a few entries in that scroll when our final trumpet sounds.

As a Christian I’m not living in a hotel for saints; I’m languishing in a hospital for sinners. And as a Christian I’m not afraid to say: “I’m the captain of my soul.” But I wouldn’t want to steer that sucker without God in wheel house.

At last, some intelligent comments about pain medication

Originally posted on April 3, 2013

Michael A. Weiss talks about pain medication

At last, some intelligent comments about pain medication. From a patient, obviously.

“With Chronic Illness usually comes chronic pain. There are many ways to deal with Pain but the most effective and immediate methods usually involve Narcotic Pain Medications. However, the Medical Practice of Pain Management is extremely complex and Narcotics can sometimes create a chronic problem all unto itself as the Patient battles to stay within the confines of “Dependency” as opposed to “Addiction.”

This is the intelligent and eminently reasonable voice of Michael A. Weiss, a chronic pain sufferer, who speaks about the reality of pain medicine dependency. This is a reality in every pain sufferer’s life, and I recommend you listen carefully to what Michael has to say. Since we approach this and every other issue from a Christian point of view, one could add a great deal of prayer and meditation to pondering the issues that Michael mentions. Chronic pain sufferers really need tons of wisdom to navigate through the currents of their particular imposed lifestyle.

Chronic pain is America’s greatest scourge

Originally posted on June 7, 2015

It’s official: chronic, under-treated pain is America’s greatest scourge. “Chronic pain affects about 100 million American adults — more than the total affected by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined,” report the Institute of Medicine on their website. “Pain also costs the nation up to $635 billion each year in medical treatment and lost productivity.” That’s the official figures and the public financial cost of this epidemic.

“If you’re affected by unrelenting pain,” he writes, “you’re not thinking of what your pain is costing the national economy. If you’re thinking about money at all, you’re wondering how you’re going to pay the mortgage if you should lose your job tomorrow, because you just cannot sit in that office chair and do a whole day’s work anymore.” Venter says that his book is for those who are still swaying on their feet after receiving the knockout news that their pain condition is not going to go away. “Your pain is here to stay,” the doctor said. “We can alleviate it with drugs and other therapies, but you’re going to have to live with this condition.” Now a whole lot of realizations begin to flood through your mind. Your job — in danger. Your sports activities — over. Swinging your kids around on the lawn — ain’t happening anymore. To be frank, putting on your pants can now begin to present a problem.

But the difficulty of movement and activity is not the only problem. The big issue is that parts of your body — and in many cases your entire body — now hurt all the time. And slowly some of the implications begin to announce themselves in your mind:

    1. You may be on new, powerful drugs. Some medications, for instance the family of pain killers called opioids are, if not necessarily addictive, at least dependency-forming. Even so, the severity of you pain may leave you no choice but to use them. Carefully.
    2. If your pain does not show up in MRI’, X-Rays or blood work, your health or disability insurance may renege on you (they did on the author).
    3. If your situation is not just right, Social Security benefits will refuse you one, two, three, four times. Maybe more. This becomes a major fight in your life (it’s been for the author).
    4. You may lose not only your job (and therefore your income) but also your mobility, your hobbies and family activities, and your intimate life.
    5. Your spiritual life will invariably hit a bump. You may be asking “Why, God?” “Why this?” “Why me?” “Do I really deserve this?” This is the area to which Venter gives the most attention, along with your family life and your relationships with your loved ones.
    6. Speaking of your loved ones: When you’re in severe pain; is it (A) OK to be mean or churlish – they’ll understand, or (B) Important to be extra loving and considerate, and to not treat your pain as an excuse to snap at them?

This is just small sample of the stuff coming your way once somebody has pronounced the “disabled” word over you. What’ worse is that your relationships with your loved ones could go south in a hurry if your don’t handle them right. Venter says: “I didn’t write all these things to try and scare my readers — I’m writing them to say: ‘It’ okay! You’re not the only one in this situation, and there are ways to deal with this.’ I try to give you some answers (obviously I don’t have them all) when you break down and pray, and say to God: ‘Lord, the sky is falling on my head. Everything is disintegrating around me. My life is going you-know-where in a hand basket. Please help me, because I cannot do this by myself.’ That is where God’ gracekicks in.”

Venter’s book on chronic pain walks you through this dark valley with honesty and humor as he reminds you of God’ immeasurable grace, while pointing out the pitfalls and potholes. Your journey together with the author builds up throughout the book, until you’re left with a feeling of awe and wonder at God’ goodness, and you once again have a road map for your future. “You do have a future, don’t you?” the author asks. Venter describes his book as somewhat like a parachute. He hopes that you don’t need it, but if you need it, he thinks you need it bad. If it provides some new hope in only one life, Venter says, writing this book would have been worthwhile.Through Pain to Victory – A Christian Guide through Chronic Pain

by Gerhard Venter is available from as a paperback or as a Kindle eBook.

If I Had A Hammer – The Sayings of Thomas à Kempis

Original post by Gerhard Venter, May 7, 2013

In this post I tell how I came to start reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, whose Dutch surname was Haemerken (Afrikaans “hamertjie”) — little hammer. And his book is a little hammer, if there ever was one. I’m putting my reading life back together bit by bit. I don’t have a reading plan. I’m suspicious of plans. I just think broadly of the kind of things I want to read.

Fifteenth century mystics are not what I want to read right now. In fact, right now I’m reading The German Way of War by Citino as part of my self-imposed course of study in military history (but that’ a blog post in itself). In the process of trying to establish some semblance of order, I think of a very old technique to get your stuff together: positive affirmations.

I was in my early twenties back in Pretoria when I started dabbling in positive thinking. I got Paul J. Meyers Success Motivation Institute system and pasted positive affirmations (surely a tautology) up on my mirror; inane sayings such as “I get up every morning excited about the person I might help that day.” Don’t you just want to slap the man? Anyway. So I begin to look for some sensible affirmations — ones I can believe in.

In the process a website named snags the seam of my toga and I have to pause. Mmm. They have wonderful books in there: Several Bibles, some in Hebrew and Greek (with the real orthographies); they have Luther, Calvin — everybody who is anybody. My eye catches The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Yeah, I’ve known about The Imitation for many years. These guys used to beat themselves over the back with little cats-o-nine tails they carried with them in silver boxes. Wore hair shirts and stuff. Really into their suffering.

Suffering . . . aha! One of my favorite topics. So I begin to read The Imitation of Christ. After the first page I’m wide-eyed like Ali Baba after he lights the first candle to see what treasure there might be in the cave. Dear Lord, thank You for a resource like this! For insight, for wisdom, for wit, for rules for living like this! This pre-modern man writes rules of thumb such as:

“He does much who loves much. He does much who does a thing well. He does well who serves the common good rather than his own interests.”

Note that this is not quite a corporate “How to get your own way, no matter what” philosophy. But that’ okay by me at this time in my life. So, instead of compiling a reading list, I spend the next several work hours copying out aphorisms and and epigrammata (I’m not sure exactly what they are, either, except short witty sayings) into flashcards at Quizlet so I can hang onto them as tightly as possible.

I called à Kempis a “pre-modern man.” That certainly shows. To mine 21st century affirmations from him, you must do a certain amount of violence to his work by cherry-picking passages, because he was a religious and a mystic.

We squirm a little bit at concepts such as having Christ as your Divine Lover and doing violence to your own body. 99.99999999999% of us aren’t quite at that point. And if you want to be fair to the author, you need to remember that that’ the core of his work — indeed, of his soul. But his deep wisdom surely lifted my spirits and continues to do so.