Monday, February 17, 2014

Cancer and Theology: A Review

Ullestad and Bouma offer here, with the help of their friends, a wonderful collection of brief essays. There are a variety of ways in which this book is a gem. First, the chapters are brief. For those living as care-givers or currently journeying with cancer, it may be hard to read a longer work of theology. Brief meditations are helpful.

But these are intentionally not "devotional" meditations. The authors attempt to get beyond pious platitudes, and specifically platitudes they themselves have experienced as less than helpful. Bouma, himself a cancer survivor, invited the authors to do two things in their essays. First, take the theme of "cancer and theology" in any direction they wished. Second, provide at least one "theological one-liner"--a sound alternative to the pseudo-spiritual phrases frequently offered as encouragement to cancer patients.

In fact, this second assignment is the genius of the book. Bouma continues, "People are often compelled to say something reassuring to victims of tragedy, whether it be a cancer diagnosis or the death of a loved one; however, memonic eye-rollers like 'If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it' are misguided at best and hurtful at worst."

Ironically, one of the repeated insights of the book is that there may not be words for the tragedy of cancer. The authors repeatedly suggest a ministry of presence is central, that sometimes the best thing we can do in the presence of cancer is to do and be rather than say. But this is a book, and books have words. Sometimes we need words to get us back around to the other side of words.

Brian McLaren quotes Bruce Cockburn at the conclusion of his brief essay, and the quote says it all: "Those who know don't have the words to tell, and those with the words don't know so well."

If you have lacked the words, but suspect that might be the better part of wisdom when considering theology and cancer, this book will widen your mind and deepen your heart.

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