Archive for May, 2010

A review of Letters from the Land of Cancer

May 23, 2010

Letters from the Land of Cancer
©2010 by Walter Wangerin Jr.
Published by Zondervan
199 pages

On Monday, January 16, 2006, pastor and noted author Walter Wangerin Jr. was diagnosed with the “kind of cancer that doesn’t go away.” In spite of never being a smoker he was stricken with lung cancer. Stricken is my word, he says he was given the gift of cancer. This book is contains 22 letters that he wrote (some while he was sitting in a chair receiving chemo treatments) and 7 “meditations.” He is living out his faith while dying. This is a hope filled but not sugar coated book. I would call the author, who teaches at Valparaiso University, a poet theologian.

I have often joked that when I get sick, so does the Holy Spirit. I have a hard time being sick and spiritual at the same time, my fruits of the Spirit rotten. And I have never been really ill. Wangerin writes “a serious disease invades more than the body’s physical systems. For it invades by creating an entire meteorology of disturbances. (My body is much the weather around my soul!) What it disturbs, then, and tests is also all the rest of me: my character; personality; faith; morality; virtue; the spirit’s gifts as well as the spirit’s vacuities” (p. 113).

Wangerin doesn’t believe that cancer gives him the right to be bitter. “Cancer does not give me freedoms others don’t have” (p.114). He does not consider his cancer as his enemy (p.161). In fact, he concludes that cancer has accomplished a number of blessings for him (p. 164) “Life or death. Either one is a gift to me. I don’t yearn for one over the other” (p. 167).

Being a pastor, I am always amazed when death’s survivors tell me that they didn’t get around to discussing funeral plans with their terminal loved one. Wangerin, however, talks about his death and funeral with his family. While his wife and he “were driving to the chemical oncologist” they discussed his funeral, her plans for the years following his death, his will, and even how to deal with the legal issues surrounding his books, royalties, and manuscripts.

I believe a quote from Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, that Wangerin uses, sums up this book. “If Christ is raised, nothing else matters. If Christ is not raised, nothing matters” (p.158).