Until April 30, you can get the e-book of Cancer is Funny for only…
Since you, dear reader, have probably already bought the book why not use this incredibly cheap ass offer to gift the e-version to someone you know?
Here’s the link.
Archives For Blurbs of the Book
Recently, I was on NPR’s Things Not Seen with David Dault. Check out the interview here.
Also, I was on the Christian Humanist Podcast. Check that one out here.
I’ll be at the Virginia Festival of the Book this weekend in Charlottesville and preaching at Wesley Memorial UMC there on Sunday am. Be there.
Here’s Alex Joyner’s review of my book in the Englewood Review of Books:
Most of what Jason Micheli has to tell you about cancer, you don’t want to know. The title of his new book, Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Cancer, may hint at optimistic self-help with some humorous anecdotes laced throughout, but cancer is not ‘ha-ha’ funny. Micheli is glad to tell you, in harrowing detail, that “cancer f@#$ing sucks.” (ix) This book is as raw as the sores running down his esophagus in mid-stage chemo. Yeah, there’s a lot here you don’t want to know, but it’s a story told by one of the most honest and profane pastors you’ll ever meet and along the way he spins out the heart of a battle-tested theology that is clear-eyed, unsentimental, and fully alive. Plus, too, he’s funny.
I can only imagine the debates that Micheli, a United Methodist pastor in northern Virginia, had with his editors in getting this book to press. Despite the striking cover art (a smiley face sporting chemo hair on a bright red background), the prospect of selling a book about cancer, especially one that refuses to sugar-coat anything, must have been daunting. Micheli’s edgy writing style certainly swims in the zeitgeist of his 30-something generation, but then again, most of them are not facing the rare, aggressive cancer that Micheli faced, (mantle cell lymphoma – a type that usually affects much older men). A tale like this has to be carried along on the vitality and voice of its author and we certainly get to meet such a voice in this book.
A few years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich used her own journey through cancer as a lens for her book, Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. Ehrenreich shares Micheli’s disdain for the Hallmark language and easy positivity we throw at cancer. She wrote, “Breast cancer…did not make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual. What it gave me, if you want to call this a ‘gift’, was a very personal, agonising encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before – one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune and blame only ourselves for our fate.”
Micheli chafes at this force, too, but he has a different vocabulary for understanding it—one that is shaped by his own theological journey with the likes of Karl Barth, David Bentley Hart, and Stanley Hauerwas. Through it all, he is placing his own suffering within a thorough-going Christological framework. In doing this he pushes back against the notions that God is only visibly present when cancer is being combatted and defeated. “As Stanley Hauerwas points out, the assumption behind what theologians call theodicy is that God’s primary attribute is power… implicit in this assumption is another one: because humans were made in God’s image, power primarily defines us as well.… Christians, however, believe God’s primary attribute is suffering love, not power–-passio, not potens.”(162)
In a better world, these insights should be the thing that brings people to this book. Micheli uncorks some great laugh lines. (One of my favorites: “Whenever we picture Jesus tempted by the devil in the wilderness, we usually imagine it in unsubtle comic book lines and hues, with a bad guy readily identifiable as ‘Satan’ and three temptations to which Jesus readily gives the correct answers as though he’s been raised by a Galilean Tiger Mom.”(65)) But it is the way that his theological formation illuminates his suffering (and vice-versa) that give this book enduring value. When he says, “They then both bent me in impossible positions as though I were a yoga instructor or Anthony Weiner on the phone”(7), I think/hope that the Weiner reference will be incomprehensible a few years down the road. But when he writes, “Cancer doesn’t lead you to ask, ‘Why me, God?’ Cancer leads you to wonder why God, whom we call Light, can’t seem to enter or act in our world without casting shadows”(88), well, then I think we’re on to something that will last.
The humanity of Micheli’s writing also shines through here. He is the father of two young children and his relationship with them and his wife is handled with a good, light touch. The poignant moments, and there are many, are not cheap.
Some readers, especially those who are used to the tame and tidy spirituality of much popular Christian writing, will be surprised by Micheli’s unvarnished profanity and his willingness to bare his carnal thoughts in these pages along with his poisoned, prodded body. I’ll admit that I flinched for him at points, wondering if he needed to be that confessional. But good memoirists know that a concern for appearances is deadly to the form.
Micheli is a spiritual heir to Mary Karr, whose The Liar’s Club is the seminal memoir of this era. In Karr’s The Art of Memoir, she talks about the hard work that memoirists must do in order to maintain an authentic voice. “For most, knowing the truth matters more than how they come off telling it.” And this means digging down beneath the pretty.
Micheli has a poetic gear, and it comes through in this book. But he values the rawness he has experienced. His rationale for sharing it comes late in the book and it, like all of the book, is grounded in his theology: “Thinking our holy obligation is to give God the glory, do we, in fact, rob God of glory, hugging tightly to the first draft of our testimony and offering up instead sanitized, sterilized, red-penned spiritualized jargon that intersects only tangentially with our real lives, because–-we think–-God’s not up to the challenge of our pain or unholy emotions?” (192)
This is a searing book. The cumulative effect of reading it through is, perhaps, like rounds of chemo, drawing us deeper into the pain. But we do get a glimpse of the joy Micheli holds onto. Not ‘ha ha’ joy. But life for sure. It’s a journey worth taking with him.
Alex Joyner is an author and United Methodist pastor on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He is the author, most recently, of A Space for Peace in the Holy Land: Listening to Modern Israel & Palestine [Englewood Review, 2014]. He blogs at AlexJoyner.com.
I was a guest on Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang this week on SiriusXM. He is a sharp and funny guy and I think it turned out to be a fun interview.
Here it is:
Here’s some of the recent interviews I’ve done for Cancer is Funny.
The Home-brewed Christianity Culture Cast (scroll to the 32.17 mark)
Coming up, I’ll be on the CXMH Podcast, the John Fugelsang Show on Sirius, Home-Brewed Christianity, and others. Stay tuned (Mom).
I truly hate this self-promotional shit, but many of you have asked how things are going with the book and what I’m doing with the book in the months ahead. And, I figure, the last thing you want from me is another thee-political post about The Donald so what the hell.
Hey- I learned that the comedy director Judd Apatow has my book and he freakin’ thinks it’s hilarious.
I spent the past week out in
sunny rainy southern California for a gathering led by the inestimable Tripp Fuller and sponsored by National Geographic’s Story of God and Home-Brewed Christianity. Though, with Teer Hardy, I violated Rule #1 it proved a wonderful experience. I got the chance to meet folks in the flesh, whom I previously only knew virtually, like Todd Littleton, Luke Norseworthy, Eric Hall, Nathan Gilmour, and Sarah Heath. There is much about social media these days that is f@#$ed up, but I sincerely believe there’s Jesus good in it too, proved by the ‘friendships’ I’ve forged with folks like these.
Tripp Fuller interviewed me about my book for the Home-Brewed Christianity Podcast on the first night of the gathering.
Christian and Amy Piatt interviewed me for the Culture Cast Podcast the next day.
I’ll post those interviews when they go live.
Luke Norseworthy interviewed me for his podcast, Newsworthy with Norseworthy, the following day.
You can listen to that interview here.
While in SoCal I did a dialogue sermon and a Q/A at the Loft LA, the most diverse UMC I’ve ever experienced. I’ll post that audio when it becomes available.
In the interim, in case you missed it:
I did an interview with Matt Townshend on Sirius that you can find here.
The Kansas City Star faith writer said my book is “a compelling read with just the right message…” Check it out here.
And Hearts and Minds Books named Cancer is Funny to their Best of 2016 List. Check it out here.
I’ll be doing some more radio show interviews on Sirius XM, including John Fugelsang‘s show “Tell Me Everything.”
The Christian Century and Wash Po will be posting reviews of the book (fingers crossed they say it doesn’t suck).
In March, I’ll be speaking at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville and the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference in Asheville.
And reception to the book has been such that Fortress Press has invited me to write two more books with them in 2017 and 2018. Here’s the press release. In addition, I’ve been invited by Eerdmans Press to contribute a chapter on a book about Preaching Romans.
Ryan Parker is the author of Cinema as Pulpit and contributes to the Pop Theology website. Here’s his recent review of my book:
That we have all been touched by cancer, if not personally, then relationally, is why Jason Micheli’s new book, Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo, is such an important book. It’s also my first must-read recommendation of 2017.
Thirty-something husband, father, and pastor Micheli was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, mantle cell lymphoma, that is so severe it can’t be “staged” like others. It was a diagnosis that resulted in an instant, intensive, eight-week course of chemotherapy that would wreak havoc on his healthy body and lead him to question everything he thought he knew about God and faith. It also resulted in one of the funniest and more insightful works of theology I’ve read in some time.
Cancer is funny for Micheli, in large part, because he has a seemingly indefatigable sense of humor, which, thankfully for us readers, was consistently lost on his doctors and nurses, adding even more laugh-out-loud moments to his reflections. Even in the most painful and humiliating moments of his treatment, Micheli could crack wise. But this sense of humor is not a mask, as Micheli makes himself emotionally and spiritually vulnerable to his audience, laying bare the ways in which this experience almost broke him. I found myself laughing out loud in one paragraph and reaching for the tissues in the next and challenged by his insights on faith and his theological speculations in each chapter.
Cancer is also funny in the ways ways in which it leads Micheli to re-think theology, faith, and Christian practice. At the heart of the book is a central question: “If so much of the Bible’s faith takes the form of complaint, then do we, who rarely address God plainly from the bowels of our pain, preferring instead the niceties of praise and petition, commit something like unbelief” (192). Micheli forces us to consider the ways in which our faith is often incompatible with the very God we claim to have faith in. He adds, “Since we purpose-driven moderns have transmuted so much of the mystery of faith down to its utility (Three Biblical Steps to Success in the Workplace), it’s not surprising how more often than not, our language of faith—our songs, our prayers, our cross-stitched and retweeted pieties—is meant to reassure us that, like State Farm, God is there” (190). Micheli’s book is, in a way, redeeming. It allows us to see anew all the experiences of anger, frustration, doubt, and loneliness (those times when we don’t or can’t experience the Divine—whatever either of those words mean) as potentially (inherently?) sacred and faith-filled.
At the same time, this experience of doubt should force us into a greater reliance on community, which, Micheli suggests, is at the heart of faith. He writes, “Our faith in the suffering love of God is intelligible, then, not through abstract answers to philosophical questions but only through the love of a community who suffer with us” (163). Micheli is quick to point out the particularities of the human experience and argues that, like cancer, there is no universal experience (or one-size-fits-all faith) to which we can all relate. Of course, this isn’t completely true as suffering is universal. It is so prevalent that, as Micheli points out time and time again, even God experiences it. So, as we either suffer ourselves or align ourselves with those who do, perhaps we participate in the Divine.
I’m tempted to just list all of Micheli’s insights here…all of those moments that made me put the book down and walk around. But, seriously, whether you’re professional clergy, a person of faith, or simply have a pulse, you need to buy the book and read it. In the context of his memories of fear, joy, and suffering, their impact is inimitable and undeniable.
Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo (Fortress Press, 226 pgs.) is available here. For those of you in Los Angeles, Jason will be speaking at Westwood United Methodist Church on Sunday, January 22nd, at 10:00 a.m.
No, the title isn’t an appeal to my ego. The Home-Brewed Christianity #LectioCast was kind enough to invite me as a guest for the next two weeks to talk about my new book, Cancer is Funny, and discuss the Advent lectionary readings.
Hosted by Dr. JR Daniel Kirk, #LectioCast aims to get preachers’ jumpstarted on their prepcrastination by honing in on issues and themes in the scripture passages assigned for the upcoming Sunday and to do so in a way that is sharp, practical, and seasoned with a bit of snark.
Daniel credits me with a “fascinating” interpretation of the Matthew 24 lection. “Fascinating” is most likely NT scholar speak for “incorrect” but I think it’ll preach all the same.
You can listen to the podcast here.
The first time I learned about cancer was when I was in middle school. A childhood friend’s dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He passed away when we were freshmen in high school. I remember not understanding how someone like him could get sick. He was a handsome, healthy man in his early 40s – a heart surgeon and former quarterback for Ohio State. A few years later cancer hit closer to home when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. At 16, I became personally familiar with words like biopsy, malignant, lymph noids, mastectomy and chemotherapy. I got to see first hand how the disease took a toll on my extremely healthy 43-year-old mother. It was the first time I saw my father cry and the first time I was ever truly scared. I remember looking at my then 5-year-old sister and thinking “what if?” The good news is there was no what if – my mom beat cancer and is alive and well and probably on on the back nine of the golf course in Vero Beach as you read this.As I got older, it seemed I just couldn’t escape the disease and I am sure everyone reading this post feels the same way. We all have relatives, friends, or spouses who battled cancer or maybe you even faced this horrible disease yourself. And no doubt we have all known cancer’s toll. For me, first it was grandparents lost and a few years back Brad’s mom ended her bout with breast cancer. As I get older now, however, the people diagnosed seem to be getting younger.In 2011 one of my college roommates and closest friends husband with Stage 3 testicular cancer at age 38. Now it’s not just our grandparents and parents who get sick, it is us. In 2013 the unimaginable happened in my most intimate group. One of my best friends in Alexandria’s 3-year-old sons was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. What that little boy had to endure in the way of spinal taps and chemotherapy and pure fear is truly horrifying.The good news is in two weeks, that little boy will take what we hope is his last chemo ever and in January I am headed to Key West with my college roommates and our spouses to celebrate Todd’s final scan and his victory over testicular cancer.Through all of this you can’t help but ask “why,” – especially to God. When my mom was diagnosed, I spent a lot of time being mad at God. I was 16 so I spent a lot of time being mad at everyone to be honest.Some of you reading you might know this, but I am a Christian – no doubt a few of my friends are rolling their eyes as they read that statement. I know many people who are Christians but don’t have a local church they call home. I, however, am lucky to have a church I love and I go as often as I can. My participation in a congregation is not because I think I am a “good Christian” — more like the opposite. I am usually a pretty bad Christian and I figure with all the other personal up-keep I do – you know the manicures, the facials, the highlights, the exercise classes and we can’t forget the fake eyelashes- how can I not think that my faith doesn’t need maintaining as well?A few years back we joined Aldersgate Methodist Church primarily because of the Associate Pastor, Jason Micheli. He was one of the few people I had ever met that I considered to be as smart and funny as my husband. During many conversations with both of them I often times have had to look to my best friend, Mr. Google, to understand what they were talking about. Jason’t humor is also a bit off color and juvenile at times, which I completely appreciate. His sermons are serious and comedic and his edge keeps the pews packed and the bishop on notice. His ministry is having an impact on a lot of people.At age 37, Jason was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Don’t go look it up – it will only depress you. At the time of Jason’s diagnosis he was literally one of the fittest people I knew. I am pretty sure he ran a marathon at a 7-minutes-per-mile pace a few months prior to his diagnosis. I had spent part of the prior summer in the Highlands of Guatemala with him, slinging cement piping. He just was not the guy you thought would get sick.I found myself often thinking about the irony that Jason had probably spent countless hours in his office helping people reconcile their own faith with their diagnoses. But what happens when it happens to the minister himself?Luckily for us, Jason wrote a book to talk about just that.On December 2, he will release, “Cancer Is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo.” Whether you are religous or not, this book is sure to be a very honest journey of life with cancer and how to somehow make sense of it all. You might not only enjoy it but find something you can use. I guarantee he will even make you laugh when talking about something we all wish we never had to address.I hope you will buy Jason’s book. You’ll be glad you did.
Other than a headshot for the dust jacket, my book with Fortress Press, Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo, is all finished and due out 12/1. Stay tuned and, if you’ve not already, you can pre-order it here. And if you know someone touched by cancer in some way, make sure they get one too.
One of the
humbling humiliating experiences of book publishing, I’ve discovered, is asking other people not only to read your book but also to blurb it. I can only liken it thus: “Will you take me out on a multi-hour date? Oh, and pay for it, too?”
I realize there’s no way to share these without humble-bragging, but some of my reviewers went out of their way to provide not only thoughtful but emotional blurbs for Cancer is Funny. I thought I would thank them by giving them a shout-out here on the blog before you can see them on and in the cover of the book.
“What gets lost in all the stories about the decline of religion is how many people have left church because they find its leaders uninspired and institutionally minded. Jason Micheli is neither. He is as funny as he is smart and both come through in refreshing, irreverent ways in Cancer is Funny. If you’re spiritual but not religious or if you’re religious but have forgotten how to be spiritual, Jason Micheli reminds us that God can be found in the world beyond the Church, even in incurable cancer. And Jason shows us with raw candor that wherever God is to be found, joy and laughter are possible.”
—Diana Butler Bass, author of Grounded: Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution
“Jason Micheli is one of the most hip, funny, deeply-theological-without-being-boring pastors in my church today. Jason is an engaging, always substantive-without-being-showy communicator of the faith. Now that he’s got Stage Dangerous Cancer Jason’s wit, faith, and genius turns even that tough journey into a pilgrimage toward God. Only Jason could transform cancer into a source of comedy but also a great occasion to teach the rest of us how to think like Christians about life, sickness, death, and God. Jason is able to do this because he, as much as anyone I know, believes in a living, redemptive God who is with us, in good times and bad. A funny, faithful book.”
– Will Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry and United Methodist Bishop, retired.
“Jason Micheli is the bravest motherfucker I’ve ever met. It takes a lot of courage to keep faith with God while you’re saying, “Fuck you cancer, and your little tumor Toto too.” But not only does he keep faith; it deepens because he becomes a theologian of the only theology that matters—the theology of death and life, you know, the theology of when shit gets real. Writing with the wit and brutal honesty of Annie Lamott, Michelli takes his readers on a shakedown cruise of pain, suffering, and discovery where we all meet God, perhaps for the first time. Get this book, bitches.”
– Dr. Jeffrey Pugh, Professor of Religion, Elon University
“Illness creates loneliness but Micheli resists that development by sharing his struggle with cancer. He does so with good humor which is not only a gift because, as he suggests, cancer is only funny in a tragic way, but also the most fundamental quality for a well-lived and faithful life.”
– Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Emeritus Professor of Divinity and Law at Duke University
If smart-ass humor is the best evidence of fighting spirit, Jason Micheli is Charles Bronson of cancer patients. He disrupts all the cliches of cancer chronicles: he’s not old or saintly and peddling comfort or resolution. He’s a preacher who’s not at peace, a GenXer who acknowledges that irony is his security blanket. Staring down the barrel of a life-threatening disease, he proves that irreverence can be the flip side of faith.
— JC Herz, author of Learning to Breathe Fire
“Sometimes you read a book you have to finish. Sometimes you know you have to read it again. On occasions you read a book that makes you think, laugh, drop some tears, & want to grab a drink with the author. Jason has done that, plus I have a list of people who will be getting this book as a gift. If you love solid theology, powerful testimony, & a text you will ruminate over, you will love this book.”
– Tripp Fuller, author of The Home-brewed Christianity Guide to Jesus
“Coming to terms with death ain’t easy. And yet, as Jason Micheli says, none of us is getting out of life alive. Thankfully Jason Micheli has given us a surprising book like Cancer is Funny, which, it so happens, is as hilarious as it is thoughtful and deeply faithful. Cancer is Funny is funny. It’s also personal and reflective, urgently so. It will not only teach you about yourself, it will teach you about God too. A riveting journey through the suffering that, as he puts, God may or may not be doing to him- a question everyone of us has asked, or will some day soon. Don’t be fooled by the title. Suffering, it turns out, can lead to laughter because you can’t face death without rediscovering the wonder of life.”
– David Fitch, BR Linder Chair of Evangelical Theology, Northern Seminary and Author of Faithful Presence
“Don’t let the title of this book fool you. It’s about cancer, and it’s funny, but it’s also profound, honest, and deeply faithful. Jason Micheli is one of the best theological communicators I know. This book will move and instruct everyone who has a mortal body and a questioning spirit.”
– Dr. Kendall Souled, Professor of Systematic Theology, Emory University
“Cancer Is Funny is a stunning monument to human perseverance and divine grace amid the specter of finitude. The very fact of its construction, like that of the ancient pyramids or the Taj Mahal, is as improbable as it is awe-inspiring and beautiful. The result is a wonder to behold. Jason Micheli is that rare Christian minister who serves up truth unvarnished, live-blogging with graphic honesty his experience of ingesting deadly poisons designed to spare his young life, against sobering odds, from an unforgiving cancer. Fasten your seatbelts, dear readers. There is turbulence ahead. Prepare to laugh and cry. Prepare to live and die.”
– Robert C. Dykstra
Charlotte W. Newcombe Professor of Pastoral Theology
Princeton Theological Seminary
“Put down that outdated magazine in your oncologists office! Cancer is Funny will take you on a journey from Jason’s mind all the way to the inner parts of his body that ends up revealing his soul. Jason lays himself bare so that you can look, laugh and feel better during the often faith-testing, twisted ride that is cancer. What is funniest is that this book will grab you and remind you of what matters in life.”
– Brian Stolarz, Attorney and Author of Grace and Justice on Death Row