Archives For Cancer is Funny

Book tour pimping continues apace.

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.

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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:

My publicist recently asked me to write a reply to Jeffrey Weiss’ editorial in USA Today about planning his ‘no thanks’ to cancer treatment. You can find his article here.
Prayer “Works” (But Not in the Way So Many Suppose)
Mr. Weiss,
Likely, you expect a clergyman to critique your appraisal of the Book of Job and to encourage you, as the TSA agent who recently squinted at the disparity between the pre-cancer face on my ID and the one in the flesh before her, that “prayer works.” 
“I’ll pray for you to be healed” she whispered as she circled and checked things on my boarding pass. 
With a terminal cancer of my own- mine’s in my marrow, as voracious as it is rare- I actually think you’re exactly right to point out how the Book of Job reveals the theological problem at the heart of how we so often speak of prayer. God, as the Book Job insists, is incomprehensible. As God says to Job, everything that is did not have to be, a reminder woven into the opening line of scripture “In the beginning…” We are, Job learns, contingent creatures. Our knowledge can never bridge the gap between us and our Creator. If this is true, you’re exactly right to caution against the way we speak of prayer working.
To put it more bluntly: Isn’t it ridiculous (and maybe even idolatrous) to think that through our supplications we can persuade God into doing something God might otherwise not do? You might be surprised to hear, Mr Weiss, that I take it as self-evident that the answer to that question is ‘Yes.’
 
The God of Job isn’t a god we can manipulate by spiritually-sanctioned means to do what we want. Too often when people tell me they’ll pray for me, the implication left unsaid is that God is otherwise not already with me or at work in me and that if I’m not healed then somehow their prayers didn’t work. Such an understanding of prayer is incompatible with the God of the Book of Job, a God who is at every moment the reason there is something instead of nothing. 
Not only do I agree with you, Mr. Weiss, I think St. Paul would too. 
After stating the obvious (none of us knows how to pray), St. Paul writes to the Romans that whenever we pray, no matter what it might look like, it’s not actually we who are praying. Rather God, the Spirit, prays in us and through us. 
This is what gets missed by so many of the people who tell me they’re praying for me, but it’s something you missed too. 
Prayer isn’t something we do. It’s something God does.
Instead of a practice we perform for results we’ve predetermined, when we pray to God, we’re prayed in by God. 
God is the impetus behind our prayers as much as the object of them.  The very wants and desires we pray, runs St. Paul’s argument, are themselves the handiwork of the ever-present God. 
What’s this mean when you’re sick with stage-serious cancer and staring down the-house-always-wins odds? 
St. Thomas Aquinas doubles-down on Paul’s point when he writes: “We should not say ‘in accordance with my prayer, God wills that it should be a fine day’ we should say that ‘God wills it to be a fine day, in accordance with my prayer.’” 
God wills our prayers, says Aquinas, as much as God wills the fine day.
Let me put Aquinas’ point a bit more personally for the both of us: 
We should not say in accordance with the TSA agent’s prayer, God wills that I should be healed of my cancer; we should say that ‘God wills that I should be healed of my cancer, in accordance with her prayer. 
That’s no guarantee I’ll be healed, and if I’m not healed, there’s no explanation behind it of the sort Job’s churchy friends assumed. However, it is a guarantee that my desire to be healed, as well as the desire of all those praying for me, isn’t our desire alone or even originally. It’s a desire shared by- initiated by- the God who prays in us. 
You’re dead on, as contingent creatures we can never the why behind the Creator’s doings. If we could, then God would not be God. 
But to your other suggestion, that God does not care about your friends’ prayers, I disagree. Not only does God care about your friends’ prayers, their prayers derive from and originate in God. Indeed it’s not strong enough to say God cares about your friends’ prayers. Their prayers are, in fact, a sign- a sacrament, as we say in the Church- of God’s love for you. 

 

You can find the article here:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2016/09/29/submission-guidelines-usatoday-opinion-column-oped-howto-letters-editor/89964600/

You’ve bugged me-

Here’s some of the recent interviews I’ve done for Cancer is Funny.

Mockingcast

The Home-brewed Christianity Culture Cast (scroll to the 32.17 mark)

Get Your Spirit in Shape United Methodist Podcast

The Loft LA

Matt Townsend Show

Coming up, I’ll be on the CXMH Podcast, the John Fugelsang Show on Sirius, Home-Brewed Christianity, and others. Stay tuned (Mom).

 

Have Book, Traveling

Jason Micheli —  January 28, 2017 — 1 Comment


As I like to say, I only pretend to be a narcissist on Sunday mornings.

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.

Update:

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.

Coming up:

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.

Jana Riess of the Religion News Service recently interviewed me about my book. She’s a good reader and a thoughtful interviewer, and she chalks my book up on her Top 10 List for the year.

Here’s the interview. You can find it here too.

It’s probably weird to say that one of your favorite books of the year is the memoir of a young guy battling cancer—what am I, some kind of sadist?—but it’s true. Podcaster Jason Micheli’s memoir Cancer Is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo, which hit bookstores a few weeks ago, is on my top ten list for 2016.

It’s not only hilarious and poignant, nailing the old “I laughed, I cried, it became part of me” wish any reader has with a memoir, but it’s also deeply, surprisingly theological. You’ll find no clichés here. 

The author is a pastor who was diagnosed with “stage-serious” cancer at age 37. I caught up with him by phone a couple of weeks ago. — JKR

RNS: First, tell me about the diagnosis and what happened to you.

Micheli: Almost two years ago this Advent, I finally went to a GI doctor after about six months of having uncomfortable abdominal pains that I chalked up to spicy food or other things. It would go away for a while and I’d forget about it. But two Advents ago it just got unbearable. The GI doc sent me for a CAT scan, and I was told I would get the results in about a week. But I got a call that same night, and the doctor asked me if I was sitting down.

That’s when I found out that my intestine was inverted and it was probably caused by a tumor. They rushed me to surgery. It turned out I had a 10” by 10” tumor and that it was caused by possibly one of five rare cancers. I had mantle cell lymphoma, which affects very few people, but typically they’re men in their 60s and 70s.

I began a year of intense chemo. And I finished that up about a year ago this past fall.

RNS: Were you journaling and writing this book while you were having treatment?

Micheli: Yeah, partly because of my role as a pastor. I was in church in the pulpit one Sunday, and then the next Sunday I was gone. I mean I just disappeared from the life of my church with no notice.

They all treated me as though I was already dead. And that had less to do with me, I realized, than it did with unresolved grief they had in their own lives over other people who had cancer. So many people had no idea how to process this emotionally or theologically.

Part of my vocation as a pastor is to live inside this fishbowl, and it didn’t make sense to hide this most significant thing away from them. So I decided to write about this for them as it was happening, and to do it in the way that they would themselves if they weren’t worried about what their pastor would say.

RNS: What do you mean, “worried about what their pastor would say”? What does that look like?

Micheli: I decided to narrate my experiences without stained-glass language. To not feel the need to protect God from my real feelings and questions. To try to take the language of the faith to see if it could lift the luggage.

I was inundated with people giving me books, some of which were “Christian” books filled with clichés and sentimentality. As a pastor I’m savvy enough to know that those books are crap, but someone else might actually be damaged by that demand for constant cheerfulness. I wanted to be as open and frank about I could in the moment, about the experiences of shame that your body can bring you, from impotence and everything that comes with chemotherapy.

But I also wanted to write with humor. Personally, that’s one of the frames of reference I have in my own life. I do theologically believe that if suffering brings you closer to God, then joy is a part of that. Joy and grief mingle together. That happens in the cancer ward too.

micheliadj

RNS: In the book you raise the classic questions about why people suffer, but you speak strongly against the “God gave me cancer so that . . . [insert your lesson here]” mindset. Even as you sympathize with that desire to understand why.

Micheli: God doesn’t do things like this to you to make you a better pastor, or a better person. I know that. But I still went through a period of “Why is God doing this to me?” even though I didn’t theologically believe that.

I think that the most Christian posture toward suffering is to rage against it, not to try to explain it. But I still went through that period where I wanted to know why God was doing this to me. One of the undertones that I wanted with the title is that suffering can sometimes make being a Christian seem foolish, so the joke’s on Christians for believing.

RNS: In the book you write beautifully about marriage, like that it was only after your diagnosis and not the dozens of weddings you performed that you ever noticed that the “in sickness and in health” vow always leads with the expectation of sickness.

Micheli: To be frank, it was probably the first time in our lives when shit got real. We have two kids, and they’re both adopted, and there have been some challenges. But this was the first time in our marriage that it became clear how grateful I was for this person I married, and that her character was not something I even needed to wonder about.

We’re so scared of death as a culture. But one of the things we’re choosing when we choose a spouse is someone who can help us die well. I certainly don’t want to do that anytime soon, but I know that I married someone I can count on to help me die well.

RNS: One of the things I loved most about the book is how your situation caused you to look at familiar Bible passages in fresh ways. For example, when Jesus is washing Peter’s feet, you notice that it’s not the act itself that freaks Peter out. He only objects to what Jesus says about how the footwashing shares in Jesus’ death. And Peter doesn’t want to die.

Micheli: All theology is contextual, right? All of a sudden, I was dying. Everything looked different from the perspective. It made me aware of how for many of the stories, particularly in the Gospels, we’ve accrued so many layers of interpretation, but there’s a first-order layer that’s human that we miss. With the footwashing story, we tie that into the Atonement, but on a more human level, it’s telling us that Peter doesn’t want to die. And in the Passion, Jesus makes sure his mother is taken care of when he dies. And Jesus makes sure he forgives the people he needs to forgive before he dies.

If the Bible is a template for how we live, the Passion—which is the longest part of the Gospels—should be a template for how we die. Jesus gives us a way to die.

RNS: What are you hoping will happen with the book?

Micheli: I’m hoping that people in my situation, or people who care about someone in a situation like mine, will be helped by it. That’s the first demographic I have in mind. But just as important to me is that it is a book of theology. I want it to help people who either don’t know how that Christian language works or who have questions or doubts about how it works. I hope the book is able to help them see how someone can speak Christian in the midst of suffering.

Someone who blurbed the book said—and I think it’s correct—that if we’re not able to speak our faith in the midst of suffering, it’s basically useless. I wanted to give a shot of confidence or strength to people who are questioning whether we’re just kidding ourselves with this faith language.

Book Launch Roast Notes

Jason Micheli —  December 16, 2016 — 1 Comment

15350442_903671816401166_318112112921664168_nTwo friends in my congregation organized a Friar’s Club Roast of yours truly at the local country club to kick-off my book’s release. It turned out to be a hilarious evening.

As part of the night, Dr. Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus? and the one who first encouraged me to start this blog, to launch our podcast, and to write the book, came from the Twin Cities to be a featured roaster. Also on tap, Dr. Jeffrey Pugh, author of Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times and Professor of Religion at Elon University, was another guest roast master. Along with my friend and mentor Dr. Dennis Perry and a host of others.

The Roast Master for the night was my dear friend Brad Todd, a frequent guest on Meet the Press who runs OnMessage Inc and is one of the architects of Trumpocalypse.

I’ll post the video when it’s edited, but here’s the manuscript of my roast of all the roasters at the end of the evening. Obviously the humor here is blue and the language profane so be warned.

social-media-buytickets

I want to thank you all for coming out to tonight to Mt. Vernon Retirement Home, for this occasion where you numb yourselves with alcohol while listening to me talk about myself nonstop. Or, as my wife likes to call it, marriage. Who knew when I arrived at Aldersgate Church over 11 years ago that one day you’d be willing to sling back liquor and cough up $75 a head just for the privilege of hearing me get mocked and ridiculed and raked over the coals.

The jokes on you. You could get that for free after every 8:30 worship service. Well maybe not quite as biting as the jokes have been here. Some of the teasing from you all tonight has cut pretty deep, so deep…I almost don’t have the heart to tell you I found out just yesterday I’ve only got a few months to live.

Oh, come on. Knock it off or I’ll let Dennis have the mic again.

In this whole process of writing and publishing my first book, I’ve had a lot of highs- and not just from the medicinal marijuana Steve Larkin sold me at his discounted geezer rate. I’ve had a lot of highs during this publishing journey. Tonight’s not one of them, but it’s is an experience.

But seriously, if I’d known that Megan and Libby Todd, the Immelda Marcos of Old Town were going to go to all this trouble, I never would’ve pretended to have cancer. Now I feel bad. With Dennis taking a sabbatical every time Donald Trump gets a new wife, cancer’s the only way I could get a little time off.

Let that be a warning to you Karla. You’re probably going to have get AIDS in order to get a vacation.

[This is where Ali wanted me to add the disclaimer that ‘AIDS isn’t funny.’ However next fall Tony Jones is publishing a book by that very title, AIDS is Funny.]

First, I think I need to say it’s not easy to be the final speaker at such a dud of an event- especially when you consider that as a preacher I’m used to speaking at church, not the Mt Vernon Nursing Home, and most of the time at church the only person who’s been drinking is Steve Larkin.

Dr. Tony Jones, Dr. Jeff, Dr. Dennis Perry, Dr. Maureen Marshall…just looking at a lineup of pretentious prefixes like yours, I think I speak for everyone when I say…I expected you guys to have more talent. All you had to do is make fun of me. How hard is that? That’s easier than making Melania Trump jokes at a MENSA meeting.

I’m like the Gallager of the theological world. I’m my own punchline. Tonight should’ve been like shooting fish in a barrel.

You all gave up your Friday night for this? I mean, Giada Hot-Laurentis is at a Cooking Festival at the Washington Convention Center right now, tonight. I appreciate the sentiment but if this were the first and only good Matrix movie, Giada was the smokin’ hot red pill and you, by being here tonight, chose the blue one.

Of course, Dennis has been chewing those little blue pills for a while now but for the rest of you…

I want to thank Brad Todd for being the Roast Master tonight. Even though tonight was a dud, Brad’s a good guy; in fact, my brother-in-law, Mike, dates Brad’s wife.

When I heard Brad was the MC  for tonight I got excited. This event should be good, I thought. After all, Brad does political advertising for Republicans. Bullshit is his job.

You might recognize Brad from his gigs on Meet the Press where he somehow manages to make Chuck Todd look well-tanned and camera ready. Brad was excited to MC tonight too; in fact, Brad is happy to have anything to do these days besides pretending he’s happy the Donald got elected President.

But he did get elected and people like Brad convinced people like you to elect him. You just remember that…when you order drinks tonight at the open bar on Brad’s tab.

Of course, I have to thank Megan Gianchetta for brainstorming and spearheading this event tonight. Megan’s a great friend and because she’s a friend I know how happy she was to have something to do other than breastfeed for a change (she’s gluten free).

Seriously though, it’s no exaggeration. I know Megan’s breasts better than my wife’s or the future first lady’s. Maybe you didn’t notice but Megan delivered their 11th son in between cocktails tonight.

And my friend Andreas Barrett is here tonight. You might not know- after my wife, Andreas was the first person to mouth kiss me while I lay in the hospital. You also might not know that Andreas Barrett is a huge fan of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, which just proves the liberal media elites don’t produce any real news. If Andreas had heard anything but fake news from Rachel Maddow the last 8 years there’s no way he’d still be wearing his Cosby sweaters out in public.

Speaking of lesbians, my assistant Terri Phillips is here tonight too. Not only does Terri make our church hum, she’s also the only straight person to have ever worked at the Walt Disney Store.

My mother, Sue, is here tonight from Richmond. Her on-again, off-again foot on the gas only made her carsick four times during the trip. Truthfully, without my mom, I wouldn’t be nearly narcissistic and dysfunctional enough to have written a book.

Over the years, some of you ladies at Aldersgate- I’m thinking especially of Juanita Csontos and Val Gass (bless your hearts)- I’ve told you how you’re just like a mother to me. Well, here she is. Talk to her for a few minutes and you’ll see what I mean.

Megan had wanted me to roast my wife, Ali, tonight too. But I’ve only recently recovered from the chemotherapy drugs that rendered me impotent and I don’t want to push my luck tonight.

But, I digress.

In between child deliveries, Megan told me that I was supposed to roast my roasters. So here goes:

According to the late Steve Allen, the “art of the comic roast lies in the speaker’s ability to hug the line of what’s appropriate and clean without going over the line.

I think we can all agree that’s a skill I have in spades.

Rotation of Roasters

Jeff, you are the greatest contemporary theologian in America. Dr. Jeffrey Metaxas of Elon College, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Jeff, you are a great man, as you told me yourself right before we started tonight.

I asked Stanley Hauerwas- a mutual friend, who recently preached at Aldersgate, what I should say about you. Stanley rubbed his bald head and told me: ‘Jeff is an asshole.’

If any of you have read Jeff’s new book on the End Times you know that back in the day Jeff was a follower in a batshit crazy end-times cult.

Jeff my mom read your book and she asked: ‘He was a follower in an End Times cult? Why not a leader?’ And then she sighed and said ‘That’s a shame.’

He never got to be a leader of that batshit crazy end times cult so he left it…for the United Methodist Church, which was an easy transition, requiring only that he give up most of the illicit drug use.

Jeff you are the most foul-mouthed, vulgar, profane, and inappropriate United Methodist Elder I know. In other words, you give me something to aspire to.

Dr. Maureen Marshall– I hope you’ve had your rabies shots.

Just kidding, I love Maureen like that TSA Agent who winked at me once.

For those of you who don’t know, Maureen is the Polit Bureau-approved principal of Stratford Landing Elementary School. Thanks to her inspiration, communion will now be levied by a meals tax.

This June, I drove all-the-way, non-stop to Ft. Apache, Arizona with Dr. Marshall. And Laura Paige Mertins and Karli Eddinger went with us because that’s a 70 hour drive, that’s way too long a drive for just one designated driver.

Except, her taste in road trip music could lead you to drink that much. You try listening to CC and the Music Factory and Barry Manilow on an endless shuffle loop and see if that endless array of Jersey walls across Oklahoma don’t start looking like Elysian Fields to you.

Kelly Wolschlager I mean Garr – I’ve known Kelly longer than anyone else here, including Dennis and my wife. In those terrible Social Darwinism years of Middle School, Kelly has the distinction of being the only- the only real live, human style- girl who was always nice to me.

And as a Nurse Practitioner, Kelly was there for us several times during my illness. In those sad, neutropenic times, I routinely would say to Kelly “I don’t want you to see me like this.”

And Kelly would always say “I’ve seen worse.” I always thought Kelly meant “I’ve seen worse cases of cancer.” But now that I’ve seen the pictures she’s shown, I realize she meant “I’ve seen YOU worse.”

And I have no idea how many other pictures from my Middle School years Kelly might posses so I just want to say tonight…Kelly, you are the nicest, kindest, warmest, most compassionate and beautiful person I’ve ever known…

Andrew DiAntonio – I’m glad to see you decided against the sweaty crotched stained basketball shorts and flip flops that was your Aldersgate employee “fashion.”

Andrew, our former Youth Minister. Andrew, I never got the chance to tell you before but you earned every penny the church hardly paid you. It’s funny timing- tonight- only yesterday we finally received all the parent permission slips for your last youth mission trip.

But, Andrew, we were so close. I thought I knew you. We worked so closely,  planned confirmation together. We traveled together and slept together in Guatemala. We ministered together through some pretty tragic times. We knew each other well. And I’ve always been perceptive. I’ve always had really good radar (or so I thought).

I don’t know how I missed all the clues: the fake spray-on-tan, the fastidious man grooming and neatly trimmed beard, the man jewelry, the love of Jersey Shore, HBO’s Rome, the Cher poster in your office.

I don’t know how I missed it. And it makes me sad the church was never the open and affirming space where you could come out of the closet and let us all know that you were in fact…an Italian-American.

Tony Jones – Tony, I’ve never said this to anyone before but you are the greatest  contemporary theologian in America. Or, as his wife says, Tony’s narcissism has prepared America for the Trump era. Speaking of his wife, you might not know that Tony trains and raises hunting dogs. It’s true. He gave it up though when his wife complained that you can’t mount Christian Orthodoxy on the wall nor can you grind it into sausages.

In case you didn’t hear it in his voice, Tony’s from Minnesota. Whenever you wonder how heartland, midwestern Minnesota goes blue every year just consider that Tony Jones is to the left of Garrison Keillor. Tony is my editor, publisher.

Just yesterday a number of you who’d pre-ordered my book forwarded me the emails you’d received from Amazon telling you that my book which released yesterday would get to you in February. It speaks for itself, Tony’s great at what he does.

And not just with me. I don’t want to spill any secrets, but Tony’s also the editor of other forthcoming titles like ‘Zika is Funny,’ ‘Gonorrhea is a Giggle,’ ‘Herpes is Hilarious,’ ‘Leukemia is a Laugh,’ ‘Testicular Cancer is a Tickle,’ and ‘Syrian Refugees are a Riot.’

(It’s a niche market.)

Finally of course there’s Dr. Dennis Wayne Perry, a man whose name will go down in history with names like Michael Scott, Gomer Pyle, and Roscoe Peco Train. I think I speak for everyone at Aldersgate when I say:

‘Huh, I completely forgot that worked here.’

Over the years, nearly every day Dennis has actually worked I’ve spent with him, which is to say: Holy Week.

I’ve known Dennis for over 20 years, and the only thing I think when I look at this man is ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

Megan asked me in between breast-feedings, but why would I roast Dennis tonight and tempt the providence of God to afflict incurable cancer-stricken me as he’s afflicted this man?

Why would I tempt God to reduce me to a humorless, passionless, useless husk of my former self, haunting the halls of Aldersgate Church like some walking, talking VH1 Behind the Music cautionary tale of former potential wasted.

Many of you know that the church world is littered with ministers whose success eventually went to their heads: Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggert, that lady with the purple hair on TBN.

But not Dennis Perry. I’ve worked with this man for 11 years, and I can assure you this man has never overreached. He’s never attempted to do anything that was in any way different from the last thing he did.

And that kind of unchanging sameness is just so refreshing in a church.

Instead of roasting Dr Perry, I should close tonight by honoring him.

Sure, what bankruptcies and sexual assaults are to the President-Elect, sabbaticals are to Dennis Perry but, I can assure you, this Rev works hard for you. Any one on staff can tell you, Dennis is working on the same thing on Thursday that he was working on on Monday.

He never gives up. He never throws in the towel even though he types like a stroke victim relearning the use of their limbs.

Dennis Perry works hard. He’s not a quitter.

Not like that quitter Hillary Clinton. Conceding?! When Donald and Brad Todd both sharted in their pants when they found out they’d won?

I can tell you Dennis Perry never concedes in the face of reality.

Here in the Beltway Democrats whispered for months that Hillary Clinton was too old to be President.

Nonetheless, Dennis Perry doesn’t let his worn-out body, rapidly fading mind, and prehistoric job skills stop him from showing up to work at least a couple of hours a week to take credit for our work.

No sir, he’s not a quitter like Crooked Hillary.

And instead of closing tonight with a roast of him I should honor him. After all, Dennis interrupted one of his sabbaticals to come visit me when I was in the hospital and here he’s interrupted another sabbatical to be here tonight.

For that, we should honor him, not lampoon him.

In these hyper-partisan times, Dennis Wayne Perry is perhaps the last remaining bipartisan citizen among us.

He expresses his ‘reach across the aisle’ spirit by sharing the same hair stylist as Gov. Mitt Romney. And in his work ethic and career achievements, Dennis strives to perfectly embody Barack Obama’s famous line: ‘You didn’t build that.’

We should honor this man, not ridicule him.

Because Dennis Wayne Perry- he’s not just a great man. No sir. He’s a great boss too.

Having Dennis Perry for a boss is almost like not having a boss at all. You have the freedom to do anything- just ask our most recent Bishop.

All it takes is telling Dennis Perry: ‘Remember, we talked about this two days ago.’ And Dennis will agree, pretending to remember the conversation we did not have two days ago. He’s a great boss.

He doesn’t deserve for me to finish tonight with a roast of him. I tried to tell Megan but she was too busy open-air breast feeding their 14th son. I tried to tell Brad but he was too busy preemptively taking our civil liberties away.

I tried to tell them that Dennis Wayne Perry doesn’t deserve for me to rebut his roast. He’s a sensitive guy. He’s not Andreas Barrett sensitive, but he’s a sensitive guy.

Dennis has been sensitive- some might say touchy- ever since his twin brother made millions by recording ‘Islands in the Stream’ and starting a successful franchise of Fried Chicken Restaurants.

You all know how much I love Dennis, but you might not know that I harbor some unresolved anger towards Dennis Perry too. You see Dennis Perry wouldn’t perform my wedding to Ali, 10 or 12 years ago. I’m not sure which.

Dennis wouldn’t perform my wedding, which is preposterous because we all know Dennis Perry will marry anyone. He’s the Johnny Cochran of the wedding industry. From drive-by I-Do’s to Destination Nuptials, Dennis Perry will marry any biped with a faint heartbeat and a damp, sweaty roll of quarters.

But he didn’t marry Ali and me, and, truth be told, I’ve always been a little bitter about that, and that’s why I think we should focus on praising Dennis not poking fun at him.

For example, a lot of you give me credit for my ability to use words, like foreskin, to create mental pictures that stick with you long after the sermon ends.

But we should give credit where credit is due. I’m a novice compared to Dennis. Just consider this verbal-visual gem that Dennis once served up in a word picture that sticks in the mind like genital warts: ‘One morning when my daughter was a little girl she snuck into our bed and aroused me.’

Absolutely brilliant! He said that 10 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. I might have just said something wooden and pedestrian like ‘my daughter woke me up.’ But this man, this man is a master wordsmith I can’t possibly ever hope to match.

And Megan should’ve asked me to close tonight by celebrating him for it not roasting him.

I mean- what would a roast of Dennis even look like? Me making jokes about how old Dennis is? How lame would that be?

I guess I could stand up here and joke that Dennis’ life is like a glass that’s half empty, but technically at his age the glass is 9/10 empty, and we all know that last third is always just backwash.

And yes, I know I make jokes on Sundays about how Dennis is old and forgetful and lazy and complacent. But that’s just a preacher’s exaggeration.

I’ve known Dennis for 20 plus years. His forgetfulness and laziness and complacency have nothing to do with his age.

I knew Dennis when he was young and, other than the obvious physical and mental deterioration, he’s the same person today he was then.

The first time I met Dennis was in a worship service my mother forced me to attend when I was a teenager. I’ll never forget that sermon.

At the beginning of the sermon, Dennis had us turn to our neighbors to share something, while he tried to come up with a sermon in his head.

After we shared with our neighbors, he told us he had three points for us and asked us if we were ready. We said yes and he began to preach.

He preached for about 20 minutes and then he told us what his second point was.

That was the first time I met Dennis.

What really matters though is that Dennis was the first person I called when I learned I maybe, probably, had cancer.

What really matters is that Dennis was the first person who showed up.

And when you think that person is probably the person who’s going to do your funeral, you take a good, long look at that person.

What matters is that Dennis was there before I went into surgery. He was there with Ali while I was in surgery, and he was there for us for the 12 months of shit that followed.

And so were all of you. In different ways.

Some in ways I name in the book.

Others in ways I’ll name in the 2nd Edition (if you buy enough copies).

One of the arguments I make in the book is that Christians don’t have an explanation for suffering because any god that can ‘explain’ suffering and evil and tragedy isn’t a god worthy of our worship.

Christians don’t have an explanation for suffering.

We have a community of care.

That’s an argument I could not have made without all of you-

from Terri leaving beer on porch to Teer and Andreas and Karli showing up in my hospital room, to Mikey moving in with us, to James and Paul and LP driving me to chemo, to Megan and Libby organizing events like this to Andrew and Brad and Tony emailing with me and Jeff encouraging me. Shit, this has already gone on too long. I can’t name you all.

I’d dedicated this book to all of you, but then you roasted me.

So, I just want to say from the bottom of my heart: Go to Hell.

 

Have Book, Will Travel

Jason Micheli —  December 14, 2016 — 1 Comment

img_2522I want to thank all of you here on the blog who’ve supported my first book, Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo. The response has been tremendous.

Now, I’m in the shameless self-promotion stage of the writer’s life. I’m okay with that though because I believe in the book and believe an honest wrangling with pain, fear, and faith can be helpful to everyone.

We’re all terminal cases after all.

I’ve got a few gigs lined up.

I’d be happy to consider speaking or preaching to your group, gathering, or church- or to talk on your podcast.

Give me a shout out: jamicheli@mac.com

theology-beer-camp-2January 19-22

I’ll be doing an interview with Tripp Fuller @ The Home-Brewed Christianity Theology Beer Camp

Sunday, January 22

I’ll be preaching @ The Loft LA Church

 

 

progressive-youth-ministry-e1439238507268March 8-10

I’ll be a presenter at The Progressive Youth Ministry Conference

Sunday, March 12

I’ll be preaching @ Bryson City UMC

 

 

unknownMarch 22-26 

Virginia Festival of the Book

Sat March 25, 2017 @ McLeod Hall, UVA School of Nursing @1pm

  • Main Festival of the Book event

Sat March 25, 2017 @ Pub Theology/Student Gathering (Tentative)

Sunday March 26. 2017

  • Preaching @ Wesley Memorial UMC @ 11am
  • Preaching @ Wesley Foundation Worship @ 5pm

And don’t forget:

You can get my book direct from Fortress Press. Discounted. No shipping.

Just use promo code at checkout: TFTP30.

Good through Dec 18.

15317970_10211005366952360_5805070194313765446_n    For this weekend’s sermon, I decided to preach an ‘old’ sermon to coincide with the launch of my new book. This was actually the last sermon I preached before cancer whisked me away from the pulpit for a year. Some of this makes its way into the first chapter of the book.

     In addition to the Isaiah lection for 2nd Advent, my text was 2 Corinthians 5.17-21

‘God was in Jesus reconciling the world to himself…’

     So I’ve got this mole, right here on my shoulder.

It’s not gross or anything. It’s just large and discolored and has a few hairs growing out of it. ‘Suspicious’ my former pre-med Mrs calls it, right before she points at it and quotes that line from Uncle Buck about finding a rat to gnaw it off.

My wife, Ali, had been after me for months to go to the doctor and get it checked out. But, because I’m an idiot, instead of going to the doctor I consulted WebMD, a website- I’m now convinced- that was designed by ISIS to frighten Western infidels. If you haven’t checked out WebMD already, don’t. (Right after Breitbart) it’s the most terrifying internet you’ll ever browse.

I consulted it for a suspicious mole, and 12 hours later I logged off in black despair, convinced that I suffer from IBS and TB, convinced that my kids have ADHD and maybe scolios too and that I might as well pre-order those little blue pills because ‘that’ is likely right around the corner for me as well.

To be honest, even though I spend 2-3 hours every day admiring myself in the mirror, I didn’t even notice the mole was there. I didn’t realize it was there until the summer when I took my shirt off at the pool and Ali threw up a little bit in her mouth.

Now as all you Waynewood Pool members already know, me taking my shirt off at the pool is normally an Event (with a capital E).  A moment that provokes jealousy among men, aspiration among boys and awakens 50 shades of Darwinian hunger in women.

Like Bernini unveiling his David, normally me taking my shirt off at the pool is a siren call, overpowering all reason and volition and luring the primal attention of every female to be dashed against this rock.

But I digress.

The point is when I took my shirt off at the pool that summer and saw Ali wipe the vomit from the corner of her mouth it got my attention.

Ali got after me to go to the doctor. My youngest, Gabriel, who tried to biopsy my mole for his new microscope, got after me. My mom, who is a nurse, got after me. And the voice in my head confirmed what WebMD and all the rest had told me.

But my personal philosophy has always been that if you wait long enough the worst will always happen so for months and months I didn’t do anything about it.

Then one behind-closed-doors-kind-of-night Ali whispered across the pillow that she was never going to touch me again until I scheduled an appointment.

I called the doctor the next morning.

Of course, because I have health insurance, I can’t just call the dermatologist to schedule an appointment. No, that would make us socialists.

No, first I had to blow a morning and a co-pay at the general practitioner in order to get a referral to the skin doctor.

The nurse at the general practitioner’s office weighed me and, with a toll booth worker’s affect- took my blood pressure. Even though I told her I was just there for my mole, she insisted on typing my age into her tablet and asking me the questions that my age automatically generated.

First question: Have you experienced depression or thoughts of suicide in the past month?

Her second question was ‘Have you noticed an increase in memory loss recently?’ ‘Not that I recall’ I said.

Stone-faced, she moved on to her third question, asking for the date of my last prostrate exam. ‘Uh, never’ I stammered and, not sensing my sudden anxiety, she asked me when I’d had my last colonoscopy.

‘Wait,’ I said, ‘I’m not old enough to need those things done, am I?’

‘Just about’ she replied.

‘In that case can we go back to the depression question?’

Ten days, a copay and 3 double-billing mistakes later I went to the dermatologist, clutching my referral like a winning lotto ticket.

When I last went to the dermatologist in 1994 as a puberty-stricken middle schooler, the dermatologist’s office was one step above the guy who showed up at gym class and told you to turn your head and cough.

Now, it’s like something from the Capital in the Hunger Games.

I walked into the steel and glass, Steve Jobs-like office where a receptionist with impossibly purple hair and a dress made of feathered, bedazzled boas handed me paperwork on a clipboard and told me to have a seat.

‘All I Need for Christmas’ was playing overheard on the stereo while a flatscreen on the adjacent wall advertised the dermatologists’ many services to do away with age, imperfection and just garden variety ugliness.

A slide advertising the office’s newest service, eyebrow implants, slid horizontally across the plasma screen.

Judging from the model’s face on the screen, eyebrow implants are a procedure designed to give septuagenerian realtors Alex Trebeck mustaches above their eyes.

The next slide was a photo of the office itself along with its staff, centered above a cursive catchphrase. Their mission statement.

“Feel as perfect on the outside as you do on the inside.”

And as I started to fill out the paperwork, I wondered what sort of psychotic person came up with a slogan like that.

I mean- if the goal is to appear on the outside how I normally feel about myself on the inside, then I’m already as ugly as I need to be.

Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ started to play as a door opened and a nurse, who looked a little like the supermodel Elizabeth Hurley, called for Mr. Michelle.

Liz led me through a maze of hallways to a room so antiseptically bright I half-expected to be greeted by the Giver.

Inside the exam room, Liz handed me a hospital gown and instructed me to take off all my clothes and promised that the doctor would be in in a few minutes.

All my clothes?’ I begged for clarification.

‘Yep, even your underpants’ she said.

For some reason Liz Hurley using the word ‘underpants’ on me made me feel like a 5 year old boy whose mother makes him follow her into the ladies’ room.

She closed the door gently behind her as I unfolded the baby blue gown.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals, but up to that point I’d never been a patient before and most of the patients I had seen were underneath sheets and blankets.

Now that I held my own hospital gown in hand, I discovered that the correct way to wear it is not as self-evident as you might think.

Are you supposed to wear it open in the back, like a cowboy’s chaps? Or should you wear it open in the front, like a bathrobe? Or maybe, I pondered, you should take your particular ailment as a guide?

Since my mole- the cause for my visit- was on the front of my body, I reasoned, I decided upon the latter ‘style.’

So there I sat, like The Dude in The Big Lebowski except I didn’t have a White Russian in hand.

And, I was naked.

If I was unsure about the correct way to wear the gown, I got my answer when the doctor knocked, entered, and immediately snorted and said ‘Oh my.’

‘I wasn’t sure…’ I started to explain, but he waved me off and said ‘It’s okay, not a problem. You won’t have it on for long anyway.’ Words that proved to be more auspicious than temporal.

‘Are you cold?’ he asked, looking at me. ‘We can turn up the heat.’

‘No, I’m fine.’

The doctor sat down on a round stool in front of a black computer and I proceeded to give him my professional diagnosis based on my degree from WebMD.

He listened and rolled his eyes only once when I told him my suspicions of also having MS and when I finished said ‘Let’s have a look.’

So I showed him my mole, which- I’ll point out- was very easy to do since I was sporting the gown like a smoking jacket.

He looked at it for a few moments, looked at it through a magnifying glass for a few moments more and then, just as Rod Stewart started to sing ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,’ the doctor said ‘I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. The hairs growing out of it make it look worse than it is.’

Relieved, I started to get up to get ready to go, but the doctor said: ‘Not so fast. While you’re here, we should probably do a full body scan.’

‘We?’ I wondered to myself as he left and returned a moment later with Liz Hurley, who- I noticed- struggled to suppress a giggle when she saw me in the gown.

With Liz gawking on, he proceeded to peel back my gown like it was cellophane on a pound of ground beef, which is probably a good analogy because there’s nothing quite like being naked, perched on top of butcher paper, clutching your bait and tackle to make you feel like a piece of meat- that grayish, 50% off, sell-by-today-kind-of-meat.

The date-rapey Christmas song ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ started to play, which seemed appropriate since they then both started to bend me in impossible positions as though I was a yoga instructor or Anthony Wiener on the phone.

Bending and contorting me, they both picked over my every freckle and blemish like we were a family of lice-ridden Mandrills.

‘Anything suspicious down there?’ he asked ominously.

‘I hope to God not’ I said, but apparently invoking the deity did not provide sufficient medical certainty for him because he took his examination south, which was when he decided- for some reason- to ask me what I did for a living.

Normally when strangers ask me my profession, I lie and tell them I’m an architect. It helps avoid the awkward and endless conversations that the word ‘clergy’ can conjure.

But with no clothes on and even less dignity, there seemed to be little reason to pretend.

‘I’m a minister’ I said.

‘Really? What tradition? You’re obviously not a rabbi’ he said with a wink.

‘I’m a Methodist minister’ I said.

‘My grandmother was a Methodist’ he muttered.

Maybe it was because this was about the last position I wanted someone associating their grandma with me or maybe it was because the whole situation was so impossibly awkward, but once I started talking I found I couldn’t stop.

You’d be amazed how interesting you can make denominational distinctions sound when you’re as in the buff as Wilfred Brimley in Cocoon and being pawed over like a 4-H cow.

John (Cougar) Mellencamp’s ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa’ came on as the doctor finished and said in a measured tone: ‘You do have some moles on your back that concern me.’

Then he ordered me to sit back down and lean forward as far as I could, which I did, clutching the last corner of my gown against my loins.

The doctor took a black sharpie and drew circles on my back, which struck me in the moment as not very scientific; meanwhile, Liz Hurley grabbed a digital camera off the supply counter.

Under normal circumstances, the combination of supermodel, a nurse’s outfit and a digital camera would pique my interest, but somehow I knew what was next.

She told me to lean forward again so she could snap some close-ups of my back, which she did with slow, shaming deliberation. Then, I can only assume to degrade me further, she actually showed me the close-ups of my back.

Now it was my turn to throw up a little in my mouth.

‘That’s what I look like from behind? It’s like a flesh-colored Rorschach test. I should call my wife and tell her I love her’ I said to no one in particular.

She laughed and said: ‘The images are magnified so don’t worry. Trust me, everyone appears kind of ugly and gross when you get up that close for a look.’

‘And that’s not even the ugliest part about me’ I said.

She frowned. ‘Do you think there’s something we missed?’

‘No, no, you were thorough all right’ I said, ‘I was just thinking of something else- my soul.’

‘I guess that’s your speciality, huh Father?’ Liz laughed.

The doctor laughed too.

They thought I was joking. They both thought I was joking.

James Taylor was finishing his rendition of ‘Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming,’ that line that goes ‘…true man, yet very God, from sin and death he saves, and lightens every load’- he was singing that line as I sat on the butcher paper and watched as Liz loaded the snapshots of me onto the black computer.

Watching each unflattering image first pixilate then load on to the screen in front of me, I thought again of that cursive catchphrase in the lobby and what rubbish it was: “Feel as perfect on the outside as you do on the inside.”

Because if you could get close up- all over- to me, not just looked at my skin but lived in my skin, lived my life- and not just in my shoes but in my flesh- then you could come up with a lot more ugly, indicting pictures of me than a hairy mole.

Because the cold, incarnate truth is, I’m even more pockmarked and blemished on the inside than I will ever appear on the outside.

On the inside-

I’m impatient and petty. I’m judgmental and a liar. I’m angry and insecure and fearful and unforgiving and…and I’m just a normal guy.

The cold, incarnate truth is- if you stripped me all the way down, not just of my clothes but of my pretense and prevarications, stripped off the costumes I wear and the roles I play right down to my soul, then you’d see how unsightly I really am.

I mean, the prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist wouldn’t tell us to make straight the pathways for the Lord if we weren’t all twisted up, tangled and knotted on our insides.

And really, that was what was so unbearable about baring it all in that exam room. It reminded me how seldom I allow myself to be made vulnerable.

What being exposed exposed was just how much I try to cover up my true self. What being revealed revealed was how often I hide behind masks and manipulations, how often I fail to be authentic because I’m afraid of failure, how seldom I’m fully, genuinely me with others because I’m convinced there’s a whole lot of me I don’t think is worth sharing.

So I pretend.

I act like everything’s alright when it’s not. I pretend me and mine are happy when maybe we’re not. I act like I’ve got my _______ together even when my _______’s falling apart all around me. I project strength when I feel weak, and I wear other people’s projections of me like masks.

I don’t keep it real. I pretend. I play-act. I hide.

And so do you.

And since we’re baring it all, we might as well go full monty: the truth is we feel the need to hide and pretend and put on a good face more at Christmas than any other time of the year.

Which is odd.

Because when it comes to Christmas, we don’t just believe that God takes flesh. We don’t just believe that God puts on skin. We don’t just believe that God puts on a body. We don’t just believe that God puts on Jesus’ body.

No, we believe that, at Christmas, God assumes- puts on, takes on- our humanity.

All of it. Every bit. Of every one of us.

The pathway God chooses to get close to us is our humanity- all of it, every bit of it. 

Every bit of every one of us. 

On the stereo Aretha Franklin belted out ‘Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary’ from the second verse of ‘What Child as This.’

As Aretha sang and Liz finished up with my snapshots, the doctor gave me a patently false promise about not feeling a thing just before he started to dig out my first mole with the finesse of a mobbed-up Italian barber from North Jersey.

Hearing Aretha overheard and seeing my snapshots on the computer screen and thinking of my shame that morning and every unsightly truth it brought to mind, I thought of St. Gregory.

Gregory of Nazainzus.

The 4th century Church Father who taught that what it means to say ‘God was in Christ,’ as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians, is to say that all of our humanity is in the God who was in Christ.

All our humanity. Every bit of every one of us.

It has to be.

     Otherwise, as Gregory put it, ‘that which is not assumed is not healed.’

Those parts of humanity not taken on by God in Christ are not healed.

Those embarrassing parts, those imperfect parts, those shameful and fearful and broken parts of us- if it’s true that Christ comes to save all then all those parts of us are in him; otherwise, they’re not healed.

Every bit of every one of us is in Him, Gregory says.

So there’s no need to hide. There’s no to pretend. There’s no need for shame or masks. We can give every embarrassing bit of our selves over to him because it’s already in him.

We’re not perfect on the outside and we don’t need to pretend that we are on the inside because every part of us is in him already.

Says Gregory.

————————-

With the gentleness of a cycloptic, differently-abled butcher, the doctor removed the rest of my blemishes and finished up by saying ‘You should come back in a year so we can do this again.’

‘I can’t wait’ I said as I started unfolding my street clothes.

Dressed, with my back looking like Clint Eastwood’s in Pale Rider, I found my way back to the lobby.

Someone, I’m not sure who, was on the stereo singing “Cast out our sins and enter in, Be born to us today.”

O’ Little Town of Bethlehem.

The plasma screen on the lobby wall was back to flashing their mission statement: “Feel as perfect on the outside as you do on the inside.” Accompanied by phony photos of people who pretended to feel both.

And, as I left, I said a little ‘Thanks be to God’ to myself because that that is not our Gospel.

 

Micheli_WebAd_300x250For Episode 57: Teer linked up with an all-star lineup for a conversation about Jason’s new book, “Cancer is Funny.”

Rolling Stone writer and author of Learning to Breath Fire, JC Herz offered her thoughts along with Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus?, Todd Littleton, host of Patheological Podcast, Jeff Pugh, author of Religionless Christianity, and Kendall Soulen, Professor of Theology at Emory University.

All of them chimed in on why cancer is funny and why this book is needed in our theological discussions. And Taylor Mertins intros with a reflection that made me tear up putting this post together.

All of the guests know Jason from different arenas of Jason’s life and because of that you will hear differing perspectives on Jason’s newest book.

Buy the book! In case you needed a reason:

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In case you needed another reason, listen to the podcast below.

The Cracker & Grape Juice team will be part of Home-brewed Christianity’s Theology Beer Camp this January in L.A.. There’s only 15 tix left so if you’d like to be a part of it, check it out here.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here

We’re breaking the 1K individual downloaders per episode mark. 

Help us reach more people: 

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. 

It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Oh, wait, you can find everything and ‘like’ everything via our new website: www.crackersandgrapejuice.com

If you’re getting this by email, here’s the permanent link to the episode.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MicheliCover_FINALHere’s a review of my new book Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo that my friend Libby Todd wrote for the Alexandria Stylebook.
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.

r-S93UWAI’ve never pressed the flesh with Todd Littleton but he’s my biggest fan and claims to have a man-crush on me (he apparently has a photo of me in his study). Neither of those may be truth but there’s no doubt I’m grateful for the way God brings friends like Todd into my life, even friends through this un-incarnational means called the internet. As friends should do, I know better what I think and write because Todd tells me what I think and write.

Todd came into my life at the same time cancer intruded into it so it seemed especially appropriate that as my book, Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo, releases soon he would be the first person I talked with about it.

Coming up, I’ll be on the Lectiocast with JR Daniel Kirk to talk about the book and in January Tripp Fuller of Home-Brewed Christianity will interview me as part of HBC’s Theology Beer Camp.

On Friday, 12/2 here in DC two friends in my church have organized a Friar’s Club Roast of yours truly to kick-off the book. Clearly, I’m an easy target so it promises to be a great event. And, it’s off Methodist premises so there’ll be libations available too.

social-media-buytickets

As part of the night, Dr. Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus? and the one who first encouraged me to start this blog, to launch our podcast, and to write the book, will be here from the Twin Cities to be a featured roaster.

Also on tap, Dr. Jeffrey Pugh, author of Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times and Professor of Religion at Elon University, will be another guest roast master. As will my friend and mentor Dr. Dennis Perry and a host of others. The Roast Master for the night will be my dear friend Brad Todd, a frequent guest on Meet the Press who runs OnMessage Inc and is one of the architects of Trumpocalypse. If you didn’t vote for the Donald this is your chance to roast Brad too!

So, if you’re on my blog list and live in the DC area come on out for a laugh with us. If you’re in my congregation, definitely come. I freaking dedicated the book to you all; it’s the least you can do! 

Details:

Date – Friday, December 2, 2016 at 7:00 PM

Location – Mt. Vernon Country Club

Get your tickets by clicking here

Okay, here’s the interview with Todd. If you’re getting this by email, the link to the audio is here.

 

social-media-buyticketsT-minus 20 days until my book Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo releases.

Two friends in my congregation, friends whom I don’t deserve but for whom I’m exceedingly grateful, have organized a Friar’s Club Roast of yours truly to kick-off the book. Clearly, I’m an easy target so it promises to be a great event. And, it’s off Methodist premises so there’ll be libations available too.

As part of the night, Dr. Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus? and the one who first encouraged me to start this blog, to launch our podcast, and to write the book, will be here from the Twin Cities to be a featured roaster.

Also on tap, Dr. Jeffrey Pugh, author of Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times and Professor of Religion at Elon University, will be another guest roast master. 

As will my friend and mentor Dr. Dennis Perry and a host of others.

The Roast Master for the night will be my dear friend Brad Todd, a frequent guest on Meet the Press who runs OnMessage Inc and is one of the architects of Trumpocalypse. If you didn’t vote for the Donald this is your chance to roast Brad too!

So, if you’re on my blog list and live in the DC area come on out for a laugh with us. If you’re in my congregation, definitely come. I freaking dedicated the book to you all; it’s the least you can do! 

Details:

Date – Friday, December 2, 2016 at 7:00 PM

Location – Mt. Vernon Country Club

Get your tickets by clicking here

In case you don’t think this will be funny, here’s how my son, X, roasted me at church 3 years ago:

 

 

MicheliCover_FINALHey Friends,

Yes, that’s right the blog is about to enter the shameless self-promotion stage my first real (not e-book) book Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo. It releases from Fortress Press just 24 days from today. To promote it I’ve got some speaking gigs, preaching spots, and print and podcast interviews lined up and hope to add more. I’ll put out more information about those later.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share the press release from my gracious and fantastic publicist, Kelly Hughes.

Yep, I’ve now got the same publicist as Pope Francis.

Weird, but it’s a sign the book doesn’t suck.

Shameless self-promotion aside, I am excited because I believe in the book which, really, means I believe cancer touches just about everyone, if tangentially, sooner or later and I believe just as strongly that everyone could benefit from some theology made to order for when shit gets real.

So, please, tell others about the book. Leave a review on Amazon when it comes out (the reviews help others find it in Google searches), and order some to give out to friends and family who might be helped by it.

But if they’re the tight-sphinctered churchy type, warn them first that it contains some naughty words.

Here’s the official Press Release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Public Relations DeChant-Hughes & Associates Inc.

Pastor Keeps the Faith, and Keeps It Funny, in Face of Stage-Serious Cancer

It’s universally acknowledged that cancer sucks. Mantle cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive type, is especially sucky. It almost always affects only men in their old age—not 37 year olds like Jason Micheli, a pastor, husband, and father. “I like to think I’m unique in all things, and it turns out I am, in the case of diseases,” he says. But here’s what Micheli wants you to know if you or someone you love has cancer: “Cancer is funny, too. No, wait, it really is. Any ailment that results in pubic hair wigs being actual products in the marketplace simply is funny.”

This type of bone cancer is so deadly that his doctors didn’t classify it with the normal four stages, they call it “stage-serious.” As he struggled with despair and faced his mortality, he resolved that cancer would not kill his spirit, faith, or sense of humor. Bracing, irreverent humor animates his new book, Cancer Is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo (Fortress Press, $24.99 hardcover, December 1, 2016), “a no-bullshit take on what it’s like to journey through stage-serious cancer and struggle with the God who may or may not be doing this to you,” Micheli says. “I hope this book will help you or someone you love laugh through the crucible of cancer.”

“After eight cycles of nine chemo drugs, I believe laughter is still the best medicine,” he says. “Laughter is the surest sign you’re not alone, because joy is the most unmistakable indication of God’s presence.”

A sense of humor—Micheli’s is dark, ironic, and leavened with a charming silliness—is especially helpful during chemo treatments, he found: “Being deadly serious here of all places is the surest way to feel seriously dead already.”

The laughter that Micheli encourages is not to be confused with happiness. “I have stage serious cancer, I’d be crop circles crazy if I were happy about it. Instead it’s laughter that feels like joy, that traces the line between disaster and the farce that we call life, feeling free—genuinely free— to be myself with others and before God.”

Micheli is used to people assuming that clergy are “officious and tight-sphinctered”; he notes that “the populace considers Christians to be uniformly unfunny.” But then it’s not so difficult to make them laugh. Except, of course, for the people who give him blank looks, not sure if he’s joking.

A pastor and theologian, Micheli’s reflections are not trite. He writes about being stricken with lethal cancer in the midst of a promising career and raising two young children. He struggles with what he believes. Figuring this out for himself—not to mention explaining it to his congregation and his sons—makes theology now a matter of life and death.

By turns laugh-out-loud funny and heart-wrenching, Micheli’s story shows how to stay human in dehumanizing situations—how to keep living in the face of death. He reflects on:

  • The absurdity of chemo: “The only way for doctors to save your life, just as Jesus warned, is to bring you as close as possible to losing your life without actually killing you —though I doubt that poison derived from mustard gas was what he had in mind.” He notes the warning label on one chemo drug: “May Cause Leukemia.”
  • Questioning faith: “Do you believe any of this? That those who trust in Jesus even though they die yet shall they live? The question had never even occurred to me until my own death became something less than what my trade calls ‘speculative theology.’”
  • Indignities of cancer and chemo: From the “tumor baby” he carries, a 10 x10 inch tumor he dubs “Larry” that is “about the size of a Stephen King novel” to “needing help to pee into the plastic jug because you don’t have the ab muscles to do even that for yourself.”
  • God and “our” cancer: “I didn’t need a God who shared my pain, because it was our cancer—my wife Ali’s and mine. I desperately wanted a God whose own life can show me a way to live in and through it.”
  • The Christian fear of fear: “Other Christians treat fear like it’s more cancerous than cancer. I was afraid because I loved. I feared what cancer would do to my sons, to their happiness and joy and innocence and faith.”
  • Being a pastor with cancer: “I feared what cancer would do to my congregation’s faith when they saw one of their pastors handed a huge crap-flavored lollipop.”
  • When cancer comes in handy: “Cancer is not without its uses. It’s like having an ace in the hole you can play whenever it suits you without ever leaving the card on the table.”
  • Suffering: “Only now that I was suffering more than I ever had in my life did I learn how Christians do not have an answer for suffering or evil.”
  • Battle metaphors: “The language of fighting doesn’t really work for cancer. The ‘it’ in ‘Fight it, Jason’ was Jason. The ‘it’ was me —indelibly me. The cancerous cells were mine, only doing something differently and far more efficiently than my healthy ones.”“Cancer doesn’t make you wonder, ‘Why me, God?’ Only a dick would get caught up with that kind of question,” Micheli says. “No, cancer throws you in the scrum and makes you ask, ‘Why them, God? Why us, God? Why this world?’” Still, by the sixth round of chemo, he had to keep reminding himself that it was not God doing this to him.

    After eight excruciating rounds of chemo, Micheli’s tumors were gone. Doctors don’t talk about remission with mantel cell lymphoma—he could still have mantle cell percolating in his bone marrow—but it’s as good news as he could have hoped for. “I don’t know what the future will bring. I don’t know if this story is over,” he writes. “In whatever life my family and I have left are more marvels than we can count.”

     

 

 

When I Hate My Job

Jason Micheli —  September 26, 2016 — 5 Comments

rp_lightstock_70038_small_user_2741517-1024x683111111.jpgI’d made it as far the Jersey line, headed to Princeton for a week-long con ed course on philanthropy. Just shy of the bridge, ordering coffee at Peets, I received a text about a 12 year old in my son’s school dying (actively so) of the same two syllable word that my son still worries is going to kill me.

His is in the brain.

They don’t say dopio at Peets.

I changed my order to a double expresso and turned around south down Interstate 95. Just yesterday Facebook timeline reminded me it’s been 24 months since I wore my clergy collar and tossed slow straight fastballs to the lineup on my son’s coach-pitch baseball team before I dusted myself off in the 5th inning to lead a prayer vigil at my church for Hannah Graham.

A neighborhood girl.

They found her body a few days after the game.

15 years I’ve pastored and in those years… just as many funerals where the casket measured about 48 inches.

Or less.

I fucking hate my job sometimes.

A truer, holier sentence I cannot write, for I take the suffering of children to be profane in the truest sense of the word. It’s a stain on any notion of God’s sovereign goodness and to hate my vocation from such a God, to hate it with the perfect hatred of a prophet like Amos, often seems to me the most righteous of priestly postures.

Sometimes I hate my job.

As often (or, more specifically: on those occasions) I feel just as pissed off at God. I don’t believe God is the reason behind everything. But I DO believe, as the Cause of everything, God is at the very least responsible. Morally, if not directly, responsibly.

If there was such a thing as a believer’s thesaurus, then “Pediatric Oncology” would be a synonym for atheism. Especially when the name of the hospice nurse is written on the dry erase board. J’s bed was decorated with 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of printer paper scrawled with sharpie- written Jesus speak:

“Thy will done.”

“God doesn’t make mistakes.”

“In my Father’s House are many rooms”

“Let the little children come…”

J wrote them before his hands palsied, because of the brain tumor, and he couldn’t write anymore. His mother told me he stopped being able to speak on Wednesday. Yesterday he lost control of his eyes. Today his breathing grew as shallow as the eyes of his family gathered around his bedside.

I wrote a book called Cancer is Funny that’s due out in a handful of weeks. But I didn’t laugh today. Part of me, initially at least, wanted to take back my 70K plus words about cancer as I held J’s mother’s hand, after wiping the spittle from his mouth and helping to bath him, and traced the cross on his forehead with my other hand. This shit isn’t funny at all, I thought, while consoling and counseling and praying.

Maybe, I wondered, the premise of my book was all wrong.

Or, maybe my premise was my perspective alone. And, of course, it is only my perspective.

Except…

The comedian George Carlin in some long ago album argues that anything can be funny provided that in the story there is something that is grossly out of proportion.

Anything can be funny, Carlin asserts, so long as the narrative incident has something in it that is ridiculous and exaggerated.

J’s bedside today wasn’t ha-ha funny but something seemed out of proportion: God.

Our faith in Him.

Holding J’s mother’s hand in one hand and holding his dying body in my other arm, taking my cues from the Sharpie-scriped faith pictures around me, I prayed about God’s Kingdom and God’s Power and God’s Will-Be-Done, and I thought how our collective faith seemed pathetically disproportionate to the reality before us. Our faith, I thought, seemed at best like a mustard seed against a mountain.

My nose ran onto his blanket as I prayed.

Or, possibly the malproportioned sizing went the opposite direction. Our claims about God’s loving goodness sweep too broad, offensively so, considering the concrete reality of J’s small, shallow breaths.

Maybe, irrespective of my book, that’s what makes cancer funny- not because it causes us to laugh but because it makes us a cause for laughter.

Derisive laughter.

Maybe George Carlin is right.

Maybe all you need for (black) comedy is a giant effing gap between what is and what, in God’s good world, ought to be. Maybe that’s the gross, out of of proportion exaggeration of which Carlin speaks. Maybe this world, where children die and mothers mourn them, as measured against the naive eyes, lofty claims, and stained glass language of our God-speech is the exaggeration that should leave us red-faced and laughed at in this world.

The joke is on us who so often suppose that God is in control, that everything happens for a reason, or that God wills our suffering for some mystery that will be yielded to us in the fullness of time. Believers deserve to be the object of laughter, such laughter it seems to me is the most thoroughly Christian reaction to the lie that Death is anything but the Enemy.

People of faith deserve to be scorned with laughter and ridicule, righteously so. Unless, all the world’s bitter laughter and the pain which it occasions really is born by a God emptied of all power and pretense and poured out in suffering. As Paul all but says in 1 Corinthians 15, the joke is on us if the joke we tell is not true: that in taking on our humanity, Christ suffers in himself the exaggeration, the malproportioned gap, between what is and what ought to be and in dying defeats Death.

Cancer is Funny: Blurbs

Jason Micheli —  September 17, 2016 — 5 Comments

MicheliCover_FINALOther 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.

Drumroll:

“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

 

 

Cancer is Funny (?!)

Jason Micheli —  August 3, 2016 — 3 Comments

MicheliCover_FINALApparently, unbeknownst to me, my forthcoming Fortress Press book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Hell, it’s even the #1 New Release in Religious Humor, no big feat considering how humorless we are as a tribe.

Almost a year ago, Fortress approached me to ask if I’d consider writing about my cancer exile and wandering.

Some have questioned the appropriateness of the title. Fair enough. Obviously, it was meant to grab attention.

“How can something so painful and horrific be funny?” I’ve been asked.

Don’t forget, I’m not nor will I ever be ‘cured’ so I get better than most the unfunny bits of cancer.

Still, I believe cancer is funny because God is present in cancer.

John Chrysostom, a fourth-century Christian clergyman, whose oratory netted him the nickname John Goldenmouth, once preached, “Tears bind us to God not laughter.” 

You might expect to find such esteeming of seriousness and suffering in a religion with a cross at the front of every sanctuary and an execution at the heart of its story, but the Gospels frame their narratives not from the perspective of the crucifixion, but from the hindsight of resurrection’s happy surprise. In other words, the laughter of Easter, not the laments of Good Friday, should determine for us how we conceive of God and ourselves as God’s creatures.

Everyone assumes that suffering leads the sufferer to God, and sometimes it does. Suffering can knock down all our other (self-) defenses so that we can finally, wholly, depend upon our maker. But if suffering leads us closer to God, suffering should not leave us mirthless.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and priest from the twentieth century, posited as a sort of first principle:

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”

The first time I heard my youngest son’s belly laugh, I marveled over how a celibate like Pierre had understood about God what it took fatherhood to teach me.

Everyone assumes suffering leads you closer to God. And no one registers surprise to hear how cancer has led someone to a deeper (i.e., more serious) faith, but people betray something like shock when you suggest to them that cancer can be funny.

If God is Joy, then we can’t rightly be said to have grown closer to God, through suffering or any other means, without a marked increase in joy, and with joy comes laughter.

Mirth and levity that only the good news of grace makes possible.

Despite the finality with which he expressed it, John Chrysostom was only partially correct. Tears, and the suffering that provokes them, can in fact bring us closer to God by leaving us no other options but turning to God.

But tears and suffering cannot fetter us to God.

Only joy can bind us fully to the God who is most infallibly Joy.

Cancer is funny, then, because the suffering occasioned by cancer draws you nearer to God, and the closer you get to God, the louder laughter becomes.

Pre-Order the Book!

The more people who do, the more people will happen upon it by accident. The whole reason I wrote about my cancer in the real, raw language I was feeling was because of the number of people I met still carrying unresolved grief and pain from cancer in their own family. I wrote about my cancer the way a lot of people (non-pastors) speak so that those people might find a way to speak their grief, worry, rage, and laughter.

It’s available on Amazon for pre-order.

Check it out.

Order another copy for someone who might be helped by it.

Here’s the book

If you get this by email, here’s the link to cut and paste:

https://www.amazon.com/Cancer-Funny-Keeping-Faith-Stage-Serious/dp/1506408478/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470192757&sr=1-1&refinements=p_27%3AJason+Micheli