Cross of a Different Kind dives into the relationship between cancer and Christianity. Why was this an important ‘field guide’ for you to write?
“I’ve felt my own sort of ‘calling’ to research, teach, and write about matters of the heart and soul, particularly through the lenses of Judeo-Christian theology for more than 14 years now. For 21 years, I have been a cancer-survivor. Without a doubt, I believe my own cancer-experiences have shaped my faith and personal investment in the academic areas I study and write about. That said, Cross of a Different Kind is not a purely academic text in theology and spirituality – I mean, yes, it is these things, but it’s also a self-help guide. I’ve personally experienced all three possible ways that a person can experience cancer. I’ve lost loved-ones to it; I’ve personally fought my own battle against it; and now, I live as a survivor. Those three means of experiencing cancer form the three parts or sections into which the book is divided. In my years of academic study and personal application, especially as both a chaplain and cancer-coach, I’ve seen and experienced firsthand how great the spiritual and existential struggles can be for persons facing cancer in any of these ways. I know their struggles and empathize wholly because I have lived them myself. Faith for me is much more than just a provision of comfort or hope based in naively following a mythic figure. Faith, for me, is the reason I live and love. I believe that, if in the midst of the gargantuan trials and calamities of cancer, persons can cling to their faith, and somehow derive strength from it, that they will find peace in their struggles so that no matter how it turns out – and of course, we pray for survival in all cases – they will know and feel the certainty of love’s triumphant power. This book is about assurance… and not necessarily the assurance of faith alone, but that others have gone through, are going through, and will go through the same things. It’s a reminder that we need not face our journey alone.”
Each year 12.7 million people discover they have cancer. What is a common misconception you find people have about cancer and faith?
“Perhaps one of the wisest persons I know is my theological mentor and former professor (now friend) from both undergrad and grad school. This man is a brilliant theologian and I aspire to be like him as a theologian myself. He once told me, when I was going through a very tough time, something that I believe applies directly to this question. He said, “Anthony, I know that you know there is a difference in knowing something and believing it. You have to ask yourself if what you know is also what you believe.” For so many persons of faith who discover that they have cancer, the enormity of doubt, fear, despair, and hopelessness sets in like a rock tied around someone’s waist in a storm-ravaged sea. It quickly takes persons under. If not instantly, over the course of one’s treatment or the witness of such should they be accompanying a loved-one through cancer, that once indomitable faith in which they were certain begins to be tested, tried, and, in some ways even weakened. When this occurs, I have spoken with many who believe, this is a sign of God’s anger with them, absence from their life, or denial of their devotion to the Divine. This is perhaps the most common misconception I’ve ever encountered. As a Christian theologian, I often study the writings, philosophy, teachings, and associated commentaries surrounding the exemplar of Christianity, Jesus. Even Jesus Himself experienced doubt, isolation, despair, physical and emotional struggle. From the Cross, He cried out, “God, why have you abandoned me?” How often we feel in our own weaknesses that we are so far from God and God’s mercy, comfort, and love when we are struggling! Jesus struggled and had the same sort of experiences. We are in good company. But, here’s the kicker in both a spiritual and theological sense (in fact, this idea is the basis and is further expanded upon in Chapter 10 of this newest book): At the moment when Jesus was at His weakest point and questioned the Father, “Why have you abandoned me?,” God the Father could not have been any closer to Jesus. At that moment when in pain and agony, Jesus asks such a question, His Father had vacated the Heavenly Throne and was, in fact, fully One with Jesus Himself. Very God of Very God had not abandoned His Son to suffering, but was suffering with, in, and through Him. And the same is true for each of us! When we suffer and doubt and feel weak in our faith, it is in those moments that God is not passive, removed, or distant from us. He could not be closer to us.”
National Cancer Survivor’s Day is the first Sunday in June. Do you have any events planned?
“An excellent question. Thank you for that. Many people don’t know that there is a day to honor all persons considered cancer survivors. I should note that in cancer survivorship, a cancer survivor is a person, yes, who has attained remission or cure from their illness, but it extends also to current fighters who survive day-to-day; as well as to family members whose loved-ones have passed, but, for the love, memorial, and honor of their loved one, live on in spirit, metaphysical reality, and memory. Cancer survivor’s day, then, is for all of us who are cancer-touched persons. And indeed, I do have an event planned. I will be offering my 2nd book-signing event and presentation in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday, June 3rd from 1030AM to noon at St. Jude Hall (next to The International Shrine of St. Jude) on North Rampart Street. All are welcome to attend. 100% of all proceeds from the sales of my book (not only at this event, but always, including online purchases) directly benefit the institution responsible for saving my life from cancer, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN). It is truly an honor for me to sign this book and present it again on National Cancer Survivor’s Day. I don’t believe in coincidences, but instead in divine providence so I know it must be for that reason that when I was planning this signing with the person who will host me, we set this date before we even realized it was Cancer Survivor’s Day for 2018. Totally amazing!”
In this book you describe your childhood battle with cancer and the feelings surrounding your family. Was there anything that was difficult for you to write about?
“Absolutely; but, of course there would be given the content and nature of the book. I’ve written 4 other works aside from this one as my 5th, but I whole-heartedly believe this one to be, and so refer to it as, my “labor-of-love.” The content dredged up a lot of tough memories from my own cancer-experiences from childhood as well as some of the emotional and traumatic after-effects that I deal with even now. Plus, I would think upon persons I have personally loved and lost to cancer and in other situations. During the time of this book’s composition and editing, I lost two persons I very much loved in the span of 5 months while also needing to complete grad school. I lost a best friend to a much unexpected passing and the woman I thought at the time I would have married to an emotional distance. These things were very difficult to power-through when writing contents that are already so emotionally weighty. However, these experiences actually helped me personally relate to the depth of loss and suffering from loss that so many in the cancer-affected community often feel. I think that really shines through in the pages of this book. My ex and I continue to have a cordial and positive relationship now, which is itself a blessing, because we truly recognize a significant goodness in one another. I mention this because I even dedicated this newest book to both of these persons I lost. In that way, I am reminded that incredible good (this book and those it will help) can come out of the deepest possible pain, sorrow, and shame.”
CANCER: with often abrupt and unwelcome entry into human lives as well as profound multi-dimensional impact, such an illness is, for many, considered to be a ruthless thief, intent on stealing not only joy, but life itself. Of course, even as cancer attempts to steal life and captivate those under its hold, lest we forget that as powerful an adversary as it may seem, it is no contestant against the power of the One who “has come to set the captives free” (Luke 4:18) and who is Life itself (John 14:6) and its Source.
Cross of a Different Kind: Cancer & Christian Spirituality draws upon the richness of Christian spiritual theology with the aim of rejuvenating hope within and imparting eternal Truth to all persons who have been “touched” by cancer in any of its wicked forms. Divided into three parts addressing those who have lost loved ones to cancer; those currently confronting their diagnoses; and survivors, this book serves as both a “spiritual field-guide” as well as an informative, yet practical helpmate to ensure all facing such adversities that they are never alone in their journey.