In my recent post on A pastor’s pride I initially finished it with a request for people not to make comments. I wrote much the same thing on the Facebook link. It wasn’t that I was seeking to stifle comment or engagement on the topic. It was more that the post was raw, the subject was deeply personal, and I probably felt more vulnerable than usual. In particular, I didn’t want people stroking my ego or denying my analysis. I just wanted it to sit there and be heard.
However, it’s not hard to get around my request, and I received a number of comments via Facebook messages or email! Many of these included appreciation of the candid honesty of the post or statements about how they had been moved to reflect on their own pride. Two comments stood out from the rest. One suggested that I shouldn’t stifle comment because it would confirm that I or the church (I’m not sure) was ‘controlling’. I certainly didn’t want to promote this perception, so I removed the last sentence from my post. The other was a comment on the phone by my father, who suggested that allowing comments was fundamental to the nature of my blog. I was seeking engagement on the issues I wrote about, and commenting was a good way to get people thinking and acting.
My father sent this to me via email as a personal letter and invited me to determine whether I’d post it on the blog as a comment. I’ve decided instead to include it as the centrepiece of this post. The last 2 years have been seen important developments in the relationship between my father and I. Mid 2011, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma following the discovery of a large tumour in his throat. This led to a series of successful chemotherapy treatments that have removed any evidence of the disease. About the same time my father was going into remission, in December 2011, I was diagnosed with an incurable lung cancer. I know how shocking this has been to both my father and my mother.
One of the blessings of this experience is that we have grown closer, having a deeper awareness of what we’re both experiencing. I think this has strengthened our relationship in a range of areas. Not that you want to have both of us suffer from cancer to nurture the relationship, but it’s not a bad side benefit! My father will often discuss issues from my blog with me over the phone and sometimes post a comment on the blog itself. Sometimes he’ll make suggestions, sometimes he’ll share how it’s got him thinking, and he regularly forwards the posts to others. Here’s the comment he sent me today:
Dear David my beloved son,
When you first posted “A Pastor’s Pride” you concluded with the sentence “And I think I’d prefer that you didn’t write comments on this.” I note that you have now removed that request. As your father, I had chosen to ignore your preference on this occasion, and I think my decision to comment is supported by the comments now appearing from others. There are several reasons, but let me comment on just one.
Over the past year you have shared your journey with cancer with us in a very public way. Macarisms have included the pain and struggle, the ups and downs, the challenges and the changes of so many aspects of the personal, medical, emotional, relational, social, spiritual dimensions of what it has meant to learn that you have a terminal cancer. It is evident that the macarism has become a significant part of the new ministry which you are discovering and which God is growing in you. It is also evident that macarisms have been fulfilling the hope that you expressed in the very first post – “that people will be blessed as they read and think about life.”
One of the important additional ways in which people might find that blessing is by themselves giving expression to what they have learned or what has happened to them as they have read the macarism and thought about life. That has been evidenced again and again in the comments written in response to the diverse range of subjects that you have covered in your blog. Dealing with pride is one of those subjects upon which we all might do well to read and think and respond.
It is likely that I was participating in a prayer gathering on Saturday morning considering future directions for our congregation at the same time that you were writing your blog. An issue that greatly influenced my thinking and shaped my praying was so close to your writing. Given my many years as a pastor and wide experience, part of my praying was seeking guidance on what is the best contribution I can make to my church’s ministry in this place? It is not an easy question for one who is retired, and our denomination has some expectations about how retired pastors might support but not interfere in the life and current leadership of a congregation. A sense of pride about past ministry can very easily stand in the way of hearing what God is saying about the here and now of his word and call for today.
I noted, too, that whilst you were with your oncologist on Wednesday being reminded that you still have a terminal illness, I was at the Cancer Clinic having my sixth cycle of post-chemo “booster” Mabthera treatment. I, too, have been enjoying the congratulations of people for looking and being and feeling so well in remission. How easy it is to neglect the goodness and grace of God when things are going well for us.
I rejoice in the experiences that you have had during the past week, tough though they have been, and thank God for those persons who have been ministers of his grace to you in this recent encounter.
May God’s grace continue to minister to you, as you minister to others and as others minister to you and to us.