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APC Forum Resource Reviews February 2019


APC Forum, February 2019, Vol. 21 No. 1



Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo
Jason Micheli  (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016, 226 pages, hardcover, ebook)
                                                                                               
When Jason Micheli writes than cancer is funny, he doesn’t mean funny in the sense of humorous. He writes that when someone is diagnosed with cancer “every pretense falls away…and makes you absolutely vulnerable to others… “ (xii).  For those who are able to view it this way, the spoonful of sugar that comes with the medicine of cancer treatment is laughter. Micheli defines laughter in a slightly different way, calling it “the laughter that can trace the line between disaster and the farce that we call life, feeling not well or strong but free—genuinely free—to be myself, with others and before God” (xiii).
 
Micheli, who is a United Methodist local congregation minister and blogger, wrote this book to share his experience with cancer and to reflect on it more deeply with anyone who was interested in reading about the story of a person of faith wrestling with the biggest crisis of his life.
 
Cancer is Funny: Keeping Faith in Stage-Serious Chemo has multiple strengths:
 
  • The author holds nothing back. At several points he thought he was dying. He writes truthfully about what was happening and how he felt about it. 
  • Micheli is articulate in sharing his faith. He speaks not as if he were preaching from a pulpit, but as a person who was diagnosed with a very serious cancer, open and honest about how he expresses his faith. Here is an example of what he prayed one day:

“Please let me make it to the toilet in time.
Please let me keep a brave face in front of the boys (his sons).
Please, if there’s a hell, send every last insurance company there.
Please, if there’s not a hell, create one and send every last insurance company there.”  (111)

 
This book, like any book, has limitations. At times Micheli uses humor that appears sexual in nature. For example, after an examination, a tech stood and threw a hand towel at Micheli:   “ ‘Wipe off and put your clothes back on,’ she said, equal parts clinician and Miss Kitty. ‘Should I just leave the money on the table?’ I asked with a straight face” (19). Later when a physician was going to examine him after surgery, she asked if some interns could watch and assist her. Micheli’s response was, “Maybe you should lower the lights and put some music on first” (39). Sexual comments are not welcomed by hospital staff, even under the guise of humor or coping with serious illness. These comment made me cringe!
 
Although the book met the author’s objectives, I would not recommend it for a continuing education text. It is more of a cancer memoir with swearing and occasional gross language and humor. Different jokes for different folks, to paraphrase a saying.
 
Reviewed by Chaplain Marcia Marino, DMin, BCC, Online Instructor, Church of the Larger Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist Association.





Crafting Secular Ritual: A Practical Guide
Jeltje Gordon-Lennox (London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017, 175 pages, softcover, Ebook)
 
In Crafting Secular Ritual: A Practical Guide, authorJeltje Gordon-Lennox, who identifies herself as a professional ritual maker and founder of the Ashoka Association (Ashoka,ch), provides an abundant resource of theory and tools to create rituals which take place outside the realm of religious institutions and traditions. Gordon-Lennox describes this book as a “simple hands-on approach to crafting secular ritual” which “keeps the ritual maker on  course by concentrating on the essentials” (19). This albeit simple approach has a lofty intent: “Crafting secular ritual can help us preserve, or reinstate, healthy rhythms in our lives and in society as a whole, as well as reinforce the natural rhythms of our planet” (163). Throughout the book, the author uses the term “ritualmaking,” which she defines as “the process by which people create rituals to make sense of their life event experiences”(34).
 
Drawing from her more than 30 years of professional ritual practice in Europe and North America, the author divides the book into 3 parts. Part I “looks at the purpose, function and future of ritual in an ever-changing world” (21). Part II addresses ritualmaking as a craft with its own assessment, design and implementation tools. The last part applies the guidelines and tools to create five life transitions for birth, coming of age, marriage, growing
old, death and to craft one example of ritualizing in a public space.
 
This book provides many helpful insights, strategies, and understandings of rituals. I found the author’s ritual identity questionnaire to be the most helpful part of the book. It is designed to help the readers understand their religious identity (institutional, distanced, secular/humanist, alternative, unaffiliated, or traditional) and how that identity influences their ritual strategy. A person’s identity and strategy in turn forms the basis of planning and
implementing meaningful rituals. I also appreciated the author’s use of drawings, graphs, charts, tables, and symbols, which takes the theory of ritual to a practical level. Finally, many of the book’s resources and tools can be downloaded from the publisher’s website for personal use (see the book’s copyright disclaimer.)
 
Chaplains may find opportunities to use several of the author’s ritual guides. Chaplains who serve patients and staff recovering from trauma may find the discussion of the therapeutic power of ritual in healing trauma to bring new tools into their practices. Gordon-Lennox’s chapter about ritualizing a public event may provide helpful information when designing rituals for important events in our health care institutions. A patient entering hospice care may benefit from a personalized life transition ritual. For those chaplains who wish to learn more about secular rituals, the author provides a 5-page reference section with on-line and printed resources.
 
Reviewed by Elizabeth Mahan DMin BCC, Staff Chaplain, HealthEast Care System, St Paul, MN.




With the End in Mind:  Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial
Kathryn Mannix (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018, 324 pages, hard cover, soft cover, Ebook)
 
Dr. Kathryn Mannix’s credentials as a palliative care physician and cognitive behavior therapist are exemplified in this skillfully-crafted and exceptionally-insightful book.  With the End in Mind is her very personal accounting of a thirty-year dedicated mission to educate and assist the dying, their families and health care staff in the journey of suffering and death.   Through the art of story-telling, Dr. Mannix fulfills her mission “to enable people to become familiar with the process of dying” (5) and, subsequently, reframe their perspective in a healthier way.  Her very candid approach strips away pretense and drives straight to the heart of the matter—how to effectively enter into the sufferer’s worldview in order to keep the doors of communication, love and understanding open.
 
Drawing upon her extensive experience, Dr. Mannix further exceeds her intentions for this book by extending the narrative to include vital information related to pain management, spiritual guidance and cognitive therapy and their beneficial effect in caring for the whole person.  She also explores post-mortem realities, offering noteworthy guidance regarding bereavement, support groups and the healing potential of leaving a lasting legacy.  
 
With the End in Mind is truly a comprehensive source book for anyone seeking a more enlightened perspective on dying, death and its difficult aftermath.  Its readability makes it suitable for all audiences, from the uninitiated family member to the wisest healthcare professional.  Patients’ coping abilities could benefit as well as they relate to stories of fellow sufferers who successfully made their final days meaningful and productive.   In the salient words of our author, 
 
People are not limited so much by their illness as by their attitude to it.  The illness may present physical challenges, but the emotional challenge is often far more important.  Our human spirit may stumble as the path ahead appears too daunting, yet with support and encouragement, our resilience can be re-enabled and used to find creative solutions… Enabling people to be architects of their own solution is key to respecting their dignity.  They are only in a new phase of life; they have not abdicated personhood. (83)          
 
Reviewed by Rev. Stacy Otto MDiv BCC, Chaplain/Parish Associate - Presbytery of Western New York, Buffalo, New York.           



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