Ramblings: Our “Defining” Moments from Me-Too, to Cancer

I have heard women in the “Me-too” movement say things such as, “I didn’t come forward sooner, because I didn’t want my rape (or other sexual assault) to define me.” The sad thing, they are correct as it could define them.

I remember in college there was a big story about a co-ed being raped. It was controversial, because it was a date-rape situation and that was somewhat new to our lexicon (1978). I had a close relationship to this story because, I was working the ER (as just a nursing assistant) the night she was brought in by the dean of women students, for a rape-kit investigation. I was involved with her care. The second reason, was that the perpetrator turned out to be a friend of mine. Not a close friend, but more of an acquaintance. He ( I will call him Ned) had attended our discipleship, Navigator group and our evangelical church. I also had special interest in him because he was from an foreign country, coming to our campus as an exchange student. I’ve always have had a curiosity about the world at large.

I was surprised that Ned did this, although having been there in the ER and seeing how distraught the girl was, I have no doubts that it happened. But Ned was very quiet, gentle, and, like I said, a causal attender of our discipleship group and church. The only thing that I think was a sign that he was capable of doing something like raping a girl, was that he was from a royal family in his home country, very rich, and had (in my opinion) a sense of entitlement. It was odd, but the embassy of his country got involved in the case and, somehow, was able to to protect him from prosecution, by sending him back to his home country.

But this girl was defined by coming out about the rape. I hate to say this, but she was seen as a bit “slutty” after that, due to nothing she did wrong. I heard her tell her story in the ER. It was just a first date and things were going well and then Ned forced himself on her, and punched her in the face in the process. It wasn’t like these stories where the girl was drunk as a skunk (as if that mattered) and people would question her judgement. I also heard a lot of people in the evangelical community, on campus, trying to side with Ned. They knew nothing of the case (and I couldn’t reveal my inside story because of medical confidentiality), but evangelicals tend to protect their own (like Judge Kavanaugh).

Since then, I’ve had many encounters with rape victims as a medical provider, especially when I was providing student health services at Michigan Tech University. I always pushed the girls to go to the authorities, and I often encountered their hesitation because of the fear of being defined by the event, especially if the perpetrator was a jock, or as in one case, a campus Christian (evangelical) leader (he will probably be a judge. . . or president one day).

So any big event in someone’s life can have the tendency to define them, at least in the eyes of others, including things like being a war vet, an immigrant, or the victim of any tragedy. Cancer is no different. For those of us who have been enlisted, or I should say drafted, into this horrible war against this menace, it seems to define us.

I am a bit socially isolated these days, being warned by my care team not to be involved with public gatherings of people. I spend most of my time alone, with just my dog at my side. But when I have had social encounters, I sense the strange awkwardness. The most awkward situations is where acquaintances avoid the “C” word, as the elephant in the room. They are afraid, I believe, that they might say the wrong thing so they pretend, with my bald head glistening in the sun, that everything is normal. Sometimes it becomes difficult for me (in a very selfish way) that my cancer is not brought up, yet the other person talks for 30 minutes about their frustration with a sore toe nail, or how they can only run ten miles at a time, and how they know (due to their family history) that they may only live to be 85 and they wanted to live to be 100, and how they have trips planned to the far corners of the earth. I must sit and listen and smile and try to remain interested. In those situations, I do wish they would just ask me how’s it going or how do I feel. But they are afraid to even bring it up. As I’ve said before, the only thing someone can say (and it happens very rarely) that would  piss me off is where they suggest that my cancer is my fault. The health nuts live in an imaginary world that if you just eat right and exercise, you will never have cancer. Therefore, I must have done something wrong. Few evangelicals want to blame me for not having the right kind of faith.

Now, when I say I don’t want my cancer to define me, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to just talk about it and nothing else as if I’m just a big cancer blob. I regret when I’ve talked about it too much, especially when I realize that the other person is suffering as much or more than me and I didn’t talk enough about their health plight. I’m still Mike and while cancer, and the symptoms of it, control my moment by moment living, there is more to me.

One example of cancer trying to define me comes to mind is my recent rant about the subculture of American Evangelicalism. First, I will confess that I sometimes (but not all the time) think it was a mistake to raise my controversial questions about God, the American evangelical subculture, and fate on this forum. So many people seem to think these question are the result of my cancer. It is not! If you think so, you don’t know me. I have been writing about the post-evangelical world for over 20 years. I wrote a book about it (Butterflies in the Belfry) and have contributed to other books about the topic. I’ve had three very active blogs about this topic for over a decade. I’ve written published articles about this. As I said before, and this where I may have had a lapse of judgement, is that my old blog followers were a different set of people. Most of them, like me, were post-evangelical. We understood each other, although we may not have always agreed with one another.

But now, I have (in last count) 166 new followers, and the vast majority are sincere people who just wanted to know about my struggle with cancer. I am deeply grateful for the interest. When people from this new crop read my ramblings about God, evangelicalism, or philosophical thoughts about fate, etc., they immediately think, “Poor Mike. The cancer has caused him to doubt God, how tragic. Now he’s not a true believer.” This is where I don’t like Cancer defining me.

After my last set of articles about why people are leaving the evangelical church the response (at least through the group of personal e-mails) wasn’t, “Oh, there is a problem, what can we do about it?” but “Mike, I see you are in a personal crisis from your cancer and unless you repent, you are going to spend eternity in Hell.” That part is frustrating and makes me even more pessimistic that the culture of American Evangelicalism can be redeemed because they have no interest in introspection only preserving.  I will try to avoid talking about evangelicals here again as I didn’t realize how many of the 166 new followers were evangelicals. Denise had warned me that I was going to get into trouble doing that (she is a far more private person than me), and I should have listened. I also offended a lot of southern people and family by talking about being raised as a racist in the south. Every word I said was true and I did not say it to offend anyone, but apparently I did. It was meant to be a point of self-confession.

I’ve never cared a lot about offending people, if I know I am speaking the truth. The only influence that cancer has had on my ramblings is that I care less about offending people because I realize how short life is. I don’t say things to be cruel, but I don’t hesitate to criticize where criticism is due.

I will avoid stepping on evangelicals toes again, because it see it as fruitless. I will raise more philosophical questions, the same questions I’ve been raising for thirty years. I find that many people are far more comfortable in speaking in cliches than thinking their positions through the ultimate ending.  That is my only goal, to get people to think. Mike

10 thoughts on “Ramblings: Our “Defining” Moments from Me-Too, to Cancer

  1. Geez, Mike… I’m sitting here reading this and thinking “Who are his followers/friends that see his questions and ponderings as an affront to their faith?” I’m befuddled. I live squarely in the “evangelical” world (or so I would say until one’s understanding of evangelical means alignment with a particular political ideology) but I’m generally not encountering this kind of kickback. Granted, I’m not struggling with cancer but I do share community with people of faith who are willing to ask questions. Big, hard, unanswerable questions. I and they have learned over time to live with the discomfort of uncertainty. Asking those questions is the road to a deepening relationship with the God, to knowing the pleasure of His presence and the depth of His love. It is not a lack of faith.

    I wish you hadn’t received the negative kickback. I so admire your desire to ask the big, hard questions and not always come up with tidy answers. That’s a GOOD THING, not something that requires repentance. God wants us to seek Him all our days on this spinning planet and there is nothing we can ask or say that addles Him or causes Him to shuttle us back to hell if our questions and answers don’t look “Christian” enough.

    Keep writing. And don’t mind stepping on a few toes now and then.

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  2. Geez, Mike… I’m sitting here reading this and thinking “Who are his followers/friends that see his questions and ponderings as an affront to their faith?” I’m befuddled. I live squarely in the “evangelical” world (or so I would say until one’s understanding of evangelical means alignment with a particular political ideology) but I’m generally not encountering this kind of kickback. Granted, I’m not struggling with cancer but I do share community with people of faith who are willing to ask questions. Big, hard, unanswerable questions. I and they have learned over time to live with the discomfort of uncertainty. Asking those questions is the road to a deepening relationship with God, to knowing the pleasure of His presence and the depth of His love. It is not a lack of faith.

    I wish you hadn’t received the negative kickback. I so admire your desire to ask the big, hard questions and not always come up with tidy answers. That’s a GOOD THING, not something that requires repentance. God wants us to seek Him all our days on this spinning planet and there is nothing we can ask or say that addles Him or causes Him to shuttle us back to hell if our questions and answers don’t look “Christian” enough.

    Keep writing. And don’t mind stepping on a few toes now and then.

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  3. I so agree Mike with Lynn Holloway and with your writings, but have had questions to you for further understanding, which you have answered on your deeper writing on evangelicalism. There’s so much to try to understand in this world and in scripture, but to me what will keep me busy is trying thru 2 avenues, loving God and loving others thru the power and love of Jesus Christ. As far as politics goes, there is so much hate out there if you don’t fully agree with another’s side. Can we all try to listen and compromise? I thought that’s what democracy was all about!!

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  4. Hey Mike, Beth and I would like to express our immense gratitude for your “ramblings”, not only so that we know how you and Denise are doing physically, emotionally and spiritually while you engage in this brave battle, but also because we truly love all that you’ve shared. You have such a gift for writing (it’s hard to put God and all that He does and what we do with Him into words), and your honesty and transparency are critical for the Kingdom. We are followers of Christ, and have been involved in many different ministries over the years; some were authentic and beautiful, others shallow and ill- conceived, but they have all been ultimately good for us in our journey. I probably cannot say the same for all who took part in them; especially those we were trying to reach. Today I am an Elder at our non-denominational Christian church. I hope that my presence in this role as a shepherd has had a positive impact on our church body; but especially for those who I serve alongside. Many have been simply “board members” taking care of business without any thought as to what God’s vision is for them individually or for the community He placed us in. Truth and transparency in all things have not always been accepted in the church, and bringing that forward can be a struggle. Embracing personal and biblical truths should be our first order of business in church or out, but that has, unfortunately, often taken a back seat to looking good so that God looks good. When that takes precedent we typically make God look real bad; frankly He doesn’t need us as PR people because most of us are a mess. As for giving us facts, and even your thoughts, about why people are leaving the church and Christ himself- Only fools don’t want to know the truth if they profess they want to reach the lost. They are lost and want to stay that way because it’s more pleasant to be in denial than accept the truth that we are failing. God isn’t failing; we are. If you shining a light on that isn’t seen as positive then darkness must be where they want to stay. Christ doesn’t exist in the dark- His presence eradicates it! This world needs more brave people to shout out that “the Emperor is naked!! “ Thank you brother. I sent a link to your blog to our Ministers and will be following up with our Elders. They are aware they we must counter any attempt to pretend, and folks like you are an inspiration to us. Beth and I thank God for you and continue to ask Him for mercy, grace, strength and complete healing; knowing that you will be ok regardless of how He answers. Love you.

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  5. Mike, as a life-long avoider of stepping on toes, I have come to the conclusion it’s inevitable. I have heard it once said: “God offends the mind to reveal the heart” and have found that to be very true. I appreciate your honest ramblings and thoughts. Life isn’t that simple and I appreciate you reminding us of that very pertinent and profound fact.

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  6. As always, thanks for the supporting comments. I will, however, try to be more careful in topics I choose to rant about. I will stick to more generic ones. Sometimes I don’t communicate as clearly as I had hoped, and that’s my fault.

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  7. Mike, thank you for taking on the elephants in the room. Thses are truly trying times in our lives and in the future of the world as we know it. We must speak out the truths as we see them. I pray for the continued progress in your cancer care and for you and your wife. I have a deep abiding that we will as a whole come thru these troubling times as a stronger nation.

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  8. Good grief! I am one of your 166 new followers and do not define myself as “evangelical” only as Christian. I am beyond frustrated and sad that there are still Christians that could read your articulate, interesting, and occasionally gut-wrenching blog and then feel the need to reach out to you in “concern” for where your soul is going after death. I am truly sorry about that. As an educator, I wanted to challenge people about their ideas and beliefs. I wanted students to be open to others and to listen and to allow that other people also might have found their “truth”. As a Christian, I want to see other Christians give love, understanding and grace to each other AND to everyone who is not a Christian also.

    I do agree that people often want to define other people narrowly even they themselves would often fight those descriptions. I don’t want to be defined by my disability or my age but I know I am. I now understand my mom who used to say with a smile, “I don’t look out on the world as an old person. I still feel like I am young.” Just as you don’t want to be defined by your cancer, most people just want to be “normal” and able to do whatever they want to do not being restricted by the confines of their circumstances. They don’t want other people’s preconceived ideas about them to limit them either.

    Mike, please continue your ramblings or just re-direct a few of us “new” people to the site where you continue to be real and authentic. Thank you for providing us with something to look forward to in the otherwise uninteresting task of skimming through our emails. And of course, I do want to know how you really are doing in your cancer journey. Really I do.

    Lynn Karns

    P.S. One time a service person walked into our house and saw a picture we had and asked if I was a Christian. I said yes and then he asked, “Are you a Fox watching Christian?” I shook my head and said , “No, I am a Jesus following Christian.” He didn’t really know what to do with that answer. It is simple really. “Love God; love your neighbor.” Period.

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    1. I do watch Fox News (online) every day, so I can understand the madness. But I also watch about 5 other news sources. I don’t understand why some Christians are so attracted to Fox News, which I consider an intellectual sewer.

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