Having incurable cancer has definitely changed me.
I am, for example becoming increasingly publicly intolerant of those who either knowingly or unknowingly abuse the Gospel by playing on the genuine Christian care and concern of others in order to get what they want. You know the sort I mean God, they have all the religious language and Bible quotes to hand about love and sin and Satan.. and they use them to manipulate others to achieve their own aims regardless of the cost to others - the main weapon in their arsenal being religious guilt.
I grieve for the hurt that they cause others, for the damage they do to faith and the lost opportunities for others to grow in grace with you. Nonetheless, it still feels like a lack of grace on my part to be so intolerant.
I can and do feel considerable compassion for such people, whether lay or ordained. I can see how desperate they must be, and I think it is terribly sad that they only tend to have a relationship with the Church and not with you. I genuinely grieve for their plight, for their self-centred obsessions with status and power, their need to be needed, or their need to hide (even from themselves) their real insecurities and failings. Yes - they are worthy of my prayer, and you know that we have talked often about them. But since being diagnosed, it seems that my compassion is no longer enough to stem the flood of anger I feel at the real hurt and harm that they cause.
I realise, of course, that the main reason for my anger is that they expose the lie at the heart of my life's work.
Cancer has given me cause to reflect on my life and especially my life as a minister. This has led me to recognise and acknowledge my part in the damage caused to the faith of others by allowing such people to succeed in their distortions of your grace or the Scriptures. There have even been times when I have been guilty of trying the same thing myself in order to stop or reverse the destruction such religious bullying causes.
WE are the body of Christ - I am not separate from it - and I am a long way from perfect.
The hard but simple fact is however, that whenever in the past I have lacked the courage to name and shame in public, to address the lie or expose the half-truth (often for no other reason than it is not polite or 'nice' to call someone a liar in public) then I have been as guilty as they are of abusing your people and your gospel. When I think of the pastoral encounters, the Ecumenical gatherings, the Conferences, Synods and Church meetings I have sat through or even chaired.. I can't help but blush in shame for allowing so many lies, distortions and half truths to pass unchallenged.. for the sake of a quiet life..
All a lie?
The worst of it is that in the long run, what results is anything BUT a quiet life. What actually happens is still greater hurt and distress to the body of Christ because people have been led to believe and live the lie that went unchallenged. Ministry is ultimately reduced to all that is 'nice' and 'good' rather than what is 'true' and of you God. Worse, on a larger scale, the Church often ends up doing what it does for the sake of a few select individual's concerns rather than out of Gospel concerns.
The terrifying thought is that a significant part of what I have spent my life doing may have been 'nice' and 'good' but was undoubtedly unworthy of you - or of me.
This is painful knowledge God - far more painful than knowing I have cancer.