Martin Luther was an earthy Christian, conscious of his sinfulness, profoundly grateful for God's radical grace in Jesus Christ. The Reformer was keenly aware that what holiness we attain grows not so much from our "religious" callings but as we fulfill our vocations as members of families and workers in the world.
In his dying, Walter Wangerin Jr.—Lutheran minister, award-winning author, radio broadcaster, professor, husband, and father—is living out that Lutheran vision.
Published this month, Wangerin's Letters from the Land of Cancer (Zondervan) was written in 2006 and 2007 as letters to praying friends. During much of that time, his cancer had slowed. But side effects, like a spreading pneumonitis that rendered his lungs incapable of exchanging oxygen, seriously slowed his pace. This gave him time, and a new perspective on time. The result is a rewarding reflection on living one's last years.
Lutherans are, at least in theory, more matter-of-fact about their sinfulness than other Christians. Throughou Letters, Wangerin confesses the way that the difficulties of his illness enable the Old Adam. Weary with his illness, he returns to his "pickier self, grumpier, fussier, graceless, ungrateful. Hypercritical. Deaf to human nuance, presuming insults no one meant, and, no longer patient in pain, consumed by my precious, superior, artistic labors." He abuses nurses and medical technicians. "When I am not tired, I can control outward, public manifestations. But these long exhaustions of my long disease disable me. I lose the strength for restraint."
"It isn't okay to be bitter," he writes. "No! Cancer does not give me freedoms others don't have. A snarking thought, even when kept internal, becomes a warm, pumping, venomous ...1