Prostrate Cancer

At what point do you correct a parishioner about his insistence that he has prostrate cancer? 

How do you break the good news to him that he does not have cancer only when he is lying down, but he has cancer in a place, not in a position?  Am I wrong to think that these matters are important?   

In the Reformed tradition, we pride ourselves on getting things right.  Understandably, we aim for precision in naming things.  We are good at it. 

And so, we summon our best pastoral demeanor and try first at modeling precision.  “Frank,” we say, “how do you feel about your PROSTATE cancer?”  We offer this in the hope that Frank will, by verbal osmosis and repetition, amend his thinking that he has cancer of the lying down.  Or we will take every opportunity to speak with nurses, doctors, or technicians who enter the room, hoping they will rectify Frank’s true malady.  Yes, the testimony of an expert will surely move Frank from ignorance to a more enlightened place.   

Before Frank dies, we would like him at last to know what is wrong with him.  It is Reformed to want this for Frank.  We want him to know exactly what is wrong with him. 

But far too often, his friends and family will enter the room, and reach out their hands to him, kiss him, hold him, pray for him, cry with him, and then invariably say something like: “Frank, God can do anything, anything is possible with God; even prostrate cancer is no match for God.”

And after a day of this, I head home, to prostate myself before God, and ask his forgiveness. 

Thom Fiet is pastor of the Reformed Dutch Church of Hyde Park in upstate New York.