123: Coffee with Deanna A. Thompson

Dying is part of America’s null curriculum. Even in many Christian congregations, denominations, and seminaries, death and dying are rarely discussed. Today’s guest is an author, speaker, and professor of religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, Dr. Deanna Thompson. Like all our listeners, she’s living. But like only some of our listeners, she’s living with incurable cancer.

Since her diagnosis, Dr. Thompson has brought her experiences of cancer to bear on her work as a religious scholar. Recent books include The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World and Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace

We could easily have focused on the Book of Deuteronomy or Martin Luther and the Reformation for our interview. But we’re focusing instead on Dr. Thompson’s insights into what’s it’s like to live acutely aware of her mortality.

You can order any of Deanna’s books below except one she’s writing about trauma, illness, and religious communities’ understandings and responses to those who are seriously ill. The new book takes some of its inspiration from Paul Kalanithi’s book, When Breath Becomes Air. Reading Kalanithi may be the best way to prepare for Deanna’s next publication. Both books will help readers find the strength and appreciation to get up and engage the day we have.

I can only imagine how hard it is to get up and live a day fully when one feels badly. I imagine that it is challenging to plan trips and activities if one doesn’t know how they’ll feel on those distant days. But look at all Dr. Thompson has accomplished since her own diagnosis. In addition to the professional records there are vast numbers of family pictures of fun stuff going on with her, her husband, and her daughters. Even as this podcast is in production she is on a trip to London.

In preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation marked by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses, I must also recommend ordering Dr. Thompson’s Crossing the Divide: Luther, Feminism, and the Cross.

My final note, which I just find too cool to resist mentioning, is that Dr. Thompson was recently inducted into her high school hall of fame! Dr. Thompson’s 8th grade English teacher saw the potential in 14-year-old Deanna, recognized Deanna’s teaching and leadership at Hamline University since 1996, her consistent personal traits, and recommended Dr. Thompson for consideration. October 7th, 2016, Burnsville High School immortalized one of its Class of 1985 graduates in Professor Deanna A. Thompson. While neither the Coffeepot Fellowship Podcast nor United Faith Leaders officially gives out awards yet, we’re certainly proud to stand up and cheer Dr. Thompson.


Sponsor: United Faith Leaders

The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World by Deanna A. Thompson

Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace by Deanna A. Thompson

Crossing the Divide: Luther, Feminism, and the Cross by Deanna A. Thompson

Deuteronomy: A Theological Commentary by Deanna A. Thompson

Deanna’s Website


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Thomas Becket (“I am not in danger, only near to death.”)

Samuel Beckett (“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”)

Vanderbilt University (PhD)

Yale University Divinity School (M.A.R.)

St. Olaf College (B.A.)