Kate Bowler and “Everything happens for a reason”

Kate Bowler — she’s everywhere lately, it seems, from Mennotoba (a site featuring Mennonites in Manitoba) to The New York Times, and just this week, on “The Current” on CBC Radio. CBC is my station, but still, that was a surprise; a friend of mine recalls hearing a host apologize for using the word God, not as a swear that is. (We have Tapestry on Sundays for that kind of talk, don’t you know?) 

download (1)Bowler, who grew up in Manitoba and calls herself “Jesus-y,” is assistant professor at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, a young academic with a study of the health and wealth gospel (Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel) behind her. Just as her ideal life was unfolding, she got a Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis. She now lives from “scan to scan,” death too closely in view. In the midst of this, she’s written a rather different kind of book, a personal one, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved (Random House, 2018). Her own beliefs are not prosperity gospel, she says, but she soon realized she’d absorbed more of its spirit — the idea that she can control her life by a can-do spirit, that misfortune is a failure of her own — than she knew. Perhaps all of us have. “Wherever I have lived in North America, I have been sold a story about an unlimited horizon and the personal characteristics that are required to waltz toward it… In this world, I deserve what I get.”

The CBC interview is full of good things, well worth a listen. It’s easy to tell Bowler is young: she uses like a lot, not as simile, but just like to move her thoughts along. But it’s charming, really, and her book is too. It’s funny, sad, wise, and instructive. Whether currently in the midst of difficulties or not, at least readers will learn to cut back on certain kinds of “comfort” and advice to others, especially beginning with at least.


In praise of “Writers & Co.” and Eleanor Wachtel

Today, a post in praise of long-time CBC program “Writers and Company” and its host Eleanor Wachtel, a woman I have come to trust without reservation for her wide-ranging eye on the world’s best literature and her exquisite interviews with the people who produce it. I’ve heard interviews with writers in a variety of formats, live or recorded or on television, and sometimes they’re too short to allow for more than sound bites or perhaps the interviewer hasn’t read the book, not thoroughly at least, or is talking too much, or you wish you could jump in and ask your question because the interviewer isn’t getting around to it! Wachtel’s interviews, however, are an hour long, and the conversation has room and it’s rich, it gets where I also wanted to go without my knowing in advance where that was. Continue reading

Filling in the spaces: An interview with Connie T. Braun

In my opinion, a book that takes me into another person’s world while also sending me off into my own (as I lift my eyes from the page) is a good book! So it was with Silentium: And Other Reflections on Memory, Sorrow, Place, and the Sacred (Wipf & Stock, 2017) by Connie T. Braun.51UcJrDqkNL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_

This collection of poetry and essays forms a memoir both of Connie’s mother, who fled Poland in the upheavals of the Second World War, and Connie herself, as we enter her childhood and powerful family bonds in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, and travel along to sites of family history. It’s memoir, yes, but a kind of “quest” or discovery literature too.

I experienced many resonances as I read: our common Mennonite heritage, our appreciation for the writing of Patricia Hampl, places H. and I also saw on a tour to Poland. And the surprise mention of Linden, Alberta, where I grew up! I was also taken into the differences, my immigration past being the 1920s arrival of my grandparents to Canada, hers a postwar arrival. Connie Braun has become one of the most significant Mennonite writer-witnesses to that particular period and those events. Continue reading