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?)
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.