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.


A string of December thoughts

I meant to gather some reflections on winter, sew some meaning through them as a Christmas wish for you, my readers, but already I know I can’t pull it off. So how about I just hang a string of disjointed thoughts (in mostly muted colors) and thank you in advance for receiving them as is.

A Child’s Death

On Sunday we got the terrible news that our nephew’s nine-year-old son in Paraguay (where my husband’s family lives) was killed in a motorcycle accident. How these things happen: the father and his son riding home after a bit of a visit elsewhere in the (farming) village, the mother emerging from their driveway in the car at the very moment they reached it,  he braking, the bike flipping and the child was under it and with a last gasp his life ended. The funeral was this morning. The father is the age of our oldest son, they played together when we lived in Paraguay, they have children the same age. “There are no words I can write that will make this better,” our son wrote his cousin, “but please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers.” There are no words indeed. Continue reading

Memento mori

I’d like to have my papers in order when I die. It’s about sparing my loved ones, of course. (Or is it actually to tidy me up? Didn’t our mothers say you should change your underwear, just in case you landed in an accident?) So I’ve been making periodic stabs this year at the journals, files, boxes of research, projects in their various stages. I got rid of that pile of index cards on which I traced the chronology of a man about whom I was tempted to write a biography (a better one than existed, I mean). I dumped a few folders of articles I’d clipped that, seriously, I will never use. I transcribed a year of diary.

Alexander Nevsky Monastery cemetery, St. Petersburg

Lately, the call to review and pare seems urgent. But sometimes I’ll be struck by the fear that thinking about death and acting in this anticipatory way is some kind of signal that it’s just around the corner. Continue reading