Book of the Week: Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler
Book 7: Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler
Kate Bowler is a professor of American Religion at my alma mater, Duke Divinity School. She began her time there as a student as I was coming to the end of my time there, so I'm not sure if we overlapped. But we have several mutual friends. And so, when she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer a few years back, I was quickly alerted via email and facebook of her apparently impending death. While I did not know Kate, I prayed for her. I learned her particulars through internet updates and mutual friends who had a lot more flesh in the game. Among the more heart-rending and savory details: only 35 years old, married with a toddler, insurance trouble, experimental treatment.
Prior to all of this, I only knew Kate Bowler's name as that girl that wrote the prosperity gospel book. Bowler's young career was built on the fact that she was the first person to document and write a history of the prosperity gospel in American Christianity. She was—and still is—the go-to for a quick quip or blurb for news sources investigating prosperity preachers.
In her memoir, her life as a scholar of the prosperity gospel and her battle with stage 4 cancer come together in beautifully written, self-critical exploration of the ways in which many of us live with our own prosperity gospels. We all think that prosperity is just one step away and depends on what we can do to reach it. If we can just change our thinking, if we can just change our actions, if we can just put ourselves in the right places at the right time. These are the hopes that guide most of our thinking such that when we are facing utter hopelessness, we find ourselves minimizing our problems and maximizing our efforts. All of which is just another way of saying that Americans are excellent at avoiding our own limitations. The prosperity gospel is just one example of that way of thinking.
For Bowler, her cancer becomes the catalyst for a deeper reflection on the many ways in which she has lived by her own versions of "name it and claim it", etc. For the reader, we cannot help but follow her into some of her deepest despairs and think with her about some of her deeply held yet suddenly shallow ways of thinking and being. This means that we cannot help but come face to face with our own ways of minimizing and avoiding.