Content Warning: Cancer

Trigger Warning: Cancer

TL;DR: Woman has cancer, grieves loss of life she expected to have and the life her family will now have, God remains present and mysterious


For the sake of full disclosure, I know Kate Bowler. We went to Yale Divinity School at the same time. I think we both sang in the gospel choir. We are friends on Facebook. We have not spoken in over 10 years. I bought my copy of her book to read, not even intending to review it here.

Nevertheless, here we are.

Bowler actually has written two excellent articles for the New York Times regarding her cancer diagnosis. The first, in 2016, dealt with the intersection of her diagnosis and her 51rw-hctvlongoing work with the prosperity gospel. The second, published recently in 2018, is descriptively titled, “What to Say When You Meet the Angel of Death at a Party”. Her book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, explores her life, in all aspects, since her diagnosis with Stage IV colon cancer at the age of 35.

I have found my own life full of cancer lately. Diagnoses of friends, deaths of loved ones, cycles of treatment and hope for lasting remissions… cancer news and reality spreads like, well, you know. Yet, despite its prevalence, our very human inability to process dis-ease, illness, and the reality of death continues to exist.

Kate Bowler tugs at the threads of this tightly woven blanket of obstinate, obfuscating optimism that marches in lockstep obedience to the modern gods of positive thinking and bodily disconnection. Her writing voice expresses curiosity, empowering her reader to explore alongside her: “How did this happen?”, “What will the end be like?”, “How will my son’s life look?” and “Do I still have to make a choice about dinner?”

I made many highlights in the book, as Bowler describes the mail she receives and the guiding Facebook messages that advise her on diet, words, candles, oils, and confession.

What would it mean for Christians to give up that little piece of the American Dream that says, “You are limitless”? Everything is not possible. The mighty Kingdom of God is not yet here. What if rich did not have to mean wealthy, and whole did not have to mean healed? What if being people of the “the gospel” meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough.

This is not the book to immediately purchase for your friend who was diagnosed with cancer. It might not even be the book to read for yourself in that same situation. This book is well suited for your book club, co-reading with your best friend or parent, or reviewing online so that it gets into as many hands as possible (help the algorithm). The usefulness of this book is for people who are currently cancer adjacent- to gain skills and tools for how to be helpful when the diagnosis comes to their world.

This is a beautiful and thoughtful book, recommended for both voice and narrative. Matter-of-factly, Everything… confronts the truth of mortality, our hopes and plans, and that we are more dependent on God showing up through the people around us than in a miraculous interventionist way.


The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, AK. She blogs at and She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit.

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2 thoughts on “RevGalBookPals: Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved

  1. I have very much enjoyed the interviews I’ve heard with her, and am looking forward to reading the book. I never, ever, believed that everything happens for a reason, and my own spiritual journey through disaster has been much darker than hers, but she exudes hope in the most winsome of ways, and I love that.


  2. I’ve just read this book also, and I recommend it for anyone who struggles with what to say or how to approach someone who has received a devastating diagnosis. I was particularly interested in how she has struggled with seeing her illness through the lens of the prosperity gospel: everything has to have a positive spin on it. I haven’t read her book on the history of the prosperity gospel but want to. Many years ago I had a friend who also had colon cancer and kept insisting she had a spiritual, not a physical, disease, and that God was going to heal her. At the end, her doctor pretty much had to force her to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order because she kept insisting she was going to be healed. I was appalled by what I saw at that time as her denial of her illness, but after reading this book, I realize that her understanding of the Christian faith was through the prosperity gospel movement (which was not known as such back then). I give kudos to Dr. Bowler for writing this searingly honest book while undergoing experimental treatments, dealing with physical and emotional pain, and being the mother of a young son.


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