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 ongoing 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 lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit.
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