No One’s Anything:  A Reflection on Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason

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photo by Oscar Keys via Unsplash

Peter Surran, is a pastor, teacher, EMT, building inspector, and a good friend.  He’s also a heck of a writer.  I’ve been wanting to get him on the blog for awhile and finally roped him in with a review of Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens For a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved.  Enjoy:

I bustled into my 40’s pretty sure I knew how I was going to die.  Heart disease and colon cancer run in my family, so I hit the Middle Ages with a plan of attack. I was going to go on a diet and get screened for polyps.  I have had some success with the diet (did you know it is really diet AND exercise, not diet and/or?) and I followed my doctor’s advice by submitting a poop sample. It turns out my sample got lost, or the results did, because I never heard back until I harassed the doctor’s office and he finally called me and said, “Your poop was negative.  There, don’t you feel better?” 

No, I did not feel better, and reading Kate Bowler’s book Everything Happens For A Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved made me feel even worse.

Bowler was someone who had it all, according to her own definition: 

“Married in my twenties, a baby in my thirties, I won a job at my alma mater straight out of graduate school. I felt breathless with the possibilities.” (xiv) 

Having spent so much time studying the prosperity gospel and those who adhere to it, she had, to an extent, bought into it. Until she didn’t.

The foul ball that crashed through the window of her contentment was a cancer diagnosis.  In this, Bowler was certainly not alone.  According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018.  That means there will be almost 2,000,000 brand new cancer stories.  

Not all of those new patients are Kate Bowler, of course.  Not all have the educational background to reflect deeply and write so well. That’s the first thing.  Of course, not everyone had so ironically invested so much time studying the prosperity gospel, which teachings clashed so audibly with her reality. And not everyone was positioned with connections at Duke University to get their insurance to cover an experimental treatment program, which not everyone can get into because not everyone has what Bowler calls the “magic cancer,” which would potentially respond to the treatment.

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Kate Bowler

That’s what makes this book so damned scary.  The only reason that Kate Bowler lived to write it is because she is, in fact, Kate Bowler.  Everything aligned so that she might suffer through treatments which give her about 60 more days until it’s time to do it all over again.  It might not be how we would define prosperity, but it’s living, and it’s a life only she could live, 60 days at a time.

She doesn’t like the Job comparison.  It can’t be helped.  But not for the obvious reasons.  Well, maybe those, but for others, too.  Mainly because Job is a thumb in the eye of the certainty crowd.  The guy you’d never expect to lose it all does somehow. He gets it all back in the end, but I suspect that was added to please the masses, like the fake ending of Mark’s gospel.  One of the beauties of Bowler’s book is that there is no neat wrap-up.  All we know is that she gets to have another 60 days.  

What would we do if we thought we only had 60 days left to live?  What would we do if we went to the doctor one day for a routine physical and left there knowing that we had, in Kurt Vonnegut’s words, “cancer of the everything”?  What would you do if you found out you were in perfect health and would live another 50 years?

I came away from Everything Happens understanding that no one’s anything is ever the same as anyone else’s.   And I don’t really know how I’m going to die.  I could be polyp-free and get hit by a bus.  The main section of the book ends with the sentence, “I will die, yes, but not today.”  I hope she wrote that at night.  Only way to know for sure.  

Random House provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

You can support Heartlands by buying a copy of the book through this link:

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Peter’s the one on the right

Peter Surran lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia with his family and three dogs and a cat.  He is pastor of Eastville Baptist Church, works full-time for the County of Accomack, part-time for Regent University’s English Department, and enjoys reading and writing when he is able.  Book reviews give him a great excuse to do both! 

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