Prior to coming to 2BC, I had never heard of Kate Bowler, PhD, even though she is a New York Times bestselling author and she has a very well-known podcast. The circles I have historically run in don’t make a habit of promoting strong, optimistic female leaders who speak prophetically and authentically. Ironically, a lot of the Christian culture I was used to promoted the #blessed prosperity gospel that Bowler has researched and written about at length. So, you can imagine the cool drink of water her work has been to me over the past year or so. Here’s one small example:
Oh, God, I am done with broken systems
that break the very people
they are meant to serve.
Harness this anger!
Channel it into worthy action and show me
what is mine to fix and what boundaries to patrol
to keep goodness in and evil out.
Blessed are we who are appalled
that brute ignorance can so easily dominate
over decency, honesty, and integrity.
Blessed are we, who choose not to look away
from systems that dehumanize, deceive, defame, and distort
We who recognize that thoughts and prayers are not enough.
We who stand with truth over expediency,
principle over politics,
community over competition.
Oh God, how blessed are we who cry out to you:
Empower us to see and name what is broken,
what is ours to restore.
Guide us to find coherent
and beautiful alternatives
that foster life, hope and peace.
Help us to use our gifts with one another in unity.
Blessed are we who choose to live in anticipation,
our eyes scanning the horizon
for signs of your kingdom—
heaven come down—
as we wait.
From “for when you’re tired of broken systems” in The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days
Bowler has this strange “voodoo” ability to weave together full validation of so many of our feelings with a conviction to find good and do good. Maybe she’s a modern-day psalmist who paints pictures of our pain, suffering, our need for revenge, our desire for justice, and shows us God’s refusal to look away. All as we lift our open hands in awe of this same God who uses us to do good, even when we see none. Bowler’s ability to name this and call us to the difficult work of really seeing ourselves and others is rare.
This gift she has comes from a place of experience. Diagnosed at age 35 with Stage IV cancer, she has walked this road of painful doubt, and she has used this experience to reclaim the #blessed culture we all find ourselves in. As she writes in her book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, “I can’t reconcile the way that the world is jolted by events that are wonderful and terrible, the gorgeous and the tragic. Except that I am beginning to believe that these opposites do not cancel each other out. I see a middle-aged woman in the waiting room of the cancer clinic, her arms wrapped around the frail frame of her son. She squeezes him tightly, oblivious to the way he looks down at her sheepishly. He laughs after a minute, a hostage to her impervious love. Joy persists somehow and I soak it in. The horror of cancer has made everything seem like it is painted in bright colors. I think the same thoughts again and again. Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.” She has an eye for dismantling dualistic thinking, and the horror of cancer has been her greatest teacher in doing this.
Bowler not only has a lot to teach us, as individuals. But she has a lot to teach The Church, as a whole. It has been a breath of fresh air to be at a church like 2BC, which elevates voices like hers on several Sunday mornings out of the year, and through small group discussions and book clubs. I’m currently in a Monday night group through this Lenten Season, and we’re working our way through The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days. Just as we need to start moving away from dualistic thinking in our everyday lives, we also need to move away from it in our church gatherings. The Gospel isn’t something we can tie up neatly in a bow and present to people as another set of “how-tos.” Because living out The Gospel isn’t that simple. We need more leaders like Bowler in our spiritual diets, both individually and corporately.
A big THANK YOU to Kate Bowler for her words and her work. You can find out what she’s up to on her website.
-Written by Katie Mitchell