From Dr. Marcia McFee:
Meet Kate Bowler, seminary history professor, author and podcaster, and “incurable optimist.” Her research focuses on a topic about which I never thought I’d find myself making a worship series–the “prosperity gospel” movement whose development spans centuries and has contributed, fascinatingly, to our current moment’s “self-help” craze. I became interested in Bowler’s research because she’s had a couple of bestsellers lately: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved & No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear).
These NY Times bestsellers chronicle her life as a young person living with stage four colon cancer, discovering she had fallen into the same trap her research is about: the belief that we can all “bootstrap” ourselves into a perfect life. Sound familiar? This idea is so baked into our consciousness that sometimes we think God requires this perfection of us and we end up falling continually short. Check out this excerpt from her recent Washington Post Opinion piece:
“Every year, billions of dollars are pumped into a wellness industry defined by the theory that we can be perfected. We can organize ourselves, heal ourselves, budget ourselves, love ourselves, track ourselves and eat well enough to make ourselves whole. In the 1970s, a New Age strain of America’s famous self-confidence took hold of the boomer counterculture.
Its promises were bold and metaphysical, insisting that the mind could overcome the sins of the therapeutic age: low self-esteem, mediocrity and a ho-hum existence.
…The American admiration for bootstrappers and optimists had become a capitalist paradise. Everyone was now an evangelist of good, better, best. Harness your mind to change your circumstances. Salvation is only a decision away.
But I cannot outwork or outpace or out-pray my cancer. I can’t dispel it with a can-do attitude.
After a diagnosis. After a pandemic. That is the right time to question our popular theories about how to build a better life. We cannot “have it all” if we just learn how to conquer our limits. Infinity isn’t at the bottom of your inbox or in the next level on the Peloton. The problem with our lives is that we cannot solve them. We can only live them.” – Kate Bowler
[Opinion: We can’t upgrade our lives. We can only live them. – The Washington Post 11/1/21]
This worship series invites us to “take a page” from Kate’s research and take seriously, and with humility, that most often life is imperfect. When I discovered that she and her writing and producing partner, Jessica Richie, were coming out with a series of devotions in time for Lent, I contacted their team and publisher right away to suggest a worship series to go with it. I believe it is the Lent message we need to hear, especially this year. As I write this we are bracing for another surge of coronavirus. We are still in the midst of great disturbance from “the way we imagined” life to be. In many cases, dreams have been thwarted by pandemic through loss of life, health, and economic security. And then there’s all the other hard stuff, unrelated to pandemic, that just keeps rollin’ along. My prayer is that this resource–both the worship series and the book–will be salve for our frustrated selves, inviting us to embrace the imperfections of life and faith, knowing that we are never alone.
And so I invite you to consider a Lent Season of “Good Enough,” embracing the imperfections of life and faith. As I worked with the scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary for Lent 2022, I was amazed at how much these Gospel stories lure us lovingly into this territory of accepting our incurable humanity. The Good News certainly is that God loves us deeply and is present to us powerfully, even and especially in the midst of the imperfect and down-right crappy moments of life.