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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: The Lives We Actually Have by Kate Bowler, Jessica Richie 
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I began reading "The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days" a day or two after my latest surgery and wrapped it up about 24 hours away from when I will gather with my physician to discuss biopsy results that will determine the course of my healthcare journey over the next few days, weeks, and months.

As someone who has lived far longer than anyone has ever expected with spina bifida, medical care has long been at the forefront of every decision I make whether it's where I work (or even whether or not I do work), who I date/marry, determining if the places I go are wheelchair friendly, whether or not I need physical care or assistance, how I serve in ministry, and many other life decisions big and small.

I've long resonated with the work of Kate Bowler, a Canadian academic and writer who currently serves as an associate professor of the history of Christianity in North America at Duke Divinity School. Bowler's breakout came with the remarkable "Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel," one step in the journey toward the academic world that was unsurprising given her growing up in a highly academic world. It is a world that Bowler continues to exist in, of course, but the life that Bowler actually has had, at least it would seem, veered her toward a life of ministry grounded deeply within this framework of honoring both the darkness and the blessing of the lives we actually live.

For Bowler, this began to manifest following her 2015 diagnosis with Stage IV cancer despite there being no family history of cancer. "Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lives I've Loved)" was published in 2018 gave us, in many ways, the fiercely intelligent and funny and insightful Bowler that we love. Suddenly, it felt as if we had ourselves a spiritual companion for the imperfect days and someone who reminded us that our imperfections do not change who we are in Christ.

Working alongside "Good Enough" co-author and the executive producer for her podcast "Everything Happens" Jessica Ritchie, Bowler has crafted a gentle and affirming book of blessings for those of us whose lives aren't so much good or bad but simply ordinary. "The Lives We Actually Have" is richly grounded theologically, however, it's also accessible in its language and understanding that daily life is messy and real and happy and sad and tragic and exhilarating.

Sometimes, all on the same day.

While having some understanding of Bowler's journey may very well increase one's appreciation for "The Lives We Actually Have," this is a book of simple prayers and blessings offer a chance to exhale amidst the certainties and uncertainties of life. Each blessing includes quotes or scriptures or both, intellectual insights (my guess is Bowler can never completely shut off that brilliant mind of hers) that provide a thread of reason and thought amidst Bowler's honesty, transparency, and authenticity.

As someone who grew up in an unstable home, I resonated deeply with "The Lives We Actually Have." As someone who experienced sexual abuse early in life and sexual violence as a young adult paraplegic/double amputee trying to figure out independent life, I resonated deeply with "The Lives We Actually Have." As someone who married impulsively because I thought I'd found someone who would love me "as is" only to watch her end her own life and that of our daughter, my entire being resonated with "The Lives We Actually Have."

As someone who learned how to be the person I needed in those younger years, I rejoiced with "The Lives We Actually Have." As someone who became an activist determined to end violence in the lives of children, my heart celebrated the glory of imperfection and scars and wounds evident in "The Lives We Actually Have." As someone whose body is imperfect and messy and often needs assistance, I found safety and blessing in "The Lives We Actually Have."

In short, the fullness of all that I am and all that I surrender to God every single day of my life found a home in "The Lives We Actually Have" and made me feel like maybe, just maybe, this square peg in the round hole of Christianity really does belong even on those days when I feel disconnected from the whole of existence.

"We don't need to wait for perfect lives when we can bless the lives that we have," Kate Bowler and Jessica Ritchie.


Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic