Suspicious of Joy

Kate Bowler and The archbishop of canterbury Group Discussion Guide

Duke Professor Kate Bowler is an expert in the stories we tell ourselves about success and failure, suffering and happiness. She had stage IV cancer. Then, after many years of living scan to scan, she didn’t. And since then, all she wants to do is to talk to funny and wise people about how to live with the knowledge that, well, everything happens. 

In this grounding conversation, Kate sits down with Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury who serves as the head of the Anglican Church—a Christian denomination that spans the globe. The Archbishop speaks of how he and his wife lost their 7 month old daughter in a car accident and about the overwhelming fear he felt when his son had neurosurgery at a very young age. Together, Kate and Justin discuss how they have known pain, struggle, and despair and still manage to hold onto faith and joy (despite being suspicious of it) in the midst of real life challenges.

WATCH (7 min) Archbishop Justin Welby on how Winnie The Pooh can help us describe the precarity of life:

For those of you who need a Winnie The Pooh refresher—Tigger is the optimistic, excited, always moving tiger. Eeyore is the pessimistic, glum, and sarcastic donkey. Piglet, Pooh’s best friend, is often overcome by fear and anxiety. And Rabbit considers himself to be very smart indeed, but can be impatient and irritable when he knows what must be done. 



The Archbishop described himself as an Eeyore in this clip. Which of the Winnie the Pooh characters do you tend to be most like in tough situations?


When your life is coming undone, would you rather be around a Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet, or Rabbit personality? Why?

As Christians, we learn that there are certain qualities and characteristics that should distinguish us from the rest of the world. These are often referred to as the fruits of the spirit, which includes joy. When life is coming undone, or if you have more Eeyore-tendencies, joy may be hard to find (or make you feel very, very suspicious). In our culture that emphasizes positive thinking, we may find ourselves feeling forced to keep a smile on our face or deny our true feelings. 

scripture — Galatians 5:22-26 (NRSVUE)

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

There are two important things to note as we study this passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. He addresses an entire community. Paul never expected that an individual would be able to possess all of these qualities all of the time, but that the community as a whole would be characterized by these traits. The second thing to note is that we bear these fruits not by our own power, energy, or might, but by the Spirit working inside of us and through us. 

WATCH (4 min): In this clip, Kate and the Archbishop share how they felt the love of community and the love of God carry them through difficult times.

3. How does this translation (that “God works with us” instead of “God works for us”) influence your understanding of this passage?

One of the stories [from Winnie the Pooh is] where [Eeyore’s] given a balloon, and he’s happiest when it’s burst because nothing more can happen.”

—Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

4. Like Eeyore who prefers a popped balloon to an inflated one, do you understand why someone might feel suspicious of joy or positive thinking? 

5. Joy is a gift from God, a gift of the spirit. Therefore, we cannot force ourselves into feeling joy. We cannot fake joy, or choose joy. Joy sometimes surprises us in unlikely times when we find ourselves buoyed by the love of others or laughing in the midst of something difficult. Think back on a time when you felt filled with joy. What were the circumstances? How would you define joy? 

“But then says, Pooh, it’s so much better with two.” 

—Kate Bowler

6. Joy is also something experienced through community. Who in your life is a Tigger—someone who exudes joy? If you are a little low on joy, how can you borrow some joy from someone else? Similarly, the Eeyores of the world are not scared of the truth and reality of your life. If you are struggling and need to process what’s actually happening, can you find an Eeyore who is not afraid to sit with you and cry? How do these characteristics challenge you to open yourself to the full range of human experiences? 

“[Writer Margaret Feinberg] called it the Fellowship of the Afflicted—that the knowledge of the precarity of the world can be a terrible gift.”

—Kate Bowler

7. How might the realization that life is uncertain and precious be considered a beautiful, terrible gift? 

8. Can we think of creative ways that our community can share the gifts of the spirit with those who are in need, suffering, or hurting?

A Blessing For When You’re Scared to Face Hard Things Alone

God, what if?

What if I walk out on this ledge 
and feel only the taste of my fear? 
What if I discover that what I carry 
cannot be shouldered? 
What if I live too long without that feeling
that I can set this, this, this down. 

God, fill me with a love that staves off all the darkness. 
Comfort me when I can’t think another reasonable thought. 
And if I can’t, I mean, I just can’t feel your nearness, 
may I hear you telling me that I am loved.

Send your armies of do gooders, 
tuck my name inside their hearts. 
Give me people who love to hold more than this day can manage. 
And if you can’t send more than one 
(because more than one would be nice), 
just send the nearest person to take things out of my hands 
and into theirs until I know again today 
that I should never be expected to walk this road alone.