Never, Ever Enough - Kate Bowler

Never, Ever Enough with David Brooks

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Never, Ever Enough

with David Brooks

How do we reach for wisdom instead of self-help solutions? Much to their embarrassment, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Kate Bowler often find their books in the “Self-Help section.” David sat down with Kate at the historic Sixth & I Synagogue in Washington, D.C. to talk about her book, No Cure For Being Human, and the twisty-turny journey of living without easy answers. 

Kate Bowler

David Brooks

David Brooks became an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times in September 2003. His column appears every Tuesday and Friday. He is currently a commentator on “PBS NewsHour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”He is the author of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There and On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. In March 2011 he came out with his third book, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller.Mr. Brooks also teaches at Yale University, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Show Notes

Find David’s books such as The Second Mountain, The Road to Character, and Bobos in Paradise, here.

You can follow David on Twitter and on Facebook.

Learn more about Sixth and I, and in particular its synagogue, here.

I’m not bitter, if you want to order the Santa sticker book on Amazon you can find it here.

P.S. my Bishop friend is Will Willimon. You can listen to the podcast episode I did with him, here.

Learn more about Dan McAdam’s theory of the redemptive self-narratives, here.

Our new book of devotionals releases in February and we are so excited. You can learn more about it and preorder it, here.

Sign up to receive a four week Advent Devotional, here.



Kate Bowler:                          Oh, hello there, my dear. Before we begin today’s conversation, I just wanted to remind you that Advent is here. Yes. Spoiler alert: Jesus will be born again this year, whether we are ready or not, which is both helpful and probably a little bit overwhelming. If you are like me still scrambling to get the tree up or find a gift or figure out how to coexist with people that we love, drink Christmas dinner this year. So if you’re looking for a way to make this season a little more, I don’t know, set apart, give yourself a little more permission to have a merryish Christmas. We at the Everything Happens project put together a free advent devotional just for you. It is this gorgeous, massive like set of short readings and blessings and reflections on Christmas saints and little traditions that you can begin any day like. So download it for free at Kate

Kate:                        How do we reach for wisdom? Instead of self-help solutions, I guess that’s been the question we’ve been circling around during this whole season of the podcast. When quick formulas are so much easier to hang on our refrigerators and repeat to ourselves in downward facing dog. How do we find the deeper, richer, more hopeful truths that can steady us in this life of uncertainty? Much to my embarrassment and dismay, my books keep getting categorized as self-help literature. I know. I know. I will just Trojan Horse the crap out of this. Oh, were you looking for a six step solution out of pain? Sorry to break it to you that you are human again today. But how do we live in this twisty turny life without the easy answers? That’s where my friend David Brooks comes in, whose books also get shelved in the self-help section. And who refuses to accept pat answers to life’s more complex questions. David Brooks is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times. He has written bestselling books like The Second Mountain, The Road to Character and Bobos in Paradise. David is also a dear friend who agreed to carefully read my book and interrogate me about the matter during a lovely event hosted by 6th and I, a center for arts, entertainment, ideas and Jewish Life in Washington, D.C. So that’s where today’s conversation is from and a special thank you to Jackie Leventhal for hosting us at your gorgeous synagogue for the event. I apologize in advance for David’s absolutely horrific and unplanned pun that will leave me scarred for life and questioning whether or not he is actually my friend. Oh my gosh, you’re going to love it.

David Brooks:                     I should have started a podcast, you’re popular.

Kate:                                This is so lovely, thanks so much for being here.

David:                            Welcome Kate to Sixth and I, before I really introduce Kate, I want to tell Kate about this room. And so this, as you just heard, it was a synagogue for a long time then it became an AME church. And then 17 years ago, I guess it had its first Jewish service again for 50 years, and that service was my son’s bar mitzvah.

Kate:                               Stop.

David:                           And so he was the first person to lead a service in this place in half a century. And there were what we thought were three torahs back in the ark right there. One we were told had been smuggled into Bergen-Belsen. One of them was rescued from Auschwitz, and one of them was written in a town called Wingrove in Poland, which was a town of scribes. And so the story we were told and I went back to did research in this little town was that the Nazis took it over. There were about 6000 Jews there. Three thousand of them fled to the forest where they were shot. 3000 were sent to the camps. 100 were kept to work and then eventually burned, and one made it to America and died a week before the bar mitzvah, actually. Oh, and so it was to have him read that scroll. A revived scroll in a revived sanctuary as a young boy coming to manhood. It was, it was a statement of Jewish continuation. And now the story of the scrolls turned a little squirrely later because the guy who sold them to the shul where he was a little squirrely, so it could have been from Wal-Mart the week before, I don’t really know. Anyway, so that’s a little short story about this place.

Kate:                           David, I love your tender heart. Thank you for that.

David:                              So this is my good friend, Kate Bowler. We’ve known each other for a bit, four or five years, and the one thing I want to say I know Kate is a scholar and doesn’t care about such things, but I did what a crass journalist would do as I checked her out on Amazon about an hour ago, and Kate’s book is number six on Amazon. She’s like five higher than The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Kate:                           Yeah, I did not beat the sticker collection. Santa’s Sticker Collection.

David:                        Oh, you’re forty higher than that damn love languages book. And if that jerk Bob Woodward hadn’t written a book, you’d be number five.

Kate:                                So I like marketing is always so scary. Like you ready to be sad? Come on out. Fog machine. Yeah.

David:                           And the funniest thing. I showed Kate this backstage. She’s number one in the category, and this is a literal category on Amazon of colorectal cancer. Number one.

Kate:                            I don’t want this. I don’t want that category.

David:                          She’s the John Grisham of colorectal cancer.

Kate:                             I do like the most awkward person around bodily issues because I feel like just that the word rectal has haunted me.

David:                            I didn’t know where to start, but you’ve given me an opening.

Kate:                              Thank you.

David:                           Wow, that was that was terrible.

Kate:                              Thank you. And thank you for coming.

David:                          Talk about not realizing what you just said. So one of the remarkable things about this book is-

Kate:                                   I cannot wait for this segue.

David:                                   So you get this diagnosis and I would have hidden. I would have hidden from the reality. Like, I wouldn’t have read up on it. I just would have hidden. But you immersed. You did all the reading. You got all the other opinions. What was that like to dive in? Was there any instinct I’m not going to dive into this? Or did your academic training mean you were going to dive into it? Hmm.

Kate:                                       Hmm. I think the will the thought felt impossible. It just genuinely felt impossible. I felt like my I could work, I could try to understand, I would do all of the, yeah, all the instinctual academic things. Let me just figure out the map of this whole reality. But then I would look at my son, and it was just it was just like a like a like a power surge and the power bar goes off. I just couldn’t make myself imagine it. And I think that has helped me make the best and the worst decisions. Best because I keep my intellectual side just wants to keep trying. But emotionally, I can’t imagine living a day in which any amount of it would feel like like I had done it right. If this were the last one, I guess.

David:                                And if would this have been a very different experience if it happened before Zach was born?

Kate:                                  Yeah. I mean, I think when I think about like the math of my life, like what it has to add up to on the other side of that equation, it just looks like it’s like my life has to bear up the weight of a lot of love. And I can I don’t know. I just like I count my life by his age because I keep thinking, you know, and a lot of this is just either heresy or arrogance or just dumb, dumb love. But all I want to do is like, plead with people like, just tell me what the age is. Just tell me the age that that everybody has to get to for me to for me to feel like I’ve done enough and launched this kid and wrap this up.

David:                             So his age, not your age, is it.

Kate:                               Yeah, his age, that’s right. Yeah, I mean, husband, blah blah, lovely, et cetera. But to good looking, you know, he’d be fine. He’d be fine.

David:                             Do you have an answer to that question? What’s the right age?

Kate:                              Yeah, no, I did ask, I, you know, I work in this. I’m really hoping on my faculty is watching this right now, but in a geriatric and just a joyfully geriatric faculty. And so I would just wander up and down the hallways having existential problems, and I would ask them, I’m like, Have you have you gotten there? Is this the age? Have you felt it? And can I? Could you just give me this clock? And uh, and I remember a friend of mine just said, you know, he was just about to retire and he’d had this incredible career. And then the more I listen to his life, the more I realized that everything else was just crumbling. And he was like, Oh, Kate, but it comes undone. And then I thought, Oh my God. I suppose there isn’t some kind of some kind of arrival gate like, I’m not going to stick this landing, I suppose.

David:                              The idea that you never arrive.

Kate:                                     I mean, I’ve watched a lot of people retire. This is a weird way to try to answer this, but I’ve watched a lot of people retire and I guess kind of as an intellectual, I was always trying to figure out what the what the what the crest feeling is like, whether people I mean, because I know my field and I know my, I know what it would feel like if I had maybe even almost mastered a field. So I have like a tally for it. And then I just watched everyone on the day of their retire look around. And I’ve had the privilege of being there at their retirement. I’ve had the privilege of being that people’s hospital beds and I’ve seen them have to learn to have run the math backwards, I guess. And usually at their retirement, they looked out and they felt robbed because everyone that would have they would have imagined as the summation of their life wasn’t necessarily even in that room. So I guess what I took from that is that there will never be a feeling of summation, at least not in a single night? Except this one, obviously, David, we’re going to we’re going to do that. Oh yeah, that’s right. I timed it to now.

David:                               Yeah, when I was a kid, my mentor was William F. Buckley, and I once asked him because he had really created the modern conservative movement. And I said, Is there a moment when you just felt I’ve done way more than I ever expected? I can just relax. Yeah, he did not understand the question. There was no ending for, I think, for most people. Yeah. Now one question this may be a hard question. I’ve only known you since the diagnosis. Yeah. So if you go back to pre diagnosis-

Kate:                            Yeah, I was great. You would have really liked me. I was much more cheerful. Sorry, there was a better question.

David:                          No, it was like, who was that person?

Kate:                              Yeah. Well, I was I had had a well, because academia is such an expensive profession, there’s like two stops on that dumb train like you, you like, I think it would be fun is your first dumb idea. And then you get on a train. And then about ten years later, and like two hundred thousand dollars later, you can get off that train and you would have met me right then, and I would have imagined that I would have the rest of my life to make that investment feel really beautiful, like I’d seen all of these, and it’s not romantic. It is romantic. It’s so dumb. It’s so romantic. I, every academic I know, is a petty romantic. But I, my dad had always been an adjunct professor and my mom had been a music professor, and I had seen her have this really shiny, lovely career and I’d seen my dad slog. It’s like the tar pits of academia, and he would have to drive around town like Winnipeg, Manitoba, teaching at sometimes upwards of seven colleges and a semester. And then every few months he would get fired because they’d have to let go and then rehire him, or he’d have to go on unemployment. And so I chose it knowing that it was either going to be the shiny, lovely version or it was going to be the tar pits version. But I was so in love with the idea that you can, like, read a thousand books and then sort of live under the canopy of it that I thought, I’m going to have the whole rest of my life to enjoy being that person. And that person had a lot of footnotes and was good at parties. And and then I think that’s why maybe I felt so robbed and also that this vision, I’d had this more like wine and cheese, endless gargoyle sort of vision of my life. Right? It evaporated because suddenly I was trying to make decisions based on trying to keep a job that I knew I wouldn’t likely live long enough to keep. And so I had to try to decide if anything I was doing could have like a non instrumentalist version, like what good and beautiful things would we do anyway? And it turns out writing hysterically specific historical books is the thing I would do, even if I only sell out the library copies.

David:                           I like that phrase endless gargoyle. That was my nickname in high school, by the way.

Kate:                          Endless Gargoyle.

David:                         There’s a great moment in the book where you you’ve got the diagnosis, things are looking dire. Should you spend time writing books? Yeah. And you had a conversation with a guy over margaritas that I thought was incredibly gripping scene, if you could just describe.

Kate:                           Oh, well, I am. I was lucky enough to get this, you get like a cohort of young scholars of American religion, even though all of us were probably early middle age conservatively. But we were like young and full of promise and and that we were all going through this experience together of being junior and then trying to achieve some kind of permanent job anywhere and then when it felt like everything was just going to be for nothing, I was in the hospital most of the day, everyone else seemed like they had like gotten the promotion or gone somewhere. And I wasn’t trying to feel like robbed, but I felt like I didn’t know what any of it was technically for. And and so my friends talked me into doing this absolutely specific lecture at Regent College in Virginia Beach, Regent University, and I’d give some kind of free lecture, which we do mostly to cop the hotel and get a dinner together in some city. And we will do anything for like a plate, like a free dinner. And and the ability to tell our university that we went somewhere for a reason. And so I gave this lecture. I felt really kind of ridiculous because I was hooked up to a chemo pack and I felt like, Is this a is this a tragicomedy that I am living? And they took me out for margaritas that night and they said, You know, we were just doing that thing where you like, dig into each other’s brains and we went through every footnote and every, you know, every what are you doing next? And then finally, they said, Well, Kate, what are you going to do with that lecture? I was like, I don’t I don’t know. Like, this whole thing has started to feel a little a little ridiculous. And my friend T.J. said, like, what is this? As if, like everything was all my choices had been splayed out in front of us. And he said, You know, I think the way you’ve been framing things as if all of your decisions were the result of either your ambition or some kind of work as a hobby are incorrect that like I know that you want to spend every moment with your kid and with your family, but at the same time, like this, you know, whatever this is that we do like, even if the worst happens, your son can find you there. So just like, write the dumb book. And I think probably 300 people read that book when I finished it, and I was so happy. I spent most of my hospital days interviewing like people would come into the hospital like megachurch preachers, wives and I would I would interview them while getting- it was very awkward for them, but I really enjoyed it and people really felt like they had to be extra vulnerable, which I really appreciate. Oh, I suppose you could tell me that. And then every night, so every morning I would write 500 words, and every night I would send it to my dad and he would proofread it and send it back, and he would declare it to be very good indeed. And he would say, I’ll follow your career with interest, which is something like he says instead of saying, I love you, which makes me laugh so hard. And and then at the end, I got to dedicate that book to him. And I just said for my dad who dusted me off and sent me up the mountain again after I fell all the way down. And it’s just good to have those people who are like, Get out there soldier.

David:                    Wow we have the same parents. My parents are academics, too, except my parents don’t like my book, so.

Kate:                       I’d like to learn more about this, David.

David:                     So there are two kinds of wisdom the one you think you’re going to get as an academic by reading a lot of books. And then the one you get experientially by going through what you’ve gone through. Does it feel like two different kinds of wisdom, like my- as someone who grew up in an academic home and now teaches at university, I wouldn’t say a lot of my colleagues have the kind of wisdom that I would value more from life living. Yeah. So does it feel like you’ve acquired a different kind of wisdom?

Kate: I think I’ve had it modeled at really crucial times, especially over the last couple of years, because I work at a divinity school where everyone is sort of endlessly bleeding out emotionally for somebody else. Which is so nice, honestly, to be around, but I have this lovely friend, well, who’s a professor and also like a bishop just to make things fancy. And and he has been there for so many weddings. But as my friend, who’s a pastor likes to say, like anyone can do weddings, Shaq can do weddings, you know? Well, like who can be there, who can be there when it when every word matters? And he just has always been the one who volunteers to be there at four a.m. just with like putting a hand on my head to just bless me before I go into surgery or to to struggle through the feeling I think that that if this hope, all this work, emotional spiritual work is for no reason and wouldn’t we feel that isn’t this a kind of poison? He’s just wonderful at helping me have those kinds of problems, but he’s very bossy and nosy and just show like, I think he has his clerical collar, honestly in his little glove box. I mean, just like pops it in what he wants to violate visiting hours. I mean, just like heads in there. But when I was scared that I wouldn’t get to do any of the rest of it, I’ll never forget right before I went into surgery, he just like, waited at the edge right before the end, when I’m always the most scared, like right before they put the oxygen mask on and your brain is just kind of screaming and he just kind of he like, paused at the gurney for one second and everybody just like lets a man with a clerical collar do whatever he wants, frankly. And then he just said, you know, he like, blessed everybody. And then he was like, and God, please keep this one alive because her best work is yet to come. Hmm. And all of that is a big that’s a big heart hope. And I think. They’ve done a, they’ve done a good job at combining intellectual and spiritual wisdom, but I think only because it was tested more than me.

David:                      Yeah, I wanted to ask you about hope. Like, what have you learned about it?

Kate:                          Yeah, yeah. Are we for it? Is it a good idea?

David:                          I mean, Barack Obama did that, but it’s over for now, right? Yeah. But no, so you sustaining hope? Yeah. Keep hope alive.

Kate:                           Right? And what is it? I mean, it’s a it’s kind of a horrible word. And if I thought it would mean, I thought it should mean the same thing as some kind of, I don’t know, some kind of certainty, some kind of I guess I had somewhere along the way imagined faith as a kind of blessed assurance, you know, et cetera, et cetera. And and it wasn’t feeling like that at all. I was just feeling like endless lily pads and nothing would necessarily bear out my weight. And so it took me a long time to even want to be around it, because usually it felt painful. People who sort of hope at you like they’re making you bear the weight of all of their spiritual emotional expectations, or they are just so sure that you’re going to be fine because the idea that you aren’t feels intolerable to them somehow. And I think it was the heaven people, really, it was the heaven people that were getting to me. That’s going to be so great. You know, and I just, I felt like they were trying to balance out this equation and that like it was supposed to somehow make leaving a three year old feel OK. And it all felt like a lie. So at that point, I think I had, I’d settled into the idea that. That life was going to take more courage than I realized. But I didn’t have like a good place for hope if it didn’t feel like it wasn’t just another formula to make all of our spiritual math add up. But yeah, it turns out that as a Christian, I, because we’re stuck with it, I guess, like saddled with this horrible, wonderful story about love that will be wrapped into you. But usually I need people to hope for me and with me because certainty is it’s like, I think, no longer wise.

David:                     Hmm. Now what about the, I taught- I teach in a class now, and I taught a session this morning on empathy. Yeah, because those who can’t do teach and-

Kate:                        You have a very empathetic face. I want to tell you all my problems right now. I really do.

David:                       And I quoted you by coincidence. And we were talking about, what do you say to someone who’s either grieving or ill? Yeah. And you have a great quote, I think from Everything Happens for a Reason where you say you “want people who will give you compliments that don’t feel like eulogies and that will remind you there’s something fun to do today.” Yeah. And so in the experience you had of people coming and going and saying the right thing and the wrong thing, what are the right and wrong things to say?

Kate:                      Oh yeah, right? I mean, it’s a there’s and there’s a lot to choose from, David, now that I let my mind wander over these last few years, like, I guess there’s like fun, different categories like one is just the solutions people who have, of course, recently discovered essential oils and we are happy for them. We’re very happy for them. And then there’s a lot of teachers. Ones who are hoping that I’ll learn perspective or a lesson. I think I’ve become more lovingly homicidal toward the mindset people to be honest.

David:                   The mindset people?

Kate:                     Mindset is a whole thing. David, if you haven’t heard about it, if you have the right mindset, this won’t be happening to you. I don’t know what this is, but it won’t happen again. But the, you know, obsessive just be present. Make a gratitude list. A lot of chiding you on not having locked your mental framework into into like a life without desire somehow. Or your only desire is for today and I don’t I don’t think that’s I don’t think that’s possible. Yeah. So, yeah, I I have a lot of hopes for loving strangers. And most of it is that they will give either real presents, not just presence. You know what? I’m hoping for one.

David:                    You want cash.

Kate:                     I’d accept gift cards.

David:                  At the end you have an appendix which sounds medical now that I say it and there are some what things people say and the more complicated truth. And a lot of these were my favorites, but one is nothing is wasted. Yeah. And you say we lose every day, which is why we will never have enough endless love, friends, and carbs. Everyone is doing their best is what people say, the jury the jury is still out on that. That’s a beautiful summation.

Kate:                   Because if you ever say, you know, like people say all the time, you know, this was this was painful. This was unacceptable. This hurt too much it ever know, people are trying their best. Yeah, really, Betsy? Everyone, everyone is equally trying their best right now? That can’t be proven. Yeah. But I do love those. I love cliches. I just intellectually, I just love studying the history of cliches because it helps us figure out that there’s usually like a little gem there. And then the rest were just kind of given the cultural baggage that that we’re that we’re saddled with. Yeah.

David:                      Now, if I use my awesome power to make you president of a med school, what would you do to change the curriculum the way doctors related to you?

Kate:                       What a wonderful question. I love this question. I’m going to be very specific, because I’ve had the chance to interview a lot of doctors now on the Everything Happens podcast, and some of their training is, it’s it’s painful, and sitting in a way that no one gets between you and the door so you can get out and make them deliver the news in the way that you want it to be. Using overwhelming medical language or speaking, I find frequently in the language of probabilities instead of the language of meaning, and I do understand that legally that it is less desirable for them to venture any kinds of assurances, but I guess I’ve usually been on the receiving end of a conversation in which I’m trying to basically solve world problems like: Kate has a liver with 80 percent of it riddled with cancer. We can only cut out 55 percent less than 20 percent will kill Kate. And I’m just like this, this is too many. I can just always just hear the the endless transactionalism of it. So I um, I have loved doctors who say the hard thing and then just leave a moment because you can’t hear them anyway, especially if it’s awful. Um, I have loved doctors who let me have my have my fears without making me feel embarrassed. I mean, I do feel you feel ridiculous crying. But I have this one really ridiculous situation where I remember feeling kind of embarrassed that I was the same age as my doctors, but I was no longer my own age. I was sort of just like roughly a human form in the shape of our hospital gown. And these three doctors came in and I realized they were all the kind of junior like go getters. And they were all just talking and chatting and so into what they were doing. And I was just trying to say like, Hey, thanks so much for coming. So much puppet hands today, sorry. But like, hey thanks for coming. I actually have really sensitive skin, so if you wouldn’t mind. And then at one, that one just phoo. And I just saw just a layer of my skin that was now gone. And I looked up and I first I was up and I was just so mad. And apparently, when I’m mad, I’m very funny and I’m so happy because out of my mouth was like, number yourselves off in terms of importance. One two three go. And they just went like one two three. And it’s like number one. Obviously, you need to set a better precedent. Number three. Number three, you need to be paying attention to your patient instead of sucking up to number one and number two. I have no idea why you’re here. But number two came back the next day and had to remove something from my stomach that I didn’t understand was in there or could be removed in a regular hospital room. And I remember he walks in and he was really embarrassed and I was a little chippy and and I remember being like, Ms. Bowler, I’m here to remove this drain. And I was like, You’re going to, Oh no, this is just a regular room. You can’t do anything exciting in this room. This is a boring room like this room. And and I was like, I think I would feel a lot better if we just try this again. Long silence. Are you saying that I have to leave? And I was like, I’d really prefer if you just left and came back. So he left, he returned, there was a curtain, I remember he was like, Knock, knock. He came in, I was like, Why are your hands like this? He was like, I have to keep them sterile. I actually would really prefer if you pretend to be doing a magic trick. It’s basically like he shakes his head. I was like- so he laughed. He came back and he was like, He’s like, I’m here to perform a magic trick. I’ll be taking something out of your stomach. So he gave me the best description of pain I’ve ever heard. He was like, You’re going to feel a deep pinch. And then a hard pull. Great, I love perfect descriptions, so I close my eyes and I felt this deep pinch and I felt this hard pull. And then when I opened my eyes, there was my blood all over this white gown and it looked like he was holding like 22 feet of tube, like an absolutely implausible. And then he goes TaDa! And we’re friends to this day.

David:                     Wow, and you had it bronzed, I take it? Wow, I’m almost passing out up here.

Kate:                       So I want that guy, I just want that guy with all the phobia.

David:                     Now, in the Christian tradition, suffering is redemptive.

Kate:                       Yeah, I’m doing it.

David:                      I went through a bad time about eight years ago. Yeah. And somebody gave me a book by Henry Nouwen, and one of the sentences in the book was, you have to stay in the pain long enough to see what it has to teach you. And I was like, Screw that! Get out of pain. But it seems somewhat true. And and the stoic tradition, yeah, suffering is not redemptive. You let go.

Kate:                      Stoics, man. Can we even with the Stoics right now? Marcus Aurelius is going to help us all start a business, apparently. I just I get desire is painful. I get that like a deep acceptance is good. No. Wait, sorry, what was the question I was just mad about?

David:                      I was asking you to choose one or the other, but the Marcus Aurelius line.

Kate:                         I’m just very, very pissy about Stoics lately.

David:                        They don’t care.

Kate:                           It’s so funny. Yeah, it I guess. I mean, that is sort of the terrible, beautiful irony of like getting down to the marrow of things is who is it all matters more? It’s more beautiful. It’s more surreal. It’s funnier, it’s more painful. And none of that is. So I think that is frequently where the meaning is. It’s just who is, you know, who is the less of a parent to always just feels like something I want to hold really lightly. It’s like I keep learning things and I am grateful. But but none of it is a formula that would add up to anything that feels remotely fair.

David:                        Yeah. So I have an acquaintance, Dan McAdams, who teaches at Northwestern, and he teaches story. How do people narrate their life story? Yeah. And the first thing he pays his subjects a couple hundred bucks to tell him their life story. And they all cry at some point. And then at the end, they say, I can’t take your money. This is the best afternoon I’ve had in years because no one is asked about their life story. But one of the things he concluded from early research was that people tell redemption stories. I was living, something bad happened, I came back better. And he did lectures around the world saying, people tell redemption stories. And the audience said, Americans tell redemption stories. We don’t tell redemption, so we tell other stories. But that in some sense, your story is a redemption story. I mean, you’ve not come away empty handed, as they say.

Kate:                                    Right, right. I guess that always feels very- I’ve always found that to be like the the most awkward part of like the of this like translation process of trying to live in the richness of that of that beauty and meaning and truth. But then when it comes to the summary of it, it always, it always, it’s like, like a quarter turn away from something that’s true, it ends up like accidentally almost, that’s good, promising like a like a false peace or a false hope or like I feel it when I think about I was just I was thinking of writing about the history of bucket lists and the feeling of enoughness and how we instrumentalize everything and how we have become experiential capitalists. And I thought it was like a pretty good argument, et cetera, et cetera. But you know, but when its summarized it can’t just be Well within the course of every day, you can just hug a child. Hmm. Congratulations, enoughness. Right? I’ve never felt that. And I think part of trying to understand the nature of our hungers and the fact that our love makes us starving to death sometimes. And like so, so in trying to tell a story about trying to give up bucket lists, I don’t mean then to say that, like, there’s ever a version where we get to feel full if we just add the right things on that list. So I always feel like I’m accidentally half lying when I write, because all I’m trying to do is get out of the self-help section and that is like the dominant American genre.

David:                        You know, which are your academic career is about. Did God come and go?

Kate:                               Did God come and go? Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. The bright, beautiful presence of overwhelming love that I automatically understood was God and not me. That was wonderful. And then and then it went away. You know, and I and I, I I just I feel bits of it here and there. But I think that’s why I’m so interested in trying to figure out that that that step away from a crisis faith and to a chronic faith is like living here like this. That’s kind of what I want to learn to do.

David:                       Yeah, OK. The book is No Cure for Being Human and the author is Kate Bowler.

Kate:                          Well, that’s it. We solve the problem of pain. Congratulations, everyone, everywhere. It will no longer be difficult to be a human. No, but I did just want to say before we go, what a joy it has been to be back with you this season. It has been an incredible privilege to be able to be together as we figure out how to live here, like this. In a chronic pandemic, with chronic lives, with our chronic humanity. I also just wanted to say thank you for how much you’ve been a source of strength and support. Thanks to you, my book, No Cure for Being Human, was an instant New York Times bestseller, so I honestly can’t imagine a kinder and more loving community to be a part of. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Well, this is the last episode of this season. Do not worry, we will be back in February. And in the meantime, if you’re looking for additional resources, visit Kate If you want to get a weekly note from me, we also have free discussion questions for No Cure for Being Human available at, if you’re into book clubs or Sunday school classes or those kinds of things. And because all of you have been so enthusiastic about our blessings, we have some very exciting news. Along with the executive producer of this beloved podcast, her name is Jessica Richie and she absolutely hates it when I talk about her and I’m just going to do it right now and hope she doesn’t edit it out. But we wrote a book of devotions, 40ish short reflections and blessings that will offer us all a little space to be OK with being, well, this human. And so we called it Good Enough, which we thought was just very funny. Like, what would it be like if we had a good enough, good enough faith, a good enough approach to this? So Good Enough releases in February, and you can preorder a copy now. Go to to learn more and order your copy. That’s And as a tiny preview, and because we just love to bless the crap out of each other before we go here is a blessing from Good Enough. A blessing for you, dear one as you continue this joyfully mediocre journey. Here goes. Blessed, are you who realize there is simply not enough time, money, resources. Blessed are you, who are tired of pretending that raw effort is the secret to perfection. Blessed are you, who need a gentle reminder that even now, even today, God is here and somehow that is good enough.

Kate:                           All right, darlings. But I can’t sign off for the season without thanking the wonderful people who make this possible. They are all kind and smart and funny, which, as it turns out, is a requirement to being my friend. First to the Lilly Endowment, the Duke Endowment, Duke Divinity School and Leadership Education for their tireless support of our medium sized work. And thank you to Jessica Richie, who has written here that she hates, hates, hates, hates compliments, so please don’t do it. That’s so funny. Too bad Jess, I love you. You’re everything. Harriet Putman, who ensures that I am never late and who extends kindness and compassion and ministry at every level of this work. Gwen Hegginbotham for making all things beautiful. A.J. Walton, who shares not only his joy but enthusiasm for all things reality TV. Katie Mangum, who created her own little factory of theological hospitality. We will miss you. JJ Dickinson, our newly ordained teammate who never hesitates to jump in anywhere we need her. Keith Weston, who makes every episode sound gorgeous. Dave Odom and Kathrine Smith for your wisdom and friendship and endless problem-solving. Dan Wells, Chris Howell and Karen and Jerry Bowler who make me smarter. Jeb and Sammi, who never balk at a new idea. Mary Jo Clancy, Carl Weisner and Dana Auten, who solve all our problems and then some. And Edgardo Colon-Emeric, my Dean who always knows what day it is, and apparently it’s always a saint’s birthday. And to you all. Love you. Talk to you again soon. This has been Everything Happens and I’m Kate Bowler again today. Until next season, and at that point, maybe I’ll transformer style change into someone new. See you then.


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