09/05/2009

Divine Nobodies (by Jim Palmer)

A few weeks ago, I had not heard of Jim Palmer. Now I know a fair bit about him. He is an American who had a damaged childhood, found God in his teens, and then tried to earn favour with God by training at seminary. He went on to pastor a mega-church, and then a more emergent seeker-sensitive group. Then he realised, as he says in his conclusion, that '..changing worship styles, outreach strategies and sermon topics was sort of like deciding you would like your egg poached, scrambled ... or raw - it's still an egg.'

'Divine Nobodies' has as its subtitle 'Shedding religion to find God'. It's a popular theme amongst many Christian circles these days. Not just shedding the trappings of 'traditional' Christianity, but those of any Sunday meeting based group that tries to control or organise its members. And not necessarily throwing them out completely, but seeing that God is a great deal bigger than what are popularly known as 'churches'.

This book isn't another how-to guide, however. Nor is it a rant against church leaders. It doesn't tell us that everything about traditional or institutional church life is wrong and that we should all be in house churches. Instead, by taking a mixed selection of ordinary people, Palmer finds metaphors for reality, delves into questions that would never be asked in many Christian groups, and finds the real Jesus in the midst of apparently unlikely situations.

Each chapter introduces us to a new person he has come across who have helped him in his walk with God. Amongst them are a hip-hop artist, a gay friend, a waitress, a left-wing swimming teacher, his young daughter, and even a dog. In the two introductions at the beginning, he gives an outline of his childhood, written with honesty but without self-pity. It's for information, not sympathy, so as to make sense of the rest of the book.

The writing is very good. It drew me right in, gave me a clear picture of each new person, and showed how he learned something new - sometimes to help him come to terms better with his past, and sometimes to show him beyond the trappings of church services to Jesus who loves him, and is with him in all he does.

I found the book sometimes amusing, sometimes moving, and often thought-provoking. I read a couple of chapters per day for a week or so, and wish it could have been longer. I will certainly be looking out for other books by Jim Palmer in future.

Anyone who is part of a church congregation would probably find much to think about; anyone who is not, but has any interest in God at all would probably find it even more interesting. Highly recommended.

Similar themed books I've read in the past couple of years are 'So you don't want to go to Church any more?', 'Liquid Church', 'Blue like jazz', 'They like Jesus but not the Church', 'Church that works' and (with some reservations) 'Pagan Christianity'.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 9th May 2009

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