11/01/2015

Being Jesus in Nashville (by Jim Palmer)

I very much enjoyed the two previous books I read by US writer Jim Palmer. In common with many current Christian writers I enjoy, his main topic has been about moving through and beyond the mire of religion and culture to find the truth of Jesus. In ‘Divine Nobodies’ he writes about a variety of different individuals who challenged and helped him in many ways. In ‘Wide Open Spaces’, he continues to tell stories, including plenty of personal anecdotes. He returns regularly to Scripture as he explains how he gradually succeeds in working through his hangups and false expectations, relinquishing some of the pain of a seriously neglectful childhood.

So I was delighted to be given Jim Palmer’s third book ‘Being Jesus in Nashville’, recently, after having it on my wishlist for a while. I noticed, before I started reading, that it had been rejected for publication by a well-known Christian publisher. I didn’t worry about that. Perhaps, I thought, his views became just a little too radical for the evangelical market.

The first few chapters recount some of Palmer’s background and also give hints about what happened to him during the year when he was writing the book. He describes an incident where he is trapped in an overturned car, convinced he cannot possibly escape alive. He talks about his great relationship with his daughter. And he also explains the idea behind the book, which was inspired by re-reading the classic Christian novel ‘In his steps’, from which the popular ‘What would Jesus do?’ slogan originated.

Palmer decides to write an up-to-date account of what it means to be like Jesus in Nashville in the 21st century. And as he ponders this, there’s the first hint of something that made me a bit uncomfortable: he ‘discovers’ that he’s not actually so different from Jesus. He makes the point that Jesus as a man was fully human - as we all are - and also fully divine; yet, in a human body was obviously not transcendent, nor did he know everything. He also points out that there’s more than one reference in Scripture to Christ living in us, and to his being our ‘brother’. All fine, and I couldn’t quite pin down my discomfort; perhaps it was the way it was written.

In any case, Palmer decides to live his life as if he were Jesus for a year. He then ponders what that means since he’s not living in 1st century Palestine and circumstances are very different. He tells his story in a self-deprecating and very readable way, as he tries some things which don’t work - and finds surprising hints of what it means to ‘be Jesus’ in other encounters.

I found the book quite compelling and inspiring, despite one or two reservations. I think the author has gone further than I’m comfortable with in casting off his religious shackles and renouncing anything to do with the church. He writes of ‘letting go’ of Jesus, but does so in the context of a child ‘letting go’ of her father while learning to ride a bike. And he makes the important point that God made us as unique individuals, with our own strengths and weaknesses, and that our call is to ‘be Jesus’ in whatever situation we’re in.

Much to ponder, and a book I shall probably return to in future. Definitely recommended, both to Christians and those who are fed up with the church - but that doesn’t mean I agree with every word.


Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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