Divine Nobodies: Great Title, Greater Paradox

As I mentioned in my last entry, I picked up a copy of Jim Palmer’s Divine Nobodies and began reading it this weekend. I finished the book yesterday while at my aunt’s home for the extended family Thanksgiving. Let me just say right up front that it is a great book, and I highly recommend it.

The title of the book is the perfect label for the series of chapters about “ordinary” people that Jim has met throughout his life and learned important lessons from in regards to his faith. Indeed, he relays each of these experiences to underscore his own growing belief that God most often brings spiritual growth and understanding not through “big name preachers” (or even preachers at all), but average Joes that we meet all through our lives. In effect, these people — often seen as “nobodies” in the greater religious movements of Christendom — truly offer a direct experience of and encounter with the Divine.

What I personally find interesting in addition to the individual stories (which are all touching and moving), there seems to be a handful of underlying themes that run through many of the chapters. One such example is the fact that Jim constantly finds his tendency to try and “do enough” and “be good enough” to justify his existence and God’s love for him challenged. (This is a theme I can particularly identify with, as that’s a tendency I’ve also struggled with at times.) Many of his experiences he describes offers another chance to revisit this particular struggle in his life and experience further healing from it.

Another common theme in many of the chapters is Jim faced with his own prejudiced opinions about others and the problems they cause. Whether it’s his opinions of Catholicism and closely related denominations being challenged by Father Jeff, his opinions of liberals being blown apart while he peruses the bookshelves at the home of his daughter’s swim instructor, or his understanding of hip hop being shattered by Doug, the author finds himself having to rethink his hard-line assumptions when faced with real people who should fit those stereotypes, but don’t. Indeed, these many experiences strongly show Jim’s own discovery of a more relational approach to faith and those around him.

In many ways, I saw much of my own perspective in Jim’s outlook on life and the world in general, and even found much theological common ground in the rare instances where he delved (however lightly) into theology. Of course, reading his thoughts gives me a few suspicions about the kind of reception his ideas might find in the greater Christian (particularly evangelical and fundamentalist) community. Indeed, I find myself wondering if a witch writing a glowing review of his book might merely give his biggest critics more “ammo.” But I’m hoping Jim would appreciate my words anyway.

Overall, Divine Nobodies was well worth my time. In fact, I hope to follow up by obtaining and reading a copy of Wide Open Spaces in the near future.

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