This book starts off with two, that’s right 2 introductions. So right away you know you’re dealing with someone who’s a bit strange. This, for me, is a good thing. I like strange. With the first page I’m chuckling to myself.
Jim Palmer uses this section to share some personal information about himself. He’s “too self-conscious,” “a sucker for feel-good, tearjerker movies,” “obsessive-compulsive,” and his wife is his best friend. I’m telling ya, I could have written much of his first introduction.
In the second introduction (dubbed the “Real Introduction) he starts getting into the HUGE difference between religion, and loving Jesus. I completely identified with his statement, “Thankfully, on this journey God has provided the necessary epiphanies to save me from complete self-destruction and has opened my eyes to deeper realities.” Of course, this “eye-opening” did not come “through theological and philosophical flashes of brilliance,” but through real life, and real “everyday run-of-the-mill people.”
The first of these everyday people we are introduced to is Kit, the drummer. This first chapter is about knowing God. “Kit had this silly notion that God just talks to people.” “Didn’t Kit know the Bible made all that unnecessary? God has already spoken…there is nothing left to say.”
This chapter asks, “How would you answer the question, ‘Who is God?’ if you could not use any information you’ve learned from the Bible? Describe for me who you have experienced God to be through your personal interaction with him.”
Chapter two exposes how our judgments of others can keep us from looking at their hearts, as God does. Those same judgments keep us from seeing the truth of ourselves, and often, from hearing what God would say to us. “I just never thought Eminem would be the one helping me grow closer to God.”
Next, in the third chapter we get to meet John, Judy, Michael, Candi and Wanda. Wanda is a waitress. She tells our author “about how over the years Christians were often her worst customers.” After one particularly tough group, she was left with only an evangelical tract as her tip.
My daughter-in-law used to wait tables. She confirms the above statements. I’ve heard it over and over in the service industry, that Christians are usually the most demanding, most rude, most unappreciative customers, as well as being the worst tippers. They march in after “church” with their prayers and piety, and leave devastation in their wake. When my wife and I were part of the IC, we would often avoid the after-church group dinners out, specifically so we could avoid being associated with the rudeness we knew would be a part of the gathering.
Alright, back to the book.
“Chasing the phantom Christian” is the basis for the fourth chapter. It’s about this false ideal of having to be or do something for God. “I worked hard to stay on my game (daily quiet times, attending church, leading groups, and teaching classes) as I envisioned God in heaven perpetually asking, ‘What have you done for me lately?'”
At this point, I had been glancing through the index, and noticed a chapter about Mr. Palmer’s gay friend Richard. Being a subject of personal interest, I jumped ahead to read that chapter (8) before going back to chapter 5. I must say, reading this chapter was a bit disappointing. When I reviewed “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them“ by Al Franken, I gave it very high marks. It’s a great book. Nevertheless, there were a couple of chapters, one in particular, I found I should warn readers about. I said, IMHO, that those chapters would be better off skipped.
That is a little how I felt about chapter eight of this book. I’m sure it accurately reflects the experience of the author and his friend, but it leaves, I fear, an impression that gay men are all self-loathing, which can only be overcome by trying to not be gay. He doesn’t actually say that, but the way he speaks of freedom seems to me to mean “free from being homosexual.” I submit that many, if not most, LGBT people are not self-loathing. Many have reconciled their faith with their sexuality (For some great testimonies of this, watch: “Through My Eyes“).
Yes, some LGBT persons have had some self-hatred, but most of that is, I believe, not due to their sexuality but rather to the societal and theological brainwashing that tells such people they are not acceptable. Those we feel this the most are usually from fundamentalist backgrounds. Maybe I’ve misunderstood Jim in this portion. Maybe he realizes that wholeness for his friend can come from being “OK” with his sexuality. I hope that’s the case. It appears this particular individual has tried every approach with no success.
Certainly, as this chapter does point out, we ALL need healing. Besides, I have to take heed to my own teaching about agreeing to disagree.
Now back to chapter Five.
If the writing in the first few paragraphs would have been “choppier,” and had only one to five words per line, I could have easily been convinced I was reading something written by Rob Bell. (From me, that’s a huge compliment.) There’s talk of other dimensions, quintessential metaphysical beings, The Matrix, and cookie-eating mice. Palmer asks, “What percentage of knowledge about all reality…do you figure you possess?” “Have you ever wondered what exists in that other percentage we don’t know?” As Jim says, religion removes the mystery from life. This chapter talks about what W.P. Young calls “The Beauty of Ambiguity (Mystery).” About celebrating mystery, rather than trying to eradicate it.
Chapter Six is pretty short, but so very important. It’s about depression. Of course, “true Christians” don’t suffer from depression. Yeah, right.
It needs to be read by all those people who feel they always have to have an answer for everybody’s problems, rather than simply learning to weep with those who weep. When someone’s hurting, the LAST thing they need is to hear trite phrases or Christianeese slogans.
In the following chapter, “Don’t Mess with the EAMC,” we meet a couple who run a small auto mechanics shop: Mr. and Mrs. Adams. This story is one of the best at pointing out the vast difference between institutionalized religion, and the every-day real life that following Christ should be like. For many, if not most, committed church involvement is simply “an adventure in missing the point.” “It was like doing church was my relationship with God.” The way the Adams live and run their auto shop is Christianity and it is church. “I’m not convinced there’s any value added by a large group of believers gathering in one place at one time compared to the benefit of maintaining a few close relationships.”
Chapter eight was covered earlier. On to chapter nine.
It’s titled, “Daughters,” and is about parenthood. Jim learned a lot about himself and God through his interaction with his little girl. It’s about the faith of a child. It’s about being child-like, which we sometimes confuse with childish. His statement “There are parts of me that somehow were stunted by the hurts of life back there as a little boy” certainly had the deepest ring of truth. I fully believe the vast majority of immaturity in adults is due to being emotionally stunted in their youth.
Chapter 10 is about reconciling our view of God with the hurt and loss we suffer. For me, this chapter was reminiscent of “The Shack.” The question posed here is “How can suffering and healing, brokenness and wholeness, despair and hope coexist?” When something bad happens to us, we often ask “How could a loving God allow this to happen to me?” If we’re going to ask this kind of question, then we need to ask it every hour of every day. Bad things are always happening to someone, but we don’t usually question it until it affects us. In this chapter we’re reminded of a hard, hard truth. It’s one that is often avoided or denied in many religious circles: “I am vulnerable to loss and suffering, and knowing God doesn’t change that.”
Next up: A chapter on politics. It shows how labeling people is not the best way to go. “I found my stereotypes didn’t accurately describe the ordinary people I knew.” And a quote I really like, “Talk radio is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”
Also read, “The Myth Of A Christian Nation.”
Chapter twelve was a very sad, hard chapter to read. I’m sure it was hard to write. Our author goes undercover in South Asia with the International Justice Mission to investigate and “rescue victims of horrific human rights crimes, usually involving children.” At one point, he has to keep it together while a group of ten- to fifteen-year-old girls are paraded before him for his selection. “The littlest girls didn’t come out. You had to specifically ask for them and show you had that kind of cash.”
“Where was God today? Where did he go?”
Religion is the topic of chapter 13. Our author, a raised-Catholic-turned-career-protestant-turned-institutional-absentee, ends up giving a teaching in a Catholic church and becoming friends with a priest. He learns that “Since no church has a final and unambiguous grasp of divine truth, the true church of Jesus Christ can never be fully represented by any single one.” “Maybe we are all a little right and a little wrong and can get closer to the truth only by coming together.”
In “Left Behind,” Jim not only deals with his own scars, but comes to see that we are all scared individuals. “For the first time in my life, I was seeing these people who wounded me as wounded people themselves.” “No longer afraid of them, I feel sadness for them.”
The last actual chapter, 15, starts out with “Despite all the denominational distinctions I’ve come across along the way, for the life of me, I cannot find any other litmus test Jesus insisted upon to authenticate his followers except love.” Here we meet Rick, the tire salesman. “Rick has no Bible degree…does not attend any local ‘church,’…likes a good cigar, has a beer every now and then,” and his “greatest passion in life is knowing God.” We cut to the chase and see in this chapter the importance of just living life. Living life in love. In love of God, and in love of others.
We started out with two introductions. Fittingly, we end with two epilogues. Well, [OK, then there’s the acknowledgments and “About The Author.]
“Divine Nobodies” has shades of Donald Miller, shades of Rob Bell, but is nonetheless clearly distinctive. It is another sign post on the road I’ve been traveling, pointing me to greater freedom, truth, and love.
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“My suspicion was born that a fair number of people in professional ministry are psychotic and unstable.”
“I tend to distrust people who claim to speak for God unless I know they have waited tables when shorthanded or operated a cash register during an early-bird special.
“These past few years I’ve been stumbling into questions that seem to be leading somewhere important.”
“God opened my eyes, not through theological and philosophical flashes of brilliance, but through the unlikeliest people–people I, well, just kind of ran into along the way.”
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“Every good evangelical knows that for all practical purposes, the Bible is God, and you don’t rely on something as subjective as personal experience.”
“One day I realized my Christianity was essentially a glorified behavior-modification program safely rationalized beneath a waving WWJD banner.”
“Turns out in the end, the main thing God asks of us on the road to wholeness is truth.”
“After a long week on my feet at the cafeteria, I realized how overrated sex is compared to the ecstasy of a foot massage.”
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“One of my spiritual gifts is teaching, but I don’t need to stand on a stage before a crowd to use it.”
[I believe that applies to all gifts of the Spirit. I’ve been questioned about how gifts function if you don’t attend an institution. I believe the error was to associate them with that context to begin with.]
“The whole drill seemed to be to strive hard to fulfill God’s expectations and play your 1 John 1:9 card when you failed, earning you the right to start over and try harder.”
“Our church boycotted Disney, signed petitions against gay teachers in public schools, and judged those heretical denominations that sealed their fate with God by accepting gays. In my world there was no such thing as a “gay Christian.”
“My religion provided way too small a wineskin to contain all that Jesus want to give.”
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“Many of the premises of institutional Christianity…are suspect, given this one cold, hard fact: Christ indiscriminately, fully, and equally establishes his very presence and life within every believer.”
“God’s parting of the Red Sea seems like a big deal until you experience the miracle of your child sleeping through the night alone in his or her room.”
“Maybe ‘us’ and ‘them’ is an illusionary tactic of the real enemy, and there is really no ‘them’ but just one ‘us.'”
“Rather than a relationship, my Christianity morphed into some sort of divine self-help philosophy, problem-solving plan, and life-improvement strategy.”
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