By Andrew Greenhalgh
Author Jim Palmer‘s life has been anything but boring. The product of a seriously dysfunctional childhood, he overcame those challenges, finding Christ and getting into ministry through high school. That path led him higher and higher up the proverbial ladder until he found himself the pastor of a mega church and in demand as a speaker and spiritual advisor. Yet, that all came tumbling down with the acknowledgment that his wife was having an affair. Palmer found himself grieving his marriage, losing his ministry, and returning to the world that was not so unfamiliar to him. In Divine Nobodies, Palmer details that path of return and showcases how the grace of God came to him from some most unexpected places.
Palmer’s return to life outside the ministry bubble leads him to a plethora of people and experiences. The first turn he takes is into the arms of a modern monastery of sorts, run by a jazz drummer whom the author refers to as Saint Kit. Through the lesson of Kit, Palmer experiences a renewed look at the presence of God as he views this unique man of God interacting with others and the Savior in the same breath.
As he writes, “I was a born-again, inerrancy-defending, seeker-targeted pastor, steamrolled by life, trying to figure out, ‘What now?'” Through Kit’s example, Palmer learns to not only pursue the knowledge of God, but to hunger for a legitimate relationship with Him that moves beyond the “quiet time” into a moment-by-moment experience.
Another such paradigm shift for Palmer comes through his friend Doug, a hip-hop fan. While a simple revelation that his friend is a fan of the genre, it leads him to see the world from an entirely new perspective. It’s here that he learns to see what a farce our life in the Christian bubble has become.
We huddle tight among our church communities, shunning this and that by our lists of do’s and don’t’s, and miss the honest truth being shared by others. He shares, “Somehow, somewhere along the way, my Christianity had become a hamster’s squeaky wheel of do’s and don’t’s (which I commonly referred to as discipleship) that were wearing me out but not getting me anywhere. I was addicted to religion in a vain attempt to get God to like me, bless me, or at least spare me from hell when it was all over.”
Pretty profound truths from a simple experience.
Palmer’s journey takes him many places, from the hallowed walls of retail employment (something this author can fully appreciate) to the greasy spoons of a Waffle House restaurant. A touch of poignant enlightenment even came in a random browsing of the library shelves as he stumbled upon a picturesque book about Ireland. In flipping through the pages, he finds himself struck by the picture of a lovely young girl dressed to the nines in a wheelchair as her father lovingly reads a book to her. It turns out the young girl suffers from cerebral palsy and is aptly named Grace.
As Palmer reflects on the picture and the Father’s love, he remarks, “Would God still love me if I couldn’t do anything for him? What if I were useless and couldn’t do even the basic things I had learned a good Christian does? What if I couldn’t impact others in any significant way, lead someone to Christ, serve a person in need, teach others Scripture, be a leader?…What if?” The answer to that question offers freedom to all of us.
The book continues on and examines concepts of institutionalism (“Don’t Mess with the EAMC: Mr. Adams, ASE Certified”) as well as the inevitable lessons that stem from parenthood (“Daughters: Jessica, an American Girl”). The grace of God through unimaginable loss is shown while suffering is highlighted in the chapter entitled “Sex, Lies, and Paratroop Development” where the author reflects that, “Maybe ‘carrying Jesus’ cross’ is our free choice to become compassionately involved with him in the pain of others and be partners with God in bringing healing and transformation.” The journey also includes looks at politics, religion, and emotional healing, each offering a unique life-lesson.
In addition to those topics, Palmer also tackles two fairly heavy issues, those of depression and homosexuality. A sufferer of depression, Palmer shares his own experiences of days both good and bad, ultimately finding his outlook changed by a picture of his long-lost dog, Laddie. He shares, “Perhaps, my feelings and five senses are not always a reliable guide to the facts of God. God can be intimately present even if it feels like he’s nowhere to be found.” Similarly, he finds an imminent grace in the story of his friend, Richard. Richard has struggled with homosexual urges his whole life, all the while trying to honor God with his life. God does not remove the struggle for Richard. Yet Richard finds grace in the acceptance of Christ’s love, and Palmer himself shares, “Learning to live in dependency on the life of Christ within is a lifelong process, and God does not withhold relationship as a consequence for not yet fully being there.” And aren’t we glad of that!
Jim Palmer’s Divine Nobodies is alternately a riveting memoir and compelling spiritual look at life. In examining the mundane, the author finds some compelling truths hiding in unexpected places. It’s an easy read, reminiscent of work by Donald Miller and others of that ilk, and it’s one this reviewer can highly recommend.
If you liked this article, check out: Book Review: Divine Intention
When he’s not busy juggling his two crazy children, romancing his wife, or slaving at his day job, Andrew Greenhalgh serves as the faithful content editor for Soul-Audio.com as well as aspiring freelance writer.