Friday, March 7, 2008

Divine Nobodies

Last night I finished reading Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer.  If you've read my book reviews before you might think I give every book I read a positive review. Actually, I do like about 80 or 90 percent of what I read.  But, that's because I'm usually pretty selective before I pick a book up.  If I'm going to dedicate a few weeks to reading a book, I'll usually read a lot of reviews and/or excerpts before get it.  I also don't usually bother to review the few books I read that I end up not liking.  But, back to Divine Nobodies.  This is a fantastic book.  I am glad I read it and can't wait  to read Jim's next book.  In fact I started it last night! Divine Nobodies is one of those books I would have just not understood a few years ago.  It's not a book on theology.  There's no "plot".  I guess I'd say it's a collection of essays more than it is a book.  I've read a couple of books in this format.  "The Bastard on the Couch "(which I hated and didn't even finish) and "How Strong Women Pray" are the two that come to mind.  Generally, I'm not a big fan of the format.  But, Jim makes it work to perfection in Divine Nobodies.

The main point, to me anyway, of Divine Nobodies is we don't have to look far to encounter G-d or the Kingdom of G-d.  Jesus said the Kingdom is all around us (and within us if you read the Gospel of Thomas) if we only have eyes to see (I know.  This is a big paraphrase.  But, I believe He did say that).  As I read the book I was reminded of the Sanskrit greeting namaste which literally means "I bow to you" or, as it's more commonly translated, "I recognize the divine in you".  To many Christians, this is sacrilegious.  But, I find it a very useful phrase. I try to remember to secretly say it when I encounter people.  I don't know how Jim feels about the word namaste.  But, when I first heard it, I loved it.  Jim, IMO, has learned to see the divine all around him and in the "ordinary nobodies" he encounters in his daily life.  A couple of times while I was reading the essays I found myself thinking "I wish I could meet Doug" or "I wish I could be more like Kit".  Then, I realized to wish those things was to miss the entire point of the book. We each meet our Divine Nobodies every day.  We can learn something from every person we encounter.  We can learn something from every situation we are in.  We can see G-d in every day and in every moment, if we take the time to develop the ability to see.

Another lesson Jim seems to learn during the course of the story is that G-d doesn't need Jim to perform big things for Him.  Being raised the grandson of a preacher, I always felt like I was slighting G-d a little by not using my talents in the "ministry". I also was petrified of G-d because of Jesus' words about rejecting those who didn't feed the hungry, visit the sick in jail and clothe the naked.  I struggled with whether or not I was doing enough to earn G-d's favor.  Jim was on that treadmill too.  The book talks about how he learned to get off it.  For me, it took a near mental breakdown around the age of 40.  I just couldn't do it anymore.  I finally just gave up.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Jim's Divine Nobodies include a Waffle House waitress, a mechanic, a tire salesman, a hip-hop fan and others. It's not what they do for a living that makes them special, it's how they make themselves available for G-d to manifest Herself through them. In the book, we not only get to meet some of the amazing people who are a part of and who have passed through Jim's life.  We get to take a little walk on part of Jim's journey.  He is very transparent about his abusive childhood, his fall from being a married successful pastor to a divorced lay person and his struggles with depression.  I especially loved what he wrote about how he has embraced his depression and how he finds G-d even there. 

Jim's book also brought to mind the phrase that I love so much from the United Church of Christ.  "God is still speaking..."  One of the things that attracted me to the UCC was this phrase.  Any church who recognizes that G-d didn't shut up when Paul died has at least got one thing right, IMO.  Without taking anything away from the inspiration of the Bible, I believe that G-d is still writing scripture through inspired people today.  Some of it gets written down, some of it doesn't.  G-d is still telling a story, still revealing Herself to us.  How are the divine encounters that Jim captured so different from any story in the Bible?  Just as we can learn universal and eternal truths from reading the Bible stories, if we open our eyes, we can also learn those truths through things G-d is accomplishing today, in our own society, in our own time.  We don't have to look back 2,000 years to see what G-d is like or what G-d wants for us.

If you're still struggling to hear from G-d.  If you're still caught up in trying to find the big things that G-d wants you to do for Him, then I recommend Divine Nobodies.  It's an easy, fun read.  Jim has a quirky sense of humor that will keep you engaged.  Maybe after reading it, you'll be better equipped to find those Divine Nobodies G-d sends to you every day.


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