Book Review: Divine Nobodies (May-Jun 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Kaye Pepin
May – June, 2007

Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (and the unlikely people who help you)
By Jim Palmer
W Publishing Group (a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 2006
ISBN: 0-8499-1398-5

The eyes of God see the divine nobodies, says Jim Palmer in a provocative new book, Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (and the unlikely people who help you).

In this work, he shares his meandering faith journey, writing with humor and occasional self-deprecation. More importantly, he chronicles the path that led him to the heart of God. Instrumental in the process were the people he met along the way. This is a touching tribute to those God used to bind up a wounded soul, and Palmer’s tale is woven much like the Tapestry Maker himself intertwines the threads of human relationships. Some things never change; Jesus is still using jars of clay to reveal the Father’s glory.

Our eyes frequently fail to see the “nobodies,” but Jesus did see the marginalized. In the heat of the afternoon, a sin-worn woman bent over a well, drawing water. Sitting beside a healing pool, a paralytic man struggled to become whole. Fishermen from a backwoods town sailed home discouraged, with exhausted bodies and empty nets. Did anyone notice? Jesus did.

But the age-old problem of narcissism often leaves us ignoring both those we think are “nobodies” and Jesus himself. Our culture seems more preoccupied with self-discovery than self-sacrifice and to be truthful, it exhausts me (maybe it’s because I’ve tried it already and found it wanting). As I glanced at the subtitle, Shedding Religion to Find God, I hoped this book wasn’t just another essay on an exclusive Jesus and me relationship.

Not only was my trepidation unfounded, but Divine Nobodies was truly a pleasure to read. Palmer is a wordsmith. His voice is unique. The book is well constructed and his use of imagery is nearly flawless. His writing is both thought-provoking and inspiring.

In his pseudo-introduction (his words, not mine), Jim Palmer gives us a personal vignette. I found myself drawn to him through the quirky things he reveals. I love that he’s afraid of roller coasters and not afraid to admit it. His honesty concerning his struggle with depression is refreshing. The fact that he’s a cat owner and secretly likes the creature, well, I won’t hold that against him.

Between the two introductions and the two epilogues are descriptions of fifteen encounters. Palmer takes us through a maze of everyday living with very ordinary people to demonstrate epiphanies and life lessons that God has taught him over the years. He talks about his rise to and fall from religious stardom, the emptiness and insecurity that comes from a painful divorce, and the scars left behind after a horrific childhood. He doesn’t have all life’s answers nor does he gloss over his own weaknesses. With truthfulness and a strong dose of courage, he ventures into turbulent waters. Through a series of seemingly insignificant jobs and in the midst of broken or invisible people, he comes to wonder if God had not been “trying to free [him] from the burden of doing something spectacular for him.”

Eventually, Palmer discovers that God isn’t trying to create a phenomenon. He’s interested in cultivating relationships that glorify him.

In one chapter we meet Wanda the Waffle House waitress. There’s also Rick the tire salesman and Ron, the owner of Adams Auto Service. Palmer gives glimpses into the lives of these amiable, unassuming people, touching hearts as Jesus did. He speaks in the language of story, preaching a message more powerful than many sermons I have heard from the pulpit. Through relationships with the “nobodies” described in his book, by quietly observing love demonstrated in unexpected ways, and from experiencing divine power firsthand in the completely unconventional, Palmer grows in his understanding of the nature of God.

Not all the characters in Divine Nobodies are human. Laddie the dog plays a significant role in the emotional survival of the young boy Palmer used to be and in the healing of the man that boy would become. It is his story to tell, not mine, but I will quote him to spotlight the lifeline that this neglected collie offered a lonely desperate child: “All I know is that neither of us was quite right from all we had endured, but we both seemed to accept this about each other, and somehow that mattered.”

Richard’s story is difficult to read. It deals with sin and failure and despair. Richard is a gay man, desperately fighting for his soul. He tried to be gay with Jesus, but that didn’t really work. He then ran from his faith and from God, but found only emptiness in a lifestyle that couldn’t deliver what it promised. Eventually he struggled to be with Jesus and not gay. He found himself repeatedly plunging into destructive behavior and tormented by self-loathing. His story is not yet finished, and there is such a need for loving ministry toward people like Richard. Palmer picks at his own personal scabs of prejudice and learns to see Richard’s sin as something akin to his own.

He seems to find a way to reach out to those who long to love God perfectly, yet fail so miserably. He writes:

For Richard, it was an insatiable desire for men; for me, it was an insatiable desire to achieve something spectacular in ministry, but both flow from the same flawed place of seeking to meet a need our own way that only God himself can fill.

Learning to live in dependency on the life of Christ within is a lifelong process, and God does not withhold relationship as a consequence of not yet fully being there. Heck, relationship with God is our only hope for change.

Jim Palmer tells us that he has chucked “institutional church” in disillusionment. Maybe he has. But he certainly hasn’t chucked church. He’s simply found that Christ’s body looks a little different than he had previously thought.New Wineskins

Kaye PepinKaye Pepin is a graduate of Harding University, living and working in Cookeville Tennessee. She’s married to an army officer and has homeschooled their three boys for the past 11 years. She writes an occasional column for the Cookeville Herald-Citizen newspaper. She teaches Bible classes, tutors foster children, and is active in various community programs. You can read her blog at [http://kayestearoom.blogspot.com/] or email her at [katya13@aol.com].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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