Being Jesus in Nashville: Finding the Courage to Live Your Life (Whoever and Wherever You Are) is an amazing book with an amazing backstory.
The author, Jim Palmer, was a popular writer who had written two best-sellers in the evangelical Christian world: Divine Nobodies: Shedding Religion to Find God (and the unlikely people who help you) and Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity.
While working on his third book, under contract to a major Christian publisher, Palmer began doing what a lot of us in the Emergent Christian movement have done: he started asking questions – questions that made his Christian publisher so uncomfortable they cancelled his contract, stating that his manuscript did not “lie within the bounds of biblical, orthodox Christianity.”
Palmer writes, “With outstanding medical payments still to pay from my near-death car accident, it was financially devastating not to receive the payment that was forthcoming based on my contract. My publisher decided this wasn’t enough and also demanded that I pay back the advance they had issued long ago when I first signed the contract.”
So after being forced into bankruptcy, Palmer decided to self-publish the book, and I for one am grateful he did.
The book is largely a collection of stories about people Palmer has met, conversations they have had, questions he has wrestled with. The focus of Jim’s questions is what it means to be Jesus in the real world: in his case, on the streets and in the coffeehouses of Nashville. Not to be LIKE Jesus, but to actually BE Jesus – to take the incarnation of Christ seriously. This is not a new idea to Christian mystics or early church fathers like Iranaeus, who wrote, “The Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through his transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.” But apparently this is a dangerous idea to evangelical Christian publishers.
Jim’s voyage of discovery led him to new realizations about what it means to “be Jesus,” and he devotes a chapter to each of these insights. Being Jesus means … Parting with religious tradition when necessary; Seeing people as they truly are; Letting it happen, not making it happen; Being at peace, whatever happens; Putting no limitations on God; Living without separation from God; Following your own path; Realizing there is no problem; Living as everyone’s neighbor; Accepting help from others; Feeling it all deeply; Being a true friend; … and in a chapter that would do Pete Rollins proud, “Being Jesus Means … Letting Go of Jesus.”
Usually when I read a book I know I’ll be blogging about, I’ll take the time to highlight note-worthy passages so I can refer to them in my review. That didn’t happen with this book, because I got swept up in the stories Palmer was telling, overwhelmed by the compassion he shows for the people in his life who are asking questions the institutionalized church will not – or cannot – answer.