Note From Bill Dahl: There are few…VERY…few…authors today that I enjoy more than Jim Palmer. Honestly, Jim is in my top 5. Based upon the upcoming release of his new book, Being Jesus in Nashville, Jim agreed to the following interview.
1. In 2006, I wrote the following in my book, The Porpoise Diving Life: There are millions of people, a species if you will, who are terribly confused, wounded, angry and fearful about life and God. No matter how deeply these folks feel about their faith in God, their lives don’t seem to match up with all the promises that are being sold in the name of Christ in this world. Deep within every human being is a voice that whispers within each of us (some more frequently and intensely than others)…”What have I done wrong? I never expected this to happen? Life is not turning out as I had hoped or had been led to believe. What did I do to deserve this? Where’s God? Am I some sort of exception?
How does the above have any application to your life and your new book, Being Jesus in Nashville?
We all have these moments of inspired clarity when we see the goodness, beauty, and power of who we are and can be, and the life we desire to live. And then real life starts happening again! But what if those satisfying and empowering visions we see about ourselves and our lives could be real?
Who are the people with the capacity to create, be and express the person and life that resonate with their deepest self and desires? You! If it’s true that we all have this potential within ourselves, why aren’t we being who we know ourselves to be and living the life we see in those epiphanies? It’s because our lives are being held hostage to a conversation inside our head that will never let you or me be that person or have that life.
Through religion people have absorbed a bunch of ideas and beliefs about themselves, God, others and life that govern their identity, relationships and way of being in the world. It’s as if we’re trapped inside a story that is rigged to never lead to the freedom, fulfillment and abundance that people want and Jesus promised.
I devoted a year of my life to being Jesus in Nashville, where I live. What I thought that would mean and what actually happened were two totally different things. That year flipped the religious script in my head, and gave me a new courage to be a fully expressed human being in ways I never imagined possible. I started the year convinced I needed to live the life of Jesus and then discovered that the life I needed to live was my own. Free at last! My story almost never made it to print. Despite two near-death experiences and being branded a heretic by my Christian publisher, the book came to fruition as a result of the encouragement and support of my divine nobody friends.
2. In 2006, I wrote the following in my book, The Porpoise Diving Life: “Those who claimed to have religion down pat consistently annoyed Jesus. His focus and compassion were always primarily directed toward those who were excluded and marginalized by the mainstream religious establishment…the people who live The Porpoise Diving Life.”
How might the statement above resonate with what you have written in Being Jesus in Nashville?
What I learned in my year of being Jesus is that Jesus was special, not because he was more divine then the rest of us, but because he was courageously more human than most. I wish I could convince people that they are born into this world as complete and whole human beings with equal worth to God as Jesus of Nazareth. In the eyes of the religious establishment we might be nobodies but we are divine nobodies, as much a child of God as that nobody Nazarene carpenter. This is the message I would like to get through to fellow survivors of childhood abuse. It’s the message I would have wanted to express to the 10-year-old girl sex slaves I encountered in brothels in Southeast Asia in my work as a human rights activist. As an ordained minister, it’s the message I wanted to deliver to a Christian friend who said, “I am a piece of shit to God, which is why I need Jesus.” It is very difficult to convince people that they are good and beautiful human beings when religion has sufficiently convinced them that they are “sinners” and despicable to God. It’s also difficult to deliver this message when institutional Christianity has convinced us that acknowledging the divine in every human is a betrayal of God.
People have Jesus so wrapped up in layers of religion that he and his truth are virtually unrecognizable. The prostitutes and notoriously irreligious people of Jesus’ day got Jesus better than anyone else, and were the people Jesus preferred to associate with. I think I’m going to go into the streets of Nashville today and beg the tattoo artists, single moms, waitresses, artists, and all the nobodies who wouldn’t be caught dead inside a church and beg them to share with the world who they know and have experienced God and Jesus to be.
3.You have said publicly that Being Jesus in Nashville may be your last book for a Christian audience. As one of your readers, I find this statement from you VERY exciting!!! Do you have any desire to do a fiction series? It seems as if your story-telling abilities are custom made to be a great writer of fiction. Can you respond?
In that statement I put “Christian” in quotes. The tribe of divine nobodies who have shared this journey with me the last several years are ordinary people, mostly from a Christian background, who have been shedding religion and no longer support the view of Jesus promoted by the institutional church – one that often leads to condemning people of other faiths, requiring people to adopt beliefs and practices they often cannot live up to or support in good conscience, and expecting them to promote a message that divides human beings in the name of God.
4. If you have two distinct hopes that people will take away from “Being Jesus in Nashville” what are they?
I’m hoping that each person who reads the book will be empowered to disappear from their lives those ways of thinking and being that have separated them from God, themselves, others and life. Shedding religion peels back more and more layers of self-awareness, which essentially feels like dismantling your entire life and starting over. The process of deconstructing and rebuilding one’s life can be a messy, complex and volatile process, impacting every area of life, including our purpose and path, core values and relationships. I hope people who read my story will see that discovering and recovering their true selves, and being fully expressed human beings is a sacred path that leads to the wholeness we seek deep within… and the way we can most be like Jesus.
5. The life of a writer is challenging – many have said it’s an involuntary burden. The nature of publishing is changing dramatically. Readers must understand that there are new forms of supporting the voices of their favorite writers. How might people do just that for Jim Palmer?
So, I published two successful books with traditional publishing house. I signed a 2-book contract with another publishing house, and then had the contract cancelled because the manuscript I submitted was rejected as being outside the bounds of Orthodox Christianity.
Rather than taking the book to another publisher (several publishers made offers on the book originally), I decided to go the route of self-publishing. I chose self-publishing because I was weary of my voice and writing being filtered and censored. As a recovering co-dependent/people-pleaser, my default was to cave to others expectations to keep the peace and make people happy. Self-publishing is a huge step in my transformation.
So far I’ve learned that I don’t know jack about self-publishing. How hard can this be??? (I said to myself). Well, IT IS! It’s been a steep learning curve and I’m still climbing it. I’m also scared as hell of failing. What if my decision to self-publish bombs?! I HATE “marketing” myself or my books and the publisher mostly did this stuff before. So, it’s uncomfortable. Plus, I worry about letting people down. I don’t like disappointing people.
I’m making mistakes. I thought the self-publishing route meant that I could get everything I wanted instantaneously when I wanted it just the way I wanted it. I think they call that delusional! The freedom isn’t so easy. With no filter or censorship, I am free to fully express myself. Just what I wanted! Right? It’s not so easy. It’s challenging that part of me that wants people to like me, that losses sleep over a negative Amazon review, that worries about offending people, that fears rejection.
One practical benefit of institutional structures is how it provides a financial framework to support the message and ministry of leaders inside organized church. Those of us outside organized religion have a more difficult time addressing this. There are ways that if people outside of institutional church structures worked together, it would make a huge difference for this entire tribe as a whole. I get tons of emails from people who feel disconnected and alone on their journey. If Divine Nobodies or Wide Open Spaces were meaningful to you and your journey, if my presence online through my blog, Facebook and Twitter has added something to your life, if you believe in what this book and message is about, share the book with your friends, social network and tribe. I want to do a “Being Jesus” tour/campaign but don’t have the funds to pull it off without people’s help. Anyone who wants to be part of creating this with me can shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m not the first “heretic”/author of late to be sent packing by a Christian publishing house. Fellow pastor-author Rob Bell gets the credit for that one. My publisher at the time claimed that my book, similar to the firestorm of heresy charges leveled against Bell, did not “lie within the bounds of biblical, orthodox Christianity.” I’ll let my reading audience be the judge.
Government and religion seem to share the similar dynamic of 1% having inordinate influence over how things work for everyone else. In religion’s case, the 1% are institutional Christian leaders and the 99% are the rest of us, many of whom practice our faith but seem to have very little say on how that faith is expressed in the world. Were Jesus to reappear today, he would be a dangerous threat to the institution of the Church originally established in his name. Organized Christianity has probably done more to distort the spirit and message of its founder’s than any other agency in the world.
I don’t think I’m such a great writer. My first drafts are normally a train wreck, and I do a ton of re-write. I think people probably like my books because they can relate to my kooky humanity. I seem to embolden people to press deeper and permission to be who they are, however messy that might seem to some. I would like to try my hand at fiction. I have a few different ideas along those lines.
6. I have written following in my book, The Porpoise Diving Life: “Yes, Jesus Christ, The God of More, is at work in the lives of those outside the aquariums post-modern man has come to define and confine Him to. It is in the lives of divine nobodies like us, that the precious evidence of an undeserved, unearned grace, mercy and love, utterly incomprehensible, evidences itself each and everyday…Perhaps, for far too many, it’s the place where purpose-driven peters out.”
Can you respond to this in terms of Being Jesus in Nashville?
If we…let go of the labels and boxes we put people in; gave up the “us and them” mentality of religion; set aside our insistence on being right; refuse to believe that the differences of others are a threat; approached people like we know nothing at all about them; believed that love satisfies the intent of all religion; were open to seeing every person as a son or daughter of God… then perhaps we would find that ever person we come across on the everyday paths of our lives is Jesus, including ourselves. 2000 years ago there was Jesus of Nazareth. Today, I am Jim of Nashville. You are Sonya of San Francisco, Marky of Minnesota, Byron of Brooklyn, Tawanda of Trenton.
7. Jim Henderson has said: “Jesus could side with the religious outsider because faith is not the property of religion; it’s the core of God’s reality. God begins trying to connect with outsiders through us. We need to dump the religion business and get back into a business we can excel at: the business of God’s reality.”(1) Can you react to this in terms of Being Jim in Nashville?
The hallmark of Christianity seems to have become who is excluded, which can include anything from a theological litmus test to what you wear to church on Sunday mornings. Since leaving institutional church and writing about my journey of shedding religion to find God, I have received hundreds of emails from other nobodies who feel judged and marginalized by Christendom.
The last few years off the grid and under the radar of institutional Christendom, I have been unpacking Jesus’ divine nobody message in my own life. I began thinking of myself as Jim of Nashville, and set out to “be Jesus” for the world where I live. Time and time again I saw how the greatest need among people was to simply know of their inherent goodness and worth as human beings and feel the stamp of God’s approval.
So, I became the stamper! Whether it was my next-door neighbor, my car mechanic, Facebook friends, or the homeless in Nashville, I began relating to everyone as if they were Jesus just like me, complete and whole in God’s eyes just as they are and who can be instruments of love and peace in the world.
8. As I read Being Jesus in Nashville, the following from Rabbi Harold Kushner kept entering my head: “But when religion teaches us that God loves the wounded soul, the chastised soul that has learned something of its own fallibility and its own limitations, when religion teaches us that being human is such a complicated challenge that all of us will make mistakes in the process of learning how to do it right, then we can come to see our mistakes not as emblems of our unworthiness but as experiences we can learn from. We will be brave enough to try something new without being afraid of getting it wrong. Our sense of shame will be the result of our humility, of learning our limits, rather than our wanting to hide from scrutiny because we have done badly.”(2) Can you react to this in terms of your personal life experience and Being Jim in Nashville?
I’m not fond of controversy or conflict and I’ve had a whole lot of both around this book. There are some days when it wears on me and I ponder resurrecting my original dream, which was to be a starting guard for the Chicago Bulls. It wouldn’t work now anyway, I had my chance when MJ retired and didn’t take it.
I get discouraged. Some days it feels like I’m just banging my head against a wall. I’m not selling crack or peddling porn; I’m standing for the inherent, equal and divine worth of every human being, and wanting to enroll people in the idea of building a world that works for everyone. But for this, people want me crucified. What keeps me going are those divine nobodies who contact me to share their story and the ways I’ve contributed to their journey.
I’m self-publishing this book because I realized I had to disentangle myself from the Christian publishing machine in order for my voice and message to be heard. Membership in an institutional church is not a prerequisite for being a fully expressed and devoted follower of Christ. A book contract with a major Christian publisher is not necessary to share my story and message with my tribe and beyond.
9. Baseball season is upon us. Who are you rooting for? Any predictions as to the 2012 W.S.?
Milwaukee and Atlanta in the NLCS, and Texas and Tampa Bay in the ALCS. The Braves pull it out in 7 games! Editors/Interviewers Note: That, my friends, is wishful thinking…Palmer’s made the same prediction in each of the last 6 years!!!
10. Finally, give us four words that describe your experience as a father to your daughter.
I Love Jessica with all my heart. There’s not one thing I would change about her. I am so amazed at who she is and is becoming. She is beautiful inside and out. Being her father has been the greatest joy of my life.
Jim, thank you so very much. Please let us all know what we might do to continue to support gifted writers, story-tellers, cultural observers, antagonists like you….
(1) Henderson, Jim a.k.a. “LOST” – Discovering Ways To Connect With The People Jesus Misses Most,” Waterbrook Press Colorado Springs, CO. Copyright © 2005 by James K. Henderson, p. 83.
(2) Kushner, Harold S. How Good Do We Have To Be – A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness, Little, Brown and Company Boston, MA Copyright 1996 by Harold S. Kushner, p. 39.
Love, amazing, beautiful, joy — Enjoy Being Jesus in —- wherever you are….!!!