Jim Palmer,
Wide Open Spaces
(Thomas Nelson, 2007)

In his previous book, Divine Nobodies, Jim Palmer told the story of how he experienced a spiritual crisis that grew out of a fundamental error he had made: mistaking church for religion. In that book, Palmer described how he was transformed from a rising star in the Evangelical movement -- he was the pastor of a thriving megachurch, a respected member of the community, a man of position and status -- to a person who lost it all. He related how he discovered that his fall was not, as he thought at first, a fall from grace. Actually, as he came to learn, it was a fall into grace.

Where he had once been devoted to church, he learned to be devoted to his religion and, in so doing, did a swan dive into mysticism by learning to experience God instead of simply talking about him. Wide Open Spaces continues the story. This time, Palmer organizes each chapter around a central question, each a question he asked as he walked his new path: Is God a belief system? Can church be everywhere, all the time, with everybody? Does it matter WWJD if we can't do it? Do we need a purpose in life in order to live? In seeking answers, Palmer tells stories -- he is a master storyteller -- and runs through his personal history.

He discusses how he moved from a Bible-based, church-centered religion to one centered in ordinary daily life. For example, in one story he tells how he and a friend were going to a Tennessee Titans football game and stopped at a local restaurant for lunch. He says:

While waiting for our food, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people ... even the Jacksonville Jaguar fans. Other than my friend, Doug, all the people in the restaurant were total strangers, yet I felt we belonged to each other as one family and we could not be unlike one another. I felt this exhilarating joy at being human, a member of the race in which God himself came and lived.

That's as good a summary as any of what this book has to offer. It is about the experience of God in ordinary daily life, the life of walks in the woods, repairing household appliances, going to football games and so on. It does not preach, it does not shout or insist -- it simply relates one man's experiences and lets him share what he is in the process of learning. Palmer the man does not offer the pat answers that he says Palmer the preacher did. He simply relates his own attempts at spiritual living and does so with grace and humor.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

3 May 2008

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