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Blog of the Grateful Bear

ramblings of a freelance panentheist {"all things are in God, and God is in all things"} . . . musings on Emergent spirituality, powerlifting, LGBTQueer issues, contemplative prayer, mysticism, cats, music, healing, and more. I like my coffee and my existentialism dark-roasted.

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Location: Marietta, Georgia, United States

I'm an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), in private practice in Marietta, Georgia. My writings on queer spirituality have been published in Whosoever and several other magazines. I live in a house-in-the-woods (Bear's Hermitage) in Marietta with Leonidas (Lenny) and Guy, Mighty Warrior Cats, and way too many books.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

BookLog: Being Jesus in Nashville

Being Jesus in Nashville 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. 

Being Jesus in Nashville is available as a Nook book from Barnes and Noble for only $3.39. Don’t look for it at your local evangelical bookstore, though. Being Jesus in Nashville is way too honest, way too real for them to tolerate.

You can visit Jim Palmer's blog at http://www.divinenobodies.com/blog/. He also has a great Facebook page, Occupy Religion.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Obama Lets Go Of Fear

Andrew Sullivan's reaction to the ABC News interview today in which President Obama (finally) spoke out in favor of gay marriage: Obama Lets Go Of Fear.

This is a beginning. Right now Obama's support for gay marriage is nothing more than words; we'll see what actions (if any) follow. But the words are powerful. As a queer man it was very stirring - and even healing - to hear a sitting president affirm my equality. I'm not ashamed to say there were tears flowing down my cheeks when I heard the news story on NPR this afternoon. 

And of course there are conservatives who are already airing their homophobic rhetoric, which is to be expected. It was particularly sad to see what John Michael Talbot, a Christian singer whose music I have enjoyed for years, posted on his Facebook wall today. There is so much fear and doublespeak in what John Michael Talbot has written. It reminds me of what supporters of slavery said before, during, and even after the Civil War. They were able to quote the Bible too - even more convincingly than Talbot was today. 

I use the word "homophobic" (fear of homosexuality or of homosexuals) not as a slur but because I believe it is the accurate word to use today: I believe the anti-gay sentiment in our country is really about fear, not hatred. Sometimes it morphs into outright hatred, but I choose to believe that most people who rail against gay marriage are doing so out of fear, not hatred. The institution of marriage is in a shambles today - just look at the divorce rate, domestic violence statistics, and 72-hour Hollywood "weddings" - and many fear that if I as a queer man have the right to marry, that will somehow impinge on their rights, or it will somehow damage the "sanctity" of an institution that has already become desacralized.   

Unlike many of my queer brothers and sisters, I believe it is possible for men and women of good will to disagree on this issue and still be friends or even worship together in the same churches. I love the Bible deeply and I revere it as inspired, but I view it as a collection of human documents, a record of humankind's progressive revelation and understanding of God over the course of many hundreds of years. My brothers and sisters who use the Bible to bash LGBTQ persons, sometimes without even realizing that's what they're doing, are reading the Bible outside of its historical context. I believe they will one day look back at their anti-gay rhetoric with embarrassment, much as the Southern Baptist church today looks back on its pro-slavery rhetoric, which was thoroughly "biblical," with embarrassment and apology. 

Thankfully, my standing before God as an out-and-proud queer man does not depend on being accepted or even understood by John Michael Talbot or anyone else. Including President Obama. But it was wonderful to hear Obama's words today, and to see a sitting president let go of fear. Others will follow. This is my affirmation and my prayer: Others will follow.


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