Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review: Deliver Us From Me-Ville

With admirable transparency and a readable conversational writing style, David Zimmerman examines our need for redemption in the recently published Deliver Us From Me-Ville. He takes on an entire culture of narcissism, born in the Garden and bred in every human interaction since.

Zimmerman argues that superbia (the Latin word for an inordinate sense of self-regard; pride; or self-satisfaction) is common and calamitous, a "besetting sin among all God's children, nipping at the church's heels throughout its history, and as such it must be met by the vigilance of the people of God to hold it at bay." Superbia "sounds like a place," so Zimmerman dubs it Me-Ville, and urges us to endure vulnerability and the pain of re-training in order to allow God to deliver us.

Occasionally, Zimmerman enjoys his own sense of humor a tiny bit too much, and the resulting literary quirks become a bit distracting. He opens, for example, with a story about his niece that includes the colloquialism "yo," and then he continues to "yo" us for the next several chapters.

Also, there are times when the book makes assumptions or generalizations about people that obviously ring true in the author's life and personality--and often in my own, as well--but which do not necessarily hold true for across humanity. For example, Zimmerman looks at Biblical history (the Tower of Babel) and contemporary culture (and I use the word "culture" loosely, since I'm referring to American Idol) to illustrate his point that "...becoming famous is the holy grail for people steeped in superbia." Everyone is steeped in superbia, but not everyone seeks or desires fame.

In general, however, Zimmerman illustrates our condition with an engaging combination of contemporary culture and spiritual classics. His theme is clear and straightforward: "The way out of Me-Ville is unavoidably through Jesus, who visits us, displaces, us, delivers us, and sets us within the bounds of his city, his community."

His transparency is disarming: "My greatest fear in making my writing public...[is] that an audience will read what I write and disregard it as insignificant."
This fierce desire to live a meaningful life, to produce something meaningful, or to be considered important or significant in the eyes of other people--this, not the desire for fame, is a universal human condition. It's why we start out in Me-Ville, and why we need Jesus.

Zimmerman dips into the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, and Henri Nouwen, among others, to develop a modern perspective on ancient Biblical themes; he takes the words of those writers and thinkers and connects them to our contemporary dilemmas. I love this about Zimmerman's book, because in giving me a taste of great thinkers and writers of the faith, it reminds me to pick up the source materials myself for some challenging reading and deep thinking.

Each chapter includes a section called "Escape Routes," practical applications of the preceding theoretical, exegetical material. These sections include activities and questions designed to move the reader to a deeper and more personal connection with the teaching of the chapter. Zimmerman often includes scripts for what we can say to ourselves in order to get more "in the way" of Jesus, such as this:

Before you get together with a group of people, imagine it as a mission, and consecrate it with missional language such as Isaiah's cry, "Here I am, Lord, send me." Be careful not to set a missional agenda for the time together; just make the effort to consecrate the moment.

Deliver Us From Me-Ville is a solid, helpful text that has the capacity to reach you exactly where you are today, and bring you more deeply into God's kingdom here on earth.


Margot said...

The title alone is so yummy I can't wait to read it. Thanks for your insights.

E. Peevie said...

You are welcome, Margot. Thanks for visiting The Green Room!