I bought this book on a whim at a second-hand book store before a three-day spiritual retreat I went on by myself. I read the book over the three days, and overall I found myself very encouraged by it! I really appreciated the invitation to step into the fray of a life of paradox. I especially loved Palmer's use of the cross as symbolic of the tensions we face between Heaven and Earth (the vertical beam of the cross) and the pull we feel between paradoxical human ideologies (the horizontal beam). Having spent the past few years feeling as if I'm living in a paradox of faith, this book reminded me that I am not alone, and that I am not worse for the wear, but that I am in good company and I am, perhaps, right where God wants me.
Palmer's commentary on community was also encouraging as community is something that I have found myself missing, despite my attempts to discover it (a paradox that Palmer addresses quite nicely). Every subject Palmer touches on in this book is examined with the grace and hope that I only wish could be found in every book written by an author who identifies as a Christian.
The book would have been perfect if not for Palmer's "Introduction to the 2008 Edition". The Introduction is essentially a 25 page criticism of the book itself. After 30 years, I would suspect that the author would have some self-critical advice to his younger self. But ultimately, the criticism found in the Introduction treads well into the territory of attack on Conservative Evangelicalism, (complete with a two page poorly veiled tirade against George W. Bush, although Palmer leaves the vivid image nameless.)
There is a place for healthy criticism from within the Body of Christ. But the introduction to a book that has little to do with such issues, I contend, is not the place. Being someone who identifies as an Evangelical, I was sad to discover that the introduction to the book caused me to feel...unwelcome. It was as if Palmer was saying, "This book is for everyone from every creed, race, background, and faith tradition...EXCEPT YOU!" As far as Evangelicals go, I'm probably on the more "liberal" edge of things. But Palmer made me feel like a bigoted hate-monger because I happen to hold certain convictions that he does not. He goes so far as to say that certain Conservative Christians are, "...making things hellish right now, and what I wish is that they would get a life." What I wish is that I had purchased the first pressing of the book; the one without the scathing and unfriendly introduction.
Perhaps this is the paradox for me: that I loved this book and the ideas it represented, but I feel as if were I to meet Palmer today, he would be angry at me for making things "hellish" and that he would have nothing nice to say to me. Perhaps I'm not giving him the benefit of the doubt, but his introduction led me to believe that he had a bone to pick with Conservative Christians, and his burning desire to speak on the issue just happened to coincide with the opportunity to write a retrospective introduction to this book.
My advice: read this book. Cherish it and live it. It is beautiful. But skip the introduction. There's not much there that I think you would benefit from. But if you do read the introduction, and if, like me, you are made to feel unwelcome, I encourage you to extend to Palmer the same grace that has been extended to us through Christ. Grace extended to all, regardless of the fact that none are deserving. This, perhaps, is the ultimate paradox.