I dog-eared one page in Anne Jackson’s latest release, Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace, because I knew it would set the tone for the whole. On page 19 Anne writes,
As I got older, the disconnect between what I’d read in the Bible and what people in the church would actually say or do became more apparent and more confusing.
Set the tone, it did. You couldn’t ask for a more blatant communication problem. Based on the questions she asked on her blog, “What’s the one thing you feel like you can’t say in church?”, Permission to Speak Freely is one part memoir, one part confession and one part prophecy. Anne Jackson lays it all out on the line and it works. Well.
She starts out by walking the reader through her history with the local church. The good (although the good in her experience is hard to find), the bad, the badder and the horribly ugly. It’s all there—candid, raw, honest.
From her dad’s traumatic experience as a small town pastor in Texas; to her painful story of sexual abuse at the hands of a youth pastor; to her struggle with depression and all the baggage that comes along with it, Anne speaks freely throughout the book.
Normally I’m not in the mood to read books that only provide a lop-sided critique of the local church. Books and authors that only center on what is wrong miss out on a brilliant opportunity to build a new reality of the body of Christ. However, this book successfully offers a valid, poignant and much-needed critique of the American church while providing glimpses of light for the reader.
One great example is when Anne follows Jamie Tworkowski, the founder of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), around the streets of New York City. Jamie’s organization finds its genesis in the care, love and support that he and his friends offered to a young woman on death’s door. The group cared for her because no one else would—she was denied entry into a drug treatment center. Anne illustrates the movement that blossomed out of this experience, TWLOHA.
Jackson shines a spot light on this movement in a way that makes you believe that being the church is more about following Jesus than flocking to a building once a week. On the surface that sound obvious, but Permission to Speak Freely takes a raw look at how the beliefs of American Christians are sometimes woefully divorced from the way we act.
This book is two-fold: it serves as a scalpel that cuts deeply into the heart of hypocrisy we’ve cultivated within the church. It also serves as a healing balm to soothe the festering wound that has been self-inflicted from years of neglect and word being divorced from deed. Anne’s approach is grace-filled, yet stern; reflective yet prescriptive; balanced yet pointed.
As someone who has suffered at the hands of hypocrisy within the walls of a local church, I found this book to be incredibly refreshing. Similarly, as a recovering hypocrite myself, I found solace in the fact that God’s Spirit can, and does, transcends my goofs and gaffes with his pervasive grace.