Anne Jackson’s new book, Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace, was released this week. She offers a coupon until noon today for the audio version (which makes it just $2.98) on her website. Because the topic is a personal one, hearing Jackson read it in her own voice brings a layer to the story that I didn’t anticipate. (I just like coupons.) However, art is a large part of the book, which features mixed-media contributions centered on themes of fear and confession. The audio version clearly falls behind when it comes to expressing the visual arts. I’m sure both formats have their own limitations, and benefits.
Also, seven essays from the book are available for free on seven different blogs. Begin by reading Essay #1 at Donald Miller’s blog (author of Blue Like Jazz, Through Painted Desserts, and more recently, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years). He’ll send you to the next blog to read Essay #2, and so on.
Jackson is probably best known for the transparency that shapes her writing. In Permission to Speak Freely, she considers how silence in the church has starved confession, and consequently, forgiveness and healing. The concept for the book began when Jackson asked the question, “What’s one thing you feel you can’t say in church?” on her blog. The responses, she says, were illuminating and heartbreaking.
Delving into her experiences with pain in the church, Jackson gives a sincere narrative of her own life in the first part of the book. She wanders through childhood hurt at the hands of church members, addictions and betrayals of trust. After being reconciled with God, she still found it difficult to reconcile with the church. Even while serving on staff at a church, she struggled as she was told by a church leader to keep silent about her questions about faith, the church, and her controversial past. However, her story– and her message– doesn’t end there.
In Part Two, she spends time looking at the parable of the prodigal son as she continues to explore the relationship between the church and the broken- and suggests, of course, that the church is comprised of the broken. Jackson describes the strength she received from the church, when she finally decided to stop hiding her depression. She writes,
“Literally, I had no more strength. I needed to borrow some from others.”
But, she also heard another message when she openned up about her struggle.
“I started to hear, ‘Me too.’ Other people were in the same Valley of Death I was walking in…”
“And, it took someone first saying, “I’m broken” for the others to hear that voice and realize we were surrounded by others just as broken as we were. Just because somebody speaks out doesn’t instantly fix anyone, and that’s the way it is sometimes. We can’t always expect life to be perfect once we’ve confessed, or realized we’re not alone. But sometimes, that just enough to get us through another day.”
Jackson’s message is a call to bring back the idea of “sanctuary”- a safe place to confess and find forgiveness- to the modern Christian church. The narratives and essays are interwoven with poetry and art sent to Jackson through her blog and the website, www.permissiontospeakfreely.com.
If you’ve already started reading Permission to Speak Freely, or read Jackson’s first book, Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic, let me know what you think. What do you like about her approach to what could be a sensitive topic for many Christians?