Permission to Speak Freely

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Permission to Speak Freely
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anne Jackson’s book, Permission to Speak Freely, is part confessional and part invitation to confess. Her book started as a question on her blog: “What is one thing you feel you can’t say in church?” The question struck a nerve and went viral—a blogger bonanza.

When the responses piled up and went global, Jackson wanted to understand why. Her conclusion is somewhat obvious: We keep things to ourselves out of fear—fear of rejection, of being judged, of losing friends or reputation. You name it. We’re scared to be real and, thus, vulnerable, and sometimes, we sadly have experiences to back up those fears. What is not so obvious is why Christians have a hard time either being real with other Christians or allowing other people to be real? Isn’t the whole point of our faith to acknowledge our need for grace, to accept grace from God, and to then offer it, in turn, to others? Let’s face it, though. In a Facebook world, we have all become our own PR agents. We post our best and happiest moments, and our pithiest comments. We don’t post our shame and brokenness. Maybe we feel it’s bad PR for Christianity to admit our failures. That’s where we have it wrong. Our faith is exactly about how God sees us at our worst and offers us his forgiveness even in the midst of it—even before we acknowledge we need it!

Jackson does not focus on trashing Christians or the church. Her intent, instead, seems twofold: First, by being brutally honest about her own darker sides, she bravely provides a poignant model for Christians to confess their shortcomings and give God credit for being fully able to deal with our failures. Second, by challenging Christians to be the first to confess, she believes we offer to the world the “gift of going second.” People will know they are safe to be real with us when we have the courage to lead the way.

My only caution, as I read, is that sometimes we like to live—even wallow—in the muck of our confession. Confession itself can be sickeningly self-involved and inert. We have all fallen short in loving God or others. Only Jesus got those two things right. He loved God perfectly by loving us. And he loved us perfectly by taking the penalty for our failures, and then freely giving chance after chance to get it right by allowing him to live and love through us. What a gift! Confession should lead us to accept that gift and (the important part) move on to live in a way that reflects such inexplicable mercy. If we stop at confession and live there, we are as full of crap as when we began. We are just better at talking about it. When Jesus forgave a prostitute for a lifelong pattern of debauchery, his parting advice to her is surprisingly abrupt. It wasn’t about getting counseling, support, or new job skills. He simply said, “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.” And with that, he announced that the time for confession was over. The time for reflecting a life of God-filled grace had begun.

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© 2010 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

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