It has been a while since I have submitted a book review for all of you here on My Living Canvas. This is not from lack of reading, just lack of having the discipline to sit down and pound out a review!
Seriously though, I did love this book for many reasons. First of all I really enjoy Anne Jackson’s writing style, it speaks to the postmodern blogger in me. Second of all, I appreciate Anne’s honesty. She has mastered the art of truth telling in a way that provokes thought and inspires change without totally knocking the wind out of you. Finally and most importantly, I love this book because it shines a light on a dark area in the western church that I believe needs to be addressed. The book takes a long hard look at the things Christians feel that they can’t talk about in church… and the list of topics is as long as the reasons why we are discouraged from honestly discussing them in church.
The topics you expect to be there are there: sex, porn addiction, homosexuality, abortion, immigration, and other political topics of the culture wars… but the book doesn’t dwell there. The real meat of the stories comes from real people in real churches who are hurting or struggling in seriously significant ways but believe that they have no place to talk about their hurt or struggle in their current church situations. There are things that many people desperately need to talk about in Christian community but choose not to because they believe that CANNOT reveal the truth of their struggles for a variety of different reasons:
- Fear of being misunderstood
- Fear of being shamed
- Fear of being rejected
- Fear of failing
- Fear of being argued with or “talked out of it”
- Fear of being invalidated
- Fear of being labeled
- Fear of losing friends
- Fear of hurting loved ones
- Fear of losing leadership positions
- Fear losing jobs
- and more…
And here in lies the rub: If we as Christians, especially Christian leaders, are not given permission to speak freely about our own internal hurt, struggles or sin, how in the world can we lead others, either inside the church or out in the world? If there is nowhere to communicate openly about the hurt you have experienced or the temptation you are facing or the doubts you are having, people are very likely to give in to the struggles they are facing. In many cases, there seems to be a passive aggressive expectation of perfectionism, that Christians, especially Christian leaders, shouldn’t struggle with doubts or sexual addiction or sinful thoughts or hate or jealousy or forgiveness or abandonment or abuse or depression or anxiety etc. etc. etc.
I believe the root of that passive aggressive expectation for perfection lies in Satan’s influence in the world. I don’t believe that churches set out to cause their people to feel that way. I believe that the churches where this is happening are well intentioned, they want their people to be like Christ and put scripture into practice in their own lives. But in some cases, well intentioned Christians are so blinded by a cleverly and effectively woven lie of perfection and control that we don’t even realize how our efforts to make disciples sometimes come at the expense of love and keeping love at the forefront of all our efforts to make disciples. In some cases, we forsake love for discipline and without love disciples will not be made.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Love comes first!
And perhaps those of us who discourage speaking freely are really afraid of our facing own internal struggles and prefer the safety of hiding behind walls of our own interpretation of what’s appropriate rather than living authentically and being real with those who are hurting. I can say this because I have been there and done that, but am trying not to anymore.
Here is an example from my own life: For most of my life I have struggled with anxiety and depression. (There. I said it.) So when God brings someone into my life who also struggles with anxiety and/or depression, I always try to share my own personal story of struggle and redemption through these issues. And every time I have been real with someone who comes to me for help and identified with them in their own hard place, the response I get is relief and trust. And together we spur each other on toward healing, accountability and freedom. I say this not to toot my own horn, but because on the flip side, I have been in situations where I was the one in need and tried to share my struggle with someone I believed would stand by me in love and face the struggle with me, but instead of meeting me in the struggle and loving me through it, the response I got was shame and a powerless attempt at being “talked out of” the truth I had just so vulnerably shared. I know what its like to be open and have it backfire, so I strive to never do that to someone else. I could have put up walls or shoved my struggles down in a dark closet of my soul, but instead I chose confession and openness. I choose go first so others can go second (topic Anne talks about at length in the last section of the book).
In relationships like these we have permission to speak freely.
To be clear, this book is not advocating a “speak your mind” theology or that people should just carelessly blurt out whatever is on their mind, speaking recklessly and without wisdom. That would be chaos. Instead, “Permission to Speak Freely” is simply shining a light into a dark place and revealing that, like it or not, there are thousands of church attendees, church leaders and church staff around the world who desperately need to talk and do not believe they are not allowed to speak freely and openly about their issues in church. So my question is:
What are we gonna do about it?
Anne Jackson doesn’t even attempt to offer a solution to the problem. And I think that the reason for this is that the solution is obvious.
We must make room for love to come first.
If we are to continue to be salt and light in the 21st century, we must create within the context of our churches safe places for honesty without judgment, confession without fear, pain without shame, and doubt without argument.
Our culture is such that we must be given permission to grapple openly with these issues and receive TRUTH in LOVE from the church rather than truth and consequence, truth and law, truth and shame and the like.
A dearly loved pastor has taught Brian and me that “truth without love is brutal” and after reading this book, I am beginning to wonder how many people in our culture today are rejecting Jesus because the church is delivering the truth without love.
Hear me when I say, I am NOT glossing over the realities of sin’s consequences and our responsibility as believers to accountability or the spiritual disciplines. To the contrary, I am a HUGE fan of the disciplines and believe that discipline is essential in practicing the ways of Christ. However, in the context of “Permission to Speak Freely” I stand in agreement with Anne’s position that, when someone is in the eye of their own personal storm, we should rush to LOVE them, to be with them in that moment, and to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) rather than bum-rush them with shame and condemnation.
In all things, Love first.
This is a concept that I can fully support.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.