Friday, October 15, 2010

Permission to Speak Freely, by Anne Jackson

Anne Jackson's latest is an important book. Part sensational tell-all, part prophetic accusation, and part public confessional, it poses a necessary set of questions to the entire church.

  • How would our church look if we actually obeyed the Pauline imperative to bear one another's burdens? [See Gal. 6:2.]

  • How safe would I feel in a place where I could actually and honestly tell others what I had done, what I was going through, and what calamities had fallen upon my psyche?

  • How would I comfort others when I come forward about the medications I am on, or about the therapies I am receiving, or about the triumphs I have achieved from overcoming sins I otherwise wish had never seen the light of day?

  • How would it benefit the community if I give them an opportunity to learn how to comfort me?

Jackson previously gave us Mad Church Diesase, and continues to deliver the popular blog, Part of a camp of well-known young adults (perhaps including Donald Miller and Matthew Paul Turner), she expresses her criticisms of the church not because she is critical of Christianity, but because she is critical of how poorly the church is embodying it. This makes her both controversial and prophetic.

At the risk of sounding overly idealistic, I'd like to say that for those of us who believe the church should be one of the safest and most grace-giving places a person can experience here on earth, it's time to reclaim what our faith stands for.

It's time for us to politely but passionately disagree with those who make church a "safe" place by removing all the messiness.

The first half of the book is an autobiographical descent into everything that can go wrong with a young person's involvement in western Christianity. And oh, does it go wrong! If this were a novel, we would hardly be surprised with a tragic ending of a disillusioned heroine abandoning her faith after such a series of betrayals (both as innocent victim and culpable miscreant). She intersperses the text with a sort of Christian version of Post Secret, except perhaps not so secret, which is quite the point.

But it does not end there. The second half continues with an ongoing story of healing in progress, not yet in triumph. As the healing and continuing struggle emerges, it brings the other characters--and the reader, too--along for the ride for the mutual benefit of the impromptu, virtual community. We share in the struggles. We fail together. We learn and grow and heal together. It models what the church is supposed to be doing.

In essence, the entire book is calling for contemporary Christianity not to politely dismiss the complex psychologies that complicate our faith, because in so doing, we further erode what's left of our relevance. Instead it invites us to embrace and publicly declare that these radical complications are part of who we are and part of the diversity that God is using to shape his kingdom.

If this is revolutionary, it shouldn't be.