Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace by Anne Jackson

Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and GraceI am not sure when I stumbled across Anne Jackson‘s blog.  It has been several years now.  And while I am not an every day reader, it is in my Google Reader and I usually at least glance at it.  As much as Anne’s writing, her sense of purpose and her desire to do something with her writer’s platform (other than sell books) has keep me reading.

Anne rode a bike across the country to raise money for Clean Water this past summer (less than a year after having heart surgery).  In November, she is leading a second trip back to Haiti to work and raise awareness of the continuing need there.  What really shows me how much her vision for serving people has made a difference is that an Atheist blogger has issued a challenge that he (and other Atheists) can raise more money to help Haiti than the Christians on her blog.  All in good fun, the fact that she can have fun with an Atheist to see who can raise more money for relief in Haiti shows that she is really about reaching out to people.  I can respect that.

Permission to Speak Freely is a short book (less than 200 pages and only 3 hours on audio.)  But it has real heart to bring healing to the people that have been hurt by the church’s attempt at prettying itself up.  This is Anne’s second book.  Her first, on overcoming burnout in ministry (was among my top 11 non-fiction books last year.)

The first half of Permission to Speak Freely is Anne’s story.  It is not a pretty story.  She is a pastor’s kid who’s family was was brutalized by the church, she was later molested by a youth pastor and then rolled over by churches (and church staff) that did not have time for dealing with the hurts of real people.  It is a gripping and tragic story.

The second part of the book essentially deals with topical treatments of the things that the church does not like to deal with.  Again primarily, but not completely, told through Anne’s story.  Significant areas are porn, sex and other addictions, depression, abuse at the hands of others, etc.  Each of these areas are dealt with honestly, but without the flashiness that sometimes accompanies “tell all” salvation stories.

The focus is not on the sin, but on the working through those areas of sin in order to heal.

What I like about the focus is that Anne is primarily about helping both the person that is in need of healing and the church.  This is not about condemnation of the church (although there is frustration) but about helping the church see that its role is about loving the other, because in the end we are all the other.  (Our sin makes us “the other” from God.)

I grew up in a good home, was not abused, did not dabble in drugs or alcohol, have sex before marriage, etc.  So by many estimations, I am on the right track in my Christianity.  Anne counters this idea by saying that we all have our issues at some point in time.  If we do not create church to be a safe place for hurt people to come, then we are not being the church that Christ wants us to be.  If I only want to deal with people from nice suburban homes that have it together, I will miss out of the strength of the church, its ability to heal and change people through the power of Christ.

An important idea is that the church, and we as individuals, need to give others the benefit of going second.  Being first is hard, but when you see someone else go first, it make going second (and third and fourth) easier.  If church is a place where we can safely confess our sins (and the sins done against us) then it makes it easier for others to come forward later.  Which not only helps us fulfill the role of the church in the world, but also makes it easier for us to come forward in the future when we later have another issue.  Anne is clear that issues do not die quickly.  Sin is still in our lives because we are sinful people.  But in community sin looses much of its power to shame and harm.

This is not a __ step book.  She does not give four steps to confessing our sin, or five steps to forgiving those that hurt us.  Instead this book is about giving stories of how others are moving forward so that we can be encouraged to move forward under the grace of God as well.

I am adding this to my list of Read Again books.  As much as it may sound like a self help book, it is primarily a story that can be used to help us work on our own story.  Again, Permission to Speak Freely meets my desire to find books that do more than give knowledge.  This book prods me to action, to use the knowledge I already have to move closer to Christ and to help others move closer too.

I listened to this on audiobook (the book was provided free from christianaudio for review) and Anne narrated.  I have said many times I like listening to authors read their books.  This is an example of why I think it is so important.  No one else could have read this like she did.

Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook


I think Anne’s blog and this book has had a bigger impact on me than any other (with the obvious exception of the bible) I’ve read in a long time. It encouraged me to go get help for some serious stuff going on in my life which I was trying to hide and pretend I was fine. I love the idea of the gift of going second. Lately I have been blessed with some wonderful people who have given me that gift.

    First, Adam – thank you for the review and sharing your thoughts. I will be the first to admit – I have an emotional rollercoaster inside of me about this book. Should I have shared this? That? Etc.

    So just know your words hit where they needed to.

    Second, Joanna – I am pretty sure you never knew I’d be popping over and would eventually read your words, but they literally brought tears to my eyes (disclaimer: see emotional rollercoaster statement above). But in all seriousness, my heart is that other people would find the courage to act and begin healing, and thank you for sharing that is what you are doing. I am so full of joy and thankfulness for you.

    The gift of going second I think is the most important part of the book. In context it is what the book is reallly all about.

I got a copy of the book and audiobook. I read it first, and look forward to listening to it the second time through.

Like Joanna, i feel like this is one of the more important books i’ve read. One that I want all of my friends to read.

I also feel like her blog is one of the better (if not best) spiritual formation blogs out there.

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