Confessions walk a fine line

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

Permission to Speak Freely
 is born out of a single question Anne Jackson asked on her blog two years ago: “What is one thing you feel you can’t say in the church?” The responses Jackson received to this question, combined with her own reflections on a faith journey characterized by both ambivalence and love for the church, forms the heart of the subject matter of this book.

There is profound honesty, pain, bewilderment, joy, and surprise. Jackson’s own story, including being sexually abused by a pastor and her subsequent struggle with pornography, is interspersed with artwork, poems, and confessions collected from responses on her blog.

It’s a book written with a hopeful intent: that in being transparent with each other about our hurt and confusion, we’ll be able to more honestly and compassionately be the church both to those already among us and those we seek to draw in.

Unsurprisingly, given that it comes out of a blog dedicated to providing an outlet for people to speak freely about painful experiences and difficult questions, Jackson’s book is deeply personal in nature. At times, it slides toward the “over-sharing” that is legitimated and encouraged in the online world. Never before, it seems, has confession been so easy and attractive, and while the catharsis provided by revealing one’s secrets – whether on a blog or in a book – is undoubtedly valuable and healing, there can be an unhealthy pride or voyeuristic pleasure in sharing our secrets as well.

The line can be fine between providing safety for those who have been genuinely wounded or stifled by the church to tell their stories, and celebrating or being defined by our pain. For the most part, Jackson stays on the right side of the line in this very engaging and hopeful book.

Ryan Dueck is associate pastor at Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.

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