Thinking Out Loud

October 21, 2010

Anne Jackson Redfines “Earning The Right To Be Heard”

I thought the service where we were guest worship leaders had gone rather well.   I had mixed some pieces this congregation knew with some extra verses that would be new to them, and had arranged the 20 minute worship set so that the songs would really flow from one to the other.   Frankly, I was looking to relocate to be able to continue leading worship in a church like this, where I felt the musical assistance would be truly needed.

Afterward, the pastor invited us out for lunch, but it seemed like an hour before we were finally eating a restaurant that seemed unnecessarily distant.   My oldest started wandering back and forth into the lobby which had chocolate bars and other confectionery items to tempt him.   I told him firmly, “no;” but my wife didn’t hear that and minutes later he came back enjoying a large sugar treat.   Furthermore, we were wanting to press on in our journey to visit my father, who was in hospital recovering from a heart attack.

So, it’s no surprise that we didn’t make a good impression.   A week later, our honorarium arrived with a multi-page letter, written in southern U.S. drawl, informing us, “Y’all shouldn’t be doing ministry; y’all are needing ministry.”

…I took several weeks to prayerfully consider everything he said in that letter, and finally I wrote back to say that life is not perfect and we’re not perfect; we’re a young couple with a couple of really young kids who were under a great deal of stress on the day we met; but that we felt the worship service had gone extremely well, and felt that once it ended, with just him and us in the restaurant, we could be completely transparent.   We felt at that point we were no longer “on the clock” in terms of public ministry.

# # #

There are going to be people who read Anne Jackson’s Permission to Speak Freely and say, “Anne, y’all shouldn’t be doing ministry; y’all should be getting ministry.”     There are ways in which they’d be right, but absent a book like this, the world would be a poorer place.   In fact, to make such a suggestion would be to miss the point of the book entirely.

This is a book about honestly and transparency and being willing to stick your neck out and say the things that nobody is willing to say in church.   It’s about being the one person in the small group who breaks the endless silence and is willing to be the first one to be totally vulnerable and thereby, in Anne’s words, give everyone else “permission to be second.”

After getting a very early copy of Anne’s first book, Mad Church Disease (Zondervan), I got a review copy of Permission to Speak Freely (Thomas Nelson) after most bloggers had finished covering this title.   In a way that’s rather appropriate, because this is a book that we need to be reminded of from time to time, that is going to be part of the help and healing of many who are broken.

I think it’s significant that Anne has found her writing to be a redemptive work for the things in her past.   It’s significant that she has been able to get two books (so far) out of those experiences.   It’s significant that two of our industry’s largest publishers have been willing to take a chance on her brutal honesty and openness.

Here’s what I mean (italics added):

I find it interesting that in our current culture we identify the church as a safe place for broken people to find refuge.  Church is a place for us to claim the right of a modern day sanctuary where we can name our sins and ask our questions and be protected and sheltered while we search for grace, forgiveness and answers.

Yet as history shows us, for hundreds of years churches have been sacrificing the beauty of confession and brokenness for religious trappings and the malady of perfectionism. In some cases if we don’t measure up to a man-made cocktail of moral codes and checklists — if we aren’t “good enough” — we no longer feel welcomed in a church or around other Christians.

The full title is: Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace (Thomas Nelson, paperback $16.99 U.S)   This isn’t about someone living an exemplary life and thereby earning the right to write a book about it.   It’s very much the opposite.

It’s a very messy story, which we so very desperately need to hear.

Related at this blog:   Here’s an early reference I made to the book last month in connection with a breaking news story.

Related elsewhere:   Here’s the link to Donald Miller’s blog, which is stop number one on a seven stop blog tour containing chapters from Anne’s book.   Each essay concludes with a link to the next sample chapter.

Here’s the link to Anne’s blog and also the link to the special Facebook page set up in connection of the book. (Must be logged in to Facebook; on arrival select “slideshows.”)

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August 27, 2010

I’ve Got A Postsecret

In balance, Post Secret is one of the darker places on the internet.  It’s also a curiosity because it combines online interaction with the necessity of snail-mailing a postcard to an address in Germantown, Maryland.  High tech, meet low tech.  The postcards are handmade, or at the very least, amended versions of commercial products; all containing a confession.  (I suspect some send them in envelopes for privacy and protection of their art mini-masterpieces.)

Most of the overt confessions involve some type of sexual infidelity.  Affairs or affairs of the heart; cheating on a spouse, etc.  Closely following are other transgressions of the ten commandments, including stealing things from a workplace or lying to a friend.   Apparently there is a need to come clean to someone, anyone; a need to have someone to confess to; explainable if the person is of Catholic background, but that doesn’t apply to the majority American respondents.

Not all the secrets at Post Secret involve something that the writer themselves did however.   Unlike other online confessionals, this one also gets a fair degree of mail from people who have simply been hurt.   They may have been someone’s victim, or they may be a victim of circumstances.   Or they might just be expressing an anger or an angst that not all is right either without or within.


A surprising number of the thousands of postcards displayed online each year involve a loss of belief or a loss of faith, such as the one above.  (Many are more blunt, just saying, “I don’t believe in God anymore;” often with the punchline, “I’m a pastor.”)  It’s interesting that while the average person’s ten commandment list would focus on the ‘second tablet’ there are at least some people responding who regard ‘first tablet’ sins — commandments one through four — as equally serious, especially the overarching loss of regard for God Himself.

It is as though this type of confession weighs equally on the heart of the person taking the time to compose the postcard.   There is a disconnect that has taken place between themselves and God, and somehow, they know God is not at fault.  (“If God suddenly seems distant, guess who moved?”)

Of course what is most sadly lacking, especially from a liturgical point of view, is the assurance of pardon.   Ignoring the fact that the confession may have been misdirected — confessing to a stranger or online community of strangers only eases the desire to tell someone — there are no next steps; there is nowhere to begin climbing back to right relationship with either themselves, another party, or God.  Not even a Hail Mary.

Instead, the Post Secret simply squats online for a few days — or longer if it gets picked up in one of the print editions — like a traffic accident that no one is bothering to clean up.

In The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges says we never see sin correctly unless we see it “as against God.”   In other words, even the casual theft of office supplies is a sin against God.   We don’t fail ourselves, or fail our spouse or boss or relative or neighbor; ultimately we “miss the mark” with God.

But the assurance of pardon is that if we confess our sin, with faithfulness and according to a justice we can’t always comprehend, he will pardon that sin and help us to work out that sin-nature that caused it.

If God had a website confessional; people would walk away feeling new, and cleansed, and whole.

He’s got something better.

Wanna read more?   Here’s a continuation of this discussion at Christianity 201.

The reason Moses always appears holding two Styrofoam flutter boards is that the first four commandments involve sins against God and the second six involve sins against other people; often referred to as ‘first tablet’ and ‘second tablet.’   See, you learned something today about flutter boards.

So far, no link.   I know.   Post Secret contains content that is certain to offend some readers of this blog, but if you’re looking for the link, this is it.

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