This last week I had the privilege to listen to an audiobook version of the soon-to-be-released Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson courtesy of a complimentary copy from christianaudio's reviewers program.
The basic idea intrigued me: Jackson asked on her blog, "What is one thing you feel you can't say in church?" The book is an outgrowth of the responses she received from that and her own experiences.
This is definitely one of the absolute best books I have reviewed for christianaudio. It is also one of the best nonfiction Christian books I have ever read (or listened to). It very much coincides with the mission of this blog of encouraging people to be honest and authentic about their struggles and having the permission to speak freely about difficult matters.
Jackson does a beautiful job of describing the problem of restricted dialogue, not only in the institutional church, but also throughout society. It causes more damage than good.
The way she humanizes the struggles is phenomenal. It is the first book in a very long time that has brought tears to my eyes, not only from sadness of the pain we all cause others, but also because of the hope she reminds readers/listeners of.
Through her commentary on the core of problems that take our attention (like addictions to substances and sex), she also helped me remember why I entered the field of psychology and not give into the push to focus on symptom management. It reminded me to take a wider and deeper perspective with myself and others.
She states at the end of the book that she cannot give some nice, easy steps to solve the problems like most self-help books do. While it's true she does not provide a formula (which would have ruined the book), she did provide a solution: Relationships. Honest, authentic relationships where people can engage one another, challenge one another, and grow IS the solution.
It's not easy. And it takes a lot of courage. I loved her recognition of this in discussing giving the gift of going second (if you want to know more, read or listen to the book! :) ). If we can use this courage, though, the results are astounding.
However, we still have work on developing a culture, both inside and outside of the institutional church, where we can give people the permission to speak freely about anything. The church building should be a safe place, a sanctuary, where people can openly struggle. Instead, it's often turned into the exact opposite.
On a final note, I also love the fact that Jackson read the book herself. As I have said before, I prefer books read by the author, even if they are not all that polished. This book is intensely personal on many levels. It would have definitely lost some significant meaning if a professional narrator was hired.