permission to speak freely by anne jackson

A couple of years ago, Anne Jackson posed the following question on her blog, flowerdust.net: what is one thing you feel you can’t say in church? That post, and the overwhelming response thereto, was the genesis of this book, which features essays and art on fear, confession, and grace.

The basic premise behind Jackson’s initial question is that there are certain things which, validly or not, many people do not feel comfortable bringing up within their faith communities. Whether it be a matter of personal doubt and questioning, struggles with addiction or depression, or issues revolving around sexuality, the Church has more often that not been a place of judgment and shame rather than acceptance and support. In posing this question and in writing this book, Jackson gets the ball rolling not only by sharing some of her own struggles, but also by giving the reader permission to share their own stories, encouraging them to engage in the practice of confession and begin down the road to healing and transformation.

Permission To Speak Freely is a quick read, and while the scriptural and theological insights found in its pages are not necessarily anything that you might not have read before, the beauty of this book is the juxtaposition of biblical truth and personal reflection. Jackson’s honesty is raw and refreshing, illuminating in a real way what God can do in and through us when we find the courage to express the deep secrets that we are so afraid to let go of. I particularly enjoyed the bits about the concept of the Church being a refuge, and the gift of going second.

This is an important, albeit short book that hopefully can inspire people to be genuine with others they trust in regards to their struggles, and also to be open to supporting others in their times of need.

*Note: This book was provided free of charge from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. Review completed by Ian, Lauren’s husband.

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september call ups

As any baseball fan will know, September can be a very interesting time, even if your team has all but been eliminated from playoff contention. It’s the time of year when MLB rosters are expanded, and fans get a look at some young talent that might make an impact for their team the following season. I invoke this analogy a) because I love sports and can’t wait to see J.P Arencibia develop into a star for the Jays, and b) as a way of expressing that September can be a time of great change and anticipation, setting the table for great things to come.

Throughout our marriage, September certainly has been a time of change for Lauren and I. For example:

– In 2005, we got married in August, and September was spent settling into our new apartment in Toronto, and, of course, into married life. On top of that, Lauren went back to school for her final year and I began a new job with Christian Horizons.

– In 2006, we moved to Manitoba, where Lauren began studying at Providence Seminary. I spent a couple weeks looking for a job before finding work as an education assistant in a rural MB town.

– 2007 was the one September where we actually stayed in the same place. I, however, began another new position, requiring me to wake up @ 4:30 am every day.

– In 2008, we found ourselves packing up and heading off to Aberdeen. We spent that month once again getting settled into a new city and and a new apartment. Lauren began her job at the Hamilton School, and I began my work as a Master’s student.

– Last September found us leaving Aberdeen (a year ago today, actually) and setting out on a European adventure.

And September 2010 is no exception as, literally any day now, we will become parents. Over the past couple of weeks, this reality has begun to set in more and more, and as we see and feel our son moving around, we marvel at the fact that very soon we will be able to hold him in our arms.

While the many changes that we have experienced and adventures that we have embarked on have been challenging and amazing in their own ways, the fact that we will soon be responsible for this new life is both beautiful and overwhelming, and ultimately something that we are both looking forward to very much.

To those who are interested in hearing news of his safe arrival, we will try to get the word out as soon as we can.

eighth letter submissions

To the church in North America, from a fellow sojourner daily struggling to understand what it means to follow Jesus Christ our Lord in the 21st century …

Just as a reminder, today is the deadline to submit for Eighth Letter, which is now just a month away. I just finished mine up, the first line of which is quoted above.

Get yours in ASAP if you haven’t already.

Also check out a letter posted by Rachel Held Evans entitled “Let’s Build Bigger Banquet Tables” – excellent stuff.

summer happenings

Thought it was time for a little update.

Lauren and I have had a really busy August. It began with a move, and, four weeks later, we are now feeling pretty settled. We really love our new place, and feel [somewhat] ready to welcome our son into his first home. [It’s hard to believe that the due date is only a couple of weeks away! Exciting.] Lauren had a clear vision for how she wanted to set things up, and it all looks pretty awesome. Hopefully we can get some photos up soon for all those interested.

Apart from that, August has been a month in which I have been working many hours, trying to bank some time to be off when the baby arrives. Yesterday was my first legit day off in almost 2 weeks. Actually, it was my first day off since our anniversary, which we celebrated in Stratford with a viewing of Peter Pan and a lovely meal. We also went to a family reunion for Lauren’s side, and had a nice date day in Elora. It’s really been a time of ‘nesting’ and enjoying some time as husband and wife before we become Mommy and Daddy.

Other notables:

– We have still really been enjoying Friday Night Lights. We are currently watching Season 3, and it really is one of the best TV shows I have ever watched. Period.

– Last night we went and saw The Switch, and both really enjoyed it. Seeing Jason Bateman interact with that kid really made me excited to be a Dad.

– I have a few books coming to me to review. First up is Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson, Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado, and About You by Dick Staub.

– I downloaded the new Sufjan EP All Delighted People, and we are both loving it. We are also really enjoying new music by Caedmon’s Call and Thad Cockrell.

– I have been trying to get some good stuff up on twitter.com/eighthletter. Check that out if you’re the tweeting kind. Also check out the Eighth Letter website for details about the event, which is coming up pretty fast.

– To cap off the summer, I am going to my first Toronto FC match this Saturday evening. Very much looking forward to that, and to catch up with the fellas at the same time.

And that’s pretty much the story from Guelph. Maybe a couple posts to come on the next few days, and, of course, a ‘welcome, Baby McLaren’ post is soon to come!

reblog: a brief theology of ‘eating animals’

*I posted this last summer, having though through some of this in preparation for an exam question. Now that I am just about to finish reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I though it was apropos to revisit this post. While I’m not sure that JSF would agree with this perspective, and while his book has certainly caused me to rethink some of this, I still believe that this is as good a place to start as any. Feel free to share thoughts on this topic, and please call me on anything that seems off.

In Christian theology, there is no intrinsic or visible superiority of humans over animals but for the Word of God spoken specifically to humankind, making human behavior towards the animal beholden to that Word.

Initially, humans and animals constitute a single group to whom plants have been given for food, but humans are given priority over animals in that they are invited first to the table. The original relationship is inherently a non-violent one as all living beings, under the original created order, are meant to eat plants. There is no basis for humans to harm animals, or vice versa. In fact, the naming process displays a special relatedness between humans and animals as Adam expresses an attentive consideration to the particularities of the animals before him. There exists, then, a special relationship between humans and animals, with humans being set apart as the creatures to whom God speaks directly.

Noah, however, is given permission to eat animals, but under certain conditions wherein he and his descendants are to be reminded that killing is always a serious matter. There is to be an understanding that the post-fall situation does not correspond with an original order, nor does it reflect a final one. The killing of animals is allowed in order to remind humankind of the seriousness of the state of sin and a promise of its reconciliation; it is to be seen as a concession that will end and is to be taken seriously as we consider that it is only in relation to our sin that permission is given to kill and eat animals.

The killing of animals is meant to be undertaken within a certain tone of sacrifice and worship, a reminder that we live in a world that does not correspond with the way that things are meant to be. Essentially, the killing of animals is meant to be an act that causes us to a) pause and consider why it is that this has been allowed by God, and b) point us backwards and forwards to the way that things are meant to be.

However, when we begin to kill mechanically as opposed to sacrificially, the divinely mandated human / animal relationship, even in this concessionary form, is lost. While permission has been granted for humans to eat meat, we are not meant to renounce fellowship with animals through a mechanized system of death. Exploitation occurs when when the attitude of worship, sacrifice and relatedness involved in this process is lost, putting us at odds with the Word that God has spoken and continues to speak on this matter.

So, what does this all mean in terms of food production and consumption today? Obviously this had huge implications in terms of everything from factory farming and fast food to purchasing meat from the grocery story and even hunting for sport. It seems to me that the best way to go about eating meat would be to raise our own chickens and cows and have to go about the business of killing them ourselves so that we would understand the seriousness of it all. This would heighten a sense of relatedness to the animal that quite simply does not exist the further we are removed from the process of food production. While this is not possible for most city dwellers, this at least has to inform the way that we shop for food and our propensity to support fast food chains. While vegetarianism is not to be seen as a universal rule in light of the concession made to Noah and the reality of Christian freedom, we must consider the pre-lapsarian and eschatological witness of plants being given to both humans and animals for food and reclaim the sense of worship and sacrifice that is meant to accompany the killing and eating of animals.

At the very least, I think this should reframe the practice of saying grace before a meal. Instead of an empty ‘rub a dub dub thanks for the grub’, I believe this is meant to be a time to pause and consider not only God’s provision of food on the table, but the reality of the hope that we have that all things will be made right.

*Note: Having read (most of) the book, I confess that this might seem like an empty, unrealistic talk, not really addressing the vast issue that is factory farming. At the end of the day, maybe the best answer would be to adopt a vegetarian diet. Having said that, maybe a book should be written called ‘Eating Vegetables’ wherein issues of how our produce is grown are addressed, and where one examines the health problems that have developed over the years due to the use of chemicals / hormones in our vegetables. It seems as though there are deep problems in regards all that we consume, and I’m left scratching my head where to even begin putting into practice a better way of eating anything. Any ideas? Maybe ‘Eating Animals’ offers some practical tips towards the end. Better tackle the last 50 pages …

early thoughts on ‘raising up the dead’

It’s been a couple weeks since I jumped on the pre-order for the new album from Caedmon’s Call.

I’ve listened to it several times, but don’t quite feel as though I am ready to write a full review just yet.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t been able to track down the lyrics (the digital download does not include any sort of .pdf version of an album liner), or, unlike the material from other Caedmon’s albums, perhaps I just don’t feel super attached to these songs just yet.

What I am confident in saying at this point, however, is that this is some of the most beautiful, heartfelt and rich music that this band has ever created.

Track Listing:
01. Sometimes a Beggar
02. She
03. Family
04. Miss You
05. God’s Hometown
06. Come With Me
07. Streets of Gold
08. Time Inside Out
09. I Need a Builder
10. David Waits
11. Raising Up the Dead
12. Free

The clear highlights for me so far are definitely ‘Family’ and ‘Free’. The former provides this great picture of what it means to be a part of the Church: ‘with my family around me now / takes me to a new place / when my family surrounds me now / you see it on my face.‘ Excellent, catchy sound on this one. The latter is this beautiful reminder of the power of the grace of Christ, which sets us free and connects us one to another. I’m also a big fan of ‘Sometimes a Beggar’, ‘She’ and ‘Raising Up The Dead.’ Wait, who am I kidding – I’m a big fan of this whole album.

What I love about this album is that it’s created and produced entirely by members of the band. Instrumentally and vocally, it’s beautiful to listen to, and I enjoy the fact that the female vocalist – Danielle Young – gets a lot of play. She’s an underrated but essential element of Caedmon’s, and I always love the songs she brings to the table.

Again, I hope to be able to offer up a better review sometime before the official release, but in the meantime, I would highly recommend that you download it for yourself and take a listen.

eighth letter info

The book of Revelation contains seven letters addressed to 1st century congregations struggling to find their identity. Nearly two thousand years later we are asking some of the world’s leading thinkers, people you’ve never heard of and, well…you: what is your message for the Church in North America?

The guys who put together this past April’s Kingdom Economy conference in Toronto are back at it. This October 1-2 in Toronto, make a plan to attend Eighth Letter, an event based on the premise quoted above.

Confirmed authors include Shane Claiborne, Andy Crouch, Len Sweet, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Ron Sider, Wendy Gritter, Tim Challies, Sarah Lance, Makoto Fujimura and Jason Hildebrand.

The first registration deadline is tonight at midnight, where you can order tickets for half off the event day price. Click here to get on that. If you are interested in submitting your own letter to the church in North America, you have until September 1st to do so, and can submit your entry here.

And if you are the tweeting type, you can access even information and links from those presenting and attending from twitter.com/eighthletter.

Have a good Sunday!