[Note: Not only am I an author, I am also an avid reader. It is my hope to offer periodic book reviews to give you a glimpse at my bookshelf, and hopefully encourage you to pick up a good book. Most of what I read is from a Christian worldview, although I do read some secular books from time to time.]
Permission Granted – And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously Among Sinners and Saints
By Margot Starbuck
Published 2013 by Baker Books
Several months ago I took a trip to my local Christian bookstore. My errand had a dual purpose – to find selections for the Ladies Book Club at my church and also to find a book to help me with the dilemma I found myself in. My struggle, namely, was how do I, as a Christian, love the people of the world but still hold on to my biblical principles?
Ms. Starbuck’s book spoke to me immediately. The subtitle alone called my name. But, I struggled with choosing it for our book club. I knew nothing about the author or her theology. I put the book down, then picked it back up again. I thumbed through its pages, put it back on the shelf. What if it were too liberal in its message? I walked around the store some more, chose a novel (All For a Song), then went back and picked up Permission Granted again. Squaring my shoulders, I took my purchases to the counter. I am very glad I did!
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been having a lot of internal struggles lately. I know I’m supposed to love as Jesus did, that means loving everybody – even those who have differing spiritual, political, sexual views. But, I’m also supposed to stand for something. I’m supposed to be willing to draw a line in the sand and say, “do not cross”. How am I supposed to love someone as they are and yet not accept their decisions? How do I stand my ground while simultaneously loving someone who is standing theirs, which may be diametrically opposed to my stand? It was all very confusing to me.
Ms. Starbuck’s book helped me straighten out the tangled web of my thoughts and the mixed messages I often receive from Christian leaders. Throughout the book she refers to two sets of people – the “religious” and “others”. The religious are those of us who consider ourselves to be good, upstanding, Bible-believing Christians who try to live and play by the rules. The “others” are anyone we would consider to be outside of our church or social group. You know, sinners. There is also a sub-group of “others” called special sinners. You and I both know who those people are, the ones who’s sins we believe are so much worse than our own.
This book was very interesting to me because I saw myself in so many of her examples. Such as, who hasn’t judged someone by the bumper sticker we see on their car? Guilty!! I am one of those who, when people would tell me if Jesus were in America today He would not be a Republican, would think “oh, yes, He would!” (Don’t worry, I know better now. LOL) I have been guilty of thinking that even though I sin, my sins aren’t as bad as someone else’s.
Another reason this book was interesting to me is because I have an “other” in my family. My oldest son (who is currently not speaking to any of us in his family) is an “other”. He hangs with people I often find offensive. He wears eyeliner. Okay, not everyday, but when he goes to these raves he attends. Many of his friends lead a lifestyle that is way outside my Christian comfort zone. So, how do I love him and his friends? That was really my bottom-line question. The answer was oh, so simple.
As Jesus did.
Ms. Starbuck spent a lot of time going over the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life on earth, especially His reputation as a friend of sinners. She talked about His unconditional acceptance, which means being loved before you change even one tiny thing about your behavior. She challenges the Christian to really consider what we believe – including asking if we are often more concerned with behavior modification than we are with spiritual transformation. It made me think a lot about the Bible accounts of Jesus and the time He spent with sinners. I think we’ve had a tendency to sanitize His friendship with sinners. Yes, He hung around with prostitutes and tax collectors, but those people all cleaned up their acts after a few minutes with Jesus, right? One dinner with Jesus and they no longer drank or used bad language or turned tricks again. That’s what we like to think. But the Bible doesn’t say that. It does tell us that Jesus loved them and had compassion on them and even “healed all their diseases” – while they were yet sinners.
I will admit that some parts of the book were challenging for me. It was obvious after reading just a few chapters that Ms. Starbuck comes from a more liberal perspective than I have – both politically and spiritually – so I had to put my new knowledge to good use and keep an open mind about what she had to say! It was fairly easy though because she writes with a good deal of humor. There were times when she made me laugh out loud with her witty words. Ms. Starbuck has no trouble making fun of herself and her religiosity, which helped me see myself in a more humorous light. Also, I enjoyed being challenged in my beliefs and taking time to consider that maybe there is another way to look at a situation.
Although Permission Granted didn’t solve all my internal struggles, it did give me a new and fresh perspective on what it means to truly love others and relieved me of the burden of being Holy Spirit junior to those who may be living outside my Christian comfort zone. I still believe there is Truth and that we need to stand by it. We cannot accept and condone anything anyone wants to do in the name of love. But love has a greater chance of changing people and bringing them to repentance than picket signs and placards ever will.
Overall, I would recommend Permission Granted to anyone who is struggling to understand what it means to walk in Christian love and how we are to live our everyday lives in today’s world.