PermissionEach morning I wake up to four simple words printed on a postcard facing my bed. “I AM FOR YOU,” proclaim the bold capitals.

This is the catchphrase, or more like the battle cry, of author Margot Starbuck, whose web site explains:

Precious one,

Receive this message that is meant for you today…

There is One who, despite what you’ve experienced, is altogether for you. There is One who, in this moment and all others, is present with you.

Though other voices may hiss that you are not worthy of love, they lie. The voice that is true says: I accept you. I love you. I’m with you. I’m for you. You are altogether beloved.

This is the voice to listen to today.

“For me?” you might ask. “No one is for me. I’ve messed up. I’m not worth it. Not loved.”

Too often, this is the message we hear–at home, at work, even at church–the message of defeat, despair and discouragement.

Just as harmful, it is often the message we give others. Myself included. Guilty.

That’s one reason I was eager to read Starbuck’s just released book, “Permission Granted, And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously Among Sinners and Saints,” (BakerBooks, 2013). This is not so much a how-to book on giving encouragement–more an honest look at how churchies like myself fail to reach beyond often judgmental, preconceived, Sunday school notions of who exactly is worthy of grace, who worthy of  love.

Is it everyone who looks like me? Thinks like me? Went to the same schools as me? Struggles in the same areas as me? Or is God’s grace bigger? And if so, what am I called to do about it?

With upbeat writing and critical clarity, Starbuck introduces her book by writing about “The Unlikely Way.” In it, she tells the story of a church located on the route of Gay Pride Parade in Chicago. Every year, church members line the street with hand-lettered signs proclaiming God’s hatred of people who practice homosexuality, or as Starbuck points out, people the church has dubbed, “Special Sinners.”

She contrasts this with a Christian outreach to prostitutes in the notorious Patpong district of Bangkok. Rather than condemning these women, Rahab Ministry volunteers fix up the sex worker’s hair and make-up each night before they go out. In the process volunteers build relationships with these women and help many find a way out. Sounds counterproductive, but when the message is “I am for you,” it works.

“This, the Scriptures seem to suggest, is the pattern of Gospel living,” Starbuck writes. “And though it diverges quite radically from the way taught and practiced by so many of the Religious, like me, it is nonetheless the unlikely way Jesus loved the ones identified as Special Sinners. If you are ready to love differently, read on.”

The stories that follow entertain, inform, and challenge–with plenty to think about after the last page.

So, if you, like Starbuck, were raised “Religious” and are looking for permission to love and embrace those whose lives don’t resemble your own, “Permission Granted” is a thoughtful, well-written place to start.

 A copy of this book was provided for review by the author. For a chance to win a copy of “Permission Granted,” post a comment on this web site or subscribe any time before May. A drawing for the winner will be held May 1st and announced on Facebook. A free copy of the book will be mailed to the winner, must be in the U.S.