I have finally finished reading Ian Morgan Cron’s Chasing Francis (Navpress 2006) (ISBN 13:978-1-57683-812-9).
This is my story: I was at a Fresh Expression Conference in Lincoln. In Archbishop Rowan Williams’ speech he mentioned the book by Cron. At first I thought he had said Crom so I came away from the conference searching frantically for a book by Crom about St Francis. Eventually, (after about a week) I discovered my error and found the right book on Amazon. By now, there was something deep within me that yearned for this book that I couldn’t find; my joy at discovering the book is ludicrously indescribable! It was as if I knew that it would be a major building brick in my continual formation. I ordered the book from one of the Amazon suppliers only to be sent an email 2 days later telling me they were out of stock (why do they put it on Amazon??!!). I re-ordered from another supplier only to be told the same thing (this time a week later); eventually I found a stockist and within 2 days received the coveted book!
As I read, it immediately had an impact on me. It is a novel about a young minister (39) who had a crisis of faith. It wasn’t the fact that he stopped believing in God, it was more that the Jesus he thought he believed in was beginning to unravel. He had a growing sense that there must be more to this faith business than what he was currently experiencing. In the end the minister broke down in front of a packed church and declared his faith-less faith. He then, through a complicated twist of events, ended up spending time in Italy with Franciscan Monks retracing the steps of St Francis of Assisi. By the end of the book he identifies 5 principles he wants to see within a church transcendence, community, beauty, dignity, and meaning.
The beginning of the story so mirrored my own that at times it began to scare me! But, I will always remember this book for reminding me why I got into this Church thing in the beginning. I learnt a lot about St Francis, but I didn’t really learn anything new about what I believed about Jesus, faith, and church. Rather, I rediscovered something of the beauty and wonder of faith that somehow got lost in institutional church. I reclaimed for myself the Jesus that I came to know so many years ago and ditched the one that the church had coerced me into adopting. When I say the church I mean those in local churches who, with my help, managed to get lost in an internal logic that turned Jesus into some kind of egotistical, worship needing deity and the church into a group of people who loved property, increasing, worship fuelled adrenaline rushes, and winning tickets into heaven.
For those struggling to find home in the church and desperately trying to hang onto a faith perspective framed by the character of Jesus of Nazareth – this is well worth a read. It would have been easy for Chase (the main character and minister in the book) to take one of two options; to abandon the idea of a deity and the narrative of Jesus or to carry on believing the same story he and the church had been peddling for years. Instead, he took the brave (and most difficult) decision – to rediscover Jesus in a new context in the light of experience. In doing so he has to unlearn that which he took for granted; he has to challenge his own assumptions, prejudice, motive and desire; and he has to get his hands dirty as he (Re)discovers that being a disciple of Jesus can only be learnt on the job.
As you can see – I’m a bit of a fan! And this is not the most critical of reviews; but I wanted to lay a bit of a path so that I could spend some time blogging on each of the 5 principles that Cron outlines.
You can read the series of reviews here: