chasing francis: a pilgrim’s tale, by ian morgan cron.
since i’ve been blogging about books i read, i’ve started receiving some in the mail. some publishers still don’t get this, and have absurd requests (“we’d like to send you a book, but we need you to guarantee you’ll post a positive review of it within two weeks, link to it on our site, and give us one of your children.”). i always decline these requests, and they seem to send the books anyhow. but this book just showed up in my mail. no demands, no requests, no “we hope you blog about this” card stuck in the cover. and it sat in my “maybe i’ll read” pile for a month or so. but each time i was selecting my next book to read, this book caught my eye. i finally read the back cover, and decided it was a good fit for my “new zealand fiction reading spree”. and, after chris moore’s comedic love story about vampires in san francisco, i was ready for a tale of a pastor in spiritual crisis.
this book is one of those fiction books that aren’t written just to tell a story. it’s fiction with a point. it’s fiction with long non-fictiony prose by primary characters. brian mclaren’s “new kind of christian” trilogy is written in this format. so are patrick lencioni’s excellent business parables. some people don’t like this kind of writing. i am not one of those people. i love this approach, when done well (i’ve seen hack jobs also, and wished they’d just written non-fiction, or not written at all!).
but the bottom line is: crom totally makes this style of storytelling work in this book.
the basic storyline, without giving anything away, is of a conservative evangelical seeker-church pastor in new england who goes into a full-blown faith crisis which climaxes right in the middle of sermon. nasty way to go, but painfully engaging and voyeuristic to read! this main character — chase falson — gets put on leave of absense by his freaked-out church board, and ends up flying to italy to hang with an old favorite uncle who’s become a franciscan friar. this uncle (uncle kenny — gotta love a franciscan monk named “uncle kenny”) takes chase on a pilgrimage to wrestle his questions and doubts to the ground, all alonside francis (as in: saint francis).
here’s what crom accomplishes:
– he gives us a great overview of franciscian ideology (and theology), as well as an overview of the life of saint francis.
– he proposes that francis has much to teach the church (and the emerging church) during this epochal transitionary time we live in (modern to pomo).
occasionally, chase has thinking or understanding that seems too simplistic for a new england mega-church pastor (there are a few times when i thought, “c’mon, he would have known that!”). and that occasionally makes the book feel like it’s making an unfair caricature of conservative evangelicals. but i really don’t get the sense that’s crom’s intent.
i truly enjoyed reading this book, and would highly recommend it. it’s not preachy but has some wonderful ideas. and its narrative approach not only lends itself to enjoyable reading (and, really, i like to read just to read sometimes, not only to get new ideas!), but it utilizes the power of story and illustration to gently unveil some powerful and timely old skool theology and worldview.