Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron
Combining the story of St. Francis of Assisi with the mid-church crisis in the life of Chase Falson, Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron is a journey that you don’t want to miss. Part history, part fiction, Chasing Francis is a tale of wisdom strikes at the heart of what it means to live out one’s faith in a broken world. Focusing on the crisis of faith that ensues when Chase Falson, founding pastor of a megachurch in the Northeast corner of the State, decides that ministering out of an evangelical zeal for certainty and reading someone else’s script is not for him. In a quest for relief in what to do with doubts, frustrations, and challenges, Chase is given a leave of absence by elders and flies to Italy to see his uncle who is a Franciscan priest. Rather than tell the story and to give away the tale, I think bringing out some of the truths in the book will help readers get a better grasp on their reading.
Holistic Integration of Spirituality and Life
Throughout the story and in the middle of Chase’s spiritual pilgrimage you get the feeling that the life and ministry of St. Francis was connected to every aspect of life. Even this holistic understanding of the faith connects to the grasping the truth of faith traditions. Cron writes, “Sharing the wisdom each of our traditions brings to the table will create more well-rounded Christians. Francis was a Catholic, an evangelical street preacher, a radical social activist, a contemplative who devoted hours to prayer, a mystic who had direct encounters with God, and someone who worshiped with all the enthusiasm and spontaneity of a Pentecostal. He was a wonderful integration of all the theological streams we have today” (55). There is an emphasis on the spiritual practices that are of great emphasis for those in the Quaker and contemplative traditions but also a vibrant social element which many mainline churches pick up on. Theology was for Francis never something that should be carried out in the desks of preachers but at the feet of beggars. One could even make the case that Francis overstated the importance of ministering to people on the streets. Overall, the integration of mercy ministries, preaching, worship, and spiritual practices was all rolled up into one ball for Francis of Assissi.
The Need for Friendship
Although the book is focused on Chase’s spiritual pilgrimage and the life of St. Francis, there is an important element here not to be missed: friendship. Chase for all his failures and oversights was in needs of friendship that was able to withstand the deepest conversations about doubt and faith. Although the priests were able to guide and stand by Chase, Maggie, Chase’s friend who had gone through hell and back was there for him. She even found Jesus in the care for HIV men who were dying in the book, taking care of their basic needs such as washing their wounds. Maggie served as a mirror to reflect Chase’s struggles but also a safe haven for Chase to unload his worries on. Now, many in the church today as minister’s are married, so a female partner like Maggie will not work, but a close friend of the same sex to talk about the trials, doubts, and struggles in ministry is a necessary thing. It was refreshing for Chase to be able to lay his own struggles before Maggie and the priests in the book and be able to engage without a judgmental response coming from them.
Proof in the Pudding
The brothers were committed to showing Chase what followers of Francis do in the middle of terrible situations. He went with them to soup kitchen to help the poor and provide shelter for the broken. This kind of mercy was part of their everyday life, not an addition to an already full ministry situation. Francis was committed to preaching to all of God’s creation including animals but he never lost sight of the poor in his midst. This kind of relentless pursuit of serving others for Christ’s sake is apparent not only in the priests and their ministry but also in the kindness they showed to people who offered them sores and sickness.
I think this book showed the genius of Francis and his desire to love Christ through all of life. Part story, part biography, this book is one that I did not want to put down. If you’re looking for a more academic or thorough study of Francis, there are other books out there, but if you are looking for how Francis impacted a whole culture, this book is for you.
Thanks to Zondervan and Book Sneeze program for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.