Chasing Francis: A Book Review

My first foray into the Episcopal Church happened at a place called St. Francis.  I declare upfront, I knew nothing whatsoever about Francis when I arrived there as a 20-something.  Even though I began life as a Roman Catholic, we made the leap into Protestantism—a pentecostal church—while I was in second grade.  Fox’s Book of Saints hadn’t been required reading up till that point of my life.  And my charismatic pastors growing up paid no attention to anything marked as important by the Vatican.

So my introduction came when that Episcopal congregation held a blessing of the animals on the front lawn one October.  I came because it intrigued me to know that a priest would actually bless animals, and also to watch the ensuing chaos of cats and dogs together.  They remained respectfully suspicious without flair ups.  I’d have to wait nearly 20 years to see that by none other than my own beagle, Buster, a rescue that is disrespectfully suspicious of other animals, cat or dog.  But I digress.

I follow Ian Morgan Cron on twitter.  Ian’s also an Episcopal priest who ventured out of Evangelicalism, and wrote a smashing memoir—Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me, A Memoir of Sorts—that I am still reeling from a good six months after having read it.  One day he offered a signed copy of his first book Chasing Francis for any that would write a review.  I accepted, recognizing I didn’t need to leave a favorable one, but knowing Cron has writing chops and I wouldn’t be disappointed.  I wasn’t.

Chasing Francis, a work of fiction, follows the journey of a mega-church pastor, Chase Falcon, who loses his understanding of faith while preaching one Sunday.  This crisis brewed under the surface for many months, deep questions about pain and loss and God.  Chase always could produce the right answer, little tid-bits of the faith to answer any question that came his way; that is, until his questions got too deep.

After the elder board forces him to take a leave, he travels to Italy to meet up with Kenny, his mom’s first cousin.  Kenny had been a Protestant who became a Catholic.  Not just a run of the mill Catholic, he became a Franciscan priest.  Cron writes, “A conservative Baptist becoming a Catholic is like the pope becoming a Mormon.  The long-haul viability of the cosmos is drawn into question when stuff like this happens.”

Kenny and the other Franciscans Chase meets share the story of Francis, the most beloved of Saints, while he is on this extended pilgrimage.  Chase discovers the stories of Francis’ hagiography, like the one of the town and the wolf and of Francis and the Sultan among many others.  And ultimately Chase rediscovers a faith, much deeper and richer than before.

Cron is a master story-teller.  While we hear of Francis’ life, we also learn of the conflict brewing at Chase’s mega-church and a growing friendship.  The novel reaches its climax with Chase sharing what he has learned in a manifesto for the church.

And for me, as a priest and pastor of a congregation, the novel shines most brightly at that point.  Cron has written a guide about how to be the Church, learning from Francis, a church-planter and remarkable saint.  Ideas about transcendence and community and generosity.  I won’t tell you how the book ends, if the mega-church he started comes alongside their minister or not.  I will only say that Ian Cron has written a fantastic, captivating novel, and it includes a clarion call for the Church of today.

You can buy Chasing Francis online.