A few weeks ago when I was in Atlanta for Catalyst I went to a blogger-ish meeting that took place after Catalyst had ended, called Off the Blogs (photos of that night). During one of the sessions, Carlos Whittaker from Ragamuffinsoul talked to the group about things going on in his life, and he mentioned a book he was reading that I had never heard of before, called Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron.
I am struggling with finding words to review this book adequately as it really took me to another place in how I think about God, the traditions of the Church as seen from a historical perspective, and the local modern church of today. Where I am part of the local modern church today by the mere fact that I am alive in 2009, Chasing Francis took me back to the traditions in the church during the 1200’s when Saint Francis of Assisi was alive. It got me to more closely examine the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7, and it was loaded with things we can apply to church today that Francis championed some 800 years ago.
This book is an allegory of sorts and it mixes fact and fiction throughout as Chase (the main character) goes on a pilgrimage that follows the life of Saint Francis of Assisi after he has been told by the elders to take a leave of absence as Pastor of a modern contemporary church to think about its direction. I tried to read the book with an open mind, not necessarily a critical mind, and it gave me a better appreciation for the roots of the Catholic church (which really are the roots to THE church), and the labels we tend to apply to everything in our world today.
Our Protestant-Catholic Misconceptions
Growing up Protestant the misconceptions and exaggerations I had/have of the Catholic church is probably similar to most in a denominational type church, but the story did focus on a Catholic Saint, and I found this passage very telling:
…My initiation into conservative Christianity included being taught that Catholics weren’t really ‘saved.’…
“What do you want to talk about?” Kenny said. “Transubstantiation, sola Scriptura versus the magisterium, praying to Mary, or all the other stuff Catholics and Protestants get hung up on? I’m too old for that. I’d rather be a reverent agnostic.”
“You’re an agnostic?” I asked. “The word agnostic means ‘not knowing.’ There are countless mysteries that I have to say… ‘I don’t know’.
and he went on to put the differences to rest as far as the story in this book goes to say:
…no one tradition has a corner on the faith market. Sharing the wisdom each of our traditions brings to the table will create more well-rounded Christians. Francis was a Catholic, evangelical preacher, radical social activist, devoted to prayer… who worshiped with all the enthusiasm of a Pentecostal.
and that is how he started down his pilgrimage into the life of Francis. I started off with zero knowledge about this Believer who lived 800 years ago, but left with a great curiosity to learn more.
Chasing Francis may have been written as a work of fiction, but the principles will ring true with any of us caught in the modern life of iPhone’s, Twitter, Facebook, and trying to be connected to the newest latest greatest, and then trying to bring it into the church.
For me, our methods in the church today in 2009 are different, our tools are different, and our words we use are different than any other time in history. We reach out to people in different ways than ever before, but we also don’t need to ignore the history and traditions of the church (minus the time frame in which our 66 books were written), and only look to the future. There are many who have come before us that have a lot to teach us, if we reach out to them.
Top 10 Bullet Points from Chasing Francis
Here are a few of the bullet points I took away from Chasing Francis. I scribbled, wrote, highlighted, and underlined half the book, so these are just a few of the ones that stuck out to me.
- the Bible is less about ideas or doctrines than it is a story about people and their up-and-down relationship with God
- the Bible is more a painting than a photograph [in context of interpretation of a painting]
- postmoderns are good at criticizing the old way of doing things, but not very good at offering up positive alternatives for going forward
- Francis didn’t criticize the institutional church, nor did he settle for doing church the way it had always been done
- when did I loose the childlike ability to hear God in nature?
- I’m not a character in search of an Author; I have a story.
- possessions dissipate the energy which they need for other and more real things
- Labels are misleading. They objectify people. They are a form of relational laziness
- come and see how we preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words
- if we spent less time worrying about how to share our faith with someone on an airplane and more time thinking about how to live radically generous lives, more people would start taking our message seriously.
In the end, I would say this is a must read, but only if it could be read with an open mind to think about the fact that there may be other ways to exercise our faith that we may disagree with, but that doesn’t make them wrong. It challenged by thinking and I loved the book. I will leave this post with one of my favorite quotes in the book from Henry David Thoreau.
If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. – Thoreau