Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Taleby Ian Morgan Cron
What happens when the pastor of a mega church loses his faith?
Pastor Chase Falson has lost his faith in God, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and his super-sized megachurch. When he falls apart, the church elders tell him to go away: as far away as possible. Join Chase on his life-changing journey to Italy where, with a curious group of Franciscan/p>… See more details below
What happens when the pastor of a mega church loses his faith?
Pastor Chase Falson has lost his faith in God, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and his super-sized megachurch. When he falls apart, the church elders tell him to go away: as far away as possible. Join Chase on his life-changing journey to Italy where, with a curious group of Franciscan friars, he struggles to resolve his crisis of faith by retracing the footsteps of Francis of Assisi, a saint whose simple way of loving Jesus changed the history of the world. Read this riveting story and then begin your own life-changing journey through the pilgrim’s guide included in this powerful novel.
Hidden in the past lies the future of the church
When his elders tell him to take some time away from his church, broken pastor Chase Falson crosses the Atlantic to Italy to visit his uncle, a Franciscan priest. There he is introduced to the revolutionary teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and finds an old, but new way of
following Jesus that heals and inspires. Chase Falson’s spiritual discontent mirrors the feelings of a growing number of Christians who walk out of church asking, Is this all there is? They are weary of celebrity pastors, empty calorie teaching, and worship services where
the emphasis is more on Lights, Camera, Action than on Father, Son, and Holy Spirit while the deepest questions of life remain unaddressed in a meaningful way.
Bestselling author Ian Morgan Cron masterfully weaves lessons from the life of Saint Francis into the story of Chase Falson to explore the life of a saint who 800 years ago breathed new life into disillusioned Christians and a Church on the brink of collapse. Chasing Francis is a hopeful and moving story with profound implications for those who yearn for a more vital relationship with God and the world.
“Chasing Francis is absolutely seductive. This one is a feast for the soul as well as a great, churning, joyful romp for the spirit!” —Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why
“Chasing Francis creates a unique and meaningful contribution to the emerging conversation about faith and life in today’s world.” —Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity
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- Zondervan Publishing
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Read an Excerpt
Chasing FrancisA Pilgrim's Tale
By Ian Morgan Cron
NavPressCopyright © 2006 Ian Morgan Cron
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the middle of the journey of our life I came to my senses in a dark forest, for I had lost the straight path.
Oh, how hard it is to tell what a dense, wild, and tangled wood this was, the thought of which renews my fear! - Dante, Inferno, canto 1, lines 1-6
As Alitalia flight 1675 began making its final descent into Florence, I nervously fanned the pages of my copy of The Divine Comedy. Two decades of sitting in my damp basement had left a powdery coating of mildew that wafted into the air around me. For a moment I saw it, tiny specks and spores floating idly in the rays of sun pouring through the window. I hadn't read the Inferno portion of Dante's classic since I was an undergrad. At nineteen, of course, the freight those first few lines carried would have been utterly lost on me. Now, reading them with thirty-nine-year-old eyes, I wished I could call Dante up and schedule a lunch. I had a long list of questions for him.
Through the patina of condensation on the plane's window, I surveyed the Tuscan countryside below and knew that I had lost the "straight path" and entered a "dense, wild, and tangled wood." Two weeks earlier I'd been Chase Falson, founding pastor of the largest contemporary evangelical church in New England. My fourteen years in the ministry were achurch-growth success story. I'd considered myself one of the privileged few the heavens had endowed with a perfectly true compass. I'd known who I was and where I was going, and I'd been certain that one day I would see the boxes neatly checked off next to each of my life goals. I'd liked myself. A lot.
These days, lots of people dismiss you when they discover you're cut from evangelical cloth. Once you've been outed as a conservative Christian, they assume you're a right-wing, self-satisfied fundamentalist with all the mental acuity of a houseplant. Every Christmas, my Uncle Bob greets me at the front door of my parents' house gripping a martini in one hand and a fat Cuban cigar in the other. He slaps me on the back and yells, "Look who's here! Its Mr. EEEeyah-vangelical!" It's disconcerting, but Bob's an idiot and can't help himself.
For many a year, the terms New England and evangelical have been almost mutually exclusive. My church history professor told me that Jonathan Edwards referred to New England as "the graveyard of preachers." Baleful as that sounded, it didn't dissuade me from heeding the call to head east after seminary. My three closest friends were incredulous when I told them about my decision to start a church in Thackeray, Connecticut, a bedroom community thirty-five miles from Wall Street.
"Have you lost your mind? Even God's afraid of the northeast," they said.
I laughed. "It's not so bad. I grew up there."
"But you could go to some mega-church in California or Chicago," they argued.
Truth be told, I wasn't interested in working for a church someone else had built. I wanted to be the pioneer who "broke the code" for the spiritually barren northeast, heroically advancing the cause of Christ into the most gospel-resistant region of the country. As a native, I was certain I knew the cultural landscape well enough to reach the Ivy Leaguers whose homes lay discreetly hidden behind stone walls and wrought-iron gates. A little self-important, but there you have it.
And yet, I had delivered the goods. I'd built a church where, at last count, over three thousand people came to worship every Sunday-a Herculean feat in a part of the world that's suspicious of things that are either big or new.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that Putnam Hill Community Church had been built on the appeal of my belief in a God who could be managed and explained. I'd held such an unbendable confidence in my conservative evangelical theology that even some of the more skeptical locals had been won over. After I'd put in years of seventy-hour workweeks, Putnam Hill had become a church brimming with young Wall Streeters and their families, many of whom had come because they were disappointed that happiness hadn't come as optional equipment in their Lexus SUVs.
That world had detonated ten days ago. Gazing down on the terracotta roofs dotting the approaching Tuscan hills, I found myself on a forced leave of absence, and chances were good that when I returned home I would be out of a job.
* * *
I have discovered that reaching the climax of a spiritual crisis in front of a thousand people is less than politic. In retrospect, I should have realized that I was standing on the edge of a yawning existential abyss. underground streams of doubt had been leeching into the well of my most deeply held beliefs for two years. The scaffolding that supported my whole system of belief was shaking as if some unseen force were trying to pull it down.
Three months before the cover came completely off the ball, I began meeting with Dr. Alistair McNally. "Mac" is a sixty-five-year-old psychiatrist and the only decent therapist within a thirty-mile radius of Thackeray. Born and raised in Dublin, Mac had tousled shocks of white hair and a bawdy sense of humor. He's the only Christian shrink I know who doesn't make those annoying throaty humming sounds when you tell him some painful detail about your life. He doesn't insist on maintaining eye contact with you like a Martian practicing mind control, either. He's just a regular guy who has a lot more mileage on his odometer than I do, and I like him. Mac's secretary, Regina, is a member of our church, so we met outside the office under the guise of playing squash at his club. My erratic moods were fast becoming a topic of conversation at church. The last thing I needed was for people to find out that I was seeing a psychiatrist.
One day, after he'd trounced me three games in a row, Mac and I sat on the floor outside the court, trying to catch our breath.
"So how are we doing this week?" Mac asked.
I heaved a sigh. "I actually feel worse than I did last week," I said. "I still can't sleep and I've gained three pounds. I've picked up a new hobby, though."
"What is it?" he asked.
Mac laughed. "So what do you do when you can't sleep?"
"You mean when I'm not glued to the TV, eating gallons of ice cream?" I asked.
Mac chuckled again. "Yes."
"I spend a lot of time staring at the ceiling, questioning everything I've believed in for the past twenty years. I can't figure out what's come over me. I used to be "Bible Man"-just push the button and I'll give you the answer. Next thing I know I'm Bertrand Russell. Someone pulled the chair out from under my faith."
"And what 'faith' would that be?" he asked in his lilting Irish brogue.
"The uncomplicated one," I said. "Following Jesus used to be so tidy. Every question had a logical answer. Every mystery had a rational explanation. The day I walked across the stage to pick up my seminary degree, I thought I had God pretty well figured out. Everything I believed was boxed, filed, and housed on a shelf."
Mac wiped his brow with a towel. "Sounds like Dragnet theology," he suggested.
"What does that mean?"
"A 'just the facts, ma'am' kind of religion," he said.
"Yeah, but for twenty years that worked for me. Now I have more questions than answers."
"What kind of questions?"
"Dangerous ones," I replied with mock seriousness.
Mac smiled. "Give me a 'for instance,'" he said.
"For instance: Why do I have this sneaking suspicion that I've been reading from a theological script someone else wrote? Is this my faith, or one that I bought into as a kid without really thinking about it? Why do I feel ashamed that I have doubts and questions about stuff? My faith used to be so full of life, now it all seems so beige. It makes me madder than you-know-what."
"How come?" Mac asked.
"I was sold a bill of goods," I said, tapping my racket head against the floor.
"It's hard to put a finger on. The whole Christian subculture, I guess. That tiny slice of the world used to be all I needed. Now I think it overpromises and underdelivers."
For months, anything that even remotely smacked of evangelicalism had been posing a challenge to my gag reflex. I used to devour all those books that promised a more victorious spiritual life in three easy steps. I went to the pastor conferences where celebrity speakers with mouthfuls of white Chiclet teeth gave talks that sounded more like Tony Robbins than Jesus. I'd recently gotten a mailer advertising a seminar on church growth and evangelism at a mega-church. The theme of the convention was emblazoned on the header: "Take the Hill for Jesus!" It had a picture of the host pastor holding a Bible, standing next to an army tank.
I'd been shocked a few years before when a friend from seminary converted to Catholicism because he felt evangelicals had "Mcdonaldized" Jesus. I was starting to see his point.
"I don't think anger's the core issue here," Mac said. "The anger is masking another emotion."
"Which one?" I asked.
"Fear of what?"
"You're afraid that if you can't find a new way to follow Jesus, then you might not be able to stay in the game," he answered.
Mac stood up to get a drink from the water cooler. That a guy with skinny white legs, a generous paunch, and a concave butt could thrash me so badly at squash was a little embarrassing.
"How are things at the church?" he asked.
"I'm teaching a series in our young adult class called Absolute Truth in an Age of Relativism."
"How's that going?" he asked.
"Not so hot. I feel like I'm trying to answer questions no one's asking."
"Including you?" Mac asked gently.
I shrugged. "Maybe. What's discouraging is that our twenty- and thirty-somethings are leaving."
"Any idea why?"
"I pulled one aside the other day and asked her. She said I had 'way too many certainties' and our Sunday services were too slick. They're all heading off to some hip new church in Bridgewater where everyone seems to like candles and goatees."
Mac sat down on the floor to stretch his hamstrings. "Other pastors in town must be dealing with the same stuff. Have you talked to any?" he asked.
"I went to a clergy luncheon last week."
Mac rolled his eyes and chuckled. It was a notorious cast of characters.
"How'd it go?" he asked.
"It was a disaster. They had a speaker who railed about the culture wars and how we needed to pray that America would 'rediscover the faith of its founding fathers.'"
"Oh boy," Mac said.
"Afterward, the conservative pastors got in a huddle and talked about America's 'slide into the moral abyss' and how they needed to get their congregants to vote republican. When I walked past the liberal table, I heard them talking about how they had to stop the 'crypto-fascist evangelicals' from taking over the country," I vented.
"What did you do?"
"I should've left, but I stopped at the conservative table for a few minutes," I said.
"The conversation was so depressing I tried to bring a little humor to it. So I said, 'Maybe we should build bunkers and store up canned goods for the apocalypse.'"
Mac's eyes got big. "How did that go over?" he asked.
"They scowled so hard at me I thought my hair would catch fire."
Mac's laughter echoed down the hallway.
"Seriously, Mac, I'm fed up with all the feuding between theological conservatives and liberals, the good guys and the bad guys. Everybody's so sure they've cornered the truth market. Every morning I want to throw open my window and yell, 'Tell me there's something more! There has to be something more!'"
We sat for a few minutes listening to balls ricocheting off the court walls. Every so often we'd hear someone yell an obscenity over a mistake that had cost a point.
Mac stood up. "Did you ever see The Truman Show?" he asked.
"The Jim Carrey flick?"
"Go rent it. It'll give us something to talk about," he said.
I stood up slowly. I'd torn the ACL in my right knee when I was in boarding school, and today I'd forgotten to bring my brace. "okay," I said, intrigued by the assignment.
"I'm going home for three weeks to visit my mother. I'll call when I'm back and we'll set up another appointment," he said. He held open the door to the court for me. "Care for another lesson?" he asked puckishly.
* * *
On Saturday night my student ministries' pastor Chip came over to eat pizza and watch The Truman Show. When it comes to youth ministry, Chip has everything a senior pastor wants and then some. He's good looking, charismatic, athletic, plays the guitar, and parents think he walks on water. The only thing that annoys me about him is that he lives in a state of constant surprise. Anytime someone walks into a room, he stands up, yells "Dude!" and hugs them like he hasn't seen them in ten years. I should know; he does it to me about five times a day. I knew Chip was getting antsy. He's thirty-two, and he's been dropping hints that he doesn't want to work with kids much longer. I dread the idea of trying to replace him.
Mac was right. The Truman Show was great. Jim Carrey plays a guy named Truman Burbank who grows up in an idyllic town on a small island called Seahaven. What Truman doesn't know is that he's the star of the longest-running reality TV show in history. The island is a gigantic soundstage, his friends and family are actors, and five thousand hidden cameras beam his every move to the outside world. Gradually, Truman begins to realize that something is amiss. He senses that there's something beyond Seahaven, and despite everyone's attempts to keep him on the island; he becomes increasingly determined to leave and discover the truth. One day he escapes in a small boat, sails through a violent storm, and crashes into the wall of the soundstage that's painted to look like the horizon. As he feels his way across it, he discovers a door and is faced with a decision. Does he return to his perfect life on the island, or does he walk through the door into whatever's waiting for him on the other side? In the final scene of the movie, Truman leaves the only world he's ever known and discovers the real world outside.
"Was that an amazing movie, or what?" I asked, turning off the TV.
Chip shrugged. "It was okay, I guess."
I stared at him. "What do you mean, 'okay'? It was filled with layers of symbolism and meaning," I said.
"It wasn't as good as Braveheart. Besides, I like Jim Carrey's comedies better. Dumb and Dumber was freaking hilarious," he answered through a mouthful of pizza.
I stood up. "Are you serious? This movie's about the search for truth, for transcendence, for a higher reality. Dumb and Dumber isn't even in the same league," I replied.
"Have you seen it?" he asked.
I went red in the face. "No, but ..."
Chip stood up and began rummaging around in his pockets for his car keys. "It just didn't seem all that believable," he said. "Why would Truman want to leave the island?"
"You're kidding, right?" I asked.
"He had a pretty good life."
I was beginning to wonder if Chip and I had watched the same movie. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if we even lived in the same galaxy. "But, Chip-he couldn't possibly stay on the island. The whole thing was a lie!"
"Did you see how pretty his wife was?" he asked.
"Chip, wake up!" I shouted.
Chip's face darkened, and he folded his arms across his chest. "Chase, what's with you these days? I'm a little tired of being treated like an idiot. You asked me what I thought, and I told you," he said.
He was right. I'd been pushing his buttons a little hard lately. And I knew why. Chip was an icon of everything I'd begun to resent. He walked and talked the party line. He didn't question anything. He had a facile answer for every question the universe threw at him. I followed him to the front door with my tail between my legs.
"I'm sorry, Chip. I'm feeling a little burned out these days," I said remorsefully.
"Okay," he said, but I could tell it wasn't. "I better head home. I've got a big day tomorrow," he said yawning. "I told the senior highers they could shave my head if they raised enough money to underwrite our mission trip to Mexico. A bunch of them said they were going to bring their unchurched friends to watch," he said.
Excerpted from Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron Copyright © 2006 by Ian Morgan Cron. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Ian Morgan Cron is an author and nationally recognized speaker. His spiritual memoir Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir...of Sorts was a Wall Street Journal bestseller and a featured title in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. Ian lives in Tennessee with his wife, and three children. Website: www.iancron.com.
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