The realisation that I was called to ministry dawned on
me gradually, beginning in boyhood. It eventually spilled
over to include writing books and songs, and speaking.
In many ways I wrote Chasing Francis* to
myself. I went through a crisis of faith in 1998. People
were jumping on the "build the next hip mega-church" bandwagon,
with reductive theology, and simplistic spiritual formation. The
religious Right was becoming so influential that the word
"Christian" had become code for Conservative Republican, and
conversations about God were filled with a spirit of "we've got all
I went on a personal retreat to sort things
out, and read G. K. Chesterton's St Francis of
Assisi. It revived my faith.
I hope Chasing Francis reads more like an
invitation to learn from a spiritual giant than a
Francis rescued a weary and dying Church in the Middle
Ages through his embodiment of the gospel. He was our
first environmentalist, a peacemaker who risked his life to lead
the first peace delegation to the Muslims during the Crusades, an
Evangelical concerned with saving souls, a Catholic in his
commitment to eucharistic revival, a Pentecostal in his unashamed
and spontaneous outbursts of enthusiasm in response to God's love,
a social activist who radically identified himself with the poor,
and a mystic in his prayer life.
So much comes together [in him] that needs to come
together in our lives if we want to restore the credibility of the
gospel and the Church in the present age.
I don't think the novel is about a man who changes the
way he expresses his faith from Evangelical to Catholic,
as much as it is about a man who is seeking a faith that's more
holistic, integrated - a faith that transcends denominational,
theological, or political labels. I haven't migrated from Roman
Catholic to Evangelical and back to becoming Roman Catholic, as in
the novel. I aspire to be a Christian who looks for truth wherever
My encounter with Francis has made me more spiritually
self-aware. When facing a decision, I often ask, "I wonder
what Francis would do in this situation?"
He doesn't replace Jesus. Rather like all
saints, he's a great secondary source. I'd like my life to look
more like his. I'm still a long way from the mark.
I'm not a good enough Christian to judge the state of
American Christianity. Critical words are just that:
words. Francis changed and rescued the Church through his example,
not through criticism. A life well lived is the best critique of
the status quo.
One concern I have about the Church at large is that we
are becoming too cynical, sometimes bordering on
self-loathing. I wish we spoke more about the possibility of
resurrection than about the failures and death of a tired
Families are complicated, and mine is no
exception. I'm the youngest of four children. My father was a lost
soul, and my mother a force of nature. I recount the story of my
childhood in Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A memoir . . .
of sorts [Thomas Nelson, 2012].
My father was a voracious reader, and an
entertaining storyteller. If I have any talent for telling stories,
it probably comes from him.
I always wanted to be a singer-songwriter or an
actor. It wasn't until my early 20s that I veered off in
the direction of ministry.
I regret not having come under the leadership of a wise
mentor when I was a young man. This wasn't my fault
per se, but it would have saved me a lot of time.
I think my most important choice was to start writing
books - after the obvious ones like choosing to follow
Jesus, and asking my wife to marry me. I have found so much joy in
reading great writers, and in trying to emulate them.
There are so many: Wendell Berry, Flannery
O'Connor, Leif Enger, Rowan Williams, Annie Dillard, Frederick
Buechner, Thomas Merton, Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, David Foster
Wallace, Evelyn Waugh, Joan Didion, Albert Camus, Fyodor
Dostoevsky. . . I'd better stop now.
Thomas Merton has had a profound influence on my
life, as has Rowan Williams. C. S. Lewis is in the mix as
I'd like to be remembered as a man whose life eventually
became continuous with his words. I'm a long way off at
For me, sermons are like meals. I can't point
to one out of them that seismically changed my life, but I'm
grateful for the thousands that have, incrementally, kept me going
through the years.
My favourite place is Assisi.
As a writer, I connect with stories; so I love
Genesis and the Gospels. The Letter of James makes my hair
I love hearing birds in the morning, crickets
at night, and the sound of wind blowing through trees. I also love
the sound of Keith Richards's guitar playing, especially in the
opening bars of "Tumbling Dice". Strange, I know.
I get angry when I meet someone who is so certain they
have a corner on the truth that they can't listen to
people with different opinions without demonising them. Bad coffee,
people who are too cheerful and chatty first thing in the morning,
and the 24-hour news cycle tie for second place.
I'm happiest when I'm in conversation with generous and
open-hearted people who are genuinely hungry to know God;
when I read a beautiful sentence; when my children are content and
growing in goodness; when my wife tells me she's proud of me; when
I'm writing and self-awareness fades away; and when I'm celebrating
the eucharist. Not necessarily in this order, of course.
Several years ago, I read John Main's book Word Into
Silence, and Martin Laird's Into the Silent
Land. Both books helped me understand and value the practice
of non-discursive Christian meditation. I try to devote 20 to 30
minutes to this style of prayer every morning. "Try" is the
operative word in that sentence.
Maybe I'd like to find myself locked in a church with
Thomas Merton. He had such a complicated personality and
surgically incisive mind.
The Revd Ian Morgan Cron was talking to Terence Handley
*NavPress, £9.99; 978-1-576-83812-9.