Last week our fiction buyer, Chris, asked me to read Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. She knows I don’t read much fiction and said, “If you get 10 pages into it and don’t like it just let me know, that’s fine.” Fair enough. I started it and for the most part I enjoyed it and actually did finish it. I don’t review fiction very often mostly because I’m always afraid I’m going to spoil something for potential readers. With that in mind here’s my review.
The author classifies the book as “wisdom literature” which he says is a “delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction.” (215) It’s the only fiction book I’ve read that included a study guide and a bibliography. Small groups could easily make this a study with these added amenities.
The book is about the pastor of a mega church, Chase Falson, who finds himself in a faith crisis and unfortunately makes it public from the pulpit. This irritates the elders to no end and they kindly, or not, invite him to take a leave of absence. This is not only for Chase’s benefit but also for the board of elders to decide if they want to keep him on as pastor. Chase contacts his “uncle” Kenny who lives in Italy and is a Franciscan priest. Kenny invites Chase to come to Italy and together they do a pilgrimage of various places in Italy with a focus on the life and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi. As Kenny explains the pilgrimage is
“a way of praying with your feet. You go on a pilgrimage because you know there’s something missing inside your soul, and the only way you can find it is to go to sacred places, places where God made himself known to others. In sacred places, something gets done to you that you’ve been unable to do for yourself.” (42-43)
With reservations, Chase agrees and heads to Italy. Along the way Chase encounters some very colorful characters and the places he visits do begin to have an affect on him. Cron writes in a manner that made it easy for me to love Chase and his traveling companions. You can easily follow the progress that Chase has as he writes in his journal.
Eventually, Chase returns home and offers a sermon on what he learned and in what direction he would lead the church if they kept him as their pastor. I won’t tell you what they decide. Some Evangelicals may be uncomfortable with some of the issues raised. For instance, one character takes issue with the idea of a “personal relationship with Jesus.” She says,
“I’ve always found the phrase ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ a little puzzling. I don’t mean to be rude, but it sounds so self-interested. I’ve always had an intimate relationship with Jesus, but my faith is more rooted in the communal than the personal.” (134)
Catholics may take issue with Chase’s companions who encourage Chase to take part in the Eucharist since, they say, “No one will know you’re not a Catholic.” (91) With two opportunities to partake, Chase . . . oh, yea, no spoilers. I’ll let you read what he does. This is where fiction meets nonfiction and the issues become very real.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I felt the sermon at the end was redundant since everything he talks about has been discussed throughout the book. I understand why the sermon was necessary but I don’t think all the points needed to be made again in sermon format. I lost interest here and skimmed most of it.
When Chase asked Kenny what to bring with him to Italy Kenny told him to bring an open heart, an open mind and a journal. If you read Chasing Francis bring an open mind and an open heart and go on a mental pilgrimage with Chase and see what God can do for you.
Chasing Francis is from Zondervan. It is a paperback with 256 pages and sells for $14.99.