Archive for August, 2010

Ian Cron/Chasing Francis Recap

For those who have been enjoying our interview with Ian Cron on Chasing Francis, but might have missed some of the original posts, here’s a recap:

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?
Part Five: Chasing Francis: The Sleeping Giant
Part Six: Influences & Aspirations

You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron. And I suggest you do – he’s just getting warmed up!

Ian Cron: Influences and Aspirations

This is the final installment of my interview with Ian Cron. To recap: A novel he wrote over three years ago, Chasing Francis, has been steadily gathering a devoted and enthusiastic reader base. He’s even received new endorsements, something rather unheard of in the publishing world. This includes Archbishop of Catnerbury Rowan Williams saying “I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book” and Marcus Borg relating “I was powerfully and wonderfully moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a broader vista of God’s passion for the world.” In this post I ask Ian “What’s next after Francis..?”

Mike Morrell: So you’re no longer pastor at Trinity. What’s next for you?

Ian Cron: We’re living in Nashville as of this month. I have two books to write for Thomas Nelson. I also curate this speaking series called Conversations on Courage and Faith through a very big Episcopal parish in Connecticut called Christ Church. Last year we had Brian McLarenPhyllis TicklePete Rollins; the artist Mako Fujimura. We commissioned an orchestral and choral piece that was composed and performed by Rob Mathes and the Irish poetMicheal O’Siadhail. It was an extraordinary night. In June we finished up the series with Desmond TutuNT Wright and Marcus Borg will be here this year.Tony Campolo is also coming. We’re working on getting a couple of other folks as well.

MM: Those lightweights..?

IC: My own speaking ministry is getting busier as well. What I’m working on right now is a night called, “Bread, Song, and Story”, where I’ll do some readings from my new spiritual memoir, interspersed with original songs and then we close the night with the Eucharist. It’ll be a great night.

MM: So you’re a priest? Somehow that was lost on me. I figured you started this non-denominational church, but…….

IC: Yes, I did start a non-denominational church, but I am a priest. Right now I’m not on a church staff. I’m adjunct clergy at Christ Church in Connecticut.

MM: So whose voices are really resonating with you right now? What are you into reading, listening, conversing with, etc.?

IC: As far as writers go Thomas Merton is my anchor and the place I always return to in my life. He is just extraordinary. I’ve been reading New Seeds of Contemplation and Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander again which for me are his masterpieces. I have been getting ready for Borg and Wright to come to my speaker series so I have been reading them as well.

Because I’ve been writing a memoir I’ve also read a lot of memoirs in the last year from Mary Carr to Frederick Buechner’s works. I’ve been reading Dave Tomlinson’s Reenchanting Christianity. And because of my doctorate program I’ve been reading tons of material on the contemplative life–lots of material from the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner.

MM: So, any music?

IC: Broken BellsMumford & Sons. The classical composer Eric Whitacre is someone I really like a lot. I’ve been kind of going back in time and listening to old Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown. People with that sense of groove should be arrested. I’m a big fan of Duncan SheikFoy Vance, as well. But the majority of the music I listen to is 13th, 14th, and 15th century choral music, just because I love the almost mathematical purity of it.

MM: I’m unfamiliar with about half of that – I’ll have to check it out! The book is Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale. It’s an story of one man’s spiritual journey into both the premodern world and the postmodern world through the lens of an extraordinary person named Francis of Assisi. Check it out!

This concludes our interview with Ian. Here it is in case you missed it:

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?
Part Five: Chasing Francis: The Sleeping Giant

The Chasing Francis interview is now concluded! You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron.

Anne Rice: “Some of us don’t want to be thrown down the stairs by the followers of Christ”

Listen to our interview here!

About a week and a half ago, celebrated novelist Anne Rice made waves – first on Facebook and Twitter, then in international media coverage – for quitting the Christianity that she had joined about a decade before. Quoth her Facebook page:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

Holy Explosive Declarations, Batman! This all sounded familiar, as she’d denounced atheism half a decade previous with similar passion and articulation. I should know – I was there. Five years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Anne for Relevant Magazine after her profession of Christian faith and the launch of her Christ the Lord novel series. She was in nearby Birmingham, Alabama, for an incredible night of conversation with a priest, a rabbi, and a Baptist pastor. (The feature article was never online at Relevant, but an unabridged version can be read at the Burnside Writers’ Collective site.)

So naturally, with the impact of her current declaration, I couldn’t resist catching up with Anne and asking her what’s changed since we last spoke – and what’s stayed the same. You can hear the results of this far-reaching conversation right here on Homebrewed Christianity.

Let me know what you think!

(Two details: Our interview starts at the 7:40 minute mark, though the witty introductory repartee between Chad Crawford and Ryan Parker is definitely worth listening to. Also, I committed a significant faux pas in my fast-talking introduction to Anne before our interview; I mistakenly identify her current Angel Time series as her “return to vampires.” This is not the case; its a metaphysical thriller involving angels, but not blood-suckers. Sorry.)

I’m no Anne Rice, but you can follow me on Twitter @zoecarnate and on Facebook here.

Chasing Francis, the Sleeping Giant

Mike Morrell: Chasing Francis is a book that just keeps on going. It’s been three years since it’s publication and I still hear about people discovering it for the first time. The terms “slow burn hit” and “long tail” come to mind. What do you think about that?

Ian Cron: You ever listen to old Neil Young records? Musically, they still hold up, you know? You listen to something like Saturday Night Fever …not so much! I think the book is holding up over time. I think the things Chase learns and talks about still really matter. Again, there are lots of ideas in it that are not original to me. I just organized them into a story and made a book out of them. I think there is truths in it that continue vibrating in our current context, and maybe more loudly when they did when the book first came out. There is an increasing upsurge of people saying, “You know, there’s just got to be something else”.

MM: Indulge me a moment. Here are some endorsements that have only come out in the last 3-6 months.

“I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams

“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

“Cron provides us with a deeply moving account of loss and discovery. It bears witness to the ability of Francis of Assisi, to speak with a full voice to contemporary seekers and persons of faith.”

Frank T. Griswold, Twenty-Fifth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

“A powerful and wonderful book! I was deeply moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a much broader vista of God’s passion for the world.”

Dr. Marcus J. Borg, author of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

These are some heady endorsements, especially coming three years after the book was released!

IC: Heh – yeah, where were these people three years ago? Seriously, its pretty humbling to get these responses from people I admire so much. I’m praying they help the book get some wind under its wings. It would be great if it would just take off!

MM: Earlier in our conversation we spoke about contemplative spirituality – it amazes me the variety of responses it evokes. It’s all the rage in some circles while many others have never heard of it, even now in 2010. Centering prayer, spiritual direction, lectio divina, and labyrinths…these have ardent supporters in many mainline and emergent and progressive Catholic circles, but then sadly, I think contemplative spirituality is dismissed in other places. It’s seen as “liberal” and “un-biblical.” Could you share your perspective on the importance of contemplative spirituality for the church as well as maybe touching on its biblical and historical roots?

IC: Well, its historical roots go back 1,700 years to the desert mothers and fathers. Then later the language of the contemplative was lost in the Reformation and the Enlightenment, for all of the obvious reasons. Since the Reformation I think that we over-privileged rationalization and under-privileged the transformative power at coming to understand Jesus and truths about the spiritual life through other, more experiential, mediums. At Augustine once said, the human heart particularly delights in truth that comes to it sideways, or in indirect ways. I think that’s what the contemplative life is in many ways about.

The contemplative life is just about waking up to what is. It’s about learning to pay attention. The world is suffused with the presence of God. As Ignatius of Loyola would say, “The whole point of the spiritual life is to see God in all things.” So now God is not just an idea, God is a living, humming reality in every moment. So to learn how to pay attention is learning to live mindfully in the moment, to experience God in everything; that’s the point. Now, the way you get there is through a rigorous life of meditation, prayer, and spiritual exercises -some that that go beyond or bypass the rational mind.

But this material does infuriate some people. I wrote an article for the Catalyst conference on the contemplative life – Everyday Mystics – and I talked about the fact that every Christian, at some level, whether they know it or not, is a mystic. People wrote in and killed me for it. “It’s not in the Bible,” they cried. Well what about Martha and Mary? Martha was modeling the Active Life and Mary the Contemplative life. Both are important but Jesus said Mary chose the better way.

MM: It’s interesting to observe, because I feel like if even self-proclaimed progressive and emergent Christians truly embrace the contemplative vision as you just described it, we could really give some of the more entrenched dead-tradition folks a run for their money in terms of taking seriously the idea that God is really real, present, changing, and alive.

IC: Yeah. Now that’s not to say that the spiritual life doesn’t have to be built on strong intellectual foundation. It does. But the intellectual life can only bring you to the edge of the wilderness of God; it can’t take you in. I think the mystics and contemplatives agree on this. Entering into the wilderness of God happens in a mystical, contemplative encounter with God. This is a gift of the Spirit and is something neither you nor I can manufacture. Look what happens to Aquinas. He gets to the end of his life. He’s written the Summa. Then he has this powerful, mystical experience and what does he do with all his academic material? He calls it “straw” and abandons it. All his life the academic had taken him to the edge of the Wild but it paled in comparison when he finally went through this mystical encounter.

MM: Oh that’s fascinating!

IC: When that contemplative or mystical moment happens, it is a gift. Some people do contemplative prayer for 30 or 40 years and wait for the 3 seconds of communion and they are never the same again. To give you another phrase, “the contemplative life is about a unitive knowledge of God”. It’s about union with God.

This concludes part five.

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?

The Chasing Francis interview is to be continued..! You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron.

Ian Cron: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?

This is the fourth part of a multipart interview with Ian Cron about his novel, Chasing Francis, which after three years is garnering more acclaim than it did in year one! You can keep up with Ian on Twitter @iancron.

Mike Morrell: Chasing Francis features this protagonist Chase Falson, who starts Putnam Hill Community Church in New England. In the process of transitioning from a professionalized Evangelical persona, he rediscovers mystical and activist faith. Along the way he loses the congregation he started. So, you too, started a thriving congregation in New England and recently left the church you co-founded. Dare I ask, what are the parallels between you and Chase, and where do these similarities end?

Ian Cron: I once heard someone say that everybody’s first book is, to some degree, autobiographical. There are pieces of Chase that are definitely a part of my own personal narrative.  3 years before I started Trinity Church, I began to feel a great sense of dis-ease with the Evangelical culture I had been living in. I remember reading The Post Evangelical by Dave Tomlinson and nearly crying. About 3 years later Brian McLaren wrote A New Kind of Christian and the journey to something new really began for me.

There are definitely pieces of Chasing Francis that are autobiographical. Trinity, during my 10 years, however, was not anything like Putnam Hill, the church in the book. If anything it started off evangelical and became much more of a haven for orthodox progressives as we went on over time. I was thrilled at the kind of theological questions we were asking as a staff and as a community toward the end of my time there.

MM: Isn’t orthodox progressive a contradiction in terms though?

IC: I don’t think it has to be either/or.

MM: Do tell, because a lot of people out there seem to think it does.

IC: I don’t think orthodoxy has to be static. I think orthodox progressives tend to have more theological fluidity and openness than other traditions. I think orthodox progressives recognize that we should always be self-criticizing our own theology, always interrogating our own assumptions, and when we do that, we’re going to make theological adjustments throughout the course of our lives and that’s OK.

MM: So, did you go on a pilgrimage to Italy yourself? I figured you’d almost have to have because of the way you describe the sights, the sounds, and especially the tastes and flavors of Italy.

IC: Yeah, I was there for 3 weeks on a pilgrimage with a group Franciscan nuns and friars. It was remarkable. A lot of them were elderly and had never been to Assisi before, so they were “coming home”, some of them at the end of their lives, to the place where their founder had lived. It was really moving because everywhere we went was such an “aha”, eye opening moment for them. It was very, very beautiful. It was a great experience.

This concludes part four.

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets

The Chasing Francis interview is to be continued..!

Ian Cron on Francis: Mystics and Prophets, Institutional and Emerging Church

This is the third part of a multipart interview with Ian Cron about his novel, Chasing Francis, which after three years is getting more buzz than ever. You can keep up with Ian on Twitter @iancron.

Mike Morrell: What about Francis and the institutional church? One would think he would have abandoned it.

Ian Cron: One of the things that makes Francis very interesting compared to a lot of what we’re seeing in the Post Modern Emergent conversations is that he was not anti-institutional. He actually honored the institution of The Church even in it’s screwed up state. He critiqued it with his life, not his words, and he wasn’t leaving it. He really felt like you could change it from the inside out. I recently read something by Jonny Baker about this very thing. Did you read that article?

MM: Yeah – the one in response to Kester Brewin’s series on Has What Emerged Retreated? Jonny says the idea of leaving institutions is, in his British parlance, “romantic tosh”.

IC: Heh – Yeah, he says it’s equally valid to change something from the outside and the inside. I agree.

MM: I think they both have valid points but Jonny’s really did stick out to me, that people who just want to damn “the man” and start their own thing do end up having to become institutions, and when they do, as often as not it can be just like what it replaced, if not more tyrannical, so why not at least try to make a good faith effort of working from within?

IC: This raises a really interesting point, too. One problem I’ve seen in the postmodern/emergent church conversation is you tend to have one of two different kinds of things going on: one is the emphasis on social justice. That’s a great thing unless you over-privilege social action and have no contemplative life. Someone who over-privileges social justice runs the risk of becoming an angry, disillusioned and very often, a smug activist. On the other hand, there are people who ignore social justice and only care about the contemplative life and this leads to a sort of saccharine piety. They start watching EWTN and saying the Rosary without any interest in the fact that so much of the world is starving to death.

MM: Yeah, I spent about a decade in a church movement that was very contemplative, and I feel like a lot of times we did veer into that danger where we really, at the end of the day, didn’t give a rip about what was happening in the outside world. I transitioned from that into this sort of Anabaptist, Anarchist, hardcore social justice world, and it was like a breath of fresh air to see people who really cared about what’s happening around the world, but, I did begin to encounter sort of an intolerance and almost a mocking of sincere expressions of love for God or spirituality that didn’t into the plight of the Post Modern world and things like that.

IC: Yes, you need both in tension. The commitment to social Justice should correct the excesses of the contemplative life and vice versa. That balance is very Franciscan.

MM: I can see that – there’s the deep impatience of the prophetic tradition, but then there’s the sense of “all will be well” in the mystical tradition; I think you need both to fuel the other.

IC: That’s right. And this is the beautiful polarity that Francis embodies so well.

This concludes part three.

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?

The Chasing Francis interview is to be continued..!

Ian Cron: Would St. Francis be Medicated Today?

This is the second part of a multipart interview with Ian Cron about his novel, Chasing Francis, which after three years is getting more buzz and not less. You can keep up with Ian on Twitter @iancron.

Mike Morrell: St. Francis seemed to have a wise way of living the change versus being a “protest person.” If you start giving all of your energy to criticizing something, you set your self up to become the mirror image of the very thing you’re critiquing.

Ian Cron: I think that’s right. Francis did so many things that were important for us to consider today, especially in the spirit in which he did them. I felt it was important for people unfamiliar with his life to hear about them. The fact that he was an artist versus an academic I thought was important as well. In fact he was suspicious of academics, and the Academy as a whole. He was reacting to the rise of scholasticism, and the birth of universities. I think what he was afraid of was that Jesus was going to become a theological abstraction versus a living reality.

MM: Indeed.

IC: Which, in part, is what’s happened! So many of us relate to Jesus in theological debates as if he is an interesting idea, something notional.

MM: Right. And you end up viewing theology as though Jesus is not in the room with you; as though God is not present with you.

IC: Exactly.

MM: The radical commitment to the poor, his being an artist versus an academic, creation theology, peacemaking, treating Jesus as though he’s really in the room – as I re-read Chasing Francis three years later, these are some of the things that make Francis relevant.

IC: By the way, his relationship with women was really unusual for the time as well. His relationship with Claire, and his saying “Look, let me help you start an order for women based on Franciscan ideals” was revolutionary for that period. There are other wonderful things about Francis I talk about in the book but this gives you a flavor of it.

MM: So, you said something interesting in the beginning, that Ronald Rolheiser and Richard Rohr said we need more Francis’s today. Why do you suppose we don’t have more Francis’s today, or do we, and we pay less attention to them?

IC: Well, I am going to give you one answer that is somewhat tongue-in-cheek but its not completely facetious. The first one is this: there may be Francis’ out there, but they might be psychiatrically medicated.

MM: Oh my! I could see that, though…

IC: I’m just being completely honest. Today Francis would be considered delusional. Freud wouldn’t come along for 600 more years. There were no medical models for treating mental illness. Today, he would be diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder, Frontal Lobe Epilepsy or some other ailment. Today we would pathologize his spirituality and medicate it away. That’s true of so many of the saints. Can you imagine what would happen to St. Theresa? They would have her on Haldol or Lithium in a heartbeat.

MM: It’s true. It seems like our thinking about what is sane and what isn’t does keep out some true craziness but it also keeps out a lot of genius.

IC: I also think Francis we don’t have more Francis’ out there because its just too costly. He scares the hell out of most people, me included. For centuries he’s been called “The Last Christian”, for embodying the gospel in a way that ‘s unparalleled. Some called him the “Second Jesus.” Most of us have been so co-opted by the powers and principalities of materialism, of modernism, of fear, that it’s really difficult to get to this kind of place. I think there are some who have the spirit of Francis out there, but they are mostly unsung heroes.

This concludes part two. Part one is here. The Chasing Francis interview is to be continued..!


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