Archive for July, 2010

Ian Cron’s ‘Chasing Francis’: Why Won’t This Book Go Away?

I recently had the chance to catch up with Ian Cron to discuss his novel, Chasing Francis, which after three years on the market is only garnering more and more acclaim. This is the first of a multi-part interview. You can keep up with Ian on Twitter @iancron.

Mike Morrell: Chasing Francis. It’s this novel about a minister on a pilgrimage, rediscovering and in many ways reinventing who he is, based on his encounter with the living memory of St. Francis of Assisi. So: Why did you choose to write about Francis?

Ian Cron: I heard Ronald Rolheiser along with Richard Rohr at a conference, and the two of them agreed that what the church, both Catholic and Protestant, needs today more than anything else is a the emergence of a new St. Francis. Some would say the Catholic Church has been kept afloat by Francis’ charism for the last 500 years. That Franciscan vision revitalized and rescued the church in the 13th c and I think it could do the same thing today. When I first read about St. Francis, I was awestruck at how important and prophetic a voice he was for the contemporary church. It’s like what the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in his speech “Changing the Landscape” He said there are so many people in the “postmodern emergent church world that think they are inventing something new, when in fact there were pre-modern people like Francis who were “emergent” long before we were, just in their own context. So, here’s this exemplar for us! We don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. We can learn from the giants of our past.

MM: You call Francis the consummate postmodern saint. Why?

IC: There are so many compelling reasons for this. First he was the first environmentalist. Francis’ theology of creation was something I think we need to recapture. It’s all about getting in touch with the urgent immediacy of God in the natural order. We need more nature mystics; people who every time they go out into creation feel compelled to take their shoes off.

Second Francis is our first peace activist, in particular, with Muslims.

MM: Which is hugely relevant.

IC: Hugely relevant! You’ve read the book so you know that during the Crusades, Francis led a transcontinental peace delegation to extend an olive branch to Muslims and to try and persuade the Crusaders to repent and return home. That’s fairly amazing. It’s the first transcontinental peace delegation we know of in history.

MM: It is amazing, especially given the official stance of the church in his era.

IC: It was remarkably courageous. It could have cost him a visit to the stake.

MM: Probably not very good.

IC: Here’s another thing about Francis: he was radically committed to the poor at a time when the church had become garishly opulent and materialistic. It could be argued that it was the largest, most powerful investment bank in the history of the world.

MM: And what’s fascinating is that he did it without directly criticizing the church for its capitulating to culture.

IC: Now that’s fascinating, isn’t it? Here’s Francis’ strategy–if you want to critique something, just do it better. Don’t go off at the mouth criticizing everything that’s wrong with the Church. Just do it better. Let the excellence of your life be your highest form of protest.

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

Contemplative Mind: Breaking Away from a Secular Worldview

The contemplative mind is the most absolute assault on the secular worldview that one can have, because it is a different mind from what we’ve been taught in our time.  The calculative mind, or the egocentric mind, reads everything in terms of personal advantage and personal preferences.  As long as we read reality from that small self with a narrow and calculating mind, I don’t think we’re going to see things in any new or truly helpful way.

All the great religions have talked about a different way of seeing that is actually a different perspective, a different vantage point, a different goal than what I want or need the moment to be.  Christians called it contemplation, and some Eastern religions called it meditation.  To quote Albert Einstein, “No problem can be solved with the same consciousness that caused it.”  Contemplation is a different consciousness, and its starting point is precisely not what I prefer or what I need things to be.

Adapted from Contemplative Prayer (CD)

…a bit of wisdom from Richard Rohr. You can subscribe to his daily Radical Grace email here.

A Farmer’s Market in Heaven Where Everything Is Free and Everyone Is Welcome

Spencer Burke interviews Sara Miles about her work at the St. Gregory of Nyssa‘s Food Pantry and her new book Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing Raising the Dead. It’s an inspiring interview – check it out!

Tears for Fears: My Anxiety and Modern Life

“My Name is Mike; I’m An Anxiety Sufferer.”

I don’t know if there are Panic Anonymous meetings, but if there were that’s how I imagine I could introduce myself. I’ve alluded to this on the blog before; my close friends and even many of my acquaintances know about this aspect of my life…and now I’ve decided to let you, dear reader, in on a significant truth about my life: I suffer from panic. Anxiety. Phobias. Fear.

Apparently, I’m not alone. By my admittedly-sketchy statistical abilities, I estimate that a whopping 10% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of panic, phobia, PTSD, or generalized anxiety. (Crunch the numbers for yourself here) And we seem to be growing in numbers as our social, spiritual, and physical environment continues to complexify in the 21st century.

We all get scared, of course. Certain stimuli – whether interior or exterior – prompt our fight or flight response. A roller-coaster; seeing a snake in the yard; witnessing a bank robbery. Our brains and bodies are remarkably resilient; most of us confront and get over specific fears with amazing adaptability. But for some of us – for a host of reasons – this fight-or-flight (or heightened adrenal state) just stays with us, becoming aroused at increasingly non-life-threatening stimuli. For many of us, it begins to creep up at unexpected moments, or not go away for hours. For growing numbers of us, anxiety, panic, and phobia are a way of life.

This is certainly true for me.

It started years ago – innocently enough at first: I’d be driving with a buddy or a family member on a long, interstate road trip, when suddenly I’d feel overwhelmed. The open road, unpredictable hills and dips, lots of cars, hundreds of miles – it felt like the ocean was spilling into my bathtub – unstoppable. And I’d have to pull over, and let someone else drive. Gradually it became more intense, and more consistent: Soon I wasn’t driving on the Interstate beyond the perimeter of my city, then beyond the more suburban areas near my city. Whenever I tried, I’d become a liability to myself, my passengers, and other drivers; I felt like I was piloting an out-of-control roller coaster, and I couldn’t wait to hit the brakes or pull over. Finally, I wouldn’t drive on the highway at all. This has been my state for quite some time.

Rather simultaneously with this, I was becoming an increasingly troublesome passenger. First I had difficulty, occasionally, riding in the front seat with drivers; I’d writhe and squirm as though I was strapped to a rocket headed toward the moon – on the outside. It wasn’t that I was afraid of an accident per se – I’ve never been in a serious car accident. It wasn’t fear of sudden impact or death; the motion itself is its own source of dread. For awhile the backseat was my safe haven; no more, not necessarily. When this sense of sheer panic would come or go was unpredictable; I could go cross-country with no problem, or go around the corner with a friend and be crawling out of my skin. I began to avoid riding in the car with others besides my wife (who, ordinarily, does not provoke this response). I get out less nowadays.

This is your brain on fear..

For awhile, I considered all of this a simple matter of phobia. I couldn’t stand being in cars, but I was fine in airlines and in social situations. Once I got from Point A to Point B, I was perfectly normal. But then something comically absurd happened: I started trying a variety of therapies – cognitive-behavioral, hypnosis-based, and healing prayer-based – to overcome the vehicle-related phobia. Not only did therapies of various sorts not help, they made things worse: Specific phobias multiplied into new phobias as fast as I could think them up; phobia itself blossomed into full-bloomed generalized anxiety.

What happens when I’m feeling anxiety? Most often, things in my chest: A feeling of ‘heart racing,’ and ‘the willies’ – but super-strong and disorienting. Shaking and shivering. Other times, I’ll feel things in my head: Dizziness, headaches, racing thoughts, approaching ‘insanity.’ Shortness of breath. Chest and head tag-team together a good deal, squeezing me out of the game of life altogether.

This has been effecting me more and more, of late; I love to travel, and I love spending time with people. But lately, I’ve restricted both, significantly, as a panic attack can occur anywhere – at a restaurant, at church; surely on a cross-country or transatlantic flight. More significantly, anxiety (and my response to it) has cost me a move: We’re not going to Colorado Springs as originally planned. I’m still working with the awesome folks at The David Group and Presence, but we’re not able to move to that beautiful mountain country, namely because it’s high altitude made me feel even crazier than usual. Following the advice of two doctors, we’ve indefinitely postponed the move – “While most people adjust to the altitude in a few weeks to a few months, people with your condition sometimes never adjust,” they in effect told me. I just couldn’t imagine feeling as disoriented as I do in the mountains, 24/7. So I had to pass up a wonderful opportunity for myself and my family.

This is no fun at all.

So where do I go from here? I wish I could wrap this post up with a neat ending – “But I’ve finally had breakthrough – I got better!” – but alas, I can’t. I do hope to type these words some day – and some day soon, dammit! But in the meantime, I continue to learn. I’ve had some very illuminating brain scans; I’ll be following their leads on some blood tests next week; I’m trying some alternative therapies too bizarre to share with you just yet (though I certainly will if they yield results). I might have to bite the bullet and try a pharmaceutical approach, at least for a season, though I have to admit I’m biased against this. (I hear that many anxiety sufferers don’t take meds, because – get this – they’re afraid to! Ah, the vicious circle…) In all of this, I’ve become a student of the human psyche, in its cognitive, nutritional, fitness, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. I have way more empathy and camaraderie with those who suffer from mental illness of all sorts, especially anxiety and depression. We’re all in this together, y’know?

I tend to think that, in all of this, I’m a living embodiment of the zeitgeist – full of the promise and perils of this age. We’re living such intense lives now, sped up by technology, depthsof knowledge and empathy; its bound to take its psychological and physiological toll. Not all of us have adapted yet; not even (or especially not) those who are most keenly interested in, and dispositionally calibrated toward, these exciting and tumultuous changes happening in our cultural milieu. So we are God’s misfit children and evolution’s maladjusted innovators. God help us all. I only hope that my pain and eventual breakthrough can play some small part in the transfiguration of the world.

So…keep inviting me to get out of the house, and grab lunch or a drink. Tell me about your conference or retreat. But don’t be surprised if I don’t hop in a car with you. 🙂  Feel free to share your philosophies of anxiety and fear, or the crazy remedy that you hear worked for your cousin, though please understand that I’ll give far more weight to phobic people themselves weighing in and sharing stories. With open source collaboration and the discovery of Divine ubiquity amidst our mess, perhaps we’ll all learn something in the process!

CONVERGE in DC This Month!

This crossed my desk from Brian Gorman…it looks awesome! If I didn’t have a prior engagement in Atlanta that weekend I’d be here:

The D.C. Area Community of Communities is inviting anyone interested in or part of a community to join us for our regional community gathering, July 30-August 1. This gathering brings together people from communities all over the Mid-Atlantic region to teach, conspire, and dream for God’s beautiful kingdom on Earth. A combination of seminars, practical skill shares, concerts, and plenary sessions will make this a great time together. We hope to draw co-conspirators from around the region to share in this wonderful event.

Join us at Eden Valley Center (edenvalleycenter.org), a beautiful 100 acre farmland just 45 minutes north of D.C. We’ll be camping out, so bring tents, stoves, rain gear…more info to come on what to bring.

We hope to draw co-conspirators from around the region to share in this wonderful event.

Participating communities include: Church of the Savior (D.C.), Simple Way (Philly), Formation House/An Ordered Life (Pittsburgh), Dorothy Day Catholic Worker (D.C.), and others!

Go to our website, www.dc.newmonastics.org, for more info and to register. Email Brian at brianjgorman [at] gmail.com if you have questions or would like to participate in some way. We’re still looking for some musicians and skill share leaders! You can register here.

Why the Archbishop of Canterbury Thinks A New England Novel Can Change the Future of the Church

This crossed my desk this morning and I thought it would be of interest…

For Immediate Release

Archbishop of Canterbury Endorses Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale

Colorado Springs, CO (June 28, 2010)—More than 800 years ago St. Francis of Assisi single-handedly altered the spiritual and political climate of his time. Today, Chasing Francis, a captivating book that examines the lessons the saint can teach contemporary Christians, has received an endorsement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams.

“I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s challenging, disarming and delightful, and the vision behind it is a serious one. It’s a remarkable book,” says Dr. Williams.

This significant endorsement has sparked a renewed interest in Chasing Francis, which is a creative and compelling hybrid of fiction, theology, and historical biography. The first book by Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis masterfully weaves actual accounts of St. Francis’ radical impact on the world into the fictional story of a New England minister on a pilgrimage to regain his faith.

Listen to Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams’ address at the “Fresh Expressions: Changing the Landscape” conference in which he summarizes the plot of Chasing Francis; discusses the five principles the book emphasizes for the church: transcendence, community, beauty, dignity, and meaning; and explains why he is strongly recommending it to others. (Begin at minute mark 23:00.)

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Since its founding in 1975, NavPress has become known as a trusted ministry leader in discipleship and leadership development. The Navigators, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is an interdenominational, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people navigate spiritually.


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