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.
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.
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.