Cron, Iam Morgan. 2006, 2013. Chasing Francis: A pilgrim’s tale. Nav Press (2006) and Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
“Chasing Francis is written in a genre called wisdom literature, which is a delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction, pilgrimage and teaching” 215).
Cron uses this genre to provide an imaginary, yet believable story about a pastor of a megachurch (“Chase Falson, founding pastor of the largest contemporary evangelical church in New England” p. 11), who is about to lose his faith and be dismissed from his church. He therefore takes a spiritual journey to Italy to follow in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi.
He retraces the places that Francis visited or frequented and, with his imaginary guides (relatives, priests, musicians), finds the beauty and art of Italy a road into his own soul. By means of his journal we take part in the reflections of a seeking pastor. We find ourselves immersed in the story and interacting with the characters that are introduced by the author.
One probably needs a map, as well as an Italian and Latin dictionary, to follow the story successfully. But it is worth the effort, and allows us to see how travel, companionship and food make the story realistic.
In conclusion the pastor-pilgrim finds in Francis five things: transcendence, continuity, beauty, dignity, and meaning (p.196).
Transcendence refers to a departure from preaching or teaching that doctrine alone will change people and that encounters with Jesus are of primary importance. “He lived in an era when theology and knowledge were becoming the centerpieces of faith” (197). Francis cried out that “Knowledge and theory are not sufficient! Encounter God! Encounter” (ibid).
Francis’s view of community was revolutionary for the time, in that he encouraged women to be in ministry and he stood against violence and injustice. “For Francis, the gathered community was a potent form of witness and words. He was convinced that how we live together is what attracts people to faith” (199). We are to take Jesus’s words seriously and give to the poor as well as being a community of peacemakers.
Francis knew something about beauty because he was “a singer, a poet, an actor. He knew that the imagination was a stealth way into people’s souls, a way to get all of us to think about God” (2014). The arts are therefore a necessary part of our worship.
We also must give dignity to people who are marginalized—for whatever reason—“Francis’s whole life was about giving people their dignity back—poor people, lepers, people who were despised and rejected by society—the very people Jesus sought out to minister to” (205).
Following the imaginary church’s dismissal of the pastor and the epilogue, there are a number of reflections about the Pilgrim’s journey, summarized as with observations and questions, such as:
- How Francis’s own spiritual crisis can teach us to respond to “someone who has become cynical about or disillusioned with the culture or theology in their church” (217)
- How we might define Christianity if we were allowed to only use metaphors, e.g. are we pilgrims or tourists?
- How knowing the significance of our story might enhance our life and work
- How God might rebuild the church
- How Christianity is related to the survival of our planet
- How the sacramental and liturgical life is the wellspring of the soul
- How painters, dancers, filmmakers, poets, writers, sculptors, and actors can contribute to the church
- How artist-pastors are necessary in the postmodern era
- How Jesus’s “Sermon on the Mount” can provide a strategy for the church and contribute to forgiveness of others
- How the best form of evangelism is our personal example
- How possessions and capitalism cannot be relied upon to gain happiness
- How a “come and see” church would provide worship and enlightment