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..!