Ever since I read Ian Morgan Cron’s memoir Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me I’ve been trying to get hold of his novel Chasing Francis, which turned out not to be as easy as I’d expected but then, quite unexpectedly, it should up on the “Religion” shelf at Chapters so I picked it up and quickly read it.
Cron refers to Chasing Francis as being in the genre of “wisdom literature,” by which I think he means a story that is really more of a parable, a story that exists specifically to convey particular information. So the focus here is not really on creating believable characters and telling a great story — although obviously he probably hopes to do that too — the purpose is to explore what the modern evangelical church can learn from the spirituality of St. Francis of Assissi and his followers. Just like The Wealthy Barber is not a novel about a wealthy barber, but a book about personal financial planning in which the wealthy barber is a device used to convey information in story form.
I feel it’s necessary to make that distinction, because if I were evaluating Chasing Francis purely as a novel I would say it comes up short in some areas (although it works infinitely better as a novel than The Wealthy Barber — it does hang together as a story with relatively believable characters). It’s important to read it in view of what the book is actually trying to do. Through the character of Chase Falson, a disillusioned pastor whose crisis of faith brings him to the verge of losing his job, Cron explores Franciscan spirituality. Chase gets a trip to Italy in company with his uncle, a Franciscan monk, meets a bunch of other monks, and has his vision of the Christian life reshaped by the principles that inspired St. Francis. It’s a neat concept and a good way to convey some important ideas, and I really liked the way the story ended — I thought it was realistic and hopeful.