I’m reading an excellent book (a novel) called Chasing Francis by Ian Cron. The storyline navigates the life of a troubled pastor, Chase Falson, and a pilgrimage to Assisi to discover and be changed through the life, teachings and experience of St Francis.
Those of you who read Fields of Grace regularly will be able to see how well this book relates to where I am at the moment. Following is an excerpt from early in the book where Chase is having a conversation with his unofficial therapist, ‘Mac.’
* * * * * * *
I heaved a sigh. “I actually feel worse than I did last week,” I said. “I still can’t sleep and I’ve gained three pounds. I’ve picked up a new hobby, though.”
“What is it?” he asked.
Mac laughed. “So what do you do when you can’t sleep?”
“You mean when I’m not glued to the TV, eating gallons of ice cream?” I asked.
Mac chuckled again. “Yes.”
“I spend a lot of time staring at the ceiling, questioning everything I’ve believed in for the past twenty years. I can’t figure out what’s come over me. I used to be “Bible Man” —just push the button and I’ll give you the answer. Next thing I know I’m Bertrand Russell. Someone pulled the chair out from under my faith.”
“And what ‘faith’ would that be?” he asked in his lilting Irish brogue.
“The uncomplicated one,” I said. “Following Jesus used to be so tidy. Every question had a logical answer. Every mystery had a rational explanation. The day I walked across the stage to pick up my seminary degree, I thought I had God pretty well figured out. Everything I believed was boxed, filed, and housed on a shelf.”
Mac wiped his brow with a towel. “Sounds like Dragnet theology,” he suggested.
“What does that mean?”
“A ‘just the facts, ma’am’ kind of religion,” he said.
“Yeah, but for twenty years that worked for me. Now I have more questions than answers.”
“What kind of questions?”
“Dangerous ones,” I replied with mock seriousness.
Mac smiled. “Give me a `for instance,” he said.
“For instance: Why do I have this sneaking suspicion that I’ve been reading from a theological script someone else wrote? Is this my faith, or one that I bought into as a kid without really thinking about it? Why do I feel ashamed that I have doubts and questions about stuff? My faith used to be so full of life, now it all seems so beige. It makes me madder than you-know-what.”
“How come?” Mac asked.
“I was sold a bill of goods,” I said, tapping my racket head against the floor.
“It’s hard to put a finger on. The whole Christian subculture, I guess. That tiny slice of the world used to be all I needed. Now I think it overpromises and underdelivers.”
For months, anything that even remotely smacked of evangelicalism had been posing a challenge to my gag reflex. I used to devour all those books that promised a more victorious spiritual life in three easy steps. I went to the pastor conferences where celebrity speakers with mouthfuls of white Chiclet teeth gave talks that sounded more like Tony Robbins than Jesus. I’d recently gotten a mailer advertising a seminar on church growth and evangelism at a mega-church. The theme of the convention was emblazoned on the header: “Take the Hill for Jesus!” It had a picture of the host pastor holding a Bible, standing next to an army tank.
I’d been shocked a few years before when a friend from seminary converted to Catholicism because he felt evangelicals had “McDonaldized” Jesus. I was starting to see his point.
“I don’t think anger’s the core issue here,” Mac said. “The anger is masking another emotion.”
“Which one?” I asked.
“Fear of what?”
“You’re afraid that if you can’t find a new way to follow Jesus, then you might not be able to stay in the game,” he answered.
Mac stood up to get a drink from the water cooler. That a guy: with skinny white legs, a generous paunch, and a concave butt could thrash me so badly at squash was a little embarrassing.
“How are things at the church?” he asked.
“I’m teaching a series in our young adult class called Absolute Truth in an Age of Relativism.”
“How’s that going?” he asked.
“Not so hot. I feel like I’m trying to answer questions no one’s asking.”
“Including you?” Mac asked gently.
I shrugged. “Maybe. What’s discouraging is that our twenty- and thirty-somethings are leaving.”
“Any idea why?”
“I pulled one aside the other day and asked her. She said I had ‘way too many certainties’ and our Sunday services were too slick. They’re all heading off to some hip new church in Bridgewater where everyone seems to like candles and goatees.”
Mac sat down on the floor to stretch his hamstrings. “Other pastors in town must be dealing with the same stuff. Have you talked to any?” he asked.
“I went to a clergy luncheon last week.”
Mac rolled his eyes and chuckled. It was a notorious cast of characters.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“It was a disaster. They had a speaker who railed about the culture wars and how we needed to pray that America would ‘rediscover the faith of its founding fathers.”
“Oh boy,” Mac said.
“Afterward, the conservative pastors got in a huddle and talked about America’s ‘slide into the moral abyss’ and how they needed to get their congregants to vote Republican. When I walked past the liberal table, I heard them talking about how they had to stop the ‘crypto-fascist evangelicals’ from taking over the country” I vented.
“What did you do?”
“I should’ve left, but I stopped at the conservative table for a few minutes,” I said.
“The conversation was so depressing I tried to bring a little humor to it. So I said, ‘Maybe we should build bunkers and store up canned goods for the apocalypse.
Mac’s eyes got big. “How did that go over?” he asked.
“They scowled so hard at me I thought my hair would catch fire.”
Macs laughter echoed down the hallway.
“Seriously, Mac, I’m fed up with all the feuding between theological conservatives and liberals, the good guys and the bad guys. Everybody/s so sure they’ve cornered the truth market. Every morning I want to throw open my window and yell, ‘Tell me there’s something more! There has to be something more!”
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I can sympathise with Chase. The good news is that there IS something more, as I am finding on my own journey of discovery. Now if I can just convince Vicki to go with me on a pilgrimage to Assisi . . .
Buy Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale with free delivery anywhere in the world from Book Depository