Chasing Francis [book review]

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The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes
– Marcel Proust

It’s not often that I read a book and want to immediately read it again. It is even rarer that I want to work through the study guide in the back of the book. Chasing Francis had both effects on me, it’s a truly wonderful book. The author Ian Morgan Cron described his work as being wisdom literature, which he describes as a “delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction, pilgrimage and teaching”. It is a very fast read, until like my friend who recommended it to me, you feel led to stop and journal all the wonderful insights that are being generated. I did not do that, I had a hard time putting it down to journal, hence why I am going through it again. I read half of it in a weekend and the second half over the course of the next week, finishing it at 12:30am on evening.

The plot of the story revolves around Chase Falson, a burned out evangelical pastor of a mega church in the North Eastern USA. His faith is on rocky ground and the elders force him to take a break. Despondent, Chase contacts an Uncle who is a Franciscan Friar, who is a well known Spiritual Director. His Uncle invites him to come spend time with him in Italy. Chase takes him up on his invitation and thus begins his pilgrimage experience.

Along the way he learns about Francis’s theology and rule of life. His embracing of poverty, but his almost paradoxical love of the arts for their ability to demonstrate God’s beauty. He travels from the richest parts of Italy, from beautifully ornate churches to the slums where abandoned aids patients go to die in the loving arms of Franciscan sisters.

Along the way Chase meets a colourful cast of characters from monks to nuns to drug addicts and musicians. You might think the endgame of the novel is to have Chase become Catholic, but such is not the case. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s actually the part of the novel that is both the most dissatisfying, but I suspect, the most realistic.

The cover of my edition includes a quote from Mark Batterson that reads “Reading this book may cause a total overhaul of the way you think about what it means to be a followers of Christ” and I agree. Anabaptists will really enjoy this book as they will see many aspects of their movement in this book. For those who want more, the book is peppered with suggestions for further reading.

As you follow Chase on his pilgrimage, you will be led on your own to reconsider some fundamental aspects of your faith. It is a beautiful book and there is much wisdom to mine from its pages.

As I work through the study guide, which has some compelling and difficult questions, I will post my reflection here on the blog and take you with me on my pilgrimage. I consider this part of the healing process I announced here.

Rating: 4.9/5
 $14.99 USD

Handbook of Women Interpreters [video]

HT to Dr. Heather Weir over at Book backlist for pointing these out on her blog. Last year, Dr. Marion Ann Taylor (Wycliffe College, University of Toronto) published a collaborative work The Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters. I was so excited that something like this was available that I actually asked (and received) a signed copy for my birthday. I’ve managed to leaf through parts of it and I think it’s a tremendous gift to the church. Lest you think (shame on you) that this is about some radical feminist theology and an attempt to rewrite biblical history, such is not the case. This is simply an attempt to recover lost voices in the history of biblical interpretation.

Baker Academic has published a number of video interviews with Dr. Taylor, where she explains the purpose and methodology behind the book. I’ve posted the videos here, but you can also check them out over at Baker’s site.

Why a Handbook of Women Biblical Interpreters?

Describe the approach of the handbook

Collaborating on the handbook

The handbook as a textbook and resource tool

Women Biblical Interpreters Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

3in1 or 1in1 or 1in3 or…

I’ve been away for the last week because of a minor flood and the subsequent repairs and cleanup. I told myself I had to write something today or it might be another week. This post also serves another purpose. I had been given a book awhile ago and I promised to read it, but it’s been so busy I haven’t had a chance. I’m going to review it chapter by chapter on the blog, thus forcing me to read it.

First, a little background. I am an unashamed Trinitarian. I considered belief in the Trinity to be a central doctrine of the Church and essential to Christianity. Father, Son, Holy Spirit: three distinct persons that are somehow One God. It is one of the most perplexing mystery’s of the faith and in some sense we do more harm than good by spending too much time trying to figure it out. There is a view, that began around 1914, that the Trinity is a false doctrine and that it is in fact a Tritheism and destroys the Oneness of God. Hence the title of the book is “The Oneness of God” by David K. Bernard (it is Volume One of the Pentecostal Theology series). The person who gave it to me was introduced to this view through a significant relation and has asked me my opinion.

Right off the top of my head I’ve never understood how they “oneness” folks can say this is different than the ancient heresy modalism, but perhaps that will becomes clear as the book progresses. Anyway, this is the intention, to read the book and let you know my thoughts. I expect there will be grounds for agreement and much we disagree on and I would value your opinions as we go along.

Meet Bishop Welcome (Les Mis)

One of my favourite characters in Lés Miserables is someone who has very little screen/stage time but who is very much the hinge on which the story turns. I mean of course the Bishop who shows Valjean unconditional love and brings him to God. This is a fascinating article on the development of the character and what Victor Hugo was trying to do with such a positive portrayal of a cleric in a time when the church was seen as hopelessly corrupt.

The book’s first hundred pages or so are a detailed chronicle of Myriel’s exemplary life, showing that his intervention on behalf of Jean Valjean was part of a long track record and not a singular aberration. Apparently Hugo recognized no contradiction between his anticlericalism and the possibility—or certainty—that grace could be mediated by a just priest who was transparent to the divine and never betrayed the human.

Read the whole article, it’s not that long. I want to read the book even more now, just to read more about Bishop Welcome.

Devotional resources and Reading guidelines

The New Year is coming and I have been taking this time to reflect back not just on this year but on the last four (since I quit my previous job – but that’s another post). This year brought some happy endings but also some painful ones. I graduated with my BA from Tyndale University but there were also deaths in the family. I’ve started thinking about how I want to structure my spiritual life. My wife and I are taking next semester off of our studies (we’re both working towards our Master of Divinity at different colleges: her at Tyndale and me at Wycliffe) to recharge our batteries and reconnect with God. So, here’s a brief sketch of a few goals I’m setting personally and some resources that you may find helpful.

Most of us don’t need another Devotional. If you’re like us you have a shelf full of them and couldn’t possibly actually use them all. I got the Celtic Daily Prayer book for my birthday in November and I have finally got around to reading the “How to use this book” instructions and am excited to start using this. It’s a based on the prayer life of the Northumbria community in Ireland. If you don’t have the book or can’t afford it, they have the daily readings on their website.

Good things are coming out of Ireland these days. The Irish Jesuits have a great website for daily prayers: Sacred Space. They also have another website where you can download a daily podcast of the readings. And you might wish to also check out the daily examen, breathing and body awareness meditation tracks.

Now that I’m off school I can read whatever I want (no more teachers, no more books…), but I want to develop some guidelines to help me round out what I’m reading. So, here’s my first attempt at the “guidelines” for individual reading.

  • Read old books – C.S. Lewis wrote about the  importance of reading old books in this essay [PDF]
  • Rotate history, pastoral theology, and theology – the idea of rotating subject areas is from John Stott and I first became aware of it on another friends blog
  • Read fiction – I’ve never really been a fiction reader, but I changed this in early 2012 and I think it helps my mind relax between the heavier stuff and increased my creativity by making my mind work in other ways.
  • Read opposite opinions to my own – This is just common sense but it makes most of us uncomfotable. If we are in the search for truth however it is important, though it will be in the minority.
  • Read through books with my wife – We are planning on always having one book on the go that we are both reading through and intentionally get together to discuss. We’re starting with Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas and will probably follow that up with The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller. I’m looking forward to the discussions that these books will prompt, I think it’s going to great.

That’s it. I hope some aspect of the above is helpful to you. Do you have any goals around your spiritual life for the coming year, especially around spiritual reading? Share in the comments.

Favourite Books: The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel

The Sabbath
Abraham Joshua Heschel
ISBN: 978-0374529758

This is the first in a series of posts where I’ll tell you about my favourite books. Specifically though, from the collection of the books I’ve had to read for school. I just finished my BA, Religious Studies and have just started my MDiv.

I had to read this book when I took Old Testament at Tyndale University College. It’s is probably my favourite book that I had to read for BA degree. It’s an amazing meditation on the meaning and purpose of the Sabbath. The writer was a Jewish Rabbi so this is not from a strictly Christian point of view, but it is nonetheless beautiful. It is a meditation, it is poetry, it is soothing to the soul. Even as a Christian it mad me think about why God gave us the Sabbath in the first place and how we have just completely destroyed it in our modern times.

I wrote an essay on the book, so if you’re interested in an overview of one specific part, you can get it here: essay.

It’s about $10 to get a copy and it’s a very thin book. Pick a copy up, you’ll be glad you did.

Calm in the storm

My mother-in-law recently passed away and today his her funeral. She had a brief 4 month battle with cancer and she died in the early morning this past Friday. She was surrounded by her husband and three daughters (one of whom is my wife).

This is the third tragedy that my wife and I have endured this year, so I’ve been reflecting a lot on suffering and death. On my wife’s recommendation I’m reading a book titled “When God Interrupts“.

In the introduction is has a great passage as the author (who is a pastor) recounts being at the bedside of one of his congregants.

I had visited Jean in the hospital on several occasions. Praying for her was like asking God to give more faith to the apostle Paul. Jean believed in the grace of God. She believed that in Jesus Christ her sins were forgiven, and she believed she would live eternally with him when she died.

It struck me that this was a perfect way to describe Carole. From the very beginning of her illness through to when she found out her cancer was terminal and untreatable and culminating in her final days, she had a remarkable peace about her. This was even commented on by the loving nurses who took such good care of her. They said they had never encountered anyone who was so at peace when faced with their own mortality.

God’s grace is amazing.

It’s simple and overused, but the saying “No Jesus No peace, Know Jesus, Know peace” is so very true.

Be at peace in the Lord Carole and one day we will see you again.

Another reading list

This list is from the Table of Contents from the book 25 Book Every Christian Should Read (I suppose if you actually bought the book with the list, you would need to buy 26 books).

1 On the Incarnation St. Athanasius
2 Confessions St. Augustine
3 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers Various
4 The Rule of St. Benedict St. Benedict
5 The Divine Comedy Dante Alighieri
6 The Cloud of Unknowing Anonymous
7 Revelations of Divine Love (Showings) Julian of Norwich
8 The Imitation of Christ Thomas à Kempis
9 The Philokalia Various
10 Institutes of the Christian Religion John Calvin
11 The Interior Castle St. Teresa of Ávila
12 Dark Night of the Soul St. John of the Cross
13 Pensées Blaise Pascal
14 The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan
15 The Practice of the Presence of God Brother Lawrence
16 A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life William Law
17 The Way of a Pilgrim Unknown Author
18 The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoevsky
19 Orthodoxy G. K. Chesterton
20 The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins
21 The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer
22 A Testament of Devotion Thomas R. Kelly
23 The Seven Storey Mountain Thomas Merton
24 Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis
25 The Return of the Prodigal Son Henri J. M. Nouwen