Thursday, March 22, 2012

An Open Letter to Ian Morgan Cron (rambling thoughts that started from reading and listening)

Dear Mr. Cron,

Is it odd to call someone who bared their soul on the written page "Mister" instead of by their first name?  I can't help it.  There's just enough of the good, dragged along on visitations with the elderly, conservative evangelical pastor's kid in me. I'm close to thirty years old and now firmly in the category of "adult", but I still can't break the habit of calling everyone older than me by a title unless I'm told otherwise.  And let me tell you, those elderly people we visited when I was a little girl never said otherwise!

I listened to the interview that you did with the Steve Brown Etc. crew, and to your new podcast the other day as I was taking the bus home from some time spent with a friend.  A few weeks before that I commuted my way through the audio book versions of first "Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me" and then "Chasing Francis" as I traveled to and from the university where I've recently found myself re-enrolled.  (I loved both, and loved the extra experience of the stories that hearing you read them gave.)

I don't know if you had a target audience in mind with either of your books, but I somehow don't think a twenty-something evangelical pastor's kid turned slightly charismatic house church leader was it.  Did I mention that I've flirted with Catholicism (hmm... that sounds trite, to flirt with something as serious as a process of conversion), that I have a degree in European church history, and that I'm never happier than when I'm listening to a strong communicator share truth in the form of story?  Yep.  Auditory and visual learner here.  On second thought, maybe that kind of background is exactly the right one for your books.

I suppose I read them in a backwards kind of order, starting with your memoir and then moving to "Chasing Francis", but "Chasing Francis" felt richer for me in knowing just a bit of your own journey.  I was captivated and spent long hours on the bus lost in your stories, and found myself finding excuses at home to grab my headphones and listen to just "one chapter more."

As I listened, (and this, I suppose, is the part where I begin to ramble, and this becomes more of a blog post and less of a letter) I found myself pondering my own journey of faith, my journey with God and with the church.  From the outside perspective, I suspect that the world I grew up in looked like the perfect Christian dream.  Dad was a pastor, my parents were happily married, my brothers and I never overtly rebelled, and are all involved in ministry as adults.  I wish those outsiders could have lived inside my world as a teenager.  I wish they could have lived inside the things that no one else saw - the mental health issues, the illnesses, the internal conflict that never quite made it public.

Those teenage years were hard for me - living in the fishbowl that a small church creates.  I'm an oldest child, and well, I felt the pressure to perform.  Things I'd say innocently enough in answer to questions posed to me would make their way back to my parents and I'd hear about it.  Introversion didn't help, nor did the fact that nobody, least of all me, could admit that by age sixteen I was already several years in to a battle of depression that would define much of the next twelve years of my life.

At ten I'd experienced the thing that we so delicately refer to as a church "split".  Sounds pretty, doesn't it? Split is the word we use for a lovely dessert with bananas and ice cream with cherries on top.  It wasn't pretty.  The fishbowl continued, and eventually, when I arrived at university I began making my own way of faith, even while still living with my folks.  I found a new church - one that introduced me to a Jesus who loved and who actively spoke.  They were well-meaning, and had good hearts, I see that now, but they didn't know what to do with my introverted, highly depressed self.  To be fair, they didn't know what to do with themselves, and changed their expression of worship at least four times in the two or so years I attended, so perhaps they can be forgiven for not knowing how to create a safe space for me - they were still working to establish that for themselves.  And then I went overseas into a highly dysfunctional (though still good-hearted) mission environment.  The compounded effect of my childhood in the church, the teenage struggles at home, a church that didn't quite know who it was, or how to meet the needs of messy people, severe depression, and a mission trip - well, the combination of those things nearly killed me.

And I suppose that's how I find myself sitting here, writing an odd, rambling open letter of sorts to you.  Somehow, when I listened to your books, I felt validated.  It was a similar experience to the one I had all those years ago when I read Renee Altson's "Stumbling Towards Faith" and realized that I could be living in the pit of depression and still be pursuing Jesus - that I wasn't alone.  There is something profoundly comforting in the discovery that others are just out of sight, walking the journey alongside, ahead, and behind you.

Nearly two years ago a friend informed me that it didn't seem that I could afford to continue this journey on my own - that I needed to find some professional help.  I did, and I could talk for days and hours of the blessing that two different therapists have been in my life.  I could list the ways they were exactly what my heart needed.  I have spent two years healing, and I find myself in this relatively stable place, more willing than ever to speak openly about the things I've lived both within the church and outside its walls.  I might even gather up the courage to talk about all the times I met Jesus more deeply and prominently outside of those walls.

In any case, I think this whole rambling, telling of my story is simply to say thank you.  I am more myself than I have ever been, and in the process of becoming myself, of healing, of admitting I was broken, depressed, struggling with anxiety, addiction and loneliness, I met Jesus.  I met a Jesus who I fell in love with.  Not the one I grew up with, the oddly silent "never forget that I died for you" so that better rule all of your behaviours all of the time, Jesus.  But a Jesus who ate with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.  A Jesus who loved a glass of wine, and most of all a Jesus who loved me.  And so I'm saying thank you for sharing your story with the world.  For validating all those of use who know there must be something more than the judging, vicious, occasionally loving, sometimes well-meaning, abusive or inadvertently harmful faith we grew up with.  For talking about being messy, and about the process of healing in honest terms, not just telling the pretty version where it happens overnight.  Thank you for raising questions that the church needs to hear from the life of St. Francis.  Thank you for putting words to pages so that other people with questions and hurting hearts can know that they aren't alone either.  Some other time I'll write a blog post with quotes from your books (I'm waiting for the printed copies to arrive from Amazon), since the people who read my blog need to see some of the things that so moved me from your books, but today I just wanted to say thank you.




terri said...

beautiful. i've never read the books, but i'll have to pick them up now.

i'm so glad for your journey...

Jenny said...

I was about to write just what Terri has written. So I say Amen.

Anonymous said...

Me too! :-)
I like the way you write, it's definitely a talent you have!

Lisa said...

Thanks Ladies! I hope you do all check out Ian Cron's books - they really were fabulous! I hope to post a bit more about them once the printed copies that I ordered arrive in the mail!