Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

Intrigued by the title, I accepted the offer from Thomas Nelson publishers of a review copy of Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me by Ian Morgan Cron. 

The author is an Episcopal priest in Greenwich, Connecticut. I was not familiar with him, but he wrote another book, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale, and apparently is on the speaking circuit as well.

Cron's father was a brilliant and handsome man who made and lost several fortunes as his growing addiction to alcohol took over his life. The author, as the youngest child in the family, had the worst experience as his older siblings had left home by the time their father turned violent and abusive. 

Cron calls his work "a memoir of sorts". This is not a traditional biography or autobiography, but a gradual revelation of who and what his father was as the author experienced it growing up.

As a young adult Cron learns that his father is actually a CIA operative and that this explains the long, unexplained absences from home that punctuated his childhood. His father's work history turns out to be a series of "covers" for his intelligence gathering assignments. 

So how does Jesus fit into all of this? Cron weaves the story of his own spiritual journey in parallel to the story of his relationship with his father. As a young boy he was drawn to God and to the church but as a teenager, in reaction to the disfunctional and frightening dynamics of his family, rejects faith in a fury at a God who seemingly does not hear his prayers for relief.

But Jesus keeps calling to him, even as he experiences his own spiral into alcohol abuse as a young adult. Cron's resolution of his spiritual crisis eventually comes when he hears a voice saying "I'm sorry" during a communion service. For years he puzzles over whether or not this voice could have been the voice of Jesus or was it an apology he was making to himself.  Several years later,  while in seminary in Denver he shares his question with "Miss Annie", an African American woman who was a member of the church he was attending.

Her answer, which I am going to summarize with her last words: "Son, love always stoops", is one of the most grace-filled moments I have ever read. 

The author is painfully honest about how the pain of his childhood informed, and continues to inform his life. His faith and relationship with Jesus help him to recognize and try to amend the ways in which he is tempted to repeat the patterns he learned growing up in an alcoholic family where the secrecy imposed by his father's employment with the CIA reinforced the impulse to denial and secrecy. 

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me is well written and, at times, compelling. The theme of substance abuse and its effect on the extended family that Cron explores from his personal experience will resonate with many readers. His testimony to the transformative power of faith will inspire them as well.