I get a lot of free books in the mail. It’s one of those blogging perks that seems too good to be true until I get behind on reading and my office starts to look like a library threw up in it. Remember our discussion about how too many choices can lead to paralysis?
Fortunately, a book came along this month that pulled me in so completely and joyfully I remembered why I love reading in the first place. Jesus, My Father, The CIA, And Me: A Memoir of Sorts by Ian Morgan Cron is everything a spiritual memoir should be—funny, profound, vulnerable, and full of grace. The writing is superb. Every metaphor carries a punch; every character comes to life on the page.
"My boyhood is autumn. The sky is snap cool and azurite blue. My boyhood is elm-lined streets. Every house was white with green shutters, American flags affixed to wooden poles waving from their porches. It is riding my ten-speed Raleigh down Ridge Street so fast that it left small tornadoes of dried leaves twisting in the wake of my rear tire. My boyhood is Saturday mornings, standing across the street from the barbershop, spying fathers playfully mussing their sons' hair to get the last remnants of stubble off their heads. Most of all, my childhood is Irish Catholic.” (p. 28)
"I like to think that if you put Lucille Ball, Grace Kelly, and Margaret Thatcher into a supercollider, my mother would pop out the other end.” (p. 16)
"I loved Nanny’s hands. Sometimes sitting at the kitchen table, drinking afternoon tea, she would let me turn her hand over to examine her palm, tracing the lines that crisscrossed it with my index finger, as if I were a boy swami pulled from the pages of a Rudyard Kipling poem. The fleshy part just below the thumb was ruby red, smooth, and warm. Nanny’s hands were sanctuaries, and I was loath to let them go when we arrived at school.” (p. 29)
"Sitting through an elementary school music program in which volume trumps intonation is a profound act of human love. It’s like falling on a hand grenade to save a group of friends, except that you have to do it three times a year.” (p. 88)
Cron tells the story of growing up in affluent Greenwich, Connecticut beneath the shadow of a mysterious and volatile alcoholic father. To make sense of his future, Cron must confront his past, and his journey is packed with the kind of heartbreaking and beautiful stories that stay with you for a very long time. I was thrilled to hear that Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me was selected as a featured title in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program, where he joins the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Barbara Kingsolver, Frank McCourt, Elizabeth Gilbert, Kathryn Stockett, and Khaled Hosseini.
In some of the more asinine Amazon reviews, you will see that people have complained that the book, published by Thomas Nelson, employs “too many big words” and that “literary fluff” clouds any clear, straightforward presentation of Christian theology.
Because I thought it was rather obvious that this is precisely what makes this a great book!
The authors who have most enriched my faith—Donald Miller, Anne Lamott, Sara Miles, Kathleen Norris, Madeline L’Engle, and now Ian Cron—have never come out and told me what to think; they have simply told stories, and told them well. Good writers know that images of sin, grace, and redemption permeate this world and that their job is not to tell, but to show. This way the reader can rediscover the gospel for herself rather than getting hit over the head with it.
In an industry that is veering more and more toward mediocre but “theologically straightforward” literature, books such as this one must be celebrated and demanded. They are the flashes of color in a black and white world, little gifts of truth that inspire doubters like me not to give up.
I suspect we owe more to them than we realize.
So what was the last great spiritual memoir you read? What are some of your favorite of all time?
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