Jesus and the CIA (as I call it for short) is one of the all-around best books I’ve read in a while. Ian is a natural storyteller, and he reflects on his own life such that I was caught up in his journey, swept along with him through the tumult of his life.
That’s saying something, because Ian Cron has lived a life most of us couldn’t imagine. It’s a credit to his skill as a writer that I felt so drawn to him.
Ian (I’m going to use his first name in this review because – having read his book – I feel like that’s what he’d want me to do.) opens his book at his father’s death-bed. We learn quickly that Ian’s dad was an alcoholic and that his relationship with Ian was bad.
As his father dies, Ian reflects on how our homes shape us:
What if your memories of home are more akin to The Shining than The Waltons? It doesn’t matter. Home is not just a place; it’s a knowing in the soul, a vague premonition of a far-off country that we know exists but haven’t seen yet. Home is where we start, and whether we like it or not, our life is a race against time to come to terms with what it was or wasn’t… What does it say about [Western culture] that our literary canon begins [in the Odyssey] with a story of a kid looking for his dad?
So begins Ian’s exploration of his past, his story. He was born into a family who lived large, movie-star-esque lives. His dad, it turns out, worked on-and-off for the CIA, but also worked with some of the biggest movie stars of the day. Their lives were glamorous, until his drinking destroyed it all.
Around the time Ian’s family lost everything, Ian found God through his first communion at his family’s Catholic church. This section of the book was powerful, especially as Ian described the sacred moment of receiving for the first time the sacred meal:
[The bishop] placed the Host on my tongue… and I fell into God. I have spent forty years living the result of that moment… That day, Bishop Dalrymple, sweat dripping from the end of his bulbous nose, tied a rope around my waist that was long and enduring. How did he know the number of times that I would stretch that rope to its breaking point or how often I would drift onto the plains in a whiteout and need a way to find my way back home?
The rest of the book is Ian’s journey towards peace. It’s not an easy journey by any means. Ian describes himself as feeling ‘out of true’ – displaced and disoriented in a world with no constants. He falls into all the typical struggles of boyhood and adolescence, exacerbated by his erratic, abusive father and a genetic tendency towards alcoholism.
Despite Because of those dark times, Ian’s story is truly, simply a wonderful story. His writing is superb – his use of imagery is powerful, profound and provocative without feeling cheesy or forced. He connected me with his experiences even when I hadn’t shared something similar. Ian’s journey towards God hasn’t looked much like mine at all. But even still, Ian drew me deep into his experience with God. And that is the magic of this book.
Above all, Ian’s journey is very human. He’s far from perfect – just like me, and his honest exploration of his own faults is both encouraging and challenging.
As Ian leads us through his life, we slowly discover that his journey is ours, too. The insecurities he faces are ours. The adventures he discovers await us, too. That’s ultimately what makes Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me such a successful memoire. Reading this book is an introspective, healing exercise. The unlikely path Ian takes towards reconciliation drew me along with him. The quiet, unexpected moments in which the Sacred would burst uninvited into Ian’s life were a breath of fresh air for me as well. (As you read, watch for the deer… it’s a wonderful moment.) The tether tied to Ian’s heart in that first communion began to tug on me as well.
Ian’s story of redemption and reconciliation is moving and beautiful. Even those dark days through which he unflinchingly led us become sacred and powerful in the final light of God’s love. It’s a great, easy and fun read that will have you laughing and get you a little choked up. (Watch for the cliff diving. I seriously almost lost it. Incredible.) From his experiences as a child with a mysterious, mercurial, alcoholic father to becoming a father himself, plagued by his own alcoholism and insecurities, Ian’s path was never easy. But as he concludes,
I am at home behind the [communion] altar… The rope he tied to my waist long ago proved strong, and it has led me home through many storms.
Bottom line: You’ll be a better person after you read this book. Ian is an outstanding writer and his journey is worth your time. Do yourself a favor and get it.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Read the first three chapters here. You’ll be hooked. I promise. Or, if you want, scroll to the bottom of the post and find it there, too.
Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
I was given a review copy of this book by Thomas Nelson, Ian’s publisher, as well as an additional copy to give to a blog reader. I was not required to give a positive review. That was solely because this book rules. Thank you to Ian for his writing and to TN for sending me such an awesome book!