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Jesus, My Father, The CIA and Me: A Memoir of Sorts, by Ian Morgan Cron

by davesandel on September 1st, 2011

Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me: A Memoir of Sorts, by Ian Morgan Cron, 2011

272 pages

Ian Cron is an Episcopal priest, speaker and author (also Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale).  He was a toddler in 1962, so that makes him about 50 years old when he writes this book.

A memoir shouldn’t be shorn of its long soft locks by anyone’s shears, and I won’t be doing such a thing.  I laughed a lot.  I cried a lot, more than I laughed even, and cried again when rereading a few of these sweet stories.

Ian Cron came out the other side of his early life with less self-pity and more acceptance.  He has stories to tell and a voice to tell them with.  Most of the stories he tells on himself, and with each tale he grows a bit stronger in my eyes.  He is edified as he edifies.

He can turn a phrase, and turns too many, and I skip more quickly through these sentences.  His cleverness betrays him more than once and I find myself distracted by first the joke, and then its failure.  But when I return to the story, it grabs me again and holds on, usually until I’m shaking with emotion.

He gently and carefully traces the trail behind him, not just the one he’s left himself but more, the line in sand made by the great Rope that has been tied around his waist since his first Communion.  Sifting through dirty, violent disappointments in his years of adolescence and young life, he knows how angry he was with God and how grateful he became that alcohol and drugs could give him something of the same ecstasy he had known in childhood, standing at the altar.

Staring down God, it was Ian who finally dropped his gaze.  One the way to this redemption, he was loved.  Men and women held him and spoke with him and held him again.  They confronted him.  They confronted him again.  After many moons Ian raised his eyes to God’s again and this time, kept them open.

The stories end in church.  He takes up the costume of Episcopal celebrant piece by piece and recites the prayers he has been taught to pray.  He has undressed himself story by story, and now God is redressing him in a whole new style.  The old clothes, they been burned.  These new ones sing and sing and sing with joy.


Some quotes from the book (and the book is very quotable):

“Trying to get my father to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior was like trying to convince Richard Dawkins to say grace at a dinner party.” – p. 22

“I’ve come up with alternative strategies to fill the empty space in my heart where my father’s love is supposed to be found.  I carry an invisible box of jerseys with me that say “Team Ian” on the front.  My goal is to convince everyone I meet to become my fan and prove it by putting on my “Team Ian” jersey … The routine is exhausting, especially for everyone else.

“I confessed this nutty practice to my spiritual director.  He smiled, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, “I never trust a man without a limp.”

“God bless him.”  — p. 27

“My brother told me Sister Rita Marie was so old that she had been a personal friend of the Virgin Mary.  It made me stop and think, How could the Virgin Mary be such a poor judge of character?” – p. 29-30

“Every morning we came into our classroom, placed our books into the open slot in our desks, and looked up to see something like the montage out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting: people melting in hell, infants floating in the ether, catatonics waiting to get prayed into heaven, and an all-loving Jesus who looked more like Justin Bieber than Yasser Arafat.  This mixed message about God and the afterlife had the same effect on a child’s mind as putting out a cigarette in his cerebral cortex.”  — p. 33-34

Holy First Communion Mass: “It’s the liturgical equivalent of becoming a “made man” in the Mafia.” – p. 35

“The priest placed the Host on my tongue and put his hand on the side of my face, his fat thumb briefly massaging my temple, a gesture of blessing I did not see him offer to any of my other classmates.  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 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?”  — p. 43

“A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world.  He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death … boys with fathers who for whatever reason keep their love undisclosed, begin life without a center of gravity.  They float like astronauts in space, hoping to find ballast and a patch of earth where they can plant their feet and make a life.  (There are many of us.)

“We know each other when we meet.”  — p. 46-47

“The religious imagination of a nine-year-old boy is an awesome thing.” – p. 56

“The conviction that I was an unlovable freak (he was 12 years old) had metastasized in my heart so that I curved in on myself.  I was beginning to make private everything that was good about me.”  —  p. 101

“I learned from (seventh grade) that if you put a hundred people in the same room, in less than two minutes the sociopaths will find each other and begin terrorizing the rest.” – p. 103

“Let’s just have one,” we said, pleased with ourselves for being so temperate.  A few of us would say these words a million times in the next twenty years, to diminishing effect.”  — p. 105

“In me, the drink opened up a place that I had forgotten about, a feeling that until this instant I didn’t know I grieved not experiencing anymore: it gave me something close to the joy and wonder I had felt alone in the woods with God.

“The more I drank, the more intense this euphoria became.  I was more at home in my own skin.  My apartness disappeared.

“I didn’t feel out of true.” – p. 107

“Men can tell a lot about other men by the way they take care of their shoes.”  — p. 126

“Do you know why I didn’t get that job?  … I wrote checks against my life that I couldn’t cover,” he said. – p. 134

“I wished Jesus had died and stayed dead.  Instead, he’d hung around for two thousand years making promises he couldn’t keep.”  — p. 142

“There was no other sound – until I bowed my head and cried.

“There are acts of love so subtle and delicate that the sweep of their beauty goes unseen.  I know of none more miraculous and brae than that of a seventeen-year-old boy coming to his friend’s side to take his tear-soaked face to his breast.” – p. 162

“The ridiculous stuff going on up front made me smile from time to time.  I’d forgotten the goodness of laughter when it wasn’t tethered to cynicism.” – p. 162

Before taking communion, Ian hears a voice.  “I’m sorry, Ian.  Please forgive me,” I heard the voice repeat.

“Help me, I can’t,” I whispered.

“Will you pardon me, Ian?” the voice repeated.

“Yes,” I said.

‘Then we are both forgiven,” the voice replied.

“A giant knot made of thick ship’s rope, whose twists had become so complicated that I’d lost hope of ever disentangling it, loosened to the point that I could now see light coming through the gaps.  It did not unravel, but it relaxed enough that I believed the work of untying it could now begin.”  – p. 174

“Love always stoops.” – p. 175

“Addicts are frustrated mystics waylaid by spirits.” – Carl Jung – p. 176

“Drinking is fun until it isn’t.” – p. 181

“How can I explain a twenty-year old trying to swim in the depths of God, while clutching a glass of Scotch over his head?” –p. 189

“Tell me about your family,” Dan said …

“I want to sit quietly for a moment to honor the story you’ve just told.  It was sacred,” he said, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes.

…”What’s happening to me?” I said.

“He looked into the distance for a moment.  I sensed that he had gone hunting for just the right word.  Finally, his eyes gleamed.

“You’re waking up.” –p. 200-201

“Dan was less interested in my words than in the spaces between my words.  What I chose not to say captivated him more than what I said.” – p. 202

“I won’t see you again until you stop drinking,” he said.

“I sat back down on the couch “Why?”

“Three reasons,” he said.  First, you’re an alcoholic.  Second, you’re an alcoholic.  Third, you’re an alcoholic.” – p. 205

“Ian, look at me,” Dan said.

“I expected to find Dan’s eyes spilling over with empathy.  Instead, I found something more: the sort of eyes God gives only to seenty-year-old men who have faced their own demons and survived.

“I see you,” he said, “and you’re beautiful.” – p. 209

It wasn’t about you.  Shame, the belief that God regrets creating you, is like a weather pattern that descends upon a mountain.  I once believed I was the weather.  Turns out, I’m the mountain.” – p. 212

Riding a roller coaster to big for how small he was, Ian was scared.  His mom gave the brakeman three tickets.  “We’re going again,” she said.

“Mom, I don’t want to do this,” I said.

“Mom looked at me and smiled.  “Don’t worry.  It’s not as scary the second time.”

“I had been taken hostage by Willie Wonka.” …

She handed the brakeman three more tickets.  One more time.  “Mom are you crazy?” I asked.

“She put her arm around my scrawny shoulders, and my sister’s on the other side, and snuggled us into her.  “A little,” she said.

… “Throw your hands in the air and scream!” she yelled.

“I threw my hands in the air and I screamed.  Halfway through the tunnel it happened.  The scream turned into a howl of glee.

“I was laughing in the dark.” …

“When we came back home into the house, it was quiet, and the air, moth gray with sadness, still filled every corner.  Nothing had changed – except us.” – p. 220-223

“I stop cutting parsley and remember that she taught me how to ride the Dragon Coaster and what to do when you’re flung into the mouth of whatever it is you think will kill you.  Throw up your arms and laugh until you come out the other side.  That lesson has saved my life once or twice.” – p. 225

“Some parishioners are old and palsied, and I worry they’ll splash the blood of Jesus all over themselves when their shaking hands grasp the chalice.  Then I think, Worse things could happen than being old and drenched in the blood of Christ, and I stop worrying. – p. 245

‘The Eucharist has followed me through life like my own shadow.  It is the string on which the pearls of my life’s experiences, burnished white and dirty gray, have been strung.  I still feel out of true.  Is there any other way for us to be in the world?  Yet when I kneel with palms upturned to receive the bread and then drink deep from the chalice, I feel the crooked made straight, the uneven made smooth, and the torn, patched.  “Man is born broken.  He lives by mending.  The grace of God is glue,” wrote Eugene O’Neill.” –p. 248

“One day after serving as an altar boy I stole one of  the leftover consecrated Hosts … I relished the idea that I had God in my pocket and no one else knew about it.” – p. 248-249

“How can you tell when you’ve crossed the meridian that divides hatred and forgiveness? … Is it when words you’ve worked so long to free stroll out of the prison of your heart without your help and to your amazement speak themselves?

“I wish you well,” I whisper.

A list of many of the stories in Ian’s book:

Ian’s Father Attempts a Deathbed Apology (p. 10-14)

The CIA at the Funeral Home (p. 15-26)

St. Mary’s Grammar School, First Communion and the Adventure of the Missed Homestead Breakfast (p. 31-45)

Altar Boy’s Arrival at 3:15 AM (p. 50-58)

Firing Flares Atop the Peeler and Feeling Like Somebody (p. 63-70)

On the Other Side of the Woods, Feeling Like Nobody in the Pit (p. 71-81)

Jean Shepherd, Bedside Anacin Bottle, Rescue and Redemption (p. 84-100)

Seventh Graders: Their Todka and Their Pot (p. 103-116)

Meeting the CIA (p. 121-135)

Alone With Dad, Who’s Drunk (p. 137-144)

Application to Bowdoin, Fiery VW, Young Life, Alone Again with Dad Who’s Drunk Again, Revival and Gradual Acceptance at the School of My Dreams (p. 147- 177)

Learning to Drink All Over Again (p. 178-197)

Seeing the Doctor, and Then the Shrink, and Then Leaving the Shrink, and Then Coming Back Again (p. 197-209)

Mom Takes Us to Ride the Dragon Coaster Over and Over Again (p. 214-223)

Leaping Off the Cliff With Aidan (p. 228-243)

Celebrating the Eucharist, Then and Now (p. 244-252)

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