Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me – Book Review and Giveaway

by Raylene on July 15, 2011 · 15 comments

Every once in a while I get a request to review books, and one of the options in the list really catches my eye.  I can’t always explain why that is, but this book is one of those cases.  As often happens, while reading the book I find out that I really needed to read the book, or would connect with it in an interesting way. Again, this book is one of those cases.

About “Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A memoir…of sorts” by Ian Morgan Cron

In this surprisingly funny and forgiving memoir, Ian reminds us that no matter how different the pieces may be, in the end we are all cut from the same cloth, stitched by faith into an exquisite quilt of grace.

When he was sixteen years old, Ian Morgan Cron was told about his father’s clandestine work with the CIA. This astonishing revelation, coupled with his father’s dark struggles with chronic alcoholism and depression, upended the world of a boy struggling to become a man. Decades later, as he faces his own personal demons, Ian realizes the only way to find peace is to voyage back through a painful childhood marked by extremes—privilege and poverty, violence and tenderness, truth and deceit—that he’s spent years trying to escape.

Ian describes a childhood filled with remarkable stories and colorful characters that includes a nearly blind English nanny who teaches him what love means, a simple carpenter who leads him to faith, an irreverent New York radio personality who saves his life, a father who takes his family on a wild ride from the pinnacle of glamour and wealth to the depths of emotional and financial hardship, a beautiful and courageous mother who holds them together, and the hard won peace that comes when we surrender to the “unfinished business of grace.”

“Something in me broke in the seventh grade,” writes Cron. “The boy who celebrated the Mass alone on a crude altar in the woods, the kid whose heart was inclined toward wonder, didn’t gently fade away as so often happens in the dark passage from childhood to adolescence; he vanished in the blink of an eye.”

Believers and seekers alike will be moved by how Ian uncovers and honors what is sacred in his story, and by how he discovers God while struggling to find the thread of redemption that is woven into the fabric of his life.

Ian Morgan Cron is an Episcopal priest, speaker, and the author of Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale, which was hailed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams; Fr. Richard Rohr; Brian McLaren; and Phyllis Tickle, among others. Ian is currently the curator of the Conversations on Courage and Faith Series at Christ Episcopal Church in Greenwich, Conn. He and his wife have three children and divide their time between homes in Connecticut and Tennessee.

My Review

Candid. Right from the start of “Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me”, Ian is candid. He admits that his story, just like every one of our stories, is actually compiled of our own memories, and of memories of stories told by others, and of our own perspective about how things happened or should have happened. I thought it was that candor that made the book so ‘familiar’ to me. It turned out more to be that Ian was sharing some of my story through his, and I could definitely relate to his ‘reality’.

Reading this book, for me, was like looking down the barrel of a loaded shotgun – I just kept waiting for something to explode all over me. I say that because, while my father wasn’t a high-power CIA operative who hobnobbed with big wigs, I could absolutely relate to so much of the way Ian described how he FELT about things while he was growing up. I knew Ian was sharing about living in a ticking time bomb, a time bomb I myself had experienced growing up, and I knew at some point it had to come to a blowing point.

That climactic moment for me wasn’t the drunken abusive attack by his father when Ian was a senior in high school (which felt inevitable). It wasn’t even the point right before that attack when Ian’s best friend Tyler shared some of the hardest words with Ian that he’d ever hear: “You turn into your dad when you’re drunk…Ian, don’t become your dad. You’re way too good for that”. Those words, honest and full of love, sparked a beautiful, probably life-changing interaction between Tyler and Ian, that brought tears to my eyes as Ian captured that moment: “There are acts of love so subtle and delicate that the sweep of their beauty goes unseen. I know of none more miraculous and brave than that of a seventeen-year-old boy coming to his friend’s side to take his tear-soaked face to his breast.” Even Ian’s tears, raw and real, didn’t trigger the ‘aha’ moment in my head that I was waiting for.

The moment of explosive truth, for me, was later, in chapter 15, where Ian shares his discovery that not only was his father an alcoholic who suffered from depression, but also that one of his father’s psychiatrists had diagnosed him with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). That one piece of information flashed like a lightning bolt of recognition in my head and in my heart. I grew up with a partially absent alcoholic father and a Narcissistic mother, and I know the roller coaster that was. Having both of those people wrapped up into one must have been agonizing for Ian to live with. Just as Ian explained how he spent much of life feeling “out of true”, I ‘felt’ Ian, and at that moment I understood why.

It all sounds very heavy, but indeed, the book is not heavy at all. Weighty, in that Ian addresses those ‘adult children of alcoholic’ questions that many of us deal with, but not a heavy read, not a heavy story. Ian is extremely witty, and laugh-out-loud funny at some points. In sharing about his English Nanny, Ian writes, ” I assumed that if Nanny could get through the Blitz in one piece, then she could get us through our childhoods. It just wouldn’t be as easy.” The recounting of his first Friday as altar boy at 9 years old, with Nanny mistakenly sending him off to church at 3:30am instead of 5:30am, and his horrified experience in the dark church by himself is one great example of how an author can use words to beautifully capture the moment, while laughing at himself along the way (and of course inviting us to laugh with him). Then there is the story about icy cold water in the local marble-quarry-turned-swimming-hole. Cold water does funny things to a body (insert imagination here)! There are many ‘off the cuff’ sorts of things that Ian says that seem to punctuate the narrative in just the right places. The fun stories and witty interjections definitely make this an easily readable book, even when the heart of the story might be hard to read about.

If you’ve ever been in doubt about how alcoholic fathers effect their sons, Ian’s story will solidify the devastation that occurs in the souls of those sons. “Boys without fathers, or boys with fathers who for whatever reason keep their love undisclosed, begin life without a center of gravity.” He talks about being an adult, too, and having his own children:

“…[My children's] father, on the other hand, learned about responsible parenting from watching Modern Family and from the occasional reruns of Eight is Enough on late-night cable…The problem with growing up with a crappy father is that it makes you neurotic as heck about raising your own kids. I have no model of what a father is supposed to do or be. I had the anti-father. how can I give something to a son that I myself never received? I want my son to know how to be in the world; how to love himself; how not to settle for too little; how to walk with God with humility, compassion, and a heart that makes room for everybody; how to never hide his true self because he’s afraid. In other words, I want to give him an absolutely perfect childhood… Is that too much to ask?”

I feel you Ian! I’ve often asked myself this same thing about how to be a mom, when I had no model to follow and only a huge example of what NOT to do.

I read “Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me” over the weekend while we were camping last weekend. It’s one of the few books that I’ve read that touched very seriously on some of the hurts from my own past that did NOT leave me feeling lost or down or hurt all over again. Ian weaves the grace and redeeming power of Jesus’ love throughout the story, as he experienced it. So even though I hurt WITH him while I was reading, I finished the book feeling encouraged and blessed, like there is something special in sharing the story, and that there is hope even when very damaging things have happened to us. It’s a feeling that is summed-up nicely in something Ian’s psychologist, Dan, said to Ian when they first met, and Ian shared his story: “I want to sit quietly for a moment to honor the story you’ve just told. It was sacred.” Ian’s story is sacred indeed, and I’ve been blessed and honored to read it. Put “Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me” on your summer reading list! You’ll be blessed, too!

“Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me” is a perfect book to share here on It’s OK to be WEIRD, and 2 lines from the book explain it best:

“I was fast learning that incredulity was a luxury reserved for those whose lives were rarely interrupted by the abnormal.”
“Every time I thought my childhood had hit its weirdest ebb, a crazy experience like this one would come along to make me wonder if I knew what an ebb was.”

Yup – weirdness is at work in this book! :)

GIVEAWAY
Win with It's OK to be WEIRD!Giveaway: One lucky It’s OK to be WEIRD! reader will win a copy of “Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me”.

To Enter: Mandatory – Tell me if you’d like to win the book for yourself and why, or if you’d like to win the book for someone that you know and why (1 entry).

Bonus Entries:

Leave a comment on this post for EACH entry (1 entry per comment).  Be sure to leave your e-mail address so that I can contact you if you win!

Giveaway closes Friday, July 29th at 9:00pm MST! Open to US and Canada.  The winner will be selected by random.org and notified by email, and will have 48 hours to reply back before a new winner is selected. Good Luck!

Note to contest entrants: if you subscribe via EMAIL, in order to be considered for the giveaway, you MUST verify your email when the confirmation message arrives in your mailbox.

Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson.

{ 13 comments }

Ian Morgan Cron July 15, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Hi Raylene,

Every now and then I see a review of my new book that makes me want to stop and thank the person who wrote it.

In your post you wrote “It’s one of the few books that I’ve read that touched very seriously on some of the hurts from my own past that did NOT leave me feeling lost or down or hurt all over again.” For some reason that moved me and left me grateful.

Thanks for taking the time to care about books and talking them up.

Cheers,

Ian Morgan Cron

PS I don’t need the kind giveaway copy of the book. My wife says we have too many around the house as it is.

Raylene July 30, 2011 at 10:16 PM

Hello Ian,

You are so kind! I DO care about books, and I talk the good ones up whenever I can. I wasn’t sure what to expect from your title, but am SO glad I chose this book to review. I will be sharing it with all kind of readers in my life.

There were so many things I appreciated about your book. You mentioned the Fresh Air Fund and I’ve done some advertising for them in the past. I really did laugh out loud in many parts of the book. I also did feel like I’d identified with you, not only as a victim, but more-so as a survivor, as one who’s been through things no one ever wants to go through and still has hope at the end.

Thank you for sharing your story with us. It is a good story. And thanks for the comment here on my review. I’m blessed and honored by it!

Blessings,
~ Raylene

Diana Donnelly July 17, 2011 at 6:55 AM

Would like to win this for my son. He has a true fascination with the CIA and I feel he’s enjoy this read. Thanks for the wonderful giveaway

Diana Donnelly July 17, 2011 at 6:55 AM

GFC follower. Thanks

Diana Donnelly July 17, 2011 at 6:55 AM

Email subscriber. Thanks again

Lisa von Lempke July 19, 2011 at 4:29 PM

I was most shocked by the church sessions in the night. 5:30 in the morning!

Debbie Kennedy July 21, 2011 at 7:13 AM

I love to read books that are based on true stories. Unfortunately, Ian’s story of an alcoholic father is far too common. I work in healthcare and see children and adults who have been affected by this. I would love to read this story to get a better insight into their feelings and life they led.

Raylene July 30, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Congratulations, Debbie. Random.org chose #6, which is this post! I will e-mail you with more details!

Debbie Kennedy July 31, 2011 at 5:20 AM

Thank you so much! I can’t wait to read it!
Debbie

Brenda Witherspoon-Bedard July 22, 2011 at 5:45 PM

I would like to win this for myself. I like reading these types of books. They often give me new things to contemplate.

brendawitherspoon at hotmail dot com

Brenda Witherspoon-Bedard July 22, 2011 at 5:46 PM

Following this blog on Google Friend Connect
brendawitherspoon at hotmail dot com

Brenda Witherspoon-Bedard July 22, 2011 at 5:47 PM

Liked It’s OK to be WEIRD on Facebook
Brenda Witherspoon-Bedard
brendawitherspoon at hotmail dot com

Brenda Witherspoon-Bedard July 22, 2011 at 5:54 PM

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