I [Heart] Francis:
Letters to the Pope from an Unlikely Admirer
Paperback: Fortress Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Kelsey Maddox
I can remember a picture of the pope (John Paul, to be exact) positioned above my grandma’s recliner on the peach and maroon colored wallpaper of the farmhouse. I never understood why she had a picture of someone on the wall who wasn’t in our family. I never understood any of that, and neither did Donna Schaper, a progressive queer women from New York City. It seems esoteric, that is, until Pope Francis.
The book is a series of letters, each addressing a different challenging topic and dissecting her love and wonder of the pope. The first letter explains how she is the most unlikely admirer of the pope–how different their worlds are. He is the established leader of the historic Christian religion and yet is more concerned with the soul of the earth and its inhabitants than he is about the politics of religion. Regularly he is stepping out and down and into–just like Christ, and Christ just like God. The author shares public moments from the pope’s tenure mixed with her own private thoughts and confessions in the process of working out her faith.
Schaper’s letters are wonderful as they journey through topics that are really just a part of the human condition. Each letter addresses a challenge that Western society faces today: poverty, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the “nones and dones” of religion, challenges that the pope has faced in being a religious leader. Each chapter is seasoned with reflections on the way she has seen her faith and the way the pope interrupts all of that–”God seems to be free of your need to control God…and that is why I love you.” (128) The underlying ideas of how the author and the pope are both different and alike provokes more questions for the reader, more awe and wonder for the ways in which the world and God operate. How will we navigate it?
That is the crux–the “we”. Despite the blatant contrasts in their worlds, the book weaves in and out of the “we” questions. The reader is challenged to ponder these questions too. The author addresses the ways we all feel–especially as maturing Christians. We all struggle to make our worlds better, and we all struggle when we realize our powerlessness. And yet that is the essence of our likeness: when we cannot, God can. Where we are not, God IS. (26)
It is inspiring to read these letters, but the format is the snag of the read. It sometimes feels as though you have opened someone else’s mail–the tone of intimacy is dominant enough to blur the content. Conversely, the delight of it being blurry is that this can reach different people right where they are at in their different, blurry places. It was refreshing to read what a progressive queer woman and the pope have in common, even if it was a bit too personal or theological at times. The pope, a senior pastor in New York, you, and me–we are all trying to work out our faith with fear and trembling and that is worth hanging on your wallpapered, dusty wall.