Thursday, 27 March 2014

Book Review: Lost Sons

If like me you enjoy reading, then be warned – you will get through this book far too quickly!

Anybody who has come across Michael Sadgrove's previous titles, or indeed his blog, knows he has a gift for crafting eloquent, flowing work, and Lost Sons is no exception.

The book focuses on male characters of the first two books of the Pentateuch, exploring the relationships between fathers and sons (and in some cases, brothers) and skilfully using them to give an insight into the passion of Jesus.
The first thing that strikes you is it is an unashamedly male book. This should not put you off – as Michael's publisher notes, “women as well as men are genuinely interested in 'masculinities' and the relationships men have with one another.” One charge that has been levelled at me in the past is Christianity, and Jesus himself, have been “feminised” over the years, focusing on “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” and hurriedly brushing over the more masculine aspects of his life – the physicality of his profession before his three years of ministry, the fire with which he spoke of the kingdom and challenged the authorities, the turning over of the tables in the temple, his sharp response to Peter when he tried to talk him out of following God's plan, etc. This book looks unflinchingly at male relationships in a patriarchal society, and speaks strongly into the lives of those of us who are sons and fathers. The relationships discussed are dysfunctional, challenging, and will strike a chord with many male readers – speaking into our own “passion narratives” and challenging us to honestly reflect on life as a male in the 21st Century. However, I believe they will also speak to those mothers and daughters who watch, love and ultimately walk alongside the men in their lives, offering good insight into the male psyche without straying into self-help, “Men are from Mars” territory, as well as offering plenty to reflect on in their own lives and relationships.

Each section has a theme related to the life of the man in question – The Cursed Son: Abel, The Bound Son: Ishmael, etc. – and, in their own right, each gives a wonderful insight into the context of the tale in the Hebrew Bible, and leads the reader to ponder what meaning the stories were intended to convey to their original audience. More than this, however, Michael skilfully draws out the parallels between each of these lost sons and the lost Son, Jesus himself. “Was there ever a child as lost as Jesus?” he asks.

As I cantered through this book, I found at every turn a phrase, a reflection, that struck chords with my experiences of manhood, of sonship, and of being a father. Some ran deeper than others, but in each was the realisation that, as the incarnate Son of God, Jesus had experienced these things too – and moreover had taken them to the cross with him on my behalf. This, for me, is one of the subtle keys to this book, gently suggested in the first introductory chapter:

“The child is a symbol and metaphor of the self. The lost child in story, poetry and art is
often an image of a lost part of ourselves.”

The chance to view not just these biblical characters but also the architect of our faith through the lens of 'lostness,' to be almost given permission to explore feelings and emotions attached to times of weakness, abandonment, heartbreak – those little-boy moments when we just want to cry out, the desperate-dad moments when all we want is to fix it but need to let go – helped me reflect on these key male relationships.

I should add these reflections were nuanced by the timing of my reading. In the midst of having our newborn daughter in hospital for major surgery I decided to read this while travelling back and forth to the RVI on the Metro, and finished it having moved in to the hospital to be with her. The impact this had on my 3 year old – my only son – was noticeable; his main source of male company, let alone his Daddy, was no longer around. He clung to me while I was there & broke his heart when I left, adding a depth of emotion to Michael's words. However, there was also comfort to be found,
particularly in the “Lost & Found” nature of Jesus in the final chapter.

This book will stand much re-reading and, despite Michael deliberately avoiding psychoanalysing the stories in question, the conclusions he draws from the text give an excellent framework for reflective thinking about our own condition as lost sons (and daughters) seeking to deepen, strengthen or re-establish a relationship with our eternal Father. I can also see the book making a very effective lent course for a men's group (he said with half an eye on next year).

Overall a well constructed, beautifully written and highly accessible book which I recommend most highly to all.

(For a peep inside, look it up on Amazon)