This afternoon I finished reading Gareth Brandt’s book Under Construction: Reframing Men’s Spirituality. Gareth is a former professor of mine at Columbia Bible College where he teaches spirituality and theology.
It is fitting that I review this particular book on male spirituality since the mere mention of a book like Wild at Heart often induces a state of nausea in yours truly. Indeed Gareth’s journey to publication of this book occurred through similar dissatisfaction with books on male spirituality–it was his craving for another voice that led him to write:
I did not set out to write a book on men’s spirituality. I set out on a personal quest. After reading more than a dozen books on the subject, I was left with the craving for another voice. And a voice inside said, ‘Then speak up!’ (14).
As the subtitle suggests, Under Construction attempts to provide a fresh framework through which to view male spirituality. Gareth begins by debunking the popular belief that the ideal man is contained in the typical masculine images of king, warrior, lover, and magician/sage. For males who feel like less of a man because they don’t necessarily fantasize about going to war or rescuing a princess–this is a welcoming and needed reminder.
After clearing the ground Gareth searches for an appropriate Biblical character or narrative to serve as a helpful structure for examining male spirituality. Eventually Gareth settles on the Joseph story since the narrative provides substantial depth and since many of the themes of his life can be identified with by average men.
Each subsequent chapter examines a metaphor that emerges from this story. Some notable examples include: beloved, journey, sexuality, builder, and legacy. Gareth begins each exploration with a paraphrased section of the Joseph story followed by insights from his own personal experience, theological and/or psychological research, and even some of his poetry. Gareth’s thoughts are not intended to be exhaustive but rather provide food for thought and provoke further reflection on the part of the reader.
Despite some minor theological and terminological quibbles I have with the book I would still recommend Under Construction to anyone interested in male spirituality. Gareth’s book doesn’t shy away from issues that men today need to face such as being the “beloved” and not just the “lover”, coming to terms with the inevitability of death, and recognizing the importance of both leading and following. Throughout the book Gareth demonstrates a candid, humble, and wise approach that is backed by a solid intellectual grasp of the various disciplines he works with that make his book appealing to both young and old, academic or layperson, and to the macho-man or romantic. True to Gareth’s personality and theological convictions the book also lends itself well to be read in community. His supply of questions at the end of his work make the book a great spring-board for a book study or discussion group.
For those interested in picking up a copy of Gareth’s (highly affordable) book you can find it here: