CSFF Blog Tour – Lost Mission by Athol Dickson, Day 3

As I suspected, the CSFF Blog Tour for Lost Mission by Athol Dickson (see his blog for more thoughtful discussion) has produced some controversy. It seems tour participants, for the most part, either loved the book as Andrea (blogging for Brandon Barr) did, or hated it as Cris did. The one thing nearly everyone agrees about is that the book disturbs. And so, I believe, it was intended to do. This is not your comfortable happily-ever-after novel that you’ll finish in one sitting and forget in the light of a new day.

The Story. Two distinct story threads run through Lost Mission, one from history when the Spanish were building missions and the other during a more contemporary period of time.

In the first thread, three Franciscan priests have the task of establishing a mission in Alta California with the purpose of converting the Indian peoples to Catholicism. As this thread unfolds, one priests reveals himself to be a tyrant, one a compassionate man with no true moral stand, and the third trapped by the two extremes.

The contemporary thread mirrors this story. The three principles are actually three and a half. One is a young pastor who wants to serve the poor. The second is a man who believes himself to be a Christian but who uses Scripture to manipulate and judge others. The third is a young Hispanic women from Mexico who comes to the US to tell the lost about her Savior. The “half” is a character that comes and goes, though his role is significant. Initially he helps the young woman to start her journey across the border.

In the historical thread, a devastating illness sweeps through the Mission and the surrounding villages. Each of the three priests reacts in different ways to stem the spread of the disease, while all around them, the people they came to save are dying.

In the contemporary thread, the characters are embroiled in love, loss, fear, and fervor. When those elements cross each other in the lives of the different people, the result is explosive. (That’s the best I can do without giving spoilers).

Strengths. From my perspective, the writing is the greatest strength. Athol utilizes an omniscient narrator, a technique not often seen in contemporary literature, to weave these two threads into one story. He forms transitions from short passages of narrative or character contemplation, segueing from the historical character to whom the thoughts apply, to the contemporary character dealing with similar issues.

In addition, the characters are complex, their problems genuine. There are no easy answers. Consequently, the novel is disturbing, another strength, in my way of thinking. It raises issues that need to be thought through, not rubber stamped with a ready answer.

But that leads me to a weakness of the story, and of necessity I’ll include spoilers, so here’s your

    * * * SPOILER ALERT * * *

Weaknesses. For me, the greatest weakness was the fact that none of the characters handled their crises—and their relationship to God—the way I think Scripture calls us to.

Clearly the two wayward priests dealt with life and crisis in ways that contradict Scripture, so that leaves us to hope Frey Alejandro will rise to the occasion. But he doesn’t. By God’s grace he is spared, and I think this is the point of the book, but let me continue.

Just as clearly young pastor Tucker does not handle crisis Scripturally, nor does the wealthy American, Delano. First when his wife left him, then when his daughter died, he struck out against others even as he folded in upon himself. That leaves us Lupe. She who once was so convinced she was following God’s leading becomes filled with doubt and comes close to despair.

But here’s why I consider this a weakness. Instead of turning to God’s Word, she looks for signs to be her guide, her comfort. She says a number of time, as Frey Alejandro did, that she doesn’t feel God’s presence any more. I want to shout, Then open your Bible! You’ll find Him within its pages. He promises that if we draw near to Him, He’ll draw near to us, so get moving!

In short, this is not a weakness in the story but a weakness in presenting truth, which I want to see in stories by Christians.

There were some plot issues I saw as well. Why, for example, didn’t Tucker plead with the church leaders who were denying him financial support for his mission, to give him the money for the medicine that would save the little girl? It seems to me he should have at least tried rather than thinking his only recourse was to steal.

There were a few other things, like Tucker, so intelligent he could become an accomplished thief in a short period of time, didn’t stop to think that Delano couldn’t have stolen the painting from Lupe’s ritablo because the clasps that held it together were ancient and had not been tampered with. In the same way, Delano, who was no dummy, should have realized that Lupe did not paint him into the picture because the work was old and cracked.

There were a couple other minor plot problems, but all of them together did not lessen the impact of the story. At one point I came to realize that I was Tucker at heart. It was a jolt, and it pushed me to repentance. A good thing, surely.

Recommendation. So how can I not recommend a book as powerful as Lost Mission. Like anything else we read, we must think and look to Scripture and compare and ask questions and pray. This book pushed me to do a lot of the above. I highly recommend Lost Mission for those who are ready to tackle a book that disturbs and makes them think about God and His work and His ways. The book doesn’t give the answers, and that’s why it is so powerful.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Published in: on April 14, 2010 at 9:57 am  Comments (9)  
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  1. It sounds like an interesting book and I like the characters sounding flawed in their faith, believe it or not.

    My question is, how is this speculative? Just curious…


  2. Good post, Becky! I think I agree with you a little on the weakness, although not entirely. I think the writer assumes that they are in the Scriptures daily, and we as readers were meant to assume that too. But–again, that’s my assumption. Difficult things; assumptions! They get me in trouble all the time…

    Everyone’s done such a good job on this blog tour that I’m scrambling to find something more to write about for Day 3, myself.


  3. Great insights, Becky. I was struck in my skimming of the Amazon reviews by how many people said this book inspired them to examine their own lives.



  4. Hey, good news! I did find something more to post about today… Just making sure to let you know! 😉


  5. Chris, I think the characters being flawed in their faith was purposeful. The more I thought about my review, the more I wondered how the book would have read if one of the characters HAD searched Scripture and depended on God rather than looking for his own solution. Would the book have been as thought-provoking? As difficult?



  6. Krysti, I wondered about the place Scripture played in their lives. Delano used it, and Tucker ended up doing the same thing. Lupe preached from Scripture, I think. But actually to search for God, especially when Alejandro and Lupe said they didn’t feel God’s presence? I didn’t see that suggested. Maybe you assumed it because that’s what you’d do. 😉



  7. Fred, I hadn’t looked at the Amazon reviews yet. Wow! That’s really telling, isn’t it.

    Hope you get a chance to read it soon.



  8. Just thought I’d clear up my thoughts on the book a bit. I certainly hated elements of it, but I also loved others. Overall, I feel ethically bound to close the cover on this one and not share it with others. I can’t in good concience recommend a book that I believe promotes false doctrines.

    I’m hopeful the author’s talents will be used to create another work without the ethical problems that bogged this one down. Athol’s way with words is engaging, and with out the doctrinal issues i think i could have gotten past the immersion struggles i had with this story’s particular format.


  9. Lupe seemed the closest to living her faith financially. On the one hand you have rich church members caught up in outdoing each other in their shows of wealth, while conversely you have poor mission members who grumble and complain about their rich employers. Was either side truely blameless?

    Lupe didn’t judge, and didn’t complain about what others might have. Instead, she gave out of her abundance to those in need, demonstrating a compassion for those at all prosperity levels.


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