Two organizations helping conscientious objectors

When I became a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, the primary issue was conscription. The secondary issue was the concept of an unjust or unnecessary war. The draft ended in 1973, but the concept of needless wars did not.

CCWlogoToday, many who are willing to join the military to protect the country, become uncomfortable–as many did during the Vietnam War–with combat and casualties which appear to serve no viable purpose. In recent years, people have asked the same kinds of questions about Iraq and Afghanistan that were once asked about Vietnam: should we be there?

In the 1960s, many of us sought practical help from the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) and their handbook which outlined how to apply for a CO status and outlined the kinds of questions one would be asked if they did. This group is more or less no longer active.

Today, if one is against all wars and rejects even non-combatant participation, then (if you’re a man) you still have to register with the Selective Service Commission. However, as long as enlistment is voluntary, there are fewer issues to face unless you disagree with the concept of registration.

AFCSlogoIf you join the military and consider conscientious objection due to the role you’re being asked to play, two organizations can help you sort through what (if anything) you can legally do. You will see on their sites routes you can take along with information about such issues as the so-called endless war, the morality of drone strikes, and even the militarization of police forces.

  • The Center on Conscience & War is a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of conscience, opposes military conscription, and serves all conscientious objectors to war.  Founded in 1940 as the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors, CCW can help you find alternative service to the military and/or help you through the maze of regulations should you wish yo file as a CO.
  • The American Friends Service Committee, where many of us also went for help during the Vietnam War, is an active organization today with multiple programs. Their programs seem more extensive than those of CCW, because they address such things as the refugee problem and the military budget.

Today’s conscientious objectors hope to see rights and procedures codified into law rather than remaining dependent on the regulations of military branches where they can be and have been suspended for various reasons. Larger issues, such as the demilitarization of police forces, the legality of drone attacks, and solving refugee problems by addressing basic issues causing conflict rather than looking at refugees as charity cases are in my view outside the conscientious objector framework. (That is not to say that we shouldn’t address them.)

I wrestled with the problems–and stigma–of becoming a CO during the 1960s and think that many of the same issues are with us today even without the draft.

The issue is by no means settled and the stigma is by no means gone.

–Malcolm

AtSeaBookCoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea,” a novel about a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War.  

 

Review: ‘The Way of Spirit’ by Joanne Helfrich

The Way of Spirit: Teachings of Rose, Joanne Helfrich (NewWorldView December 7, 2014), 218pp.

The publisher of The Way of Spirit says this spiritual self-help book will help you discover your life’s purpose and the means of achieving your soul’s deepest fulfillment. Whether or not the book is successful in doing that depends on the reader’s point of view about who Rose is and how Joanne Helfrich received Rose’s guidance.

WayOfSpiritHelfrich describes Rose as “an energy personality essence–a multidimensional being who exists primarily outside out physical world of space and time.” Her guidance was received by an energy exchange method of meditation more commonly known as channeling.

Jane Roberts’ popular Seth books of the 1970s introduced the general public to energy personalities, channeling, and a body of metaphysical information summed up by the phrase “you create your own reality.” Helfrich’s book complements Seth’s teachings.

While many readers intuitively felt that Seth’s non-mainstream, impossible-to-prove view of reality was correct, they often had trouble putting his concepts into actual practice in their lives. Subsequently, teachers such as Lynda Dahl (Seth Talk) and channelers such as Vicki Pendley (Elias) and Serge Grandbois (Kris) have explained and/or added to the information Jane Roberts provided via 1,500 trance sessions between 1963 and 1984.

Practical Approach

Helfrich has written a joyful and very practical guidebook for those seeking “big picture” knowledge and personal transformation. Students of Seth will find some overlap here between the concepts in The Way of Spirit and those they already know. Others are likely to become enchanted by Rose’s positive, no-nonsense approach to who you are and what you can accomplish.

Original Seth book - click on cover for current edition
Original Seth book – click on cover for current edition

Unlike some of the “Law of Attraction” books that focused on acquiring fame, fortune and other material world gains, The Way of the Spirit focuses on inner transformation and a compassionate approach to others. Rose sets the tone for the book by saying, “Since you create all of your reality, it stands to reason that when you become heroes pf your own lives, you change yourself and your world for the better.” The approach echoes Joseph Campbell’s (The Hero With a Thousand Faces) admonition that you cannot have a positive impact on the world until you “fix” yourself first.

Rose focuses on the individual: discover who you are, find your purpose and the bedrock intention of your life, own your own reality, interact with others with love and compassion, and understand that transformation comes from alignment with the universe, not by using brute force logic or pushing others aside to get what you desire.

Naysayers will be quick to point out that, like many other spiritual books focused on meeting goals and desires, this book says you don’t automatically get what you want; you get what the universe thinks you need. Many see this fact as a “kings-X” rule that negates of the rest of the books, allowing the authors to say, “well, your law of attraction meditation didn’t work, not because the system is flawed, but because you were trying to attract what you weren’t supposed to have.”

That point is well taken and the “mechanics” of whether or not the workings of “you create your own reality” should be interpreted as “you create your own reality when the universe consents.”

Quite clearly, The Way of the Spirit is about the way of the spirit, not the way of the transitory, illusory physical world of success and failure, rich and poor, or fame and anonymity.

Helfrich - click on photo for author's web site
Helfrich – click on photo for author’s web site

One strength of this positive and enchanting book is the section called practices. These are not recipes or A-to-Z formulas for making reality (or yourself) change before your eyes. As Rose explains it, “Practices are small, regular actions that help you live a happier life. They may be things you already do, but wish to do in a different way. When they become habits, they will transform your life.” These practices are:

  • Access Alternatives – Breaking away from closed thinking patterns
  • Intent Practices – Discovering and expressing your inate abilities
  • Souter – Finding a new way to visualize your breathing
  • Rest in Rose – Finding ways to relax and experience ones essence
  • IDEA – Discovering your foundation beliefs and their alternatives
  • Addressing Fears – Learning the role of fear and an appropriate response to it
  • Vespers – Meditating and exploring ways to channel your essence in day ahead
  • Evening Prayers – Calming your mind and staying connected as you fall asleep

The Way of the Spirit–like Jane Roberts’ Seth books–presents a vastly different view of reality than we are taught in school. Everything we “know” about time and space, physical reality, and cause and effect is challenged here. It’s a lot too take in and it cannot be taken in with an effortless leap of faith no matter how right it sounds in the reading of it.

Joanne Helfrich has created a thought-provoking approach to making things better in our lives. The practice sections give us a way to test drive her ideas without having to throw away the world view that has sustained us for better or worse up to now. This inspirational book is highly recommended.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy and magical realism novels and short stories that focus on characters making transformational journeys.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t push the envelope, destroy it

Push the Envelope: To attempt to extend the current limits of performance. To innovate, or go beyond commonly accepted boundaries.

The Phrase Finder

As The Phrase Finder site reminds us, “pushing the envelope”–prior to Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book The Right Stuff–was a concept used primarily by mathematicians and engineers, including those exploring the idea of space travel.  Since then, the phrase has come into general use to mean going beyond the usual ways of doing things.

envelopeAs a writer, I focus on characters who either believe they are powerless and/or who seem to be powerless based on society’s perception of them.

If you have read my novels The Sun Singer, Sarabande, and Conjure Woman’s Cat, you have seen a common theme: protagonists in seemingly impossible circumstances who must go beyond the usual ways of doing things to survive.

The envelope, like the box, is a comfortable place. It contains our successes of the past and what we’ve learned from them. It’s risky to push it, much less destroy it. The envelope, like the box, is also a prison, cozy as it may be.

To change our situations and ourselves, we often have to destroy the envelope to get rid of the invisible restraints that keep us from finding power or even a simple solution.

This is a good place for storing stuff. It's a bad place for thinking.
This is a good place for storing stuff. It’s a bad place for thinking.

When Robert Adams destroys the envelope in The Sun Singer by stepping into an alternative universe, he doesn’t know who he is for a while. That’s a “real life” danger, too. But Robert learns and by the end of the novel he is much more than what he was at the beginning.

I’m not sure I would take the risks my characters take, but I can visualize what it might be like by writing my stories. When I read them later, my imagination takes off outside the envelope where I can explore the pros and cons of doing such a thing in my own reality.

My writing has changed me. No, it hasn’t turned me into a Gandalf or a Harry Potter, but it has made me very suspicious of people who say “we’ve always done it this way” and “doing what you ask is impossible.”

Malcolm

SarabandeCover2015Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Sarabande,” a contemporary fantasy coming out in a new second edition for Thomas-Jacob Publishing on November 1. Sarabande, like Robert Adams, must destroy the envelope to escape what has been haunting her.

If you read on Kindle, you can pre-order your copy today.

On Connectedness: Music of Sacred Lakes, A Redemptive Ghost Story

Cowan
Cowan

Today’s guest post is by Laura K. Cowan (“The Little Seer“) whose new novel Music of Sacred Lakes was released this month. (See my review of Music of Sacred Lakes on Literary Aficionado.) Last year, Laura appeared here with her article “Speculative Supernatural Novels and the Growing Fantasy Genre”.

On Connectedness: Music of Sacred Lakes, A Redemptive Ghost Story

“I don’t belong anywhere.”

musicofsacredlakesFor some people, especially in the western world today, this is a common and nagging feeling, sometimes even with catastrophic results for a life. And this is the problem that, even while striking him as trivial and self-centered, is wrecking the life of Peter Sanskevicz, the young protagonist of. He can’t accept the sixth-generation family farm from his parents, can’t continue serving “fudgies,” tourists in Northern Michigan who feel more at home than he does–and then, Peter accidentally kills a girl. Seeing his life is at risk, Peter’s friend takes him to his uncle, a pipe carrier of the Odawa tribe, who tells him he has lost his connection with the land and must live by the shores of Lake Michigan until the lake speaks to him.

But what does that mean? How does a lake speak? What is this connection Peter, and many people in the modern world today, have lost? Why does it matter?

Connectedness & Belonging

When I started researching Music of Sacred Lakes, I had just come through a very difficult time in my life, in which religion still seemed very important but I was realizing the shortcomings of the faith of my upbringing. There was a big disconnect between what the people who raised me in church had said and what they did to help the world. There was an even bigger disconnect between what they said God thought of them and how they seemed to really feel about their place in the world.

Novel's Lake Michigan Setting
Novel’s Lake Michigan Setting

I set out to find out if I could live a life that honored God’s good creation and that left a place for me in that world. Surely people couldn’t really believe that the world was a beautiful creation of God and then fill it with trash and let it be destroyed by greedy corporations.

Surely I could find a way to live my faith that didn’t leave me miserable and condemned, being told simultaneously that I was saved by grace and that I had to have the exact right ideas about God in order to get to heaven (Pope Francis has a few things to say about that, I’ve discovered since). And even more importantly, I was discovering that this 20th-century idea of man being separate from the world–standing outside it and looking in—didn’t make any sense.

becominganimalI was seeing statements everywhere as I researched this novel of belonging that really hooked me. To paraphrase from the book Becoming Animal, I stand in the earth, not on top of it. I am within the biosphere, the atmosphere, and am breathing this air in and out. How then can I say I am set apart from this creation? If this atmosphere disappears, I die instantly. As I breathe in and out, exchanging matter with this world around me, I am a part of it, and it is a part of me.

That, and all the wisdom texts and physics books I was reading on the nature of matter and energy and the universe, which stated that matter is best understood as notes on a scale that vibrate at different frequencies to manifest as different kinds of substance (superstring theory) and that all these strings are connected across a vast network through the universe so that everything is connected to everything else (M Field Theory)—really clinched it for me. This modernist idea of man being separate, objective, different from the rest of the universe–it wasn’t true at all. And that had big implications–HUGE–for my faith, for the way I viewed the world, for the way I approached my faith.

To top it off, the mystics all agreed. The Oglala Lakota Sioux chief Black Elk once said that he had a vision of the mountain (The Black Hills) and the mountain was the center of the world, and the mountain was everywhere. This kind of statement has a way of cropping up in multiple religions, throughout the history of spiritual thought. It’s in Buddhism. It’s in Christianity, too, believe it or not. It even pops up in the Sufi streams of Islam.

Odawa Website
Odawa Website

I followed the rabbit hole down to postmodernism, to the wisdom traditions of the past that never lost connection with the world, to spiritual paths that honored the earth, and discovered that my own western modern iteration of faith had simply lost this important piece of wisdom, but that there were other cultures, Odawa and Ojibwe Native American being one in my own back yard, that had held on to this wisdom to bring it back to my generation. To say I was humbled, and in awe, and blessed by this, would be an understatement. And all this without ever leaving my own religion, Christianity. Mind boggling.

So what is it to discover that you can be a Christian and honor the wisdom of other people, without blending anyone’s faiths? What is it to discover that you belong in the world, and that, to finally quote a Christian mystic for once, “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well”? If you want to know what it is to discover that this question of belonging and the way we treat the earth are connected, read this story. I think if any of this post resonates with you, that ache that says there must me something more to life that you’re missing, something to your life that makes more sense than the daily grind, you will like Music of Sacred Lakes a great deal. You will discover connectedness, and as usual in life, this can come through the most unexpected of places: a story, a ghost, and a boy reconnecting with his faith through Lake Michigan.

In addition to her website, you can connect with Laura K. Cowan,  The Dreaming Novelist, on Twitter or on Facebook.

 

Merry Chrismas, Yuletide Greetings, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa!

seasonsgreetingsIn the mystery school tradition, when members gather for solar festivals and fellowship, they often use the phrase “the god of your heart” when referring to the Creator or the Supreme Being because the term embraces all religions and practices for those variously might be celebrating Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other holy days and year-end reflections.

In that spirit, seasons greetings to you within the spirit of the god of your heart.

At this time of year, I enjoy reading how people from different faiths and traditions celebrate or commemorate the days between the Winter Solstice and Twelfth Night.  For some of us, this is the Festival of Rebirth often symbolized by seeds in the ground waiting for spring while memories of sunshine and growing things are symbolized by candles, Yule logs, and evergreens.

Best wishes for the season and thank you for stopping by Malcolm’s Round Table throughout the year.

Malcolm

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair –
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin –
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

— T. S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”

What’s Your Tree

Julia “Butterfly” Hill disturbed the universe for 738 days by sitting in a 1,500 redwood tree from December 1997 to December 1999 to keep the 180-foot tree from being cut down. Her efforts saved the tree. Though many people, including those who agreed with her, said she was carrying her protest to an extreme level, the very nature of what she did attracted attention, garnered support, and that resulted in an agreement that saved the tree. In spite of one attack by morons with a chainsaw, the tree is carrying on its long life.

Most of us wouldn’t have done that because when all was said and done, the practical ramifications of sitting in a tree for two years would have probably made us unemployable, not to mention the loss of income that would have bankrupted us.  There is so much noise in the world, that it’s hard to know what any of us can do or say to disturb the universe enough to make a difference.  Today, authors hear that “it” is all about “platform.” One has to have a “platform” filled with Facebook and Twitter and blogs and Pinterest and LinkedIn to have any hope of seeling books. The trouble is, everyone else is out there in the same social media trying to sell their books. It’s hard not to get lost in the crowd.

Anyone who wants to follow his or her beliefs and passions and work for meaningful change is likely to feel just like the writers who are trying to sell their books: what must I say or do to be heard? Fortunately, there are many organizations we can associate with that will help us be heard as part of a group. If you want to fight to save redwoods, for example, you can join the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, the National Parks and Conservation Association and many other groups. Many of them want hands-on help as well as your donations and your help in letter-writing campaigns.

In 1967, I came within several breaths of going to Sweden to avoid being drafted and forced to participate in a war I did not support. I had the means and the opportunity. The reasons why I didn’t are both complex and unclear, but within the context of this blog, my leaving the U.S. (and being banned from coming home for many years) would not have changed U.S. policy in Vietnam. If I had been famous, perhaps living in Göteborg might have either changed a few people’s minds or convinced everyone who knew me that I was nuts.

It’s a hard call, I think, to figure out the difference between running away and leaving because you cannot accept what your country, town, company or organization is doing. I absolutely cannot accept the United States’ policy of using drones to kill people it doesn’t like in foreign countries. In my view, that is unconstitutional and in violation of international law. This practice hasn’t been discussed very much in the Presidential race because few people are upset enough about it to disturb the universe. And, like those of us who have considered sitting in trees or moving to Sweden, we’re more likely to scuttle our own universes rather than impacting the national debate.

I would like to disturb the universe when it comes to the use of drones in sovereign foreign countries, the spying on Americans done with little uproar based on so-called “security reasons,” the mistreatment of the environment, the intrusion by governments and religious groups into a woman’s personal rights, and a dozen or so other issues. But I never quite know how.

The Quiet Approach

Whenever my frustrations about issues get too strong, I use every relaxation technique I know to pull myself back into what I believe is an essential truth: as Joseph Campbell said “We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”

Seriously, we’re not burying our heads in the sand when we admit that we cannot save the world. While some people will make very noticeable positive impacts, most of us will have to take a quieter approach. Perhaps we’ll donate some money to Planned Parenthood or we’ll add our name to a petition about oil pipelines through sacred Indian lands or we’ll spend the weekend with a volunteer group that’s clearing brush and deadfalls off a national forest or national park trail.

And who knows, there the ripples from such quiet actions influence. The universe we must dare to disturb, I think, is ourselves. Are we following our beliefs? Good, then doing so may impact a friend and then a neighborhood and after that, who knows who will step aside from their busy day-to-day life to help. We’ll probably never meet the people we influence,  but that doesn’t matter. We won’t have a page in wikipedia that tells the world who we are and what we did. That doesn’t matter either.

The hardest thing is, perhaps, that first step. Are we following our beliefs? If not, we need to disturb ourselves greatly. Once that happens, the universe that matters will never be the same again.

Malcolm

Promises to keep

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

–Robert Frost in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Cattle behind the house watching me watching them

As snow fell across central and north Georgia on Christmas Day, weathermen told us this was Atlanta’s first white Christmas in over a century. In contrast with northern states where snow, salted roads and blizzards occur multiple times during the winter, Georgia snow is a big deal. Our one-to-six-inch snowfall (depending on where you were) caught the attention of local TV stations and the Weather Channel for many hours.

My wife and I were spending Christmas with her father on his farm in NW Georgia. The quiet of an evening of wood smoke and moonlight carried a hint of magic, a reminder, perhaps, of the way we felt during the best of our Christmas eves and Christmas mornings as children.

In the cycle of changing seasons, we often say that the period between the Winter Solstice and Ground Hog Day is not only the best time for planting trees, but the best time for planting figurative seeds. Our plans, goals and intentions germinate in the safe darkness of the soil beneath a fine winter snow, awaiting the sunny days when first shoots will appear, followed by leaves. The enchantment of a cold winter night in a snowy field or along the fence line margin where the world of cows ends and the dark of the woods begins, it’s easier to see one’s hopes for the future more clearly. The smoke from the chimney carries them into the heavens like prayers.

While New Year’s resolutions, at whatever level of seriousness we make them, present our public face, promises made in the quiet of the woods on a snowy evening represent our most sacred intentions. These are the promises that matter. They define who we are, why we are here, and the very best of our goals for the future.

Made in secret, they are the easiest promises to break for we suffer no public shame in failing to accomplish what nobody knew we planned to accomplish.

Made in secret, these promises are the best ones to keep. They are promises to ourselves that touch the soul. Yes, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep,” but there is work to be done, the most sacred of all work.

For now, the woods must wait.

Malcolm

The e-book is only $5.99 on OmniLit

Whispers of Forever

We are immortal, and do not forget;
We are eternal; and to us the past
Is, as the future, present.
— Lord Byron, in “Manfred”

When one of the seven spirits makes this comment to Manfred in Byron’s dramatic poem composed in 1817, Manfred replies “Ye mock me.”

While most people are not tortured by unexplained guilt to the point of calling spirits (supernatural rather than liquid) to help them forget, I wonder if they believe in an eternal now. Looking at immortality, we can say that which we see confirms it or denies it.

I see it confirmed everywhere I look, from nature to myths to science to intuition. Perhaps I’m a “glass is half full” rather than a “glass is half empty person.” If I have a bias in my writing, it’s in favor of forever. In “The Sun Singer” and “Garden of Heaven,” the eternal now is a constant whisper deep within these adventures.

While earth ties us down to the concepts of space and time, the eternal now presupposes no time and no space. Seeing this possibility beyond the illusion of physical reality is, I think, part of the human quest. Fortunately, in writing fiction, I do not have to prove that immortality is real or even that it’s real for those who think it’s real. My imagination is my guide, so I am content to whisper about the probabilities on the pathways my characters are walking.

My challenge as a writer is casting a strong enough spell with my words to keep the listener from saying “ye mock me” when he hears my characters whispering about forever. I don’t expect to change minds, for I am a storyteller with entertaining yarns. However, when a reader considers that there truly is something else on the other side of the illusion, I am well pleased.

–Malcolm

Available in multiple e-book formats

Book Review: ‘The Last Templar’

The Last TemplarThe Last Templar by Raymond Khoury
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Raymond Khoury’s “The Last Templar” (2006) is part of a deluge of novels and nonfiction to step outside mainstream history to explore the real, prospective and imagined secrets about alchemy, the Knights Templar, and the origins of Christianity.

One cannot help but think of Katherine Neville’s “The Eight” (1997) which focused on present-day people fighting over and/or guarding the secrets of the Philosopher’s Stone and Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” (2003) which speculated about the true meaning of the Holy Grail and the bloodline of Christ. Many of Neville’s, Brown’s and Khoury’s fans were also attracted to such nonfiction as “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” (Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, 1982) and Lynn Picknett’s “The Templar Revelation” (1997).

It is difficult to read, much less discuss, Neville, Brown and Khoury without acknowledging the fact that fact that they are part of a rather unique genre of spiritual conspiracy fiction that seemed to fill a need in the public psyche for truths thought to be missing from the tenets of Catholic and Protestant theology.

Neville’s “The Eight” was, perhaps, the first to popularize this “genre’s” style and focus: hidden wisdom, long-time conspiracies, compelling present-day mystery/thriller action, and numerous (and lengthy) history lessons. Since her focus was alchemy, Neville’s “The Eight” didn’t ignite the kind of controversy generated by Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” which, some might say, hit us where we lived if not where we worshipped.

Like Neville, Khoury tells his story with a modern-day and a historical timeline. “The Last Templar” begins with what Booklist called “one of the most gripping opening scenes among recent thrillers.” Four horsemen dressed in Knights Templar regalia steal artifacts from a Metropolitan Museum of Art show of Vatican treasures, including a “decoder.” The other story line focuses on the last days of the Knights Templar as the Holy Land is “lost” with the fall of Acre in 1291 and the subsequent pilgrimage of a few surviving knights to safeguard the Templars’ treasure.

Publisher’s Weekly was less kind than Booklist, saying that the “war between the Catholic Church and the Gnostic insurgency drags on in this ponderous ‘Da Vinci Code’ knockoff.” Many readers criticized Dan Brown in “The Da Vinci Code” for constantly stopping the otherwise full-speed action of the book while one character filled in another character about the secrets of Mary Magdalene, the Grail, the actions of the Catholic Church, and Jesus’ bloodline.

In my view, “The Last Templar” carries such backstory diversions to an extreme. Picture, if you will, whether it’s plausible that FBI operatives investigating the raid on the museum, the stolen treasurers, and the continuing deaths would spend hours discussing Templar history in great detail.

The greatest fault with “The Eight,” “The Da Vinci Code,” and “The Last Templar,” is the fact that some characters must provide other characters with long-winded and unrealistic diversions into history, philosophy and theology because general readers are not likely to know the facts and the latest theories involved. The authors have felt that without these history lessons, the plots wouldn’t make sense.

I liked “The Last Templar” better than Publisher’s Weekly, but not as much as Booklist. The history was interesting, though I’d seen it all before. The plot was imaginative and included some page-turner action scenes involving the church, the thieves, the FBI and protagonist Tess Chaykin, an archeologist who witnesses the raid. The ending, while not wholly unreasonable was, I think, unsatisfactory, especially for those readers who not only want to know what the Templars’ secret but are angry that a real or a fictionalized church would deem it necessary to suppress the truth at all costs.

The romantic feelings between Tess and the head FBI agent add a variety of complications to the story, some of which lead into exciting action scenes even though the relationship within the book is rather forced and tedious.

For readers who have enjoyed the fiction and nonfiction in this wave of spiritual conspiracy books, “The Last Templar” is interesting escapist reading even though those who have seen it all before may speed-read through some of the Templar history.

View all my reviews

Your perfect world

“Our Fortunes and Lives seem Chaotic when they are looked at as facts. There is order and meaning only in the great truths believed by everybody in that older and wiser time of the world when things were less well known but better understood.” — Roderick MacLeish

The psychiatrist Eric Berne (“Games People Play”) wrote in one of his books that when confronted with a troubled patient, he would ask himself what one would have to do to a person while they were a child to make them turn out the way they did, needing the help of an analyst. Answering that question was often the beginning of treatment.

Berne’s statement had a great impact on me, especially while I was working at state facility for the developmentally disabled. We could see, in many of the residents’ histories, the effects of abusive, inept and often criminal events in their “upbringing.”

When we compared our residents’ current behaviors to their case histories, we knew the answer to Berne’s question.

Unfortunately, asking Berne’s question outside the world of psychology and mental health has led us all down some bad roads. They are roads of blame and excuses. Ask anyone why his dreams for his own perfect world never materialized, and more often than not, he will have a list of people and events from his past that “created” the world he is now experiencing.

He may have, filed away inside his mind, a mental dossier complete with facts, eye witnesses and the testimony of experts that proves he would be happy/rich today, if his parents hadn’t thrown his bike in the trash when he was 15…or if his former spouse had let him finish college…or if his boss hadn’t fired him at a financially precarious moment.

We take great comfort in such blame and in the fact we are using pure reason when we gather the facts that prove we are totally innocent when it comes to the slings and arrows that comprise our current lot in life. However, these facts seem to obscure the real truths, those we’re afraid to consider.

How odd that the very truth that presumably should empower us to fix everything that we claim is broken in what could have been our perfect worlds, is the one truth left off the table. If we could walk into a courtroom and sue everyone on our list of nasty people responsible for how we ended up, a wise judge might explain to us the meaning of such terms as contributory negligence, co-conspirator, and accessory.

Hearing such explanations might show us how to fix what we don’t like. Yet, ask anyone if he played a role in the way he’s ended up. Ask if he believes he created his present reality in any way, shape or form, and he will laugh off such ideas. It’s less personally devastating that way.

It’s far past time, I think, to stop asking Eric Berne’s question. While it’s a helpful question to ask, it’s skewed our thinking away from essential truths about why things are as they are. These days, I’m more inclined to ask questions based on James Allen (“As a Man Thinketh”) approach:

The aphorism, “As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,” not only embraces the whole of a man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.

That leads to a far different question: “What have I done with my life so far to end up in the place I am now?”

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series.