Thursday, September 17, 2009

PM Review: "The Lost Symbol"

I've been trying to write this review for the past hour or two. Stuffy-head sickness is constipating my eloquence, so let's just dive into it (no spoilers, I promise).

You have to read this book. You really should read them all, but for different reasons.

For "The DaVinci Code" it was because of the guiding premise (SanGreal or SangReal?) and not so much the plot. Let's say "70/30" idea-to-plot ratio, and DVC was still a helluva page-turner. I mean, if you haven't read DVC yet, it's time champ...step up.

With "Angels & Demons" (written BEFORE DVC but appreciated mostly after Brown's nuclear success), I would say it was the other way around. 70% of this book - and ESPECIALLY the end - was driven by the plot (who can forget Camerlengo?), while the idea about the Illuminati kept us intrigued.

(I should say this here. 30% is not a diss. But the twist at the climax of DVC cannot compare to the twist of A&D. Both are durn-good twists. We're essentially arguing the difference between "Low End Theory" and "Midnight Marauders")

With "The Lost Symbol", we finally have the opus Dan Brown has been working on for more than 6 years (he started LS before DVC but got stalled, you'll see why when you read it). You have over 500 pages of a book that keeps you going from start to finish, engrossed EQUALLY in an amazing plot (I mean, you will NEVER see it coming) and an idea that

If you've seen or read "The Secret" you will have a bit of a head-start, but we'll talk about that after you've read the book. Suffice it to say, The Secret sucks...New-Age mysticism will be right at home.

The formula for all Dan Brown novels is the same:

-There is some clandestine organization - Templars, Illuminati (this time the Masons) - who are keeping a secret that they've always had. That secret has always ALWAYS been right in front of our face.

-Something happens to somebody to catalyze the presence of Robert Langdon - universal know-it-all (the fictional Ken Jennings). He is, despite your inclination to think otherwise, the only person who knows anything about symbols.

-Langdon always seems to procure some bad, middle-aged chick by his side. Between he and the femme, there is no question of history that is unknown.

-There is an impossibly small amount of time to get things done.

With that, I'll say that the one frustrating thing about this novel is that you are waiting to find out WHAT'S AT STAKE if this thing goes wrong - a facet that was definitely present in ALL of his other novels. You may be let down at that moment. But Brown has compelled you already to read 400+ pages, so you won't be mad.

The twist is ridiculous. You will be looking for it, expecting it (rightfully so), and you will be absolutely blown when it comes. You didn't see it coming.

Basically, if you are looking for a good novel to stimulate otherwise-dormant brain cells (because Twitter is Sooo exciting), this is your book.

***There will be another post that digs deeper into this guiding premise (the "Big Idea" of LS) but if you are an open-minded, engaged Christian you will have fun in dialogue with it. There's really nothing to argue against, which may make some fiesty Christians mad. In 2002 I came across the notion of "focused energy" from Dean Carter (21st Century mystic at Morehouse). We were in Japan and he told me what "The Lost Symbol" will tell you. And he explained it to me in a way I'll never forget:

"The Bible doesn't SAY this outright, but it does. It's yelling it at you. The more you study the more it will become obvious."

HE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, and the consequences of "focused energy/positive thinking/collective consciousness" are mind boggling.

My favorite scripture is Luke 17:21, and it is for this reason (though Greek scholars will suggest "among" instead of "within". Guess what? Doesn't change the basic idea at all).

The idea is simple: We can do much more with our minds than we think.

I stop here, and implore you to read the book. After that, we can talk science and spirit, or whatever else is on your mind.

EASINESS TO READ: B+/A- (gets a little bulky at certain spots. He did well for this to be an "idea-fiction" though)
STIMULATION: A+ (creates a lot of thought bubbles. Those unfamiliar will have a LOT of questions)
LENGTH: B (at 500 pages, it needs to either be 50 pages longer, or 100 shorter. You'll see why)
DISTRACTION FACTOR: A+ (you will be unable to do anything else until this book is done)
IMPACT: C (the idea, while stimulating, is kind of boring. And he definitely lets the Masons off the hook)

OVERALL: A- (has some flaws, but still a must-read. A GREAT book-club book that can kick off discussion after discussion. Most people won't read it though, or the other sacred and secular texts that "The Lost Symbol" points to. They lost.)

But you can win. $16.99 at Target right now.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Realest Thing I Ever Wrote

“We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in their place.” - Daniel J. Boorstin

The tragic shooting of my young Spelman Sister, Freshman Jasmine Lynn, of Kansas City, MO has my mind in a whirlwind of reflection. The incident, the violence that erupted late last night strikes me dearly because it hits far too close to home, or in this case, "The House." For anyone who has attended or visited a historically Black College knows that most of these schools are situated in the rougher parts of the city. Ideally, the cultural and educational disparities would mix in together creating 1) service opportunities for those fortunate enough to go to college 2) benefits for the underprivileged residents that permeate the perimeter of these institutions. It is an experiment, that has in many cases, such as last nights shooting, failed.

It has happened in instances such as a "random" shooting like in last nights case, or the inverse scenario to option 2 happening, whereby African-American students who are from middle-higher income families become engulfed in the idea that their life experiences are not "real enough" for the their new surroundings, and set off in the sole purpose of authenticating their "blackness." Blackness, to them, is associated with pain, perseverance, hunger, and all too often violence. This is how they see what being Black means, "if you ain't ready to bust your gun then you ain't real." We've seen it all too often, it starts the first week of school when folks claim 8 Mile, Detroit when they really are from the 8th mile of inward Southfield, Michigan. Or my favorite is the suburban Crete-Monee guy who claims the southside of Chicago. After failing this initial test of his mettle, you start to notice a change in that students attire, then a lack of interest in studies, and ultimately the inevitable drug addiction. In attempting to claim their mark, they overreach and head down a disastrous trail. Some are salvaged by a mentor, a girlfriend, a fellow classmate or a Greek organization, all those manifested by Gods omenous hand that guides all of our lives.

However, in some cases, cases that have severely affected my life, there are those who haven't been saved. This week, the AUC saw the tragic end of another violent story. A former student of Morehouse College was sentenced for the killing of one of his classmates in 2005. Before the year is out, three more of his classmates will be tried for their involvement with the murder. At first glance, the reaction is "thats a damn shame" and to move on. But I opened up this essay with a quote about being haunted, and I assure you it will be addressed.

What if you knew the guys who were involved in that situation? What if they so happened to be in your house everyday? What if one of the guys was your former roommate? If you're interested in hearing from someone who can answer yes to all those questions then read on...

My Senior year of college I came back to Atlanta with a car full of stuff and nowhere to put it, let alone a place to rest my head. I had friends who let me crash until I found a home. I did that until about two weeks in I came across a flyer that offered housing in a "clean, smoke-free environment." My answering this specious advertisement was my first mistake. I visited the aforementioned residence and immediately was turned off by the potential renter, but as they say, "desperate times calls for desperate measures." The living arrangements were not ideal but I did not fear for my life. On the one hand, my roommate and his guests could get very rowdy as they discussed "hustling" and "Scarface" but for some reason I was given respect simply due to my being able to validate being from the rough-and-tumble southside of Chicago. At times, I was approached for war stories of growing up to which I declined. I tried to talk some sense into the gentlemen, to no avail. As time went on, things got worse to the point I spent little time at home because there was no peace there.

Not to mention, the housing complex was being overrun with vermin, an increasing number of unfamiliar guests, and because I had no car the long walk from campus, up the unsafe Fair Street was always unsettling. I literally prayed to God everytime I had to walk home and lowly humbled "Walk with me Lord" until my key hit the knob.

I can't go into detail about how exactly my living situation ended with my "roommates" but it wasn't amicable. They were gone when I moved out and I didn't hear from them until one fateful day that following October. The discrepancy we had could have easily been resolved with a conversation, which was was had with one of the younger brothers. Thankfully it was not with the roommate as I believe the confrontation would have been a less smooth confrontation. A sigh of relief was lifted off my chest until a fateful day in October when I read the news about the murder of a Morehouse student. My heart raced uncontrollably, begging for the offenders to not be my old roommates, but my mind knew that it was. When I saw the names, I literally froze in my chair. The fear had set in. What if they wanted to do that to me? What if they planned to? Whats going to happen?

I had become fearful to return to the campus of my alma mater. Even typing this I am tempted to hang my head in shame. For weeks, months, years, I would have nightmares every so often of those very scenarios taking place. I prayed, I worried (the opposite of prayer) and I told very few people. Unfortunately, this wasn't the only case in which the very same fear had haunted me. I kept it inward, hoping by not acknowledging this very real thing, it would go away. But by keeping the pain and distress deeply hidden I was doing the very thing I didn't want to happen. I was killing myself. Stress will kill you. Its suicide.

The recent shooting attacks on Brawley Avenue at 12:30 AM in Atlanta, GA have made me realize that its time to tell my storm "you've got to go." Jasmine Lynn didn't have the pleasure of bewaring her murderers. She was free. She hadn't spent restlessness nights in fear as I had. My point is, what did my worrying get me? My older brother, who was shot at this past October didn't know his assailant beforehand and it still happened. In her honor, I have written this as a semi-eulogy and a testimony that I lay down this burden forever. Every day I am here on this earth is purposeful and I should live it as such.

We serve an amazing God who understands our failings despite his many blessings. The Bible has hundreds of verses dealings with fear because he knows it is a tool the enemy stridently uses to haunt our existence and distract us from his work. How many neighborhoods have we feared not to do good works because of fear? This is not of Him. Though he should only have to say it once, the Bible repeatedly addresses the subject of fear because He knows we wrestle with it on a daily, hourly, second-ly.

Whats foolish is thinking you know what life has in store for you. The many nights we waste wondering what "could be" are ones that I can not have back. But I have learned from them. So this is my soul on ice. By putting this on the internet, I expose a darkness and at the same time defeat the enemies purpose to bondage me to it. Also, I hope it speaks to at least one who currently wears those ropes of fear and let them know they too must free themselves. Too many times we tell God how big are problems are and not tell our problems how big our God is.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you. Amen

Clark L. Jones
(Proud) Morehouse College graduate c/o 2005