Book Review #30: “Angels & Demons”


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I originally thought The Da Vinci Code was the first book to feature Robert Langdon, but I was proven wrong!

This was a HUGE book. I wanted to finish it last week, but it was so dense that it took me until 11:00 p.m. last night to finally finish. It’s 616 pages total!

To be blunt, I have several praises, as well as several criticisms.

I was instantly drawn into Robert Langdon’s world. Brown hooked me within the first few sentences. I was along Langdon’s side from Harvard, to Switzerland, to Vatican City, to Rome. It was a bit of a whirlwind at first, and then you get plunged into the worlds of CERN,  Vatican City, the Catholic Church, history, and symbolism.

Trying to figure out the puzzle that Brown laid out kept me interested. A scientist at CERN is brutally murdered, and he has connections to both the scientific and religious communities.

I liked Vittoria Vetra almost immediately. She’s feisty, gorgeous, and a great addition to Langdon. Langdon is the main character, but there were times that Vittoria was faster, and took control, and I liked it! She’s a smart cookie, and I knew Robert would be attracted to her.

The menagerie of twists and turns made me feel like I was on a high-speed ride through Europe! It was exhilarating. There were several days where I flew through multiple chapters and dozens of pages.

I applaud Brown’s dedication and commitment to historical accuracy, and being totally up front about not fictionalizing any locations, historical figures, or places (There’s a disclaimer in the very beginning). It felt even more real!

However, I had several issues with this book. There were three particular instances where I feel Brown is almost too graphic in his writing. As an aspiring writer of fiction, I know that, at certain times, it’s necessary to be graphic to illustrate and illuminate, But, Brown’s style was too much for this reader. I almost gave up every time. I almost didn’t want to find out what happened next. Some of it almost made me sick.

But, I pressed on.

Toward the end, as the intensity was reaching its peak in Vatican City, where decisions needed to be made quickly – Brown inserted this multiple-page speech by the Camerlengo (papal chamberlain) that just dragged on and on. I got the significance – The man was addressing the cardinals at a critical point in the conclave – but it could have been much shorter! Maybe dedicate a page or two, but not five or six! I felt so impatient during that section. I wanted to skip the entire speech and get just back to the action!

Finally, I hated the ending. It felt abrupt, it felt weird, it left me hanging a bit. It wasn’t a cliffhanger, but I hated how nonchalant it felt. I won’t give it away, but I felt a bit empty when I closed the book.

My first thought was, “That’s it? That’s how you end this ridiculously long book? Wow…”

After sleeping on it, I realized this morning why he ended it the way he did, but I still wasn’t happy about it!

If you’re looking for a thriller that involves conspiracy, mystery, secret societies, art history, exploring historic sections of Europe, and learning a lot about the Catholic Church – This book is for you.

Overall, I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone for this one. I’d heard of the movies, but haven’t seen them. The first few pages of The Da Vinci Code I read about a month ago made me curious about who Robert Langdon is and how he got himself into such a twisted web of history, religion, and murder. It’s an exciting book, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him, and what happens next.

Despite my issues with Angels & Demons, I’m still motivated to read the other books with protagonist Robert Langdon – The Da Vinci Code (2003), The Lost Symbol (2009), Inferno (2013), and Origin (October 2017). Look for these reviews over the next few months.

3 out of 5 stars.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #5: Follow-Up To “Godless Parents Are Doing A Better Job”

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“Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business. I live by the golden rule: Treat others as you’d want them to treat you. The religious right wants to tell people how to live.” – Jesse Ventura

I don’t agree with this entire quote, but “It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business” speaks volumes.

Curious? Read on.

Recently, I published a post commenting on the article titled “Godless Parents Are Doing A Better Job.”

Didn’t get a chance to read it yet? Check it out.

When I published the post, the first response I got was from my friend Justin. He messaged me on Facebook, saying: “It wasn’t bad. The only thing I think you might have included is the fact that you may be expecting questions from people in your church (or other people) on how to raise them, and how you will know that your blood runs in their veins and that alone gives you the right to raise them as you see fit, religion or no religion …”

I was very pleasantly surprised to look at my WordPress stats page later on and see 25 views – Wow!

Then I went back to Facebook, and noticed two things about the “likes” on my post with the link:

  1. Only one person, at that time, was associated with my church.
  2. All of the “likes” were from people who are all under the age of 40.

This was interesting to me.

I’m not trying to make assumptions here, but I feel like people either

(a) didn’t see the post, or

(b) chose to ignore it.

Religion is one of those touchy topics. It’s very polarized. It tends to light fires under people.

For me, I don’t want to start fires or make anyone my enemy here.

I just want to have a civilized discussion on this subject, with anyone who is willing to listen and participate.

And that previous sentence right there is where some of the issue is. A lot of people don’t listen well. I’m getting better at it, every day. It’s hard to listen when you have an opinion, an agenda, or something to say – Trust me! I’ve gotten so wrapped up in talking, and thinking about what to say next, that I realize, after the conversation has long ended, that I was barely listening.

Over the last few weeks, since I published the original post, I started reflecting on several things:

  • My current view on the church (the church in general, but focusing on the church that I currently attend)
  • Observing the families in my current church
  • The people who I most closely associate with, and their views on the church and raising children
  • My vision for my future (concentrating on the next year)

When I first wrote the original post, it was tough for me to get my thoughts sorted out and somewhat straight. That’s why it took so long for me to write that post!

In my reflections, with time, I found myself less confused. I started seeing things a little more clearly.

I believe that “everything happens for a reason.” I’m living proof of that, literally. I was not supposed to survive my entry into this world, but I did. I should have had many more medical and developmental challenges, but thanks to my parents and doctors and a host of others, I didn’t.

This belief has continued throughout my time on this Earth. I believe that I was with John for so long to teach me how love can be flawed. I know that staying with John for so long, although awful and terrible and terrifying for half of it, helped me connect with Nick, and that led me to Al 🙂

My current view of the church, as a whole, is a bit skewed. My current church has been going through transition, for some time now, with membership in steady decline and the recent announcement that our senior pastor slated to leave this summer and a new one to come in. Also, this is the church that I have been attending almost every Sunday since I was four years old.

But as a 26-year-old, who is to be married in about seven months and planning to have a family one day, I’m not happy with the church. I feel smothered almost. It’s getting harder to smile on Sundays. If it weren’t for me being on the multi-media team and helping my parents out with Sunday School and blood drives on a regular basis, I wouldn’t see myself attending.

I go for the social aspect, to see the friendly faces. I’m becoming more withdrawn from the church services; less interested in worship, the Bible readings, and the sermons. I’ve learned more from helping out in the children’s Sunday School classes, which to me is exciting and sad simultaneously. I feel more connected with our associate pastor at the moment, and one of the main reasons is because she is closer to my age.

Observing the families in my church, they are wonderful people. The kids are well-behaved, for the most part (The parents are a significant part of that overall issue, but that’s another blog post entirely). The Sunday School program that we have for grades 1-5 is awesome, but attendance is down drastically, due to our steadily declining membership.

For me, if I brought a child into this world tomorrow, I would hesitate to bring them to my church.

Do I want my child/children to be baptized as infants?

  • Yes.

Do I want my child/children to learn who God and Jesus are?

  • Yes.

Do I want my child/children to be raised in the same church that I was?

  • No.

Do I want my child/children to attend church regularly?

  • Yes. But only if they choose to do so.

I want to be a mom that gives my child/children choices. I don’t want to force them to do anything that they feel uncomfortable with, within reason. Moreover, if they don’t understand something, I want to help them learn. I don’t want to force them to participate in something without explanation.

With the church, I want to guide my child/children, trying to strike a balance between holding their hand in life and letting them go on their own to discover and explore. I want them to know how I was raised and what I learned – BUT – I don’t want to raise them exactly like I was raised. I want to do that on my own terms. I am not dictated by anyone. As the mother, I have the right to raise my child/children as I see fit.

I do not plan to raise them in the church that I was raised. That was my original plan, for many years. But I have lost faith in my church over several years, literally. I don’t feel inspired like I used to be. If I don’t feel that way, I don’t want to show that to my child/children.

Looking at my friends that I closely associate with, many of them don’t regularly attend church. I can only think of three or four that go to a church. And those three or four don’t have children, not yet, anyway.

Those that have children, and there aren’t many, I haven’t seen them at my church or involved in religious activities with their children.

To me, this is part of my generation. We were raised in the church, but our marriages and families are less involved in church and religion. And to me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I have several friends that do not identify with religion, or with God and Jesus. And to me, that has been so refreshing. Remember how I said earlier that I felt smothered in my church?

Meeting people and becoming friends with those that are not Christians or who are less involved with the church and religion as I have been – It’s been a breath of fresh air. It’s been eye-opening. I have had more deep discussions about religion and other societal topics with them than I have with many of my Christian friends and acquaintances.

That says something.

Like Jesse Ventura, I strive to live by the Golden Rule as well. I don’t want to tell people how they should live or how they should raise their children, so neither should they.

As I think about the next year, I’m very excited to be married to the love of my life in my church sanctuary. To me, my marriage ceremony in that sanctuary is symbolically closing a chapter of my life that has been Aldersgate.

I don’t plan to withdraw from Aldersgate entirely come November 15th, but I do plan to focus on my new marriage and new home for a while. If that means I don’t attend church as much or be as involved in favor of spending more time with my new husband and our commitments to each other, then that’s the way it will be. Aldersgate will always be a part of my life, no doubt about it. But my involvement will change.

As far as raising my child or children in the church, I don’t plan to be a completely “godless parent.” I plan to draw on my life experiences to give them as wonderful of a life that a mother can give.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂


Commentary #4: “Godless Parents Are Doing A Better Job”

“What we truly want is the satisfaction of seeing our children become mature, self-reliant human beings, at any age, thinking for themselves, free and happy. Parents who want anything else are obsessed with control and not free and happy themselves.”
― Dale McGowan, Parenting Beyond Belief- Abridged Ebook Edition: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids without Religion

Thanks to my friend Justin, I read this article.

And re-read it.

And read it again.

And again.

I kept circling back to it over these last few weeks. I wanted to publish this post within that first week, but I wanted to take my time with this one. This is a biggie for me.


Deep breath.

Here we go.

It was originally published on on February 3rd. Justin shared it on Facebook the next day, and his thoughts were as such: “Ok, this is an interesting piece. Personally the author tells a tale with this and while they sound biased, they try to not be so. I think it’s a good read regardless.”

Before I delve into the article and my thoughts, I want to share some of my story.

I was raised in a religious family. As an infant, I was baptized/christened twice, in two churches. Both were in Florida – Seminole on the west coast, and Coconut Grove in Miami – My grandparents’ churches.

The next 19 years or so were a whirlwind of Sunday school, children’s choir, being an acolyte, Confirmation class, youth group, many a mission trip, “mountain top experiences” at retreats, the Russian Children program, starting the blood drive mission with my dad, teaching Sunday school …

I grew to love and appreciate the church. As a child/teenager, I fantasized about meeting the perfect man through the church youth group or some other Christian way/gathering, and then raising our child/children in the church, like we were raised.

In 2007, I graduated from high school and prepared to leave for Longwood, where I planned to major in Communication Studies Mass Media, take creative writing classes, start a new chapter with my high school sweetheart, and truly be away from home for the first time. I faithfully wore the silver and diamond cross pendant that my parents gave me a graduation gift. I remember my mom saying to me, several times, “I hope you don’t lose your faith when you go off to college.”

I tried attending Farmville United Methodist Church as a wide-eyed freshman. Nope – I was so homesick for Aldersgate in Chesapeake that I abandoned it after just two, maybe three, Sunday services.

I got involved with InterVarsity as a freshman, and that was a good experience for me. For the first two years, at least. By the beginning of junior year, I was starting to see the light – My high school sweetheart had been emotionally abusing me for years at that point, and it only spiraled downward after that. So many people reached out to help me, to pray for me, and more, both in Farmville and at home in Chesapeake.

I pushed them all away.

Let’s fast-forward to July 2010. Those first two weeks were my version of hell. Our dating anniversary, July 1st, had not gone well. He completely ridiculed my anniversary gift that I had painstakingly assembled, and he made me cry more than once. I left his house feeling miserable, worthless, and feeling like a failure as a girlfriend.

The next week, while my parents were in Florida, he hit me, twice, Monday and Wednesday. I tried to break things off Friday night. That left me in absolute fear that he was hiding in the park behind my house, desperate to win me back.

That week, I never felt so alone. I felt so lost. I remember my mom telling me on the phone, “Pray about it. Everything is going to be okay.”

The week I broke up with him, we were volunteers with the church’s annual Vacation Bible School.

Things finally began improving as I ended the longest romantic relationship of my life – Just over 4 years. On Saturday, July 17, I turned back to the relationship that I needed to focus on most – My relationship with God.

With Al, I found that no one in his immediate family regularly attended church. It was surprising, but not a deal-breaker for me. To Al’s credit, he was a good sport about it. He came to Aldersgate with me several times for Sunday services. We even ended up being Mary and Joseph in one of the Christmas celebrations in December 2010 – Yeah. To this day, he gives blood regularly at the drives that my dad and I run together at the church.

But, other than the blood drives, he’s not involved.

And to be honest with you, that’s perfectly okay with me.

It was nice to see someone else that I knew had read the article too. Megan is an awesome, dedicated blogger/writer. I stalk Freckled Italian every day for a new post, shamelessly. Check it out!

Anyway, in her post on February 13th, Megan had this to say, about her and her husband:

  • Godless Parents Are Doing a Better Job. Rob and I aren’t religious people, but I grew up in a church and sometimes wonder how we’re going to raise our children. This piece gave me a lot of hope (and also made me laugh a little).

I couldn’t have agreed more with her two simple sentences.

My main thought, after reading this several times over, was that it was very well-written.

At first glance, the title made me raise my eyebrows, but I was intrigued, so I read.

It was fascinating to see the studies that were cited. The author was very thorough in her research, and I was more impressed the more times I read it. I mean, come on, who cites a 40-YEAR study in an op-ed for a website? That’s awesome to me.

I like the way she stealthily inserted humor, to the point where I didn’t realize it was coming until I was reading it. And when I read it, and it registered, I laughed. A lot.

Aside from the laughter and the statistics, I first read this on a Wednesday night while sitting next to Al on his living room couch. I pointed it out to him on my laptop. Although he didn’t read it, he seemed intrigued by my brief, excited verbal synopsis.

I thought it was funny/poignant that she wrote, “… Christians … can organize a blood drive like nobody’s business…” in the last paragraph too. That was awesome, given my expansive history with those kinds of things – Born into a family of blood donors, being a blood recipient, becoming a blood drive organizer/coordinator, and being a regular/faithful blood donor.

Having dated Al for just over four years before we got engaged this past December, the thought of marriage and having children with him has never been a question for me. He has supported me, 100 percent, with my involvement in my church, from Day 1 of our relationship. He understands that Aldersgate is where I have been attending since I was four years old. He knows that I am a Christian, that I love God, that I pray, that I am a faithful woman.

However, as the years have passed, I saw myself growing concerned about our different stances about the church, and our plans for us in the present and the future.

It helps that the two of us can talk so freely, so easily. Al really has helped mellow me out over the years, literally teaching me how to “go with the flow.” So the historically “tough conversation” about religion or “fighting over religion” has actually been relatively easy. We’re on the same page, we understand each other’s stances now.

I’m okay with him not being involved in the church – I really am. It bothered me for a while, mainly because he started out being involved with me, and then stopping that entirely, but he explained his reasons to me, honestly and without apology. That was enough for me. I let it go and got over it.

On November 15th, 2015, I’ll wake up that morning and find myself a changed woman – Finally united in marriage to the love of my life, and that is so exciting.

However, I’ll still be Laura Beth – I’ll still be that Christian woman, who loves God and relies on her faith. I’ll know that I planned a wedding that took place in the beautiful sanctuary of the church called Aldersgate, the place I have called home for 23 years, surrounded by our closest family members and friends. I’ll remain committed to the blood drive mission for as long as it stands.

But, there are lots of unknowns, unanswered questions, too. Will I continue to attend Aldersgate? Will I attend any church in my first years of my marriage? Will I raise my children in a household where Mommy takes them to church every Sunday, while Daddy stays home?

Question: Will we go to church at all, as a family?

Answer: I don’t know.

I have been praying about this, a lot. And honestly, up until recently, I was feeling pretty discouraged, pretty low about it. I felt like I didn’t have any answers. I felt like I was in neutral, spinning my wheels.

But reading this article three weeks ago renewed my strength and my hope. It opened my eyes. It gave me some clarity.

The main thing I realized: When I become a mom, no one else can truly dictate how I raise them. Those decisions come from Al and I, period. And sometimes, I’ll need to make the decisions on my own.

I have bookmarked this article and I plan to reference it frequently as I make this journey from fiancee to wife to mom.

In the meantime, I plan to explore/study these other resources:

I enjoy researching and studying, and reading and writing. I know that when I marry Al, and more so when we are first expecting or adopting or however we’re able to bring a child/children into our little world, those are guaranteed to continue.

Until then, you’ll find me living my life as I see fit.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂