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Keeping the faith, daring to be different
February 5th, 2012
05:33 PM ET

Crossing the plains and kicking up dirt, a new Mormon pioneer

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

San Diego (CNN) – At a 1950s-style house nestled in a peaceful neighborhood nicknamed “Hanukkah Hill,” a smiling Buddha on the porch greets visitors – his arms raised as if to say all are welcome.

Affixed to the doorpost is a mezuzah, a decorative case holding blessings for a Jewish home. Inside, on the family’s refrigerator, hangs a magnet from the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog that says, “Jesus loves us. Who cares what you think?”

In the kitchen stands Joanna Brooks, an accidental, unofficial and admittedly unauthorized source for all things Mormon. She’s making “funeral potatoes,” a classic Mormon casserole, and heaped on the counter are the ingredients: a not-so-healthy dose of cheese, butter, sour cream, hash browns and chicken soup. Her Jewish husband strolls by, takes a look at what’s cooking, and grimaces. Bespectacled and freckled 6-year-old Rosa, standing atop a chair, proudly announces, “I’m Jewish and Mormon!”

The home and life Brooks has created is the product of a complicated journey.

She cannot separate The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from her identity any more than she can leave cheese out of funeral potatoes. But like her persecuted ancestors who braved the unforgiving plains to reach the promised land of what is now Utah, Brooks, 40, fights for her faith.

The battle has, at times, left her feeling beaten.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

As a young feminist activist, she saw her beloved church excommunicate her intellectual heroes. She’s felt outrage and soul-crushing grief while watching her church mobilize against same-sex marriages. For about 10 years, she walked away.

But today a vintage postcard of a Mormon missionary boarding a plane sits on her desk to inspire. It reads, in part, “Dare to be different.”

She believes there’s room in the LDS Church for loving criticism and candid talk, that Latter-day Saints like her can not just belong but also serve – without fear of being cast out into the wilderness.

She’s staking her claim to Mormonism, writing about it for Religion Dispatches, debunking myths in national papers, speaking up on podcasts, radio shows and from stages, and offering advice in her column and blog, Ask Mormon Girl. She recently self-published her memoir, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith” and writes regularly for Feminist Mormon Housewives. Politico has named her, or specifically her Twitter account, one of the “50 Politicos to Watch.” All this while being an award-winning scholar, a published poet and, oh yeah, a department chair and professor of English and comparative literature at San Diego State University.

Click the audio player for a Q&A with Joanna Brooks from CNN Radio's John Lisk
Amid Mitt Romney’s presidential bid, the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign and the smash-hit Broadway musical “Book of Mormon,”  this Obama supporter has emerged as a refreshing voice for media, hungry for frank discussion about her faith.

Her goal? To be her authentic self and humanize a tradition and people she couldn't love more.

“I just refuse to be ashamed of being Mormon,” she says. “Don’t talk about us like we’re not in the room.”

Embracing her difference

Growing up in California's Orange County, she often was the only Mormon in a room.  She was, she likes to say, “a root beer among the Cokes,” a reference to the caffeine-free drink that her faith permits.

She fantasized about her ancestors on the other side of the veil. Her father, a longtime LDS Church bishop – a volunteer pastor – said they knew her name and that her spirit would join them when she died.

She sang pioneer hymns in church on Sundays with other root beers. She kneeled and prayed to God each night before bed. By the time she was baptized at 8, she’d read cover-to-cover the Book of Mormon, the sacred text Latter-day Saints view as “another testament of Jesus Christ” and study in addition to the Bible.

Brooks, center, and her sisters learned early to be proud of and show off their Mormon pioneer heritage.

She learned to relish being different, even when born-again classmates, taught by their pastors to believe she was in a cult, scrawled warnings in her yearbook. When Marie Osmond, a visible Mormon to the non-Mormon world, winked into the TV camera on Friday nights, Brooks was sure the gesture was meant for her.

Along the way, there were glimpses of the woman she would become. Asked one year in grade school to write two term papers, she chose as her subjects the Equal Rights Amendment and Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church.

“I’m not making this up,” she says, laughing at what some may see as irony. “This is who I am.”

But in her traditional - what she calls “orthodox” - Mormon home, she was only exposed to pamphlets on women’s rights penned by Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative stalwart who railed against the ERA push.

At LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, the only college she ever considered attending, Brooks imagined the warm embrace of being among her people. Looking at those around her, at first she worried she was too different. But during orientation, an English professor quoted a verse from the Book of Mormon that she'd carry with her.

He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

“I felt the knot of panic in my belly loosen and disappear,” she writes in her memoir. “Deep inside my chest, a door opened. Light and oxygen flooded the room.”

She gravitated to professors who shined the light on possibilities, devouring the words of Mormon poets and feminist historians.

All are alike unto God.

In the Student Review, an alternative and unofficial school paper, Brooks poked fun at university policies, interviewed polygamists, wrote about gay issues and simply didn’t shy away from matters most people were afraid to talk about.

While getting ready for church on Sundays, she blared Public Enemy.

Outside her circle of like-minded friends were people like John Dehlin, a staunchly conservative Mormon student who watched her from afar. Whether it was hot-button issues in the paper, pro-choice demonstrations at the state Capitol or night vigils and marches for rape victims, he says, Brooks was always involved.

“She didn't know me, but I knew her. I was torn between being uncomfortable and seeing her as dangerous, and respecting her for her courage and convictions.”

Brooks was riding an optimistic wave of change at BYU, when the tide suddenly shifted.

The early 1990s brought a LDS Church crackdown on intellectuals, feminists and activists who were perceived as being threats.

Professors at BYU lost their jobs. Others walked away in solidarity. In September 1993, six prominent Mormon scholars were excommunicated or disfellowshipped – stripped of certain religious rights, including access to LDS Church temples.

The day Brooks received her diploma, she handed it back in protest.

Wrestling with God

The still-warm funeral potatoes take their place on a picnic table crowded with treats in a La Jolla  park. Milling about are those who've gathered for a monthly meeting, a support group of sorts, under the auspices of an organization called Mormon Stories.

Some, like Brooks, are faithful churchgoing members. Others no longer attend services but long for cultural connections. For at least two of these Californians (one says she is a distant relative of Mitt Romney's), the day church leaders called on Mormons to support Proposition 8 – a 2008 ballot measure to prevent same-sex marriages – was the last time they sat in the pews. One first-time visitor shows up, her crisis of faith new and raw.

“I believed everything until two weeks ago,” she says, her expression one-part grief, the other anger.

Brooks understands those in painful transition. God knows she's been there.

After graduating from BYU, Brooks headed to Los Angeles to get her doctorate in English at UCLA. For about five years, she says she regularly went to church but was still reeling from “the purge” of so many mentors.

She wrestled internally. Each time the LDS Church galvanized its members behind the Defense of Marriage Act or supported initiatives that predated Prop 8, she felt like a cinderblock had been dropped on her heart. If her bishop asked how she was doing, she burst into tears.

“Whenever I went to church, I'd just cry,” she says. “So I just stopped. It was my way of saying 'uncle.' It was too much. I clearly needed time.”

Brooks retreated not just from church, but also from her liberal Mormon peers. She guarded her tongue and emotions around family.

Meantime, her life moved forward in other beautiful ways. She'd fallen hard for David Kamper, then a doctoral student in anthropology, “a sweet and soulful Jewish man from my California hometown: a man who saw no enmity in me, a man who would never put me on trial, a man who would never audit my heart for heresy,” she says in her memoir.

They met at a union party for teaching assistants. About two months into their relationship, she turned to him and said, “You know we're going to get married.”

When they did, some years later, she couldn't have a temple marriage, which allows two Mormons to be sealed for eternity in a sacred ceremony – a rite considered necessary to reach the highest level in heaven. Instead, their unconventional wedding blended their religious backgrounds.

When Kamper stomped on a glass, which marks the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony, Brooks knew she was in some way breaking her parents' hearts.

The oldest of four siblings, all dedicated Mormons, she still attended family events in the LDS Church during those years in self-imposed exile. Each visit made her ache with longing. She tried other Christian denominations, but none felt like home.

It was the birth of her daughters Ella and Rosa, now 8 and 6, that would eventually help bring her back. When she rocked them to sleep, she mindlessly sang a Mormon pioneer hymn, a reminder of those who walked before her.

Her faith journey was shaped, in part, by the birth of daughters Ella -- walking ahead with the family dog -- and Rosa.

She realized she had to be true to her spiritual needs and her legacy, not just for herself, but for her little girls. She began writing the book that would become her memoir, to help her heal and so they would someday understand their mother.

“I am an unorthodox Mormon woman with a fierce and hungry faith,” she writes. “Sometimes even in my own tradition I feel a long way from home. But I will keep on crossing as many plains as this life puts in front of me. I drag along my Jewish husband, my two daughters, and a trunk of difficult questions.”

Finding her way home

Slowly, in 2008, she dipped her cold feet back in the LDS Church waters.

Three months later, like a tsunami, came the push for Proposition 8.

“So I took another few months off. To shake my fist at God,” she wrote in a recent Ask Mormon Girl column. “That's what I did until the vote was over. And then I went back. Again.”

That wasn’t all she did, though. Once, during this hiatus from church, she returned to her childhood congregation for a new nephew’s naming and blessing. She squirmed in her seat as each talk and prayer mentioned the need to protect marriage, she recalls in her memoir.

Using Rosa, then 2, as an excuse, she went for a walk. On a hallway table she spotted clipboards holding data for “Yes on 8” voters, canvassing materials culled through hours and hours of work.

“My heart pounds. I look around. The hallways are clear,” she writes. Brooks snatched those papers and shoved them in her flowered diaper bag. She rushed outside, her heels clicking on pavement. Shielded by cars and with Rosa on her hip, she forced the papers down a metal sidewalk grate. “Still, I feel the weight of the cinderblock on my heart.”

When she could guard her tongue no longer, she decided to speak publicly at a rally opposing Prop 8. She held her breath as she sent her speech to her parents.

The next morning, she opened her e-mail to see this from her father: “ ‘We want you to know we love you. You have wanted a more just and loving world since you were a little girl,’ ” she recounts in her memoir. She then describes her reaction: “Tears drop on my keyboard. My chest heaves.”

Now her father is dying of ALS, an experience that’s made their differences irrelevant.

“My parents are very devoted Mormons, and they didn’t always know what to do with me,” she says. “But there’s nothing like a terminal illness to put things in perspective.”

In late 2009, she began writing about her Mormonism for others. Her first published piece was about raising interfaith children.

Brooks hopes that through her writing and speaking out she can help humanize Mormons, who are often misunderstood.

Perhaps no one was more relieved to see her name than John Dehlin, the BYU student who'd once watched her from afar.

He'd gone through his own faith crisis years after they graduated, and searched online for Brooks. He couldn't find her anywhere. When he saw her byline, he reached out immediately.

“Where have you been?” he asked. “We need you. We've always needed you.”

Dehlin created Mormon Stories in 2005, first as a podcast offering open conversations for those grasping for reasons to stay in the LDS Church, which he has. Now the group also runs conferences and online communities, as well as support groups, which are sprouting up across the globe.

Brooks didn't need Mormon Stories to get back to church. She'd worked through her struggle in her own way and own time. But realizing there were others like her out there – even if they weren't sitting next to her in church – gave her comfort. There's a kinship among those who want and need to speak freely.

The way Mormons show up for one another, she says, is part of what she loves most about her faith tradition. And while her “calling” may not be conventional or church-sanctioned, she's fulfilling a mandate to serve.

By being there for folks who are lost and looking to be found or are desperate to say things they don't feel safe uttering at church or to their families, she attends to those in need.

“Is there space for difference? People are feeling it out,” she says. “No one wants to start a new church. No one wants a schism.”

Some of her friends, especially those not in the LDS Church, have wondered why she didn't just walk away.

That might have been easier, and it's what most of her BYU friends did do. But she's shed tears and worked so hard to maintain her identity, faith and community because, like those who came before her, that's what Mormon pioneers do.

“I know who I am”

Scampering out of the garage, Mosi leads the way. The family dog - her name means "cat" in Navajo – tugs Brooks through the neighborhood on a walk that doubles as thinking time for this busy mother, professor and author.

On this afternoon, she talks about how carefully she must toe a line - one that allows her to be faithful, respectful and gently critical. She's emboldened knowing she doesn't walk alone. There are dozens and dozens like her who - thanks to blogs and social media - are also weighing in.

Brooks speaks on stages and radio programs. She also has been interviewed for documentaries, including one about Mormons in politics.

Not afraid to discuss touchy issues of race, polygamy, or same-sex marriages, Brooks says she's gotten plenty of mail from LDS Church members begging her to stop. They say she's not a spokesperson for the church, and she agrees – she isn't. She's not trying to be.

She believes this cautiousness of fellow Latter-day Saints, this fear of individually speaking up, isn't serving Mormons well. Instead of relying on church officials to read from scripts that sound likes scripts, she says, “People need to see us as human beings.”

The sacrifices of Mormons who’ve spoken out before her also help prod Brooks along. She has to trust that times are changing – that what happened to women like feminist Margaret Toscano won’t happen to her.

Toscano, 62, was excommunicated in 2000 – seven years after her husband. She recalls how the late 1970s Mormon supporters of the ERA were driven underground. She was among those who re-emerged in the late 1980s, only to face a slapdown. She says she personally knows hundreds who’ve walked away from the church over women’s issues.

She watches Brooks and others like her with hope, but not complete optimism. The ability of activists to do what they do while in the church, Toscano says, comes and goes at the whim of whoever is in charge.

Others who watch Brooks may be concerned about the company she keeps.

She knows there are those who fear her association with “apostates,” but she shrugs this off. “It’s not a concern for me. I know who I am.”

Who she is and what she believes rankles Ralph Hancock, a political science professor at BYU who’s taken her on in an LDS blog review called The Bulwark. Simply put, he says in an e-mail, “Joanna thinks or assumes that Mormonism is compatible with (or intrinsically drawn toward?) a contemporary liberal-progressive agenda – and I think not.”

But not all conservatives are bothered by her work.

At the helm of the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR), an organization that defends the LDS Church from detractors, is president Scott Gordon. He may not agree with many of her positions, but he’s glad she’s out there.

She shows the “plurality of thought within Mormonism,” he says, and has taken on characterizations of Mormons in the press in a way that’s made him want to cheer.

LDS Church officials have never contacted Brooks directly, she says. And they wouldn’t comment directly on her or her work for this story.

While Brooks will speak openly about the church she loves, warts and all, she has limits. She refuses to feed the uninformed, broad-brush sensationalism so many use to paint her often misunderstood faith. That's why she graciously turned down a recent request from a History Channel producer who, among other things, hoped Brooks could show how she uses a “seer stone” – a prophetic tool used by LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.

“Are you kidding me!” Brooks says, remembering what went through her head but never came out of her mouth. “That's like asking David [her Jewish husband] if he knows how to sacrifice animals.”

Back from the walk, she rounds up the family to head out to dinner.

Over pizzas at a long table in the Blind Lady Ale House, her husband joins friends in sharing tastes of microbrews. Brooks didn't always follow the Mormon rules to abstain from coffee, tea and alcohol. But with her renewed commitment to the church, she does now.

Among her friends here are two women with whom she leads a Girl Scout troop. Giggling at the far end of the table are their daughters, members of what they like to call “the rogue Brownie troop.”

More important to them than competitive cookie peddling are missions these moms can get behind: a tour of an organic farm, an environmental cleanup activity and a food drive for AIDS patients.

Leaving the other adults to their beers, Brooks heads outside with the four girls. Soon the little ones are marching up and down the sidewalk, arms linked, shouting something that leaves passersby smiling.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight! Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!”

Brooks has spontaneously taught them the intro to the television classic “Laverne & Shirley.”

She hooks her arms with them as they scream, “Again! Again!” She coaches their footwork and matches their youthful enthusiasm. She wonders, as an afterthought, if she’s got that “hasenpfeffer” word right.

Reaching into a pocket, Brooks pulls out her smartphone and says with a sheepish grin, “Let me check my seer stone.”

On white people, lipstick and the sacrament

It's a Sunday morning, and the family is getting ready for church. Kamper serves up pancakes before racing off to change. Ella and Rosa look over their visitor to make sure she's dressed appropriately. Modest skirt and sleeves? Check.

“Church is a good place,” Rosa says. She bounds past a globe of the world and a child-sized drum set to grab a book from the playroom shelf.

“Read this,” she orders, handing over “How Does the Holy Ghost Make Me Feel?” “This'll teach you about church.”

Rosa shows off their food storage, recommended by the LDS Church in case of disasters.

In the kitchen, Brooks holds up the New York Times Sunday Review and rails against Lee Siegel's Mitt Romney-related opinion piece, “What's Race Got to Do With It?

“ 'Mormonism is still imagined by its adherents as a religion founded by whites, for whites, rooted in a millenarian vision of an America destined to fulfill a white God's plan for earth,' ” she reads aloud. And then, swatting the paper with the back of her hand, she asks, “Is there fact checking involved?”

She knows of the millions of LDS Church members dotting the globe in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And the Japanese-American, Filipino-American, black and Hispanic members in her own ward, or congregation. Later that night, she'll write her response. In this moment, Ella turns her attention to the diversity of American Girl dolls.

Scattered across a sofa are Rebecca, a Russian-Jewish girl from New York; Kaya, a Native American from the Nez Perce tribe; and Kirsten, who wears a bonnet.

“Mommy,” Ella screams, racing out of the room, “Did you know Kirsten's a pioneer girl?”

With her daughters loaded in the Prius, Brooks takes the wheel and tunes in Bob Marley. The girls start rifling through her purse in the backseat. They gob on her lipstick.

“Great,” she says, peering in the rearview mirror. “They're getting tarted up for church.”

Lipstick wiped off, they stroll inside. Brooks takes a seat in the back, and the girls dart up the aisle to sit with friends.

Who Brooks is outside of church is of no consequence. If anyone does follow her work, she says, “No one is up in my grill.” When she's here, she's here for spiritual sustenance – to pray, take the sacrament, and connect with and serve her community.

Bags crowding her feet hold the coffee cake she'll take to the Sunday school class she'll teach later, the Jeopardy-style game she's devised for today's lesson, and reading materials and toys to keep kids occupied.

The LDS Church's children's magazine features a story about Mormons in Tonga. Brooks spots her visitor reading it and whispers, “See how focused we are on white people?”

A little boy scoots a toy car along the floor. Stacked on a chair above him, next to hymnals, are “Curious George” books in Spanish.

Her husband sits down beside her, his arm around her shoulder. Kamper shows up because who she is, what she needs for herself and their kids, matters to him. Her acceptance of his Judaism, the fact that she's never suggested he convert, has helped him get over what the couple jokingly refer to as his “Jesus allergy.” He doesn't take the sacrament when it's offered and admits he sometimes passes on saying “amen” to church prayers.

“They don't know what the hell to make of me,” he says. But ever since he fell in love with Brooks, this trained ethnographer has been a close observer of Mormons. He feels embraced by her parents now, but that took time. Her father once challenged Kamper to read the Book of Mormon and accept the missionary lessons, visits from LDS teachers. Kamper figured it was the least he could do, but it didn't lead him into a baptismal font.

Unable to play an official role during Mormon family ceremonies, like baby namings, he accepts his job as the designated microphone holder. Someday he'll tell his nephews, “If you get busted and go to jail, call Uncle David.”

Here in church, his role is supportive husband. Kamper strokes Brooks' back when she weeps. Tears fall when her eyes close in prayer.

In a small classroom afterward, she meets with four high school students, three of whom are heading to BYU in the fall. When she meets with them, she says she sees herself at their age.

The Book of Mormon, the introduction of an additional scripture, “was a bold claim,” she tells them. “I think that's why Mormons are bold. We're OK being different.”

Trusting God’s plan

The girls plop down at the kitchen table, feasting on leftover funeral potatoes. They start humming the “Muppet Show” theme song and then, after rattling off some of their favorite Simon and Garfunkel titles, bust into the chorus of “Mrs. Robinson.”

And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know,
Wo, wo, wo.
God bless you, please, Mrs. Robinson,
Heaven holds a place for those who pray,
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey.

Each night at dinner, the girls lead the family in prayer. Sometimes their words are inspired by their Mormonism; other times they honor the Jewish side of themselves.

They're being raised to be part of both religious traditions. They celebrate Christmas, Easter and Pioneer Day, which marks the day in 1847 when Mormon pioneers first entered now-Utah. The family also observes Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover. Because Kamper likes to host a big Passover seder each year, Brooks decided the family would also host a Mormon seder on Pioneer Day, featuring her favorite recipes, including her “Green Goddess” Jell-o salad.

One month the girls attend Sunday school at church; the next they can be found in Hebrew school.

“It can be challenging because I have to learn one thing and then another thing,” Ella says. “But it can be fun, too, because I know I'm special.”

Brooks doesn't worry about their kids. All she can do is be responsible for her own choices and give them a rich spiritual life, she says. They'll be free to decide what path they want to travel. “God has a plan for everyone, and everything is going to work out,” she says. “I'm not afraid for them.”

Nor is Kamper, though he admits he's starting to realize some rabbis might balk if the girls want bat mitzvahs.

Ella describes how she feels in church.

“I feel comfortable because I'm in God's house. And I also feel comfortable because I know lots of people love me,” she says.

Her parents smile at each other. They want to know if she feels like she's in God's house at synagogue.

“No, but I feel like God's watching over me,” she answers.

Ella then offers to share a typical prayer she and Rosa might recite.

“We fold our arms and close our eyes,” she instructs. “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this food and this family. Please bless those who are sick... And if I was going to sleep,” she decides to add, “Please help me so I won't have nightmares. And if I do, send the Holy Ghost down to comfort me. I say these things in Jesus' name. Amen.”

Seconds later, she and her younger sister switch gears.

“Shema, Yisrael. Adonai Eloheinu. Adonai echad,” they sing, the translation being, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.”

Across the kitchen, their mother’s voice rises in perfect Hebrew, too.

It's a Jewish prayer sung by a faithful Mormon who believes “all are alike unto God.” And she sings it with every bit of her pioneer spirit.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Judaism • Mormonism • Politics • Same-sex marriage • Women

soundoff (1,778 Responses)
  1. Spencer

    Typical Mormon..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PF0h7oqUEQ

    February 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  2. Caydon

    There is more proof for what Prophet Joseph Smith taught than in any other religion. Joseph Smith explained many mysteries that other teachers were not able to explain in the King Follett Discourse. Based on Joseph Smith's teachings, Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president of the Mormon church, wrote that: "As man is, God once was; As God is, man may be." This is what we call exaltation. Look into this truth yourself.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • blinded

      Since I see no evidence of god, I can not look into your truth.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  3. MariMar

    I love reading all these different opinions. I just wish everyone would chill out, believe what they want to believe and stop ranting about what others believe. Interestingly enough, I had to give up on all religious "beliefs" when I took time to examine Mormonism some years ago. I grew up Catholic, but my father married a lovely Mormon woman later in life. I always thought Mormons were strange, but I decided to learn more about it. I immediately decided I could not accept their theology and that it was mainly because I couldn't accept the word of Joseph Smith. Everything being based on these tablets he found (magically read with his stone and then the tablets conveniently disappeared) and the self-serving customs like multiple wives (in the earlier church) AND the convenience of changing things when they needed to because every Mormon Prophet can do that. Then one day I realized that if I couldn't accept Mormonism, I actually could not accept Christian beliefs. What made tablets given to Moses different from Joseph Smiths tablets? How could I accept heaven somewhere in the sky if I could not accpet the Momon's planet of Kolob? Did the fact that my beliefs were based on writings that were from longer ago make them more believable? Suddenly I realized, as Clarence Darrow famously said, "I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose".

    Where does all this leave me? I still think most religions have wonderful traditions and customs. In fact, I would love to be Momon, if I didn't have to be Mormon. These people are incredible! They are extremely family oriented, they help one another and their community, they have purpose, they really give their kids something to look forward to all the time and the whole "mission" thing is really awesome for a young person. I just wish they didn't need for everyone else to become Mormon too and that they didn't believe things I just can't accept. Really the same for the Christian groups. I homeschool my kids, and I've noticed that the other parents at the co-op my kids go to have shied away from me once they found out we don't go to church. I continue to be the same with them, but no one's inviting us to stuff now. Isn't that sad? That doesn't sound very Christian to me. How about a religion that's just about being a good human being, doesn't worship any god, is service oriented and has lots of the same bells and whistles as Mormonism and Christianity, without the theology?

    February 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Howard

      I agree with your post. It would be nice if there was a religion that was about helping your neighbor and not bringing God into everything.
      Maybe someday this will occur. Unfortunately, for now we have people so into their own beliefs that anyone who thinks differently is in bed with the devil.
      What we need is for people to think for themselves, and not condemn those who are different just because someone standing at a podium in some church told them to.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • rob

      That is very sad, and they are not following scripture.

      Your comparison to the Ark and the Joseph Smiths tablets is incorrect.
      The commandments-Ark of the convenent were written about by history.
      There are other sources besides the bible for the Ark. There are none for Joseph Simth's tablets.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Travis

      There is no planet "kolob" at all. It is not mentioned once in any religious text in the LDS church. I know this because I was raised LDS, am still LDS at 38 years old. This is a myth and a falsehood to perpetuate confusion and hatred against all LDS members.

      BTW, the name of our religion is: The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Ladder Day Saints. We are not Mormons. The religious gospel called "The Book of Mormon" is a compilation of testimonies and revelations of Christ given to the people existing in the western hemisphere of earth. (not kolob) Mormon is the name of one individual who kept a record of his revelations and inscribed them onto tablets made of metal as was the practice back then for things of such importance, like his father.before him who was named "Moroni". is it so hard to believe that our "Lord and Savior" would forsake these people simply because of their geographical location? Such thinking that the son of our Heavenly Father could not or would not appear to them and resale to them all his teachings that he bestowed upon those in the Mediterranean region is that of small minds.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Travis

      Revalate not resale. That was a typo made by my phone.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • MariMar

      Will someone please tell me what the need is to be "right"? Rob, I don't know if you are right – does it matter? If you are a good person, doing the right things in your life with your family, your friends, your neighbors, your employees – then I don't care what you believe. My point is there is no proof for anything except what is right in front of you. The here and now. Will believing in an afterlife cause you to be a better person right now? Why can't everyone do the right thing because it is the right thing to do?

      February 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  4. GC1CEO

    *raises an head* Atheist here, read religious and belief blogs and articles all the time, really liked this one definitely. Very ballsy for a practicing Mormon to speak up like this, really surprised she hasn't been excommunicated but then again the LDS church hasn't been quite as gung-ho as the ERA times.. personally I think its time for a new era with Mormons much like the major differences and changes that happened under Brigham Young.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  5. americanpolitics

    americans seem to think it's okay to insult another persons' religion..you know what ...insults are punishable by death in other countries...thank god you live in free country..and don't abuse your freedom of expression..freedom of expression doesn't mean you can lie and offend someone.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • hippypoet

      NO, don't thank god... thank the founders of our lovely nation!

      February 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • bff

      americanpolitics,
      So is it your position that no ideas are open to criticism? Or do you claim special pleading for religious ideas?

      February 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @americanpolitics: You said, "freedom of expression doesn't mean you can lie and offend someone."

      Oh, there's no law against being offensive, and unless you can definitively prove the lie, there's no law against that either really.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  6. vel

    typical attepts to cling to a religion that supposedly is the "truth" by making deciding for yourself on what your god "really" means.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • americanpolitics

      watch what you say,,in many countris,,iff you pizz or offend someone you get killed.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Noocrat

      ",in many countris,,iff you pizz or offend someone you get killed."

      That represents an inferiority of culture or improper upbringing, in either case causing a lack of civil behavior. It's not something to be fear, but pitied.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Howard

      Americanpolitics, why shoud anyone watch what they say here because of what some other countries' laws are?

      February 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  7. OH YEAH!

    Another Mormon for OBAMA! I am not alone.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • gnsh

      No, you're definitely not alone, there are many!
      On the Republican side, I personally liked having Huntsman in the race so that the general public could see the different perspectives even within the same faith. The juxtaposition helped to provide a more broad flavor to the general public into the diversity that exists within the LDS faith.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  8. KULUKC

    I AM A CARD CARRYING MORMON. GOD BLESS VIAGRA BECAUSE ALL MY WIVES ARE VRY HAPPY.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Darrin

      You're a liar Kulukc, is what you are. Polygamy was banned and outlawed over 120 years ago, in the LDS Church.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  9. americanpolitics

    democrats are playing dirty on politics...insulting mitt romney's religious beliefs and saying jehovah's witnessand mormons are 'cult'...that is LIE! do you see any mormon terroririst making threats on non-mormons? as for scientology people are free to believe the religious beliefs...separation of religion and state. I guess these people don't play fair but rely on dirty playing dirty and lieing and propaganda.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Craig Brewer

      ..you are delusional..it's not Democrats saying that Mormonism is a cult, it is your own evangelical right-wing Republicans led by a spiteful Newt and his followers who are saying these things.. I am a Democrat, from a Mormon family, but willing to let everyone express their views, including religious views. At least you could state some facts instead of your prejudicial beliefs.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  10. JDA

    Im not rich, Im not American, Im not white, Im not from Utah, but I am a Mormon. The church is for everyone as this is Christ's church. Its not true that mormons dont care about the poor. The humanitarian service of the church provides welfare for people all over the poor, mostly for non members of the church, for everyone who needs help. Its not all what you know, its also what it has done in your life. Well its more than something it has done to mine and NOBODY in this world can refute or argue with that.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • GetReal

      Well GOD apparently didn't want your kind up until the late 70's. As long as you pay 10% now, your in. I stopped going at 15 and have been free of the church ever since then. I cannot believe the amount of Mormons that know very little about its past and worse refuse to know what kind of person Joseph actually was. Please...Both God and Jesus appeared to the Joseph Smith only to tell him "Don't choose any church"..."We messed up and put it in the hands of some folks we thought we could trust"...Sorry we perfect beings are fallible too since we were once humans just as you.

      OMG this is crazy and the people who join just go but never cross that line of using their own brains.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • gnsh

      The church doesn't typically publicize its humanitarian aid efforts to main stream media outlets; however wherever there is a disaster in the world, the church is there. For those of the faith there is a publication called Church News that discusses the efforts as well as video segments produced that show between sessions of general conference.
      I have personally contributed on two occasions in these efforts and took part in helping to remove fallen trees and gut houses along the gulf coast that were affected by hurricane winds and flood water. The qualification for those that were helped was that they were in need regardless of faith.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  11. Phred

    Brave girl for living on the edge....where all the danger and joy remains. Jesus was an "edge-person" himself, as well as Jewish! She's likely following Jesus closer than many are in thier "Christian Pharisee Hideouts". Thank you for sharing.....I applaud this family for honoring all the faiths they believe in and feel worthy of sharing with others.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • gnsh

      Jews are respected by Mormons because they are the literal House of Israel. If you ever see an LDS person disrespecting a Jew they don't know their religion and should be corrected. When He returns we believe that we will walk together (see Jeremiah 3:18) This might help to explain how the cohabitation described in this article is theoretically possible.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  12. hippypoet

    just p@ssing some truth around like a blunt – any takers?

    Schizophrenia – a long term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, innappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into a fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation. Those who suffer from schizophrenia are not aware of the fact they are suffering from faulty perception, innappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into a fantasy and delusion.
    Delusion – An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accecpted as reality.
    Reality – the world or the state of things as they actually exist.

    What good has the belief in god(s) done anyone? Ever? I think belief in oneself is far more powerful, meaningful, and useful to the lot then belief in anything else no matter how clearly imaginary or factual.

    Parents teach morals and ethics not the bible, simple. Those who place misguided ideals into imaginary creatures are ill-equiped to raise kids yet are encouraged to do so.
    If the number of christian psych ward patients are on the rise its high time we, those of intellect, should get the fu.ck out of here! Consider those religious sheep an experiment in how not to live. For example – Often used by many christians as an arguement for intolerence towards human rights...I pose that every religiously ran nation like that of Iran and Iraq are exactly what the religious in this supposedly tolerent country wish to turn this country into, where science and logically thought are frowned upon and knowledge of fairy tales are rewarded. Lets not forget that with religion held over fact you get an extreme nation of one sided misinformed citizens. And as in all things there exist extremes, and in society like these they are called fundamentalists. We have our own as well, but because they are ours they are tolerated. They then are shown as an example for our overall tolerance while being intolerant.Where does the hypocrisy end? Are we so sure this isn't a religiously ran nation while upholding laws that preach religious tolerance and separation from state. That would fit the bill for complete hyprocrisy and then at least they are consistant on one thing!

    You folks have conveniently forgot that you took part in the slave trade, g@y bashing, witch killings, the inquisition, the crusades – i'm sure i could go on but i think these facts will fall to the wayside and once again be conveniently forgotten. If christianity has taught us anything, its that your god views us as sheep and will use us as such.Luckily for your kind you can sheer a sheep many times, however like a dog, you keep going back for your next beating! Perhaps you folks missed the part in sunday school where they discussed the bibles leaders being shepards...who tend a flock...but its clear that you people have more use to the whole NOT having ideas of your own..(ready for the pun).. god help us if you were ever to have one!

    The horrors of mankind are not exclusive to religion. I said they took part in the horrors while preaching tolerence, caring, loving, comp@ssion towards other...you know, all the stuff jesus spoke about...religion is no better then anything but it canbe used however. If religion is properly weilded, i.e. cult leader – the pope, it is much worse then all others for its appeal to the ignorant m@sses is like food to the hungry!

    God is an idea. Such an improbable idea that many have, to make the idea inarguable, said that the idea is beyond human comprehension and so by doing remove the need but more importantly the ability to prove and so make it an untouchable notion of truth based on an idea. How is that different from being delusional? You hold fast to an idea of an improbable, incomprehensible, and untouchable nature as if it is fact! Until you have tangible evidence for the existence of god, the notion of god remains in the realm of ideas. And thats a factual statement!

    The majority of the world population believes in some god(s) type. What conclusion do you draw from this?
    If your conclusion is anything but religion is harmful to the world as a whole, both its population and the planet itself, no matter how it makes you feel inside then i fear you have completely lost your grip on reality

    February 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • GetReal

      Nice rant!

      February 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • hippypoet

      notice the paragraphs, the topic and separation between new and old...its a rant with kick@ss style and a truth to rival any delusion! So far all arguments fail to be proper arguments against this...i have only seen one and it still was only on how one precives reality and to that end whats really in existence vs whats not. MOST of the argument i get for this has been swears at me! quiet sad really.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  13. Gershon

    As an Orthodox Jew, I'm saddened that a fellow Jew felt that being "open-minded" and "Anthropological" meant making an intermarriage. I too have an Anthropology degree and it opened my eyes to the beauty of not just the outside world but the inside one that gets ignored and pushed back(with most Jews by 13). Liberals focus so much on how to like everything but their own background. Needless to say, this is the crux behind why most Reform Jews 4-6 generations later have no connection beyond eating bagels or matzah and yet drool over Eastern philosophies or non-European "traditional" cultures.

    Jews should marry Jews. Mormons should marry Mormons. Both groups are endogamous; this girl is(as Clarify said) just a confused secular humanist who wants to have her cake and eat it to.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • SnafuBob

      Agreed.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Tom

      ... and religion should be eradicated.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • CSS

      It is not that hard to have a cake and eat it too. We just need to use our fork or fingers, grab the cake, put it in the mouth, chew slowly and then swallow. We have practiced these movements everyday of our life, so eating cake is a piece of cake. However, eating the cake and having it too is a different story.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  14. Darrin

    Excellent article! I'm with Brooks and very active in the Latter-day Saint faith. I've attended and very much enjoy, synagogue and enjoy taking all the good, from all religions, even evangelicals :) Idealy, we should all find commenalities with each other and love one another and let everyone believe as they wish, without criticism or persecution, as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught when repeating the Saviors words.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • rob

      I have never believed in persecution of Morman's or any other faith. However, I won't vote for a president that believes he can become a God. That is not in the bible, and just because Joseph smith could read the bible does not make him a prophet.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  15. Rev. Rick

    First, I admire Ms. Brooks for her ec-umenical efforts, and it's intesting that she is giving her kids a varied view of other faith traditions. (A Buddha statue a the door? Interesting.) However, if one takes a step back from the Mormon/Christian/Jewish questions of beliefs and faith, the root of the problem is that all religions, and even different denominations within a particular religion, are all man-made. And I mean that both figuratively and literally. Can anyone name me a recognized, major world religion that was founded by a woman? Extending that question a bit further...is God a man? A woman? Neither? Or does it even matter?

    I was brought up as a strict Southern Baptist, converted to Catholicism in my twenties, then in my 30s I essentially became an agnostic. It wasn't until my 40s that my spiritual seach culminated in the realization that my religious denomination really doesn't matter. I am free to believe (or not believe) in God without adhering to the artifical trappings and rituals of some man-made heirarchy, and quite frankly I am much happier without those artificial enc-umberances. In fact, today I am a non-denominational minister and I am quite comfortable performing funerals and weddings for Baptists, agnostics, and even atheists.

    Again, while I admire Ms. Brooks for her efforts to change the Mormon church from within it membership, she really should find another hobby. What's the saying? "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It will only frustrate you, and it annoys the h-e-l-l out of the pig."

    February 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Darrin

      Hey Rev Rick; Mary Baker Eddie, Christian Scientists. Also, if you respect Brooks beliefs and her teaching many religious beliefs to her daughters and if everyone has the right to belive what they may, why do you go on to then denounce her beliefs and stress YOUR belief that God is non-gendered, your idea of artificial trappings and calling Brooks faith and quest a hobby. Prett disrespectfull and degrading.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Rev. Rick

      @ Darrin, You need to learn to read.

      Christian Science is a Christian "denomination" not a world religion. Also, I never denounced her beliefs, and I never stressed whether MY God is male or female. In fact, I even posed the question as to whether or not it even matters. I will grant you that my calling Ms. Brooks efforts a hobby may have come across as disrespectful, but you my friend are a troll, picking a fight where this is not one. If you're going to reply to a comment, first make sure you first comprehend what is being discussed.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Austin

      I am a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe that Joseph Smith was called as the first prophet of the "Latter-days", and we believe that this church was founded by Jesus Christ himself, and that he was the son of our Heavenly Father. So to answer your possible question, This church is not founded by a man, but by God himself.

      February 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • Rev. Rick

      @ Austin said, "We believe that Joseph Smith was called as the first prophet of the "Latter-days", and we believe that this church was founded by Jesus Christ himself."

      First, let me say that I have no issue with Mormons or the Mormon church. When I lived in Colorado, I knew many Mormons and they wonderful people. In fact, when Mormon missionaries visited my wife and I in our home, we invited them in. We studied the book of Mormon and, over a period of several weeks they came back several times and we had excellent discussions regarding the Mormon faith. At the time, my wife and I were Catholic. However, some weeks later, after our studies and discussions were complete, I told the missionaries that I found little reason to give up my Catholic faith because in essence all I was doing was swapping a pope in Rome for a pope in Salt Lake City. Yes, Mormon theology is very different, but at the end of the day, Mormons have no more claim to spiritual "truth" than do Catholics, or even Baptists. Your belief that Joseph Smith was the latest prophet is no more verfiable than is proof that Abraham was the "founder" of all Abrahamic religions. Scripture, all scripture, was written by and in, the hand of man. Yes, we may claim it was divinely inspired, and it may have been divinely inspired, but none of it is verifiable nor infallible. A religious belief is merely a "position" that something is or is not true. Nothing more.

      February 7, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  16. liar

    new law:

    stealing punishable by death
    lying punshiable by death.
    cheating is punishable by death.

    that is the reality..God has no mercy for you demons and evil souls. just look at all the evil people in socieiy and jails..should kill them all.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  17. Sheila

    There are the Mormon people with their interesting history, some good, some bad (Mountain Meadows Massacre); and the Mormon Doctrine (including the book of Mormon) which is Complete Fiction. Many of their temple rituals were taken from the Masons. I don't hate Mormon people, I just know that their religion is bogus.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Darrin

      And you KNOW this, how, Sheila? Mountain Meadows massacre, 1 person charged and tried for the killings, not the entire Mormon population. Yes, some LDS Temples and some Masonic rights are slightly similar but are far more different than you think and the significance are far different.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • DK

      I find your comment superficially informed and bogus.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • msg44

      Apparently, you "know" very little. Ironic, really...

      February 6, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • GetReal

      Yes and every other religion is completely true and accurate. What a bonehead comment.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    I admire this Mormon woman for being open about her beliefs. It can be difficult in the Mormon culture to express beliefs that differ from culturally-based beliefs. And I admire her for being true to her belief in the Mormon church, which can be difficult in the mainstream United States culture.
    I also admire any who allow her and others to voice their beliefs without criticism.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • bff

      I don't exactly see what there is to admire here. She clearly has had problems with this religion that she was indoctrinated in since a small child.
      I would admire her more for taking a stand toward critical thinking and rationality and coming to grips with something she is probably trying to repress, that this is all made up and I am going to lose all my social ties, but I am leaving this church.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Anonymous

      bff, I will admire you, as well, if you live according to your beliefs, even if they are different than mine or this woman's. It isn't easy since we live in a world where there will surely be many who disagree with you, no matter what your beliefs are.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • bff

      Yes,
      But I am questioning that she is living according to her beliefs. She appears to have caved into the social pressures of staying with this.
      You know, I admire even more someone who can change their minds in the face of evidence, showing critical thinking skills and rationality. These things are easy to see because they are objective. That is how I would like to live my life.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Anonymous

      I agree and I try to live my life that way, too. I believe (although you may disagree with this belief) that some knowledge and evidence can be gained through spiritual experiences, and can be combined with rationality and critical thinking to arrive at truth. It is a life-long process of searching as we gain knowledge of more and more truths and understanding throughout our lives. Doubt is an important part of this process.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  19. TooClose2DC

    Why are atheists reading the Belief section of CNN? Are they trying to justify their views or are they still searching for something that burns inside them to uncover a truth? No atheist has ever been able to disprove God, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or any other religious figure through they have certainly tried. They are able to point out the failings of men very easily but of course, a second grader could do that. Yes, religious zeal has led to wars and atrocities. These are not in ANY of the teachings of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism. The first three of that list all follow the 10 commandments and Buddhism has very similar tenets. Therefore, atheists, in a world where realism is your goal, just stay out of other people's business and follow your own path! This could be paraphrased as get over yourselves or GET BENT among a few others.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • BRC

      Because it is the BELIEF blog, not the religion blog. Atheists have a belief, by deffinition they believe there is are no gods. If you're going to ahve a well rounded discussion you have to adress all possible views, we're here to contribute that portion of the conversation.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • sane

      First, you may have heard that it is not possible to prove a "negative". But it is possible to prove that something does exist. Religious folks have yet to do so. Second, athiests may be looking at sites such as this to gain knowledge as to how "believers" think. It is very curious to us as we cannot see the logic.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Howard

      While Athiests are not religious, they still have a "belief". But regardless, One of the reasons they are athiests is because they take the time to learn other beliefs. So reading articles like this allows them to learm about others.
      If religious folks took the time to venture beyond their own "know it all" beliefs, they might also be as informed as athiests are.
      BTW, I'm not an athiest. But there are many times where I certainly question the existence of God. And I certainly don't beleive in the whole Jesus reserection thing.

      February 6, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Mark

      I am an Atheist and just wish the Mormon missionaries & the the Jehovah Witness's would quit knocking at my door proselytizing even when I have it posted on my front door that I am not interested. Around my Irish Catholic family I wear my Atheist tee shirt and my Scarlet Letter lapel pin With a red 'A"

      February 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  20. Mike P

    "Bespectacled and freckled 6-year-old Rosa, standing atop a chair, proudly announces, 'I’m Jewish and Mormon!'" I hope she means she's ethnically Jewish and religiously Mormon, because you can't be both religiously.

    "All are alike unto God." Yeah, there's contexts for that, though. Men and women are equal in the U.S., too, that doesn't mean that they get to use the same restrooms or check just whatever box labeled "gender" they want on an application form. The same apostle Paul who said that there is neither male nor female in Christ also said women can't be priests and that there's no such thing as gay marriage.

    It all comes back to the same thing. Are you going to try to conform to God's image or are you going to try to make God conform to your image? The latter ain't happening. Try the former.

    February 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • BRC

      Considering the fact that every current concept of gods, and every religious practice we have was created by people (typically men), why can't people change the religion to better reflect the knowledge we have today, and the values that more completely enrich lpeple's lives as a more equal and accepting global culture?

      February 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Ruby

      "The later" is being vigorously attempted, it just doesn't work. Indeed, time to try the firt idea.

      February 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.