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February 18th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Facing death, a top pastor rethinks what it means to be Christian

Editor's Note: The short film accompanying this story, called "My Garden," comes from EdsStory.com. CNN.com is premiering the latest installment in the "Ed's Story" series.

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Ed Dobson is not afraid of dying. It’s the getting there that really scares him.

A former pastor, onetime Christian Right operative and an icon among religious leaders, Dobson has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. When he was diagnosed, doctors gave him 3 to 5 years to live.

That was 11 years ago.

“I am a tad happy to be talking to you right now,” joked Dobson, whose voice has deteriorated since his preaching days, in a phone interview. Speaking with him feels like being exposed to a brief moment of clarity. He speaks slowly, but with an understated confidence and authority.

As pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a position he held for 18 years, Dobson would regularly preach to 5,000 people or more on Sundays. Back then, Dobson said he looked at himself as a man filled with lessons, proverbs and, most of all, answers.

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

After retirement six years ago, the massive crowds went away.

“I went from 100 miles an hour to zero miles an hour overnight,” Dobson said. “That was a shock to my system.”

Dobson says the answers vanished with the crowds.

“I know that sounds a bit lame,” he said. “I know that that I should have all the answers, but the truth is, the more I live, the fewer answers I have.”

And yet the people Dobson comes in contact with – those who call him dad, husband and friend, or those who have read one of his 12 books and watched his short films, don’t agree with that assessment. To them, the last six years of Dobson’s life have led to a remarkable ability to put life into context. To them, Dobson is a man filled with lessons.

From 5,000 to 1

In the 1980s, Dobson rose to prominence as an executive at the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell's evangelical political organization, which had influence with the Ronald Reagan White House. Dobson’s rise continued when he accepted the pastorate at Calvary Church in 1987. He cut a national profile, with Moody Bible Institute naming him “Pastor of the Year” in 1993.

After being diagnosed with ALS, Dobson suddenly felt unsure of himself. At times, he said, he didn't want to get out of bed. After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own mortality.

“I thought that if I knew I was going to die, I would really read the Bible and if I really was going to die, I would really pray,” Dobson said. “I found the opposite to be true. I could barely read the Bible and I had great difficulty praying. You get so overwhelmed with your circumstances, you lose perspective.”

Eventually, Dobson regained perspective. But feelings of listlessness led him to take his preaching to a more personal level. He now meets with congregants one-on-one. Sitting with them in their homes or offices, Dobson provides whatever help he can. “Most of the people I meet with have ALS and basically I listen," he said.

“When I meet with someone and look into their eyes, it is like I am looking into their soul,” Dobson said. “We are both broken, we are both on the journey and we are both fellow pilgrims.”

Going from 5,000 congregants to one at a time was a big change for Dobson, forcing him to reevaluate his job as a pastor. “I am trying to learn that one-on-one is just as important as speaking to thousands,” he said. “I reemphasize – I am trying to learn that.”

During his one-on-one meetings, Dobson says he remembers Adam and Eve being charged by God to work the Garden of Eden. For years Dobson’s garden was Calvary Church – the baptisms, weddings, the Sunday preaching.

“Whether it is preaching to 5000 or meeting one on one, I am trying to take care of the garden,” he said.

The wind knocked out

One way Dobson strove to tend the garden is by writing a book about dealing with serious illness. In 2007, he wrote “Prayers and Promises When Facing a Life-Threatening Illness.”

Dobson’s son Daniel read the book while deployed in Iraq. After returning home, Daniel made it his mission to turn the book’s stories into videos.

He pitched the idea to Steve Carr, the executive director of a faith-focused production company called Flannel. “When I met Ed, when he came to our office, something really spoke to me,” Carr said. “Not too long before that, I had been diagnosed with Leukemia.”

“I thought that this guy, he has been where I am right now and he has somehow mastered it,” Carr said.

So far, Flannel has released five Dobson films, available through the company's website. There are plans for two more. Though the films range in topic, from loss and forgiveness to healing and growth, all are centered on lessons Dobson learned through his battle with ALS. The videos toe the line between a dark look at a dying man's life and an uplifting glimpse at someone who exudes clarity.

"My Garden," the most recent title in the series, centers on Ed’s struggle to deal with ending his preaching career.

Dobson talks about the films as if they are his swan song, his last words of encouragement to a group of supporters he has inspired for decades.

“My desire is that people who have had the air knocked out of them, whether divorce or losing a loved one or illness, that they will get a sense of hope by watching the films,” he said.

Surviving (with help)

The series’ first short film opens with Dobson explaining what it was like to be told he had ALS. After lying in bed, Dobson gets in the shower, brushes his teeth and starts the day. Even he would admit, however, it is not that easy.

Dobson has lost much of the function in his hands and is seen struggling to brush his teeth, his frail body using two hands on the small brush. Though he is able to do a lot, including drive, Dobson wouldn’t be able to make it on his own, a fact he is keenly aware of when about when describing his wife, Lorna.

“She is my right hand, my left hand, my left foot, my right foot, my heart and my brain,” Dobson said. “Without her, it would be impossible to go on.”

Standing in the kitchen in one video, Lorna helps puts Ed’s belt and gloves on. The two don’t speak on camera, but their love is obvious.

“Our love has grown each year of marriage,” Lorna said. “I didn’t want to just wither in the sorrow of how our life was changing. It took a while to get used to what our life was going to be like but I realized that I needed to be more available to him.”

Dobson says he is also more available to her.

“I am no longer a preacher,” said Dobson. “Today, I would say I am a Jesus follower. Period.”

Lorna said she continues to learn from her husband. Throughout their life together, she said she learned by being in church with him, by raising three kids together and by loving one another.

The last 11 years, however, their love has changed. Dobson's illness has taught her to focus on the important things, she said, primarily their kids and five grandkids.

After tending the garden for decades, Dobson is now being tended himself, largely by Lorna. “ALS forced me into a situation where I grew in understanding of what it means to obey Jesus,” Dobson said in the latest film.

“It took me quite a while to find an alternative purpose," he said. "But the good news is out there – there is a purpose for everyone.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Death • United States

soundoff (3,195 Responses)
  1. Manager

    ED, there will be a life hereafter that's for sure. How good or bed your life will be defined by your BELIEF for SURE. of course LORD give you most important thing BRAIN. Those who will go to heaven dot not scare to meet their creator. Amen

    February 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      You're kidding, right? Xtians are the most death-scared people I know. They will.sit there and ask for tubes down the throat, and up the rectum, long before they will give any thought to letting someone go and see their maker. Why do you think suicide is illegal? Or even doctor assisted death for the terminally ill? It's because xtian's are so scared of death, that they have outlawed it, and urinated on any human dignity that may exist there. Please, quit telling lies.

      February 19, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  2. God

    What a brave man, believing in the invisible cloud-man is a very tricky situation that one must put aside all reason and personal accountability to hold. What a soldier.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Former believer

      Love it! Gonna have to remember that one!

      February 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • imj

      Dobson probably asked God to send him correction. Few Christians ever ask God for correction. It tends to move people from their comfort zone. Sure, life altering events can occur but it takes a special type of person to pray for correction.

      I am not sure what would happen if an Atheist was to pray to God for correction. Does God even hear atheist?

      February 19, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Byrd

      Oh, Hello, God. You're fired.

      Me

      February 19, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • BobM

      Did you know if you lower your head and concentrate, you can transmit thought-messages to the Cloud Being?

      February 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  3. mojobutta

    Children are life, love and innocence. Adults are burdened with layers. Death removes the layers. Opportunities, love, choices and life are given to us once more. What a great circle of life the universe gives us.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  4. code0111

    Bizarre
    Have you read it? I am not the first one that wanted to prove the Bible incorrect. Read it, find the errors. You said these were only stories. So what so hard? Read it, prove your point of view.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • code0111

      The worst that can happen to you is, you walk like Charlton Heston did in the movie The Ten Commandments. after he had seen God.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Bizarre

      code0111,

      I guess that you didn't see my posting earlier on just ONE example of the ridiculousness of that book - so, here it goes again:

      This is how the "God" of Israel deals with disease in the Bible:

      In Leviticus 14, the Lord spoke to Moses about how to treat and cure leprosy – it is some of the dangedest, silliest hokum that you'd ever want to read. This was the LORD speaking, folks – the LORD – how dare anyone search for a better treatment!

      Briefly:
      Get two birds. Kill one. Dip the live bird in the blood of the dead one. Sprinkle the blood on the leper seven times, and then let the blood-soaked bird fly away. Next find a lamb and kill it. Wipe some of its blood on the patient's right ear, thumb, and big toe. Sprinkle seven times with oil and wipe some of the oil on his right ear, thumb and big toe. Repeat. Finally find another pair of birds. Kill one and dip the live bird in the dead bird's blood. Wipe some blood on the patient's right ear, thumb, and big toe. Sprinkle the house with blood 7 times. That's all there is to it!

      February 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Check out The Skeptics Annotated Bible online, it has each and every absurdity, obscenity and insanity all clearly marked and labelled. It's funny and educational at the same time.

      February 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      @Bizarre; very nice treatment. When I look for absurdities in the Bible, I just randomly open it and put my finger on a paragraph. Every time I've done it, except once, it's pointed out errors. The one time it didn't was when I hit the saying, "treat your neighbor like yourself"!

      February 19, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • BobM

      I read it, and couldn't get past: heaven is paradise, and not all people make it into heaven. But what if I make it, and none of my loved ones do? I would be alone and forever without them. Is that contradictory?

      February 19, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  5. Carlos R

    Clearly, life is not about religion, although religion seems to express it best. But as Bill Gaither wrote, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! There is something about that name. Master, Saviour Jesus! Like the sunshine after the rain! Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there is something about that name." Most often, taken in by the necessities of life, we fail to focus on the obvious. Instead, we focus on issues. Ed's story is a story of strength, but more than that it is a reflection of the hope that is in every transformed believer in Christ. God didn't become man just to make our lives pretty. He became man to rid the world and all of creation from all corruption; corruption that produces pain, suffering, and evil. For those like CokeHead I would say that Jesus is not just a man. He is an interested God; so interested that He entered His own creation to liberate it from corruption and death into eternal life in His presence. Ed is an example of that love.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  6. Eleanor Greene

    Work out your own salvation

    February 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  7. KevinE

    Jesus Christ is Lord of all creation <3

    February 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  8. WhatWhatWhat?

    Even if all things were exactly the same between two people, except one was atheist and one was xtian, one of those people would NOT have delusions of a guy riding a horse in the clouds pulling a sword out of his mouth and killing everyone he doesn't like (because he's such a nice guy), and would not try to pass laws to get it to come true. One is sane, one is not. It's that simple.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • 3N1Amen

      I take great offense with 'x' ing our Christ as you did.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • ad

      @3N1Amen
      you are african arent you

      February 19, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • 3N1Amen

      no ad, I'm a lover of God, the Almighty One.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Oh puh-lease! It's only been used that way throughout history. You should do some godd amn research before you show absolutely how ignorant you really are.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Bizarre

      3N1,

      "X
      abbr.
      1. Christ (Greek , Christos)
      2. Christian

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/X

      "In ancient Christian art, χ and χρ are abbreviations for Christ's name.[19] In many manuscripts of the New Testament and icons, Χ is an abbreviation for Χριστος" –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xmas#Use_of_.22X.22_for_.22Christ.22

      February 19, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  9. 3N1Amen

    I pray that you will someday take time to find and know Jesus as your personal Savior. There are no delusions...
    Jesus IS the Way, the Truth and the Life.
    I hope that many will realize someday soon that He is real. Hell is also real and there is no turning back once you died and are being tormented day after day FOREVER. It really is your choice whether to believe or not.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Veritas

      Religious zombie talk freaks me out. Utter brain washing...

      February 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  10. Natural

    I continue to pray for the non-believers and that the Lord will have mercy on you

    February 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • ad

      may Allah have mercy on you too.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Evangelicide

      And as a nonbeliever I will continue to pray that you evolutionary failures develop functioning brains.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • DOG told me to do it!

      Knock yourself out. But in reality, you are just making yourself feel better which I guess is the whole point of religion to begin with.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Who's asking you to do any of that cr ap? We don't want your delusional mercy, and stop praying for people who don't want it, or even care about it. Haven't you heard? Prayer is useless and a waste of time. It only makes you feel good, that's it. Masturbation does the same thing, you might try that instead.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Natural

      You are still loved brotha

      February 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • 3N1Amen

      Ad, I 'm not sure if anyone has told you but Allah is dead. I'm sorry.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Natural

      God is Love

      February 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      So, do you believe that "the guy riding a horse in the clouds with the sword in his mouth" is going to kill all the non-believers? 'Cause I'm a non-believer, and therefore you must side with the delusional "horse rider", which means you will be right there cheering him on as he kills me, right? Which means that your delusional beliefs look forward to the day that you can be part of all that killing. What a belief system, moron.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  11. CommonSense

    It seems to me that this article has its focus misplaced. The real minister (and the real carrier of Christ's message – selfless love) is the one helping Dobson with his belt and gloves ...

    February 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  12. BobM

    Interesting that he used to be rabidly anti-gay, and now he goes around seeking 1-on-1 "relationships" with only men. Ted Haggard used to do the same thing.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  13. Morwenna

    "After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own immortality."

    Immortality....?

    February 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Steve Inohio

      It passed the spell checker. What do you expect these days, someone to be employed to edit?

      February 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  14. gretchen

    I think those demonizing this man and suggesting he is "paying for his sins" do not have much life experience at all. Devastating times can hit ANYONE, anytime, anywhere, any situation. The good, the bad, the ugly, the innocent, the guilty, etc. Only God knows each heart perfectly.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      If God is in charge, he's the one doing all of that bad stuff to begin with. I guess people aren't praying hard enough. Especially anyone who prayed to God to win a game or advance themselves over other people, because we all know that the only way you can lose or not get ahead is if God hates you, right?

      February 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  15. Jp

    Love Kenny chesney's song "everybody want to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now"

    February 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Veritas

      Precisely,. why don't all christians commit collective suicide now if they really believe in heaven?

      February 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Brian

      Veritas, you ask a good question. If heaven's so great, why don't Christians just kill themselves to get there? The Apostle Paul said that he had a dilemma- he preferred to be with Jesus in heaven; but he chose to stay to help the church grow. So, maybe the answer to your question is that Christians believe they're staying here to help others in their faith walk or to find faith in the first place.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • joe

      Because life is a gift not to waste. Our time will come soon enough

      February 19, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      So, Brian, based on that "belief", once a xtian can't "minister for the Lord" no more, then they can go, right? So, if you're in a vegetative state with machines keeping you alive, or if you have Alzheimer's disease, or if you can't communicate somehow (blindness, hearing loss late in life) or any number of debilitating conditions, it would be absolutely OK with you to commit suicide then, so you can meet your maker, right?

      February 19, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Brian

      Why so belligerent, WhatWhatWhat?

      February 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  16. aintiasaint

    wow he's immortal according to this article. i don't know why he's fretting...

    February 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • GJ

      Ever thought of poor editing? That's obviously an error. It should be "mortality".

      February 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  17. Jack

    Death is when we find out that Heaven, Hell and Purgatory really exist. Many will be shocked to find out that they do not qualify for Heaven including myself. We must be extremely good by today's immoral standards to qualify for Heaven. If you want to learn more google "the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima and what happened there including the vision of Hell she gave to three small children.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Veritas

      ...I guess you have a very lacking level of education if you really believe in hell, heaven, and purgatory. I mean, come on, is the the 12th century or something? So sad...

      February 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • ad

      can non-christians subscribe to this hell/heaven club?

      February 19, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Tom

      Not true. Heaven is gained by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. -Jesus of Nazareth the Christ.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • 3N1Amen

      where in the Bible does it talk about 'purgatory'?

      February 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  18. JimC

    What strikes me funny is the fact that those who discount the Bible or Jesus in general, are so adamant at forcing their view on those of us who believe. You claim that you are force fed Christianity, yet I see no one holding anyone down and drowning you with religion. If you do not believe, then you do not believe. If you wish to learn more about Christ, and eternal salvation after your literal days here on earth, there are many who would be happy to help you with that knowledge.

    When the time comes for your death – and you have time to consider what you have done with your life and your refusal to accept Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven, will you, even for one second, think to yourself, "Oh God, help me"? Will you reach out for what you truly believe deep down is true and ask for forgiveness, in hopes that the sinful life you have lived will be exonerated of consequences? As you all seem to bash the Catholics and how the sacrament of Confession works, know that it's not like a car wash and your sins are wiped clean so you can dirty it up again. If you knew anything about the Catholic faith (so many of you are incredibly misinformed), you would see that it doesn't work that way.

    So, in short, I hope that those of you who internally question your true stand on atheism will step outside your comfort zone and, speak to a religious leader and learn about the God that you know nothing about. But then again, it's too easy to listen to your friends who obviously have a vast religious background and can speak from years of learning about all religion. THAT'S who I want to make my up my mind about where my soul will end up after I die. You will take that advice as the absolute truth, rather than research and think for yourself. Use the brains that GOD gave you . Do your own research, think for yourself, learn about religion, rather than discount something you know nothing about.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • winogradsky1

      "You will take that advice as the absolute truth, rather than research". Darn that research with all those fancy numbers and facts

      February 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • ad

      I think it is best if Christians Jews and Muslims fight it out and resolve this issue once and for all.

      Then the rest of us can join the winner.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Padraig

      Tell you what... you people stop trying to get laws passed to force your doctrine on those of us who don't subscribe to it, and you'll find we won't pay you any mind at all. But you'd hate that, wouldn't you?

      February 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • JimC

      winogradsky1, those fancy numbers and facts you discount is called the Bible. If you took the time to read it, you'd know the "truth".

      Padraig, what "laws" are being passed that upsets your life. What doctrine of religion is ruining your very existence?

      February 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  19. Veritas

    Funny, why is this bozo afraid of dying? I thought his fairy tale told him that he will end up in a better place called "heaven"? And why doesn't he simply pray to his "god to heal him? Christians are so funny; one wonders how many of them really believe in the nonsense that is chrisitanity.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • 3N1Amen

      I pray that you will someday take time to find and know Jesus as your personal Savior. There are no delusions...
      Jesus IS the Way, the Truth and the Life.
      I hope that many will realize someday soon that He is real. Hell is also real and there is no turning back once you died and are being tormented day after day FOREVER. It really is your choice whether to believe or not.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • BobM

      Benny Hinn could heal him with a single touch. Wonder why he hasn't gone to him?

      February 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • J R Brown

      You've clearly not read the article. He is not afraid of dying...he's afraid his human frailty will betray his desire to serve God.
      As an atheist, I'm not offended by people trying to serve God so much as I am people who don't read articles and try to belligerently project their own issues into their comments about said articles.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • 3N1Amen

      It's not Benny who is healing. Perhaps this gentleman is not a follower of Benny, but of Jesus. You don't have to go to anyone but God for a healing touch. It is up to God and His will whether He heals or not.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Tom

      You have what we call no faith. In your ignorance you don't understand what it means to trust God. It is as you were an earthworm watching the space shuttle launch. As much as you see it you still can't understand it.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • KeninTexas

      Veritas said "Funny, why is this bozo afraid of dying? " ,,,, Did you even read the article before jumping in with your comments?
      The first sentence is " Ed Dobson is not afraid of dying. It’s the getting there that really scares him." ,,,, Problems with reading comprehension maybe?

      February 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  20. steama

    Death is the biggest thing to confront in life, but, the fact is that everyone will travel this same path. It is very sad that religious people cling to delusion so tightly and miss out on reality. The simple truth is there is no god and when you die you become worm dirt and that is all.

    February 19, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Veritas

      That would be the most logical conclusion, but people don't like simple logic and science; they want sweet fairy tales, just like in the movies with a good ending.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Nii Croffie

      Veritas a synonym for simple is foolish. Don't worry too u will soon find out how close death is.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Veritas

      @Nii Croffie: Actrually veritas means truth. I am not afraid to be dead, unlike you, and know that death is close for all of us. That is why we need to live in the present and make the best of this, our only, life and love those near and dear to us. In other words, not to waste ones life on worship of fairy tale figures.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Tom

      Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me." That's not religion. That's fact.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Pete

      You need Jesus in your life – Wake up Pal! Repent and accept Christ as your savior

      February 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • CNN Reader

      Spoken with the conviction of a true preacher.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Pete

      May God open your eyes!

      February 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
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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.