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Battlefield chaplain’s war unfolded on many fronts
Army chaplain Darren Turner, left, wound up quitting the Army for a spell after returning home from Iraq.
May 26th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Battlefield chaplain’s war unfolded on many fronts

Editor’s note: CNN.com writer Moni Basu is author of “Chaplain Turner's War,” published by Agate Digital.

By Moni Basu, CNN

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) - Darren Turner insisted on going to war, even though the Army usually reserves desk jobs at home for new chaplains like him.

Turner was young and green, enthusiastic about taking God to the battlefield. The Army captain had learned that people in pain are often wide-open to inviting God into their lives.

Jesus always ran to crises. Turner was going to do the same.

He’d enrolled in seminary in 2004 at Regent University in Virginia, founded by evangelist Pat Robertson. And early in his spiritual journey, he was inspired by Christian writer John Eldredge, who suggests that American men have abandoned the stuff of heroic dreams, aided by a Christianity that tells them to be "nice guys."

God, says Eldredge, designed men to be daring, even dangerous.

Turner arrived in Iraq in May 2007 with the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment amid a raging insurgency. His soldiers faced an invisible but lethal enemy in booby-trapped houses and roads laced with massive bombs.

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Chaplain Turner’s war would unfold on many fronts. He would be a soldier on the battlefield. A counselor behind closed doors. He was a friend, even a father, to his men.

And when his 15-month tour was over, Turner returned home to face all the problems he had counseled his soldiers about: anger, depression, stress and – most important for him – preserving relationships with loved ones.

Nearly 4,500 American troops died in the Iraq war. More than 30,000 more were physically wounded. Countless others live with scars that can't be seen, like post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury. Many have struggled with regaining their lives at home.

Darren Turner counsels a soldier inside a sleeping container at Patrol Base Hawkes, southeast of Baghdad.

Turner had recognized the needs his soldiers would have after witnessing the horrors of combat, after losing friends.

In Iraq, he had comforted and advised soldiers at Forward Operating Base Falcon, in southeastern Baghdad, and in the combat outposts around the villages of Arab Jabour.

Preparing clergy for war: How chaplains train for combat

At Falcon, the Army provided a morale phone that allowed soldiers to make free 15-minute calls home. But Turner knew it wasn't enough. He carried a cell phone in the left shoulder pocket of his uniform and whipped it out whenever a soldier signaled domestic distress at home.

"Call her," he would say. "Call her now and tell her you love her."

When they returned to Georgia in the summer of 2008, Turner told his soldiers that their families would be their cushion. He knew his men were suffering; that the ghosts of Iraq would haunt them, maybe for the rest of their lives.

What he did not know then was that he would not himself be immune to the same threats. He neglected to heed his own advice and his life floundered.

I’d spent many weeks with Turner in Iraq for a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but I didn't know about his troubles until I drove up to meet him and his wife, Heather, earlier this year at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

An exhausted Darren Turner catches a nap at his desk inside his tent at Forward Operating Base Falcon near Baghdad.

On that rainy February day, Turner told me that he’d come back from Iraq and felt like the bomb defuser in the movie "The Hurt Locker," who goes into a grocery store and is overwhelmed by the mesmerizing variety of cereals.

Remembering the fallen: Learn about casualties

It was a lot to process after having few choices in Iraq. Reverse culture shock.

"I wanted everything in there but I wasn't sure what to buy," Turner said.

He also detected a lack of public concern for the men and women fighting overseas. Off post, people went about their lives without a real understanding of the sacrifices made by American service members.

At first the anger boiled inside. But then it began to surface. He took it out on Heather. It was a release so that he could keep his work as normal as possible.

Little things like arranging the dishwasher became big fights with Heather. Big things like Heather’s life plans became small issues that Turner mocked or discounted because they did not fit his own plans.

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"I came home angry," Turner told me. "Even my attitude, which I thought I was in control of, was walling me in. I didn't realize it until my wife told me, 'You're no longer welcome in our house.'"

During the deployment in Iraq, Turner had pined for Heather and his three young children, Elie, Sam and Meribeth. Now, he was losing them.

"The thing I was angry at was the very thing I was longing for during my deployment - my family," he said.

Heather said her husband was disengaged, impatient. She wanted them to seek counseling but Turner refused, insisting that she was the one who had issues.

Just a few months after his return from Iraq, Darren and Heather Turner separated.

“I was very selfish and tried to control my surroundings, which crushed those closest to me,” Turner said.

Turner eventually realized how much he had hurt his wife, he said. How he had stepped away from God's calling by failing those he cared about most.

After finishing Airborne School, he quit the Army in August 2009, believing the military would demand too much time away from his family at a critical juncture in their lives.

He took a job in sales at a Home Depot not far from his house in Dacula, Georgia. He struggled to mend his marriage and reconnect with his faith.

Four months later, Turner and his wife reconciled. He chose to return to the Army as a chaplain, he said, "a renewed man both in marriage and profession."

He and Heather found their calling. God, he said, gave them a special connection with soldiers and their families. They know they will stay busy for a while.

The U.S. mission in Iraq ended on December 18, 2011, as the last American soldiers climbed into hulking trucks and armored vehicles at Camp Adder, the southernmost base in Iraq.

The war, however, is sure to continue on a second front - in America's cities and homes. And in the offices of counselors and chaplains like Darren Turner.

Turner reminisces about Iraq often, and when I saw him at Fort Campbell, he told me he wrestled with mixed feelings on the day America's military presence ended. He hopes that, in the end, the war will have been worth the blood that was spilled.

Another war, the one in Afghanistan, is far from over, with casualties mounting every month. Today, Turner counsels soldiers serving there. His words, honed from experience, are more specific now.

Get Skype, he says.

Perhaps it's not what a soldier expects to hear from a man of God. It’s certainly not the stuff of Sunday sermons.

But it's practical advice that Turner knows will go a long way toward filling the emotional vacuum. He believes distance from one’s own family can trigger a breakdown, especially when a soldier is coping with injuries and combat stress.

"Being away from your family for that long is way more difficult than I anticipated," Turner said.

Skype, he discovered, is the next best thing to being at home. You can't feel someone or smell them but you can see and hear.

"That's two of the senses," he said. "That's exponential."

Turner’s pastoral passion is still driven by the force that first drew him to the chaplaincy: Jesus.

Everyone has faith in something, Turner said. His own conviction is that Jesus answers longings in the human heart and provides perspective. Beyond immediate emergencies, the larger story is one of hope.

“He's been there on the other side, and came back to tell us,” Turner said. “That's the biggest event in human history, something that maintains hope, even in battle. When soldiers get that, it changes everything.”

Turner said he may not have been God’s perfect messenger, but that his selfish choices do not negate God’s love.

Turner is thankful for that. And that he can carry on with his calling.

- Moni Basu

Filed under: Christianity • Military

soundoff (2,230 Responses)
  1. Thankful

    I am so grateful for this story and for Darren Turner's witness and the witness of his family. It reminds me to be a witness in my own life, not to run from his calling, and also that G+d can heal anything. Thank you! Bless you and your family, as well as the reporter Moni Basu. Jesus is LORD! Thankfully, we are not!

    May 27, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Lol

      "G+d can heal anything"
      Tell that to the ashes of the victims of Auschwitz.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      But he chooses not to????? How merciless!

      May 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  2. Ron Leonard

    Help us Make "Courageous" Bible Study available to over 15,000 Soldiers at FT Campbell! http://www.lifeway.com/n/Ministry-Focus/Courageous

    May 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Hank

      No.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Amen, YESI will!!

      May 27, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  3. Dot

    This is an important story. The problem is that people who are responsible for others often do not take care of themselves and ignore their own problems. How can someone, who has been in war, not have nightmares and suffer after seening the horrible things people do to other people? The military should be checking on their chaplains as well as the other soldiers. I have never been in war and cannot imagine how those who have, suffer later. We the people have sent them to war, we cannot abandon them when they come home.

    May 27, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  4. Go Away, Christians!!!

    Your beliefs are idiotically preposterous and morally disgusting.
    Your invisible "Yahweh" was a baby-slaughtering monster.
    Your invisible "Yeshua" loved and praised the baby-slaughtering monster.
    Your religion is the most morally revolting, insanely nonsensical, and depressingly hare-brained thing conceivable.
    Get it through your cretinous skulls--we don't want to bow down and kiss the invisible asses of your stupid poltergeists.
    You've been annoying good people with your insipid goblin and wizard stories far too long.
    Your Christ is eurotrash!
    Shut up, go away, and FUCK OFF!!!

    May 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • John

      If Christians irritate you so much, why read an article about them?

      May 27, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Go Away, Christians!!!

      Golly Gee, if the 1930s Nazi Party bugged Jews so much, why didn't they just stop listening to the radio and reading the newspapers?
      Stupid motherfucker...........

      May 27, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Francisco Cruz

      Don't worry at the end of your life you won't have to hear about Crist and God anymore! you have the rest of eternity not to hear about it!

      May 27, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • Bill

      Hello, Troll. Do you do this kind of thing when you are not online as well? Do you have any friends?

      May 27, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Hank

      Are you eurotrash too? Lol!

      May 27, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      You sound like Turner when he strayed from God....good thing Turner realized what he did and returned back to God and allowed God to restore not only his life but his marriage and family.

      DO THE SAME THING, DUDE....YOU SEEM ANGRY AND LOST AS WELL.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • Go Away, Christians!!!

      Um, wrong....
      Are you stupid?
      You strike me as potential eurotrash.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Umm, no, you are the one who potential eurotrash yourself, no need help with that.

      I THANK GO THAT I AM NOT AND WILL NEVER BE AN ATHEIST.....THANKS TO BITTER PEOPLE LIKE YOU! :O)

      May 27, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      CORRECTION:

      I THANK GOD THAT I AM NOT AND WILL NEVER BE AN ATHEIST.....THANKS TO BITTER PEOPLE LIKE YOU! :O)

      May 27, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • ןןɐq ʎʞɔnq

      I THANK GO THAT I AM NOT AND WILL NEVER BE AN ATHEIST.....THANKS TO BITTER PEOPLE LIKE YOU!

      Thank you for admitting, that no matter what the evidence is, your preconceived idea is what drives you, and not an independent, objective search for the truth.

      May 27, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  5. Tracy Crane

    What a story of grace, compassion and reality. Thank you CNN for sharing this story about a man committed to fellow soldiers. A person who care so much that he has devoted his life to this calling. It's refreshing to hear about a man's own weakness and how he was able to face his own problems on the home front. Jesus is the epitome of grace and Mr. Turner has tried to live this in his own life as much as possible. What a true testament to a follower of Christ!

    May 27, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  6. the99percentsolution

    The article is correct that people at home go about their lives with little regard for the sarifices and travails of those serving in the military, especially in combat. At home we often preoccupy ourselves with trivialities while soldiers risk their lives and endure horrific events and terrible stress.

    May 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  7. Mommy

    My goodness, is this really CNN?... They are reporting a normal story of the struggle of a Christian Chaplain? Have they had an epiphany from God?

    May 27, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  8. Dean

    Ever wonder why those who don't believe in God are the ones who read these articles?????

    May 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • ןןɐq ʎʞɔnq

      no

      May 27, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Tom Leykis

      It's always funny to wind up the delusional, mouthbreathing religious wingnuts. Lol

      May 27, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • vulpecula

      because this atheist is a vet.

      May 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      LOL, Atheists are more stuck on God than those who believe, and yet, they say, there is no God. They are the very first ones to comment on every religious and Christian articles just to complain how we "force" our faith down their throats as if we are standing beside them with a gun to their head forcing them to search and post on these websites.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      The same reason people slow down when passing a wreck. It's kinda goofy weird to look at and be thankful that it's not you.

      May 27, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  9. David

    Army Chaplains need to go. They are a waste of tax money.

    There are no Christians in fox holes...thou shall not kill, remember?

    May 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • realist

      you got it wrong ....there are no atheists in foxholes.

      May 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Bob

      Actually, the Bible says "Thou shall not MURDER." There's an enormous difference...look it up.

      May 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • vulpecula

      Yes, plenty of atheists in foxholes. you can deny it all you want, but it doesn't make you right, it only makes you look stupid

      May 27, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • rp1588

      There are two types of Christians: those who follow the teachings of Jesus, and those who follow the anti-Christ (Satan). The US military is full of the latter. Perhaps a majority of the US public also follow the anti-Christ, most of them because they are too dumb to recognize it, and a bunch of them because they are evil.

      May 27, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      We are no longer in the Law of the Jewish, but under the very Grace of God because of Christ, remember? Oh wait, how can you, you are lost and don't believe.....you are too far from understanding anything about Christ and His followers.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • ןןɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Prove it Bob. You know Hebrew ?

      May 27, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  10. Tom Leykis

    Ted Haggard, Eddie Long and Paul Crouch all say: Pray the gay away. Lol

    May 27, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  11. Tom Leykis

    The whole "god" and "jesus" thing.........a total myth created by men to control, profit from and manipulate men. Religion and dieties were an invention of man to explain that which he didn't understand. Chaplains are NOT qualified to offer counseling services of any sort and have NO training in effective counseling.

    Dinosaurs existed, just not with man. The earth is approximately 4.5 BILLION years old. Evolution is a scientific fact. There is absolutely NO legitimate academically accepted, peer reviewed proof that "jesus" ever existed, period end of story. You'd think that there'd be some academically accepted, peer reviewed proof that "jesus" existed since that's the most important "person" in christianity. Oh, and the whole idea of Noah's Ark and the parting of the Red Sea.........total BS.

    May 27, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      If a service member is a religious person and they have found themself in a religious quandry would such a person go and see a mental healt clinic or might they see person of their faith?

      May 27, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Tom Leykis

      So, "A Serpents Thought", you have nothing intelligent to add and nothing to offer which logically/intellectually contradicts what I've written. Good to know. Lol. Cretin.

      May 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Dean

      Read historical works by Tacitus, Josephus, Lucian and Suetonius and learn something.

      May 27, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Tom Leykis

      So, Dean, no proof whatsoever. Good to know. Lol. Cretin.

      May 27, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Dean

      So Tom if you don't believe historians you don't believe there was a genghis khan or Abraham or King David either.
      Terrible to have such a limited scope on things that you personally have not seen or experienced.

      May 27, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Tom, when you die, you will eventually have all the evidence you will need and have been searching for, but the sad thing about it is, it will be in your eternity Hell and it will be too late for you.

      WARNING COMES BEFORE DESTRUCTION.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • What IF

      @HeIsGod,
      "it will be in your eternity Hell and it will be too late for you."

      The same thing just might happen to you for not doing the 5 pillars of Islam... or not burning incense to Ganesh... or not sacrificing a horse to Poseidon... or if your heart weighs more than a feather when Maat measures it.

      But actually, there is no verified evidence for supernatural beings or places.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Get Real

      Dean
      "if you don't believe historians you don't believe there was a genghis khan or Abraham or King David either."

      The historians you cited reported on the new Christian cult and what they believed. It'd be like news articles now about Scientology... no proof whatsoever that those beliefs are true.

      Any claims of wisdom or fact that Genghis Khan, King David and Abraham have been attributed as saying or doing must be verified to be valid. It's the useful facts that count... not the men, per se, but yes, it is real interesting to find out stuff about them and their lives. There seems to be quite a bit of consistent evidence for Genghis Khan, very little for King David... and as for Abraham, well, there is more evidence for King Arthur than for ol' Abe, but the thrilling legends about them are much more plentiful and popular.

      Even if King David and Abraham existed in the way the Bible describes them, it does nothing to prove that they had a hot-line to supernatural beings, anymore than King Arthur was empowered by the Lady of the Lake and Merlin's magic spells.

      May 27, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  12. magneticink

    And now why tarry you? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord. – Acts 22:16

    May 27, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building

      May 27, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • ןןɐq ʎʞɔnq

      "if it means we're supposed to get matey with the Slytherins, fat chance." - Harry Potter

      May 27, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  13. ja-coffalotte

    ALL religious people are mentally ill on some level.

    May 27, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • A Serpent's Thought

      Everyone has a mentally difuse angularism plaguing their conscience! :-)

      May 27, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Tell me about it, especially the Atheism religion.

      May 27, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  14. Tom Leykis

    woshiping poseidon, I like the cut of your jib.

    May 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  15. vulpecula

    I have a question. The Navy flies a church Pennant over the U.S. Flag on ships when a service is taking place. Currently there are only a Christian and Jewish Pennant that I've seen. Now that the U.S.Military started allowing chaplins for so many religions, including Humanists(Atheists), how long until the Humanist Pennant is designed and flown over the U.S. Flag and your thoughts on that. Might be a Muslim, Buddist or Wiccan design too, sense these all now have chaplins in the military.

    May 27, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • disgustedvet

      Are you sure these flags are flown "over " The US Flag ? Perhaps in your zeal to diss you mis-spoke.

      May 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • vulpecula

      perhaps you should research before you insult.

      May 27, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  16. disgustedvet

    Google " Liberal " . See how non-liberal you haters really are. You have corrupted a noble word with your baseness.

    May 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Why are you assuming that atheists are "liberals?" Based on current evidence, the Republican party has far more active opponents of the message of Christ.

      May 27, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  17. A Serpent's Thought

    The Labored tree of warring means may well ever be withstood upon! The money-chests of the warbrides' laments are worn and scorned as the days' light does depart her bosoms ever full of its' milkiness canundrum's vileness and many drunken stupors! The war tables will soon be blindly turned apart and all sedentary chairs will stack themselves as if to be never again sat upon by the asses of vanities' aloofness sarcasms! Blessed be those ones who will no longer bide their days doing the war marches nor kettle the drums toward incitements of perverseness in causalities' stupified languishing militia parlors! Challenges will be decided by the drawing of lots or numbered covering away from the pundances of warring regretffulness ideals! Tournaments of ever newer formations' pleasentries will soothe the beast in people's eyes! The goodly Conscience will be renourished with vigor and vitalities in abundant measures giving ways and risies to pleasing all for many seasons in reasoned wealthiness cleavings! God for the Godly will ride in the backseat of Life's ongoing rush down the slopes of freedom ringing always and forever to never again wanting to be or become stilled travistries' last passing torments of distainments' warlorded conjouring ways!

    May 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  18. ja-coffalotte

    Is he incanting some sort of voodoo by raising his hands in a bucket of water? So funny, what a rube.

    May 27, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • BoFo

      You are sick, and obviously lack any kind of moral compass.

      May 27, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • Tom Leykis

      True dat.

      May 27, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Is there a north, south, east, and west on a moral compass?

      May 27, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  19. Dan

    Well what do you know, we got a troll –

    "Worship Poseidon"

    May 27, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  20. sybaris

    Look at that picture.

    Seriously, for you religionists, what does raising your hand do?

    Are you channeling some kind of power?

    Isn't it a kind of social conditioning and means absolutely nothing?

    Wouldn't you feel stupid standing in a tub of water imagining that all of your alleged "sins" will be washed away?

    How does this have any more "power" than washing yourself in smoke at a Buddhist temple?

    May 27, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Worship Poseidon

      Don't ask questions, just fall in line with all the other sheep. Knowledge is satan.

      May 27, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Joel

      You are absolutely right! Raising hands does nothing. Its just a way to acknowledge God as the Almighty! You are also right! Water does not wash away sin any more than does smoke at a Buddhist temple. Only by acknowledging one's own sin and a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Son of God can sin be forgiven.It should make no difference to you what another person feels in their heart. How would you feel if others mocked you for some actions that we might call STUPID??? Let the man alone and others like him!

      May 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • Sue

      Joel: Why should we ask such an evil deity as the Christian one for "forgiveness"?

      May 27, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • DJR

      Raising hands in prayer is an ancient Jewish practice that obviously made its way, along with many other Jewish customs, into Christian practice. Those who don't like it should complain to the Jews. They're the ones who gave Christians the custom.

      It's doubtful that many people would be willing to publicly vilify the Jewish people for doing such a thing; it would make news, and they would be instantly labeled.

      Psalms 27:2
      Hear, O Lord, the voice of my supplication, when I pray to thee; when I lift up my hands to thy holy temple.

      Psalms 62:5
      Thus will I bless thee all my life long: and in thy name I will lift up my hands.

      Psalms 133:2
      In the nights lift up your hands to the holy places, and bless ye the Lord.

      Lamentations 2:19
      Arise, give praise in the night, in the beginning of the watches: pour out thy heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands to him for the life of thy little children, that have fainted for hunger at the top of all the streets.

      Hebrews 12:12
      Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees,

      Lamentations 3:41
      Let us lift up our hearts with our hands to the Lord in the heavens.

      Genesis 14:22
      And he answered him: I lift up my hand to the Lord God the most high, the possessor of heaven and earth,

      Deuteronomy 32:40
      I will lift up my hand to heaven, and I will say: I live for ever.

      May 27, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • ןןɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Actually it's an Ancient PAGAN custom, along with kneeling in prayer, raising hands, taking off shoes on holy ground, a holy mountain, a holy place in the temple, pillars in front of the temple, offering sacrifices without blemish, a sacred ark, cities of refuge, bringing forth water from rocks, laws written on stone, fire appearing on a person’s head, horses of fire, and the offering of first fruits.

      May 27, 2012 at 5:05 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.