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I write the monthly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and also report for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere. I have four daughters and two dogs.

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From “90210” recapper to Muslim convert

As an old 90210 fan (the original series, not the lame reboot), was mirthful beyond mirthful to have tracked down Danny Drennan, who wrote the pioneering weekly recap that so many of us read with squeals of delight every week. Who knew that, as a transplant to Beirut and convert to Islam, he’d be perfect for my Beliefs column? See here.


Angélique Kidjo and the “trail mix bar” in Aspen

Just did my first Aspen Ideas Festival, which is where you can sit in the main tent and see Jeffrey Goldberg, Leon Wieseltier, David Brooks, and Katie Couric munching from a “make your own trail mix” bar, which — you heard it here first — is an invention that will sweep the world like nothing we’ve seen since the great fro-yo-lounge tsunami of 2013. Granola and chocolate pieces and wasabi peas? Give whoever came up with that a MacArthur genius grant.

But the two highlights of the festival, for me, were the dramatic reading of Michele Norris’s Race Card Project. I joined Michele, Gwen Ifill, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and others to read dozens of 6-word essays submitted to the project by people all over the US. Ever since I retired from acting at age 20 after an ignominious career on gymnasium stages, I have been eager to get back onstage, and I can’t think of a more fun return to action than what I had Saturday evening at Aspen’s Belly Up club.

BUT what was even better was that, while at the Belly Up, I noticed that the next night Angélique Kidjo (above in the video, with Joss Stone) would be performing there. So I bought a ticket. And on Sunday I went to a shamefully undersold show by the great Beninoise pop star. And she rocked. At the end, she invited people onstage to dance with her, which meant I got to shimmy with Kidjo and about 50 other very white audience members brazen enough to hop onto stage when invited. This makes up for the time that I was 7 years old and my dad took me to see Diana Ross (the “Upside Down” tour), and she invited all the children onto stage to dance with her, and I was too shy.


StoryCorps, meet God

Enjoyed reconnecting with Paul Elie to hear about how he’s partnering with Dave Isay (they’re both above) of StoryCorps to do a series of interview on religious experience. Times story here.


Republicans can be atheists, too . . .



Over the weekend, Laurie Goodstein and I had a scoop in the Times about why Edwina Rogers (above) was fired from the Secular Coalition for America. Spoiler: it was her underling, not her, who embezzled money for liposuction.

And then, in other news, I wrote a column about superstar preachers in liberal Protestantism, like this woman, Barbara Brown Taylor:


The column begins:

Quick: Name a famous American preacher.

Chances are you came up with an television evangelist. The names come easily: Billy Graham, Robert H. Schuller and Oral Roberts; Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker; Joel Osteen and T. D. Jakes. Since World War II, American preaching has been synonymous with high-tech, media-savvy soul-winning, usually with a conservative, evangelical theology.

But while these evangelicals have sizable audiences and book sales, they appeal primarily to like-minded Christian conservatives. For those in the more liberal wings of the Congregational, Episcopal, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, there is a parallel world of preaching stars.

Last month, Minneapolis was the center of that sphere.


Letting daughters play on cars ...  



Letting daughters play on cars is a subject I take up in my Times book review of Paul Raeburn’s new book on the difference dads make. (That’s Ellie atop our Honda Odyssey above.) The review begins this way:


When our young daughters first decided to play on top of our Honda minivan, parked in our driveway, my wife was worried. But to me, it seemed no less safe than chasing a ball that frequently ended up in the street. And they loved the height, the novelty, the danger. So I let them stay. They never fell. And with the summer weather here, playing on the car is once again keeping them occupied for hours.

Now that I have read Paul Raeburn’s “Do Fathers Matter?,” I know that my comfort with more dangerous play — my willingness to let my daughters stand on top of a minivan — is a typically paternal trait. Dads roughhouse with children more, too. They also gain weight when their wives are pregnant and have an outsize effect on their children’s vocabulary. The presence of dads can delay daughters’ puberty. But older dads have more children withdwarfism and with Marfan syndrome.


And oh, wait! I have another book review out today, from the Forward, titled — you can infer the subject — “Why Rabbi Schneerson was good for Jews but bad for biographers.” It’s about this guy —



— and it begins this way:


At the end of time, when climate change or an asteroid or the Messiah’s arrival has rendered moot Pharrell Williams, the Affordable Care Act, “Game of Thrones,” Rand Paul, the designated-hitter rule, Vladimir Putin on horseback, and Chipotle’s cilantro-lime rice, there will be two kinds of religious people left on earth: Mormons and Lubavitcher Jews.


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