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Anthony Chiorazzi :
21 article(s)

Anthony Chiorazzi writes from Los Angeles and is currently a graduate student at Oxford University.
December 17th, 2012

“Early on Tolkien had a car, he drove like a manic,” explains Daniele Lucas to a group of 20 people taking her J.R.R. Tolkien Tour in Oxford, England. “Tolkien endangered everyone’s life who was in the car with him, including his own. Soon afterwards, he completely lost his taste for driving anything motorized.”
In Oxford, Tolkien tours are common and tourists make daily pilgrimages to such sacred spots (scroll down for some photos) as the colleges that Tolkien taught at, the pubs where he met with the Inklings (his informal writing group), the sidewalk where he read early excerpts of The Lord of the Rings to children and the house where Tolkien lived when he wrote The Hobbit.… (The first film of a three-part

July 20th, 2011
Hare Krishna old-timers keep the faith

Kusha Devidasi gaped in horror as her cat moved in for another kill. A vegetarian, Devidasi had tried everything to get him to stop devouring God’s feathered creatures, even putting a bell around his neck. Nothing worked.

As the latest victim struggled in her cat’s jaws, Devidasi — a recent Hare Krishna convert — turned to her budding faith for a miracle. She chanted, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna; Krishna Krishna…”

Suddenly, her cat let the bird go. “And he just flew away,” she says. “My cat never freed a bird before. Never.” Two months later, when she turned 18, Devidasi moved into the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) ashram in Hawaii.

That was 1969. Wearing a colorful sari and swaying with the music at a recent festival at the Los Angeles ISKCON center, this self-described former “motley hippie” with nose ring says she still hasn’t lost her ’60s groove and passion for Krishna. “My body may be older, but my soul is still adventurous and young in Krishna.”

September 13th, 2010
God and Gospel meet African tradition in the South Carolina Lowcountry

“You sure you want to drive out there?” an 82-year-old farmer warns when I stop to ask for directions on a dusty, rutted road in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. “Ahead are the Gullah islands,” he says, shaking his head. “They’re a peculiar people with mighty mysterious ways.”
As I voyage over a gauntlet of bridges and down winding, sun-dappled back roads, past lazy pastures and homespun ma-and-pa stores, decades peel back as St. Helena Island, the center for Gullah culture, emerges through a gauze of saltwater marshes.
The descendants of African slaves, the Gullah today live mostly on the remote barrier islands of South Carolina and Georgia. Neglected during…

April 13th, 2010
The world's last three Shakers stand strong, proud and hopeful

Strolling along a quiet farm road, flanked by 19th-century white clapboard buildings, Frances Carr is an endangered species in a threatened habitat.
She is one of the world’s last Shakers, a member of a pious separatist community that boasted 6,000 members and 19 settlements in the 1800s. But today only three believers remain at the last active settlement, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, nestled in a wooded, lake-fringed and white pine-perfumed swath of southern Maine.
Though she rarely grants interviews, the oldest living Shaker speaks now.
Easing her cushioned frame onto an antique bench in the waiting room of the 125-year-old brick Dwelling House, the soft-faced Carr, 82, tenderly sings an old…

March 9th, 2010
Meet the followers of a dwindling ancient faith which they claim influenced Christianity

His admirers claim he was the first to teach monotheism, the existence of heaven and hell and the final triumph of good over evil. Plato and Aristotle revered his wisdom. Raphael included him among the world’s greatest philosophers in his The School of Athens… fresco. Some scholars insist that he had more influence on Western religion than any single man. Who was he? Moses? Mohammed? Christ? No.
His name was Zarathushtra, and he lived over 3,500 years ago, but his followers still honor him today while fearful for their faith’s survival over the next decades.
“We don’t seek converts,” insists Jamsheb Ravji, a Zoroastrian priest in Chicago. Ravji says converts would compromise

October 30th, 2009
Southern Pagans peek out of the broom closet

Tom Cornwell had a secret stashed in the ottoman of his Savannah, Georgia, home. A former Jehovah’s Witness elder and minister for 20 years, he worshipped the Egyptian goddess Isis. Cornwell, 62, thought his secret was safe — until his devout Jehovah’s Witness wife announced she’d found his cache of witchcraft books.
Cornwell (not his real name) came out of the pagan closet to her that night, and says she took it better than expected. “I think the Goddess was watching over me,” he says.
A year later, he studies with a Wiccan coven and is a member of Savannah Pagan Meetup. Cornwell, who still hasn’t come out publicly about his beliefs, says he joins a growing number of pagans…

September 4th, 2009
Challenges for Bible Belt atheists

A red Hyundai with a Darwin fish and an “atheist” license tag eases up to a fast food drive-through window in Huntsville, Alabama. A van pulls up behind it. Five children slip out, line up along one side of the car and chant “God loves you” and “Praise Jesus.” The kids scramble back into the van, congratulated by a high-fiving mother.

Blair Scott — the 38-year-old, cherub-faced man in the red car — still chuckles about it a year later, joking that the kids yelled “god-scenities” at him. The quick-to-laugh Scott shrugs off the negative attention — which also includes 75 hate emails and at least one death threat a week. Scott is the founder of the largest atheist organization in the state, the North Alabama Freethought Association (NAFA) in Huntsville.

In 2004, NAFA had two members; today it has more than 200. Scott says that a decade ago, three atheist organizations in Alabama floundered, but now 10 thrive. “Atheists are on the rise in Alabama. But we may not be what you think,” he beams.

February 9th, 2009
Inside a "voudou" village in South Carolina

He should have honored their ways.
When a county health inspector threatened to press charges against the members of Oyotunji African Village in South Carolina for scarring themselves in a tribal ritual, members of the village performed an ebo, or animal sacrifice, to one of their deities, asking for help. “The following week,” says Bale Oyewole, 63, one of the founders of the village, “the health inspector died of a heart attack; since then we’ve been left alone.”
It’s Voudou
Oyewole says they don’t call it voodoo in Oyotunji; they call it orisha voudou. The word voudou comes from the West African word for religion and the word orisha… means deities or spirits. The

November 16th, 2008
Descended from the Jesus Movement of the 60s and 70s, The Twelve Tribes strives to restore true Christianity

When Shuvael and Matanah Hebert sold their upscale, four-bedroom home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to join a controversial Christian commune called the The Twelve Tribes, friends and family said they were crazy. But seven years later, the middle-aged couple insists that they have no regrets, despite sharing bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a washing machine with 40 devoted members in a community home in a working-class area of Brunswick, Georgia.
“It’s about surrendering completely to God’s providence,” insists Matanah, 45, who also left behind a well-paying chemist’s job. Matanah, who doesn’t wear makeup, perfume or jewelry because God didn’t…

August 12th, 2008
Amish teens flirt with modernity before deciding to embrace the church

Joseph Miller says he likes driving Italian sports cars, drinking tequila and partying all night—and, oh yeah, he’s an Amish teenager. “But that doesn’t mean I still can’t get up early to do a mean cow milking,” he jokes.
On a remote Pennsylvania farm road, Miller opens a secret compartment in his buggy, revealing the latest high-end sound system. “If my folks knew about this, they would die.” Miller flips on his stereo. Rap music thunders from six speakers. His horse winces. “When I crank this sucker up, it really screams,” he shouts over the din.
Miller, who like all the Amish quoted for this story asked that his real name not be used, says that sometimes, when an older tourist sneaks up to photograph…

June 25th, 2008
Searching for spiritual explanations for ghosts in America’s most haunted city

Young lovers hear inhuman growls when they stroll past it. Passing tourists feel tugs at their shopping bags, but when they whirl around, nothing is there. Teenage thrill-seekers take photos of it and delight in the beast-like faces that show up in empty windows.
The abandoned Gothic mansion at 432 Abercorn in Savannah, Georgia is haunted, but it’s not the city’s only ghost-ridden structure. “Up to 80% of homes and buildings in the historic district of Savannah are haunted,” says Scott Warner, a ghost tour guide for Ghost Talk Ghost Walk in Savannah.
Shannon Scott, a local paranormal investigator, says that the American Institute for Parapsychology (AIP) recently designated Savannah,…

May 22nd, 2008
Some Navajo Indians mix Christianity with the old ways

Raymond Lewis, a retired mechanic living in the Navajo Nation in Arizona, tucks away his rosary and rises from kneeling and praying in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary in his living room, “Tonight, I take peyote and maybe see the Mother Mary,” he says.
Lewis, a 67-year-old full-blooded Navajo, who preferred not to use his real name, says he’s not unlike many Native Americans who practice their Catholic faith alongside their native religion. “There’s no contradiction. Both religions speak of being kind and living in harmony with one another, the Creator and nature,” Lewis says as he straightens a picture of a Navajo goddess, hanging behind the statue of Mary.
The Peyote… Way
Lewis says

April 11th, 2008
Seekers find salvation in New Age capital of America

Yvonne Draper came to Sedona to kill herself. With a ruptured disc in her back, a hip that slid out of the socket, knees and ankles that constantly went out, Draper was in chronic pain. Also burdened by personal and financial setbacks, Draper was ready to give it up in the place voted by USA Weekend as the most beautiful in America.
“But then,” she says, “something got in the way—Sedona.” Draper said when she arrived in Sedona in 2002 she was seduced by it natural beauty: towering red monoliths, wind-chiseled canyons and breathtaking crimson vistas.
Yet, it wasn’t Sedona’s scenic charm alone that saved her, but it’s spiritual energy. “The vortexes helped…

February 28th, 2008
The Mormon Church is busy growing (and challenging misconceptions)

“You’re not true Christians,” shouts the barrel-chested 43-year-old Lonie Pursifull to a group of Mormons passing through Temple Square, the world headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Salt Lake City, Utah. “You’re not following the true gospel of Jesus Christ. You’re liars. You’re of your father—the devil.”
Pursifull pastors the Wildness Bible Church in Duchesne, about 90 miles outside of Salt Lake City. He says off and on for the last 13 years—despite being hit 16 times in the face and receiving 23 death threats—he’s come to Temple Square to preach to Mormons.
Ryan Sanchez listens not too far…

February 27th, 2008
BYU students are proud of their faith but it doesn't mean they're all the same

Bushy haired, scruffy and wild-eyed, a punk-rock singer bellows out the words to an irksome tune. Blaring throughout the campus, the singer’s lyrics laud the virtues of environmentalism. Students stop to enjoy the music and many even dance, punk-style, in front of the singer’s stage. The event could easily have taken place at UCLA or the University of Florida, but believe it or not, it took place at Brigham Young University (BYU). “Yeah, we can get a little wild here,” a passing student admits. “But who ever said you can’t be loud and still be a Mormon?”
With over 30,000 students, BYU in Provo, Utah is the largest privately owned university in the United States. Acknowledged…

May 8th, 2007
Why Latinos are increasingly converting to Islam

As a girl in Catholic school, Khadijah Rivera dreamed of becoming a nun despite the fact she feared Jesus. She was frightened by her church’s bloodied statue of Christ nailed to the cross and was plagued with fear when receiving communion. “When I used to put the host in my mouth,” she says, “I never bit it. I let it melt because I was afraid to bite the body and blood of Christ.” Years later, as an adult, she says she has now gotten over these fears and learned to love Jesus more. The reason for her change of heart? Rivera converted to Islam.
According to Rivera, who founded PIEDAD, a Latino Muslim organization based in Tampa, Florida, with over 300 members nationwide, Latino Muslims are…

January 5th, 2007
Battling for the heart of Jewish mysticism, Hollywood and the Hasidim offer different paths

One rabbi who studied it grew crazy, one died and another became so bewildered that he lost his faith. According to Jewish tradition, the study of the Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism is not only powerful but also downright dangerous.
“Woe to the person who says that the Torah shares with us plain stories and mundane matters,” says the Zohar (Radiance), the traditional text of the Kabbalah, “…. rather all the matters in the Torah are supernal matters and supernal secrets.”
For centuries the study of the Kabbalah was forbidden, reserved only for Jewish males over 40, who were well-versed in Torah, but since its recent adoption by Hollywood celebrities, there has been a battle raging…

October 30th, 2006
This Halloween Modern Satanists are just asking for a little understanding

Syn Holliday is a family man with three young children, a loving wife and a suburban home next door to a devout Mormon family his children regularly play with. He’s also a Satanist.
Holliday leads one of the largest satanic covens in the Los Angeles area, the Syndicate of the Five Points. Donning dark clothing and an inverted pentagram around his neck, Holliday explains in his comfortable tract-home living room, not too far from his satanic altar, that a lot of the religious parents in his conservative community even allow their children to spend the night with his children in his home. “We respect their beliefs, and they respect ours,” says Holliday. (Like most of the Modern Satanists interviewed…

July 27th, 2006
Pro-life gays and lesbians see the fight for the unborn related to their struggle

Steve Cook flinched as a heckler hollered, “You’re a traitor to the gay community.” One of the signs Cook held read, “Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians,” and the other “Killing children never advances gay rights.” Soon others joined the chant of “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!”
Cook was participating in the second-annual Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco last winter, the West Coast version of the March for Life held annually in Washington, D.C.
Cook said it was obvious that hecklers were singling him out more than the other marchers. One pro-choice protestor even yelled, “Oh, no! There’s a gay man among them.”
Cook,…

June 20th, 2006
How living with a street gang led an agnostic anthropologist to faith

Thomas Ward agonized over a choice: should he cheat death by ditching his research or forge ahead and prepare to die? He decided to prepare to die.
From 1993 to 2000, Ward, a professor of anthropology at USC, spent nearly every day hanging out on street corners, back alleyways and apartment complexes with members of the legendary street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, dubbed by Newsweek as “the fastest-growing, most violent… of the nation’s street gangs.”
Ward said he wanted to study every aspect of the Salvadoran gang: the good and the bad. And about a year into his research, he got a taste of how truly bad things could get. “The first threat occurred when I was at a party and the…

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