This episode of Life After God is tied for first place, in my book, with the one featuring Bart Campolo. John Dehlin and his Mormon Stories podcast only came onto my radar in the past month or so, and already I’m a fan. John’s an ex-Mormon, having been formally excommunicated in 2015. For about a decade he’s been doing the Mormon Stories podcast, so way longer than the current podcasting fad. John does great work helping get out into the public the stories of ex-Mormons as well as those with doubts and others working for change in their church. Recently John has been central to a likely expansion of Oasis communities into Utah and Idaho. 

This episode is great because it brings together two people, Ryan and John, who are both working to help those transitioning out of a religious belief while also seeking to build a secular community to replace what’s being left behind.

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A Conference Called Wonder – Utrecht – May 19th-22nd 2016

Note: This came into my inbox on 29 January 2016, and I’m sharing it here without modification. – AG

The Sunday Assembly Annual Conference has landed and you can buy early bird tickets NOW. Exciting….

The first conference was in London in 2014. It was epic. Number two was in Atlanta 2015. Somehow even better. This year it will be in Utrecht in the Netherlands in 2016. It’s going to push the boundaries even further.

Sunday Assembly Utrecht are an incredible Sunday Assembly in a beautiful city in a country steeped in history. In the town centre buildings from the Middle Ages sit between fine townhouses of the Dutch Republic and are all intersected by canals.

Join us from May 19th – May 22nd for an experience like no other. SundayAssembly organisers, activists, volunteers, attendees and fans from across the world will come to share experiences and knowledge, to plan and to scheme but, most of all, to create lasting relationships between brilliant people.

As with every Sunday Assembly gathering there will be exceptional speakers and the first keynote speaker we can announce is Shamash Alidina – the world renowned mindfulness expert, founder of the Museum of Happiness and author of Mindfulness for Dummies. He’ll be giving a talk and giving a masterclass on how to bring mindfulness to your community.

We’ll announce more great names, and the other super activities we’re doing, as they come in. The website is here (and you can share it using the fancy buttons below).

Can’t wait to see you there.


Sanderson and the Sunday Assembly Team


Did we mention the Trajectum Lumen? We’re doing a light tour of Utrecht’s canals while we’re there.

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#LiveBetter with Sunday Assembly NYC

Do you have something you want to do or stop doing? A resolution you would really love to make happen? A Live Better group may be the thing for you. In January 2016 the first ‘Live Better Group’ with Sunday Assembly NYC met at Old John’s Luncheonette, and here’s what it’s all about.

Formerly known as ‘Resolve’ in London, these are support groups for whatever you want to do or stop doing. For example, if you want to learn to play guitar but have never gone through with it, you can bring that objective to the group. You share it, other group members give feedback and help you set specific goals and milestones to measure progress. The same goes for negative goals, like quitting smoking. You chose one objective, share it and work on it with your Live Better friends.

In NYC these groups will go for 6 months each, so that there is a timebox involved. At the end of six months the group can either renew for another six months, or disband. During the six month period no new members may join a group in progress, thus providing stability and consistency to everyone involved. If the group chooses to renew at the end of six months they can then take on new members. No more than 10 people per group per 6 month period (any more and it becomes unwieldy to manage and maintain relationships). We maintain contact between meetings with a secret Facebook group.

This first Live Better group in NYC was formed by invitation only. Future groups can self-organize, and I’d be glad to sit down with anyone who wants to start such a group to explain how to do it. I can also be available to help run the first meeting for new groups, if that extra little ‘push’ is wanted.

If you’d like to be a part of the second NYC-based Live Better group that will start up in March 2016, keep an eye on the Facebook page. An announcement will come out with information on how to be added to the secret group. On the other hand, if you’d like to start your own group right away, contact me for details.

We only have one life that we know of, so why not live better?

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#HELPOFTEN – Masbia Rego Queens – February 2016

Join us to help out with pantry organization at Masbia in Queens!

But wait, what’s Masbia?

Masbia is a Kosher soup kitchen that feeds everyone who’s hungry. They are present in Boro Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg and Rego Park, Queens, and they could use a hand. Here’s a bit more about the Rego Park center, where we intend to help out first:

“Known as the "free restaurant,” Masbia serves a three-course meal five nights a week in a restaurant-like setting that offers its patrons the privacy and dignity that everyone deserves. But every day, the challenge of feeding the needy continues to grow. The more Masbia feeds, the more it depends on generous people in the community to keep its doors open.

The Rego Park soup kitchen operates in a storefront on a commercial strip on Queens Blvd. and was beautifully renovated, with moldings, drapery to protect people’s privacy, and adorned with paintings of shtetl life by a Jerusalem artist. The renovation includes Jerusalem stone paneling, which gives the space an extra special touch. The decor of the place makes you feel like you’ve entered a high-end New York restaurant. A foyer in the front was built as a waiting room so that people don’t have to stand in a “bread line” outside.“

Our mission, should we choose to accept it (and we do!) is as follows:

"We have a weekly pantry program where we distribute grocery bags to hundreds of families in need who come from all over the city. This takes place on Thursday morning through the afternoon. We do much of our preparation for this large weekly project on Wednesday nights at our kitchen in Rego Park, Queens. Tasks include bagging produce, organizing and setting up our pantry, and other similar tasks…it would make a big impact on our level of preparedness for pantry day.”

Let’s do it!

RSVP if you have a fairly high degree of certainty you can be there to lend a hand for a very worthy cause. It’ll be a great opportunity to hang out with fellow assemblers and other volunteers, and most of all, to HELP OFTEN.


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The Death of the Thaumaturge

Based on The Atlantean Trilogy fantasy RPG system.

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this short story are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

The days were growing dimmer. Or so it seemed to Glennor. Perhaps his eyesight really was failing. That’s what Son told him.

Dear Son. The first and most faithful of his homunculi servants. That was a good 40 years ago, and Son looked as young now as he did then. What a joy it had been to see him climb out of the vat, whole and with no visible defects. The wings of a Zephyr and the fine features of an elf, the amalgam of two of the interlopers the neighboring village had sent his way that year.

There had been ten total, in two groups. Of all the attempts they afforded, only Son had emerged as intended. Ooze was born that year as well…and quickly consigned to the dungeon. There it had lived out only a decade or two, surviving on rodents and scraps. Glennor didn’t like to remember. Nor did he enjoy recalling the shrieking horror of the maiden he crafted that year as well. Somehow she understood her soulless, unnatural condition and within an hour of her ‘birth’ had fallen into raging madness. She was supposed to be Daughter, a wife to Son. That would only come a few years later.

The village provided sufficient fodder for his experiments, though diversity was sometimes lacking. One season only humans found their way to his castle, nestled atop a cliff in the midst of Briarwall Forest. They didn’t go to waste, of course. A few man-beasts still lurked about just beyond the castle walls, slaying and bringing to him the carcasses of those not tricky enough to circumvent them. Wife was also conceived out of that batch. Her donor had been male, but she was every bit the woman he needed. A pity that she turned out to be infertile, though of course with his blood coursing through the veins of all his homunculi creations he had all the ‘children’ he needed.

Nothing was as thrilling as melding together two or more species. Then again, no. Perhaps one thing was better than them all: The birth of Grandson.

Grandson. The child of Son and Daughter (the third attempt was a success, though she had an extra set of arms). Somehow Glennor had managed to make two fertile Elf/Human hybrids. This was no mean feat, especially given the relative scarcity of Zephyrs in the Northlands. In 40 years time he only saw 8, and that many was quite remarkable. Daughter had several failed pregnancies before Grandson came along. Sometimes an egg was produced (as is the way with the Zephyr) but it was sterile. Other times a stillborn baby would come forth from her. It was as though her body didn’t quite know what to do.

Then there was Grandson. Born live and suckeled at his mother’s teat, he grew strong and showed a vigor and creativity that were lacking among his artificial kinfolk. A spirited and curious child, he had shadowed Glennor, who he called Grandfather, from a young age. Those were bright times, when the child would fold his wings beneath a tunic and spend hours assisting Glennor in the lab. He was not as reliable as his father, but he was far more intelligent. He learned quickly, and by the time his long childhood was slipping into adolescence, he had mastered the fundamentals of alchemy and was showing an aptitude for magic. Glennor thought Grandson could become his apprentice.

Then the spirited curiosity gave way to rebellion.

Somehow, Grandson came to resent his life. He apparently had come to these ideas during solitary days alone in the library, poring over ancient texts. Glennor had thought nothing of it at the time, preferring the child busy himself during the short days and frigid nights of the fierce winters. Glennor was somewhat glad at the time to not have him underfoot as he worked with the remains of a band of Nethermen who’d been foolhardy enough to attempt to shelter within the walls of his palace home.

They had put up a terrific fight, and he lost a few of his man-beasts in the struggle. His summoned horrors, creatures he had made that dwelled beneath the castle, in its moat and in the surrounding woodlands overwhelmed them, though. Sadly, some of the Nether-kind were so torn to pieces that he could do nothing with them. In all, he recovered 25 from that tribe and with them was able to create 12 viable man-beasts.

Through it all, Grandson remained holed up in the library, nearly forgotten. When he emerged back into Glennor’s awareness, around about springtime, he was furious. He questioned the ‘ethics’ of what Glennor had done. Called him a ‘monster worse than any creeping about the woods.

This stung.

“How can you say that, dear Grandson? I’ve only ever given you a good life. Indeed, were it not for me, you would not exist at all!”

“I should not exist, you old fool! How…how could you have done this? It goes against the will of the gods!”

It was then that Glennor realized that Grandson’s reading had corrupted him. ‘Ethics’ was surely the domain of philosophy, and talk of ‘gods’ could only come of religion.

“Grandson, think of all the benefits we’ve obtained from our way of living. We have trees that bear fruit that is richer, sweeter, and more nutritious than those from which they were combined. Our field workers bring in full harvest every year from our hardy wheat. And though our livestock is largely unenhanced, the servants that keep the herds and flocks are capable and dependable.”

“Those ‘servants’ are the monstrous result of your madness! You created them from mixing humans, elves and even dwarves with lower creatures like sheepdogs. Had you stopped with the fruit and crops you could have been forgiven, but when you dabbled in the blood of the children of the gods, you went too far.’


“Do not call me that! I don’t accept this name any more as I am nothing of yours. I deserve a real name, a name of my choosing.” His voice cracked and his chest heaved with emotion.

“Very well then,” Glennor attempted a soothing tone, “what shall I call you?”

Uncertainty passed like a cloud on Grandson’s face.

“I…I don’t know.”

They stood there in the middle of the hall, just outside the lab, looking at each other for what felt like years. Finally, Grandson spoke again, his voice low and dull.

“I have to leave here. Go out on my own. Find out who I can be in this world and try…somehow try, to atone for my existence before the gods.”

“That’s crazy Gran…I mean…don’t do it! There’s nothing for you out there, and nowhere you will fit in.”

“If so, then so be it, but I must go!”

That was not the last Glennor saw of the one he had called Grandson. The young man, who though decades old, was physically only just entering adolescence, stayed that last night in the castle. The next morning Glennor watched him go from his bedroom window in the keep. He was at least dressed sensibly, with wings folded close to his body beneath a tunic and cape. He carried a knapsack, though Glennor wondered how the youngling would know what to take for his long and uncertain journey.

The days were most definitely dimmer now. Light was falling not only at sunset, but seemed to fade day by day even when the sun was at its zenith. His hands and feet were constantly chilled, despite the midsummer heat. Even birdsong seemed to be only a memory, with silence settling about Glennor’s world.

In his bed, attended to by Son (Daughter had died at the hands of ‘adventurers’ only a few months before), Glennor could feel the life slipping from his body. With shortened breath, he thought fondly of his many creations. His early adventures with friends, his first golem, and then his initial experiments with plant hybrids. He didn’t want to let go! And then, with darkness closing around him, he heard voices just beyond the gates.

Not his marauders, back from a successful hunt along the distant highway. They hadn’t done that in years.

Perhaps more aggressors, looking for fame and fortune at the tip of their swords? Yes, that must be. Except, one voice….


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#WONDERMORE at SciCafe: Mending a Broken Heart

There’s so much to do in NYC, so why not get together with others to enjoy some of it? In February I’m trying out SciCafe at the American Museum of Natural History as an outing for Sunday Assembly NYC. Part of our motto is ‘Wonder More,’ and this seems like a good opportunity to make that happen. 

Details follow:

Let’s check out SciCafe! This event is free to everyone 21+ with ID.


How can doctors repair damaged cardiac tissue while the heart still beats and pumps blood? Join stem cell researcher Jeffrey Karpto understand how scientists are drawing inspiration from nature, building on the biology and chemistry of gecko feet, spider webs, porcupine quills, and more. Learn more about new biologically inspired glue that can be used to connect devices inside a beating heart and seal high-pressure large blood vessels.

Frequent Geek Cards

Get your card stamped at the information table when you attend SciCafe.

Get three stamps, receive a free drink.Get five stamps, receive a free Frequent Geek T-shirt.Get all nine stamps, and receive two tickets to a special exhibition of your choice.

The SciCafe Series is proudly sponsored by Judy and Josh Weston.

SciCafe:Mending a Broken Heart, The Secret World Inside You, and related activities are generously supported by the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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New Yorkers in 1979

This video is too much fun. As someone who’s worked in New York City for about a decade, seeing these people in 70s clothing and standing in front of buildings familiar to me is somehow haunting. Here and gone. At the same time, I love the glimpse of those times, what people thought as their world changed, and hearing their accents. It’s not easy to find people with that distinctive New York accent in Manhattan these days.

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Union Theological Seminary Adds Two New Faculty Members

NEW YORK, NY — Union Theological Seminary announced the appointment of two new members of its faculty for the 2016-2017 academic year: Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes and Dr. Lisa L. Thompson.

“We couldn’t be more excited about these two important appointments,” said Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary. “Homiletics and the liturgical life of Union have long been central to our identity and we are honored and thrilled to welcome two scholars and teachers with the excellent credentials that Dr. Carvalhaes and Dr. Thompson bring with them. Cláudio is a preeminent scholar of worship and liturgy, in addition to having a worldwide reputation as a dynamic and enlivening teacher. Dr. Thompson, though early in her scholarly career, has already established a national reputation for excellence as a preacher. Her capacious spirit and intellect will be a blessing to this community. I’m thankful to the search committee, chaired by Dr. Daisy Machado, for their hard and productive work.”

Beginning in the 2016-2017 academic year, Carvalhaes will assume the position left vacant by the retirement in June 2016 of one of his mentors, Professor Janet Walton, as an Associate Professor of Worship, and Thompson will join the faculty as an Assistant Professor of Homiletics.

“Cláudio Carvalhaes will bring energy, passion, intelligence, insights, commitments, compassion and experience to Union,” said Walton. “Together with Troy Messenger, Lisa Thompson, faculty, students and staff, something new will happen. I am grateful and excited about his appointment to the faculty.”

Carvalhaes, a native of Brazil, earned a Master of Divinity from Independent Presbyterian Theological Seminary in São Paulo, Brazil, and a Master of Philosophy degree in Theology, Philosophy, and History at the Methodist University of São Paulo. In 2007 he earned a PhD in Liturgy and Theology from Union. He currently serves as Associate Professor of Homiletics and Worship at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.  A full bio is available online at:

“We are delighted that Dr. Lisa Thompson has accepted the offer to join our Union faculty,” said Daisy L. Machado, Professor of American Church History at Union. “Dr. Thompson is a young and rising scholar in the field of Homiletics and Practical Theology. The fact that she was recently elected as the President of the African American Caucus of the Academy of Homiletics attests to her leadership and the support of her colleagues in the field. Dr. Thompson also shows a deep desire to work across religious traditions and faiths, and to integrate the arts into her teaching and preaching. The Search Committee and I all agree that Dr. Thompson is ready to take on the multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-gender-identified context of Union and will do so with great enthusiasm and energy!”

Thompson received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, earned a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Religion. She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. A full bio is available online at:

Superstition and Secularism in Brazil

Although Brazil got its colonial religious start with Roman Catholicism, in recent decades evangelicalism has seeped into every geographic corner of Brazil and niche of the nation’s society. The creativity of the Brazilian people is causing this more recent vehicle of religious fervor to take on some truly unique forms, as we see in the video above.

As I mentioned, the Roman Catholic Church held sway well into the 20th century, with Protestant churches either outlawed or limited in previous centuries. During the military dictatorship that began in the 1960s a few homegrown evangelical and Pentescostal denominations got their start, joining others that missionaries had brought in. With the end of military rule, Pentecostalism swept across the country. In the mid-1990s I kept hearing about a great ‘revival’ taking place in that country, which led to me opting to go there on a college mission trip in 1997. I fell in love with the country, and then a few years later with the woman who became my wife.

As noted in the video above, Christianity is highly adaptable. There’s little in the Bible regarding how the church is to be organized and church services are to be conducted, and what little is present is frequently overlooked or ignored. This grants evangelicalism in particular, with it’s back-to-the-Bible approach, a wide latitude in making adjustments to fit the unique culture of a time and place. It also permits adaptation to very specific subcultures, as we see with the existence of heavy metal oriented Christianity.

What the story leaves out is the size of this ‘movement.’ It seems likely that there may only be a hundred or so in Brazil who identify with this sort of Rock & Roll vision of Christianity, but that’s merely a guess. It could simply be one congregation with scattered groups interested elsewhere in the country. Without hard statistics we don’t know.

As I reflect on the ideological and religious landscape of Brazil, I wonder how groups like Sunday Assembly might eventually gain a foothold. Attempts have been made and I’m doing what I can to encourage secular communities to form there, but grassroots interest and effort are essential.

Brazil is a deeply religious country, and will remain so for as long as higher education is focused on passing tests to get into professions and until a scientifically literate culture can be instilled. Will secularism ever find its place in Brazil, or will the great mass of people there be held captive for generations to come by the superstitions that have haunted humankind since prehistoric times, and which only lately we’ve really begun to shake off?

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