A dog who prays, no really

My husband is a cat person, which means that he grumbles whenever the dogs in our neighborhood howl over every siren or bark at every squirrel. So when we watched the video of a dog who says grace, I expected him to barf or maybe roll his eyes. Nope, the video generated a good chuckle before we read the rest of the story on CNN.

We could all whine about how a story about a dog praying doesn’t deserve 1,300 words, how the piece could have been organized better, maybe it could have included fewer cliches, but let’s look at the story’s good parts for a minute. Instead of just posting a video to generate clicks, CNN actually found a touching story behind Steven Boyd and his prayerful dog.

What began as a post on Boyd’s Facebook page was passed on and shared. It’s popped up all over YouTube, appeared on numerous other sites, and it even got play on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

But the story behind Djaingo the praying dog is deeper than it is cute.

Boyd found his way to the dog just when they needed each other most.

The man was sick – had been for more than a year and a half – when he strolled into an animal shelter looking for a temporary escape. It was September 10, 2003, the day before the second anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the memories of that day weighed heavily on him.

For 12 years, Boyd says, he served in the U.S. Army. He says he was, among other things, a sniper, a paratrooper and, subsequently, a counter narcotics operator. He’d been fearless professionally and personally. He’d jumped out of planes, rappelled down cliffs and mountain biked his way across dangerous terrains.

Now, though, he was losing everything. The hospitalizations kept happening. His career was shot. The relationship with the woman he thought he’d marry had ended. The medical questions loomed large. He was dying.

Yes, Boyd found the dog, but it wasn’t pure bliss after that.

After several days of vomiting four years ago, he thought he’d end it all. He’d had a friend who years ago had committed suicide by drinking Clorox, and from the bathtub’s floor, where he was curled up, Boyd eyed the nearby bleach bottle. With the cap off, he prepared to drink.

“I heard it as distinctive as I hear your voice right now,” Boyd, his own voice shaking, says by phone to CNN. “I heard, ‘Don’t do this.’ It was my father God, and I broke down. I get teary-eyed now talking about it.”

He’d grown up in a Christian home, “a proverbial ‘Leave It to Beaver’ family,” he says. His dad had been the deacon of their church. His mother is a Sunday school and Bible study teacher. And though Boyd always considered himself Christian, up until that moment he realized he’d been living the Christian life, as an adult, on his own terms.

I don’t want to be Debbie Downer, but maybe I’d like to know what kind of church that CNN says he’s “involved in” and attends Bible studies. Back to the dog, he created the video as a Christmas gift to his mother.

The response has overwhelmed Boyd. He’s received more than 5,000 messages from around the globe – including Australia, Russia, Thailand. The friend requests on Facebook have poured in by the hundreds. Djaingo, now with his own Facebook page, is racking up new friends, too.

Boyd has gotten marriage proposals. A grandmother who is going through chemotherapy and lives alone says she watches the video every morning to help her face a new day. A mother whose son has lost faith is hoping that by teaching the dog to pray, her son will feel the connection again, too. Pastors are using the video in sermons.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve enjoyed this story. Yes, there are much more important news stories happening in the world. But it works for me on a Friday where people are unwinding from the week.

Besides, let’s consider the story’s fluffy competition. Last I checked, the other headlines at cnn.com were: “Tattooed man squirts ink into his eyeballs,” “HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY” and “Cheerleader out after Facebook pic.”

So if you’re going to do a heart-warming story for the weekend, might as well include a dog, military wounds and prayer. Animals, health, and religion create a pretty good combination.

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Rockin’ with the Aqua Buddha

As you would imagine, the whole Rand Paul affair is a pretty big deal at the Louisville Courier-Journal. In fact, the newspaper’s lengthy profile of the candidate — paralleling a Jack Conway profile of similar length — began like this:

As a leader of the Young Conservatives of Texas in the early 1980s, Rand Paul railed against the Equal Rights Amendment and the notion of equal pay for equal work.

“Since when have any two people been equal?” he asked in a letter to the editor of Baylor University’s campus newspaper.

At the same time, Paul cavorted with a Baylor secret society known as the NoZe Brotherhood, which had been kicked off campus a few years earlier for conduct the school’s president called “lewd, crude and grossly sacrilegious.”

“We aspired to blasphemy,” said John Green, one of two alumni who confirmed Paul’s membership, “and he flourished in it.”

A few sentences later, the profile quotes the satirist Stephen Colbert on another issue linked to Paul. The profile, however, does not attempt to quote Colbert in a literal fashion — since Colbert is, duh, a satirist. When you are dealing with someone who specializes in satire, you have to take what they are saying with an ton of salt. In satire, up is down and black is often white.

Raise your hands, GetReligion readers, if you grasp the fact that Colbert is not actually a clone of Bill “Where’s my spin zone?” O’Reilly? You know that he is saying the opposite of what he means (most of the time)?

The Noze Brotherhood was and is a satirical society.

That is what the NoZe crew does. While I was at Baylor, the NoZe mocked Dan Rather, Richard Nixon, Bob Woodward, Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski (a powerful Baylor graduate, by the way) and anyone else who came within mocking range. And, of course, the NoZe mocked Southern Baptists and Baptist life in general, as I stressed in a post the other day.

Oh, and it is true that the NoZe had been kicked off campus back in the mid-to-late 1970s. Then they came back. Then they were kicked off again. Then they came back. Do you get the picture? The NoZe is in the Baylor archives. They have been on and off campus since World War I, or thereabouts.

From time to time, NoZe guys do brilliant work. One Noze friend of mine went on to become a speechwriter for the president of the United States. No, I won’t say which president, since the NoZe is a — say it together — a SECRET SOCIETY.

But most of the NoZe drippings fell way short of brilliance and often veered into rude stupidity. Welcome to college life.

It’s satire. As the old saying goes: Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

So why are we reading stuff like this in the Washington Post (this is a Chris Cillizza blog post, not the missing version that ran in the print edition) about that campaign advertisement?

“Why was Rand Paul a member of a secret society that called the Holy Bible a ‘hoax’,” asks the ad’s narrator. “Why did Rand Paul once tie a woman up, tell her to bow down before a false idol and say his god was ‘Aqua Buddha’.”

The ad’s charges both can be traced back to Paul’s collegiate years. In the “Aqua Buddha” incident — and, no, we never thought we would write those words (at least not together) in this blog — Paul vehemently denied being involved in any kidnapping, saying only that he went along with a college prank. (The woman involved told Greg Sargent, who writes the “Plum Line” blog, that the “whole thing has been blown out of proportion.”)

The “anti-Christian” charge comes from Paul’s membership in a secret society while at Baylor University that published mocking statements regarding the Bible in newsletters.

“This is an ad about things he did,” said Conway campaign manager John Collins of the allegations in the ad. “He has failed to deny any of these charges.”

It would really help if someone talked to someone at Baylor who understands what the NoZe guys are all about. Call the Texas Collection. Call the library’s reference desk. Do some basic journalism.

Meanwhile, at the New York Times we read:

The Conway ad that helped spark the debate dustup focuses on reports that, during Mr. Paul’s time at Baylor University, he and a friend tied up a woman and told her to worship a god they called “Aqua Buddha” and that he was part of a group in college that ridiculed Christianity. (Mr. Paul has dismissed the reports.)

That’s that. No NoZe information. (Cue: stifled scream)

Somebody, please, get a freakin’ clue.

Wait! I see that hand! Thank you, Andrew Sullivan.

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Only the NoZe knows, you know?

All together now, let’s say the words of wisdom that I learned as a Baylor University undergraduate: No non-NoZe knows the no-nonsense, non-NoZe news that the NoZe knows.

Let me stress that I was not a member of the NoZe Brotherhood during my years at Jerusalem on the Brazos. I definitely was not cool enough and there was a good chance that my GPA was not high enough (my stab at taking Hebrew was a disaster) — or both.

But I had friends in the slightly secret society that was the NoZe and some of them were even capable of clever, non-profane humor on occasion. However, when you are a satirical society at the world’s largest Baptist university, you simply have to make fun of the sacred cows that are grazing everywhere on campus. And when young, loud and often crude college males start making fun of religion the results can get ugly.

So what happens when a NoZe brother ends up, as an adult, becoming a political gadfly who needs the votes of millions of people in church pews? Obviously, ink will be spilled after tips from those on the other side of the political asile. The Politico headline proclaimed: “Paul’s college group mocked Christians.” Here’s the top of the story:

Rand Paul’s Kentucky Senate campaign drew a round of startled media attention this summer, after GQ reported that he’d played hair-raising pranks as an undergraduate at Baylor University in the early 1980s.

Issues of the newsletter published by Paul’s secret society, the NoZe Brotherhood, during his time at Baylor reveal a more specific political problem for the Kentucky Republican: The group’s work often had a specifically anti-Christian tone, as it made fun of the Baptist college’s faith-based orientation.

Paul, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, beat back charges in the Republican primary that his libertarian views put him outside the GOP mainstream. A practicing Christian, he has backed away from some of his father’s more radical views on cutting government programs and withdrawing the American military from conflicts abroad. But Paul’s Democratic rival, Jack Conway, has sought repeatedly to cast Paul as out of sync with “Kentucky values,” and the NoZe newsletter may provide more fodder.

The NoZe Brotherhood, as the group was called, was formally banned by Baylor two years before Paul arrived on the grounds of “sacrilege,” the university president said at the time. “They had ‘made fun of not only the Baptist religion, but Christianity and Christ,’ ” President Herbert Reynolds told the student newspaper, The Lariat.

I know from personal experience that the late President Reynolds had a very thin skin, but that quote is simply a riot. By the way, who is Reynolds quoting in this quote inside of a quote?

What about many of the charges leveled in this article? Please understand what Baylor alumni understand. It’s hard to take seriously anything that a NoZe says when discussing the affairs of the NoZe. But the whole point of the society was to make fun of Baylor and, especially, the top administrators. Obviously, that meant making fun of Baptist culture.

Some NoZe scribes were better at this than others. Were many of these satirical scribbles crass? You betcha.

However, Baylor knows the NoZe. Check out this detail in this laugher of a story.

The newsletters were retrieved from the Baylor University Library by Democrats opposing Paul. In response to the initial GQ report, he dismissed “National Enquirer-type stories about [Paul's] teenage years,” while Paul denied the most extreme allegation: That he’d “kidnapped” a fellow classmate, attempted to make her smoke marijuana, and then forced her to “worship” a god called the “Aqua Buddha.” The undisclosed fellow student also later told a reporter that she’d gone along with the prank.

The NoZe Brotherhood was founded in 1926, according to an account in Baylor’s magazine, a social club for smart, irreverent young men at the Baptist school whose irreverence may naturally have targeted the religious university authorities.

As for the newsletter, “In the 1970s, its format and content changed, carrying more topical and controversial, stories,” according to another Baylor Magazine account, to which a university spokeswoman referred POLITICO. That official history avoids detailing the group’s irreligious tendencies, but they were front and center in Paul’s time, and the newsletters offer the context for the strange, high-profile campaign flap. At a Christian school, the group focused explicitly and repeatedly on religious targets; the Aqua Buddha was just one jab in that direction.

Yes, they store The Rope in the Baylor library.

That does not surprise me. I am surprised that I was at Baylor from 1972-78 (including graduate school) and I do not remember the Aqua Buddha. That sounds like rather mild NoZe material, to me.

Oh well, what a flashback. I hope Paul’s enemy’s political opponents realize what a joke this is.

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Mother Teresa, pray for the copy desk

Hey working journalists! What we have here is a laugh-to-keep-from-crying correction classic.

First, a bit of context. Back when I was one of the senior reporters at the Rocky Mountain News (RIP), all of the beat reporters had to take turns doing general assignment work on the weekends. One of the Saturday stories that happened year after year, of course, was the regional finals for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee.

One year, I drew that assignment (which was actually a lot of fun, including a nice religion angle). Before I went out to cover the event, a veteran editor pulled me aside and gave me a great and timely warning. DO NOT DARE, she said, misspell a word in a story about the spelling bee. If you do, your telephone will melt down. You will hear about that mistake for the rest of your life. I avoided that trap.

So, does anyone remember that post the other day (it’s still getting comments) about the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, from the folks at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life?

It goes without saying that the New York Times joined legions of other newspapers in covering the story, including the following paragraph:

Among the topics covered in the survey were: Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Theresa? In most cases, the format was multiple choice.

Well, over at The Atlantic, Erik Hayden noticed that the online version of this story has been revised to include this addition at the end:

Correction: September 29, 2010

An article on Tuesday about a poll in which Americans fared poorly in answering questions about religion misspelled the name of a beatified Roman Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Prize winner. She was Mother Teresa, not Theresa.

As Hayden noted, in a very low-key way:

Unfortunately for the Times editors, the article misspelled the renowned Catholic nun Mother Teresa’s name as Mother “Theresa.” That the error ironically occurred on an article touting religious literacy will no doubt leave some of the Time‘s detractors gleefully passing along the correction. …

Consider it done, even though your GetReligionistas do not enjoy knocking the Times, in part because the newspaper has such an excellent history of printing corrections (attention Washington Post editors).

However, let me take this opportunity to issue a challenge. I am still reading reports on this latest wave of Pew data and I hope others out in GetReligion-reader-land are doing the same. If you find other interesting corrections in stories about the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey, by all means share them.

Now, let’s see. Are their any of the usual horrible tmatt typos in this post?

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Achtung! Bad journalism ahead!

Anyone who is part of the GetReligion community likely has a few pet peeves about media coverage. We joke about the need for a GetScience, GetMath and GetStatistics to complement GetReligion.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing more painful than watching some math-challenged beat reporters try to write stories about budgets, for instance. Now, most of the reporters we are privileged to cover do very good work under unbelievably trying circumstances.

And yet something tells me that readers here might enjoy these warning labels developed by geek comedian Tom Scott. He might be better known as the British head of International Talk Like a Pirate Day:

It seems a bit strange to me that the media carefully warn about and label any content that involves sex, violence or strong language — but there’s no similar labelling system for, say, sloppy journalism and other questionable content.

I figured it was time to fix that, so I made some stickers. I’ve been putting them on copies of the free papers that I find on the London Underground. You might want to as well.

Some of my favorites include “Warning: To ensure future interviews with subject, important questions were not asked,” “Warning: Journalist hiding their own opinions by using phrases like ‘some people claim’,” and “Warning: Statistics, survey results and/or equations in this article were sponsored by a PR company.”

OK, you know what to do — give us your best ideas for additional warning labels. Winner gets nothing save bragging rights — but have fun anyway!

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‘The Painter of Pancakes’ transformation

I’m a big fan of brinner: breakfast for dinner. When I found out about this addictive website called Jim’s panckes, I lost a good 15 minutes of productivity. Let’s just say pancakes could be categorized under “a few of my favorite things.”

So I was excited to read more about Dan Lacey, “The Painter of Pancakes,” even though I might not display his art in our family room. Lacey is well-known for creating portraits politicians with pancakes, including ones of the Obama naked on a unicorn.

Jon Tevlin of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune profiled Lacey in one of his recent columns, focusing on Lacey’s battle with Orly Taitz, a woman who is attempting to prove that President Obama was not born in the United States.

There’s one section, though, that made me pause because of its lack of clarity.

Before his pancake paintings gave him notoriety, Lacey was a conservative evangelical Christian who drew an online cartoon called “Faithmouse,” which promoted conservative ideas that often angered liberals.

Not anymore. “I quit,” said Lacey of his political leanings. “I sent in my notice and no longer belong to the Christian right.”

I have all sorts of questions about this. Did Lacey leave his faith, and/or did he stop being a conservative? Did his “Faithmouse” cartoon have anything to do with faith?

I looked around Lacey’s website a little bit and found some more details.

Faithmouse is the name of a Christian cartoon I began drawing about a decade ago. A few years ago I had something of a mental and spiritual breakdown, decided to make the cartoon Catholic, and then I decided to paint instead. I still draw the cartoon a little. My paintings sometimes horrify my family.

So is Lacey Catholic now? He links to a quote in about some of his old cartoons.

I like his Faithmouse comics a lot, especially after Dan started to expand beyond his original conservative mission and explored themes like the sexual fantasies of gay Catholic clergy, Faithmouse’s naughty sister, etc. Dan doesn’t do much Faithmouse now; his pop culture paintings (pancakes, naked Obama, etc.) are so popular, I guess he doesn’t have much time for the comic.

So what contributed to his mental and spiritual breakdown; is he religious now? What’s with the (seemingly respectful) portraits of Billy Graham and Mother Theresa? Does his religious affiliations still motivate him at all, even if he’s left the “religious right”? I know this is a column, but I would expect something reported to give a little bit more explanation if Tevlin feels its relevant to the story. Otherwise, it’s more confusing than revealing.

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Please, God, help us with ‘this awful oil spill’

At first glance, it sure seems like The New York Times’ make-fun-of-prayer squad is at it again.

Earlier this month, GetReligion went behind the scenes of a Times story on unidentified faith groups seeking “divine wisdom” (scare quotes courtesy of the “Old Gray Lady”) to close a California state budget gap of biblical proportions.

Now comes a Times story from the Gulf Coast that opens like this:

BON SECOUR, Ala. — In a small white building along the baptizing Bon Secour River, a building that once housed a shrimp-net business, the congregation of the Fishermen Baptist Church gathered for another Sunday service, with the preacher presiding from a pulpit designed to look like a ship captain’s wheel.

After the singing of the opening hymn, “Ring the Bells of Heaven,” and the announcement that an engaged couple was now registered at Wal-Mart, the preacher read aloud a proclamation from Gov. Bob Riley that declared this to be a “day of prayer” — a day of entreaties to address the ominous threat to the way of life just outside the church’s white doors.

Whereas, and whereas, and whereas, the proclamation read. People of Alabama, please pray for your fellow citizens, for other states hurt by this disaster, for all those who are responding. And pray “that a solution that stops the oil leak is completed soon.”

In other words, dear God, thank you for your blessings and guidance. And one other thing, dear God:


That snarky enough for you?

You’ve got the baptizing river (seriously, what does that mean?). You’ve got the obligatory Wal-Mart reference (I’m guessing there’s not a Macy’s or even a Target in that small town). You’ve got the scare quotes around the “day of prayer.” The only thing missing is Forrest Gump’s mama saying, “You have to do the best with what God gave you.”

Get past the condescending approach, though, and this story actually is a hundred times better than the California piece.

Yes, it manages to include the word “mortals,” just like the story from the West Coast. Yawn. But this time, when the Times refers to divine intervention, there are no scare quotes. Let’s chalk that up as progress.

Even better, there’s some actual religion meat in here — specific details on the wording used by each of five states’ governors who declared days of prayer Sunday:

In the two months since the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion began a ceaseless leak of oil into the gulf, damaging the ecosystem and disrupting the economy, the efforts by mortals to stem the flow have failed. Robots and golf balls and even the massive capping dome all seem small in retrospect.

So, then, a supplementary method was attempted: coordinated prayer.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry encouraged Texans to ask God “for his merciful intervention and healing in this time of crisis.” In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour declared that prayer “allows us an opportunity to reflect and to seek guidance, strength, comfort and inspiration from Almighty God.” In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal invoked the word “whereas” a dozen times — as well as the state bird, the brown pelican — but made no direct mention of God. In Florida, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp asked people to pray that God “would guide and direct our civil leaders and provide them with wisdom and divinely inspired solutions.”

I could get all nitpicky and complain that the story never tells me whether the Fishermen Baptist Church has any ties to the Southern Baptist Convention or another denomination. I could complain that the piece uses the term “Bible Baptist” and doesn’t explain what that means. But I won’t. Unless, of course, I just did.

The story ends this way:

A missionary about to leave for Brazil was waiting to make a multimedia presentation, but first these kneeling men, led by Brother Harry — Harry Mund, a relative of the pastor’s — needed to finish their prayer.

Please God, help us with “this awful oil spill,” he said. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The men rose from their knees and returned to their pews, a couple of them rubbing the salty wet from their eyes.

So there you go. A prayer story from the Times that’s not half bad. I think I’ll rub the salty wet from my eyes, too.

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Praying in California (giggle, giggle)

A telephone rings in The New York Times’ Big Apple newsroom. It’s a Los Angeles correspondent calling with a righteously humorous scoop on the California state budget crisis.

Correspondent: “Hey, I got a good one on the budget thing.”

Editor: “OK, shoot.”

Correspondent: “Some people with connections are stepping in to solve the crisis.”

Editor: “Really, who?”

Correspondent: “Some faith groups. They’re going to pray and ask God to intervene.”

(Insert hysterical laughter by the editor and correspondent.)

Editor (regaining his composure): “You’re kidding. Are they serious?”

Correspondent: “I don’t know. Maybe.”

(More laughter.)

Editor: “OK, could be a worth a bright. Have some fun with it. Give it 350 words or so, OK? And let me know if you come across any real news.”


The next morning, this “news story” (trying to conform with Times style on scare quotes) appears on Page A15 of the New York edition. Here’s the top of the piece (please prepare to guffaw):

Big budget gap? Call in the big guy

LOS ANGELES — And on the first day without a state budget, the men and women of God gathered in prayer at the Capitol to beg that he guide the mortals in closing a gap of biblical proportions.

A day after California lawmakers missed the June 15 deadline to have a budget in place, leaders representing 10 faiths sought “divine wisdom” on Wednesday, offered prayers and demanded that God occupy a seat at the budget negotiating table, joining the so-called Big 5: the governor and the four ranking Senate and Assembly leaders.

“We are calling for a Big 6,” said Sara Nichols of the Center for Spiritual Awareness, a former lobbyist and minister-in-training with the nondenominational religious community that organized the event. “We wanted to bless them and say, ‘They can do it.’ “

Not only was GetReligion privy to the above phone conversation (it’s a rush transcript, by the way), we obtained a confidential copy of the editor’s notes to the reporter on the final version of the piece.

Here’s what the editor had to say about those three paragraphs above:

Great lede. The Genesis reference is a nice touch, and the “gap of biblical proportions” phrasing is snappy.

But what I liked best: The description of those praying as “men and women of God” and “mortals” made it real clear that we’re not taking this craziness too seriously, or seriously at all, I mean.

To that end, I added the quote marks on “divine wisdom” in the second graf just so there was no misunderstanding.

On the reference to “leaders representing 10 faiths,” I thought about asking you to be more specific. I had no idea whether you meant different Christian faiths, or whether there were Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, et al, involved in this. You mention the Center for Spiritual Awareness, but again, I’m clueless on what that is — is it a Christian group; is it a multi-faith group; is it some New Wave religious movement?

But I digress. Such details would probably matter in a political or business story, or even a sports story, but since we’re dealing with religion, no need to worry about it. LOL.

Later in the story, there’s this:

This year, the fiscal misery befits Job: a $19 billion deficit, legislative gridlock that has defied even a governor with an action-hero past, that same governor mightily resisting the lame-duck mantle, and an election year that makes compromise — increasingly a four-letter word — harder still. All this while the state comptroller warns that it gets harder to pay bills the more the state pushes past the July 1 start of the fiscal year, just two weeks away.

Mere “human creations,” Ms. Nichols scoffed. “They don’t have to tie us down. There is room for creativity and divine intervention. What is inspiration? It draws on the other power we have.”

More from the editor:

Really enjoyed the Job reference. Shows that even though we don’t take this praying stuff seriously, we are intellectual enough to throw in a Bible reference when it adds to the cheekiness factor.

By the way, still would love to know whether these folks are serious about thinking prayer could solve a budget crisis. That’s insane. I understand why you didn’t get into that in the story, but when you’re in New York sometime, let’s have a beer and chat about the “real scoop.”

(In case it’s not abundantly clear, the above is a fictional attempt at humor. Please take it as seriously as the Times did its news reporting on this story.)

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