NBA MVP Kevin Durant thanks God, but media fail to notice

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I am not a big NBA fan, although I did attend Monday night’s Oklahoma City Thunder playoff game, thanks to my 16-year-old son Keaton, who bought me a ticket.

I am becoming a big Kevin Durant fan.

It’s hard to witness Durant’s rare combination of extreme talent and uncommon humility and not be impressed. The latest example came Tuesday when a teary-eyed Durant won his first NBA Most Valuable Player Award and — in a speech for the sports ages — deflected the attention from himself.

Some of the Twitter reactions from my friends:

My own reaction:

And yes, one friend made a specific request for this GetReligion critique:

My friend obviously noticed that Durant began — and ended — his speech by thanking God:

First off, I’d like to thank God for changing my life. (He) let me realize really what life is all about. Basketball is just a platform in order for me to inspire people, and I realize that.

At the end:

I’d just like to thank God again. You’re the first and the last. Alpha and Omega. I thank you for saving my life.

In between, Durant made a third reference to God when talking about Tony Weaver, the Thunder’s vice president and assistant general manager:

God directed our paths to work together, and it’s been everything and more.

Also in the speech:

Dad, it’s been an up-and-down road for all of us, but you’ve always been there supporting from afar, texting me Bible verses every single day. Telling me you love me every single day. That builds me up, and I thank you so much.

So God made Durant’s speech, but did God make the media reports on the speech? Not so much.

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Wind of change comes sweeping down the plain

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My home state of Oklahoma made big news Tuesday when a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The New York Times noted that the ruling occurred in the “heart of the Bible Belt,” while The Associated Press characterized Oklahoma as “the buckle of the Bible Belt.” (Religion angle, anyone?)

For the Tulsa World — whose banner headline today proclaimed “Gay marriage wins” — the ruling hit especially close to home, and not just because a Tulsa-based judge made the ruling. Two of the four plaintiffs are World editors, a connection that — to its credit — the Tulsa newspaper made clear in its story.

A friend of mine who works for the World remarked on his Facebook page that “it’s not often you walk into the newsroom and watch news happen in front of your face. Like national news kind of stuff.”

From The New York Times story:

“We’re jubilant, we’re over the moon,” said one of the plaintiffs, Sharon Baldwin, 45, who has lived with her partner and co-plaintiff, Mary Bishop, 52, for 17 years.

The two both work as editors at The Tulsa World newspaper and had just arrived at work on Tuesday afternoon when the city editor told them of the decision.

“We’re taking the day off,” Ms. Baldwin said.

In the major outlets, the first-day news coverage focused on the national ramifications of the decision, and rightly so. CNN described the ruling as “yet another victory for same-sex marriage supporters.” The Washington Post termed it “the latest in a string of recent court decisions that have challenged such prohibitions.”

But a few news organizations — including the AP — delved into the meat of U.S. District Judge Terence Kern’s 68-page ruling:

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‘Dozens of pastors’ not quoted in front-page story

Readers of The Oklahoman, my hometown newspaper and one-time employer, awoke today to a banner, front-page story on controversy over a play opening in Oklahoma City this week.

Yes, there’s a potentially strong religion angle (once you get past the junior-highish lede):

Jane, a scarf around her shoulders, works out a dance scene.

Mabel enters the room from backstage, a plastic container filled with snickerdoodles in hand. The cookies are a hit with cast and crew.

So begins a rehearsal for the play dozens of pastors have labeled
“gross pornography” and a Christmas-season affront to Christian values.

“The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told” opens Thursday at CitySpace, a small, spare theater in the basement of the Civic Center Music Hall.

Dozens of pastors, huh?

As a reader, I’m immediately curious: Who are these pastors? I’d love to see some names. And, of course, I’d love to see some quotes.

But as I kept reading (the main story as well as the “Fact-checking pastors’ claims” sidebar that appeared with the jump), guess how many pastors The Oklahoman actually named?

Exactly one pastor, if you count this reference:

State Rep. Dan Fisher, a Republican who is a pastor in Yukon, first said Christian leaders would pressure city leaders to block the production.

For those unfamiliar with the play, here’s how the writer summarizes it:

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Oklahoma tornado doctor: a bundle of vague faith

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The Oklahoman, my hometown newspaper and former employer, is rising to the occasion in its coverage of this week’s Moore, Okla.,tornado.

That’s no surprise for a newspaper that has gained way too much experience covering major tragedies — including the Oklahoma City bombing and the May 3, 1999, tornadoes.

Nonetheless, I’m going to provide a little constructive criticism of one tornado-related story that caught my attention in today’s Oklahoman.

The story concerns an emergency room doctor:

MOORE — Dr. Stephanie Barnhart began the scariest day of her life with her usual routine — listening to Christian music on the car radio, thinking about the 12-hour workday ahead and offering a silent prayer for strength to handle whatever she might encounter.

Christian music. Silent prayer. Anybody see the potential for a strong religion angle?

Keep reading, and the writer provides a compelling narrative of the events leading up to Barnhart finding herself — and the medical center where she works — in the path of the storm.

Eventually, there’s this:

The tornado was now just seconds away. It packed 200 mph winds and was destroying whole neighborhoods as it churned across the landscape. Barnhart glanced at the TV screen in time to see the tornado was near 149th Street and May Avenue when the hospital’s lights flickered and then went out, plunging the room into darkness.

Barnhart prayed.

“Please, Jesus,” she said.

The roar grew louder. Their ears began to pop from the air pressure change. They felt the ground shake and their bodies tremble. …

Barnhart said she was terrified, but also at peace that everything would be OK. She never feared for her life.

Jesus. Peace. Again, I ask: Is there a religion angle here?

Finally, there’s this nugget of religion:

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The faith and resiliency of Oklahomans

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Just before noon Monday, my two younger children and I drove along Interstate 35 through Moore, Okla., under a bright sky. It’s impossible to comprehend the grisly scene along that same path now.

Ironically, I had spent the weekend in Texas reporting on tornado relief efforts in the Lone Star State. That meant we missed the first round of tornadoes in my home state of Oklahoma on Sunday. But with more severe storms predicted the next afternoon, we left my parents’ house near Fort Worth first thing Monday morning, hoping to make it home to Oklahoma City — about 200 miles north — before the next batch of bad weather.

We missed the disaster south of Oklahoma City by three hours and 20 miles.

I work on the north side of the city. About the same time as the twister ravaged suburban Moore, tornado sirens sounded outside my office window. Hail and rain soaked my shirt as I rushed to take cover in a nearby auditorium. But this part of the city escaped with no major problems. Our fellow Oklahomans were not so fortunate.

As television images revealed the severity of the destruction — and loss of human life — a journalist friend let me know a major national news organization was looking for freelancers.

“You game?” my friend asked in an e-mail.

“I don’t have it in me,” I wrote back. “Sorry.”

“Me neither,” my friend replied.

The gigantic headline on today’s front page of The Oklahoman newspaper screamed:


For Oklahomans, May 3 — as in May 3, 1999 — needs no explanation.

Forty-four people, including three children, died and hundreds more were injured as dozens of tornadoes swept across the state that tragic day 14 years ago. That night, I ignored a tornado warning and raced to a south Oklahoma City hospital to interview victims. I was younger and stupider and had more journalistic adrenaline back then.

I also covered the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, which claimed 168 lives.

But after Oklahoma’s latest tragedy, I have no desire to grab my reporter’s notepad and start interviewing victims.

I’m just numb.

In recent years, I’ve reported from the scenes of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin, Mo., tornado and, most recently, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas.

But as a friend from New Orleans noted in a Facebook message to me, “It is so close to your home. It makes it different than going ‘out there’ listening to others’ stories. When it is in your own backyard, it changes the face of it — so much. I know you have been through it before, but it never gets easier.”

If anything, it gets harder.

The only thing that makes it easier is that the nation — once again — is about to see what makes Oklahoma and its people so special.

My Twitter feed has been a blur of links to news stories and images telling the mostly heartbreaking — but occasionally inspirational — story of the Moore tornado.

Expect the faith and resiliency of Oklahomans to figure heavily in the coverage of this disaster.

From a Reuters story:

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