On a wing and a prayer

god_is_my_co-pilot2.jpgHow awesome is Chesley B. Sullenberger, the heroic pilot who saved everyone's life in his daring landing in the Hudson? I just can't read enough about the perfect landing and the brilliant rescue operation. Of course, I'm one of those people who can't drive across a bridge without contemplating what I'd do if, say, the bridge suddenly collapsed and I ended up in the middle of the icy Potomac. Even the earliest interviews with survivors mentioned how many passengers prayed as they prepared for their water crash. This New York Times story about the heroism and comedy of the rescue operation led with that angle:

Some passengers screamed, others tucked their heads between their knees, and several prayed over and over, "Lord, forgive me for my sins." But a man named Josh who was sitting in the exit row did exactly what everyone is supposed to but few ever do: He pulled out the safety card and read the instructions on how to open the exit door.

There are a few things that are interesting with this lede. The first is the juxtaposition -- the use of the word "but" to set apart the people who screamed (something disputed by other reports) and prayed from the person who did what he was supposed to do. I have no idea if the two writers of the story intended to oppose people who pray from people who do what they are supposed to do, but it's somewhat humorous to read. I mean, I think praying is precisely what people are supposed to do in event of a crash landing of a plane, but I see no conflict between asking God to forgive our sins and being familiar with how to get out of a plane in an emergency.

I would quote from the rest of the story, which sums up various survivors' stories, to show you how the religious angle in the lede was fleshed out except that it was in no way explored outside of the beginning of the story.

I noticed this a bit with other stories, too. Every time I read a lede with a religion angle, it would just vanish into thin air.

Religious beliefs tend to become more important when people are faced with life and death situations. While there are many interesting angles to write about, religion has to be one of them.

This story in the Fayetteville Observer didn't begin with religion. Instead, it ended with it. The reporter interviewed the parents of one survivor via e-mail and included their religious views at the end of the story:

But the Grays, who are active in outreach ministries at Village Baptist Church, believe that Sullenberger was co-piloting the plane when it hit the water.

"As thankful as we are for the ... pilot's skills to be able to land a plane in the water with no casualties, we know who the real pilot was during that time," Mary Gray wrote.

"We give God the glory, praise and thanks for looking after our boy, his sweet fiancee and all the others on that flight."

And on the other hand, Patton Dodd over at Beliefnet says journalists should tread a bit more carefully with the miracle language.

Do let us know if you see any particularly good or bad efforts with religion angles.

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