After jolting Congress with some outspoken invocations during the government shutdown, Senate chaplain Barry Black officially entered the popular culture by being portrayed in a fake news segment on Saturday Night Live last weekend.
A former Navy chaplain who grew up on the mean streets of Baltimore, Black, 64, caught the attention of The New York Times and other news outlets over the past two weeks when he opened each session of the Senate with prayers that became not-so-gentle admonitions.
“In these days that try our souls, strengthen our weakness, replacing cynicism with faith and cowardice with courage,” the chaplain intoned on Oct. 1, the first day of the shutdown.
“Have mercy upon us, O God, and save us from the madness,” he prayed two days later. “Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.”
And last Thursday, Black invoked, “Inspire them to take a step back from partisanship and to take a step forward toward patriotism, striving to strengthen and not weaken this land we love.”
It was by no means the first time that Black, the Senate chaplain since July 2003, has summoned the Almighty to assist lawmakers. In 2011, when a super committee bogged down trying to reach a compromise on the federal budget and debt, Black prayed for its members:
“Remove distracting priorities from the minds of our senators, leading them to focus on the things that really matter. Take away disturbing doubts, providing them with certitude regarding your providential power and purpose.”
But this month marks the first time that Black has become known beyond the world of C-SPAN. On Oct. 6, The New York Times ran a story about the chaplain under the headline, “Give Us This Day, Our Daily Senate Scolding.”
The story was apparently read by the writers at Saturday Night Live, who had actor Kenan Thompson portray Black in a segment with “Weekend Update” host Seth Meyers.
Thompson started out by grasping Meyers’s hand and closing his eyes. “Let us pray,” said the faux Black. “Lord, give us strength, but especially to those in Congress, and let them stop being a bunch of blubbering knuckleheads that go onto the television and spout all kinds of nonsense, until you want to smack ‘em across the face with a bag full of quarters — now that’s change I can believe in.”
Then after being told by Meyers that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wanted to keep the shutdown going, the chaplain expressed surprise and reached for Meyers’s hand again.
“Let us pray,” he said. “Lord, bless and forgive these braying jackasses, lest they do something that makes people want to pin them on the floor, shove a sweaty sock in their mouth, and then whoop ‘em up and down with a pillowcase full of Skittles.
“May they find themselves in a restroom stall devoid of toilet paper, with nothing to use but a receipt from CVS in their wallet, a receipt for a small purchase that they must then tear into small pieces, and while they are futilely blotting their behinds, grant them grace to realize that they are destroying this great nation. This we humbly ask. Amen.”
Finally, when told the House and the president still weren’t supporting a compromise bill to reopen the government, the chaplain exclaimed, “Lord, send a flood to Washington and just drown everybody!”
In an interview Monday, the real Black called the SNL segment “my 15 seconds of celebrity” and said it was well received by family, friends, and colleagues.
“I thought that it was a tad bit irreverent but also pretty funny,” he said.
Black said he had no warning that he would be featured on late-night television — he was not watching SNL, but saw the segment online later. He assumed the writers must have read about him in The New York Times last week. “A lot of comedians use the newspaper as a resource for getting material,” he said.
Black said he appreciated that Thompson didn’t use a clip-on bow tie, but also commented that the actor portraying him should have lowered his voice more.
“The premise and the way it was done was hyperbolic, and of course I would never call for a flood on the beloved city of Washington and I would not hit someone upside the head with coins and perceive it as change I could believe in, but it was funny,” Black said. “It’s an honor to be spoofed on Saturday Night Live. I must be doing something right.”
Black also said if asked, he “probably would” appear on the program. But only “if they would let me begin with, “˜Let us pray.’ “