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My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us
The authors note that Jesus jokes have become popular just since the 1970s.
November 10th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: What all those Jesus jokes tell us

Editor’s note: Edward J. Blum is a historian of race and religion at San Diego State University. Paul Harvey is a history professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and runs the blog Religion in AmericanHistory. They co-authored “The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.”

By Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey, Special to CNN

Did you ever hear the one about Jesus being Mexican? Well, he was bilingual; he was constantly harassed by the government; and his first name was Jesus.

Or, perhaps Jesus was Irish? He loved a good story; he never kept a steady job; and his last request was for a drink.

Or maybe it’s possible that Jesus was Californian? He never cut his hair; he was always walking around barefoot; and he started a new religion.

You may not have heard these Jesus jokes, but you’ve heard others. They represent a comedic trend that has animated the United States since the 1970s. More and more comedy gimmicks hit on Jesus, his ethnicity and his relationship to politics. Laughing with (and at) the Lord is now fodder for major motion pictures, barroom comedy tours, graphic novels, t-shirts and bumper stickers.

How is it that a figure sacred to so many Americans has become the punch line of so many jokes? And why is it acceptable to poke fun at Jesus when other sacred figures are deemed off limits or there is hell to pay for mocking them?

The explanations are as numerous as the laughs.

Immigration shifts from the 1960s changed the ethnic and religious faces of the country so no tradition dominates today. The Christian right made such a moral spectacle of itself that it practically begged to be mocked. The emergence of “spiritual, but not religious” sensibilities left many Americans willing to denounce or laugh about traditional faith. The public rise of agnosticism, atheism, and secularism led to aggressive mockery as a form of persuasion.

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If we pause to consider why we’re laughing, we find that the comic bits delve into some of our thorniest and unresolved problems. The jokes reveal much more about us than they do Jesus. They speak to how our society has changed, how it hasn’t, and what we’re obsessed with.

The first public jokes about Jesus were heard in the 1970s. There had been religious jokes before this, but none about Jesus had become widely popular because organized Christianity held such authority. As the economic recession and problems of urban decay collided with civil rights exhaustion and new immigration, however, some Jesus jokes emerged.

Archie Bunker on “All in the Family” was the white racist and misogynist you loved to hate and hated to love. On one occasion, his son-in-law challenged Bunker’s rampant anti-Semitism with the claim, "Jesus was Jewish." Archie shot back immediately: "Only on his mother's side."

The “All in the Family” spin off “Good Times” featured a black family that lives in an inner-city housing project, probably Chicago's infamous Cabrini Green. On the show's second episode, the oldest son J. J. astounded everyone by painting Jesus as black. The younger son loves it, and says he learned all about Christ’s blackness from the local Nation of Islam.

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As the family debates whether this black Jesus should be hung on the wall in place of their white Jesus, they “miraculously” receive $140 from the Internal Revenue Service. Feeling blessed, the family placed the painting on its living room wall, and the elated J. J. shouted his tagline, "Dyno-mite!”

From the 1980s to the present, the number of prominent Jesus jokes has multiplied like loaves and fishes:

• In “Talladega Nights,” Ricky Bobby and his family debated which Jesus to pray to (“baby Jesus in golden fleece diapers,” “grown-up Jesus,” “ninja Jesus”). Their overall hope is that Jesus will help them continue their extravagant lifestyle.

• “South Park” featured Jesus as a weak-kneed host of a local talk show who boxes the devil.

• “Family Guy” had Jesus perform magic tricks that wowed his ancient audience.

• “The Colbert Report” placed a gun in Christ’s hand and had him defend conservatives against the liberal “War on Easter.”

• “Saturday Night Live” let Jesus chastise Tim Tebow for using the Lord’s name in vain and ended the bit by declaring that the Mormons have it right.

One unforgettable scene in the rather forgettable recent film “21 Jump Street” may explain why Jesus has become such a joke.

Before Jonah Hill’s character returns to high school as an undercover cop, he prays to a small, crucified “Korean Jesus.” Down on his knees, he says: “Hey Korean Jesus, I don’t know if you only cater to Korean Christians or if you even exist, no offense. I’m just really freaked out about going back to high school. It was just so f***ing hard the first time. … I just really don’t want to f*** this up. Sorry for swearing so much. The end? I don’t really know how to end the prayer.”

The hilarity of the moment only makes sense in our time. Hill's character is unchurched and agnostic, but wants spiritual power to guide him. We can laugh at how agnosticism and being “spiritual, but not religious,” leave him uncertain of what to say, how to say it, and even how to end.

We can also laugh at how ethnic factors color his approach. By wondering if Korean Jesus cares only about Korean problems, Hill pokes fun at the issue which was made a media spectacle in 2008, when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright could be heard preaching that “Jesus was a poor black man” as part of his support for Barack Obama. What good is a God who only cares for those who look like him?

The Jesus jokes not only reveal how tangled our religious, racial, economic and political positions have become, but also how many outlets there are for the jokes. In these tense times, when presidential hopefuls point fingers at one another and families unfriend one another over political and cultural differences, laughing may be one way to talk about the problems without killing one another.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Entertainment • Jesus • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (5,750 Responses)
  1. derp

    Jesus, a unicorn, bigfoot, and Santa Claus walk into a bar........

    November 15, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Now that's just silly.
      We all know that Unicorns and Sasquatches don't exist becuase they didn't make it onto Noah's Ark.

      November 15, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • JamesK

      Well, we know that Jesus drank. It's right there in the Bible. It was also his first miracle. A bunch of people were already drunk at a wedding and he made them more (and better) booze to drink. Clearly, he had no trouble with people overusing alcohol. Maybe Jesus was in the bar too long and just imagined he saw the other three?

      November 15, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Intresting anagram

      Santa...Satan, Can't do much with Claus though.

      November 15, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Which God?

      Was jesus riding the unicorn or riding in on his own a.ss?

      November 15, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Henry

      The LORD God made the earth and the heavens, and formed the man from the dust of the ground and after breathing into his nostrils the breath of life, the man became a living being. And the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

      After God created man he put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it, commanding the man “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

      Now the serpent or Satan was craftier than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

      When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

      Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

      And God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

      So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

      To the woman God said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

      To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

      November 15, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • == o ==

      Really, Henry? No shit?

      November 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  2. Agnostically speaking

    There is a reason to assert that a diety exists, that reason being the hope (however unscientific) of surviving death.
    There exists no reason to assert that a diety does not exist. Even in matters of politics if a man makes a choice to vote be it from a matter of conscience, a matter of personal opinion, or because belief in an invisible being his vote is the same and holds equal weight.

    November 15, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Damocles

      The thing is, you really don't need a deity to believe in if you are looking to survive death. You could believe in unicorns, fairies, cabbage, grass, a pet rock... you get the idea. All of these things hold equal value in that context.

      November 15, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • ME II

      I'm not sure fear is a "reason to assert" anything. Perhaps it is a reason to hope there is a deity, for some. Others prefer reality.

      November 15, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  3. SImran

    I dont know when CNN will feature this story, but surely this needs a lot of answering by Catholics...

    An Indian women in Ireland died because the doctors there refused to conduct a medically-indicated abortion even though it was clear that the fetus would not survive anyway. And guess what, the woman wasn't even a Catholic!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2232676/Savita-Halappanavar-dies-Irish-doctors-refuse-abortion-saying-This-Catholic-country.html

    November 15, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Damocles

      Holy Hanoi! Can you imagine the fracas that would ensue if CNN put that story here?

      November 15, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • SImran

      Just checked, it is on the speed read list for today! Waiting for responses.

      November 15, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Damocles

      And the weekend is around the corner... I'm gonna need some (lots of) alcohol, some (again, a lot of) redbull, snacks and a carton of cigs. I don't want to miss a moment!

      November 15, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  4. Pedro

    The leaders of this growing cult is Darwin, Dawkins and others who wave science over themselves as if they are smarter then everyone else. The irreligious take good science out of context to fit their myths and fairy tales just as much as the religious (Christians) offten take the bible out of context. Issac Newton had a lot of information correct when it came to the bible

    November 15, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • Flippy1124

      Why do you keep repeating the same stuff when people have answered you below? Whay are you so scared to learn?

      November 15, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Pedro: Just because you do not understand the basics does not make them any less real. Dawkins (I doubt you know anything about the man) is not our 'leader'...unlike christards we don't require a leader.

      November 15, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • Val

      Pedro
      Issac Newton had a lot of information wrong when it came to science too, like alchemy. He lived during a time when science was young, and people's mids were too mired in the idea of God being real to bother to think that he may not be. Had he been around during Darwin's time he most likely would have seen the truth of evolution as well.

      It isn't that scientists or atheists are smarter than everyone else; it's just that we are more knowledgable of the subject matter in question. Many creationists get their idea of "evolution" from their pastors, who get their ideas from people who make their living selling materials that misrepresent the science to a gullible public. So, it's the question of whether you trust the experts in a field, who happen to have the evidence to support their findings and practical applications which show that evolution works, and is in process right now, or do you trust the people who aren't employed as scientists in reputable schools, who aren't doing any research at all. Whose only basis for dismissing the science is that it messes with their idea of what the Bible says?

      November 15, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • derp

      "who wave science over themselves as if they are smarter then everyone else."

      They may not be smarter than everyone else, but they are clearly smarter than you.

      November 15, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 15, 2012 at 7:28 am |
    • Flippy1124

      What are you afraid of?

      November 15, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • biobraine

      If praying had any influence on the outcome of events it would be easy to verify in a scientific study.

      November 15, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • JamesK

      biobraine
      Supposedly, prayer is answered with either a "Yes", a "No", or a "Later"_ EXACTLY the same three possible results one would expect if there wasn't a being answering prayers, and things just happened naturally. Funny how that works, eh?

      November 15, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "Salvatore" degenerates to:
      "Douglas" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Thinker23" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to;
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" is the degenerate.

      This troll is not a christian.

      November 15, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  6. Chad

    Willing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from him with all their heart, God so regulates the knowledge of himself that he has given indications of himself which are visible to those who seek him and not to those who do not seek him. There is enough light for those to see who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition. Blaise Pascal (one of the smartest people who ever lived)

    November 15, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Athy

      But in spite of his genius, he was delusioned. So what is your point?

      November 15, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • sam stone

      so, you have to believe in order to believe?

      November 15, 2012 at 4:36 am |
    • sam stone

      also smarts and faith are two separate things.

      November 15, 2012 at 4:38 am |
    • Simran

      16th century smart, you mean!

      November 15, 2012 at 6:13 am |
    • Simran

      On more research into Pascal, I find a brilliant mind gone insane at the tender age of 30. Born 1623, he had RELIGIOUS VISION in 1654! Till then, he made significant contributions to science. And then, he left scientific work!!! Pascal's ascetic lifestyle derived from a belief that it was natural and necessary for a person to suffer. In 1659, Pascal fell seriously ill. During his last years, he frequently tried to reject the ministrations of his doctors, saying, "Sickness is the natural state of Christians."
      In 1662, Pascal's illness became more violent, and his emotional condition had severely worsened since his sister's death, which happened the previous year. In Paris on 18 August 1662, Pascal went into convulsions and received extreme unction. He died the next morning.

      An autopsy performed after his death revealed grave problems with his stomach and other organs of his abdomen, along with damage to his brain. Despite the autopsy, the cause of his poor health was never precisely determined, though speculation focuses on tuberculosis, stomach cancer, or a combination of the two. The headaches which afflicted Pascal are generally attributed to his brain lesion.

      November 15, 2012 at 6:35 am |
    • Warning Chad Alert

      Pascal of course is not being specific as to which of the many gods people had to choose from. Being a smart guy he left what god to seek solace from open to the reader, believers in Kojiki, Tipitaka, Zeus, Mars, Tao Te Ching, etc. could relate to this statement. Now Chad will scramble to find a quote that shows Pascal has made about the Judeo/Christian god, because that is what the Chad does, ie. Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Franklin, Washington (A Mason)...... Try not to play his game, he seeks attention.

      November 15, 2012 at 6:46 am |
    • Simran

      Chad alert,
      Pascal's life sucked – his mother died in childhood, then he lost his father quite young. He never married, he had significant differences with his sister, who also died. And whatever one may claim, he actually neve found any solace even with whatever God Chad may claim he followed. Like I said before – gone insane!

      November 15, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • Warning Chad Alert

      Simran
      Of course I am only attempting to pull the Chad's chain, get him going, Thanks for the info on Pascal, poor bugger, but somehow it brings about a vision of Chad pecking away at his keyboard in a corner of his mothers basement where he lives

      November 15, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • Val

      Pascal died in 1662, in the very earliest history of modern science and long before Darwin and others seriously started to question God's existence. You might as well ask him if he believed in micro organisms, black holes and radiation, all things way before his time. Had he been born later, and had access to Darwin's work he probably would have accepted it, being the good scientist that he was.

      November 15, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Val

      Modern science grew out of the age of superst ition and ignorance. Pascal was at the beginning of all that, so we can forgive him for being stuck in the old misconceptions.

      November 15, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  7. niknak

    Arn't you tired of it fundies, arn't you tired of the atheists always ph_uckking wit chew and your sky fairy?
    You gotz all those high powered guns in your bunker basement. Use them.
    Go out and start killing to show us all how much your love jeebus and follow his teachings.
    Kill, its what you do.

    November 14, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • NoNeedForAName

      Hallelujah & pass the ammunition!

      November 14, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • JamesK

      That's not funny! These people like to hang out in the hills and have more AK 47s than the Taliban.

      November 15, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  8. Miss Claridya

    Love Spell

    Command and Compel Your Lover to You

    Get a piece of brown paper and cut it into a square. Using a red pencil, write the name of your loved one nine times. Turn the paper 90 degrees to the right and write your name over hers nine times. Fold the paper three times. While doing this, focus intensely on your desires. Repeat the following as you hold the paper to your heart:

    I command you, I compel you
    Love me, as I love you
    I command you, I compel you,
    (Target's name) return to me now!

    Now, burn the paper and scatter the ashes to the wind.

    The rest is up to the universe to take care of. There is an incubation period that occurs after a spell is cast. Be patient for the results. In 27 days, if you have not heard from your beloved, repeat the above actions. You can do so once every 27 days to strengthen and recharge the work.

    November 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I bet you weight the same as a duck and thus made of wood and therefore - A WITCH!
      BURN THE WITCH!

      November 15, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Damocles

      @miss

      So you do all of that and yet it is still up to the universe to do the work? Sounds like wasted effort.

      November 15, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  9. Miss Claridya

    To Protect Your Home from Evil and Negativity

    To protect your home from evil and negativity, wither brought about by people in this world or spirits in the other world, try this easy remedy. Take some cayenne pepper, ordinary table salt and sulphur and sprinkle it around your house. That will make an effective barrier to keep out the riff raff.

    November 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  10. Miss Claridya

    Cast a Voodoo Curse on someone

    Ingredients:
    Cloth
    Mud
    Sticks
    Pins
    Incense sticks
    Black candles
    Black kohl
    And an object belonging to the person in question.

    Procedure:
    I forge this image, I bewitch it,
    the malevolent aspect, the evil eye,
    the malevolent mouth, the malevolent tongue,
    the malevolent lip, the finest sorcery,
    Spirit of the heavens, conjure it! Spirit of the earth, conjure it!

    “as I drive pins into this doll
    may the man feel the pain
    the man in flesh and blood
    the man in vain”

    November 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And this is relevant how?

      November 14, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Miss Claridya

      do not tempt me

      November 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why? What are you gonna do? Booga, booga, booga. Your mumbo-jumbo is nonsense.

      November 14, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • m

      it is done

      November 14, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  11. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    <bDefinition of CULT

    1
    : formal religious veneration : worship
    2
    : a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
    3
    : a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
    4
    : a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
    5
    a : great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
    b : the object of such devotion
    c : a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion

    November 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Dippy

      The difference between a cult and a religion:
      In a cult the guy at the top is a fraud.
      In a religion the guy at the top is dead.

      November 14, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  12. Shlomo Abramowitz

    ki vanu vachar'ta v'otanu kidash'ta mikol ha'amim
    because You have chosen us and made us holy from all peoples

    November 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • NoNeedForAName

      LOL. The Muslims would state otherwise. Someone's lying.

      Islam: The Jews Are the Eternal Enemies of Muslims Regardless of the Occupation of Palestine [ youtube.com/watch?v=_X8dhrzQCHY ]

      November 14, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  13. Shlomo Abramowitz

    asher bachar banu mikol am v'rom'manu mikol lashon
    who has chosen us from among all people, and exalted us above every tongue

    November 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  14. Shlomo Abramowitz

    Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam
    Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

    November 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
  15. Shlomo Abramowitz

    Cover you eyes with your right hand and say:

    Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam
    Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

    November 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  16. Shlomo Abramowitz

    Schmuk

    November 14, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  17. kok

    "huge penis"

    November 14, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  18. kok

    cokk?

    November 14, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  19. Doomed

    @Hawaiiguest

    You are here every time there is a post made about religions, you prove yourself to others that you don't have a job and that you are spending more time on your computer instead of being out there looking for a job. So between you and me, you are the loser, and the lazy one. Get a job and a life. And please, move that fat back bottom of yours and do something else with your life.

    November 14, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • kok

      LOOOOOOSSSSSSSEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRR

      November 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Doomed

      How old are you Kok? You should be in bed at this time. Or do your atheists parents let you read these comments?

      November 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Brophy, are you still here? Why? You aren't equipped to argue with Moby or hawaii. I doubt you could hold your own with a dead cat.

      November 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • kok

      I'm 47. how old are you. you probably should move out of your parent's basement by now.

      November 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  20. Margaret

    All right, I wrote a nice post here. Where did it go?

    November 14, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Margaret,

      I suspect you used a naughty word. Words like ti-tle, doc-ument, va-gue and ausp-icious all contain 'naughty' words (t-it, c-um, v-ag, sp-ic) that get filtered automatically.

      If you are having trouble, we can post the full list.

      November 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • kok

      big cokk?

      November 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
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