Jesus Camp

Thu 02/22/07 at 8:28 am

The other night, I watched the documentary, Jesus Camp. Doing so prompted me to rework a letter I sent to one of my relatives a while back into this blog post, as follows:

My emphysema has progressed to a point where I pretty much spend my time hanging out in an area of the house I have dubbed “Walking Raven Central.” See November 23, 2005 Post. At present, my lung function is somewhere in the neighborhood of 14%. I’ve probably been in what used to be called “end-stage” emphysema (lung function below 30%) for nearly 10 years, and I’ve come across at least one site that puts the 10 year mortality rate for folks with my numbers at 95%, so I guess I truly am lucky to be alive. My primary goal in life is to avoid germs, as it’s possible the next full blown “exacerbation” (translate, upper respiratory infection) or, for that matter, a little tiny mucus “plug” — I just flashed on Gilda Radner as Rosanna Dana Dana — in the wrong place will kill me. I have been cleared for a bilateral sequential lung transplant (one surgery, one donor, two lungs) at the University of Minnesota/Fairview, but that comes with it own fairly dismal set of statistics. Even so, I hope to be around a few more years.

These days I get up somewhere around 7:00. Since 9-11, I’ve made it a point to catch the news first thing to see if there’s anything terribly amiss with the world. When I turn on the TV, I start out at Channel 2 (FOX), when, more often than not, I’m just in time to catch the segment of the 700 Club where Pat Robertson (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) holds hands with a female prayer partner as the two of them with closed eyes and bowed heads take turns identifying various members of the viewing audience who are experiencing instantaneous, and what I’ve heard at least one of them refer to as “supernatural,” healing as a direct result of the prayers being offered by the two of them.

One particular show was especially poignant for me. At one point with eyes closed, Robertson declared that someone out there suffering from emphysema had just coughed and been miraculously healed. Sadly — although I suppose some would say understandably — I was not the recipient of God’s grace. Just to make sure, though, I took a walk to the refrigerator to refill my coffee cup and returned to my chair. Nope. It still took several minutes to recover and regulate my breathing. So now I get to await the day when I tune in to find Mr. Robertson sitting with the individual who claims s/he had been the individual suffering from emphysema and had been the target of God’s grace, compliments of Mr. Robertson and the power of prayer.

If so, s/he had been misdiagnosed in the first place. Emphysema is a progressive disease for which there is no cure. My alveoli have died. I literally have holes in my lungs where the alveoli used to be, and there is no way that they will ever regenerate. Nothing will make my condition better. I will only continue to deteriorate. The only treatment (except for a procedure called lung volume reduction surgery for which I am not a candidate) is a lung transplant. Otherwise, one day I will lapse into respiratory failure and die.

There is some promise that if scientists are permitted to conduct stem cell research with a sufficient number of diverse samples that they could learn how to grow new lungs for me using my own stem cells and so take away the risk of rejection of the donor lungs or even perhaps repair the ones I have now simply by injecting cells into my lungs and letting them take off. I think we all have a pretty good idea of where Mr. Robertson and his followers stand on this subject.

But enough about that. Today I mostly want to address this issue of Faith Healing. Let me see if I’ve got it right. God has the power, through Jesus, to heal any and all. I won’t be healed because I don’t happen to believe that it’s true. And in order to be healed an individual has to have faith at least “the size of a mustard seed,” which, as we all know from listening to any number of Sunday sermons on the subject, is not very much faith at all. Matthew 17:20. My faith, if only I had it, could “make me whole.” Matthew 9:22. I just need to believe. Mathew 9:29. Oh, but wait! Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8) (another favorite Sunday sermon topic) because of the Centurion’s faith. So, even if I don’t have sufficient faith, if somebody else out there has enough faith, well, that works too.

So, what is wrong with this picture? Let me tell you. I know any number of people whose faith greatly exceeds the size of a mustard seed. And I can think of no reason any one of them would refuse to ask God to heal me. In fact, I know of several who are doing just that. (And please, if you’re reading this, don’t stop. Positive energy released into the universe is positive energy released into the universe.) Well then, what about me might trump their faith such that God says “No” to any prayers for my healing?

We all know God works in mysterious ways, so I suppose He could be punishing me for desecrating my body (His temple) by smoking all those years. But if that’s the case, why heal some ex-smokers and not others? Perhaps He’s testing me. Like Job. Well, if you want to play the Job-card to explain why bad things happen to good people (because on balance, I’m good people) – at least put it in context.

Right there in black and white the Bible tells us the suffering of Job resulted from a wager between God and Satan. Job 1, 2. In brief, God sees Satan walking around heaven and says, “Hey, where ya’ been?” And Satan answers he’s been hanging out on earth. So God asks him if he happened to see his good and faithful servant Job. And Satan says, “Sure God, I’ve seen him, and of course he’s good and faithful, he doesn’t have a care in the world. But I bet if enough misery and grief were heaped upon him, he would curse you to thy face.” And God says to Satan, “You’re on!” And then God doesn’t even have the decency to administer this test of faith himself. Instead he tells Satan he can do anything he wants to shake Job’s faith, except to kill him. That does not, however, preclude Satan from killing Job’s seven sons and three daughters all in a day’s time – well, they were mere chattel anyway and easily replaced once the testing was over and the wager won.

Come to think of it though, I guess I would prefer to tell a kid (just like the kid I was once upon a time) that it’s on account of a bet between God and Satan that her mother had to endure the agonizing ordeal of breast cancer and death at the age of 42. I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to tell her it’s because, well, unfortunately, she lacks, and all those around her also lack, faith the size of a mustard seed. But you don’t even have to tell her. She can read. She listens to the sermons on Sunday morning. She knows what she has to do. And so she prays desperately night after night asking God to recognize her complete faith in His power to heal and to make her mother whole again. But to no avail. She is not worthy. Come on, cut her a break. (By the by, I have since had occasion to come to terms with these issues and no longer believe my lack of faith killed my Momma, but it was tough going there for awhile. Oh, and for the record, I don’t blame God for Mother’s death or my emphysema, either. Things just happen.)

I’m not writing to suggest that people forsake their belief in God or Jesus or any Higher Power of their choosing — though maybe I am asking them maybe to entertain the possibility that God isn’t quite so “hands on,” and it really might be up to us to accept more responsibility for our lives and actions.

Maybe it’s time to start rethinking things and shift the focus from magical thinking to a more active approach. Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12. Think about it. What if we really all did collectively as a human race one day start loving one another? Actively loving one another. Then it wouldn’t be a matter of tithing (especially tithing motivated by the belief that if we do it will inure to our benefit and we will be rewarded tenfold). We all might just decide to sell all that we have and head for Darfur or the barrio or the homeless shelter or wherever else of our choosing. Not to bring faith to the unbelievers so when they die they can go to heaven, but rather to provide food, clothing, and shelter, and then education, and then everything else. We’d stop using Jesus’ line “the poor will always be among us” to appease our consciences for having failed to do this already. (Even the devil can quote scripture . . .). We’d stop blowing each other up for the glory of God or Allah. Maybe we’d even stop destroying the planet and thereby avoid becoming just one more evolutionary anomaly on the spacetime continuum.

What’s sad is that here’s where I, and most everyone else it seems, lack faith even the size of a mustard seed. We refuse to believe we could really make this happen, and so we do nothing, or we do just enough so we can sleep at night. So there you have it. Maybe it’s time we all of us in this world simply agree to disagree about the stuff that ultimately doesn’t matter and get on with the business of humanity. Because if we did, why just


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