Editor's Note: The short film accompanying this story, called "My Garden," comes from EdsStory.com. CNN.com is premiering the latest installment in the "Ed's Story" series.
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – Ed Dobson is not afraid of dying. It’s the getting there that really scares him.
A former pastor, onetime Christian Right operative and an icon among religious leaders, Dobson has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. When he was diagnosed, doctors gave him 3 to 5 years to live.
That was 11 years ago.
“I am a tad happy to be talking to you right now,” joked Dobson, whose voice has deteriorated since his preaching days, in a phone interview. Speaking with him feels like being exposed to a brief moment of clarity. He speaks slowly, but with an understated confidence and authority.
As pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a position he held for 18 years, Dobson would regularly preach to 5,000 people or more on Sundays. Back then, Dobson said he looked at himself as a man filled with lessons, proverbs and, most of all, answers.
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After retirement six years ago, the massive crowds went away.
“I went from 100 miles an hour to zero miles an hour overnight,” Dobson said. “That was a shock to my system.”
Dobson says the answers vanished with the crowds.
“I know that sounds a bit lame,” he said. “I know that that I should have all the answers, but the truth is, the more I live, the fewer answers I have.”
And yet the people Dobson comes in contact with – those who call him dad, husband and friend, or those who have read one of his 12 books and watched his short films, don’t agree with that assessment. To them, the last six years of Dobson’s life have led to a remarkable ability to put life into context. To them, Dobson is a man filled with lessons.
From 5,000 to 1
In the 1980s, Dobson rose to prominence as an executive at the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell's evangelical political organization, which had influence with the Ronald Reagan White House. Dobson’s rise continued when he accepted the pastorate at Calvary Church in 1987. He cut a national profile, with Moody Bible Institute naming him “Pastor of the Year” in 1993.
After being diagnosed with ALS, Dobson suddenly felt unsure of himself. At times, he said, he didn't want to get out of bed. After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own mortality.
“I thought that if I knew I was going to die, I would really read the Bible and if I really was going to die, I would really pray,” Dobson said. “I found the opposite to be true. I could barely read the Bible and I had great difficulty praying. You get so overwhelmed with your circumstances, you lose perspective.”
Eventually, Dobson regained perspective. But feelings of listlessness led him to take his preaching to a more personal level. He now meets with congregants one-on-one. Sitting with them in their homes or offices, Dobson provides whatever help he can. “Most of the people I meet with have ALS and basically I listen," he said.
“When I meet with someone and look into their eyes, it is like I am looking into their soul,” Dobson said. “We are both broken, we are both on the journey and we are both fellow pilgrims.”
Going from 5,000 congregants to one at a time was a big change for Dobson, forcing him to reevaluate his job as a pastor. “I am trying to learn that one-on-one is just as important as speaking to thousands,” he said. “I reemphasize – I am trying to learn that.”
During his one-on-one meetings, Dobson says he remembers Adam and Eve being charged by God to work the Garden of Eden. For years Dobson’s garden was Calvary Church – the baptisms, weddings, the Sunday preaching.
“Whether it is preaching to 5000 or meeting one on one, I am trying to take care of the garden,” he said.
The wind knocked out
One way Dobson strove to tend the garden is by writing a book about dealing with serious illness. In 2007, he wrote “Prayers and Promises When Facing a Life-Threatening Illness.”
Dobson’s son Daniel read the book while deployed in Iraq. After returning home, Daniel made it his mission to turn the book’s stories into videos.
He pitched the idea to Steve Carr, the executive director of a faith-focused production company called Flannel. “When I met Ed, when he came to our office, something really spoke to me,” Carr said. “Not too long before that, I had been diagnosed with Leukemia.”
“I thought that this guy, he has been where I am right now and he has somehow mastered it,” Carr said.
So far, Flannel has released five Dobson films, available through the company's website. There are plans for two more. Though the films range in topic, from loss and forgiveness to healing and growth, all are centered on lessons Dobson learned through his battle with ALS. The videos toe the line between a dark look at a dying man's life and an uplifting glimpse at someone who exudes clarity.
"My Garden," the most recent title in the series, centers on Ed’s struggle to deal with ending his preaching career.
Dobson talks about the films as if they are his swan song, his last words of encouragement to a group of supporters he has inspired for decades.
“My desire is that people who have had the air knocked out of them, whether divorce or losing a loved one or illness, that they will get a sense of hope by watching the films,” he said.
Surviving (with help)
The series’ first short film opens with Dobson explaining what it was like to be told he had ALS. After lying in bed, Dobson gets in the shower, brushes his teeth and starts the day. Even he would admit, however, it is not that easy.
Dobson has lost much of the function in his hands and is seen struggling to brush his teeth, his frail body using two hands on the small brush. Though he is able to do a lot, including drive, Dobson wouldn’t be able to make it on his own, a fact he is keenly aware of when about when describing his wife, Lorna.
“She is my right hand, my left hand, my left foot, my right foot, my heart and my brain,” Dobson said. “Without her, it would be impossible to go on.”
Standing in the kitchen in one video, Lorna helps puts Ed’s belt and gloves on. The two don’t speak on camera, but their love is obvious.
“Our love has grown each year of marriage,” Lorna said. “I didn’t want to just wither in the sorrow of how our life was changing. It took a while to get used to what our life was going to be like but I realized that I needed to be more available to him.”
Dobson says he is also more available to her.
“I am no longer a preacher,” said Dobson. “Today, I would say I am a Jesus follower. Period.”
Lorna said she continues to learn from her husband. Throughout their life together, she said she learned by being in church with him, by raising three kids together and by loving one another.
The last 11 years, however, their love has changed. Dobson's illness has taught her to focus on the important things, she said, primarily their kids and five grandkids.
After tending the garden for decades, Dobson is now being tended himself, largely by Lorna. “ALS forced me into a situation where I grew in understanding of what it means to obey Jesus,” Dobson said in the latest film.
“It took me quite a while to find an alternative purpose," he said. "But the good news is out there – there is a purpose for everyone.”
To all the unbelievers out there, Christianity is a personal faith in a personal Savior. Please read the book of Ecclesiastes and compare the sorrow of life without hope, with the joy of life walking with Jesus. The writer parallels the lost life with chasing the wind. You will never catch it. The last verses go like this, "This is the end of the matter. All has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil".
Don't believe in man, especially this man. You will find fault and failure. Believe in the Word of God, Jesus Christ, for therein lies your salvation. Please don't doubt it until you read it. Stop and think about your life in general, what is it all about? If we are just material and energy created by pure chance, then, as the Apostle Paul said, we Christians are most to be pitied. But if we have been created by God and the Creator has given us His Word, then there will be a Judgement Day where all will answer for their lives. Only by the blood of Jesus can we be justified on that day. Otherwise he will say, "Depart from me, I never knew you".
Why should I read it. Don't you know how to read? You can probably get the "Lies on Tape" version.
A bloody sacrifice to an angry god. How very primitive...
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
That is why you should read the Bible.....
I have read. I was not impressed. In fact, Why, when you read the Bible, are you not left in awe? Why doesn't a book written by an omniscient being leave you with a sense of wonder and amazement? If you are reading a book written by the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe, wouldn't you expect to be stunned by the brilliance, the clarity and the wisdom of the author? Would you not expect each new page to intoxicate you with its incredible prose and its spectacular insight? Wouldn't you expect the author to tell us things that scientists have not been able to discover yet?
Yet, when we open the Bible and actually read it, we find it is nothing like that at all. Instead of leaving us in awe, it leaves us dumbfounded by all of the nonsense and backwardness that it contains. If you read what the Bible actually says, you find that the Bible is ridiculous. The examples shown above barely scratch the surface of the Bible's numerous problems. If we are honest with ourselves, it is obvious that an "all-knowing" God had absolutely nothing to do with this book.
The reason why the Bible contains so much nonsense is because God is imaginary. The Bible is a book written thousands of years ago by primitive men. A book that advocates senseless murder, slavery and the oppression of women has no place in our society today.
The beautiful thing about free will is that you can believe whatever youwant. Everyone will come to grips with the truth. The day you die you will know. If I am wrong I will be no worse off than you. If you are wrong...well
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.
“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time.
“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
“Immediately after the distress of those days
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
I'm guessing you're pretty young or a recent convert. You're so enthralled by those long gospel passages. I have to admit that though I still consider myself a Christian, I long ago gave up the idea that the decision to become a Christian is the most vital thing in a person's life. I think there are just so many other decisions we make in life that can be more important. And sometimes becoming a Christian doesn't even solve certain problems. Too often, it's adopting a fear-based worldview, which can be a very harmful thing. Becoming a Christian can help a person, but sometimes in his/her personal growth, he or she may need to pass beyond it.
It's not that I completely dismiss the Bible's admonitions to fear God's judgment. But I also take some comfort from the fact that Christ said some who claim to be his followers will turn out not to be on the Day of Judgment.
I remember a member of the Baha'i Faith asking me, "wouldn't you trust a Christian to fix your car more than an atheist?" Baha'is want to push the idea of the value of all traditional faiths. I said, "no, but I would trust a Baha'i more." Sometimes going to a Christian church is just about "respectability" or maybe even looking for business or romantic opportunities, but becoming a Baha'i always seems to be a serious commitment to an ethical life.
As for Joy of Sin, it's too bad you call yourself that. The joy of sin doesn't last very long. Eventually, self-control and ethics have to take center stage in our lives or we end up miserable. I'm not saying you should adopt Christianity or any traditional religion, for that matter. But you won't want to call yourself Joy of Sin forever.
I guess god wanted to punish him, right?
Sometimes God's ways are not so mysterious.
Dobby needs to get to hell ASAP because Whitney doesn’t have Bobby Brown to dig a d.ookie bubbles out of her b u t t. Crack head, meet the Moral Majority. Ooh, it is HOT here!
I feel so very sorry for you
Whatever gets you through the night...
That's is what Bobby said to Whitney.
Falwell and this man demonized countless for not believing as they did. Perhaps he's now considering the Road he paved that waits ahead of him.
I don't know, Ed might like it in Hell digging d.ookie bubbles out of Whitney's b u t t.
Pastor have you been treaded for Lyme disease? Lou Gehregs disease has been linked directly to Lymes.Please be checked.
Why? When he can simply pray to "god" to be healed?
Veritas u don't know much about Christianity do u? The time will come soon.
Don't you know? Prayer only works on cancer.
ALS has not been directly linked to Lyme disease. ALS has, however, been misdiagnosed as Lyme disease. There is no cure or known cause(s) of ALS. Only speculation.
You can now w0rk from home earning $48O+ per day working online. 100% Automated!Check for available positions here..ṀakeCash13.cõm
Internet scam! Leave us alone!
You don't need to ask questions which have already been answered if u r referring to YHWH. If u r asking about other gods then fine. When I had read my first Bible these questions were still being asked by dolts like u.
Dolt u have not read the Bible so how do u know what he is talking about? If u were not such a dolt u will ask for further explanation instead of betraying your ignorance. There are atheists who understand this ask them.
People are afraid of dying and afraid of their lives not having a ulterior purpose so they start believing in these ancient fairy tales. The process of dying can be scary but being dead is likely no different than being unborn, we simply don't exist anymore. Once one accepts how evolution works and how organisms change over the eons it is not so hard to see that while we humans are fantastic, at least in our own eyes, we have evolved from much simpler organisms millions of years ago. The Universe and Life are fantastic to us, but having adults resorting to fairy tales to try explain our existence is kind of sad. Having said that, if it gives some people consolation, then it is of course their prerogative to do so.
Have you read the Bible? Have you tried proving these ancient records incorrect? Go ahead try to. That is how I was reborn. My total commitment was to prove the Bible wrong. AND Now I know the Truth.
The bible cannot be proven wrong as cannot the Lord of the Rings, The Book of Mormon, Hansel and Gretchen, or any other book. You simply cannot prove the non-existence of anything, not matter how ludicrous.
BTW, read the Bible 4 times over. Started with NIV, then NAS, then and now on King James.
Go ahead read it dummy. I dare you.
Sure, the Bible has some correct recording of an ancient Middle Eastern Hebrew culture, *some* words of wisdom for practical, beneficial behavior; but it is mostly chronicles of their myths, legends, superst-itions and fantasies. There is not a shred of verified evidence for the supernatural beings and events told about in that book.
Fairy tale...sure..ok. It appears your branch of evolution didn't quite "evolve" into much more than the simple organisms you reference.
You can however prove that evolution does not account for creation. Simple mathematical probabilities show that it takes more faith that we were created by chance than to believe in a creator. Of course life evolves (human growth) from conception to death is evolution, this however in no way proves creation was by chance. You have to ignore all laws of physics and math to say that something came from nothing.
Evolution my a s s! WE came from apes right...that's why some apes decided to remain apes and others evolved, What a crock! Or do yo prefer to believe that we were fish who grew legs??? Who's fantasizing here?
**sigh** Humans do not come FROM apes - we stem from a common ancestor waaaaaaaay back in time.
Squirrels and mice have a common long-extinct ancestor also, as evidenced by DNA, body structure and function. Do you say, "If there are mice, why are there still squirrels?"
You may have read the bible, but did you comprehend what you read?
Do you believe ...that if my bull kills your slave I owe you 30 scheckles? ...women must be silent in church? ... If your children are disrespectful you must kill them?
Did you try reading the Torah, Koran or the Book of Morman? Did you research all the stories of virgin births? Did you know that the stories in the bible were past down verbally for generations (think of the game telephone) before being written down.
When it was written down, that writing was controlled by the government and the priests. Who knows what changes were made because of their need to control the masses.
Oh, then all the stories were edited into the bible. Many were left out. Why? How do you know that important stories weren't left out or that phony stories were included?
So, how do you know what the truth is in the bible, if anything is?
Truth is relative. ...Remember, ..."the earth is flat" ... That was the truth ... till it wasn't...
More comments from "tolerant liberals".
Dobson illustrating deftly............religion, the ultimate ponzi scheme.
One less Christian. Hurry up and die.
I am sorry your life is so sad that you wish another to die
I guess there is no harm in wishing this as christians think they go to a better place called "heaven"?
"Hurry up" was his previous life when he had a church of 5000, Today he is fortunate in that he can deliver his message one person at a time.
You immoral, senseless, heartless piece of trash! You need a size 12 steel capped boot right up your a s s!
Dude, to say something like that is a pity. Your a shame.
Good luck on your journey and see what a big man you are at the end.
Shame on you and your kind for such heartless thoughtless comments!
@ Cokehead. You have faith in your belief that nothing exists after death. I have faith in my belief that there is more. Neither can be proven in advance–only after the fact. So, we differ in belief and for that I have a thick skull, am self-important and can't handle the "real truth" (which neither of us yet know). Yet, you say we should live a "good" life. Does your good life incorporate respect for others? If you're living the good life, why then your attempts to demean and belittle?
When there's no evidence of afterlife after more then 2000 years of religion, one has to assume that there isn't one. Those that keep insisting can't claim to be intelligent.
Roger: Intelligence? What is that? A human quality that is limited by your own human "understanding" and the ability to solve problems (mathematical, scientific etc...) either quickly or competently? When people believe, the spirit of God starts to live in them and they gain "wisdom" which is something very different...it gives insight into things beyond our human understanding and "intelligence". God's thoughts and the way they see their existence become their thoughts. You probably just see this idea as "rubbish" because since you don't believe, you can't comprehend it...not that you don't have the potential, its that you refuse to "take that leap"...its hard and very scary to do so and leave your "comfort zone".
Too bad, still you don't realize that you wasted your whole life believing in fairy-tales.
What's wrong with believing in fairy-tales? ;)
And what do you waste your life doing? Because if there is no point to life, it is all a waste...
It's funny to hear an atheist criticize a theist about a "wasted" life. Atheists are so ignorant and blinded by their faith they can't even see the irony in their own mocking.
Yep, troll! Atheists have such meaning to life. At least they have a definite beginning and end.
Brother I am thinking of you everyday from now on. I also want to thank you for a new perspective on life.Take care.
Dobby, hurry off to hell dik head.
People have a narcissistic fear of death. That's the driving force behind many religions – especially Christianity. Buddhism doesn't have this problem.
No, because they have an equally absurd belief system. Religion is religion.
Spiritual Christians do not fear death because you gain eternal life on earth not when you die. God is love. If u love then He lives in U and gives U His Life eternal. No need for us to fear death or life's ups and downs. This is one of the reasons Rev Dobson is still alive. Eternal Life is flowing.
Prayer changes things .
How? Next time you or your loved ones become sick then please don't consult a doctor instead go to church and start praying.
keep believing in ghosts in one hand while using all the scientific cures in the other.
In the 2005 survey we found out that 76% of doctors believe in God. I guess that it would be difficult to go and see a doctor who did not believe in God.
I pray that dumba$$ like you all go to heaven ASAP.
I lost a lot to con artists, than when I thought I it was my time to restore my joys, I break my ankle so serverly I am not handicap. In all this who wouldnt rethink what it means to be Christian. But there is no god but the God of Israel. The God of Hope, the God of Love. What choice do we have. The god of Obama?
Just can't leave politics out of it, can you. By ALL indications if there is only one God, Obama's is the same as yours.
I hope this man has renounced the philosophy of the Moral Majority.
Yes, he did. Read "Blinded by Might".
So, Ed has come to grips with his own mortality and learned some important life lessons. Chief among these lessons is that if you want to learn these lessons, it's going to cost you $7.99. Thanks for that, Ed.
Hey Crad! We shall meet in prayer... :D
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.