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.
CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories
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.”
It takes just as much faith to say there is no God, as it does to say there is one. That's a fact not an opinion.
Then you should be able to produce proof of your statement.
You can't. There isn't any. Suggest you look up definitions of "fact" and "opinion".
But it takes no faith at all to say "the existence of god is extremely improbable."
@ Tom Tom . So since we know everything was formed from nothing, a supernatural event in the world I inhabit maybe you can give us the mechanism how it was created. I mean, since you have all the answers already. Unless what you're banking on is your faith in science and a belief that the answers will prove you right.
@ Blue. We're luckier than Lucky Charms all the "accidents" that occurred to make our existence possible. The "best" non-God explaniation I've heard is we're just a part of a multi-universe, some get formed some not. Every possible probablility exists in a multiuniverse therefore making our universe just a very very lucky random accident.
Yep. So the dude that held me up at 7-11 buying Coors and lottery tickets is a ruler in another universe.
Incredible the intellectual contortions that come up when dealing with our anthropic universe.
Dr. K., the "first mover/uncaused cause" argument has been around almost as long as people have written down their thoughts. It is also flawed, especially when one truly understands the concepts of infinity and eternity. To say "there is a beginning" is to make the infinite finite. It begs the question: if there was nothing, how is it there was God? Is God nothing? Or if God is something, then creation was not made out of nothing? Science does not look for the first cause; it only follows the causal connections as far back as it can. It never assumes a point where there was nothing, but religion does, then projects its own preconceptions.
Doc, try to read. I never said I knew how the universe began. I don't. Neither do you. There's no proof that a supernatural being "created" anything.
Oh, and as for the belief that this universe was perfectly 'created' for us? It's just as likely that we adapted perfectly to the universe.
Again, you have no proof either way.
I am really sad my brother n law just found out that he had these als and the family is going through alot the past year, please say a prayer him and his family just maybe he could be inspiring to other people that have this symptom
I'll do you one better. I'll add a little extra to my donation to MDA, dedicated to him.
I am SO sorry about your brother in law, I very recently lost my brother in law whom I have known since the day I was born. He died at age 90 of dementia and pneumonia. Please believe me when I say this and I say it respectfully, a prayer will do NOTHING for your brother in law absolutely NOTHING. Instead I send my own personal blessing a far greater gift than a blessing from or a prayer to an evil, loathsome, contemptuous and self serving god.
Google the Avamtasaka Sutra chapter 40 part two to see the completed sentence. I know you did not read the Sutra and made your comment. The Buddha's teaching is the ultimate enlightenment of our very confuse mind.
Christine Ball b7 University of LincolnAs a student that cenrurtly commutes 50 miles and back every day, to Lincoln as it is the nearest University to me, it costs me on average a3130 per week to attend. Petrol prices are so high, as are parking charges which on average is a36 per day! If you add the total costs of attending 4-5 days a week, it would actually be cheaper if I lived in Lincoln! Time spent travelling is also is an issue especially over the winter months, regarding bad weather and unable to get to Lincoln. Stating that with the new a39000 fees that students will stay closer to home is ludicrous as there are a lot of students who live in rural areas and are in a similar position to myself. As a mature student I have no option as I have responsibilities at home with my daughter and her schooling. For the younger students it is more financially viable to live on campus and therefore LV's statement is quite a reckless, scaremongering scenario in my opinion. From experience living on or near campus is less time consuming and financially beneficial as opposed to commuting. I find the new costs absolutely devastating and it is a sad day for students today and for future students.I know for a fact, that if this had come in to effect 2 years ago then there is no way I would have been able to attend University and be in the position I am today. I feel so sorry not only for the younger students but the effect it will have on the more mature students who like myself have only just started their career after bringing up a family.I feel that the university will lose an awful lot of mature students which LV statement fails to acknowledge.
It's funny to see the words "Moral Majority" again after all these years. It sounds so arrogant and not at all understanding of people – certainly not at all Christ-like. These folks were/are and interesting group. It is a terrible illness this man has, but I believe that God is trying to teach him something. Karma – not in the way most think of it, as in, "you'll get yours" – but perhaps some understanding. This man is perhaps gaining understanding and learning not to judge, as he has done in the past. And maybe God is just sending him what he needs, like he does all of us.
"god id sending him what he needs just like all of us" are these people real or just brain dead? Go to any hospital and see the people who need something from god and god is out to lunch. How can you make such utterly ludicrous statements in the face of all the evidence around you. Do you really live on this planet or are you just visiting
u take buddha, i'll take Jesus
You can have them both. I would rather logic, reason and science.
Why don't you take Mickey Mouse, he will be just as useful as JC or Buddha.
The Buddha is far better than Jesus. The Buddha never said he would "bring a sword" (hence conflict) or request his followers "slay them before me". The Buddha never stated that those who oppose him would be sent to hell. The Buddha is peace, Jesus wants you to believe in him and will use love and threats to have you follow him, the Buddha not. The weakness of Buddhism is that there is no defacto everlasting life offerred which is why I think it is less successfull. If you took that away there would be far fewer christians in this world since self interest is what motivates ultimately.
Please learn to spell, people!
Lose (rhymes with booze) is the opposite of gain. Loose (rhymes with noose) is the opposite of tight. Therefore, this man is LOSING his life, not LOOSING it. There is no such word as "loosing."
There is a verb "to loosen," which means to make less tight. If you are making something less tight, you are loosening it.
And now for an example of usage:
It's obvious that religious people loosen their grip on reality still further as they begin to lose their lives.
😡 Pleese take tha Stik out of yur 🅰SS 👎
Indeed, he also wasn't facing his immortality, he was facing his mortality. And doctors didn't "game him 3-5 years to live." This article needs a proof reading to do the man's story proper justice.
Proper usage, grammar, subject-verb agreement, and yes spelling are lost arts. This lost ability affects families at the most basic level, the ability to earn a living.
We are judged by our grammar and usage. Bernard Shaw reminded us of this in his great work Pygmalion.
So many atheists are petty and close minded as religious fanatics. We barely understand anything about our universe other than the fact that everything including space, time and all the necessary laws for our lives to exist were formed in a nanosecond from nothing. A supernatural event by definition defines our existence but that doesn't slow down the Church of Atheism in their surety there's no cause for anything.
Oh, bunkum. Who said there was "no cause"? You are apparently of the belief that the "cause" HAD to be god. Why? Where's the evidence of that? There is none. Just because we do not yet know all doesn't mean that a supernatural being is the answer.
What makes you think science has not already uncovered many answers to what were once mysteries attributed to God? Ignorance?
Dr. K, much of that comes from decades of ignoring the supersti.tions that folks cling to with such veracity. It would be simple to say "Live and let live", as I once did. When the superst.itious came to my schools and wanted to require that my children be taught their fairy tales as science, they found that NO ONE messes with my childrens' education. I then saw how sadly blinded these folks are by their dogma. They busily derailed this country and created a great new deficit, while trying to ensnare it in a new series of crusades, by pushing their "christian" agenda.
God bless you Ed We who love God know how the story will end Living on this planet is not easy for most of us.W hat Ive learned after all these years is I know very little about anything but I have learned that all we can do or try to do is love one another and do not judge God will handle that.
We all will meet the end of life one day for there is not escape. I have read the book, "The Last Lecture" it to was most insightful to read. I ma now 68 years of age and I to have just started to come to the fact that lie is short and I am on the final leg of my journey. so I am trying to get my mind around this fact and think of what I am going to do with myself as each day passes. Live each day as if it was your last, and be grateful you have that day. Read books and listen to CD's that are positive and uplifting. Plan each day with some activities that can keep you busy and productive even if you are 68. Finally, doing let the little things upset you, they are all not worth the effort of getting to you. One of my goals each day is to try and learn something new to keep my mind young and active for this is called wisdom and that is what older people have best going for them.
"The peace that passes all understanding". Yes, it IS mysterious and baffling and incredible to those who set their minds and their hearts against it. Yes, there are many levels of the faith journey and many obstacles. It is sad to see so much hatred spewed from those who must of their own free will reject God. They don't believe in God. That's ok. God believes in them, and that's what counts.
Frankly, I have found Dobson to be arrogant, dismissive and full of himself. This change now surprises me. ALS is a curse. Nature is not fair. I'm sorry he has it, but he must also realize that his own god "permits" his suffering.
Suffering is in itself a great challenge to all religions. Most have no way to deal with it, realistically. They just find reasons to try to excuse it, when that is, in fact impossible.
There was no god at Auschwitz, which alone is the best reason for atheism.
If you look at God as the "fix" for what is wrong in the world you will always come up empty. I don't take the Bible literally, but feel, like in Budism, that we can find a better understanding of things that can guide our lives, especially in hard times and tragedy in it's teachings.
A belief in a purpose for us being here is what makes us civil to one another. We stop at red lights and allow other to pass becuase it is safe and because there are consquences for not doing so. Our Lives are the same. We treat others with respect because it is the right thing to do, but by knowing there may be a punishment for not having done it, we have given the action a purpose.
I thik it would have been better for people to concentrate on the humanity, and tragedy of Mr. Dobson's story instead of turning every piece on this blog into the on-ng atheist/believer debate. But as a person who has battled cancer, i will say in reply that physical pain, suffering and even death are not the hardest things in life and the soul or human spirit, if one prefers, is greater than any of that.
Theodicy is a problem for religion and evil is not made better or more bearable by saying – "there is no reason, life and people can be terrible – and that is just it" – as non-beleivers do. But I would recommend the writings of Alvin Plantinga on the problem of evil – the best philosophical answer yet. I would also suggest teh writings of Elie Wiesel on God in Auschwitz or the story of Maximilian Kolbe. Certainly human evil was there, but maybe God was there also, in spite of us.
I truly believe that all the Jews and Gentiles that died in concentration camps in Germany and Poland in WWII died not in vain.
The rewards in life are your debts paid in your past life. When you see a Jew or Gentile wealthy person with a wonderful family... Good and successful children..seemingly with few problems they have been rewarded for their tribulation in their past life.You say, so what...I won't know...Oh yes you will. all the happy, healthy and successful people are enjoying their rewards. Others have various good and bad events in this life...Moral...do your best to be good, honor GOD in all ways and when you g o through the valley of death you will fear no evil....because God is a just God...and remember this....Revenge is mine say the Lord....
Sad piece, but grow up, people! Debating whether there is a god is like asking for the tooth fairy or easter bunny.
Not true. If you haven't personally experienced something doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Millions of people have and do experience a very real relationship with God, a very personal relationship. Although I probably don't agree with much of what Dobson stood for as a member of the far right, I can tell you from personal experience that you are wrong. I have experience a conversion that changed my life and I was with my dad the days before he died, having decided not to have another operation. He was a man of deep faith who prayed with everyone who entered his hospital room, clergy, nurses, his surgeon, and us, his children. He will tell you, Jesus was with him to bring him home. And while, you may not believe it to be true – I'll take his way of facing death – a going home istead of going in the ground. The soul lives on in communion with God, even yours. After all, Jesus said, "Better those who have never known me than those who have and turned away."
Billions of people delude themselves. It's sad, but true. Then, in their "charity and kindness", they deride the people who know the truth.
As with all things in the universe, his chemical parts will return to stardust. And, as with all other forms of life, that will be it. The maintainence of a belief that our species, of all extant forms of life in the universe, will, after physical death, be perpetuated in some supernatural form, is narcissism at best.
Wow! That's awesome. I'm waiting with bated breath for your proof.
That many human beings are narcissistic? All one needs to do is look around. That's why they created a god in their "image and likeness".
So does the lord answer prayers. Ask Ed Dobson. There is no one at the wheel. There are just imaginary and tall tales from a bygone era.
If Dobson's prayer was to make him a better preacher then his prayer was answered.
If Dobson's prayer was to teach him how to be closer to God then his prayer was answered.
Please, imj. Even your messiah supposedly prayed "Father, take this cup from me." No one accepts suffering and death, they happen, just the same.
People can pray for something and not realize the price that is required to acheive the goal.
From the video it looks like Dobson is on the right path.
I see a man who has been humbled in his search for God.
He searches for God in new ways and with a clearer purpose.
His path has been narrowed and made more simple.
Let's see. If someone took statements you made and twisted them into a myriad of lies and false beliefs, to the point where your original message is completely lost, would you worry about that person's health?
There is a saying " Faith that fails had a flaw @ the first....many christians have been tried with illness to see if they will believe that Jesus Healed them at the cross already by faith ,for that is the gospel /good news.many do not and die early.No matter the case Earth is a trial and nobody stays here .
Here is another who is glimpsing Truth.
A shock indeed to such as he.
The whole "god" and "jesus" thing is a myth, just like all religions are, created by man to explain that which their small minds could not, to exploit/profit from people and to control people. Let me help you:
1. The earth is approximately 4.5 BILLION years old.
2. Dinosaurs existed, just not with me.
3. Evolution is both a scientific theory and a scientific FACT.
Fully agree but one thing I have learned is that is it useless to argue wth believers. They have no interest in facts only in fairytales written hundreds aof years ago. The ones who quote huge chunks out of their chosen religious tract are the worst. The good news is that rationality is slowly but surely taking over and in a couple of hundred years people will wonder what all the fuss was about.
We are born, we live, we die. That is it – and it is all we need!
Are atheists jealous ? I just have to wonder if you don't believe in all this stuff why you would bother to read and comment on it unless something is missing in your lives ? I suppose you people also don't believe in love, after all you can't see it. Seems like a dull purposeless life feeling as though there is nothing out there greater than yourself.
Kind of agree with you except for the idea that theory is fact. Theory is theory not fact. Your not a scientist are you. Its also comical because you basically said religious people have small minds.
Many of them do.
There is a vast amount of factual evidence and canon of scientific work that demonstrate evolution is a reality. It is the exact mechanisms of natural selection etc. that are theories. But don't be fooled – most accepted scientifice knowledge is based on theories that have useful predictive power, even if they are not 100% correct and subject to refinement as the boundaries of knowledge expand. Creationism (under whatever guise) has no basis in fact or theory. None, Zero.
None of the things you say preclude the existence of God, only Biblical literalism.
I have a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and a PHD in a hard science. I agree with your three statements of fact concerning the age of the earth, etc. But with all of that I still believe that there is a creator who knows me personally. Sometimes belief is founded not in a need to explain the not yet explained, but because the believer has had personal experiences which lead to a conclusion he or she is not alone and that there is a God out there.
Do not be so foolish as to assume that simply because there are uneducated and feeble minded believers, that belief must stem from lack of education or simple mindedness. Often it does, but sometimes it does not.
PumpNDump, if these three things you mentioned ARE true, God could have still created all of them. Study the Big Bang and then read the creation account in Genesis again. Hmm, both are a sudden, dynamic coming into existence of all matter, time, and space. And your conflict is where...?
Perhpas you do not know that many believers are not fundamentalists, do believe in evolution and even are astronomers, physicists and biologists? Science and religion are quite compatible.
I would like to invite Pastor and anyone who search for GOD to read The QURAN to learn to be a true believer. Read with sincerity..
No thanks. You can be a slave if you wish. Your "slavery" to your god makes it only a short step for you to enslave others. It's obviously something you could never understand.
I'd like to invite you to read the Torah and to help you become Jewish my brother.
I've read the Quran. I've read the Torah. I've read the Gospels. And the writings of Buddhism, Shintaoism, Confuscionism and on and on. I've searched and searched. And the teachings all intersect in the same place: true peace and happiness comes to those who live with compassion in their hearts. All religions have a major PR problem because so few of their followers actually live out this simple, beautiful truth. Live with compassion in your heart. Perhaps this is what Dobson is discovering. It is certainly not how the Moral Majority lived back in the 1980s.
Not reality –you have to be joking!! Tell me why people are killing each other and why children have to suffer horrible injuries and diseases and families have to suffer such pain watching all this. Do you really have an answer for all of this? Don't tell me we all have to suffer in the name or God, Jesus, or other name you want to call it. I cannot pray, I can only think it is dust to dust and that is the end. We go to the wind. My little brother died under the wheels of a car and I will never understand your Lord. You sound like a very nice person but I have to disagree about some book having answers.
Islam requires that we learn Arabic to truly read the Quran and understand it. So much for Allah being accessible to all. Learn a whole new language and culture that I didn't grow up with? That's a lot of hoops to jump through to seek a god who supposedly wants me to worship him. No thanks, I will stick with Jesus who came, lived, died, and resurrected for ALL people.
Interesting – a slave, but you've never heard any gods speak. You have heard preachers, mullahs; men. Books, written by men. You are a slave to a bunch of men.
Sorry but your book doesn't have a Resurection! Jesus came back after his death and was witnessed by others.
marcguyver,You say, [["Let's remember, these aeappr to be what they deem as the most important SOCIAL issues, not what we necessarily need to be focusing on as SPIRITUAL issues."]]I wonder why so many Christians still create a false dualism like this, as if some things are "social issues" (or "worldly issues," or "temporaral issues"), and other things are "spiritual issues" (or "heavenly issues," or "eternal issues"). As I read my Bible, there is no dualism like that–all things were created by God, all things belong to God, all things are redeemable for His glory. When I read the prophets and the words of Jesus, the People of God are called to manifest God's presence in this world, not just be worried about some special "spiritual issues."Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
I really wish they would stop referring to ALS as "Lou Gerhig's disease" and call it what it is. Lets remember Lou Gerhig for what he accomplished in life, not how he died.
Crop, they will never happen for two reasons
1) it's been called that for 70 years
2) it's much easier to say which is why it was probably called Lou Gehrig's disease in the first place.
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.