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.”
Jesus Christ is the only one true living God with powerand authority. He is the Creator of all universe. He giveth life and taketh life at anytime. He is not just a God of love or a God of compassion, but he is a fearful living God who brings wrath upon the disobedient. The name of any religion cannot save anyone! Even your church, your pastor, your priest, and your belief cannot save you... The Kingdom of Heaven are only those who comes to truly repentance and obey to God's Holy Commannents from the Holy Scriptures! Without repentance ALL perish in Hell Fire!
"Love me or burn eternally" is a stupid line.. I'm surprised that anyone falls for it.
Wow, you sure believe a lot of stuff.
P. Le: You do realize that threatening people with retaliation from a being in which they do not believe is only so effective, don't you?
momoya: that is why folks have to start convincing children, who have a diminished sense of logic. That is how people fall for it. Either that or they have hit bottom and they are desperate for Jeebus to straighten out their lives
Philosophical And Cultural Challenges To Christian Faith
After creating everything in the universe God created Adam and Eve, they both respected God and obeyed God’s regulations, but one day Satan came to Eve and asked Eve to eat the fruit from the tree prohibited by God. After eating Eve also shared with Adam so they both ate and failed into the trick of the snake (Satan Lucifer) this was the first temptation or challenges to Adam and Eve. Since then, they were chased away from God and carry the death of penalty with them to the rest of the generation of their children up to this day. For God love the world (human) so much, he then sent His only son Jesus Christ to this world to sacrifice Himself to pay for our sins.( John 3: 16). The world did not believe Jesus was God that was why Jesus was killed by the people who did not believe in God of that time. However, after the resurrections of Jesus Christ people started to be in God and Christianity began with a New Testament we have today. Not all people believe in God or trust Jesus as our savior, because each us has freedom of Choice about the world view.
According to the book to Everyone An Answer The problem of evil by Ronald H.Nasb “Whether we like or not each of us a world view. These world view function as interpretive conceptual schemes to explain why we see the world as we do, why often think and act as we do.”(Chapter 12:p.203.)
“World view is a set of personal beliefs and it is the most important issue in our life (ibid p.203) either we chose to believe in God (Christian world view) or non-believer world view as a Reason, they just believe on the material things of the world what they can see, touch smell to be true and left God behind every action, emotion or decision for that reason it affect Christianity culture and way of life as a challenges in everything’s.
What is a biblical world view? Is based on the word of God and believe in the bible is 100% is true. However, both, faith and reason have been considered as a source to justify religious belief. Both of them also serve as epistemic function either philosopher or theologians. Each of them controls their own territory like empirical or logical. They always had big conflict with one another and that conflict as a big temptation for the Christianity to apply Biblical world view.
Today in the United State only 40% “Biblical World view” the rest of 60% are non-believer world view it is very hard for Christians to preserve or protect their faith it affects on mythology, medieval Christian from philosophy and theology every single day. Even though, the religion movement tries to understand about God and the relationship between Gods, the world and man, because of evil attacks tries to drive Christian away from the truth.
From the beginning of Christianity, who was truly believes in Jesus had to pay very expensive prices for their faith. Some of them were killed, jailed, tortured and ill-treated by their King, Government like in the countries of communist today. All of these happened; because of Faith and reason are different, Christian view and world view even more different and conflict with one another.
The origins of Christianity philosophy derived from the ministry of Jesus Christ. They believe and trust in God or unseen world which is called the eternal Heaven God, this is called(Faith) but the world view and their philosophy as a reason try to against Christ and more likely believe in concrete or material things, what they can see, touch, smell after they die that is the end of their life. However, both, faith and reason have been considered as a source to justify religious belief and both of them can also serve epistemic function either philosopher or theologians. Each of them has their own way to controls like empirical or logical. This is considered as a big challenge to all Christian to practice and their Christian world view in daily life.
People wanted to worship God and obey God, but Evil said no you must obey me and must live and do like what we do. Evil tries to drive Christian to abandon their believe in God and turn to another different religious world view such as dualism, pan theism or penentheism or even anti – religious to become materialistic and atheisticworld view known as naturalism( p.209).
“Religious dualism is a very alternative to Christian view of evil. In place of the one good God of historic Christian theism, many people have tried to explain evil in terms of two Gods or supreme beings, one good and other evil. According to this dualistic world view, the good god (thought of in term of light) and evil god (Darkness) are coeternal and coequal power. Neither can defeat other, the battle between Good and Evil has already been going on forever and will continue forever in the future (p.209).
For that reason, as a Christian we must be stable to believe in God, because the existence of God and evil is real, we must defend our faith even though it is very difficult to deal temptation in life and to fulfill our mission of being ministry for Christ Jesus said, “In his last words, the risen Lord sends his apostles to the ends of the earth: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations; baptize them ... and teach them everything I have commanded you (Mt. 28:19f; cf. Acts 1:8)”. In order to do that we must know how to deal with a culture of faith “Faith in God must be from the heart. It is not merely intellectual. It is spiritual. "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:10). Paul said, “Faith causes you to know in your heart before you see with your eyes. "For we walk by faith, not by sight." (2Cor 5.7)
In short, what I have learned from this chapter from page 199 – 286, it teaches us about philosophical and cultural challenges to Christian faith, problem of Evil, Physicals, naturalism and the nature of human person, facing the challenge of postmodernism and Darwin theories. As a Christian we must believe in God faithfully until the end of our lives, God is the truth, God is exist for ever and we must defend and protect faith do not fall into the trick of Evil try to drive us to return back to the world of material like many other people who believe in atheism, Darwin evolution theory, Islamic theology or mutualism.
He who has ears to hear....
The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from stone age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.
Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you lived your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.
petty people find comfort in a petty god
From the perspective of eternity/infinity this life is like a blink of an eye an extremely short dream. My thoughts are not your thoughts
saith the Lord. All life is a mystery and can never be known intellectually. Spirit speaks to spirit, soul to soul. Those who
know KNOW. The reason for unbelief is obvious, can you believe what you do not experience? Certainly and ultimately
everyone will be enlightened and most will be astonished.
Hmmm. I don't really get the point of this article. What does it mean to rethink Christianity?
Aesops, It means that after all of this time that Mr. Dobson 'believed' in Christianity, and now that he is dying, he is rethinking about how it truly works now. When he was not dying his perspective was more clear on faith, praise of goodness, and it had a definite purpose to him before he was daignosis with his desease, and now that he is dying it isn't anymore. Now Mr. Dobson has to rethink Christianity on what it truly means, and that is that regardless of what people have, if they all are not doing what is expected from the Creator YHWH, to be about the most high, and to praise unto His name, then we will perish one way, or another. He is our life. Yes, this sounds cruel, but it is necessary in order to maintain the peace, and righteousness among the nations, and of the world. The truth is it means, family, and togetherness, for we all are not promised tomorrow, and YHWH gave to us this time to live life, and share as much of it as we can with one another, this is the greatest task above all. To leave, and or give good tidings, of the Creator's spirit with all the others around us each day.
What made him a nut-job exactly?He irntacely didn't espouse any of the crazy things you're talking about What's crazy is ranting like a lunatic about someone you don't even know, attributing ideas to them that they never said
Derek, I don't see anything other than a colon.. I'm unsure if it's my computer, or if I'm supposed to decode the meaning of ":"
He should give Pat Robertson a ring. Find out about how mother nature can seed his garden with some sweet, sweet release. Time to drop the pretense completely and just "live for today". Not having the answer is a major step to Self enlightenment.
"You are correct, God says it and then provides, through the blood of Jesus, a cure. Be careful to understand that Jesus has done the work, you cannot earn your way. No other religion on earth, not Muslims, not Mormons, not Buddhists, not Hindus, not Jews, none except Christianity, makes that clear; any religion which tells you you MUST do this or MUST to that to be saved, is false. We are saved by the Grace of God alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone."
So the worst crime i could ever commit ever is not being a christian? Really? What a great life i've had.
God provides for those he kills in all the tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods etc etc. "Our heavenly father" is so good to us. LOL LOL LOL
An old man now (though in good health), I have come to agree with the viewpoint of Jesus–that it is what we do–not the miracles we work, the preaching we do, the public creeds and inspiration. No, it is the simply ordinary daily living of a good and decent life. It is the caring for others as much as ourselves, it is being truthful with uncomfortable truths, and it is doing the hard thing int he secrecy of our "closet" (Matthew 6).
"After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own mortality."
I'm imagining the conversation went something like this. Someone: "Yo Dobson, you're mortal dude..." Dobson: "What!? I could have sworn I was immortal. Darn."
It is the lack of spirituality of the son of man, and of its harmony is what we are all going through on this earth. We have all become disconnected from what life truly means, and how to live it, and give, and do among one another righteously in this world. We now have the fatal results of the separations, and divisions of people from the in differences brought upon mankind, from pagan man made religions, and idol worship. This idolatry can be from worshiping money, to ipods, etc., all vanities. This spirituality that we need comes from the heavenly Creator YHWH, but we have not accepted Him, in turn paying the price for sins, of wrong doing, selfishness, greed, imposed poverty, hate, we have been given the choice not to do any of these, but we choose to do them, yet we all need each other as one instead.
A man is a man, he is not God. NO man can lead you to God – just as no man can keep you from being what you want to be. Religion is guide, you read the guide and follow it according to what YOU get from the training.
The sentence "When he was diagnosed, doctors gave him 3 to 5 years to live", gives the impression that he's somehow miraculously survived beyond what is possible – when the truth is that while the AVERAGE survival time from diagnosis with ALS is 3 to 5 years, the progression of the disease varies wildly from person to person; some die in a year or two, a small percentage survives for 20 years and more. Surviving for 12 puts him in the minority, but is not drastically surpricing.
My father was diagnosed with ALS just last fall – it's a devastating disease, and I can only hope that my father is one of the lucky ones with who'm the disease progresses very slowly.
Yet if you take the Bible seriously, such ailments shouldn't bother Christians; after all, it would only take a few true believers coming together and praying for healing, for it to happen; guaranteed. That's what the Bible tells you. So why do Christians suffer from ailments like the ALS in similar numbers as non-believers?
The church's teachings may bring comfort to some (and needless worry and stress to others), but they cannot stand up to close critical scrutiny, and any such honest investigation will reveal them to belong in the realm of fantasy.
If bad things only happend to non-believers, would not everyone turn to God? If only Christians were prosperous in business, would there not be incentive for non-Christians to convert?
I've heard first hand of acounts there terminally ill cancer patients who placed their faith in God and prayed for a miracle got cured, but this cannot be proven. It could (and would) be attributed to any other external factor before a non believer gives praise to God.
In my personal experience, too often we expect that we are exempt from bad things happening because we have a faith in God, but the reality is different. God's son is testiment to that. We often pray that we get healed, get rich etc, but this might not be in accordance to God's will.
God's work is not always in healing, but often in giving strength in dealing with bad things. The biggest miracle is seeing parents lose their only child, yet continuing to thank God for the time they had with this child. This is just an example of how God can help us.
Thinking that our good deads results in God doing good things for us, is just selfish and manipulative. We have to accept that none of us are exempt from pain or suffering, but that God will be there for us during the tough times.
So god doesn't heal all christians because then everyone would be a christian?!?. Doesn't god want everyone to be "saved?". Just what is his problem that he won't make himself obvious and known to ALL??, God is stupid for judging people for not believing when he doesn't make himself obvious..
If god existed, I would think he'd want to be known and would make himself as least as obvious as chemistry or math–which everyone of all different religions use in the same way and with the same rules.. For that matter, why doesn't god just forgive and be done with it?. Why did jesus need to have a bad weekend for some imaginary disease(sin) that doesn't even work without the right magic words and belief without any evidence?. Do you realize how silly it is to believe that god had to sacrifice himself to himself in order to appease himself by exploiting a loophole in a plan he made himself?????. That's stupid.
I think he should re-think all the hatred he helped bring into the world with his fiery speeches. Soon, it will be fiery indeed.
you, my friend, are a sick, twisted hypocrite! I am no fan of hate preaching Christians (or Jews or Moslems for that matter) but to get down to that level and wish such a vile end for this pastor is just sick. He has obviously coem to some serious realizations about his fatih and how he has handled it. For you to pass judgment on him at this point makes you worse than he ever might have been...
That right there is the problem with the religious mentality; the spectacularly arrogant claim that they know (or think they know) everything. This is why religion and science cannot be reconciled; one claims to know everything whilst the other is satisfied with doubt until evidence is brought forth to justify a belief.
You and Bill Maher make a great team.
Agreed. Claiming to know The Truth is one of the scariest things on earth.
It took moses 70 years to get it... We all have our journey may your finish well!
He should have been more focused on making sure and solidifying his congregate's faith in God. It seems to me that his congregates are just congregates. Not Christians. Real Christians wouldn't abandon someone just because they are bound to die in the next 3-5 years. That's just sad because so many Church-goers are just like the one that attended his church. They aren't christians. They're just "churchgoers".
Unfortunately for your narrow minds, that is NOT what the article says. What it said was his life was consumed but the demands of preaching and pastoring 5000 people (which, frankly is about 4800 too many for any man) and his real life, which he has now discovered, suffered for it. 5000 people did not abandon him; he withdrew from them.
DLo, Sidney, it's wonderful to see that being judgmental is alive and well in Christianity. Somehow the two of you did the otherwise impossible; you singlehandedly decreed that 5,000 of this pastor's congregates- complete strangers who share the same faith as you- are merely "churchgoers" and not "real Christians" simply because of an article you read about another stranger's retirement from the public sphere. Wow. 5,000 people you've never met nor will meet, who aren't able to defend themselves, whose spiritual lives are found to be fraudulent because of one article you read on the internet.
I'd like to remind you that uninformed, judgmental people who only regard themselves as "saved" is precisely what being "not a real Christian" is all about. Don't let that irony be lost on you the next time you pass judgement on strangers.
You Christians are a piece of work.
But I thought everyone was "sick" with sin, according to the god of the bible?
You are correct, God says it and then provides, through the blood of Jesus, a cure. Be careful to understand that Jesus has done the work, you cannot earn your way. No other religion on earth, not Muslims, not Mormons, not Buddhists, not Hindus, not Jews, none except Christianity, makes that clear; any religion which tells you you MUST do this or MUST to that to be saved, is false. We are saved by the Grace of God alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
any religion which tells you you MUST do this or MUST to that to be saved, is false
Wait.....you just told us we must have "faith alone in Jesus Christ" to be "saved". Apparently, you're version of christianity tells us what we must do as well. Just like I thought, it's another religion like all the others. All created by humankind, none with all the answers.
@Madtown – as usual, the skeptic and critic only reads what they want to read. What Steve said was that all religions but Christianity say that it is up to what YOU do that saves you. Christianity says it is what JESUS has done that saves you. You can cannot earn your own salvation. You can accept it, receive it, believe it, but that is all you can DO.
Don't be ridiculous.. If it was only up to what Jesus did, then there'd be no reason for missionaries or conversions or salvation prayers or any of the rest of it.. If you have to accept Jesus' gift of salvation by faith then that's something the individual has to do.. Or are you claiming that Jesus saves people who don't do any believing about Jesus one way or the other..
steve: free people do not need to be saved, only slaves do
also, steve, you have a lot of gall purporting to speak for god. does it make you feel godly? pious?
Peace, my brothers. Peace, my sisters. He came not for the whole, but the sick.
Let's see; "He" made us sick yet commands us to be well? I think that's kind of sick all by itself.
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.