Friday, 30 January 2009

Sit Down And Stay Sick

Continuing on from the last two posts, Stand Up And Be Healed and Stand Up And Be Healed (Again), I'll be writing more about my experiences with so called spiritual healing and my resulting ambivalent feelings about the subject. So, if you can stand it, read on.

Some years after the Morris Cerullo incident I was writing material for the theatre company and was still being bombarded with literature from the man offering me access to books with titles like The Financial Breakthrough Bible, God's End-Time Protection Family Power Pact, Is It God's Will To Heal You Today?, Making Possible Your Impossibilities, Reaping Your End-Time Financial Harvest, and Send Me Your Money So You Won't Burn In Hell (okay I made the last one up but the others are genuine). If I made a small donation to his ministry Morris would often offer to send me an especially blessed piece of cloth which he had prayed over with my name and particular need in his heart. I was inspired to write a monologue for actor Kevin Daniel (now Alastair Kevin Daniel) based on Morris and other evangelists who were in the news at the time. Between us we created a character called the Reverend Doctor Duane Falcello (PLC), a charismatic specialist in Fiscal Theology. Much of the routine was lifted directly from the words of Morris and his ilk. Then as various scandals broke about other major American evangelists, I began to believe the subject was beyond satire.

Here's the script. Remember, I wrote this well over 20 years ago when Kevin was merely a child and I had a lot more hair, so be gentle in your criticism. I share it with you now so you get a sense of the ire Morris provoked in me.

DR DUANE FALCELLO PLC

[F.X. The worst chorus you can find (something terribly repetitive, stating something very bland about God, e.g. that He is good and nice, over and over again). Duane, a T.V. evangelist, enters. He picks up a microphone and smiles sincerely. F.X. fades. Duane speaks with a Bible belt American accent.]

I think we'd all like to thank the Cincinnati Salvation Singers for sharing that truly beautiful and memorable melody with us. I do swear that that song could have been composed by King David himself: "Lord, I ain't no descendent of no ape." How true.

Let us just bow our heads and pray that we shall be filled with the spirit that has made America great.

Brothers and Sisters, I am here tonight to ask you to look into the very depths you call your soul. And I want you to ask yourselves: Do I like what you see?

Think about your neighbour: What is he like? What kind of a suit is he wearing? What kind of a person is he? What kind of a human being? What kind of American?

Now I just want you to turn and look at your neighbour. Yes, just look to the person on your left - MADAM I SAID LOOK, DO NOT TOUCH... .WOULD YOU TOUCH THE HAND OF A SINNER? I want you to look at the person on your left. What do you see? Do you see a person who is saved? Or do you see a person who is condemned to the eternal stench of the brimstone fires of torment? Do you see one who is saved? Or do you see a sinner? A communist? A democrat?

Now just look to the person on your right and ask yourself the same thing... Now look to the person behind you... Look to the person in front of you... And look to the person 2 rows down and 5 along... Now look to the person in seat 36, row 15A - YES YOU MADAM - EVERYBODY LOOK AT HER!

Brothers and Sisters, you are looking at a man. A man who has looked into himself and found himself wanting. I found myself wanting a car, a dishwasher, and one of those dinky little doorbells that plays "The Stars And Stripes Forever". In short, good people, I wanted the things of this world, the sins of the flesh.

But now, Brothers and Sisters, I am here tonight to relieve you of your materialism. Look again into your soul. Is it corrupt, evil, a place of darkness that harbours abomination upon abomination? Does it fester with the pus of Satan's greed? Well relieve yourselves brothers and sisters! Squeeze and burst the boil of Beelzebub's hold over you.

Brothers and Sisters, it is my calling, my mission, to lead you along the paths to health and wealth and all the good things the Lord wants for you! Because the Lord doesn't want us to be poor, No Sir! If the Lord had wanted us to be poor would He have given me, his servant, a Cadillac, a swimming pool, and my very own Senator? I hardly think so.

Dear, dear people; do possessions drag you down? Are you weighed down by the love of money? Well I have the answer. Give it to the Lord!

Do you doubt? Do you doubt the Lord can use this poor humble vessel, such as I am, for this most trying of missions? Why only yesterday a poor woman, crippled by worries about money came to me. I prayed over her, and miraculously her tax returns were straightened out. And this happened before a gathering of nearly five hundred certified accountants.

You see, poor and humble as I am, the good Lord can speak through me... and as it happens I can hear Him speaking to me now... He is asking, no, He is pleading that you take that first step towards salvation. Take out your purse, take out your wallet and give it to the Lord. You cannot buy your way into heaven, my friends, but it surely can't hurt, because the Lord loves a happy giver.

“Duane”, I hear you cry. "Duane, how much should I give as my love offering?" Well, I do believe it is the will of the Lord that someone in this auditorium tonight should give not one, not two, not three, but five hundred American dollars.

But listen my children. I too feel led to give. I have here something very precious to me; my very own prayer handkerchief.

[Pulls out of his pocket a brightly spotted handkerchief.]

I have only a few of these specially blessed pieces of spiritual cloth. Only twenty two thousand of them. And I will GIVE them to anyone who gives to the cause of proclaiming God to the heathen Democrats of this fair land. Yes, if you will give unto the Lord a gift of only thirty American dollars, I will give you one of these blessed prayer aids. Please make your cheques payable to the Rev. Dr. Duane Falcello University of Fiscal Theology, PLC.

Good Night. God bless you. And God bless America.

[S.F.X. National Anthem. Duane salutes. Music and lights fade.]


Some years years later Morris Cerullo descended on London amidst a very controversial poster campaign featuring abandoned crutches, sticks and wheelchairs. I was determined to take Kevin to see the origins of Duane in the flesh and so he and I, accompanied by our friend Harvey, travelled to Earls Court to witness the spectacle. Nothing much had changed in the intervening years except, perhaps, the volume of the praise music and the charismatic hysteria surrounding the event. We went through a similar warm up praise session where lots of repetitive songs were sung that juxtaposed lines about 'flowing rivers' and 'eagles wings' with 'valleys', 'thrones on high' and 'eternal hope' in seemingly random combinations. The Spirit was called upon to move among us and encourage us to part with much of our worldly wealth by placing our credit card details into buckets passed along by teams of beaming stewards. Morris regaled us tearfully with a tale of his vision wherein he descended in to hell to witness the eternal suffering of the damned in torment. Fortunately Morris still had his steel toe-capped devil kicking footwear and was prepared to thwart the plans of the evil one on our behalf.

Eventually the healing ministry began. We were called to come forward if we were in need of spiritual, financial or physical healing. Many made their ways to the platform and all the while stewards circled looking for likely candidates. By this stage in my life I was in a manual wheelchair which I had placed between Kevin on one side and Harvey on the other. As people limped, staggered and wheeled forward l stayed with my brakes firmly on. A steward approached me but I refused to make eye contact. He asked Kevin if he would like to bring me to the front to be prayed over. “No thank you,” said Kevin politely. The steward tried Harvey. “He's happy where he is.” explained Harvey. This caused some consternation among the stewards and they gathered in a pack to encircle me. Kevin and Harvey stood with their hands on the wheelchair firmly blocking me in. For a moment I thought it would turn nasty as an increasingly heated argument ensued and Kevin and Harvey were told they were thwarting God's plan for me and condemning their poor crippled friend to a life of suffering. “We'll take that chance,” said Harvey, sweetly.

At last, and with much sadness at my intransigence in the face of Morris curing people left, right and centre of bad backs, shortened legs, hearing loss and financial insecurity, they left us to our Godless selves. Elsewhere in the congregation other more belligerent disabled protesters were being hauled away as quietly as possible out of the cavernous meeting hall. Meanwhile on stage people threw a way their blood pressure tablets and epilepsy medication in the sure knowledge of having been healed.

The three of us slipped away soon after. As we left we saw a BBC camera crew and Joan Bakewell interviewing an agitated man in a wheelchair who had been forcibly ejected from the meeting. Kevin said to me quietly, as we headed for the presumably much less needed Disabled parking area, “You could always give it a go if you want. It's not too late to go back in.” “No thanks,” I replied. “I'd rather take my chances with Duane.”