Dec 17, 2009

The last time I saw Oral Roberts

"Oral Roberts, the Pentecostal evangelist whose televised faith-healing ministry attracted millions of followers worldwide and made him one of the most recognizable and controversial religious leaders of the 20th century, died Tuesday in Newport Beach, Calif. He was 91."

1. In the bowling alley in the afternoon everything was quiet and the TV would be on wrestling and religious programming. The woman that ran the place was always watching prosperity preachers. Her son watched wrestling. She liked the charismatics. He liked the Undertaker. It was mostly empty in the afternoon, a dusky quiet, a business that wasn't booming. She left the door propped open to the parking lot and cleaned the tables and floor and cooked hotdogs before the league bowlers came in in the evening, and the only sound was really the TV. They'd switch it back and forth without fighting about it, and after awhile the shows seemed seamless: Chris Benoit and Joel Osteen, the Undertaker and Creflo Dollar, Christan Cage, Oral Roberts, Word of Faith and WWE.

2. At the abandoned gas station on the corner, a kid lay among the leaves and stains of brake fluid, antifreeze and oil. The kid had had the spirit since he was ten and was, before this, in seminary. A sort of seminary: it was a school of eight in the basement of a charismatic church, unaccredited, with a curriculum of prophecy and prosperity, faith, visions, healing and miracles. The boy was also getting his GED. He had a spot at ORU if he finished the equivalency. He had been prophesying a lot, lately, "seeing the invisible," "doing the impossible," "filled with the spirit." He was starting to preach some Sunday nights. His schizophrenia flared up in the Fall, though, and he thought he saw snakes and the devil. The police thought he was high and he had a knife so they shot him three times at the Shell station, and he died there, several miles from the church.

3. Up on a hill in the hills East of Bakersfield, the elderly woman was alone since her husband went home, and no one had worked on the yard since he died. Her house was set so she could see the sun sink through the city. The place was overgrown with olives trees and oranges that fell to rot like a carpet in the weeds. She got a discount on the yard work since she was a window and when they came one of the men agreed to carry her letter down to the mailbox, a prayer request and her last will, legacy tithe to Oral Roberts. The rooms were dark except for the orange light of the sun setting in smog, and she stood in the window wearing her oxygen mask and watching the men at work on her yard. When they finished she gave them lemonade and glasses with ice and copies of Expect a Miracle.