It’s about 2:2o in the morning. I got into bed 90 minutes ago and in that time, I’m not sure how many times I’ve fallen asleep and woken up. All I know is that every time I open my eyes, I look over at the clock glowing in the darkness and I wonder how it’s possible that so little time has passed.
I’ve resorted to turning on the TV. Late at night, Channel 27 stops showing old episodes of Cops and starts showing infomercials. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, it’ll be a good infomercial like the one for the shakeweight or one of those Songs By People You’ve Never Heard Of music collections. Tonight, however, our infomercial is for Peter Popoff, a loud and shrill preacher who apparently can heal the sick by touching them. Even more importantly, if you call him, you can get “free miracle spring water” along with what is described as being a “faith tool.” I’m not sure what the tool is but apparently, if you get it, you can supernaturally cancel your financial debts. That’s what the man claims.
Much of what Popoff says makes no sense, on either a logical or a theological level. Popoff screams, “God wants you to be rich!” in between footage of some old woman jumping out of a wheelchair and dancing. “Oh! OH!” Popoff screams, “she’s dancing! SHE’S DANCING! SHE’S GOING TO DO A LITTLE DANCE!”
I hit mute because Popoff’s shrill voice is starting to give me a headache. I watch as Popoff now silently yells and more people jump out of wheelchairs and toss crutches to the ground. I notice that almost everyone in the audience is black yet Popoff is very, very white and I wonder why I feel guilty about spotting this.
Graphics flash on the screen. “Cancel your debt!” they announce. Men and women — almost all of them black, almost all of them old — are now silently giving testimonials on the TV. The closed captioning kicks in and I watch their words flash across the screen. “I had lost everything…” scrolls across the bottom of the screen.
Suddenly, Peter Popoff and a woman I assume to be his wife are both on-screen. Popoff is waving around a piece of paper. I have to look away because I feel like I’m staring at the devil.
From what I’ve seen, Peter Popoff’s claim is that God wants you to be rich. And who am I to say he’s wrong? I’m a fallen sinner, after all. I was raised Catholic. I grew up wondering if I would ever be strong enough to take vows of silence, chastity, or poverty. (And the answer turned out to be no for all three.) Who am I to judge this ranting, scary-looking, lumbering creature who clams he can heal and who claims he can magically erase all of my problems? Who am I to disagree with a man who buys airtime just so he can claim to be God?
I’m nothing but a doubter and late night television infomercials have no use for the doubter or the skeptic. No, infomercials are all about celebrating the fact that people will believe anything as long as it’s on TV.
It’s hard for me to believe that there was a time before I become a doubter. This was when I could still look at a priest without wondering if he was going to be arrested on sex abuse charges. This was when I still believed that men and women were capable of doing things out of their kindness of their heart and nothing more. This was back when I still believed that mom and dad would be married forever and that neither of them would ever leave me behind. This was back when I believed that happiness was something more than just an interval between pain. In my heart, this feels like it was a very long time ago.
And back then, I so admired the men and women who chose to devote their lives to serving God. I admired them because, unlike Peter Popoff, they served God with the knowledge that it would mean being poor and that it would mean sacrificing everything that spoiled little girls like me took for granted. I looked at them and I wondered how can they be so strong?
And, today, I just look at them and I wonder if they were all just Peter Popoff in disguise.
I look back up at Peter Popoff. The closed captioning informs me that Peter is telling us that God wants us to be rich. You cannot serve God and money, I think, that’s from the Gospel of Saint Luke. Chapter 16, verse 13.
Enough of this. Searching for my last faith isn’t going to help my insomnia. I pick up the remote and lift it towards the TV, just in time to see that Peter Popoff is finished.
Instead, Peter Popoff has been replaced with a new infomercial, this one for the Strap Perfect. The closed captioning tell me that “Strap Perfect is the perfect solution for your bra strap problems. Stop wrestling with stubborn bra straps…”
I point the remote at the TV and quickly turn the volume back up.