Friends and family surrounding him, Paul Williams lays down on the makeshift crucifix fashioned out of plywood and wooden posts. The planks are sturdy and laid flat on the ground, a modest amount of cushioning over the boards to provide the slightest comfort. Paul, who appears to be in his middle to late sixties, will be lying on the crucifix for an hour and the boards can be extremely uncomfortable without the cushioning. And while the intention of the experience is not necessarily to offer physical comfort, many of those that will be participating in the event are older and in a great degree of pain as it is, more so than can be assumed Jesus Christ was in before he was tortured and crucified by the Roman Empire in 33 AD.
“Attending acupuncture school was just a means to an end. That end was to spread the Word of God.” says John Carol, an evangelical Christian minister living in Los Angeles, California. “My aunt had bad arthritis of the knees and had tried everything for relief. She was unable to get around without support and eventually needed a wheelchair for most of her activities. When she told us she was going to try acupuncture, we were all very suspicious and wary. It is foreign to our way of thinking, and not necessarily medically speaking. It is foreign culturally.” His aunt got the acupuncture anyway and it helped her greatly. She needed less pain medication and was able to get out of her wheelchair entirely, if not abandon her cane. “We were all astounded. But this suspicion remained. How did this stuff work?”
Carol began to look into acupuncture, Oriental medicine and the theories surrounding it. The more he looked, the more uncomfortable he was with the manner in which it was supposed to work. “It is based on a metaphysical construct that is absolutely counter to everything we know and understand through western medicine. Now, I do not prescribe to everything that western medicine has to say, and frankly, I think that it can be an arrogant and Godless system that deifies science and man at the expense of morals, values and the Word of God. However, what we do know about the body and the way that God made man in His own image tells us that if the theories of Oriental medicine are to be taken as valid, the Bible and the Word of God would be somehow incomplete or lacking. Where in the Bible is there talk of an invisible energy that the Chinese called qi flowing through invisible pathways in the body? Nowhere.”
But delving deeper into his own understanding of God and Bible study, Carol believes that the ancient Chinese may have intuited something more powerful that what his contemporary colleagues have interpreted as a mysterious “energy”. The ancient Chinese may have been intuiting the coming of Jesus, and what is called qi in the Chinese classics was actually the Holy Spirit. Whether or not they understood this is inconsequential. “The Holy Spirit is that agent or aspect of God that can regenerate our dead spirit. We are put here on this earth as a body with a soul. However, we have a dead Spirit. John 3:6 says, ‘Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.’ Regeneration is a spiritual rebirth that enables us to reach God. The ancient Chinese seemed to understand that they were tapping into a force that was beyond mere biology. It is only now that we can understand the true meaning of qi and the archetypal power of the needles.”
Activating the Holy Spirit in regeneration leads to faith in Jesus Christ and gives one the power to actualize the Word here on earth. What Carol wants to do with acupuncture is activate the Holy Spirit, faith in the Lord, so that the teachings of Christ can be brought out of the Bible to manifest into the believers activities here on earth. Moreover, activating the Holy Spirit through acupuncture can lead to dramatic healing experiences of the physical body and cleanse the emotional pain of living without Christ. “This is body, mind, Holy Spirit medicine.” says Carol.
Modern culture is devoid of a connection with Christ and therefore the most common illness we moderns experience is a spiritual illness, a lack of God, according to Carol. Acupuncture as he practices it is a truly spiritual intervention, regenerating the Holy Spirit into the believer, whether or not he has already been saved. People getting acupuncture from Carol are doing it to cleanse the soul and revitalize the Spirit in them, allowing them to reaffirm their commitment to God. Carol knows only two “points” in his practice, and uses them bilaterally for a total of four needles. But in his church they are not seen as needles. They are nails. And through them is divined the breath of God.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” So says Paul Williams, and all who come to Carol’s Church of The Holy Spirit, as he approaches the recumbent crucifix and prepares to deepen his communion with God. Williams lies down, careful with his troubled back and makes himself as comfortable as possible. His arms are outstretched at ninety degrees on either side as he lies in a symbolic recreation of the crucifixion of Jesus, wrists and ankles tied to the boards with twine straps. Carol approaches him, acupuncture needles in hand and bellows above the din of onlookers a quote from 2 Corinthians 5:17. “THEREFORE, IF ANYONE IS IN CHRIST, HE IS A NEW CREATION; THE OLD HAS GONE, THE NEW HAS COME!” He swiftly inserts a needle into the center of the right palm. Several people start wailing in grief as if very Jesus Christ were before them, receiving his punishment. Others are speaking in tongues, thrashing their bodies about as the Holy Spirit moves through them. And others simply have their arms raised with hands reaching towards the sky, looking upwards, eyes closed, faces serene, moving back and forth in an easy sway like grass in an autumn breeze. Williams himself has his eyes closed, lips pursed. Tears that had been bunched up in his eyes are now streaming down his face as he accepts the grace of the Holy Spirit. Carol circles around to puncture Williams left palm and as he raises the needle and brings it down deftly into the palm, a new wave of animation jolts through the crowd, igniting the room with a fevered glow that is as palpable as it is intoxicating. To Carol and his flock, the Holy Spirit has cometh. Needles are inserted into the flesh between the first and second toes of both feet and William’s chest thrusts forcibly outward off the board, defying the fragile condition of his aged back. People in the crowd are crying and hugging. Without words they amble away from the now gently quivering Williams as the Spirit pours through his very being. They move away from him and toward another makeshift recumbent crucifix only ten feet to the side of Williams. A middle-aged woman makes her way onto the crucifix, her face firm and resolute. In a row, apart from the two believers are eight more crucifixes. Opposite them is another row of ten making twenty in all. On any given day, Carol will crucify at least fifty and as much as one hundred people who pay through a donation box on the wall. The word of his Church has spread through L.A. like a California wildfire. He does this 6 days a week for 7 hours a day. He ministers at the church on Sundays.
“Acupuncture school is hardly an environment that is tolerant toward Christ and His teachings or the average working class American. To a very large degree, these schools attract a certain type of person, one that is more interested in self-expression than service. Acupuncture schools cater to the culture of narcissism. There is an air of superiority there that is common to liberal people and it is this superiority that keeps acupuncture and Oriental medicine on the outskirts of mainstream America.” According to Carol, the schools are not really interested in promoting service, which was the essence of the Christ’s teachings. Rather, the schools have a twin agenda of legitimizing acupuncture as a mainstream medical profession in their own financial interests, and attracting tuition paying students by promoting a metaphysical quasi-religious view of the human condition that reduces all interior experiences of spiritual depth to sensory-emotional experiences that can be felt in the body. In any case, neither of these agendas can be successfully fulfilled because of the profound cultural gap that exists between the people that own and operate the schools, acupuncturists themselves and working class America, which is largely conservative in nature and apt to adhere to a Judeo-Christian worldview that considers Oriental medicine, if it considers it at all, foreign, unfamiliar and scary. The liberal left cannot support acupuncture as a mainstream medical modality either, as it is suspicious of anything unsupported by science. If qi cannot be seen with a microscope, it is not real and any attempt to appeal to the rational liberal mind is immediately lost, regardless of the latest western study. Enter the lab coats, doctorate degrees and insurance reimbursement. “You have two deluded types of acupuncturists. Your rational scientific type that thinks they are going to establish acupuncture as a legitimate medical profession a la chiropractors and physical therapists. Then there is the sensitive, self-centered emotional type that thinks they that by catering to the emotional needs of privileged peoples and calling this spiritual work, that they are doing good deeds and will be able to support themselves. Never mind that most people can’t afford their services. That is merely the price to be paid for working at a ‘deep level’. They both exemplify a deluded sick society that has lost the Way and has traded a relationship with God for their own worldly desires.” And that is why Carol and other officials in the Church are planning on opening their own acupuncture schools.
The laws that govern acupuncture schools and regulate the profession reflect the mindset of those that established the schools. For Carol, these laws need to be changed in order to reflect the mindset of the church and its members before acupuncture can integrate itself into conservative working-class culture. It is this way that acupuncture can be as commonplace as those within the existing profession wish it could be, but on much different terms: those terms would be established by the church. And if any organization has the power to rewrite the laws that govern acupuncture in America, it is the evangelical movement, which is said to average somewhere between 30-35% of the population, or about 100 million Americans. In 2007, 3.1 million Americans received acupuncture. The divide is enormous.
Carol and other church authorities envision an acupuncture education that would be remiss of all Oriental medical theory. In its place would be a rigorous curriculum of evangelical Christian teachings with the aim of preparing a thoroughly devout Christian with the same spirit of service that Christ embodied. And while true and final salvation can only be in Heaven, it is only by contacting the Holy Spirit in this life that this salvation is possible. “Currently, the acupuncture needle is a Class II Medical Device and many states already make an exception for who can use an acupuncture needle. Chiropractors, physical therapists, doctors and other healthcare professionals can use acupuncture needles to help their patients, without going through the hoops of acupuncture training. The acupuncture world tries to claim that the use of the acupuncture needle by non-licensed acupuncturists represents a public health hazard. This is laughable. Any entry-level physical therapist would destroy your typical acupuncturist in a test on anatomy. Whenever the acupuncture world argues a point in the interest of public safety, they are almost always arguing in favor of their own interests and protecting what they see as their turf. But, drug detoxification acupuncture, ear acupuncture, is done by a variety of peoples not trained in the usual metaphysics of acupuncture or any medical training in most cases; social workers, office workers, whatever. This training is streamlined into a 70-hour course and has done more work in the spirit of Christ and service than the so-called profession can ever hope to.” The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, or NADA oversees drug detoxification acupuncture. Carol states that one would need more than 70 hours to train in the teachings of Christ, but this training is really more of a process of upbringing than scholastic achievement. Learning to safely insert four needles would not really require much technical training at all. Regardless, he envisions that ministers or lay people would need nowhere near the overwrought education forced upon aspiring acupuncturists now, which between pre-requisites and actual course works can total more than 5 years of training with a price tag in excess of $150,000. These numbers do little to attract conservative working-class Christians to study within that model. But again, one must consider the effect of the existing elitist, greed and status driven, metaphysically based acupuncture culture in keeping evangelicals at bay.
The training Carol foresees would prepare people with the use of the two acupuncture points commonly known in as pericardium 8 and liver 3, even simpler than the NADA protocol which relies on five points in each ear. These two points are an archetypal representation of the crucifixion and are apt entryways for the Holy Spirit. It is more important to Carol that potential students are established in their Christian practice, are eager to be vehicles for the Holy Spirit, and are willing to engage the spirit of service wholeheartedly than be encumbered with theories and technique. In fact, they would stop calling the use of acupuncture needles ‘acupuncture’ and replace it with a more appropriate term. Carol is partial to calling what he does “regenerating” and thinks that the second coming of the acupuncture profession will be called just that.
“Between NADA and the Holy Spirit we can do more and serve more people that actually need acupuncture than the established profession could ever hope to do. We just need to eradicate the idea that this piece of steel, the so-called acupuncture needle must be used in accord with Oriental medical theory and change the schooling accordingly.” Carol hopes to bridge the cultural gap that prevents the use of acupuncture in America. He hopes to use the needle to transcend the culture of narcissism, scientific-medical reductionism, and the hedonistic equation of the sensations and impulses of the physical-emotional body with that of Spirit. He plans to reintroduce acupuncture to America, his America, on terms that evangelical conservative working-class America will be able to relate to and understand. And he sees nothing wrong with framing acupuncture within the mindset and worldview of him and those like him. After all, that is already what has happened to acupuncture and Oriental medicine in this country. Only now, more people will be able to identify with and use it.
All around Paul Williams the room is filled with hymn, prayer and song. He lies in peace, head cocked gently to the side, asleep in the house of the Lord. There are fifteen other of the flock crucified, in varying states of activity, all bathing in the Light of God. The pews are filled with those in prayer and conversation; this is not a place for isolation but one for contact and community. The room is aglow with the Holy Spirit and the release of pain and suffering that is physical, emotional and Spiritual in nature. The congregants, Carol and the crucified are all individual threads in an integral and interwoven fabric of a ritual whose glue is the Holy Spirit itself. Carol roams the room quietly, attending to those on the crucifixes when needed, wiping tears, touching hands. This is what happens when acupuncture is more than a needle, more than a medical modality, more than theory. This is what happens when culture grabs hold of that which has the power to heal, but has been mishandled. What the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. And as Carol and church authorities plan for the recapture of acupuncture for their people, the support of millions stands at their backs, singing familiar songs.
Peace be with you.