Monday, March 19, 2012

Back to the Theater

Here's a confession that won't impress you very much, but which has long been on my heart. I love Robert Schuller! I love Robert Schuller's ebullient sayings, "Inch for Inch It's a Cinch," "The Only Limits Are the One's God Sets," and "The Power of Possibility Thinking." I love the "little-church that could" that began in the city of Garden Grove in the 1950's in a drive in movie theater, amidst blossoming orange trees and the exponential urban sprawl of the post World War II era. I can still remember the cold December night when, as a Junior in High School, on a snowy white walk, I popped one of Schuller's cassette tapes from his famous, "Church Leadership Seminar" into my Sony walkman portable cassette head-set player (remember those?). On that tape I heard a new vision for church. I heard a new vision for life. Even though I was only 16, I was mesmerized by Schuller's optimism, and his simplicity, and his ever so slightly "psychological approach" that saw human potential as something more than a Calvinistic five step program. Long before Rick Warren, or Bill Hybels, or Andy Stanley or Joel Ostein, there was Robert Schuller - reaching unchurched people for Christ. "That's what I want to do with my life," I told myself, "that's sort of who I want to be."

So, it was with more than just a little excitement that I noticed in the newspaper this morning that after a long winter of dysfunction and collapse within the Schuller empire, that there was once again a flicker of hope. The Crystal Cathedral was alive once again - it was moving back to the movie theater. The theater this past Sunday was different from the original drive-in theater, and was instead, a typical indoor movie cinema theater. The preacher was different; this time it was Sheila Schuller, the eldest daughter of Robert. The calendar was not the 1950's but rather the early digits of the second decade of the next millennium. Gone were the packed out crowds, and the ranks of pipes from the organ, and the Grecian waterfalls which all splashed inside the Crystal Cathedral to create a melange of sound, light and pageantry. A solemn 100 congregants came to the theater this past weekend. Though I was not there to witness it, it would seem that there was a poetic symmetry about returning to the place where you began in life. In the new setting, there was no flash or pizzaz or hyperbole from younger years, but a humble gathering of people who wanted to worship God...."and a river runs through it."

Highlands Church, of course, began in a movie theater in Paso Robles, in 2006. Our first service in the theater did not have even 100 attendees, but only 40 came. Back in those days, my brother Jamie and I and a few hard bitten volunteers would wake up at 4:00 in the morning, and drive our trailer down to the theater, and unload our gear through a back door, side-stepping used syringes and empty beer bottles and dried up prophylactics and smelly throw up - and we would set up church. And people would come. All kinds of people who would never don the door of a church, or a chapel or a Crystal Cathedral. The experience of being in a movie theater to worship God was one of the highlights of my life.

My prayer for The Crystal Cathedral, in this next period, is that it would be able to change it's core identity, to alter it's seemingly irrevocable trajectory of loss and failure. Perhaps even it's name might be reconsidered. For example, it might go from the "Crystal Cathedral" to the "Velvet, Squeeky-Chair, Popcorn Smelling, Neon-Lit Place Of God", and therein rediscover it's purpose.

All For Now,

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