If the Rev. Robert Schuller, shepherd of the Crystal Cathedral and televised minister to millions, doesn't see what he wants on a menu, he asks for it anyway. "A green salad with a few tomatoes and mushrooms," he said to the French waiter.
He got it. Robert Schuller does not accede to the tyranny of menus.
That's because Schuller is a "possibility thinker." If you are out of work, out of money, out of luck, Schuller can give you a prescription for overcoming those obstacles.
"Are you overweight? Have you tried all kinds of diets, losing the weight only to gain it again? Have you lost a loved one through divorce or death? Have you been told you have cancer? Do you have a problem with alcoholism? Are you facing possible bankruptcy?"
If you do, the Rev. Schuller wants to help you. He's got lists and lists of things such as "Twelve Principles for Managing Problems Positively" and "Alphabet for Action" to inspire positive thinking and action, all detailed in "Tough Times Don't Last, Tough People Do," his latest of 15 books.
" 'How do I get a job when I am unemployed?' one person asked me. My answer was a question: 'How do you catch a moose?' "
Think about it.
Schuller, 56, a tall, slightly overweight man with polished white hair and chrome-rimmed glasses, is one of the few "mainline" clergymen to acquire a substantial audience for his televised church service, "The Hour of Power," which emanates from Orange County, Calif. (It is seen here at 9:30 a.m. Sundays on Channel 7). Schuller, who is ordained in the Dutch Reformed Church, separates himself from the "independent evangelists" such as Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, James Robison, and Oral Roberts who populate the airwaves with programs of born-again enthusiasm.
"The mainline has totally and completely failed to use television, and has abandoned it to the independent fundamentalists," he said. "That's why we're successful--we're the only alternative. I can't say that I'm the official voice of the mainline, because that's not true. But I have become that de facto."
A viewer who tunes into "The Hour of Power" is not going to see faith healing or a call to the altar, or fire and brimstone preaching that claims the need for a moral majority. What he will see is a church service that is by and large a standard Protestant procedure, enhanced by an eye for the spectacular that makes for effective television.
Instead of a simple organ, there is a massive, $1 million instrument with 13,029 pipes and a console designed by the late Virgil Fox. The chancel can hold 1,000 musicians and singers, the sanctuary can hold 3,000 worshipers, and the electronically controlled doors behind the pulpit are 90 feet tall. The cathedral is made of glass, concrete and steel, with more than 10,000 windows that take two people a week to clean.
For the Independence Day service, the All-American Boys Chorus, a well-scrubbed band of young singers, sang with serious faces, and a little girl wearing lipstick and a red bow in her hair belted out "God Bless America" in an unexpected alto. As Schuller finished his sermon on "What's Right About America?" drum rolls began and the Santa Ana Winds Youth Band was soon strutting down the aisles in full regalia. There were only two appeals for money, both discreet, with the added attraction of a free gift, a "genuine leather" bound note pad embossed with the words "Tough Times Don't Last, Tough People Do."
This most recent of his slogans has particular pertinence for Schuller, and not just because of the "tough times" he has had: his wife's battle with cancer, one daughter losing a leg in a motorcycle accident, and other family difficulties to which he alludes in his book. Last December the California State Board of Equalization lifted the tax exemption for the cathedral and the seven buildings that surround it, on the grounds that it had been rented commercially for concerts by Lawrence Welk, Fred Waring and others.
Recently the board altered its ruling to exclude from tax exemption only the cathedral and portions of three other buildings, but the church is still liable for $475,000 in back taxes for a two-year period. Attorney Thomas G. Bost, who represents the church, said negotiations are continuing, however, and he is confident that once the board understands that the cathedral was rented only "three or four times," the full tax exemption will be restored. If not, he said, the church will appeal the ruling, and then take it to court if necessary. Meanwhile, the church has ceased renting its facilities for commercial purposes.
"I think we as Christians should share our house with others even if we can't share our faith," said Schuller. "We designed the cathedral so it could be used for positive classical concerts in the community." He added one of his favorite slogans, saying it twice for emphasis: "The sacred must become secular and the secular sacred."
Schuller is fond of slogans. Indeed, his book contains 21 pages that have nothing printed on them but a slogan, such as: "When you've exhausted all the possibilities, remember this: You haven't!" Or: "You won't win if you don't begin!"
"I figured a lot of people are not going to actually read the book, so I wanted them to at least get some ideas while they were thumbing through," Schuller said.
He can give examples of how positive thinking works. There was one couple who started a business making venetian blinds for house trailers with nothing more than $200 and an idea; now they are worth $100 million and live in Beverly Hills.
He started writing the book, he said, because he wanted to help solve the problem of unemployment. In Flint, Mich., he found there was a need for 25,000 new jobs; he proposed that civic leaders use possibility thinking to attract new employers, breaking down the problem thus, he writes: "1. Get 1 company to move into Flint and produce 25,000 new jobs. 2. Get 2 companies to move in, each providing 12,500 jobs, 3. Get 5 companies to hire 5,000 people each," etc. While things didn't quite work out that way, he wrote, "I have no doubt that if a power committee were established to pursue all of the possibilities that the city could actually create 25,000 new jobs! It might take five years to do it. It might take ten years to do it. It might be accomplished in two or three years. But it's possible!"
His "four ways to evaluate a new idea, ten commandments of possibility thinking, 5 principles for putting problems in a proper perspective, 12 principles for managing problems positively, 18 principles of leadership, 3 characteristics of an emotionally-free 'game attitude,' 5 ways to overcome a brownout and prevent a burnout, 5 phrases necessary for the faith that can move mountains, and 26 actions words designed to get you started and never let you quit," as the book jacket put it, add up to a can-do attitude that defines troubles as unachieved goals and solutions in terms of projects. Free-floating anxiety or the nameless despair that can paralyze a soul are not included in any of his game plans.
"I would hold the view that the best therapy is commitment to a cause or to a project," he said. "I'm a great believer in goal-setting. The why can never be answered; it's like thanking you for your thank you."
When his friend Hubert H. Humphrey was dying, Schuller was asked to visit him in Minneapolis, he said. An aide told him Humphrey was resisting suggestions that he return to Washington; he felt he looked too ill to expose himself to public view. The aide asked for Schuller's help in persuading the senator to change his mind.
"I prayed, which I do constantly, like you might have an invisible friend who is with you all the time," Schuller said. "And I got a brilliant idea, for which I give all credit to God." Schuller asked Humphrey what sayings and slogans had helped him through rough times in the past, hoping that he would "tap into his emotional reserves," retrieving through this exercise his sense of gusto.
Humphrey, Schuller recounted, asked his wife Muriel to bring him a tattered notebook, held together with rubber bands and filled with scribblings and scraps of paper. As he looked through the book, "I could see the memory driving him back to the up times." At what he thought an appropriate moment, Schuller said, loudly, "Hubert, why don't you go back to Washington again!"
The next day, Air Force One took the dying senator back to the capital, and, Schuller said, "his most glorious moments." Schuller spoke a few months later at Humphrey's funeral.
"I would like to be remembered as an encourager," he said.