Posted by: sarahkennedy33 | November 27, 2006

Disneyland is WAY more fun than the Crystal Cathedral

The quote came from Jenn this afternoon as she walked into a conversation I was having, and all she heard were the words “Disneyland” and the “Crystal Cathedral”—and so this was her analysis on the two. I would have to say she is right.

Last Friday Sophie and I joined Paige & Chris and their two sets of parents for an evening at the Glory of Christmas—the famous Crystal Cathedral Christmas…well…extravaganza. There really just isn’t any other word for it. I’ve heard about the Glory of Christmas for years now, my grandparents had wanted to come down to LA to see it for years, so for one of their wedding anniversaries my dad and his siblings sent them, and they were so impressed and so in awe of this performance. I can definitely see how they would feel that way! The cast members sang with the quality of professional artists, the sets were unbelievable, about a dozen real animals—sheep, horses, a donkey, and three live camels made their way into the sanctuary and across the stage at various points throughout the show, and a half-dozen angels literally flew from the ceiling. Impressive, might be a good word to describe the night.

I think, though, that being at the Crystal Cathedral brought up a lot questions for me. For those who haven’t seen it, this place is massive, and in my opinion, ostentatious. Pretty, but gaudy. Outside there are statues of Moses holding the 10 commandments, completely with a “burning bush” next to him—which involves real fire that never goes out. In one of the fountains is a life sized statue of Jesus walking on the water. Need your Starbucks fix on a Sunday morning? You’re in luck! You don’t even have to leave the “campus!” Want to purchase anything under the sun remotely related to Christianity? Good thing there is a store right there. (Our personal favorite item for sale—the t-shirts with Crystal Cathedral written in a fancy script—in sparkly crystal sequins.) Being the theology nerds that we are, Chris, Sophie and I wandered the gift shop trying to figure out if we could decide what the theology of the church was—what did they think about women in active leadership? Were they fairly conservative? What type of crowd did they attract? We debated back and forth for awhile, yet our answer came pretty clearly as we rounded the corner and came to a stop in front of the display of books written by their pastors—Dr. Robert Schuller and his son Dr. Robert A. Schuller. They hold very strongly to a prosperity gospel message—much like my favorite smiling Texas preacher Joel Osteen. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the Schullers and Mr. Osteen have all done some great things—there are people that have come to know Jesus through their ministries and I just want to say that I recognize that. However, being at the Crystal Cathedral I found myself asking some questions about what is behind their ministries.

They have a new building as part of their campus, which houses the book store, the art gallery, and the food court (yes, because a church wouldn’t be a church without a food court). According to the piece of paper they handed me when I walked into the building, the entire structure tells a sermon about the message of their ministry, so I thought I would read through the self-guided tour to see what they say. As you enter the building, you’re greeted with a Bible verse. This is good, I like Bible verses. I think the verse they chose, however, is incredibly telling about their theology: “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed…NOTHING will be impossible to you!” (capitalization was theirs, not mine). You continue into the center of the building and in front of you is the “title” of this sermon: “If you can dream it, you can do it!” Various other quotes greet you as you walk through the building, including “What dreams would you have if you knew you could not fail?” and “Dream an impossible dream. Make it big enough for God to fit in.” And you leave with the words of Jesus: “I have come that you might have life and live it more abundantly.” Everything in their building and on their campus and in their Sunday bulletin (which I swiped from the information center) spoke of dreaming big, desiring more, and being blessed by God.

I agree, God loves to bless His children—we see examples over and over in scripture of God blessing those He loves. However, as Rob Bell points out in one of his newest Nooma videos (go to www.nooma.com for more info—they truly are amazing videos if you haven’t seen them!) entitled “Rich” he makes this statement: “I keep seeing this bumper sticker that’s popular right now. It says ‘God Bless America.’ Every time I see one, I think, God has. God has blessed America…and in scripture when God blesses someone it is so they might go and be a blessing to others.” I love this verse from John where Jesus says “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly” but I think we misinterpret it. I don’t think that we can simply take that verse by itself and use it to say “see, God wants us to have everything we want in life!” I think our Americanized definition of an abundant life is not really what Jesus had in mind. When I think of having an abundant life I think of healing, of wholeness, of reconciliation between people. I think of living with hope, even when things are unbelievably difficult. I see living abundantly as living in confidence that I know who I am, but more importantly, I know Whose I am. I think living abundantly means living in faith that we get to spend eternity with the One who created the heavens and the earth, yet still chose US to be in relationship with. And none of these things have anything to do with material possessions, education, societal status or wealth. See, this is my problem with the prosperity gospel, with the idea that if we dream big, God will surely bless that, and that God wants for us to be blessed materially. I think it puts the emphasis on the material, which isn’t the most important thing in this world. Rob Bell reminds us in “Rich” that nowhere in scripture does God condemn people for having possessions, God is not some kill-joy out to take away everything we own, but when we do focus on this aspect of being blessed, we miss the rest of what I think scripture means when we’re told to live abundantly—namely blessing others and bringing healing to those around us.

One more example that I think really hit home the most for me while visiting the Crystal Cathedral on Friday. After the performance us girls went to find the restroom. Someone had said the bathroom at the place was pretty impressive, but I was thinking “it’s a public restroom, how impressive could it be?” Ok I was wrong. As we walked in, we were greeted by wood paneled walls, carpet on the floors, framed Thomas Kinkaid paintings, fresh potpourri, soft music, marble tiled floors and sinks, and black toilets. We just stared in amazement, not really sure what to think. Why in the world would a church need a woman’s restroom quite this…gaudy? (Beautiful, yes, but it was still gaudy). On the wall was a plaque that read “this restroom was made possible by a large gift from a donor who wished for women to know that they are beautiful, they are precious, and they are loved.” So that started the conversation between us as to whether that made it more appropriate or not. My opinion was that no, even knowing the meaning behind the fancy restroom, that does not make it justifiable in my mind. One of my passions in life is helping women find their identity in Christ, as a daughter of the King of Kings. I long for women to find healing for their wounded hearts, to find wholeness, to find their unique callings in life. This is probably the thing in ministry I am the most passionate about. While the restroom was fancy, impressive and beautiful, I just left thinking, “that’s great, but when they walk out of here, they still carry with them all their burdens, all their wounds. This bathroom doesn’t bring them abundant life, no matter how well intentioned or generous the monetary gift was.”

This blog really wasn’t intended to be a time of bashing the Crystal Cathedral—I know that they have some ministries that are doing some wonderful things in Los Angeles, and I am thankful for those who have come to find healing and joy through them. I think though that the conversation needs to continue—what does it mean to have abundant life? What does it mean to be blessed? Then to take it to another level entirely, what does it look like to be the church? How, at church as large as some of these mega-churches, can you authentically do incarnational ministry with one another? How do you build authentic relationships when so many thousands of people show up each week? Yeah, just a few light thoughts heading into finals…

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