And They Laid Him in a Manger, Somewhere Out By John Wayne Airport


By Becky Garrison

When Robert Schuller, Inc., stages The Glory of Christmas, 228 seats have to be removed from the 2,736-seat Crystal Cathedral sanctuary to accommodate the Broadway-style set, which takes a month to prepare, partly because of the "angel track installation." That's right, angel tracks. That would be for the benefit of the eight angels that can go as high as 80 feet and travel as fast as 25 miles per hour. Then there are the three adult camels, the one baby camel, six horses, a yak, a llama, a baby water buffalo, and untold numbers of sheep and goats on stage along with the 300 volunteer ushers and "actors."

Glory of Christmas display

overflow seating
Overflow seating

in-car worship center


holy family
The Holy Family

(And yes, we're using that term loosely.) The whole thing is staged to the accompaniment of the London Symphony Orchestra well, a recording of the London Symphony Orchestra, resulting in what would best be described as a combination Joel Osteen/Andrew Lloyd Weber/Branson, Missouri spectacle of the first two chapters of Luke as they would have been envisioned by Aimee Semple Macpherson if she'd known about special effects.

They've been doing this show faithfully since 1981 one year after Schuller dedicated his glass-and-steel mega-office-complex and this year they ignored my connection to The Wittenburg Door and forked over tickets for five members of my family including my 16-year-old nephew, who assured me that, no matter how you swivel your neck, there's no way you can get a good look up the heavenly skirts of those flying angels, and my 14-year-old niece, who said the highlight for her was when the Roman soldier's horse relieved himself on the stage. My nephew added that it would have been better if they got the lead singer from Deth Klock to play Jesus, but we can't have everything.

Since I’ve actually been to Bethlehem, I have photos proving that the place where Jesus was allegedly born aren't actually painted Barney-the-Dinosaur purple, but let's not tell anyone in Orange County, all right? It would spoil their obvious delight in this long-running hit. In fact, a sing-along sensibility permeated the Schuller Sanctuary. As I was walking towards the theater, I passed the In-Car Worship Center; a Christmas tree that could rival the one at Rockefeller Center; a spirit-filled gift shop that sold all things Crystal, and of course life-sized statues of major biblical figures including Moses, the holy family on donkeys, and Jesus walking on water.

I didn’t share my atheist family’s assessment that the entire show was godawful, but I can't say I was touched by it either, despite the comforting sound of Robert Schuller's recorded voice assuring me that “God loves you and so do I.” And speaking of impersonal, I can't help but point out that this is one of the few churches that, at Christmas-time, doesn't have some kind of a food donation box, Christmas tree full of mittens or some other means of donating to the less fortunate.

But then again, maybe that's because the show itself is what the needy need. According to the Crystal Cathedral website, “interested donors can “give the gift of The Glory of Christmas to a needy child or organization this season. The Glory of Christmas and its beautiful message of life, peace, joy and love reflects the true meaning of the holiday. Your help is needed in our mission to share and celebrate with all, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Each season we have been blessed with the ability to donate thousands of complimentary tickets (range in price from $20.00 to $55.00) to children's charities and non-profit organizations throughout Orange County. As the production costs increased, the Crystal Cathedral established the Angel Fund to enable this vital outreach to continue.”

And lest anyone miss out on basking in The Glory of Christmas, it's just three short months until The Crystal Cathedral also resurrects The Glory of Easter.

I'm just guessing that they focus on Day One and don't forget those angel tracks an awesome Day Three.



Karen | 01:51 am on 12/13/2007

The mind boggles at something of this... bigness, with such... shallowness. (Not the best vocabulary at the moment due to all the boggling.)

I guess my church's little drama isn't as good, huh? Silly us; we don't even have a set.

Dan | 07:23 am on 12/13/2007

Yes. Why give a starving child a can of food to help keep him or her alive this holiday when you can give that child the gift of worthless, gaudy, pseudo-spiritual schlock?

Juan | 03:04 pm on 12/13/2007

Do any of you people at the Door, between your smarmy observations, actually write about, or exhibit, any signs of joy?

Just wondering.

Aaron | 05:49 pm on 12/13/2007

Jesus was way into STUFF. This is but one example of the lunacy that goes on across the country in wealthy churches.

Doug | 08:52 pm on 12/17/2007

While I agree with the first three observations; Juan is really on-track here. Certainly there are plenty of specks in our brothers and sisters eyes. We could point to the wasteful, tasteless excesses such as those the article described; we could point to the scam-artists, the con-men, the hateful diatribes. But pointing all this The Door seems most interested in doing, does NOTHING to exhalt the name of Christ. But perhaps I'm being naive; maybe The Door really cares more about being Christian shock-jocks (sans audio) than anything.

Toby | 09:28 pm on 12/19/2007

Was Christ exalted when he was whipping the money-changers?

Doug | 02:22 pm on 12/20/2007

He sure WAS! Last time I checked, he didn't give me the authority to be the JUDGE; pretty sure he kept that one for himself.

Toby | 03:28 pm on 12/21/2007

So none of us is called to point out the thieves running rampant in the temple?

Doug | 04:23 pm on 12/21/2007

2 points:

While I think we both find the things in the article distasteful at best, I'm not prepared to call them "thieves in the temple."

Second, and more to my point, what are you or I doing to reflect Jesus positively?

The_Dudester | 05:05 pm on 1/05/2008

Doug, you say distasteful at best. If I take that as sarcasm you are repulsed by the ministry of Rev. Schuller, Inc. at this time and don't want to say the worst.
So you are saying at best if a man who proclaims to be a christian leader and acts like one on TV is above questioning when he ignores Biblical Authority.
So are you saying harmony among christians is more important than what Jesus asked us to do.
So are you saying we can not point out the stench and corrupt practices unless we are without blame. Jesus was talking about personal behavior (piety or the lack there of), not the behavior of prophets, evangelists, or public ministry.

The early church practiced something we could learn from for today. An evangelist was only allowed to stay in one place for a couple of days or until fish went bad. This avoided dependancy issues for the evangelist and cultism for the local church.

Doug | 05:32 pm on 1/08/2008

Dude, are you the one in those Bud Light commercials? If so, that's totally stellar!

I didn't realize you were so full of love for Schuller! Seriously, guy, I don't like him either and I ,too, think his "teaching" is whacked. This may surprise you since I'm a REAL Calvinist! BTW, I responsed to another of your posts regarding that topic on some other part of the site. Dude, stop hating on Calvin! Dude.

madmonq | 10:38 am on 12/19/2007

In car worship center? The name of the next car dealership for Jim Bob Dugger? I'm wondering if we can now upgrade the homeless living out of their cars to "mobile home dwellers."

That is a singularly American amalgamation of cars, parking lots, movies, showmanship, extravagantly bad taste and grift. God is in there somewhere. Who said the drive-in was dead?

Anonymous | 12:04 pm on 12/19/2007

oh, to see the church stripped of hype
laid bare of worldly tripe...

to see her as He sees His bride
shining in His glory and not her pride

oh, to see the body wrapped in grace
humbled, in the strong held place

shaken and turned, fearing and blessed
broken by love, striking her breast

let me see you, the Wittenburg door
or are you merely, a satirical whore

motivated to jab, punch and deflate
free to mock, scorn and to hate

are you a bride? or a bride jealous mate
seeking your own power debate?

oh, to see the church stripped of hype
laid bare of worldly tripe...

Anonymous | 05:31 am on 12/20/2007

After reading this, I cannot help but think what Jesus did with those making money off of His faithful believers in the Temple.

Like it or not, a day is coming when every kneee will bow-including all those who made money off of His name. Then, a righteous judgemnt will take place.

Gustavo | 07:17 pm on 12/20/2007

HILARIOUS! And so true--as an Orange County resident, I can vouch for the above descriptions. Here's my plug

Karen | 12:41 pm on 12/21/2007

Excuse me, I think I'm about to be sick from all the Crystal Cathedral's sugar-coated crap.

kh | 05:39 pm on 12/21/2007

While this isn't my kind of church, I did live across the street from it for 5 years, and went a couple times. They do have a big outreach ministry, and the reason they originally had the "drive in" area was because Schuller started out preaching at a drive-in theater and some of his congregation were physically disabled and came because they wouldn't be required to try to navigate a building.

That said, I too, went to the "Glory's" and the thing that struck me was that in the CC version of Christmas, Mary tells Joseph she's pregnant with God's child and Joseph starts praising God. Yeah. They missed the whole angel having to show up and talk to Joseph in there. It was weird.

Richard | 03:52 pm on 1/02/2008

Say what you will about the Crystal Cathedral but I was a part of the the prison outreach ministry for several years and saw the good that was done. The last year I was a part of the program the people of the church donated over 15,000 Christmas packages for the inmates at 4 State prisons in the area. The church members began in November baking cookies for the gift packages and for an entire week the church warehouse facilities were used to fill the gift boxes with items donated by the church. I recall one long haul trucker who came each year from the East coast with his big rig to haul all the packages to the prisons. I might add I was not a member of the church I worked for the prison. I still say thank you to the thousand plus folks who because there was a place like CC could make a Christmas outreach to prisoners.

The_Dudester | 05:16 pm on 1/05/2008

This is the extent of their prison ministry? Cookies how sweet! Makes my heart flutter to hear that once a year their prison ministry can be summed up by a cookie attonement. All the CC has to do is clean up the crumbs. If the CC is the christian norm, then maybe Marx's criticism was dead-on accurate that religion is just an 'opiate for the masses.'