Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John Farmer

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Captured by a TV evangelist

I’m a strong advocate of radio and TV religion. When as a new dad I often found myself upon the road, hurrying to catch a plane, or dodging rush-hour folks on city streets foreign to me. Such airwaves have been my sanctuary.

Music infects my soul and lodges in hidden places. Songs, operas, musicals often jump from the shadows to jog me to some new cognitive realization that God speaks through many voices, not just through preachers.

Occasionally in my dreams I’m teased from my normal complacency into a new avenue of appreciation of God’s love for the whole world.

Here and there a soldier of God has stepped in front of me and slain me with popularity and a daring message that I must consider as straight from God, not merely from the lips of the messenger.

In the 1970s, while a pastor, seminarian and part-time seminary employee, I was drafted to run errands and shuffle luggage when Dr. Robert Harold Shuller (1926-2015), of the Crystal Cathedral, had been invited onto our campus to address the faculty and student body.

He was a considerate visitor, kind and compassionate, truly concerned about student life for those in God’s training institution. When he mounted the Ellis A. Fuller Alumni Chapel pulpit he was an electrifying powerhouse trumpeting God’s grace and forgiveness of sinners young and old.

God is great. He brought a man, who got his start preaching from the roof of a drive-in theater, into a chapel dedicated to a man who rode a donkey to a South Carolina Baptist revival—to speak to men and women gathered in the name of the man who rode a borrowed steed to a village establishing our Palm Sunday celebration.

I was saddened by California events harkening the downfall of Shuller’s once most powerful four decades-long institution and the message regularly sent ‘round the world in it’s Hour of Power television.

Institutions, like people, are all going to die; ministries of every age will fade.

I am thankful to have known Dr. Shuller’s ministry and benefited from the Hour of Power. I too am moving towards my own pulpit swan song.

Shuller pointed out to us, so long ago, that there are parallels in music, literature and art where God uses less than normal approaches to get his word out. There is a lesson in that. The Bible points out that if we don’t bespeak the joys of God, he can raise up rocks, sticks, trees to bring about his message of the hour, in every epoch in time.

Shuller asked us about our dreams and parlayed that question into an amazing comparison with a song sung by Don Quixote.

It has been written that, “We must not stop dreaming. Dreaming is a part of our calling. If we stop dreaming with God, human suffering and relentless injustice will prevail!”

“The Man of La Mancha” is a musical with a book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh. It is adapted from Wasserman’s non-musical 1959 teleplay I, Don Quixote, which was in turn inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th-century masterpiece Don Quixote. It tells the story of the “mad” knight, Don Quixote, as a play within a play, performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners as he awaits a hearing with the Spanish Inquisition. Inquisitions (1478-1834) were used to purify the church during the decline of the Roman Empire down until the early 1800s.

“The original 1965 Broadway production ran for 2,328 performances and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It has been revived at least four times on Broadway, becoming one of the most enduring works of musical theatre.

The signature song “The Impossible Dream,” became a standard. The musical has played in many other countries around the world, with productions in many world languages.

I had a chance years prior, to sit in a Broadway theater and be drawn to tears by both message and music of this great theatrical offering. However, it was TV evangelist Shuller that brought it home to me.

Read along, or listen to your favorite recording. What says this manuscript to your heart today? Hear Don Quixote:

“It is the mission of each true knight…his duty…nay, his privilege!

“To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go; to right the unrightable wrong.

“To love, pure and chaste, from afar, to try, when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star!

“This is my quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far, to fight for the right without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause!

“And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest, that my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest.

“And the world will be better for this, that one man, scorned and covered with scars, still strove, with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable stars!”

With the loss of its TV star pastor, and following a $70 million-plus renovation, Dr. Shuller’s former Reform Church in America, glass cathedral, is now the Christ Cathedral, Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, Garden Grove, Calif. The past 17th of July that facility was rededicated, by Bishop Kevin Vann, with over 2,000 persons in attendance.