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Move Ahead with Possibility Thinking
Robert H. Schuller
A Practical and Spiritual Challenge
to Change Your Thinking and Your Life
Published by Doubleday & Co/NY in 1967
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2005
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The man whose face appears on the book jacket looks almost as young and energetic as I was, when at age 27, I began reading this book. How I found him goes back to a time when I was in an unhappy job. I had returned to Louisiana to work as a field engineer for Schlumberger. I had been promised an on-shore job, but after I had completed my plans to move from Oak Ridge, Tennessee from our first home and my first job after graduating from LSU, they changed my location to Golden Meadow near the Gulf of Mexico where I was to work offshore on oil rigs. The hours were long, the boat rides to the rigs triggered my seasickness, and the job was not fully using my talents. I felt discouraged and unsure where to turn or what to do. One day I was in the toolpusher's quarters alone and I saw a small pamphlet called "Thought Conditioners" and picked it up and started reading it. The premise was: We exercise our bodies each morning if we wish to develop our muscle power, so why shouldn't we also exercise our minds to develop our will power? Each page of 3X4 inch booklet had a Bible verse and a suggestion of how to understand that verse and apply it in one's thoughts and lives. I read a few and was impressed. I had no idea of how to acquire a copy of the booklet, so I said a prayer in which I hoped the toolpusher (the boss of the rig) would forgive me for borrowing his booklet. This booklet was written by Norman Vincent Peale. I had heard of his book "The Power of Positive Thinking" but had never read it. It was this small booklet which led me to appreciate Dr. Peale and led me eventually to buy this book I am reviewing some 41 years after my first reading and having come to know Robert H. Schuller and his works in the intervening years.
In the next few years, I moved to Tulane to become a research assistant, then to a Union Carbide Chemical plant where I became a computer programmer. I read Peale's book, Schuller's book, and an amazing book by Donald Curtis called, "Your Thoughts Can Change Your Life." With the power of these three positive thinkers working through me, my life began its turn to an interesting and rewarding career in computers. I moved to Anaheim to take a job at Lockheed Electronics Co. making the brand-new minicomputers which revolutionized the way computers were used. They turned from business behemoths into controlling devices for mundane devices like the first Automated Teller Machines or exotic devices like sending digital signals back from interplanetary probes. One Sunday morning I turned on our black and white television and saw a familiar building. I ran to my bookshelf to confirm what I was seeing. Sure enough, it was the church shown on the cover of the very book I'm now reviewing! The program was called Hour of Power and it was being broadcast live from the church on the book. A Walk-In, Drive-In church located in Garden Grove, a few miles from where I lived. And Robert H. Schuller was the minister, giving his sermons about the power of possibility thinking and the "Greatest Possibility Thinker Who Ever Lived" (1) — Jesus Christ.
I was born and raised a Catholic, so I didn't attend his church, but nothing could keep me from watching his programs from time to time and applying the lessons he taught. I was already beginning to wonder about the powers of the mind and the science of psychology, and Schuller's every sermon touched on those issues, as it was an interest of his as well. One day the special guest for the Hour of Power was to be Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Here was a Catholic theologian and teacher who was going to talk, so surely it would be alright if I went to the services that day. It was a wonderful day. We sat in the Garden Church because the Walk-in Church was full, and afterward I got to shake hands with Dr. Schuller on a walk outside the church.
This review is my thanks to you, Robert H. Schuller, for the wonderful Hours of Power I have enjoyed over the years, in Anaheim, in New England, and back home again where I now live, since 1976, in New Orleans. I still go to a Catholic Church each Sunday, but catch the Hour of Power on the Lifetime Channel whenever possible before we leave for Mass. You have been an inspiration in my life and my wife Adele's life. We have been Eagle Club members, Sparrow Club members, and recently she bought for me a leather bound copy of your entire library which graces our workspace. Congratulations on your Fiftieth Anniversary of Ministry and Thirty-Five Years of the Hour of Power.
If you, dear Reader, wish to understand possibility thinkers, maybe even become one, you must first be able to recognize impossibility thinkers. Schuller gives us this précis of impossibility thinkers:
[page 2] Impossibility thinkers are people who make swift, sweeping passes over a proposed idea, scanning it with a sharp negative eye, looking only for the distasteful aspects. They look for reasons why something won't work instead of visualizing ways in which it could work. So they are inclined to say "No" to a proposal, never giving the idea a fair hearing.
Impossibility thinkers are people who immediately, impulsively, instinctively, and impetuously react to any positive suggestion with a sweeping, unstudied, irresponsible assortment of reasons why it can't be done, or why it is a bad idea, or how someone else tried it and failed, or (and this is usually their clinching argument) how much it will cost! They are people who suffer from a perilous mental malignancy I call the impossibility complex. They are problem imaginators, failure predictors, trouble visualizers, obstacle envisioners, exaggerated-cost estimators.
If you are surrounded by friends who are impossibility thinkers, then it's time to replace those so-called friends with possibility thinkers. These special people are fewer in number, but one or two possibility thinkers in your world can replace a whole passel of impossibility thinkers. Schuller compares possibility thinkers to the California hummingbird which lives in the desert where blooms are few and far between.
[page 2] He jets over the wasteland and spots a bright flower blooming on a remote cactus. He dives down, spearing the blood-red heart of the sweet desert blossom, and drinks his honey. When others finds nothing to eat, the hummingbird finds a flower. In his way, he is a possibility thinker.
Every possibility thinker gets a boost from someone in their life — Schuller got his at age four from his uncle.
[page 6] His car drove past the unpainted barn and stopped in a cloud of summer dust at our front gate. I ran barefooted across the splintery porch and saw my Uncle Henry bound out of the car. He was tall, very handsome, and terribly alive with energy. After many years overseas as a missionary in China, he was visiting our Iowa farm. He ran up to the old gate and put both of his big hands on my four-year-old shoulders. He smiled widely, ruffled my uncombed hair, and said, "Well! I guess you're Robert! I think you are going to be a preacher someday." That night I prayed secretly, "And dear God, make me a preacher when I grow up!" I believe that God made me a possibility thinker then and there.
While in the Western Theological Seminary Schuller was distressed by fellow students who wanted positions at great churches all over. Then he wrote a paper on George Truett, who took over a small church and gave his life to helping make it into a great church. That inspired young Schuller to do likewise. Fifty years later there is little doubt he has succeeded. But his start came only as a result of seeing the possibility of giving church services in a drive-in theater. It was the only building he could find which was unused on Sunday morning. Recalling that time in this past Sunday's sermon he said, "I had a Bible, an organ, and an organist, so I was ready." He admits he married "well" — his wife Arvella was an organist. Atop the sticky tar of the roof of the concession stand at the Orange County Drive-in Theater in Santa Ana, California, he held forth each Sunday while the parishioners listened to the services and sermon over the drive-in speakers in their cars. Soon he came to know his congregation by their cars.
Warren Gray called him after several months and said, "My wife Rosie and I come every week. We're the yellow Buick. We want to be baptized." When Schuller approached their humble home, Mr. Gray came out and said, "Let me explain to you about Rosie. She had a stroke and can't talk or raise her head, but she understands everything." When Schuller asked Rosie if she wished to be baptized, a single tear came down her cheek. He took that as a yes.
A few years went by and Schuller was ready to move into a chapel with pews, a carpeted aisle, and a pulpit. Someone said, "What about Rosie Gray?" Rosie was not expected to live for more than a few months. He decided to do two services each Sunday. After the big dedication of his new church, he towed the organ over to the drive-in and gave services. There was the yellow Buick and a few other cars. Soon the drive-in congregation was bigger than his chapel's. But Rosie stayed alive.
Five years later, Schuller was planning to build a larger church on the ten acre grounds where the Crystal Cathedral stands today. When he was unable to secure the funds to buy the land, Warren Gray came up with the $5,000 that was needed. Warren placed the money in Schuller's hands and said, "Reverend, I think God wants that ten acres of ground. And Rosie needs the drive-in church. And after Rosie's gone, there will others like her." Schuller directed the architect to build a walk-in, drive-in structure so that Rosie could come to services. On the opening day of the new church, Rosie Gray was in the drive-in church. The next day she died. Schuller said during the April 3, 2005 Anniversary service of the Hour of Power, "Rosie Gray was single-handedly responsible for the success of this church. Thank you, Rosie Gray!" Rosie stayed alive until Schuller had created the type of church he was destined to build.
Those who wonder how Schuller could justify building the all-glass Crystal Cathedral need only listen to how he overcame the impossibility thinker who tried to scuttle the two-hundred and fifty foot tower of his first walk-in, drive-in church.
[page 64, 65] By the time some of you read this book we will have built the tallest church tower in California. When we envisioned a great church development on our ten-acre parcel, we could see that the proportions of the property dictated the desirability of having a tall tower in connection with the church. "So let's plan our major church tower about two hundred and fifty feet high," we thought. Now, this was an exciting idea that had to pass the four-question test. Would this be practical? Would a two-hundred and fifty foot tower really fill a vital human need? Or would it be merely a tall monument to support a squeaky bell at the top with pigeons roosting on the roof? If the monument could also be an instrument, then it would be worthy of serious consideration.
I remember someone who was quick to say, "There is no way we can ever justify such a tall tower. It simply is not practical." I could not agree. What if we put elevators in it? Could we not have a chapel on the top floor? Would this not be a great inspiration to worship high above the sounds and sights of the world? Our sacramental imagination went to work to provide positive answers to all four questions. Yes, we could use high-speed elevators and divide the tower into 25,000 square feet of functional, quiet offices and classrooms, with facilities for a psychological clinic, besides a board room high enough so the directors of the church in their idea-generating and decision-making moments would not be cloistered in a paneled vision-restricting office, but would be high in the sky, unable to avoid seeing around and below them the lights of hundreds of thousands of cars, homes, and offices. Instinctively they would be forced to see far, think big, aim high, and reach wide.
The idea was accepted. The plan was approved. For suddenly the tower was (1) practical, (2) inspirational, (3) excellent (it would be for a time at least the tallest tower in the county), (4) different. Churches have used tower space before for offices, but never has a beautiful church tower been designed in the international style of architecture as a functional office, chapel, administrative, inspirational facility from the bottom to the very top! It will prove, unquestionably, to be a pace-setting project.
Those four questions the tower project answered were to be answered similarly by the Crystal Cathedral and the even taller glass tower that was later built alongside it. I remember in 1969 when I first drove along the Garden Grove Freeway to where it intersects with the Santa Ana Freeway — as I looked to my left, there was Schuller's Tower with the huge cross on the top. Clearly visible for twenty miles or more across the flat terrain of lower Orange County. Schuller had put a mark on the skyline of California and was soon to put a mark on the airways of California, the USA, and the world with his television broadcasts of the Hour of Power each Sunday.
In the first 800 years or so, the universal symbol of Jesus in churches everywhere was the Good Shepherd. It was only after a Council in the ninth century declared that man was not a being of body, soul, and spirit but only a being of body and soul, that the figure of Jesus nailed to a cross began to adorn the insides of churches. Schuller tells the story of how a statue of the Good Shepherd came to reside on the grounds of his walk-in, drive-in church. When Schuller was first speaking to the architect Richard Neutra, he told him, "Let's design a church that will have the mood of the 23rd Psalm — still waters and green pastures." Unbeknownst to Schuller the sculptor Henry Van Wolf was inspired about the same time to create a sculpture of the Good Shepherd in bronze. After it was cast in bronze in Munich, Germany, it was shipped back to a barn in Van Nuys, California where it was covered with gold leaf. It showed Christ Jesus with four sheep gathered around his feet. When the sculptor visited the Garden Grove Community Church and saw the green pastures and still waters that surrounded it, he told Schuller, "This is where the statue really belongs." Somehow both men were remembering the future in which this garden was going to contain this statue and thus they individually set about creating the right garden and the right statue.
When I read Goliath — The Life of Robert Schuller by James Penner, I was impressed by this passage from a letter young Robert wrote to Arvella while he was in college:
The gathered memories
Flood my soul with melody
It is a tune of thrills
deeper than any symphony
Yet like a hymn
It stills all worry,
all foolish fears
Because it hums in future years.
It was written as prose, but it sounded lyrical so I organized it as a poem as I quoted it. But there was something about the idea of a "memory that hums in future years" which resonated with me. What, I thought, if memories of the future are possible? Perhaps the only glimmer we would get of them would come through feelings, through some resonant vibration which leads us to do something in preparation for our future-to-be. Here, in the story of a garden of "green pastures and still waters" being prepared while a Good Shepherd statue is being molded and cast to reside within the garden, we find an example of memories of the future humming in Schuller and Van Wolf's ears.
When Schuller decided to canvass the fourteen thousand homes of the new city of Garden Grove to find out what homes had no church affiliation so he and the five other Protestant clergymen could go to work on providing a church for the unchurched, his suggestion was rebuffed by his colleagues as impossible. But that word impossible only pushed Schuller on.
[page 76] I mentioned my disappointment to a businessman member of my church, who was a real possibility thinker. "Fourteen thousand? Simple!" he said. "All we need is forty people who will agree to ring three hundred fifty doorbells. My wife and I will drive slowly down every street in the city, we will indicate every one of our city's houses on one side of sheet of paper, thirty-five on a sheet. Then we will give every caller ten sheets, with thirty-five addresses on each sheet, for a total of three hundred fifty addresses to canvass."
Back in the last decades of the twentieth century, many large television religious programs fell on hard times when scandals revealed that large amounts of donated money was going to disreputable uses. The Hour of Power sailed through the rough waters of those decades and is thriving more than ever today. Schuller's words about money written back in 1967 shows how his stewardship of the resources would be handled. He says (page 85), "The love of money is the root of evil only if money becomes an end in itself instead of a means to greater service."
His attitude about debt is one that I wholeheartedly endorse.
[page 86] Responsible debt is a badge of belief.
When you borrow money to acquire an asset which will grow in value, the money you pay each month is like enforced savings. Over time you will have paid off the debt and the asset will belong to you. Schuller describes the many times he had to go into debt in order to achieve worthy goals of service and each time the money showed up when it was needed. Not before he acquired the debt, but afterward. Possibility thinkers do not shirk from going into debt — it is a badge of belief for them.
In my own experience, I have used multiple credit cards and accounts and have always paid them off in full. There was a time when I was working in a nuclear plant when the company was offering to match my investments in my 401K plan with company stock. I had the maximum amount withheld and lived on the remainder. I used my good credit and my credit cards to manage my finances. Meanwhile I accumulated the maximum nest egg I could. The interest I paid on my cards were meager compared to the amount of company stock I was being given simply for saving my own money. Some of my colleagues during this same time were paying off their credit cards and cutting them up and discarding them, swearing never to use a credit card again. This was admirable, except these were the very ones who opted out of the matching stock plans because they couldn't afford it. They were avoiding responsible debt in the short run and acting irresponsibly in the long run.
I first read this book when I was 27. One of the ideas I found interesting in my re-reading of this book at age 65 was how Schuller's church re-named its Senior Citizens organization The Keenagers. He writes, "possibility thinking is the long-sought-after fountain of youth." and adds in a bolded insert:
[page 115] A man is not old until he has lost his vision. And a man is young as long as he sees possibilities around him!
This next quote by Artur Rubinstein caught my eye. When the world famous concert pianist visited New York he was invited to attend church. He said, "Take me to a church that will challenge me to attempt the impossible." (Page 132) Too bad, it wasn't me or Robert Schuller that they asked. Either one of us back in the 1960s would have taken him to the Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue, the Dutch Reformed church led by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. It was Dr. Peale who was instrumental in getting young Robert Schuller to attempt the impossible and begin a Dutch Reformed Protestant Church in Southern California. With his book on "The Power of Positive Thinking", Dr. Peale led many people to attempt the impossible and achieve it.
Perhaps one of those people inspired by Peale's positive thinking was Dr. Wilhelm De Nejs, who back in the time this book was written headed the Services for the Blind in Santa Ana, California. He taught hundreds of sightless people to walk again using long white canes. He told Schuller the story of how he and his wife were forced to flee Indonesia when Sukarno came to power because Wilhelm's father had been a member of the ruling family and they were fated to be executed if they remained. He and his wife escaped to Singapore in a canoe one night and found a car waiting for them. They proceeded to drive all the way to Holland! The story of his removing the engine from the car and strapping it to the top of the car so he and his wife could push the car across a deep stream indicates the fortitude with which they overcame the many challenges they encountered along the way. They broke down in many places, and when they told people they were going to Holland, they invariably were offered help to get back on the road. Driving over the Kyber Pass into Afghanistan, they had to remove the water from the radiator at night to keep the motor from freezing. Once they had to drink the water from the radiator and replace with bitter water from a tainted well. They finally crossed the Alps.
[page 142] They came to a town which housed the Tempo Matador automobile factory — the same place where their now battered car had been manufactured three years before. The factory superintendent was so overwhelmed by De Nejs's report, and the photos taken en route, that his car was repaired without charge. Now it was smooth riding into the Netherlands, into the waiting arms of happy children.
There was a possibility thinker. He demonstrated with his trek across Asia and Europe the awesome power of possibility thinking. This is just one of the many stories of possibility thinking that fills the covers of this book. It was possibility thinking for which I was conditioning my thought muscles back in 1964. Without those conditioned thought-muscles I would have never considered reading such books as "The Power of Positive Thinking," "Your Thoughts Can Change Your Life" and "Move Ahead with Possibility Thinking." And those thought-muscles needed to be developed enough to rise to the challenge of the possibilities I would have to confront in the coming decades. This book began the gentle humming which reached me from my future years — whose soothing melodies now serenade me to sleep each night and allow me to awake refreshed each morning. Thank you, Dr. Schuller.
---------------------------- Footnotes -----------------------------------------
Footnote 1. This phrase is the title of Chapter XIV of this book. Note: in a 2007 sermon his son, Robert A. Schuller, now Senior Pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, said that the phrase, "The Greatest Possibility Thinker Who Ever Lived", came to his father during his extemporaneous introduction of Dr. Peale atop the Orange Drive-in Theater's concession stand where he first held services for his Garden Grove Community Church. After he had said the phrase he intended to use to describe Norman Vincent Peale, he realized that someone else deserved that title even more, so he paused, and finished his introduction in a slightly different fashion, "Today we have with us the greatest possibility thinker who lived . . . Jesus Christ! And here to tell you all about him is Norman Vincent Peale!"Return to text directly before Footnote 1.
Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne
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