Church du Soleil

The Rev. Schuller's daughter puts on a show. Very cool puppets rule

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Throughout Creation, the word "God" is never spoken.

Instead, Milner has substituted "the presence." She says the George Lucasian phrasing is intended as a term of intimacy.

"It's also supposed to be a term of endearment," Milner says. "My husband is named Tim, and I probably call him Tim three times a year. Otherwise I call him 'Honey.'"

Professor Ben Hubbard, a Cal State Fullerton professor of comparative religion, and likely somebody's honey himself, isn't too surprised to hear about the use of "the presence" in lieu of "God" at a Robert H. Schuller venue.

"It probably was just a creative way of trying to make people think a little differently about what that word means," Hubbard says.

The professor hasn't seen Creation,but in the past he's lunched with Schuller, toured the Cathedral campus and attended an event there with Middle Eastern Islamic leaders. The Grand Mufti of Syria was expected to show, Hubbard recalls, but didn't.

"That is not the kind [of outreach] that's typical of evangelicals," Hubbard says.

Hubbard also knows a little something about the Crystal Cathedral's parent denomination, the moderate Reformed Church in America. And he's able to speak sagely about Schuller, the Norman Vincent Peale disciple and pioneering TV minister who moved to Southern California a golden anniversary ago and began conducting services at a drive-in movie theater, long before he could afford to hire architects Richard Neutra, Richard Meier and Johnson to develop his Garden Grove acreage.

"Schuller is very much a showman and a promoter and an entrepreneur-type person with a theology that's very much centered in the power of positive thinking," Hubbard says. "He does not hew to the evangelical line. [He takes] kind of a cautious middle-of-the-road point of view for the most part."

By way of comparison, Hubbard says, he recently attended an eighth-grade graduation ceremony at a Calvary Chapel school.

"It was a very religious ceremony, full of quotes from the scripture," Hubbard says. "It was bad enough until they got to the science teacher who gave out the science award. [The teacher was] telling us how he had fought against evolution, that evolution was all wrong and that was an important key to their science curriculum . . . That's very typical of that approach."

Indeed, in contemporary America it's open season on Darwin's finches. "I'm startled when I hear these statistics to the effect that something like 70 percent of Americans reject evolution, finding it godless," Hubbard says. "It's just a bogeyman for so many people."

Audience members who would have felt at home at the Calvary Chapel graduation might sometimes feel out of luck during Creation.The night we attended, four senior citizens departed their ticketed seats and bum-rushed the stage, settling in a few rows from the front—the house that night, a Tuesday, was perhaps 40 percent full. If they thought getting closer would make things any clearer, they were disappointed . . . and confused.

"You'd get more out of it if it was literal," one woman, a veteran of the Gloryshows, said. One of the men with her concurred, complaining that Creationwasn't biblical enough: "Adam and Eve were born nude," he said. "Here they had clothes on. I wanted to see a fig leaf."

Aerialist extraordinaire C. Derrick Jones, who plays Adam three nights per week, gets a laugh out of the comment. He says he was game for nudity, so long as it wasn't too distracting. His wife, Nehara Kalev, who plays Eve those same Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, points out that Creationis an all-ages show.

Jones and Kalev are performance artists whose marriage ceremony last year took place in midair, above a theater stage, in front of a paying audience and newspaper critics. Legendary performance artist Rachel Rosenthal ministered the event.

When Milner is informed of the nudity comments, she too chuckles, and urges a more abstract consideration. "What really is nakedness?" she says.

* * *

A week before his Crystal Cathedral trek, Jim Underdown and a physician pal visited the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in North Santee in San Diego County, a place where the proprietors maintain that everything in the universe was created during the six days described in Genesis.

Between the ICR, Milner's play, the public-opinion polls and wavering educators, it's enough to make a secular humanist pine for Clarence Darrow.

"These are the most dangerous times in at least decades, probably since the Scopes trial," Underdown says.

The atheist is back in the white Toyota, traveling the space somewhere between Disneyland and the California Science Center.

To pass the time, he bats around the creation stories of various cultures and religions. One features a turtle. Another aliens. A third, as seen tonight, a serpent and an apple.

Does he have a favorite?

"Yeah," Underdown says. "It's called the Big Bang."


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