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Harvesting Hope and Faith From Impossible Pain

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller started his ministry more than 45 years ago, preaching from a tar-papered pulpit on top of a snack bar in Orange County.

Now, almost 30 million believers in almost 200 countries tune in to his “Hour of Power” televised ministry. His Garden Grove “campus” attracts more than 250,000 visitors a year, from architecture junkies who want to gaze at Philip Johnson’s 10,000-pane glass sanctuary to believers just plain curious about listening to a preacher with one of most successful ministries in the world.

The bubbly 72-year-old evangelist’s empire includes a publishing component with 32 books to date. In his latest, “Turning Hurts Into Halos and Scars Into Stars,” Schuller blends pop psychology with theology for a pleasant page-turner about Christians who mine hope and faith from impossible pain.

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God “has given all hurting human beings the freedom to choose to turn their crosses into crowns, their hurts into halos,” writes Schuller. “With our free will intact, we can choose a reaction that turns torturous negative experiences into radiant positive ones that glorify and honor God.”

The book is vintage Schuller and is filled with religious rhymes and bumper-sticker sayings from one of the nation’s premier “Christian capitalists.”

He urges people to “seize the positive possibilities” in pain. “The cross has to be seen as the boldest, most beautiful ‘plus sign’ in human history,” he writes.

The book is lively and packed with compelling stories. And while Schuller at times goes overboard on cliches and word play--”Don’t curse your hurt. Don’t rehearse your hurt. Don’t nurse your hurt. Disperse your hurt. Reverse your hurt”--he makes no apologies for being a spiritual cheerleader. As a preacher, it’s his bread and butter.

Schuller was ordained by the Reformed Church in America after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Hope College and a master’s of divinity from Western Theological Seminary, both in Holland, Mich.

Schuller veered away from traditional Reformed theology when he almost immediately started preaching “possibility thinking” from his makeshift pulpit.

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“At the end of every Crystal Cathedral service, you are going to feel better,” he writes. “Critics would say, ‘Oh, it’s a feel-good kind of a religion.’ You bet it is. If we bring God into your life, you’re not going to feel bad. We are a gospel-preaching church, and gospel means ‘good news.’ ”

Schuller reviews examples of Christians who have turned “tragedy into triumph.” The subjects--from obscure parishioners to world leaders like Mother Teresa--have uplifting and succinct stories.

For example, Schuller writes about June Scobee Rogers, who was married for 26 years to Dick Scobee, crew commander of the space shuttle Challenger, which blew up shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986.

She railed at God for years, struggling to right her shaky faith. She finally turned her life over to God, remarried and started the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, which helps educate children through simulated space flights.

But Schuller doesn’t just spew positive affirmations without getting personal. The book details some of Schuller’s most acute suffering. His daughter was in a motorcycle accident that cost her her leg and almost her life. His wife struggled with breast cancer. He almost died from a brain hemorrhage.

He also writes about a highly publicized lawsuit in 1997 when he was accused of assaulting an airline attendant. Schuller pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor in criminal court, offered an apology and paid the Federal Aviation Administration $1,100 for the cost of the investigation. In the $5-million civil lawsuit filed by the attendant, his insurance company settled for an undisclosed sum.

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The humiliation of the United Airlines incident resulted in the current book, Schuller writes, urging his readers to “take your hurt off life support” like he did after being booked, handcuffed and humiliated. Humans can be atheists, agnostics or believers in God, he writes, and he beseeches readers to strive for belief, even when they have been broadsided by undeserved pain or disappointed in an unjust world.

“God is alive, alert, and roaming the streets and alleys of the world,” writes Schuller. “He is living in human beings of all colors, cultures, creeds and credentials and is reaching out to adopt the spiritual orphans into his family of faith.”

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