The Avocado

From the Archives of the Wittenburg Door: How to Spend Fifteen Million Dollars

The death of Ole Anthony (I wrote about him a while ago in the OT and PT) got me thinking about The Wittenburg Door – an amateurish, defunct magazine that influenced both my religious beliefs and my lack thereof in ways that can’t be calculated. I found out recently that their extensive catalog is going to be made available digitally soon, and with that in mind, I’d like to share some of the Door’s best work from the last several decades.

A brief idea of what this magazine was: it was named after the church door in Germany to which Martin Luther in 1517 nailed the 95 Theses, his litany of complaints about the Roman Catholic Church that eventually led to his excommunication and the birth of Protestantism. Foreshadowing the poor editorial skills to follow, they misspelled Wittenberg. In later years, the name was shortened to The Door. Once a month1 founder Mike Yaconelli would publish a new issue full of interviews, essays, cartoons, parody, and satire. It strove to criticize the mainstream American Christian church in serious ways, and also through humor. In the late 90s, it adopted a new motto: “Still Sticking It to the Church.”

This essay in particular had a specific target in mind: Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, billed as “the largest glass building in the world.” The original building was the cathedral only; the ugly-ass Prayer Spire on the left of this image was added over a decade later.

Still, the original should not be mistaken in any way for an expression of modesty, humility, or good taste:

The church interior in 2005

Fun fact: the all-glass church in the Simpsons episode Natural Born Kissers bears a striking resemblance to the Crystal Cathedral.

The price tag for the church, according to Wikipedia, is currently calculated at eighteen million (not adjusted for inflation). At the time this article was published in 1978, the building was not yet finished, and the estimate slightly lower. Using that number, Wayne Rice compiled a list of better ways the money could have been spent.

I am taking the text from the 1990 compilation of the best of The Door Fearfully and Wonderfully Weird, now out of print but available used. The data, including the dollar figures, are accurate as of the original publication date.


How To Spend $15,000,000

By Wayne Rice
From Issue #44/August-September, 1978

You can spend it this way:

Build and make operational 100 food canneries in poor countries, which would preserve seasonal crops, providing a constant food supply, livelihood and dignity for approximately 400,000 families. $1,500,000

Support 10 orphanages in Nairobi for the next five years, providing food and shelter for over 1,000 children. $180,000

Feed 11,000 children presently suffering from malnutrition in the West Indies every day for at least the next five years. (The money could be used to buy the food and build a warehouse capable of storing it without spoilage.) $140,000

Provide interest-free loan money that would allow 300 poor families in the rural south to build a home and start a small farm or business. (The money would be paid back and used again in a few years.) $1,000,000

Completely renovate a 45-room building in downtown Washington D.C. to provide emergency shelter for evicted families and the homeless during the winter months. $80,000

Provide a full year of clinical care for 1,000 critically ill children in Bangladesh. $1,250,000

Build new housing for 1,000 families and rebuild 20 churches and schools destroyed by cyclones in India. $1,140,000

Supply a medical clinic in southern Sudan, Africa, with needed drugs and medications to save the lives of diseased children for the next 20 years. (Presently, 30 percent of all children there die before age five.) $150,000

Dig and install 50 water wells in Gujarat, India, where people suffer severe poverty and malnutrition because of lack of irrigation for farming. $410,000

Start a university in Azua, southwest Dominican Republic. The university would educate and train 500 full-time students in agriculture, mechanics, teaching, and medicine in an area with an 80-percent unemployment rate. (You could also provide loan money for the tuition of the first 500 students.) $150,000

Establish a chain of 20 co-op grocery stores in economically depressed U.S. communities to make quality food available at reasonable prices to low-income families. The money would also keep the stores operating for the next 10 years. $140,000

Hire five top marketing experts who would find and implement ways to sell the products of Third World countries, providing an economic base for literally thousands of people. $500,000

Establish 100 new schools in Haiti and operate them for the next 10 years — providing an education for 10,000 children in a country with only a 19 percent literacy rate. $2,400,000

Send 1,000 underprivileged young people to a week of camp at the Forest Home Christian Conference Center. $75,000

Open and supply 10 kitchens and free clinics to provide care and nourishment for the poor and homeless in 10 major cities in the United States. $250,000

Send two teams of Wycliffe missionaries to a previously unreached South American tribe (5,000 people) for 15 years to learn the language, translate Scripture and publish 5,000 New Testaments. $470,000

Put 50 ministerial students through the most expensive evangelical seminary in the world (Fuller) to receive an M. Div. degree, and support them for five years so they can begin new churches wherever they choose. $3,220,000

Build a seminary in Africa. Then staff and operate it for the next 10 years. $1,325,000

Build ten orphanages, which would house 750 to 1,000 children over the age of six — children who would have otherwise become slaves. (In Caphaitian, Haiti, one out of five children are orphans and most are acquired by wealthier families as bond servants.) $100,000

Print 200,000 Bibles for free distribution to every person presently incarcerated in state and federal penitentiaries. $380,000

Build 70 new homes in Tijuana, Mexico, to provide shelter for families left homeless following flooding. $140,000

Total cost: $15,000,000

Or you can spend it this way:

Build a big glass church.