Christian t-shirts for dogs. That was one of the hot story angles that the mainstream press pounced on a decade or two ago when reporters discovered the snarky glory of covering the annual meeting of the CBA, which was once known as the Christian Booksellers Association. Among the insiders, this icky side of the Christian gifts industry is referred to with the overarching term "Jesus Junk."
At first, I thought that was where reporter Paloma Esquivel of the Los Angeles Times was going with a story the other day about the four-day training session for Catholic church educators that is held every year in greater Los Angeles.
After all, check out the top paragraphs:
In a conference room at the Anaheim Convention Center, hundreds of Spanish-speaking spectators listened intently to a scholar's lecture on sex and Catholicism.
Upstairs, a woman meditated on the errors of her life as she slowly made her way through an elaborate labyrinth. And in a giant room two floors down, hundreds of vendors from across the country sold everything from Bibles to bobbleheads.
Ostensibly, the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress is a four-day training session for catechism teachers. But over the years, the event -- which this year attracted nearly 40,000 conventioneers -- has become one of the largest such gatherings of Catholics in the country. It serves as a theological training center, a spiritual retreat and a makeshift bazaar for Catholic-oriented products. All at the same time.
Whoa, bobbleheads! I am so sorry to report that I was not able to use Google to find an example of that pop Catholicism. You'll have to settle for this classic -- Pope Soap on a Rope. I actually saw some of this sold by street vendors during the late Pope John Paul II's tour of the American West in the mid-1980s.
At first, I thought the whole story was going to be a kind of wink-wink Catholic fest.
But then it turned out that there were some serious -- I think -- lectures and classes going on at this event, as well. And this is where things got really mysterious and I do not know if this is a commentary on the event or on the reporting about the event. I am hoping that someone who was there, or who has attended one of these conferences in the past, might give us some feedback.
You see, the event seems really confusing. The whole think seems to lurch past diversity and into a kind of theological buffet approach. Some very serious issues are jammed right in there, along with the silly stuff. Come one, come all.
Upstairs, hundreds of conventioneers attended workshops on topics ranging from "Are Natural Disasters Really Punishment for Sin?" to "One-Minute Meditation" and "Is Harry Potter Good News for Our Young People?"
In one session, religious scholar Angel Galindo Garcia discussed the role of the church in an era of globalization. He referenced George Orwell's Big Brother and critiqued growing inequality between rich and poor nations. Across the hall, more than 500 Spanish-speaking spectators listened intently as Gloria Cecilia Grimaldo talked about Catholic views on human sexuality.
"Can one be a homosexual without ever having sexual relations with a person of the same sex?" she asked the crowd rhetorically and then answered: "Yes, of course."
And so forth and so on. Was this story a fair and accurate picture of this event? I have no idea and that worries me, a bit. A little help please?