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Lessons Learned From the IRCS

A couple of weeks ago, I, along with 9,999 other people who get excited about the combination of Christianity and big business, gathered in Denver for what is known as the International Christian Retail Show. I have to admit, it is quite the evangelical spectacle. When you look out across the showroom floor and see all the Jesus venders selling everything from offering plates to books to Jesus poker chips to crosses to DVDs to Moses puppets to Bible sandals to even more books, you can’t help but wonder when Jesus is indeed going to come through and knock over the nicely decorated tables and expensive displays. I actually thought I saw Jesus coming toward me once, but alas, it was just a mere human dressed up like King David. Yes, I did just write that I saw a man in a public setting walking around in a long golden dress with a crown on his head pretending to be Kind David. It was a little like Christianity’s version of a freaky drag show. I’m not sure which would scare me more—the man dressed up like King David or Jesus coming to knock down the picture of my new book at my publisher’s display.

As I walked around the streets of Denver, I wondered what the natives must have thought of all of us Christians being there. I’m sure some of Denver’s finest citizens were probably ecstatic at the thought of bookstore owners, Christian radio stations DJs, well-known and no-name authors, Christian card makers and Christian musicians congregating in the downtown area of their mile-high city. But a few of the locals no doubt quickly grew tired of non-alcohol-drinkin’-Bible-verse-on-my-T-shirt-wearin’-bad-tip-givin’-did-I-mention-sweet-iced-tea-askin’ Christians inhabiting their city. (OK, so I didn’t actually hear any Denveronians complain; I just saw the facial reactions of the servers when every person at a table of six would order “a large water with extra lemon.”)

Despite the whole thing being just a little bit icky (and I’m not the only person who thinks this), I had a really nice time in Denver. You see, I am an I’ve-never-heard-of-you author. But despite only being known by exactly 17 people, my publisher asked me if I would venture there to speak at an event and talk about my book to the press (well, no offense, but I use the word press lightly—three Midwestern radio stations and a small Christian newspaper from Iowa talked to me—they were extremely nice, but I didn’t want to mislead you and make you think I had been interviewed by CNN or Entertainment Weekly). Again, despite how it might sound, being invited to come along was my sincere honor. And you know what? I actually ended up learning a few pointless things about life at the ICRS in Denver.

So, here are the five things I learned about life (and now, you’ll know, too) from the ICRS in Denver.

Never wear a Virgin Megastore T-Shirt Around Christians—So, while in Denver I innocently bought a black T-shirt from the Virgin megastore. Although it was just a simple black cotton shirt, I thought it was kind of cool. It had a large Virgin logo (the circle with the sideways cursively written V.i.r.g.i.n. in the middle), and Denver was written underneath. No big deal, right? That’s what I thought. So, the next day, I wore it. Yeah, wrong idea. I felt about as cool as a kid on Ritalin being forced to sit on Tom Cruise’s lap. No, really, I did. Every person over the age of 38 (OK, so it was probably more like six or seven people) uncomfortably stared at my shirt. They’d look at the shirt, then look at me. Then, they’d look at the shirt again, and then look at me again. It was as if they were trying to figure out if I knew what the word “virgin” meant. I noticed this one woman doing the “look at the shirt/look at me” thing, and I said to her, “This is not an advertisement, lady.” And although she didn’t think I was funny, the guy behind me laughed.

Being incredibly nice really does make up for being uncool—Before ICRS, I was not a fan of the Christian band Casting Crowns. OK, so don’t hate me for that comment. I know I was only one of three people who didn’t like the “We Are the Body song. And I’ve got my reasons. To me, Casting Crowns represented everything that is uncool about Christian music—perfect production, auto-tuned vocals, somewhat cheesy themes and a Michael Bolton quality kind of hard to explain. But I have a sincere confession to make. I went backstage after their show at ICRS and met the lead singer, Mark Hall. I officially am changing my vote on Casting Crowns—not because I necessarily love their music, but because Mark Hall ended up being one of the nicest people I have ever met in my entire life. He treated me and everybody else with a genuine kindness that I rarely get to see in the Christian music industry. So uncool or not, I think Casting Crowns rocks. I even bought their new single “Lifesong” and put it on my iPod. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

Dry heat is really not that much better than humid heat—Denver was almost 100 degrees every day we were there—it was hot as hell. Well, not really, but darn close. And every one of my friends I talked to on the phone who wasn’t in Denver I toldabout the heat. And EVERY ONE of them replied to me, “But it’s dry heat in Denver; it’s not that bad.” What!? One hundred degrees dry or 100 degrees moist is still 100 degrees. I have so much more respect for Arizonians now. There was a time when I would see 115 degrees written on the weather map over Phoenix and think, “But it’s a different kind of heat; it’s dry heat.” I want to officially apologize to everyone living in the Western dry-heated states. I prejudged you. I am sorry. You deserve more respect from us humid states.

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You can blame a lot of stuff on the altitude—All of us know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? Well, what happens in Denver doesn’t necessarily stay in Denver, but they do give you a really good excuse for why it happened. I learned you could blame just about anything on the fact that you’re more than 5,280 feet above sea level. And believe me, people did.

There really is a lesson to be learned after all—So, here’s where I make a small point. As crazy as some might think ICRS is, it’s really not that bad. Yes, the showroom floor does exhibit strange life-sized statues of Jesus carrying a man across the desert, and there’s a lot of hype built around some mighty pointless causes. But every person I had the pleasure of talking to had a passionate purpose for being there. They wanted to make Jesus known. And most of them believed they have something to offer Christians and non-Christians that would better their spiritual lives in some way. People from the Philippines were there, looking for a way to bring more Christian literature to their remote island. A lady I met from Philly was hoping to sell her cross jewelry to a distributor. And a Toronto man told me his only goal was to meet Pastor Rob Bell (he hadn’t as of the time we spoke). Everyone came for different reasons, some a little shallow, some quite intriguing and brave. Sure, some things at ICRS were weird and over –the top, but really, in the end, I walked away thinking, “Who am I to judge the motives of these people? I just need to worry about Matthew Paul Turner’s motives.

And as you can read, I still got a lot to learn.

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