Chip MacGregor

July 20, 2012

The Golden Weenie Award


I’m just back from ICRS (the International Christian Retailing Show), where I always enjoy getting to see longtime friends in CBA. A lot of people in publishing don’t really understand the Christian Booksellers Association — they still refer to it as “the inspirational market,” and have no idea that it’s a HUGE part of publishing. I think it’s funny that a major magazine recently admitted, while putting together notes about book publishing in the US, that they had excluded all religious works in their totals… then noted that religious publishing accounts for about 20% of all publishing in this country. That would be akin to a publisher saying, “Here are our sales figures for last year — but, of course, they don’t include any of the books we sold on Amazon.”

Anyway, we at MacGregor Literary represent a bunch of Christian books. We don’t work exclusively with religious books (though I get that question frequently, we do about a third of our business in the general market), but Sandra, Amanda, and I probably sell as much Christian fiction as any agency in the country. So I was there, representing the company at the book show, trying to act nice, and remembering to wear a clean shirt.

As usual, I loved seeing editors and authors. There were great new covers to see, some trends in books that we’ll get into later, and authors we represent won several major awards — so a good show all around. It was once again held in Orlando — faithful readers will know that the people in charge of ICRS hold high-level meetings each year, to try and determine which will be the hottest city in the country the next year, in order to book the show someplace completely uncomfortable. (“How about hell? Have we considered doing the show in hell?”) Rumor has it they light candles, throw the urim and thummin, and then decide to go back to Atlanta or Orlando or someplace equally muggy. The main show was in the Orlando convention center, which has finally added covered walkways to the complex, so you no longer get rained on every afternoon when you leave the convention and walk back to your hotel. (Another fine CBA tradition ruined!)

The show itself has definitely shrunk. There were far fewer people attending, and it didn’t have the optimism we all felt last year. In fact, the one thing that stood out about this year’s show was the lack of buzz. Monday mornings of ICRS traditionally are crowded, and have an air of anticipation to them. There’s always that first-morning crush, with everybody trying to see the latest books and Christian Crud. Not this year. I’m not trying to be negative, since I actually enjoy the convention, but Monday morning was decidedly quiet. In fact, it had the feel of the old Wednesday afternoons, when everybody was gone to visit with Minnie & Mickey, and the sales reps could talk to each other about how terrible the book business is. (Note: The fact is, book business is great. We’re producing and selling more books than ever before in history. And we’re selling more Christian books than ever before. So don’t accept the mistaken notion that publishing is falling apart. It’s not. It’s simply changing.) Anyway, there wasn’t nearly as much excitement as usual, and a number of CBA publishing houses simply chose not to participate.

For the un-initiated, ICRS isn’t like BEA, in that it’s not a “book” show. It’s a more generalized retail convention for anybody with religious stuff to sell. So there are t-shirts and ties, jewelry and Jewish trinkets, paintings and posters, music and miscellaneous crap from board games to dolls to genuine olive oil from the Holy Land. Yes, it’s THAT kind of show.

The book publishers were basically all in one section, but it’s clear they’ve all shrunk their floor space. Not as many giveaways, not as many signings, not as many authors. Makes me wonder if the publishers will again choose to dump ICRS and hold their own show, just for books. I pretty much stayed in that space, since I have no interest in Precious Moments Statuettes or Thomas Kinkade paintings, but I did get around to see some of the specialty products offered to religious retailers. In the past, I’ve recorded some of the really bad ideas that have come and gone at the show — Gospel Golf Balls, Praise Panties, Pope Soap on a Rope, vials of “genuine ash from Sodom and Gomorrah,” etc. (And before you ask, NO, I’M NOT MAKING ANY OF THIS UP.)

A couple years ago, Jesus Footwear was all the rage — people offering shoes with verses, Standing on the Promises insoles, and the like. This year it was clearly “The Pillowcase Convention,” since I counted at least three companies who have discovered the deep truth that “putting your head on a random Bible verse offers you better sleep.” Don’t believe me? “Celestial Slumber” offered pillowcases with heavenly stuff on them. The “To Rest My Case” company had pillowcases with Bible verses. And “Faceplant” was a third company that offered the same concept — all vying for this hot new corner of the Department of Laughable Christian Crud.

Of course, those pale in comparison to the people offering “WWJT” t-shirts — which stands for “What Would Jesus Text?” (An alternative idea: What would Jesus SELL? Would it be made in China? And would it have more depth than a stoo-pid t-shirt?) There was also a company on the floor selling Scripture Fortune Cookies. Really. Wrap your mind around that for a moment… (“Whenever I’m in need of divine guidance, I eat Chinese! Then I look forward to the Spirit leading me through some pithy aphorism in a cookie!”)

However, there was a hands-down, slam-dunk, stone-cold-lock winner of this year’s coveted Gold Weenie Award, given to the worst idea at each ICRS. This year’s unanimous selection has to be Grilled Cheesus — a George Foreman-like grill that imprints the face of Jesus on your sandwich. It’s so truly awful, so patently offensive, it is sure to join “Heroin Jesus” (a painting of a junkie pushing drugs into the arm of the Savior) and the afore-mentioned “Vials of Sodom Ash” on my top ten list of Worst Jesus Crap of All Time.

Lest you think I’m making this up…

So ends another year at ICRS. Now it’s on to RWA.  Would love to hear your take on ICRS 2012!

(And, for those who are slow readers, YES, WE REPRESENT RELIGIOUS BOOKS, BUT WE ALSO REPRESENT GENERAL MARKET BOOKS. I hope that’s finally clear.)

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  • Rachel Hauck says:

    Thanks for the laugh. Grilled Cheesus. The concept is hilarious but did they think this through? Who’s going to eat the face of Jesus? We can’t even eat a ginger bread man without guilt!

  • Lynette Eason says:

    I’ve never been to ICRS. I’ll have to remedy that one of these years. Just thinking about: Flight and hotel? Approx. $1000. Food for the duration: $100 or so. Standing next to Chip MacGregor and making fun of the Jesus Junk? Priceless.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Ha! Thanks, Lynette. (And for those who don’t know, Lynette Eason is one of the rising stars in romantic suspense fiction for Christians.)

  • Laura says:

    I wonder if they’ll be using the Grilled Cheesus grill at Chick-Fil-a?

  • Putting all the foolishness and weirdness aside, what is most important is that, on the cross, Christ demolished the wall separating God and the human race. Now, we can cleave to God and have life–everything else will dissipate as we focus on the absolute love of God and that love’s power to create good in a world of evil.

  • Elrizkallah says:

    I’m going through an extremely difficult time right now and have been asking friends to send me funny things so I can laugh. They haven’t but I’m so grateful to Eva for posting this on our Word Weavers FB page. Thanks for your truthful humor, it will keep me going for awhile:)

  • Sharyn Kopf says:

    How to make your Grilled Cheesus: Start with two slices of unleavened bread. Use only cheese made from the milk of two clean goats. Do NOT add ham. All grilling should be completed before sunset. Sprinkle the plate around the sandwich with ketchup.

    Of course, you are not allowed to eat your Grilled Cheesus. But it will sure smell good!

    I live near Cincinnati, home of Touchdown Jesus, so nothing surprises me. Not even the news that the church is rebuilding it after it burned down last year.

  • Sharyn Kopf says:

    How to make your Grilled Cheesus: Start with two slices of unleavened bread. Use only cheese made from the milk of two clean goats. Do NOT add ham. All grilling should be completed before sunset. Sprinkle the plate around the sandwich with ketchup.

    Of course, you are not allowed to eat your Grilled Cheesus. But it will sure smell good!

    I live near Cincinnati, home of Touchdown Jesus, so nothing surprises me. Not even the news that the church is rebuilding it after it burned down last year.

  • Dr. Linda B. Greer says:

    Your blog is entertaining and keeps you in suspenders up to the end. Cheesus Christ, what a melt-down.

  • Thanks for the consistent optimism about publishing mixed with the product reviews. I remember putting my foot down when my son was scanning the toy shelves at the Christian book store in RI (years ago now) and wanted to purchase Action Figure Jesus. I was not interested in making rulings in the inevitable arguments sure to develop over whether Jesus would be able to defeat Batman or if Obi Wan should be allowed victory over Jesus in a light saber battle. It was tough enough when my creative child identified best with the innkeeper in the nativity story and caused much concern among his friends when he insisted on throwing the Holy Family out of the nativity scene and replacing them with Startroopers who needed lodging for the night.

  • Sandyjsheppard says:

    I heard that several years ago there was a toilet paper holder proclaiming, “Jesus wipes your sins away.” 

  • Ryan K says:

    Is there any way to comment on the existence of Praise Panties without making a double entendre? Probably not. Please form your own joke and laugh quietly to yourself. 

  • Pdyer3 says:

    Everyone was buzzing about your post at the CFL ACFW meeting Saturday. I didn’t realize people made such junk, but what’s even more amazing is that people actually buy it…or they wouldn’t be making it.

  • Cheryl says:

    “Scripture Fortune”–sounds like an oxymoron or the secret mantra of those peddling their stuff at ICRS and a Christian bookstore near you.  But I’m willing to bet ICRS can’t hold a candle to Christian music festivals in the ”stoo-pid T shirt” category. Such a plethora of mind-numbing triteness showcased in neon colors traveling together in herds of squealing teens. Oy.

    But the Grilled Cheesus–words fail.

  • Every time I walk into my local -we own’t even bother mentioning the name- “Christian” Bookstore I think “I could never meet a non christian friend here to hang out and talk and maybe browse books…..I could not begin to explain all this.. weird crap.” Honeslty? It’s embarrassing. I can only imagine seeing it all enmasse….. 

    But I have to admit- I’m kind of hungry for a grilled cheese…. question: if you eat a grilled cheesus with grape juice does it count as lunch and communion? (That was so awful. I’m almost sorry) 

  • Cindy says:

    I was in the gift shop of The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and they were selling Brother Can You Spare a Mint mints. Not as offensive but still tacky. It’s not just CBA apparently.

  • John Otte says:

    When I first saw your reports about this, I wondered if maybe the manufacturer was crassly trying to cash in on an episode of “Glee” where a character found a grilled Cheesus and it prompted a crisis of faith. But now that I think about it, that’s probably not the case. But they might find a market for it in “Glee” fans.

    • Sandra Glahn says:

      Actually,that is exactly the case. It actually encourages me to know that the people who created Grilled Cheesus were simply bringing to fruition a crass idea in a capitalistic market rather than people inspired by their faith to do art. It gives me renewed hope for the latter.

  • Athena Dean says:

    Well, Chip, at first I was bummed I couldn’t go this year, but after reading this post I can see I didn’t miss much. Your point about the lack of buzz was confirmation yet again that the industry is changing and changing fast. I just wonder how  much longer Jesus will put up with this kind of mockery…

  • Melissa Tagg says:

    I’m suddenly incredibly hungry for grilled cheese!

  • Denise says:

    I had no idea these types of items even existed!  What an eye-opener!  Ugh! 

    People will try to make a buck on anything.  Another reason for people to say Christians aren’t any different from the secular world.

  • Kristen Stieffel says:

    Reminds me of that great old song, “What a friend we have in Cheesus.”

  • Nikole Hahn says:

    I’m getting Christmas ideas. LOL> 

  • Skarfelt says:

    A friend one picked up a Pope on a rope soap and pointed out it was actually just a Bishop.

  • C. Kevin Thompson says:

    And I thought I was missing something by not getting to go….thanks for your brutal honesty. WWJC = What would Jesus Cook?

  • Cherry Odelberg says:

    You seem to have a lot of Chutzpah, which you express well in this article. I think you have also done well in bestowing your award:)
    Glad you made it quite clear that the agency also represents general market books as well – and I like that you didn’t say, “non-Christian,” books as well.  Oop, I’m about to smile again.

  • Josh Kelley says:

    Oh, how I enjoy your your jaded humor. 

  • Awesome post!! Sadly, I didn’t make it around to see the Cheesus, but I’m sure it was yummy. 

    • Chip says:

      Incredibly good, Nicole. They’d have made great guests on your radio show, except they’re completely serious about their product. Meaning they don’t have the brains to see why putting the face of Jesus on a cheese sandwich is stupid, tasteless, and offensive. Could make for an interesting interview!  :o)

  • V.V. Denman says:

    What exactly does one do with a grilled cheesus maker? Serve sandwiches at the Vacation Bible School? Most likely the kiddos would never forget it. (especially if you followed up with the fortune cookie)

    • Chip says:

      One closes one’s eyes, and ponders deeply the fact that they are about to chew the ear off of the Savior, I guess. Really, I have no idea what the creators of this product were thinking, other than, “Maybe I could make a buck off of sticking Christ’s face on a sandwich”? 

  • James L. Rubart says:


    You ever find yourself in a situation where you pass on info without verifying it? I did that at ICRS this year. 

    Someone told me about the Cheesus and I passed it on to a friend, without confirming it was true. After thinking about it for a moment I decided there was no way this product could truly exist and I’d been duped.

    Thanks for restoring my faith in those that create Jesus Junk far beyond the edge of believability.  


    PS Good to see you at the show even if it was too brief. 

  • Kathleen L. Maher says:

     I remember Keith Green writing an essay in Cornerstone Magazine decades ago about Jesus ashtrays and Jesus kitchen witches. Will we EVER stop making our Father’s house a den of thieves and a marketplace? And aside from that, do these people have a sliver of shame? This gives me the same gut clenching mortification that i feel watching awesomely bad American Idol tryouts. STAY HOME, people!!!! Or buy me pepto bismol, for crying out loud.

  • kristinemcguire says:

    Oh the “Cheesus”. I spoke to the creators briefly (because I had to understand–who honestly could believe this was a good idea?). They were sincere but I don’t think they really understood how very bad their idea was. 

    • Chip says:

      Nope. They smiled at me when I asked about it. I thought maybe they were trying to put one over onto the folks running CBA. Instead, they were just clueless. 

  • Virginia Munoz says:

    The kitsch doesn’t bother me as much as the marketing. I used to get Oriental Tradining company mags and one year the Christmas stuff had the nativity in those little yellow DUCKS. And lots of Jesus edibles for the kids. And cross suckers. How distanced do you have to be from the crucifixion to suck on a cross candy??

    • Chip says:

      As a University of Oregon alum, I believe there’s a close connection between “ducks” and “holiness,” Virginia. But I see your point…

  • Janet Tronstad says:

    Wow — I’m still chuckling over the Grilled Cheesue!  Great pick for the award.

  • My first instinct was to ask you if you represent anything other than Christian books . . . but I decided to let that instinct pass.

    I will say that you made me laugh so hard my oldest son came out of his room to see what was going on.

    Thanks for making a great start to my Saturday morning.

  • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

    Oh, this is classic. I worked Christian retail for 11 years and saw SO many items in the “Jesus Junk” category. Sad when bookshelves were replaced with display cases for more junk.

    Why do companies feel the need to distribute and sell this junk? It gives rise to those who mock Christians for their superficial treatment of the importance of the *relationship* with Christ. Makes me wonder about anyone who believes or endorses the trivial token as a replacement for the REAL thing.

    And yes, that grill? Absolutely horrendous! Excellent pick for the winner for this year.

    Btw, I attended ICRS in Denver in 2009 and loved it…in spite of the junk. But I agree…I’d rather see a convention solely focused on books in the Christian market. The publishers, the agents, the authors, the editors, the marketers, the book sellers, and everyone who makes it happen. Now THAT would be worth the expense of the trip.

    • Chip says:

      They’ve tried to do a “book only” show in the past. Might be time to try it again, Tiffany. 

  • Meghan Carver says:

    I love your blunt sense of humor — and your willingness to say what most of us are probably thinking. Would making a ham-and-cheese in the grill be considered sacrilegious?

  • I love hearing your report on the show and even–maybe especially–on the corny products that commercialize faith and Jesus. But putting Has face on a sandwich? What have we come to?  Anything to make a buck, I guess.

    The sad part is that they wouldn’t keep making these things if some of them didn’t sell.

  • Ane Mulligan says:

    I must, in all honesty, agree. LOL That’s just too gross. How would one even begin to eat that sandwich?

  • evamarieeverson says:

    Accurate … and oh, so, funny.

    Loved the reference to the heat. Of course, I live in O-town … and it’s hotter these last two days than during the first of the week. So, for that, you can be grateful. 🙂

  • Mary Curry says:

    Okay, the Scripture fortune cookies. Those made me laugh.
    Grilled Cheesus? Seriously? I think that was on an episode of GLEE. Cringe-worthy.

    Thanks for taking on the task of reporting back.

  • Melissa says:

    I always love your report on the cheezy stuff there. (Ha ha, I didn’t even intend to work in a pun!) Your fortune cookie aside made me laugh. The grilled Chezus has so many worthwhile uses, but hubby said no. Bummer.

  • Chip, I’ve never attended an ICRS, although my colleagues who go always come back with glowing stories of the fellowship they enjoyed and the good times they had. Even though I didn’t make it to Orlando, my jealousy of those who went is diminished when I read your stories about what was featured in the booths pitched at retailers. Thanks for sharing.

    • Chip says:

      Naw, it’s great, Richard. I love seeing people and hanging out with friends. This stuff is just the wacky edge of the show. It’s fun to search for the worst each year. 

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