This scene is later in the book when our hero, Dan Steele — a former hotshot in the advertising business — has had to assume his dead brother’s identity as a Catholic priest. He is trying to come up with an idea that will help solve the church’s financial troubles.

The problem is that revenues for the Catholic Church are slipping and thus the funds to the Care Center are being cut, right? So if I can find a way to increase church revenues. . . A dark cloud began forming on his mind’s horizon. How to increase church revenues?
Then, suddenly, lightening!

Dan bolted from his chair and grabbed the phone. He called the Archdiocese and asked for the biggest muckity-muck available. The receptionist told him the Bishop was out to dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s newest restaurant. Dan got in his old VW van and drove straight over.

The Bishop was halfway through his duck terrine with hazelnuts and green peppercorn appetizer when this priest arrived at his table, pulled up a chair, and announced that he was going to save the Catholic Church. This priest was so enthusiastic and sure of himself that the Bishop couldn’t ignore him. “We’ve got an image problem,” Dan said. “Too much blood and guilt, the whole Medieval thing’s gotta go.”

The Bishop saw Dan’s point. He’d seen the fear in the faces of children as they peered up at the tortured body of Christ nailed to the cross. He’d seen them shrink away as they listened to terrifying descriptions of Hell and eternal damnation. He’d seen their confused expressions as they tried to fathom the difference between cannibalism and eating the body of Christ. Maybe there was something to this idea of softening the image. “Okay, so, what’s your approach?”

Dan smiled. “Two things to focus on,” he said. “Market segmentation and branding.”

“Branding?” The Bishop wasn’t up on current marketing theory.

Dan waved his hands vaguely. “A brand is simply the promise of an experience,” he said. “One thing we have to do is understand and communicate what experience the Catholic brand is promising. More importantly, I think, we have to start offering a wider range of experiences in order to reach the different kinds of Catholics in the marketplace. In other words, we need different brands of Catholicism.”

The waiter set two plates in front of the Bishop. One was a filet of beef in puff pastry with bearnaise, the other was a lobster with tarragon butter. “What do you mean, different kinds of Catholics?” The bishop cracked one of the lobster claws, baptizing Dan with a spritz of salty water.

Dan started counting on his fingers. “You got pro-life Catholics and you got pro-choice Catholics. There are Catholics who refuse to accept Vatican II and others who want women free to become priests. There are gay Catholics and anti-gay Catholics and. . .”

“Okay, okay, I know, they’re all over the damn road,” the Bishop said. “How are we supposed to appeal to them all?”

“These days you’ll never get ‘em all under one roof, so the answer is niche marketing, just like magazines and cable,” Dan said. “You have to design the product to meet the specific desire. It’s like cola. There used to be just one kind, right? Now you’ve got regular cola, diet cola, caffeine-free cola, sodium-and-caffeine-free diet cola and so on. It’s all about choice. And people want a choice in their Catholicism just as sure as they want a choice in their soft drinks. Hey, you want it in Latin, we’ll give it to you in Latin!”

The Bishop couldn’t argue. He had to admit, he liked a good Latin mass every now and then himself. He picked up a roll and gestured. “Pass the butter, please.”

“Salted or unsalted?” Dan winked.

A drop of bearnaise sauce dribbled down the bishop’s chin. “Go on.”

Dan passed the butter. “So we do some focus groups, then we design the products based on the research. Finally, we do a national TV ad campaign to spread the word.” Dan scooted his chair over next to the Bishop. He made a frame of his fingers. He held the frame out so the Bishop could look through it. “Picture this,” Dan said. The Bishop leaned over and looked through the frame. “The spot opens with a simple Gregorian chant over a long shot of Calvary. . . a terrific image that gives you some brand familiarity right from the start.”

The Bishop nodded thoughtfully as he chewed his roll.

“The three crosses are backlit by a redemptive sunset,” Dan said. “The camera pushes in on Christ’s head, which is lolled to one side, bleeding. He looks bad. The camera holds on his tortured face for a moment. Then, suddenly, Christ lifts his head and looks straight into the camera. He winks, then smiles.”

“‘Hi!,’ Christ says. ‘I just wanted to tell you about an exciting new product from your friends in Rome . . .’ Dan put one arm around the Bishop and gestured with his free hand as he continued. “Christ pops his hands and feet free from the cross and hops down. He begins walking down Calvary, speaking to the camera. ‘Over the past ten years or so, a lot of you have left the Catholic Church because, well, because we zigged when you wanted to zag.’

“Cut to Christ walking on a busy street in Galilee, okay? He stops to lay his hands on a cripple, but he keeps talking.” ‘So the guys in Rome put their heads together and, well. . .’ Christ looks at one of his hands and pulls out a big nail, holding it up for inspection. ‘. . .I think they hit the proverbial nail on the head.’

“In the background, the cripple stands and dances a jig as Christ walks out of frame,” Dan said. “Cut to a scene on a lake shore. Christ walks through a throng of peasants, pulling unlimited loaves and fishes from his robe, handing them to the rabble as he walks. A small boy tugs on Christ’s robe. Christ slaps a large, wiggling mackerel in the kid’s grateful arms. The kid smiles deliriously. It’s a lightly funny but touching image,” Dan assured the Bishop who was beginning to look doubtful.

“So,” Dan said, “Christ keeps talking as he approaches a big lake. ‘Hey, times change. Believe me, I know. That’s why we came up with new Cath-o-Lite.’ When Christ reaches the lake shore he just keeps on going. As he walks on the water, he continues his pitch. ‘We’ve cut ninety percent of the damnation to bring you the religion you want.’

Dan paused and made eye contact with the Bishop. “That’s the key, you have to give them what they want.” Dan nearly knocked over the Bishop’s water glass as he gestured toward the far side of the restaurant. “Christ reaches the far shore of the lake and walks onto the beach, still pitching.”

‘We’re still doing things better than all the other major religions. And when it comes to what counts the most. . . we deliver.’ Christ walks past a line of four Hindus. He stops and looks at the camera. ‘So many religions are gimmicky or, worse, they’re just plain cults. But with us — at the end of the day — we offer you what they don’t . . . eternal happiness . . . not just constant recycling.’

“Christ watches the four Hindus. The first one morphs into a cat. The second one turns into a wart hog. The third becomes a monkey. The fourth becomes Newt Gingrich. Christ turns back to the camera with a bemused smile. ‘Need I say more?’

“Cut to Christ arriving at the last supper. He bumps fists with several of the Apostles before taking his place at the center of the table. ‘New Cath-o-Lite, give it a try.’ Christ gives a big toothy smile. ‘You’ll be glad you did.’

Dan stood slowly, raising his hands toward the ceiling. “Christ ascends off screen giving the ‘okay’ sign as the apostles watch in awe. We fade to black then bring up a stylized logo for the new brand. We hear Christ’s voice with a slight echo. ‘New Cath-o-Lite, less guilt, more forgiveness.’”

The waiter brought two frozen Grand Marnier soufflés as Dan waited for the tag line to sink into the Bishop’s mind. It seemed to sink in quickly, for in one swift move the Bishop stood, pulled a large heavy crucifix from his robe, and smacked Dan across the head, waking him from his dream and spilling him from his chair onto the floor of his ascetic apartment. Dan lay there for a moment, gathering his wits. He hated to see a good idea go to waste but, at the same time, he damn sure didn’t want to be the one to pitch this in Rome.

Copyright © 2000 by Reduviidae, Inc.

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