Photo by Tenaya HillsIt was raining so hard the other day I thought I'd need an Ark. Good thing I had plans to visit the Bible House of Orange County. Too bad Noah's boat is about the only goddamned tchotchke—if there's not a more Christian way to say tchotchke –that the Orange retailers of pious products don't purvey.
The Bible House, located at the intersection of Tustin and Katella, does vend embroidered crown-of-thorn wristbands, laminated "End of Days Prophesies" wall charts, Last Supper jigsaw puzzles, Jesus hook rugs and pens that rotate, when clicked, to display each of the Ten Commandments.
"This store is, for myself, a mission," James An says. "As a Christian, I have a duty to spread the gospel, one way or another."
An and his wife, Judy, bought the business last year from the previous owner's daughter who happened to be the Ans' kids' piano teacher—which is either a coincidence or Calvinism, depending on your view of predetermination.
"I strongly believe," James An says, "that God gave us this store."
An sits with his legs crossed in his tiny, windowless office across the hall from the well-scrubbed men's restroom with a Bible passage on the wall facing the toilet. He's a slight, reserved man who speaks in a near whisper. This day, he wears old black loafers, black socks, gray dress slacks and a blue short-sleeved knit shirt. His watch, eyeglasses and wedding ring are dulled and humble. Paul Crouch, he ain't.
"A Christian store is kind of a tough business," An says. "We're struggling. But, it's better than last year, 10 percent better."
He attends church every morning to pray for the sick, the needy and for the success of the Bible House. His brother is a pastor, his wife's dad is a pastor, and his wife's two brothers are pastors. He's a Presbyterian for what it's worth, but he says he keeps the store denominationally neutral. Baptists, Evangelicals, Catholics—everyone's welcome here.
Everyone, that is, who might have some use for David and Goliath action figures, hyped by packaged text reading, "God's championship match." Everyone who might require a baby's first cross, blue for boys or pink for girls. Everyone who desires a Christian flag, white with a blue square and a blood-red cross in the upper-left corner. And of course, everyone who needs a Good Book.
Judy An is more outgoing than James; she handles the merchandise while he keeps the books. She says her best seller is the New International Version (NIV) Bible. The shop carries the workhorse King James, as well as specialized titles: the Women's Devotional Bible; the Sportsman's Bible; the Airman's Bible; the Sailor's Bible; the Marine's Bible and the Soldier's Bible, the latter including the Pledge of Allegiance, Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Army's Code of Conduct. Judy An says a customer with family in the military ordered 200 copies and had them shipped to Iraq.
"I saw a lot of soldiers come in before they got deployed," she says. "[This bible] is handy and compact so they can carry it inside their uniforms."
The days I visited, I didn't happen upon any military personnel. The store's average customer is a Caucasian evangelical Christian, aged 40 to 50, James An says.
Part-time staffer Tina New, 19, helps tend the music section. She recites such customer favorites as Third Day, Crystal Lewis, Darlene Zschech and Point of Grace "for the soccer moms." Turning to the shop's hip-hop section, which features the likes of the J Moss Project, Fortitude and Soul Purpose, New says, "We don't sell much rap."
However, in the kids' section, a group of moralizing cartoon foodstuffs led by Larry the Cucumber and Junior Asparagus do gangbuster business. The scripture-citing VeggieTales—through books, videos and other products—promote "Sunday-morning values, Saturday-morning fun," New says.
Fun, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Hell, The Passion of the Christ grossed more than $370 million. That Mel Gibson screamer is out on video, and the Bible House maintains a big display by the cash registers. A large wooden crucifix serves as the altarpiece. DVDs, photo books and a framed crown of thorns sit in front.
Now, just in case watching the Son of God get flayed isn't uplifting enough, fear not. The Bible House has an end-of-the-year greeting card bound to inspire. It's from the "Difficult Christmas" section, located over by the "Celebrating Jesus," "Pastor and his Family" and "As you Serve the Lord" dividers:
"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit," the card reads. "Psalm 34:18 NIV."
The Bible House of Orange County, 1634 E. Katella Ave., Orange, (714) 628-0111.
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