Gleanings from a curious but interesting event: the North American Congress of the Laity, held in Los Angeles in February, '78. A millionaire grocery executive from Texas, Howard Butt, sponsored and paid most of the bills for the Congress, which featured an impressive list of speakers (Gerald Ford, James Reston, Malcolm Muggeridge, Martin Marty, Peter Berger, Michael Novak, etc.) and drew an ecumenical audience of some 800 people. The official theme, ""Divine Creation: Human Creativity,"" was framed very broadly and produced a dizzying variety of papers which Butt and Wright selected, edited, and, unfortunately, swathed in prolix commentary. Their book, as a result, is too loosely structured and too preachy, i.e., the editors often spin out sermons on themes chosen by various panelists, instead of letting the panelists speak for themselves. Still, this oddly textured farrago has its moments. Ford gives a bland but thoughtful little homily on the gap between the religious faith and the secular behavior of Americans. Muggeridge, as usual, delivers a stern prophetic blast against the hedonism and spiritual decadence of the West--and then debates with Berger, Novak, and others, who try to dampen his extremism. Reston reflects on the ""strain of self-doubt and pessimism"" in the American character. Eugene Kennedy talks about ""life in the gaps""--the challenges to Christian hope in the absences and emptiness of ordinary existence. There's too much fat and not enough lean meat in the fare that Butt and Wright serve up, but enough of it sticks to the ribs to make it all worthwhile.