Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Reverend Billy's Church

He is 47-yrs old. He wears a blonde pompadour, white suit and clerical collar. He is full of righteous fire and a strong message for America. He is conducting a month-long, cross-country campaign that began the day after Thanksgiving in New York and ends in Los Angeles on Christmas Day. His name is Reverend Billy and he is the preacher of … the Church of Stop Shopping.

“Americans are instructed that our way of life is shopping. That our democracy is shopping. Citizenship is shopping. That we don’t need towns and cities anymore because we have a shopping experience,” he proclaims. “Our communities are collapsing. The hurricanes were a tipping point. They showed us that we’re letting our life support system go. We can be so much more than consumers.” (Rev. Billy says: Stop Shopping; CNN/Money, Katie Brenner; 11/29/05).

The Reverend’s tour (called “Shopocalypse”) has a rallying cry (“Change-a-lujah”) and began on Black Thursday with an appeal for everyone to decline to shop on that mega-purchasing day. Retail figures suggest that the Reverend’s message was not well heeded. But he preaches on. In front of the Disney store in New York’s Times Square, which the Rev. considers “the belly of the beast,” he pleads “stop shopping” to one frenzied consumer scurrying past. “Whatever,” she mutters.

Tom Halen is a performance artist whose convictions lead him into many expressions of social activism and protest, most of which I consider extreme, but I kind of like his ReverendBillyandthechurchofstopshopping gig. It’s not that I think Christmas has become too commercial (though it would be hard to argue that it hasn’t). Or that I have something against shopping (I rather enjoy it). Or even that I don’t like buying Christmas presents for loved ones during this fine season (Angela does most of that!). It’s just that the Rev. is touching on what I consider to be a very real phenomenon, and that is our increasing tendency to see ourselves as primarily consumers and shopping as a natural extension of our being -- I buy/own, therefore I am. This goes deeper than the Christmas season, of course, but isn’t it interesting that we so naturally hew to purchasing as the primary and central activity of that particular holiday, even as we acknowledge that there is much more (and deeper) meaning that should be associated with it?

As the good reverend puts it in what perhaps could be considered his version of an invitation, “Make time to spend with your loved ones that doesn’t involve shopping. It’s like getting off alcohol and noticing that you’re not drunk anymore.”

Yes, the Reverend’s religion is a bit extreme, but I’m thinking there’s some good news of deliverance in there somewhere. There are many gifts to celebrate at Christmas; only some of them are purchased. Let’s keep things in perspective. Change-a-lujah, friends? May God bless you this Christmas season.


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