Archive for August 30th, 2008

My interview with the Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping (from the 2007 Morgan Spurlock documentary ‘What Would Jesus Buy?’)

What is the message you are trying to spread, and the goal of your church?
We offer a “Fabulous Worship”that is designed to blow the shopping out of your body. Amen!

How did you hook up with Morgan Spurlock to make the movie, “What Would Jesus Buy?”

Morgan was our neighbor in the East Village and saw us preaching and singing in Community Gardens, praying in Starbucks, dancing in Thompkins Square Park. Then suddenly he walks up to us in a dark dive we frequent, there’s Mr. SuperSizeMe! – and he says, let’s Retail Interventions – in which we see where the things we buy come from.

What are the ‘false idols of the Christmas spirit’ and can you explain how people, swamped with advertising, believe that shopping will give them certain tangible experiences?

The idolatry comes at us from the false utopia, the promised land of American STUFF…

What would Jesus buy? And how do you think He wishes to see us celebrate His birth?

That’s a trick question. Jesus only dealt in the gift economy. He forgave and gave. He wasn’t one of these prosperity Christians who whip themselves into a lather trying persuade each other that “God wants me to be rich.” In fact, the only time Jesus is known to have shown anger and gotten a bit violent was driving the money changers out of the Temple.

How can people give gifts to loved ones without buying flashy commercial toys and clothes?

When we BACK AWAY FROM THE PRODUCT the body of the American consumer responds almost immediately. Messages go down into our memory and we begin a reverse Alzheimers process that takes us to gestures of clarity, generosity and a burgeoning imagination.

Are you saying that shopping hurts our memory?
Absolutely, it is what we call “The Deadly Discount!”

Why are you banned from every Starbucks in California and have you adhered to that ban?

All social change comes from committing our bodies and souls to public space. Starbucks is public space because it has not redeemed its NOT FAIR TRADE corporate behavior. It invites us inside, but hurts everyone from the baristas it steals tips from all the way to the grandparents and children that must tend the coffee beyond our horizon of privilege. OH IT IS THE SHOPOCALYPSE! Never ever buy a gingerbread latte from that company, and give its billionaire boss another buck. Join our church in EXORCIZING THE CASH REGISTER. We ask the “Fabulous Unknown God That Doesn’t Sell Us Things” — blow the dead presidents in this computerized cash register the other way, away from the Devil Howard’s pocket.

It seems like your protests get you and your group in a lot of trouble with the law. Is it difficult to keep going sometimes, and have you seen that your actions have lessened consumerism in the last few years? From where do you gather strength to continue your mission in the face of apathy and fear to change?

We are encouraged everyday by the faithful. They contact us through social forums or and talk ecstatically about new spending discipline that their families are adopting, new approaches to Christmas, to their cars and fossil fuel, to EVIL STUFF, Amen. Now the commercial press of course will say that all of us have lost our “consumer confidence,” as if we’ve slipped into the lake of neurtoic hellfire… Actually, many of us have been saved and this economy never made sense in the first place. Can I testify now? The Earth loves how the American consumer has reduced shopping six quarters in a row.

Obviously we all need to purchase goods of necessity. Where do you shop, and why?

Shopping is Evil. We must stop our shopping. We pull away from the Demon Monoculture, which must be left to die in its own FETID LOGOS. Trading, giving, buying what we need – of course we have to live. And, where do we do this? Thrift stores, trades on the Net, and always buy local! The green markets are the fastest growing sector in the food economy. Oh – soon we’ll be DELIVERED FROM INIQUITY!

Besides the threat of monoculture (which means that instead of lots of indie coffeeshops, restaurants, boutiques, etc., all we have left is Wal-marts and Starbucks and the Gap), there is the clear danger associated with consumption- that we are tipping the balance of our earth’s physical systems irreparably, and are facing our own demise because WE CAN’T STOP SHOPPING. Do you think that this impending doom resulting from our own actions is enough to break us of our addiction to consuming? Have you seen, with the undeniable evidence of climate change, people finally recognize the necessity (and reasons) to stop shopping?

We don’t understand how it is completely predictable that we will respond in slow motion to this great crisis. Products have been sold with marketing campaigns that use the language and imagery of change for decades. We have not moved quickly and boldly enough to make real change since – well some say the Civil Rights Movement – but I would say since Stonewall, Harvey Milk and ACT UP. But that was more than 30 years ago. We have to defeat the hypnosis of consumer marketing. We have to wake each other up. No, we haven’t done it yet. We’re waiting for something. We’re on PAUSE. Maybe we think Al Gore and Barack Obama will change everything. They won’t. They are centrists. They will need a parallel radical movement, like the way the Kennedys needed to be forced into action by bus boycotts and the freedom fighters.

Tell us some of the redeeming things that have happened to the church that make jail worth it…

There is only one authentic preacher, and the message comes in the form of fires and droughts and tsunamis and epidemics and extinction spikes. We must listen and the only way to listen is to transcend the advertising, listen and see out beyond the narrow product world. The Earth is showing us the way. STOP SHOPPING AND START LIVING!