Together at the Table
Advent 1

Preparing for the Shopocalypse

Yesterday was a busy day for Rev. Billy, and this morning, the Washington Post has a great story about his attempts to warn the shoppers lined up outside of Macy's in Midtown Manhattan about the dangers of the cult of consumerism which takes our country by force this time of year. I particularly appreciated this article today as a small counter-balance to all of the news coverage this time of year about the rate of consumer spending. Apparently, it wasn't quite as "good" a start to the holiday shopping season as expected, meaning of course that people didn't spend as much.

I'm glad there's at least one person out there doing what I've often fantasized about--standing in front of stores with a megaphone, shouting that it is possible to live a different way. If you haven't heard about Rev. Billy before, check out his website, or go with me to the movie "What Would Jesus Buy" which is opening at the Charles Street Cinema in Baltimore on November 30th. Biblical Scholar Walter Brueggemann also wrote an article about him in the November issue of Sojourners Magazine, pointing out the similarity between Rev. Billy's work and that of the Biblical prophets.

Now keep in mind that Rev. Billy is a performance artist, not an actual Christian minister. He's using the manners and phrases of Pentecostalism as part of his performance. But like Brueggemann, I find myself wondering if he actually gets it more right than most Christians do this time of year. Every Christian minister I know--heck, just about every practicing Christian I know--speaks disapprovingly about the comodification of Christmas. But for most of us, the solution to this problem is to spend more time emphasizing the spiritual aspects of the holiday and suggesting what's "really important" are the gifts we receive from God. In other words, at Christmas, we make the church into a refuge, a place that offers an alternative ethic, but one that is essentially separate from the world.

Rev. Billy doesn't do that. His church is on the street, on the stage, or even in the board room. He's on to something, and if you ask me, we should be there too.


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Robin Abello

Thanks for sharing this Heather. I'm curious to see the movie.

It's always a battle every year. I just saw my nephew's latest iPod Touch over Thanksgiving (it's an iPhone without the phone component) and it was quite tempting, but too expensive for me. But tempting nonetheless. Do I need it? Definitely not. Do I even need anything this Christmas? Our daughters don't need anything as well and we usually don't buy them much, but of course they get a lot of gifts from the grandmas and we enjoy watching them open their gifts and seeing them enjoy the new toy for a minute or two before moving on to opening another gift.

Maybe we can consider other types of gifts, like the gifts from Heifer International, or a similar organization. I suggested to my wife that we give our nephew (the one who just got the iPod Touch) a gift of scholarship for one student at my sister's school for the poor in the Philippines. With that gift he also gets to communicate with his scholar for a year, and hopefully he'll learn more about how people in other parts of the world live. The cost of the one year scholarship --- $150. My nephew goes to a private high school and his tuition a year ago was $14,000/year. Quite a difference, don't you think?

real live preacher

Another interesting example of someone who "gets" something that the Church, often enough, does not understand. Though one would expect the Church would be the one pushing this cause.

Like peace and non-violence and environmental concerns and care for the poor. The Church has lost her prophetic voice in all of these areas.

Lester Wall

Christmas will come, and go, whether we get everyone the right present or not. What we should offer those we love is not the most expensive, or most advertised, gift but the most loving gift: ourselves. Why not call our aunt, and talk for a few minutes, in addition to sending the card.

Paul Martin

Good for Rev. Billy. I'm all for deferring the Apocalypse rather than waving it in, and that means religion in the streets - not as proselytizing, not as insisting the whole world convert to your denomination or religion's beliefs, but as the kind of loving, compassionate actions in day to day life that the world's religions exhort us to, whether from Jesus, Moses, the Buddha or Muhammed.

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