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.