Bill Talen, aka Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, will be in town in the flesh on Black Friday and Saturday. I have to guess he might attempt some street theater at the Mall of America, but if you want to see him outside that particular temple, he'll be at the Riverview Theater on Saturday morning in conjunction with a showing of What Would Jesus Buy? (which I saw and blogged about a couple years ago).
If you need a little reinforcement against the "shopping must save us" gospel being preached by the pundits this year, maybe we'll see you there. And really, he's pretty fun.
Michael Kinsley has succinctly pointed out the very economic dilemma we now face. Every news story about the economy points out how bad things are, how "consumer confidence" is low, and that means a poor Christmas shopping season, and so on ,and so on. . .
Don't get me wrong. I don't want anyone to lose their jobs (OK, I'm not crying for the outgoing administration . . .). I especially want the small local retailers, like my church members who rely on a good Christmas season to make it through the year, to survive this crisis.
And yet, and yet. . . I go into a consignment store and see tons of perfectly good stuff. Why buy new? I look around at the amount of stuff we throw out and think, is this really necessary? I think ahead to the Christmas season and get much more excited about making something with my kids than simply buying something in order to "check someone off my list."
It seems that this crisis, like the high gas prices we saw a couple months ago, are such an opportunity to examine ourselves and start living thoughtfully. Will we miss it?
The bottom line seems to be that there's no real upside to being outright poor, but for those of us who have felt our time is very precious (and therefore we don't think it's "worthwhile" to cook for ourselves or spend time with family) there may be a healthy aspect to being more downwardly mobile.
I saw What would Jesus buy? today, and it has,
appropriately, stirred me up. I can’t say I learned anything new about American
consumerism, or corporate (non-)citizenship or sweat shops. Rev. Billy did not irritate me as much as I
expected. But I was moved simply by the story of these individuals – Bill Talen and
his choir and band members – who toured the country for a month in ancient buses
(retrofitted for biodiesel) in order to
spread their message. Most of them seem
like the people with whom I lived for a year in Lutheran Volunteer Corps –
young, committed, hopeful, and fun-loving.
I generally avoid the places Rev. Billy targets – megamalls and Wal-Mart – precisely because they make me feel demoralized and numbed
out. I’m no better than any other average mortal at getting out of Target
without spending $50 more than I intended to, so I try to just avoid the whole
scene (except when I have to, say, pick up party favors for a six-year-old's birthday). I thought
sitting through 90 minutes of footage in
these places would depress me. But, in fact, Rev. Billy’s witness makes me hopeful.
The members of the Church of Stop Shopping
are witnesses, in the best sense – they point to another way – in a totally
silly, outrageous manner. The folks in the film also seem, in some odd ways, to be a genuine
church, in that they care for one another, reach out to others, and even
confess their own shortcomings.
This is not great film, but I’m glad Morgan Spurlock has
documented TCOSS in this way.
favorite line, after Billy has been detained in Disneyland (I think from one of the choir members):
“They [the Disney folk] completely
control this place. It’s not like U.S public land where you can, like. . .
I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of the prophet
lately. For one thing, it’s Advent, and we’re about to get our annual shout
from John – the Baptist, the one to whom Lutherans don’t generally give a lot
In the absence of credible Christian prophets these days, we
have some thoroughly secular folk taking on the cause of waking us up. There’s
the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping warning
us of the Shopocalypse, and plenty of environmentalists telling us to wake up,
I am sympathetic to these messengers, and like to think that
I am pretty awake myself, on my better days. But the pastoral side of me wonders
about the long-term effects of fire and brimstone. I suspect that some people
enjoy getting a good beating on a Sunday morning, feeling bad for awhile and
thus being certain that they’ve done their emotional penance. Then they go back
Or, there’s the effect Janisse Ray wrote about recently in
Orion, in which the true believers gather, tsk tsk at all those who are deaf to
the message, and then head home, ignoring any further changes they may personally need to make. What if “the choir” is not really doing that much better than middle America? If I know
about global warming and believe in
it, does that automatically make me more righteous than the doubters? Am I
justified merely by my faith in the wrath to come?
Here’s the irony: many of these “prophets” have long since
eschewed any semblance of religious faith. In fact, many of them assume that churchgoing
Christians like me are the opposition rather than allies. If you asked them
about matters of heaven and hell, personal righteousness or eternal judgment,
they’d probably insist that they don’t believe in judgment. But they sure as
heck use the language of guilt, sin, shame and, sometimes, fear – as well as and
sometimes better than street corner prophets. Walter Brueggeman argued in
Sojourners recently that Rev. Billy is most definitely using the methods of Old
Testament prophecy (e.g. performance art) in his Starbucks tirades. These
prophets believe firmly in the end of the world as we know it. They just think God has no part in it.
I’m pretty sure that the end of the world as we know it will
come about through human hands. We can create a shopocalypse, an end to oil, a
global climate crisis without any intervention at all, thank you very much. But
I’m also pretty sure that sustained, hopeful, joyous resistance to the status
quo needs something more than my humanity – it needs my trust in a God more
powerful than my own sleepy soul.
What wakes us up best – the screaming smoke alarm or the sounds
of nature? I’m not sure either one works perfectly for everyone. For some the
rude awakening just arouses anger at the source of the noise; others are just
too darned exhausted to let anything wake them.
It’s been years since I needed an alarm in the morning. I
have something much better now – my children. Their voices are insistent,
piercing and still beautiful. And they need me, now more than ever, to wake up.
Three cheers for the National Wildlife Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council for sponsoring this new Catalog Choice website, where you can opt out of most major catalog mailings. This is one of those things I've been meaning to do for a long time, but never have wanted to endure the phone call hell such a request usually requires. With this, there's no sales person badgering you -- "Are you REALLY sure?". You just create an account and click away. (Of course, I just found out about this, so we'll really see how well it works in another 6 weeks or so).
Yes, I want to save some trees, but I also want the "buy, buy, buy" message to stop coming daily to my mailbox. If I need something, I'll still find it online, but I don't need these people creating new desires via glossy photos every day. It's those desires that have the worst impact on the environment in the long run.
I went to a Disney movie last night, and I enjoyed it. It
was, as all the reviewers have noted, new territory for Disney, spoofing its
own star brand, The Princess. Creating
Giselle, a Cinderella- Snow White - Briar Rose – Ariel- Belle amalgam, the
makers have thrust their cherished meme into the (sort-of) real world of New
York City, where she must find her way, at least until her True Prince finds
her. They manage to make you laugh at all the truly laughable qualities of the
Princess while still letting you care about her enough that, in the end, you
don’t resent the storybook ending one bit.
Well, maybe a little bit. At first, the movie seems like a
wink at moviegoers my age, who have figured out that the princess dreams we
grew up with were not necessarily our allies in facing the realities of modern
love and marriage. OK, Enchanted admits, love at first sight is not the wisest
basis for a lifelong relationship. The Princess is even allowed to get angry –
in fact, this anger is the pivotal moment in the movie. They even let her
rescue her guy, sort of.
I would be a scrooge to begrudge the ending, in which
Princess simultaneously gets her guy and grows to appreciate some of the contours
of real life relationship. At least they don’t kill off the mature, assertive,
rival girlfriend. But the lapse into
fantasy that most irritated me was when Giselle steps into a maternal role.
What, you may ask, seals the deal with her potential stepdaughter? A high end shopping spree capped by a
mother-daughter pedicure. “Is this what
it’s like?” the little girl asks. “What?” Giselle says. “When your Mom takes
you shopping.” Yes, there it is, the real thing that binds us to one another
in families: shared self-indulgence. That’s the scene I don’t want my little
girl to see.
The moment that most encapsulates the Disney mythology is near
the beginning, when the realist father gives his six-year-old a book of
heroines: Rosa Parks, Marie Curie. He wants her to have it instead of the
fairytale book she wants, he explains, because these are real life women. “See?
Madame Curie,” he points, “she devoted her life to science and research, and ..
uh . . . died of radiation poisoning.” Every man’s dream for his little girl.
There’s the rub. Fairytales never end with the heroine
actually dying. Actually, some of
them do, just not Disney’s Americanized versions of them. Despite a Disney ban
at our house, we still have lots of princess fantasies going on, and I’ve made
my peace with them by reading – reading the original tales by Hans Christian Anderson or even the
Brothers Grimm, as harsh as they may be. There is some very deep archetypal stuff going
on with the good and evil in these tales – they have survived for a reason.
Yes, mature and good women are often
lacking in these stories, but I’m secure enough in my motherhood to believe
that this alone won’t warp our mother-daughter relationship. And if I’m reading
to her instead of popping in a video, I am neither the Absent Mother nor the
Evil Stepmother. And maybe she’ll be less likely to assume that a true princess
has to have a microwaist and a $70 manicure.
I had good intentions yesterday of partaking in Buy Nothing Day, that is, not partaking in Black Friday. Under normal circumstances, this would be quite easy, since small children and shopping don't usually blend well in my life. But this year, I happened to be "single" on Friday, and often kid-free time is time I use to do the leisurely browsing in stores that I cannot do with an overactive 2 year old in hand. So, what a dilemma. . . . a whole day with no work, no restrictions and lots of good sales. I know I won't have an opportunity like this again before Christmas. On the other hand, I also don't have a lot of shopping to do, since our gifts focus on photos of the family, food, and charitable gifts anyway. Birthday shopping for the almost-3-year-old is done. Like a moth to a flame I found myself at 50th and France anyway yesterday morning, ostensibly to get some groceries to make a meal for a friend who just had a baby (I figure food doesn't count in Buy Nothing Day, and it sure was easier than before Thanksgiving). Yes, I wandered into some stores, mostly clothing stores. And they all had special "one day only" sales. The soundtracks were pumping up the hyperactive, "feel good about yourself" mood, and I felt myself slipping into the identity-seeking thought that accompanies all such shopping: "If I wore this jacket/ shoes/shirt/necklace, I would be more together/ sophisticated/fashionable/ sexy/ admirable/ etc." But then the soundtrack switched to Cher, belting out, "What have you done today, to make yourself feel proud?" Good question! I walked away from the sale rack, walked out of the store, and bought nothing but ingredients for chili and cornbread. And damn, I feel proud. Thank you, Cher.
So I'm in the bookstore at the airport a couple weeks ago, my flight having been delayed an hour. I buy Ian McEwan's latest novel, Saturday, and start looking at The Intellectual's Devotional, that best-seller that gives you a page a day of cultural knowledge (kind of fun, but no substitute for actual education). But the cashier wants to sell me the other book on the counter, called The Secret, which as far as I can tell is a cross between Oprah and The DaVinci Code. He testifies that he's sent it to a buddy in Iraq and he can't wait to hear how he responds. I don't buy it, and I'm irritated. Why is it that everyone wants to convince us that there's a "secret" to life, which we can purchase for $19.95? Why are so many people willing to read and digest this crap? Here's the blurb from the book (which I'm pasting from Amazon, not because I bought the thing):
"Fragments of a Great Secret have been found in the oral traditions, in literature, in religions and philosophies throughout the centuries. For the first time, all the pieces of The Secret come together in an incredible revelation that will be life-transforming for all who experience it."
Oh, please. Fragments of a Great Consumerism have been spotted throughout the 20th and 21st century, but now, not for the first time, someone thinks they can sell the Secret of Life, and actually thinks people will believe they have discovered something new. And, judging by sales, people actually are buying it. Unbelievable.