8/12/2011 12:29 PM ET|
Rev. Billy: High priest of frugality
Bill Talen's character, a combination of minister and performance artist, preaches the evils of mindless consumerism and argues for changes in spending behavior.
What's the biggest religion in America: Catholicism? Evangelical Christianity? Mainstream Protestantism?
It's consumerism, according to the Rev. Billy -- the deeply held American belief that buying stuff makes us better and happier, that purchases can fill the voids in our hearts and souls.
"We really do consider it (consumerism) the largest fundamentalist religion in America today," the Rev. Billy said. "It makes us stand in lines, sit in traffic and tells us we need 23 different products just to take each other on a date."
If you're aware of the Rev. Billy, it may be from the 2007 documentary about his performance art/ministry, "What Would Jesus Buy?" Or his run as a "protest candidate" for mayor of New York in 2009.
Or maybe you have heard about the comedic exorcisms he and his gospel-choir group -- once called the Church of Stop Shopping, now the Church of Earthalujah -- performed in bank lobbies, Disney stores, Wal-Mart headquarters and the Tate Modern museum in London, where British Petroleum funds a gallery.
The targets: big business, big oil companies and big banks, which the Rev. Billy and his crew say promote consumerism and a laundry list of economic and environmental ills.
The Rev. Billy is the creation of Bill Talen, the son of a Midwestern banker and a refugee from the harsh Calvinist religion of his youth. Talen was an actor and writer in San Francisco before moving to New York City in the mid-1990s. That's where he created the Rev. Billy as a parody of pompadour-styled televangelists and where he soon gathered a choir of like-minded activists. Using humor, hallelujahs and the vocal hallmarks of evangelical ministers, the Rev. Billy preached the evils of consumerism and related ills: sweatshop labor, environmental degradation and big chains that muscled out family-run businesses.
He was coached by a mentor, the Rev. Sidney Lanier, the vicar of an Episcopal church that served New York's theater community. Lanier encouraged Talen to study how televangelists delivered their messages -- the cadence and rhythm that captured their audiences.
"It's an awesome vocal form . . . when you turn off the content," Talen said.
What started as protest art, though, has morphed since the 9/11 attacks. Talen, who spoke to me while on a break from leading workshops on "Art and Dissent" for the Hemispheric Institute in Chiapas, Mexico, said people started turning to his group for comfort and a spiritual connection after the World Trade Center towers fell.
"They trusted us as a way to be together to reflect about life without a fundamentalist, judging God," said Talen, who officiates at weddings and baptisms in his role as a minister. "We started developing a fellowship, a way to pray together, to sing together."
And they perform. A weekly show in Manhattan's East Village is scheduled to continue this fall after the Rev. Billy and his choir return from their tours of Europe and Mexico. The shows, along with their public protests staged as "interventions" and "exorcisms," use humor and original songs to question mindless consumerism.
"We use the drama of a joyous gospel choir and a televangelist to interrupt and change Americans' relationship to consumer products," Talen said. "This consumer economy has endangered us. We need to make basic changes."
Talen believes some of those changes are already under way, because of the staggering economy. With more people unemployed and underemployed, families are spending more time together rather than shopping for things they don't need. People are starting up businesses, and Americans are more aware of the importance of supporting local businesses.
Talen thinks we're capable of changing even more, of creating a kind of sustainable consumerism that doesn't create economic or environmental catastrophes. Falling into the cadence of a preacher, he references America's past: "We made a revolution. We abolished slavery. We marched for civil rights. We can do this."
But Talen worries the changes aren't happening fast enough to save us -- or our planet. That's why he's not particularly concerned that some people take offense at what he's doing and how he's doing it.
"We have to spend a little less time worrying about other people's feelings," Talen said. "New ways of believing always hurt the feelings of the people who believe the old way."
That said, he doesn't want his message to become too dogmatic or inflexible. He still likes to laugh and to make others laugh.
"I don't want to become a fundamentalist myself," Talen said. "We're all doing what we can. We need to forgive each other and move on."
Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.
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Heard a great definition of 'status', but could also be used to define blind consumerism:
"Buying things you don't want, with money you don't have, to impress people you don't like."
To this man's point, in some regards it is good that the economy is bad. If it means more people spend more time doing meaningful things, then there is a silver lining.
The video for not spending money just cracked me up. I clicked on it, and what's the first thing that comes up? An ad urging me to buy a new computer! Looked like most of their ideas for not spending any money involved mooching -- getting a ride with a friend or neighbor, inviting youself to dinner, etc. Odd they considered a computer with Internet access optional, when in nearly every scene, the guy was pecking away on his computer. You're not going to kick the consumerism habit if you try to do it according to this video's suggestions. Strive for small victories, such as using reusable bags for shopping, give yourself 24 hours to think about buying that new gadget or whatever, etc. When you keep plugging away with realistic goals, you can live a more simple, joyful life. We will be remembered for how we lived our lives; not how much we accumulated. As the old Shaker hymn goes: " 'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free."
The core of his anti-consumer message isn't that far off base but....he's doing it for the money.
God isn't concerned with the largest or biggest denomination of anything man made. He wants worship from a circumcised heart. Read His book to know these facts! It's called the KJV bible.
WHO CARES WHAT VERSION IS RIGHT OR WRONG ! WAKE-UP IN ALL BIBLES SAY THIS,
JOHN 3:16 FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD ( THIS INCLUDES ALL WORLD-WIDE PEOPLE WHO WERE BORN ( NOT HATCHED AS SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE THEY WERE) THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON JESUS, THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM ( IS BORN AGAIN IN THE SPIRIT) MOST PEOPLE DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER, THE SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT, AS THEY CAN'T SEE THE HOLLY SPIRIT ( BUT REMEMBER YOU CAN'T SEE THE WIND EITHER ) SHOULD NEVER DIE, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE IN HEAVEN WITH ONLY ALL THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN THIS JESUS, THAT DIED ON THE CROSS FOR OUR SINS, ASK FOR FORGIVENESS OF OUR SINS, HAVE FAITH THIS RAISED FROM THE GRAVE JESUS ( WE ALL CELEBRATE EASTER SUNDAY HIS RESURRECTION ) WILL FORGIVE US FROM ALL ALL ALL OUR SINS NO MATTER WHICH OF THE 10 COMMANDMENTS WE HAVE BROKEN, WILL NEVER DIE, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE IN HEAVEN WITH THIS JESUS AND ALL OUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS, WHO BELIEVE IN THIS JESUS. THOSE WHO REJECT JESUS ARE HEADED FOR HELL, ROMANS 6:23 FOR THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH, BUT THE GIFT OF GOD ( JESUS ) IS ETERNAL LIFE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD!! ( TAKE THIS TO THE BANK ) ALL YOU ATHEISTS OUT THERE
DO YOU THINK GOD WOULD CREATE YOUR MIND BODY AND SOUL TO LIVE ONLY 50 TO 100 YEARS, JUST LOOK AT YOUR FEATURES, BRAIN ( NO ANIMAL WAS BORN WITH A BRAIN, SEXUAL SYSTEM & MANY OTHER GOD CREATED ITEMS PEOPLE HAVE AND MANY BRAIN DEAD PEOPLE THINK WE CAME FROM A ANIMAL OR THE BIG BANG IN EVEN MORE STUPID IDEAL, AS PEOPLE USE ANYTHING TO BELIEVE, SO THEY DON'T NEED TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THERE ACTIONS, IF IT FEELS GOOD DO IT, THIS IS WHY WE HAVE
OVER 50% DIVORCES IN U.S., SCHOOL SHOOTINGS, CHILDREN RULING THERE HOME.
Cassandra5 Agreed. It really is sick that so many people would "thumbs up" on such a twisted racist post.
But I will correct zorrro's post for him (her, it): It was not one of their Jewish friends that told them that..................it was one of his neo-nazi friends.
Alan Smithee 1776
Well said concerning zorrro's post. So many people today want to sit around complaining about how hard they have it and how it's someone else's fault. They create a boogeyman to blame for their own failings so they can point to that instead of looking in the mirror. NO ONE makes you buy anything. Next time zorrro is sitting in his air conditioned home, with the big screen playing whatever the satellite tv service is showing, and one of his phones rings and distracts him from what he is doing on his computer with dsl......................... He will just have to remember that most of the world wishes they had it so rough.
I just can't resist!
Mr Virgil Hicks,
You specify the KJV Bible. I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that your christian schismatic cult drank the kool aid and belives that GOD personally approved that particular translation and that it is even superior to the text it was translated from.
I would really appreciate it if you could explain to me how you know that this translation is the word of god rather than say the New Jerusalem english bible?
And second, is English the only modern language to have an approved by GOD translation? Does French have one? or Swahili? For non english speakers- how can they tell if they tell if their bible is the right one?
Zorro does hit the nail on the head and if it offends you than you must be one of the consumerist or Jewish!
And by the way...I have been told that same exact thing from many of my Jewish friends including my sister in-laws father! ANd he laughs about it!!!
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