Interview with Reverend Billy of The Church of Life After Shopping
By Bob Maschi
Reverend Billy's voice carries like a wing in the wind, dipping and swirling as it echoes off invisible stained glass walls. His hair is set high, like a silver grill in front if a muscle car from the 50s. He looks and sounds the preacher, yet he does not often talk about hell or damnation or stoning adulterers. No. This Reverend speaks less about saving the soul and more about saving the planet.
Reverend Billy leads the The Church of Life After Shopping (www.revbilly.com) and together they invade corporate America with messages against greed and consumerism. From their website: [The church is a] "project of The Immediate Life, a New York based arts organization using theater, humor, and grassroots organizing to advance individuals and communities towards a more equitable future - starting today. We partner with citizens, grassroots organizations and progressive visionaries to produce dynamic, informed public campaigns that enact our core values - participatory democracy, ecological sustainability, and the preservation of vibrant communities and local economies."
I understand you're not a real reverend. Why not? Don't they have diploma mills for that kind of thing?
Reverend Billy: Most of the active ministers in the United States heard the call, rather than got the diploma. That said, it doesn't really make sense for Reverend Billy to be affiliated with organized religion. The dominant organized religion, a deeply fundamentalistic one, is Consumerism. We hope for our deliverance from shopping. We are against fundamentalism in all its forms in the "Church of Life After Shopping."
Is your church a real church?
Reverend Billy: Yes our church has been a source of fellowship since 9/11. New Yorkers who had long ago left organized religion wanted to sorrow over the tragedy together, but as a part of this celebrate life. Our church led peace marches the week of 9/11, and then opened its doors and invited all. We offered a non-diety approach to the creator ( something we learned from early Christian mystics in Elaine Pagels' book "The Gnostic Gospels.") We also respect how people have their spiritual search outside of churches, in nature, in relationships, and as we argue, in backing away from consumerism.
How many times have you been arrested as Reverend Billy? How much hard time? Do they let you keep your clergy collar in the 'big house'?
Reverend Billy: I've been arrested 40 or 50 times, but it's hard to count because we work on slowing down the arrest process with counter-theatrical strategies. For instance, if a policeman is collaring me during a Cash Register Exorcism in a Wal Mart, Savitri D will shout "Billy you promised me you wouldn't do this!" Police often have more respect for the government of marriage than for the city or country they represent. They will back off as Savitri collars me herself... This gives our singers more time to distribute information sheets about the sweatshop practices of the company.
You want people to boycott Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Disney Store, the Gap and a lot more. To keep it simple, can you give me a list of stores not to boycott?
Reverend Billy: Shop local. Give a gift this Christmas that you can walk to, bike to, or bus to... The solstice time of year, when we give gifts to celebrate the growing heat and light that eventually expands to become spring - is symbolic of our hope of the return of life. Don't kill (buy products from sweatshop, wrapped in plastics, shipped by internal combustion, sold by saturation marketing and credit card scams) with your gift! Amen?
You come out against globalization, child labor, poverty and for the environment. What other causes are important to you and your (pardon the term) crusade?
Reverend Billy: Resisting the system of Consumerism is our uniting cause. I would say that Militarism is the evil twin, also driven at bottom by corporate expansion. Another very basic notion that drives all our issues, is the respect we feel for the exercise of our 1st Amendment Rights in public space. The five freedoms of worship, speech and press, peace-able gathering and protest... make all civic life possible.
I'm an atheist who loves gospel music. Am I going to hell or what?
Reverend Billy: In the Church of Life After Shopping we would never presume to judge anyone's belief. We forgive each other in advance and we love gospel like you.
Who are those fantastic gospel singers?
Reverend Billy: We are from all five boroughs and from Venezuela, Sweden, Korea, Nigeria. Resisting Consumerism is a world-wide brotherhood and sisterhood.
Anything else to add?
Reverend Billy: Let's give gifts this year to the earth. Each of us has the earth in us, and the loved ones we give to have the earth in them too. So think of what a gift is made of, where it came from, how it has impacted people and the earth, so that we can say at the end of the holidays that the earth loved to the earth... Amen?