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Rev. Billy to bring “stop shopping” gospel to Lehigh today

Anyone who doubts if Lehigh students fail prey to consumerism need look no further than the piles of items discarded at the end of each spring semester. Designer clothing and handbags – some with tags still attached – are casually tossed onto a mountain of computers, stereo equipment, lamps, poker tables, dishes, glassware, shoes, athletic equipment and more.

While these items are recycled back in to the community through the annual Move-Out collection drive, many unnecessary items continue to clutter our homes, take up space in landfills, rob us of individual identities and divert funds that could be better used to improve lives.

So speaketh Rev. Billy, of the Church of Stop Shopping, who will bring his message of anti-consumerism to Lehigh when he speaks at 4 p.m. today in Sinclair Auditorium. His talk, which is free and open to the public, is being sponsored by the Progressive Student Alliance, the Humanities Center, the American Studies program, ArtsLehigh, Women’s Studies, the political science department, the religion department, and the Visiting Lectures Committee.

Rev. Billy, an imposing 6’3” figure with a bleached blond pompadour, is actually not a minister, but a NYC-based performance artist named Bill Talen, who founded the Church of Stop Shopping as an outgrowth of his political activism. The reverend frequently stages his performances in real-life consumer meccas, often charging into places like Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Nike stores and Wal-Mart to create episodes of guerilla theater and raise awareness among consumers of the role they play in furthering the agenda of corporate owners.

“We are drowning in a sea of identical details,” he often says in his sermons, admonishing listeners to recognize the fact that the charm and character of family-owned businesses in distinctly unique neighborhoods is rapidly disappearing as more and more chains and franchises move in.

Talen frequently takes his message to the streets of Manhattan, where he unleashes armies of appropriately dressed “business people” to stage sit-ins at Starbucks outlets, or where he personally confronts store managers for their acquiescence to corporate agendas.

Talen’s sermons often include a choir, a band, deacons, and the occasional confession of a former shopper, which all come together in a service that promotes his version of “post-religion spirituality.”

Born in Minnesota and raised by what he describes as “rich, Dutch Calvinists,” Talen lived and worked in San Francisco for several years before moving to New York and gaining a unique perspective on the gentrification of several of the city’s neighborhoods, including Times Square.

Reportedly disgusted by Times Square’s conversion into what Talen calls “an outdoor mall,” he bought a five dollar clerical collar, tossed on a white dinner jack left over from a catering job, and took to the streets to proclaim his outrage. Soon his act led him to shopping meccas such as Disney stores, urging shoppers to “back away from the product.”

Between unsavory labor practices that exploit children in third-world countries, union-busting tactics on the part of the Bush administration, and environmental damage caused by over-production and consumption of material goods, we’ve reached a tipping point, Talen says.

“Our lives,” he frequently says, “are getting absurd.”

Talen’s lecture “promises to be as subversive as it is entertaining,” according to Courtney Terenna ’05, who was instrumental in bringing the anti-consumer activist to campus. “I think his message could resonate with people of any political persuasion.”


For more information about the talk, please contact Courtney Terenna at 267-261-4246.

For more information about Rev. Billy, visit his Website


--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2005

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