"WARNING: Stop Shopping Gospel Music has been known to induce fits of subversive singing inside subway cars, bus shelters, automobile interiors and food co-op shopping aisles."

Mother, father, that godly mystery,
Will you come here and teach me
When the lowest prices hit me
Wal-Mart will it always reach me?
Mother, father, that godly mystery

"What Would Jesus Buy?" is the title of a documentary about a man who goes by Reverend Billy, who is the (sole?) pastor of the Church of Stop Shopping. The Church of Stop Shopping is an unusual organization. Their work is part theater and part utterly clearheaded rhetoric; part culturally referential irony and part complete sincerity.

Working people and working families
Whether they’re halfway around the world
Or they’re standing right here next to me.
Wal-Mart says you’re losing money
Well, there ain’t no Wal-Mart in New York City
Working people and working families

"What Would Jesus Buy?" gives us a long look at the activities of the Church of Stop Shopping, which could be described as a civil-disobedience ministry. This close-knit traveling band of believers fits in one bus, and we see them amusing themselves during the long rides from city to city by practicing their pseudo-gospel tunes. Their voices are one of the highlights of the movie - the Church of Stop Shopping boasts an excellent choir program. Reverend Billy is a passionate, gifted speaker, highly talented in improvisation - he reminds you easily of both a fundamentalist minister, the intentional reference, and the crazy guy loitering at the bus station, possibly less intentional. From his mouth comes a nearly constant stream of remarkably well-thought-out anti-consumerist, deeply pro-environment invective - I say it's remarkable because at no point in the movie does he seem to repeat himself. Yeah, they're some intense people.

They tend to arrive for their performances unannounced, and for good reason. Acts of civil disobedience include at least one public parking-lot baptism (one of the most moving scenes in the movie - performed in the name of "the Fabulous Unknown!") and a straight-up sing-in in the Mall of America. If you have any sympathy for the anti-consumerist cause at all, watching "What Would Jesus Buy?" will give you goosebumps.

Back away from the Wal-Mart, back away!
Back away from that big box, back away!
It's a union-busting sweat zone - (It's a sweat zone!)
Our neighborhood is our home - (Our neighborhood's our home!)
Back away, back away, back away!
Back away, back away, back away!
Back up and pray!

As a movie, "What Would Jesus Buy?" is virtually structureless. It's hard to imagine exactly how they edited it, because pretty much every scene is at the same breakneck pace, and I'd be hard-pressed to transmit to you any impression of a narrative arc that I got. But I'm still a fan. Reverend Billy is such a charmer it's hard not to be. Plus, who doesn't like it when truly talented performers reaffirm genuine principles? What a rare and splendid thing.


I did not buy the DVD of "What Would Jesus Buy?" that I watched. I borrowed it from my local public library at no cost and little environmental impact.

Lyrics are from http://www.revbilly.com, where Stop Shopping Gospel Choir songs are available for free download. Right on!

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