The second installation of the ‘Speak Your Mind’ series at CSUN featured Bill Talen, also known as Reverend Billy, delivering a sermon that is far from ordinary.
It should be expected because not too many preacher’s have been arrested in a Starbucks for disrupting the ability to do business while trying to perform an exorcism at the cash register. As the ‘service’ begins and the four very talented singers dressed in gospel robes began singing of protecting their neighborhood from developers and pushing back against the cycle of consumerism, it was difficult to know which direction the performers were going in.
After a few songs, a new voice came out of the background, a man dressed in a white suit, wearing a preacher’s shirt and collar underneath, with flamboyant hair, advances down the aisle and onto the stage. He continued with the theme that was established by the singers, elaborating on the problems of consumerism, and went into a detailed story about his demonic desire to purchase a hair product that had a logo and picture of a celebrity on it.
Between his speeches, the singers chimed in, each one getting a chance to showcase their abilities.
Once the confusion of whether it was a real sermon and if Rev. Billy was a real preacher wore off, the real core of what was happening began to set in. It became more apparent that the religious undertone was merely a costume for the real nature of the event. When questioned about the relevance of the gospel style forum to the subject matter of the sermon, Rev. Billy said ‘Gospel is a native American tradition’.
The crew further elaborated on how churches are simply a community of people who share common values and what they were doing was simply using that outline, but instilling their own set of values, ones based on stopping the consumer culture that is driving circumstances that lead to corruption, war, poverty and dangerous environmental conditions.
As deceiving as it may have been when the visual arrangement of the program led people to believe they were in for a heavily religious sermon, it was refreshing to be tricked in such a way where the content of the ceremony overpowered any predetermined thoughts about what was going to entail.
The subject matter was extremely relevant in today’s world as Rev. Billy touched upon the hope and need for change from these destructive aspects of society, especially relating to the influence of corporations on modern epidemics.
The format of the show was very innovative, a theater act where it was hard to draw the lines between entertainment and a lecture, something that keptthe audience engaged and participating, which is very crucial to maximizing the effectiveness of his message getting through.
Bill Talen, who started out in New York, has traveled the country and brought together a community of people who want to make a difference through the art of theatre. They magnificently use their format to create a gospel atmosphere that creates audience involvement and are able to communicate an incredibly important message through their well crafted characters. It is a must see for anyone who gets the opportunity and if unable to see them live, there is a documentary called ‘What Would Jesus Buy’ that is based on their trip across the United States where the Church of Stop Shopping delivers their unique and entertaining sermon.