The Common Good
February 2007

150 Years of Keeping the Faith

by Ed Spivey Jr. | February 2007

The humor has been called

Actually, I meant to say 150 columns. Sorry. One-hundred-fifty years is another thing entirely. For example, it was a little more than 150 years ago that Dr. William T.G. Morton, a Boston dentist, used ether as an anesthetic in surgery. Before that, the chemical had been used mainly as a party gag. (“Hey, come over here and stick me with that bumbershoot. No really. I won’t feel a thing.”) It’s just a pity that something discovered in 1275 by Spanish alchemist Raymundus Lullus wasn’t put into standard surgical practice for another 600 years.

[Tee hee.]

I love doing that. Using lots of names and historical dates and mathematical calculations so the editors have to painstakingly research and do fact checks, not to mention confirming the spelling of words like “anesthetic” and “Raymundus.” They hate that. Especially since their usual editing technique with my copy is to simply hold their noses, set aside any shred of journalist standards, and pass it on. It’s a good system and it works.

Fortunately, you don’t read this page for historical facts or 19th-century colloquialisms for umbrella (You were wondering what a “bumbershoot” was, weren’t you?). You come here to get away from tedious and unnecessary things like “depth” and “analysis” and revel in false assumptions and wild conjecture that are my trademarks. Not to mention funny anecdotes about my daughters. (The early 20s is such a cute age.)

It’s a proven formula that has, for the past 17 years (check that, please), entertained literally dozens of readers across the globe and won awards too numerous to mention (Editor’s Note: Three first places, a second place, a third place, and an honorable mention. Not exactly “numerous.” Reminds us of those “participant” ribbons you “won” in high school track for just showing up. Hey, I pulled a hamstring! Frequently.)

Wait, I hear movement outside my office. I bet it’s the staff gathering quietly in the hall for a surprise pop-in to acknowledge my long tenure. I can just imagine the decorative oversized card they’ve all signed with ....

Nope. It’s just the UPS guy.

FOR MORE THAN ANY other reason, you read “H’rumphs” for its unwavering commitment to intellectual superficiality. When it comes to commenting on the important political issues of the day, I live on the surface, like a water spider, but with fewer legs. Also, I don’t feed on smaller insects and waterborne organisms, having once had a bad experience at a restaurant with that theme.

So averse am I to using real facts that, if I told you that right after the first Gulf war then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney dismissed a plan to invade Baghdad because it would leave us in a “quagmire,” you would tilt your head back and give a hearty laugh of disbelief. But it’s true (I checked myself, something that I’m loath to do). Sometimes the truth is just funnier.

Speaking of truth, this actually might be only my 148th or 149th column. Or possibly my 151st. The point is, since the late 1950s—or possibly the late 1980s—this column has brought a smiley face to the otherwise serious stuff in Sojourners, the magazine of faith, scrupulously nonpartisan politics, and culture. We had to add “scrupulously nonpartisan” because of the increased pressure on churches and nonprofits from the Internal Revenue Service—a government agency that, if I might pause for a moment to speak from the heart, is filled with the kind of honest, hard-working public servants that I will personally bake cookies for. Some have criticized the IRS’s crackdown on liberal churches as being politically motivated. Again, I must say that I am personally shocked at such baseless accusations. The IRS has always been fair and caring, particularly in the tax years 1997 to 2003, when it allowed one particular deduction on my 1040 form which, on the face of it, was almost laughable for its ... um, never mind.

GRANTED, THE HUMOR in this column has often been called “sophomoric,” although, in my defense, at least it’s at the college sophomore level. But more important, in 32 years at Sojourners (or is it 33?) I’ve never once been accused of sending the wrong message to the troops.

And speaking of 150 years, we’ll have won in Iraq by then, right? (As I write this, George W. Bush—formerly The Decider, currently The Thumpee—is staying the course in Iraq with the unwavering belief of a young Linus, who trusted with equal fervor in the Great Pumpkin.)

Hey, sounds like something’s rolling up to my office door. Probably grateful staff members with some gift that’s just too large to carry. I hope it’s the papier-mâché statuette of Jim Wallis that I’ve been thinking would look great next to my autographed Gandhi poster (“To my buddy, Ed: Keep on truckin’. —Mo”) ....

Nope. Fed-Ex guy. Darn.

Ed Spivey jr. is art director of Sojourners. NOTE: All facts in this column were confirmed by the editorial assistant, except for the one about the water spider. We’re pretty sure Ed made that up.

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