The Common Good
November 2011

But We Don't Look a Day Over 38

by Ed Spivey Jr. | November 2011

Fortunately, 40 is the new 34, or in my case, 38.

With THIS ISSUE we turn 40, as our cover notes. It’s also discussed in two articles, a column, and our editor’s page, not to mention the balloons. You couldn’t throw a dart at this magazine without being reminded of the fact that we’re 40 years old. We’ve been around the block a few times. Crow’s feet are appearing at the corners of our eyes, and we just ordered an ear-hair trimmer off eBay. (Although as a rule one probably shouldn’t buy previously owned tools for personal hygiene. These things often come with a history that we’d probably rather not know. But I digress.)

Fortunately, 40 is the new 34, or in my case, 38.

I showed up at the magazine two years after it all started, which is why I’m still known as The New Guy. Most of the editorial staff have been here nearly as long. In fact, our collective term of service at Sojourners adds up to more than 100 years. Which means that if we lay down in the hall, end to end, it would once again test the patience of the UPS guy, who would have to maneuver around us to deliver those packages that are so important to the mission of Sojourners (although to be honest most of them are from eBay).

WHEN GOD CALLED me to Sojourners, I was the art director of the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday magazine, a publication whose future was limited only by the fact that nobody read it. It was a short call from God, if memory serves, kind of like a tweet, only without the backslashes. (At least I think it was God speaking to me. I heard this still small voice, but it could have been the guy in the elevator whose foot I was standing on.) Today God probably reaches out with Twitter, or texts if more comprehensive instructions are needed. (“Put down your nets, and I will make you fishers of men. LOL.” Andrew and Simon Peter, tweeting back: “Um ... would you repeat that? Backslash, backslash, smiley face.”)

At any rate, it was a good thing God had a new plan for my life, because two years later that newspaper job was terminated. Sometimes, when God calls, it’s a good vocational move.

But secular journalism wasn’t all I was leaving behind. God also lured me away from a life of strong liquor, fast cars, and immense wealth. Fortunately for God, I was in the early planning stages of that life, so it wasn’t difficult to leave my third-floor walk-up efficiency and do something that wasn’t interrupted every 16 minutes by the dish-rattling sound of a passing elevated train. Not so much a “put down your nets” moment as a “put down your TV Guide.”

I still remember my parents’ reaction when I told them I was leaving my job at a newspaper with a circulation of nearly a million to work at a magazine whose subscriber list fit into a single shoebox. There was a palpable sense of pride when they replied, “Would you repeat that?”

A lot has happened since our first issue in 1971, but mainly in the last few months, because that’s easier to remember. During that long-ago era (this summer),  the forces of greed we’ve been writing against for decades almost brought down the U.S. economy, and we’re trying not to say we told you so. After all, we preached, we published, we blogged, we emailed, we put out study guides, we led public vigils. Heck, I even played guitar outside the White House before getting arrested for either a powerful act of civil disobedience or for singing in front of police officers who weren’t in the mood.

In short, we’ve been prayerfully bearing witness against the principalities of unregulated capitalism for many years, but did the nation LISTEN?! Nope. To be fair, after decades of excess, the U.S. does have more rich people than any other country, and the 99 percent of us who aren’t rich are VERY proud of that fact. Because our rich people can beat up their rich people [high five].

Regardless, we’ll keep fighting for a peaceful world for another 40 years, because who can afford to retire? Wait. That’s not what I meant to say. I mean we must always have hope, because hope, as the expression goes, springs a turtle. (How that helps, I’m not sure, but some people find it inspirational.)

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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