Ed Spivey Jr. was working as art director of the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday Magazine in 1972 when God called him to join the fledgling Sojourners community and work for its publication, then called the Post-American. The fact that Ed has not heard from God SINCE is not what's important here, because Ed figures God had other things to do, what with making the world a more peaceful place. Why the world is still NOT a more peaceful place is none of Ed's business and he would never think to criticize God for slacking off since, who knows, God could have been sick or something.
But, 36 years later, Ed is still with Sojourners, still the art director, still happy with his life-long dream of working hard for very little money. The only down side is that Ed is beginning to feel his childhood plans of being either a cowboy or an astronaut may not be realized in his lifetime. But such are the sacrifices one makes when one responds to the call of the Lord, even if immediately after that the Lord apparently changed His phone number.
Of a more biographic note, Ed holds an Associate in Arts degree from Vincennes University. He was denied a Bachelor's Degree from Indiana University because of a disagreement with his psychology professor who did not appreciate Ed's refusal to complete his rat experiment. Apparently, Ed's was the only laboratory rat that bit, so Ed insisted on wearing huge motorcycle gloves when handling the animal, which, the professor insisted, skewed the rat's response to stimuli. Ed told the professor what he could do with his stimuli, which unfortunately did not put the professor in the mood to accept Ed's alternative suggestion, which was to study the response of rats being loudly cursed at while simultaneously being flushed down university toilets.
Since his college days he has made a bit of a name for himself, and not just “You, There,” which is the name his mother calls him when she forgets. Ed has won numerous awards for his design of Sojourners Magazine, and his monthly humor column consistently garners top honors from both religious and secular media associations. His recent book, A Hamster is Missing in Washington, D.C. won the top prize in humor at the Independent Publisher Book Awards in New York City. (Due to scheduling conflicts, Ed was unable to attend the gala tribute and banquet, but had he gone he would have ordered the fish.) Now in its second printing, Ed’s book is available at store.sojo.net and at on-line booksellers near you.
Ed is married and has two daughters, all of whom refuse to walk in public with him, on account of the little whoop-whoop sound he makes when he sees a fire truck.
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This Election Year, a Change Is Gonna Come. Or Not.
DO PEOPLE MAKE New Year’s resolutions anymore? Is that still a thing? I’m asking because maybe it’s time we stop pretending we’ll lose weight in the coming year, or learn a new language, or defend democracy. Best to admit that lethargy is the only promise we keep to ourselves and settle for the small goals we can achieve. Such as eating with the family without your cell phone. Okay, forget that one. We have to walk before we can run.
My personal goal for the new year is to improve my emoji selection. It’s fun to add those cute little pictures to texts, but when I try to click on “thumbs up” from that tightly packed list of icons, I somehow click on “high heel shoe” instead. I have no problem with women’s footwear, but it’s not a good fit (I wear a 9 narrow) for most of my messages. And it requires lengthy re-texting to clarify it was a mistake and stop trying to read something into it and, no, it’s not a subliminal retro jab at a woman’s right to shoes. I tried switching to the “high-five,” but it’s positioned perilously close to “face of a terrified cat” and “bright red lips,” neither appropriate to my usual texts, which mainly consist of “heading home now” [“thumbs up”] and “Yes, I will pick up milk” [“terrified cat” with “high heel shoe”]. “Oops, sorry” [“barfing smiley face”]. What?!
You’ve probably already mastered emojis and are raising the caliber of your texts with video gifs using actual cats (without high heels), thus proving your maturity as a citizen in modern society.
Dinosaurs, Rudy Giuliani, and Other Antediluvian Muck
ONE OF THE advantages of living in our nation’s capital is visiting world class museums at no charge. It’s your tax dollars at work, particularly for residents, and we don’t have to wash cars and sell wrapping paper for the school band to get here. Nor do we walk in groups wearing matching shirts with beleaguered adults anxiously counting heads and hoping to get back on the bus with the same number that got off, give or take.
Bless their hearts, these impressionable young people, choosing to spend their vacations in the fetid swamp of Washington, D.C., despite their parents’ fearful warnings. They move in self-conscious clusters, drinking our water despite the intestinal risks endemic to foreign lands and unaware of the local swamp creatures like myself slithering around them. We would be invisible but for our anachronistic clothing that does not say “[name of school] ROCKS!”
The most popular of all museums these days is the Museum of Natural History, with its redesigned dinosaur exhibit tracing life on Earth back to its very beginning. I was awed during my recent visit, and not just by my newfound agility to dodge double strollers blocking the bathrooms. The interactive displays are stunning, with state-of-the-art technology that brings ancient epochs to life. So absorbing were the graphics that it took me several minutes staring at one fascinating display before I realized it was a thermostat.
For Christmas, Let's Give Mitch McConnell a Heart
BECAUSE OF PRESIDENT Trump's order to increase tariffs on imports, Christmas shopping this year could be more frenzied than usual. That last shipment of Chinese-made items is selling fast at Walmart, so you’ve got to shove your shopping cart into the fray if you want to preserve our constitutional right to low prices. Not to complain about Trump’s attempts to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., of course. We look forward to our factory smokestacks once again belching the sweet soot of freedom, but it probably won’t be in time for Black Friday.
I got a jump on shopping this year by buying that new acupuncture cell phone app. Just released, it’s really [ow!] great, although you have to [ow!] hold it just right or [ow!] it doesn’t work. Okay there ... that pressure point ... No more neck pain. Unless I get a phone call [ow!]. “Hello?” [ow!]
We’re especially looking forward to the holidays this year, since getting to Christmas means we made it past Thanksgiving, when for the first time in history the president declined to pardon the White House turkey and, instead—at the urging of adviser Stephen Miller—cooked it and its entire family.
Heaping Scorn (When Nothing Less Will Do)
WITH THE ELECTION only a year away, our nation is hopelessly divided between good people on one side and painfully foolish people on the other. The only thing that can bring us together is to find common ground and agree that the second group is completely out of their minds.
Nah, that won’t work. Because as much as you want righteous retribution brought down on your crazy uncle, he’s not the real problem. He’s just the pawn of greater forces that feed his tiny, brittle mind that nonetheless figured out how to get seconds on turkey before you.
No, the real deplorables are the super wealthy who, since the Reagan presidency, have built a conservative infrastructure that controls Congress and undermines our democracy. The Mercers, the Kochs, the Walmartons, and their kind have financed the seeds of our disharmony and inequality by lobbying for tax breaks, denying climate change, and supporting divisive social media. They should be the real targets of our wrath, nonviolently of course, because we’re still stickin’ with Jesus and that cheek of his.
Why I Only Buy in America
WITH THE NATION'S economy on the brink of another crisis (what, you haven’t heard?) and major banks expecting their feckless greed to again be punished with a harsh government bailout, what can we citizens do to help? We can shop, that’s what. It’s our patriotic duty.
In this capitalistic democracy we cast a vote for freedom every time we make a purchase. The more we buy, the more freedom we celebrate. (I didn’t just buy cat food this morning, I made a profound statement about America. And I’ll make it again when I go back for the cat litter that I forgot.)
The Founders might not have had this in mind when they conceived our republic, but they never felt the joy of buying a 24-pack of tuna at Costco, did they?
On Fox News, There’s No Global Warming
AS WE MOVE into the hottest part of the summer and the likelihood that only two-thirds of the planet’s species will survive until the next election (oddly, presidential candidates as a species seem to be increasing), two things occur to me:
• I forgot to work on my beach body over the winter. And now it’s too late. (Next year, baby!)
• This might be a good time to check in on that climate change panel the Trump administration formed a few months ago.
The panel still has no official name, although any reference to it is usually preceded by “ad hoc,” which is Latin for “spitting distance.” It’s not clear if that distance is from reality, but we have a guess.
New Look, Same Attitude
It’s no surprise to my loyal readers—both of them—that when I’m not writing this column, I’m spending the other 97 percent of my time working as art director for Sojourners magazine, the magazine you are now holding, or perhaps reading on the floor, if you’re doing planks. (I used to do planks every morning but stopped after the internet said that planks are less important than a healthy breakfast. I think it was an ad for Egg McMuffins.)
The fact that I’m the art director is actually printed at the end of my column but, let’s be honest, how many readers get that far?
Voices from Beyond
THE UNIVERSE, as you may recall from a previous column, is an incalculably vast space that is constantly expanding. So it was surprising when scientists claimed that recently detected radio waves came from “halfway across the universe.” Not to quibble, but if the universe is infinitely large and expanding, how did they figure the halfway point? Our annual family drive to Dallas feels endless, but Memphis is definitely halfway.
Look to the East, and Don’t Look Back
SUMMER VACATION planning has begun, and it’s time to choose which parts of the country to avoid—or drive through under cover of darkness—in our hybrid car bearing D.C. license plates, a combination that tends to inflame a variety of tribal prejudices.
Drivers of gas-guzzling cars get peevish when more responsible vehicles pass them on the highway (my Prius is old but moves like the wind!), and the D.C. tags immediately invoke ire. Leaving nothing to chance in its efforts to make residents afraid to leave the city, the District of Columbia also emblazoned the phrase “End Taxation Without Representation” on its license plates. This lets hinterlanders know—if they had any doubt—that we hold the Constitution and its authors in lesser regard. To put it bluntly: We’re whiney. (At this point, I’ll simply note the injustice of having no vote in Congress, although few want to read that in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel.)
Over the years, I have given up trying to reassure incensed people on the road that, whatever their complaint about the nation’s body politic, it isn’t my fault. But they can’t hear me at highway speeds—even when I shout through an open window—and I haven’t perfected my shoulder shrug to communicate, “Hey, I just live there.” Worse still, there is no effective counter to the axiomatic efficiency of another driver’s middle finger.
Curling Up With a Good Book...
LATELY I'VE BEEN reading nonfiction books, finding their less-debatable truths a comforting contrast to the fearsome unpredictability of today’s world. Previously, I had blocked out that world by reading fiction from the horror genre, but stories about people facing unspeakable terrors just seem too cheery these days.
So I’ve settled on works that detail the hard facts of science, lately the origins of humankind. Did you know that we modern human beings are only one of several species of humans throughout evolutionary history? (Evolution being what Charles Darwin dreamed up to cover his childhood disappointment that unicorns weren’t allowed on Noah’s ark. So sad.)
I didn’t realize that we current humans—called homo sapiens, which is Latin for “smarter than those Neanderthal doofuses” (doofi? )—didn’t evolve as one species, seamlessly blending into each next version, like that drawing of hunched figures emerging from the sea to eventually straighten to full height and check email. No, each human species came into existence in a distinct arc of development.
Neanderthals, which preceded us, were actually stronger and had larger brains than the later homo sapiens, but lived virtually unchanged for millennia, their tools never improving, their nomadic lifestyle never maturing into more organized communities. They stubbornly stuck to their ways, and might even have said, “Hey, why reinvent the wheel?” had they invented the wheel in the first place. Which they didn’t.
Fire they mastered quickly, of course, using it for cooking and warmth, but the programmable thermostat never occurred to them.
Is There Something I’m Forgetting?
ONE OF THE disadvantages of living a long life is that you forget much of it. Parts of the past are a closed book to a deteriorating memory, although I do remember every single embarrassing moment when I should have kept my mouth shut but didn’t, falsely thinking at the time that a clever remark about, say, a person’s lamentable haircut would be both humorous and instructive, and generally enjoyed by all. Unfortunately, those excruciating social misdemeanors number, at last count, in the millions and lay in the forefront of my consciousness while other more important things—such as, what 8 times 7 equals—I have long forgotten. It’s the normal consequence of aging, but these days what you don’t remember could hurt you.
For example, have I ever lied to Robert Mueller?
I’VE NEVER MET Robert Mueller, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been in the same room with the man. But I can’t be certain.
Unlike our president, I’ve never made payments to an adult film actress or Playboy playmate. But does memory really serve? I admit I have seen Playboy magazine, the first time when I was 12, well before the age of consent and possibly in violation of local morality laws at the time. But copies were just lying on the little table in the barbershop, and since I had already read the old issues of Field & Stream, I decided to leaf through a different publication.
Instead of seizing it from my fingers, quelling my innocent curiosity, and using the moment to teach an important life lesson about the clear demarcations of youth, the barbers just giggled.
Anyway, a young Robert Mueller wasn’t there at the time, observing with a stern eye, carefully documenting my actions for use in future judicial proceedings. At least, I don’t think he was. But can I really be sure?
Look Both Ways. Pray. Repeat.
BY THE TIME you read this, I will either be recuperating from multiple contusions or hugging the outer walls of buildings as I walk from corner to corner, trying to avoid said contusions. Either outcome is apparently the price we pay for progress, although I’d be happy to let another loyal citizen experience that progress. (Why should I use up my sick leave?)
My anxieties of late have nothing to do with the usual political hypocrisy that stalks the streets of our nation’s capital. I speak instead of thousands of rental bicycles and electric scooters that flit about like troublesome insects, albeit insects completely lacking in judgment and common sense. They are everywhere and, counterintuitively, can come out of nowhere. And they move with a speed matched only by the wobbliness of the inexperienced riders who thought it would be cool to “arrive in style.” Or “in ambulance,” depending on conditions.
To make matters worse, one scooter company recalled thousands of its vehicles because some were at risk of spontaneously catching fire, an extremely dangerous occurrence that would both threaten the lives of riders and look totally cool as FLAMES COME OUT OF YOUR SCOOTER! But like I said, very dangerous and, after I do it once, it must be stopped.
The Key to a Long Life
TO TAKE MY mind off Ted Cruz being with us for another six years, I’ve found that repeatedly jabbing a needle into my knee seems to work best. But today I’m thinking of the more comforting world of assisted living, specifically the current residence of my elderly parents. Although I have to be careful using that word “elderly,” since I am, ahem, of a certain age myself. And I have my own burden to bear. (Recently, several people remarked that I look like Clint Eastwood, that handsome paragon of Hollywood masculinity. But they weren’t talking about Clint Eastwood in his prime, but rather the current Clint Eastwood, who’s 88. That hurts.)
My parents reside at a Baptist senior center near Florence, S.C., a town not named after a recent hurricane that bulldozed its way through the South. There wasn’t much left, anyway, after Hurricane Matthew came through earlier. (And then there was Michael, another “100-year storm,” a phrase that apparently now means “monthly.”)
Visiting my parents is always a joy, as well as a jolt. The jolt comes when driving from North Carolina into South Carolina, where the road immediately becomes cracked and rough, registering the difference between a state that responsibly maintains its highways and one that instead puts its money into maintaining the 41st-best health care in the nation, not to mention the 48th-best education. (High fives for Mississippi, which is way up at 46th!) In fairness, South Carolina ranks 12th in gun ownership, so you probably don’t want to complain about the roads.
What, This Again?
TIME, THE GREAT healer, had almost cleansed my memory of “The Nashville Statement,” that unhelpful treatise from conservative Christians insisting that gay people keep their hands to themselves, despite being squeezed together in the closets they should return to, biblically. But now, only a year later, another document comes out, equally unhelpful, and almost identical in its utter lack of theological necessity.
It’s called “For the Sake of Christ and His Church: The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel,” and to its credit, it omits the Nashville sex talk, no doubt a disappointment to Bible belters always eager for an excuse to get sweaty and judgmental. The new statement instead focuses on another topic: justice.
Drafted by pastor and author John MacArthur (yeah, I’d never heard of him either) and other Christian leaders, it assumes Christians have grown weary of turning the other cheek (so tedious) or loving your neighbor as yourself (BORING!) and asserts that the gospel has nothing to do with empathy or working for the common good.
“WE DENY that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church.”
You pretty much knew where the author was heading with those first capital letters. “WE DENY” sets a certain tone that brooks no discussion, offers no compromise, and please don’t let my granddaughter hear of it or she’ll be even more expressive when refusing her vegetables.
THIS IS A tough time to be an American human. We wake up each morning jittery and anxious, wondering what new outrage will cause us to reflexively fling our arms across our faces in a pointless attempt at self-defense. We are in harm’s way, the nation is in jeopardy, and the axe-throwing club on my street looks like it’s closing down.
You might not think this is a problem, but then you probably never threw an axe across a room and stuck it in a wooden bullseye, and then said, with shameless pride, “Yes, oh YES, I’m BAD!” Once you’ve thrown an axe, throwing darts in a bar just seems so unsatisfying. (Note: Axe throwing is not usually done in venues that serve alcohol, for obvious reasons.)
But few customers are showing up these days, and the hours are irregular. It’s just another casualty of an America so debilitated by the state of our politics that we don’t even want to get out of bed, much less pick up an axe. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but an axe-throwing high only lasts so long. Eventually you start remembering why you wanted to throw sharp objects in the first place:
- The EPA is again permitting coal companies to flush ash into West Virginia streams. (Game fish now come pre-blackened.)
- The economy is on a sugar high that will inevitably end with a crash, followed by the government’s heroic response to stimulate markets by passing more tax breaks for the rich. (It’s called “Tinkle Down Economics,” how prosperity gets passed on to the deserving, who should never look up during these troubled times.)
Jail: Perfect for a Little Me-Time
FORMER TRUMP campaign manager Paul Manafort has a lot of time these days to relax, put his feet up, and fondly remember his sweet career as a jet-setting consultant to politicians whose character flaws were easily offset by their deep pockets. Those were the days, he muses from his bunk in a Virginia detention center, his snug cell reminding him of the similarly cozy—and opulent—cabins of the private jets he used to hire.
While I would never, in this data-driven world that strips people of their humanity, reduce a man to a mere number, his is 45343. (Which I’m totally playing in next week’s Pick Five lotto! Why should Manafort have all the luck?)
Most people awaiting trial for wrongdoing involving millions of dollars in bribes, kickbacks, and influence peddling—you know, victimless crimes—can remain in the comfort of their own homes. And Manafort did this for a few months, padding around his house in slippers and a decorative ankle monitor (available in beige or artichoke). But being a social guy, he couldn’t stop contacting a Russian associate to discuss ways to help potential witnesses remember that he did nothing wrong. This was considered witness tampering by a judge, although I call it “just getting your stories straight,” which is important when facing trial. (I’d also suggest posting your innocence on Facebook, because the number of “likes” is now part of the senten-cing guidelines.)
Driving to the Future (Without Signaling)
WALKING INTO my house after another exhausting day in the Fields of the Lord—I had to work, like, six hours straight in an air-conditioned office, with only a couple hours for lunch!—I encountered the usual pile of mail on the floor, below the door slot, and underneath the cat who doesn’t move until the door squeezes him into the radiator. (Another window into my world. You’re welcome.)
Picking up the pile I noticed a letter from my car insurance company. Most correspondence I receive on this topic rudely accuses me of “paying too much!” (How do they know?), but then offers to correct that error in a mere “15 minutes of your time, because you can’t afford not to!” And that’s just on the outside of the envelope.
But this envelope was unmarked—no italicized words of condescension or false promises to trigger an immediate toss into the recycling bin. It was a plain envelope portending—as plain envelopes do—ominous content, such as a legal summons for some unknown transgression that I’m sure was unintentional, plus I swear I wasn’t even there when it happened!
THIS MONTH marks a planned historic meeting of hundreds of evangelical leaders with the president of the United States, currently Donald J. Trump. At press time, the actual number of participants had not been tallied, but you know what the Bible says, wherever two or more evangelical leaders are gathered a pulpit must be provided for each one or there’s gonna be trouble. (Or words to that effect.) Not to mention a good sound system, a wireless microphone to facilitate breathless pacing, and a telegenic congregation. And don’t forget the offering. That private jet’s not going to pay for itself.
And speaking of private jets, not all of America’s top evangelical leaders will arrive in well-appointed Gulfstreams. Some will travel in smaller jets, a lesser witness that suggests their owners have not earned the full fruit of God’s blessings. Turns out, their last emotional appeal from the altar failed to touch the hearts and checkbooks of their followers. (Their advisers warned them to keep a straight face when promising God would give back a hundredfold, but frankly it’s hard not to giggle. I doubt any of those Prosperity Gospel preachers actually believes what they’re promising. But to be fair to their gullible congregants, a hundredfold is a much higher rate of return than your average 401(k).)
New President for Life
CONGRATULATIONS to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who just ordered new business cards. The ink was standard black, on white card stock, but it was the “president-for-life” after his name that made it special.
We wish Xi Jinping well in his future years of unquestioned authority, and expect he’ll soon be known simply as Xi, a name that will become synonymous with unlimited power, fearsome brutality, and a Facebook page that boasts 1.3 billion friends. (Note to Chinese citizens who think they might not friend him: Think again. Facebook has gone to a lot of trouble to make your personal information available to undemocratic regimes, and you can’t fight progress.)
Single-word names have long been associated with unwavering strength and power. China’s last president-for-life went by the name of Mao; Hannibal was one of the greatest generals in history; and Beyoncé makes you cancel singing lessons, because why bother? (Cancel those dance lessons, too.) But one-word names don’t always convey awesome power. People still tremble at the name of Genghis Khan. But Genghis? Not so much.
BEFORE THE Chinese president gets too full of himself, however, I’d like to point out that Xi looks like a Roman numeral with a typo, or a new Tesla model (which will be delayed another six months), or the latest version of Microsoft Office after all the bugs were fixed. (So embarrassing.)
A Time of Reckoning
WITH ONLY a month left before the start of the annual war on Christmas—my Bill O’Reilly desk calendar keeps me up to date on all the seasonal liberal conspiracies—there is still time to plan this year’s shopping, starting with a new president.
Despite the fact that most voters are in critical need of a discerning hand to guide their choice—a choice that requires more thought than is possible during the commercial breaks on “Dancing With the Stars”—Sojourners is forbidden from providing that guidance because of restrictions from the Internal Revenue Service.
But this election is too important for us to quietly surrender to 501(c)(3) rules, since acquiescence is the final sanctuary of the coward, if he knew how to spell it. This year, with our nation so divided, it is time for Sojourners to issue a clear endorsement of one candidate, regardless of the consequences (a word that uses the letter “c” with laudable efficiency).
WE HAVE committed acts of civil disobedience before—getting arrested for protests against South African apartheid, the secret wars in Central America, and the immoral budget priorities of Congress, and, in a lesser known act of conscience, loudly objecting to the watered-down beverages on tap at our neighborhood bar. (Always the clever one in the group, I called it “tap water.”) The pizza was also horrible, but we let that one slide. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Unfortunately, justice is probably going to get bent long before they add more pepperoni. You just can’t rush bad pizza.
But where was I? Oh yes, our brazen act of defiance against restrictions of our 501(c)(3) status. It should be noted that 501(c)(4) nonprofits are allowed more leeway, as long as their work is educational and contributes to the “social welfare” of the country. The fact that many 501(c)(4)s are mainly promoting the social welfare of industrial polluters, gun manufacturers, and other groups of interest to Karl Rove is beside the point.