Ed Spivey Jr. was working as art director of the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday Magazine in 1974 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, 46 years later, Ed finally retired from Sojourners, content to have fulfilled his life-long dream of working hard for very little money. The only downside is that Ed is too old now to pursue his childhood plans of being either a cowboy or an astronaut. 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 or Her phone number.
Of a more biographic note, Ed holds an associate degree from Vincennes University. He then transferred to Indiana University where, despite his diligence at attending several classes each semester, he was denied a bachelor’s degree because a psychology professor 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 thick 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 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 called him when she forgot. Ed won numerous awards for his design of Sojourners magazine, and his monthly humor column consistently garnered top honors from both religious and secular media associations. His 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 banquet, but had he gone he would have ordered the fish.) The book sold out of its second printing and Ed is now working on a second volume.
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. His beloved granddaughter, however, likes it when he does this.
Posts By This Author
What (Not) To Do When You're Having a Heart Attack
WHEN THE CHEST PAINS started, I knew there was no time to lose. So, I followed the well-established protocols for this emergency.
First, I plugged in my cellphone to charge. A heart attack is a serious condition that could result in a lengthy hospital stay. You don’t want to be out of communication with people whose sympathies will help in your recovery.
Second, I showered and shaved. You should always look your best, but particularly on what could be the last day of your life. You don’t want some coroner’s assistant commenting on your poor hygiene, while next of kin sheepishly apologize: “He was usually very clean.”
To that end, choice of outfit was key. Business casual is an acceptable ensemble for almost any occasion, but at that moment I was wearing white socks. Changing over to black would be appropriate, but knee-length dress socks might take too long for emergency room nurses to cut away to harvest a vein. So, I stayed with my whites. This was not the time to put on airs.
I considered wearing an older shirt that I wouldn’t miss if it were ripped open for the resuscitation paddles but settled on a slightly newer long-sleeved one. Classic but not too showy, and the vertical striping will provide pleasing symmetry on a gurney.
Is It a Jigsaw Puzzle or the Last Throes of Human Existence?
THERE WAS NO WARNING.
I had just returned from a task that brings meaning and purpose to a retiree (triple-A batteries were on sale across town), but stepping over the threshold of my front door, I knew something was wrong.
In the middle distance, our dining room table — a place of memorable family gatherings and special dinners with friends — had been defiled with dozens of randomly shaped pieces of colored cardboard.
I gasped. This monstrous intrusion had presumably been placed there by the other member of my household, whose name I could not utter without a fierce complaint, the cry of a man wounded by a symbol of the last throes of human existence ... the jigsaw puzzle.
She: Oh, you’re home. I found that puzzle I’d misplaced.
Me: But I’m not ready for puzzles! It’s what you do when there’s little left to life, when you’re one step away from the grave!
She: Don’t be silly.
Me: I’m still a young man! In elephant years, I’m a teenager. I just got my driver’s license, for heaven’s sake!
Southern Baptists Finally Make Space for Old White Guys
AFTER THE SOUTHERN Baptist Convention announced that women cannot be pastors, Sunday mornings have taken a new form across the nation. People are seeing the potential of an uninterrupted two-day weekend for the first time and relishing the freedom.
In clarifying its stand on women in leadership — that Baptists won’t stand for it — the SBC suddenly confirmed what groggy teenagers have been telling their parents for generations — namely, that sleeping in might be a better idea than attending a church where females are only needed for child care and potlucks.
In fairness, when the SBC committee — composed almost entirely of men — made the recommendation, it was mainly to free up parking. The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the country (high five!), and what better way to open more spaces than by telling half of humanity they’re not appreciated?
Does AI Have What It Takes to Interact With Humans?
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE HAS been raising a lot of eyebrows lately and, to my surprise, it has nothing to do with “guar gum” or Red Dye No. 40, the ingredients that make most things artificial. (Is somebody working on organic, free-range intelligence?) The main concern — other than a complete takeover by machines — seems to be that AI could write term papers for high school kids. I’m sympathetic to that concern, but from the students’ perspective. If I’d had that kind of help in school, I would have earned more than just the one A in typing class.
Most reporting has been about ChatGPT and Bing, Microsoft’s AI search engine, which still has some bugs, including combative responses. But who cares about that when you just want to find good airfares?
This Isn't Goodbye, It's... Well, Okay, It's Goodbye
THIS IS MY last column for Sojourners magazine. After 46 years as art director, I’m going to call it a day; 16,910 days, to be precise. (Sadly, another month and I would have been vested. So close.) After almost a half century, I’m finally leaving this good work and these wonderful colleagues so I can spend more time with my phone.
I mean my family.
I know this will be a shock to my readers—both of them—but, and how can I put this? ... it’s not you, it’s me. Not that my readers are blameless. Over the years they have at times been merciless in their criticism, such as doubting the veracity of conversations I reported between Jesus and God (I have the tapes!), or faulting my righteous skewering of Mike Pence and Jerry Falwell Jr. (I miss them already.) Not to mention the personal medical conditions I helpfully shared but, alas, were cruelly mocked and unappreciated.
When Working Alone Resembles Outtakes From the Animal Kingdom
CAN WE JUST say right now that Ted Cruz will never be president of the United States? Can we say it out loud? Okay, great. I just wanted to get that out of the way before we move on.
This March brought an anniversary that few of us welcomed and none will celebrate. It’s been a year of downs: shutdowns, hunker downs, spend downs, and the down comforters some of us have started wearing around the house, having given up any lingering commitment to outerwear that can’t simply be dragged off the bed in the morning. Like robed and aging monarchs of diminished means, we stalk our indoor world with a queen-sized blanket dragging behind us over floors that, if you look on the bright side, are getting a good wipe down.
My own experience has been different since I actually have to leave the house in the morning to go to work. Despite the yearlong shutdown that caused my 45 colleagues to work from home, I need the high-speed internet connection for the magazine’s large graphic files. So, for the past year I’ve been doing something of my own invention. I call it: “Working from work.”
It’s a disconcertingly quiet 9 to 5(ish), with my primary human contact being the cleaning crew that comes in every two weeks. Despite less need for them, Sojourners is committed to supporting our local vendors, including trash pickup and cleaning, but neither crew wishes to speak at length with a lonely man who rushes gleefully toward them when they arrive. And the cleaning crew has projectile Lysol to keep me at a safe distance. (“The only way to stop a bad guy with a grin is a good woman with a spray bottle.”) Sometimes the only sound I hear in the office is when I walk by our copy machine, a motion-sensitive device that bleeps awake, lights flashing and eager to make a copy. Which no one needs it to do. (Sorry, sad little robot friend. But do you have plans for lunch?)
I'm Well Over 65, But Cursed With the Body of a 64-Year-Old
AT THIS POINT, vaccines for COVID-19 have been administered to hundreds of thousands of Americans, all of whom waited patiently for Donald Trump’s family to be treated first. Also, to all Republicans in the House and the Senate who tried to overturn the election. And people named Rudy, probably. This follows the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that assigns first priority to people who attempt to undermine democracy. Repeatedly. (Hopefully, the vaccine will also include a dose of shame, for those who have none.)
So far, few side effects from the vaccine have been reported, other than mild headaches, a slight fever, and an uncontrollable urge to watch The Queen’s Gambit again. Some recipients exhibited abhorrent anti-social behavior, which experts feared was a psychological reaction to the injection. But it turned out Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz (R-Sedition) have always been like that. The vaccine was not the cause and, sadly, not the cure.
Meanwhile, those of us still waiting for the vaccine are honoring the clear protocols of the CDC. Vaccinations first go to health care workers, then to the elderly, particularly those in senior care centers. Fortunately for me, the wait won’t be much longer. Because of my daughter I’m nurse-adjacent, and if I throw my arms around her for a well-timed hug, who’s to say which arm gets the shot? I’m also well over 65—the minimum age for elderly recipients—although I’m cursed with the body of a 64-year-old. I hope that won’t count against me.
Are We Breathing a Sigh of Relief Yet? How About Now?
HOW ABOUT NOW? Now can we exhale? Confident that our democracy is still clinging above the precipice of failure, its fingers sore from gripping an outcrop holding our country together, its legs dangling over the jagged stones of dictatorship below [almost finished with the metaphor], its feet clawing for a foothold of common ground, even though feet actually don’t claw, but I can’t think of the verb that feet do.
Anyway, Joe Biden won the election and finally countered that hurtful nickname of “Sleepy” by staying awake for most of his inauguration. Chief Justice John Roberts did his part by respectfully stifling a giggle when administering the oath of office to a man facing a Supreme Court that could nullify any action he takes. And none of the television cameras picked up Roberts mouthing “6 to 3, baby!”
It was a nice ceremony, marred only by Rudy Giuliani rushing the stage, waving documents and shouting something about fraud that nobody heard because we were distracted by how much he looks like a crazed jack-o’-lantern. Other than that, the nation finally celebrated a president who will usher in our long-awaited renewal. (But it turns out ushers only have the skills to separate friends of the bride and groom, so we turned off the television and resumed staring at the same four walls we’ve been looking at since March.)
Pick Up the Pace, But Not the Trash
WALKING THE EMPTY streets of Washington, D.C., my hat pulled down against the wind and my face obscured by a fabric mask, I can’t help but notice the unsightly trash on the sidewalk. Lately, the usual litter of the nation’s capital—gum wrappers, empty fast-food containers, unsigned legislation for the common good—now includes a new item carelessly dropped. The formerly ubiquitous cigarette butt has been replaced by the discarded flossing pick.
While it’s good that many people have stopped smoking, must they now floss and toss? Old cigarette butts might eventually compost into something useful to the earth. But plastic devices for cleaning teeth will be with us—much like a 6-3 Supreme Court—long after any possible use to society. And they’re disgusting to look at. (Floss picks, not the Supreme Court, although [name withheld] is looking well past his freshness date.)
My guess is that former smokers have switched to floss devices to keep alive the rituals they so loved. And who can blame them? It’s so satisfying to take a pick from a fresh pack, hold it just so between thumb and forefinger, and go to town on what’s left from lunch. Maybe there should be designated areas outside office buildings where flossers could gather during breaks, bonding while prying out that troublesome piece of bagel and complaining about the boss. All the while looking relaxed and worldly as they move from tooth to tooth, then casually tossing the pick to the ground, followed by stepping on it with practiced vigor. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of peer pressure to floss in public, but just because the cool people are doing it doesn’t mean you have to. Think of the children.
Today Is the First Day of the Rest of ... Something
IS THE ELECTION over yet? Can I emerge from my dark cave of foreboding to the bright light of day, or have my worst fears been realized? I don’t really have a cave, just a basement. And it’s not so bad, since it has two reassuring packs of toilet paper to get me through the unknown that lies ahead. There’s also a case of tuna, and several cans of beets procured, presumably, by a troubled family member who thinks sheltering in place means living with a red tongue and a sour disposition. Let’s be honest: In these perilous times, you may need tuna, but nobody needs beets. (Pretzels would be good. But we don’t have any of those.)
Speaking of safe places: I had planned to use this column as a smug refuge filled with sanctimony that I would fling at those on the losing side of an election that brought us to the precipice of authoritarianism. It was to be a preening and indulgent essay that we couldn’t publish before the election because nonprofits like ours are forbidden from partisanship. (I felt so sneaky! I’m such an outlaw!) Unfortunately, after a careful check of the printing schedule, it turns out this issue might arrive in mailboxes before Nov. 3. So, it’s a good thing I didn’t say which side brought us to the precipice of authoritarianism. Because when it comes to authoritarianism, there are very fine people on both sides. (Whew! That was close!)
A Giant Leap For Humankind (foolish humankind)
THIS IS THE MOST consequential election in U.S. history. The fate of the earth hangs in the balance. But it has nothing to do with trampolines, so I’m pretty much ignoring it until I can walk upright again. Despite a lifetime of wisdom that should have warned me from my approaching folly, I succumbed to the pleading of a 9-year-old to join her on a contraption that, not unlike the guillotine, probably resulted in the demise of its inventor. (I can’t confirm this, but it would have served him or her right.)
Before you roll your eyes in complete lack of sympathy, it must be stated that this particular granddaughter is not to be denied. Unlike, say, your daughter or granddaughter, whose unremarkable lives (in comparison) will likely not be interrupted by moments of excellence or distinction, this one is very special, because, you know, she’s my granddaughter. A brilliant intellect, an accomplished artist and athlete, a passionate lover of the natural world, when she says “jump,” one simply asks, “how high?” And on a trampoline, “how high” can be considerable.
From Hollywood ... And Beyond
WHILE DESPERATELY PERUSING the news for anything not related to the coronavirus, or the economy, or the fact that we have one last chance to save our democracy—you know, the boring stuff—I read that NASA will be making a movie on the International Space Station, featuring Tom Cruise. The $150 billion laboratory orbits about 250 miles above the Earth, which is 250 miles farther than was necessary to achieve its principle scientific discovery: Camping in space is expensive.
I could have told them that.
If there were justice in this world, Tom Cruise would instead be making a movie at the Superconducting Super Collider, a much less costly project that could have produced innumerable scientific breakthroughs in physics. Plus, its site in north-central Texas is well known for its ample gravity and breathable air. But Congress canceled it mid-construction in 1993, and the U.S. instead spent more than 10 times as much on the space station.
The collider was my fave project in the 1980s. You want breakthroughs in understanding how our physical world came to be—I used to say at parties—you go with the collider. You want to watch an astronaut drink upside down—I would add, ruefully, at that same party—then the space station is your boondoggle of choice.
But since I lobbied for the project mainly at parties instead of, say, congressional budget hearings, we’re stuck with the space station. (Too late I realized my considerable influence was directed at the wrong people, just because they had beer.)
Where Are the Woolly Mammoths When You Need Them?
THE LEAST FUNNY thing in the world today is the novel coronavirus. Unless it’s how I look breathing through a Brita filter, or opening doors with my feet, or the phrase “under the leadership of this president.” But that’s not what’s getting me down today. (Ask me tomorrow.) I can’t stop fretting about climate change. Even though the virus has actually slowed human impact on the environment, I’m not content. And it’s showing.
People tell me I’m no fun anymore because I fail to see the silver lining in clouds which, I keep pointing out, would not actually float if they contained metal of any kind. (Nor do they contain stuffed-animal parts, despite often resembling your favorite childhood comfort friend.) Nor do I “walk on the sunny side of the street,” since that side is no longer protected by a healthy ozone layer. If apocalypse were a color, I’d be looking at the world through apocalypse-colored glasses. And that glass would be three-quarters empty, not half full. And yes, I’m mixing metaphors, because I like them shaken, not stirred.
The front of my mind may be on the virus, but the back of my mind is on the climate. And it’s a small mind, so there’s not much distance between the two.
Hope Is the Substance of Things...No Wait...That's Faith
HERE AT SOJOURNERS, we’re all about hope: Finding signs of hope, praying for the gift of hope, living a life that embodies hope. Heck, I’ve even designed bumper stickers with that word, some of which are still on cars, expressing hope—albeit a weathered and faded hope—from the parking spaces where they’ve been for weeks.
But sometimes our hopes crumble in disappointment. As scientists work feverishly to develop drugs to counter the coronavirus, many alternative treatments trigger our sense of optimism and raise our hopes, only to be dashed when they prove ineffective, unproven, or laughably ridiculous to most sentient beings except Sean Hannity.
The promise of hydroxychloroquine, for example, was touted by Fox News for a month before it was finally debunked as ineffective and, in some cases, fatal. But now that the president claims to be using it, I’m glad I worked on the pronunciation: Hydroxychloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, hydroxychloroquine. (See? I’ve been practicing.)
A similar, more pronounceable chemical compound—chloroquine phosphate—also showed promise. Mainly used for cleaning aquariums, its medical efficacy was suggested by its ability to clear glass of slimy buildup that appears much more tenacious than any virus. (Despite being exposed to the chemical for years, those little deep-sea divers show no ill effect.)
Ode to Spring (From a Safe Distance)
DESPITE THE GUT-DEEP fear in the world today, I couldn’t help but sit in awe of the cherry tree in my front yard. Spring seemed more beautiful this year, and the fallen petals covering our lawn—like snow from the winter we never had—lifted me to a brief, dreamlike reverie.
As it turned out, I was sharing that moment with the cats, who had joined me on the porch. Their unusual attentiveness prompted me to explain why I was at home on a weekday, why they now get their breakfast at 7 a.m. instead of 6 (despite their desperate scratching on the other side of a newly closed door), and why life had otherwise changed in our house.
I told them that a virus was taking hold of our world and that our nation, in crisis but true to its exceptional nature, was led by a president who is exceptionally unqualified for this moment. One of the cats licked his hindquarters in unspoken agreement, and neither contradicted me when I added how shameless were Republican leaders who wanted corporate tax breaks in a rescue package.
When one of them (a cat, not a Republican leader) tried to jump into my lap, I demurred, if demur is the correct word when describing a quick swipe of the hand. I apologized, and started to explain social distancing, but you know how it is when you talk to cats. They maintain eye contact, seeming to treat the matter seriously, but their minds are elsewhere. Perhaps contemplating the sweet sound of a can opener at 6 a.m.
Attorney General, or Just a Candle in the Wind?
By the time you read this, Attorney General William Barr will have resigned in disgust, or been fired in disgust, or is still on the job, disgusting the rest of us. Or has been forgotten by an American public that at this moment is preparing to shelter in place from the COVID-19 pandemic, which I wasn’t allowed to write about because “Pandemics aren’t funny, Ed!” Unlike William Barr, who isn’t funny either, except for one thing ...
ANYBODY ELSE THINK William Barr looks like Elton John? Barr never wears those heart-shaped glasses during congressional hearings, but other than that—and the pinstripe suits Elton wouldn’t be caught dead in—I can’t tell the difference. It would be nice if Barr actually was Elton John; then he would spend more time at the piano and less time undermining judicial process and the rule of law.
I’d have little complaint if the worst thing the attorney general had done was write “Philadelphia Freedom,” a song so sappy it makes me hide from the radio, unpatriotically, and that’s hard to do while driving. I’d let that slide, of course, if he had also written “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”—which still gives me chills at the hook—and a dozen other hits that occupy what’s left of my aging brain cells. I might not remember the names of beloved relatives, but I’ll never forget the words to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”: “Goodbye yellow brick road, where the something ti tum ti tum, you can’t plant me in the something, I’m going tum ti tum it tum ...” Great song.
A Heartbeat Away from a Hot Dog
WHAT BETTER MOMENT to have a medical stress test than during this most stressful of times. Yes, there have been other stressful periods in our nation’s history. For our “greatest generation,” it was Pearl Harbor. For their children, it was the last episode of Seinfeld. (Yes, we’re shallow, but it’s not our fault. We baby boomers were over-loved by the greatest generation. So shame on them!)
But nothing compares to living on the brink of war, with a planet on fire, and no confidence in our leadership (especially after my sweet dream about President Martin Sheen). These days, one wonders why stress tests are given in a medical office when mine could just be in the kitchen, where physicians could simply monitor me as I read the morning newspaper. An EKG tracking my rage sweats before I get to the sports page could be useful in determining a treatment plan, which should include at least switching to a monthly newspaper subscription, if there is such a thing.
But when, in the course of human events, you get chest pains, you do what the doctor tells you. Which is get on a treadmill. It seems odd that, in this age of technological innovation, such a crude and simple contraption still provides the best window into one’s cardiological health. And the doctor’s procedures are similarly tedious and unchanged. I start walking at a comfortable pace, then the doctor increases the speed, then a little more, and a little more. Then the angle is increased, then a little more, until I’m gasping for breath and convinced of one thing: This doctor is trying to kill me.
What Does a Girl Scout Cookie Say About You?
I'M SLEEPING MORE soundly now that Jared Kushner has solved the intractable Israel-Palestine conflict and, for his next big project, is taking on the troublesome border wall. With his track record of success, we’ll soon see the long-promised barrier protecting our nation from nefarious foreign agents with malevolent intent.
But enough about Rudy Giuliani. I got my own problem: It’s Girl Scout cookie season.
When the two girls knocked on our front door, I was immediately thrown into my annual agony of temptation. I’m a big fan of the Girl Scouts and their molding of young minds and hearts, but I try to avoid simple sugars and white flour. Girl Scout cookies, while delicious, contain few beneficial nutrients. There are no ancient grains, no organic fruits, no locally grown vegetables (a cookie named “Cauliflower Cremes” wouldn’t stand a chance), nor any of the spices now known to benefit healthy longevity. I’d buy a box of “Turmeric ’n’ Cumin Samoas,” but I doubt anyone else would.
So I grudgingly ordered my usual: Two boxes of Thin Mints and a box of Do-Si-Dos. I do this to support an institution I admire, but also to continue an ongoing ontological study of human behavior and my theory that there are only two kinds of people in the world: Thin Mint People and Do-Si-Do Folk.
I set both cookies out for guests, then watch as they unconsciously reveal their personal character traits—for better or worse—by the choices they make.
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.