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.
Posts By This Author
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.)
The Trump Presidency, One Year Later
OKAY. SORRY. It only feels like it’s been a year, an exhausting 12 months of angry tweets, corrosive diplomacy, and cowering federal workers. And that was just in December! You remember, don’t you? That time before the inauguration when we were supposed to have only one president at a time, and it wasn’t Obama?
That was when Donald Trump announced his cabinet nominees, mostly billionaire business people suspected of being woefully unqualified for government service. Then they spoke at their congressional hearings and removed all doubt.
Sadly, we still have nine months to go before we can steel ourselves for Donald Trump’s second and final year as president, when many political experts predict that financial entanglements will make his impeachment inevitable. It will be an ugly televised spectacle, probably dragging on into sweeps week, but let’s be honest: Trump would want it that way. And he’ll take pride that his impeachment hearings will get bigger audiences than even his inauguration, where millions of his imaginary friends showed up, although they were too shy to be photographed.
And then he’ll be fired. A welcome possibility until you remember who’s next in line, an Old Testament Christian whose perfect hair and smooth monotone evoke a preening televangelist right before his inevitable downfall. And if he falls, we get Paul Ryan, a man who would privatize his own mother. (Okay, that doesn’t make sense. Sorry. Sometimes the writing gets away from me.)
The True Cost of Peace
I'M STARTING TO think I’m never going to see that money. For years I have demonstrated for peace and justice, sometimes playing my guitar, sometimes not (by request), and I’ve yet to get paid for it.
I never thought I would, of course, having decided long ago that a strong public witness was an end unto itself: expressing solidarity for the oppressed, calling for political change, seeing myself on TV.
But lately right-wing media have claimed that millions of people marching for justice are doing it for the money, a possibility that, frankly, has a certain appeal.
The latest such accusation was in response to the outpouring of support for unjustly detained immigrants. Fox News’ Sean Hannity tweeted, “Who is bankrolling the protests taking place at airports across the country?” A serious question, but not from somebody who looks exactly like Lou Costello.
(Editor’s Note: No one knows who that is. We’re trying to reach millennial readers here, and young people have never heard of a comedian from the 1940s. Please try to be more current with your cultural references.)
Point taken. On second thought, Sean Hannity looks more like Moe from The Three Stooges, you know, the angry one who was always poking ...
(No one gets that, either.)
Justices Should Be Seen and Not Heard
SUPREME COURT Justice Samuel Alito recently gave a speech predicting challenging days ahead for people of the Christian faith, although he didn’t seem too concerned about people of other faiths, you know, the godless ones. “It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom,” he told a gathering of the Advocati Christi, a group of Catholic lawyers and judges which—and they will deny this—you just know is the secret society that chased Tom Hanks all over Rome in The Da Vinci Code. (They never caught him because he couldn’t be late to the set of his next movie. Secret Vatican sects may be powerful and nefarious, but they’re no match for Hollywood’s more unforgiving God of Staying on Schedule.)
Alito was referring to the current “onslaught” against the freedom of American Christians to practice bigotry and discrimination (italics mine; actually, so are the words), such as refusing to do business with gay people or provide comprehensive health care to women. As you may recall, giving employees access to contraception offended the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, one of the nation’s largest purveyors of arts and craft items—mainly high-end pipe cleaners and crepe paper that the Dollar Store doesn’t carry. (I’ve never shopped at Hobby Lobby, although I’m a frequent patron of the Dollar Store, mainly for food items past their freshness date. But with Twinkies it doesn’t matter.)
The Other Side of the 'News'
BEFORE WE BEGIN, I want to state unequivocally that I have never attempted to open back-channel communications with the Kremlin. I wouldn’t even know where to look for a back channel, although I’m guessing it’s down by the river. I state this partly as an admission that, in this city of nonstop intrigue, this cauldron of shocking and possibly treasonous revelations, this constant stream of leaks and denials, this torrent ...
... I’m sorry, where was I going with this? Oh, now I remember: I live in a city where each day brings another bombshell of treachery and betrayal, but I’m always the last to know. As a journalist, this hurts.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
AS A CHRISTIAN social justice magazine, Sojourners maintains very high standards. We take seriously our prophetic role of holding political leaders accountable, but we also adhere to important social norms when calling out an individual. We would never consider commenting on a person’s physical appearance, such as the fact that Jeff Sessions is too short for his ears. No, we take the high road. It’s what’s inside that counts, and we would never stoop so low as to denigrate someone’s dress or demeanor. That would be wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Is it just me, or have you noticed that Ivanka Trump and her husband seem to be possessed by aliens?
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.
A Brush with the Almighty
THE BRILLIANT white lights could mean only one thing. Okay, two things. Either I was in heaven, in the place where people wait nervously for their performance review with God, or I was in the recovery room after one of those Elderly Man Procedures and the nurses were keeping their humorous thoughts to themselves, something that would have been impossible for me had our positions been reversed. (“Hang on, I’ve got another one. What’s the difference between a colonoscopy and a ... shh ... he’s waking up! Darn it!”)
The tanks of oxygen around the room were another indication that this wasn’t heaven, although at that altitude they might come in handy. (Do you breathe when you get to heaven? I know you have to stop breathing to even be considered.)
I hesitate to recount another medical procedure to readers who have grown weary of the chronicles of my continuing decay. But I bring this up mainly for eschatological reasons. (Coincidentally, one gets a colonoscopy for scatological reasons. But I digress.)
At my age, if you’re undergoing any procedure that involves general anesthesia, you must be prepared for the possibility of not waking up. You need to have your affairs in order—such as writing down your passwords for surviving loved ones, skipping ahead to the last episode of the TV show you’ve been streaming at the office, and gassing up the car one last time (surviving loved ones should really learn to do that for themselves)—and make your peace with God.
And what better time to meet the Lord than when both society and technology are telling me I should step aside. This year’s election left me emotionally exhausted, I failed again to receive the MacArthur genius grant (how many more letters does my mom have to write?!), and I’m aging out of some features on my cellphone. I only use Facetime by mistake, inadvertently triggering the hideous apparition of some sickly relative of advanced years. And I’m afraid to open Yelp! because it sounds like it could hurt me.