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
"Only Fools Rush In ..."
WITH SO MANY of our sacred institutions collapsing from within, it was a relief to hear that all charges have been dropped against an Elvis impersonator from Mississippi, thus sparing his worthy avocation from disrepute. Paul Kevin Curtis had been accused of sending poisoned letters to officials in Washington, D.C., but FBI officials soon came to their senses and realized that anyone who spends time impersonating a celebrity who’s definitely left the building probably couldn’t make a salad dressing with vinegar and oil, much less extract lethal chemicals from exotic plants.
Ricin was the poison in question, and seems to be the current compound of choice for disgruntled letter terrorists. Before that it was anthrax, an easy-to-produce material which, as it turns out, is what happens when you make salad dressing and get the ingredients wrong. A little too much balsamic, a couple nosy neighbors, and pretty soon the FBI wants to chat.
Fortunately, this man was absolved of all wrongdoing, guilty of nothing except the single act that sets him apart as a hallowed foundation of our society, the one institution that has consistently contributed to Americans’ self-esteem. Because as long as there are Elvis impersonators around, the rest of us will always feel happy and fulfilled. All of our important life decisions—some made in haste, others made in desperation, and each one now regretted—seem steadfast and well-considered, because they have kept us from going down the path of a celebrity impersonator.
To Have and to Hold (and to Serve Six)
JUNE IS A special month, particularly for families celebrating ... uhm ... something. I forget. Fortunately, ever since I read a study suggesting that cholesterol-lowering statins can cause problems with ... with ... word retrieval, I realize now it has nothing to do with getting old, which many people my age are getting these days. It’s because I’m just another victim of an unscrupulous drug industry. (Drug company lawyer: “I understand that you think you took our drug, sir, but how can you be sure?”)
But now I remember why June is special: Our oldest daughter is getting married this month, and I can use our cover story as a reminder that I’m probably supposed to do something to help out. Although darned if I can remember what it is.
My daughter’s won’t be a gay marriage, which is trending this year, but it will be an alternative wedding, one of those nontraditional celebrations that doesn’t require me to dress up and “give away” the bride. (If I was going to give her away, I should have done it well before the wedding bills started coming in.) There’ll be no church to rent and no preacher to pay. The ceremony will be outside, probably in a tent, and we already have one of those. (It sleeps four. Nice size for an intimate gathering, if people don’t mind stooping during the service.)
The problem is that she wants to invite a lot of friends and family, an inclination that has always puzzled me about marriage ceremonies. A wedding is a sacred ritual between two people, an intimate, spiritual moment of connection that shouldn’t be ruined by a bunch of other people sticking their noses in. Why have a ceremony at all? Why not just get married, say, in the back of a van, on the way to the honeymoon? Or just go to the DMV or whatever government office has the forms that the clerk could ceremoniously—and no doubt with tears in her eyes—slide across the counter to be signed. I could quietly sing a romantic tune in the background to set the tone, and to block out the loudspeaker announcing the next available window. And then they’d be done. Heck, you don’t even have to get a blood test any more, although since they’re marrying in Virginia, they may need to prove they own a handgun. If they can’t, one will be provided for them.
Lost and Found in Translation
MICROSOFT WORD is one of those computer programs that mimics the power of the human brain: It has enormous capabilities—specifically for document preparation—but we use only a tiny percentage of it, mainly to make signs for our yard sale next weekend. Naturally, we do this during office hours, since heaven knows the weekend will be busy enough.
Likewise, our brains can handle numerous complex tasks, such as learning multiple languages—a capacity I would never use, since I'm currently inside my home hiding out from the sequester—although for some reason the only thing it lets me remember from high school is that you should never talk to a football player's prom date, because you can get the snot beat out of you.
Similarly, Microsoft Word can do things you never asked for.
Recently a colleague was typing something religious for our next issue when Word suddenly offered to translate it into French, and then back into English again. Always open to distractions when typing religiously, my colleague clicked, "Well, sure, why not?" (Control/Shift/F2/blink) and the result revealed why it's often difficult to find common ground with people from other countries: They talk funny.
In some languages, for example, sounds we assume are caused by the speaker dislodging a hairball from his (or her) throat are actually words meant to communicate important messages about, say, a nation's willingness to go to war if not left alone, which the U.N. translator totally misses because he (or she) is thinking about that hairball.
The Real Reason Americans Love Guns
THE DAY BEFORE President Obama's second inauguration (campaign code name: "Neener, neener, neener!"), Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell sent an email to constituents with a message somewhat lacking in a spirit of new beginnings: "The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out assault on the Second Amendment. They're coming for your guns."
This is disturbing. I don't have any guns, but I'm looking for places to hide them. And without guns, how will I protect my family from the coming assault? Can I hold off federal agents by flinging small appliances at them? Those I've got. In fact, I just got a new hand mixer. It's black and sleek, like the helicopters that will soon be circling over our homes. (Helicopter tip: Make sure the rotor blades have completely stopped before licking off the icing.)
Under Obama's new proposals, I'll probably have to register my appliances, or at least submit to a background check before I buy another one. Although I've heard you can avoid that if you get them at private appliance shows.
This latest attention to gun control prompted National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre to take the stage and, looking directly into the eyes of the American people, vehemently deny that he is French. Additionally, he helpfully pointed out that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Or was it the other way around? To be honest I'm not sure what he said, because I got distracted by the wild look in his eyes, and the bits of saliva that gather in the corners of his mouth whenever he talks about guns. This guy really likes guns.
What I would ask Mr. "LaPierre" [giggle]—while keeping both hands out where he could see them—is this: How do you stop a good guy with a gun who's having a bad day? Or what if he's really depressed or angry at his boss for not allowing him to wear camouflage clothing to staff meetings?
Living with Big Pharma
AS WE MOVE along in 2013, more initiatives will be coming on line from Obamacare (technically the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, although if you rearrange the letters it spells "death panels"). Starting next year, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for anyone with pre-existing conditions, which is good news for Mitch McConnell, who might want to have his permanent frown removed. Additionally, the law requires that all tea party members take a spoonful of castor oil before bedtime and wear coarse undergarments close to the skin. (Hey, it was a big bill, with lots of fine print.)
What won't change, however, is our relationship to the pharmaceutical industry, known as "Big Pharma"—which is not, as you may have thought, the nickname of a linebacker from one of our agricultural-state colleges, but rather shorthand for "companies that combine ground-breaking science with the business model of a crack dealer." No offense to crack dealers.
I recently had a personal experience with Big Pharma, after two weeks with a projectile cough that filled the middle distance with an alluring prismatic mist. Office colleagues did not appreciate my little air rainbows, so I contacted my doctor for advice, using the convenience of email rather than driving over and changing into a disposable paper gown which—and I feel strongly about this—does not adequately flatter the body of a mature man.
I described my symptoms with a level of detail that only a professional writer can do, using the lushness of the English language to create a memorable narrative of my condition and symptoms. Naturally, I expected my doctor to reply in kind. But she didn't: "You're sick. Here's a prescription." (Science geek.)
Whistling 'Dixie' Off the Fiscal Cliff
SO HOW WAS your fall off the fiscal cliff? Did you drop straight to the bottom or bounce several times off jagged rocks on the way down, land in a bramble bush, and then stare back up at that annoying roadrunner? Ouch. (And why didn't the roadrunner jump off the cliff? Did he have a more reasonable approach to spending and taxation? Is he naturally more conciliatory with his opponents? Nah. He's just smarter about sudden dropoffs.)
I'm just asking because, as I write this, we're still heading toward that cliff, so I won't know if we drove off it, braked just short of it, or maybe stopped to ask directions from an old guy sitting by the side of the road in a tattered beach chair. "Yup, you keep going straight for a couple miles, then look for the coyote tracks."
There is no question that our nation is facing major fiscal imbalances—although, to be fair, our low wages are more than offset by high cholesterol. But hopefully the president—Barack "Whew!ssein" Obama—will have avoided the impending crisis by reaching a compromise with Republican leaders, although at press time it seemed he was drawing a clear line in the sand. Of course, that's easy to change because, you know, it's just sand.
But I've never cared for the cliff analogy. I think of a cliff as something you throw things off, like a stick you found, or a rock, or a Fox News pundit who is now talking positively about immigration reform. (Don't forget to make a wish before you make the toss.)
Note to Stink Bugs: Die!
I DON'T WANT to keep harping about this climate change thing, but someone has to have the singular courage to stand up for the future of our globe. Someone, I mean, besides 98 percent of the world's climate scientists, the governments of every other industrialized nation, and millions of people around the world. Not counting those, I am that man.
Because I have seen the future of a warming planet, and it's not just fraught with melting glaciers and rising oceans. It's also got stink bugs.
Twice a year, Sojourners' editors and its highly esteemed art director drive to a cabin in the mountains of West Virginia to plan future issues. (I will pause briefly for Colorado readers to stop laughing convulsively at the suggestion that hilltops a few hundred feet above sea level can be called "mountains." But if I get carsick on the drive up, I'm calling it a mountain.)
After we arrived this fall—and my stomach finally calmed down—we settled into our usual method of magazine planning: a rapid-fire brainstorming of ideas both provocative and ground-breaking, but not so much that it keeps me awake. Then came the first telltale tapping sounds from the window.
A half-dozen stink bugs had gathered on the inside of the pane, with a dozen more on the outside, all of them repeatedly bumping into the window, unable to decide on one plan of action. But enough about Mitt Romney.
'Honey, We Are Home'
BELATED CONGRATULATIONS to Jesus Christ after recent research revealed that he might have been married during his short life. (Although, if he had to help with the dishes every night, it might have seemed longer.)
My immediate reaction was to wonder what you get a deity for a wedding present, even though it’s way too late. Their Pottery Barn listing is probably out of date, but that might be for the best, since all the cheap stuff would have been taken by now. (My oldest daughter is getting married next year, so I speak from experience that you’ve got to get in there fast and sign up for that salt shaker. Otherwise, you’re stuck buying an entire set of towels, or a food processor. She’s my daughter, but one must draw the line.)
Trying to get your head around the idea that the shortest verse in the Bible should be “Jesus wed,” the whole thing seems a little farfetched, but you can’t argue with possible science. Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King claims that a 4th-century papyrus fragment, written in the Coptic language of Egyptian Christians at the time, makes a reference to Jesus’ “wife.” King presented her findings at a recent gathering of the International Congress of Coptic Studies, which doesn’t seem like the kind of gathering that generates much Twitter traffic, unless there’s a private party in one of the rooms. (“Would you like to come upstairs and see my papyrus fragments?”)
From what I can tell by the photos, the handwriting on the fragment looks like a shopping list I’d hurriedly written out and then couldn’t read when I got to the store. Not having the foresight to bring along a Coptic translator, I’d invariably forget that one thing the family really needs. I wonder if Jesus had to put up with the same condescending looks when he brought home the wrong stuff. Okay, probably not.
People of Earth...
THE SKIES LOOK different to me these days. The soft and tranquil clouds of my youth that often reminded me of cute Disney characters—a misty Dumbo drifting languidly overhead—have mostly been replaced by dark and threatening formations, more reminiscent of Disney’s lesser-known films, such as Godzilla vs. The Little Mermaid: This Time It’s Personal. More specific, the violently roiling skies of late are like a scene from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, where intense storm clouds heralded an alien invasion.
Which is why I always carry a prepared speech of surrender in my backpack, in case I need to immediately declare loyalty to a superior race. Although, so far, the alien presence has been pretty unimpressive, consisting mainly of crude, humanoid Kardashians attempting to assimilate quietly. One hopes that when the next prototypes arrive, they will better conceal the vaguely reptilian features of their planet’s indigenous life forms. Not to mention vice presidential hopeful “Paul Ryan,” whose hairline displays the telltale widow’s peak once thought to be a unique facial characteristic of earthly vampires, until NASA rovers spotted it on a rock on Mars. (Mars reportedly privatized its health care for seniors decades ago, and just look at the place now: not an elderly person in sight.)
BUT WHAT WAS I talking about? Oh yes, the weather. The typical forecast this summer included phrases such as “hurricane-force winds,” “damaging hail,” and “start hoarding toilet paper.” Of the four mature trees in our yard, only one remains, having survived repeated gale-force winds through pluck and attitude, although having a trunk the circumference of a grain silo probably helped. (I could never get my arms around it for a hug, back when I used to do that sort of thing.)
An Author's Cry for Help
AS AN AUTHOR whose book sales have, shall we say, peaked, I took particular interest in the rising popularity of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, by Catholic Sister Margaret Farley. Until recently, her book had enjoyed only modest success, the predictable result of a title that gets the public’s blood racing with “sexual,” then quickly disappoints with the word “ethics,” the marketing equivalent of taking a cold shower while wrapped in a wet blanket. Toss in the word “Christian” and your sales possibilities are further reduced to a half dozen seminary students still looking for a thesis topic.
All of which violates the advice my grandmother gave me years ago: “Put sex in a book title, honey, and it’s money in the bank.” At least I think it was my grandmother.
But then a miracle happened. When officials at the Vatican read the book—between pensive walks in long robes (that’s what they do in the movies)—they were shocked and stunned, and immediately (six years later) declared it scandalous. This caused sales of Just Love to skyrocket. (Which proves the other thing my grandmother said: “No wait. I got it wrong. Have the Vatican criticize your book and then it’s money in the bank.”)
Vatican officials objected to Sister Farley’s frank theological exploration of modern sexuality which, anyone could have told her, is just not done when affiliated with a powerful religious institution that thinks “modern” means “the most recent part of the Middle Ages.” And back then, people didn’t talk about gay marriage or masturbation or any of the other issues Sister Farley thoughtfully ponders, not without enjoying the church’s hospitality sitting in wooden stocks for a few days.
Plunging into the Political Fray. Or Not.
THE TAR SANDS in Alberta, Canada, have been in the news a lot lately, since they appear to be a promising source of energy for the United States, a nation hungry for a fuel derived by despoiling pristine forests, fouling fresh water sources, and enriching oil executives. (Nobody said capitalism would be pretty. Cute and cuddly, perhaps, but not pretty.)
Actually, I’m not familiar with this new type of energy source. Is it the tar we want, or the sand? Probably not the tar, since it’s too sticky and is mainly used as a preservative for saber-toothed tiger skeletons in California, something I learned in an eighth grade history book with lots of pictures. (I like pictures.)
So it must be the sand, which one day our cars will run on, to which I must add: Are our scientists brilliant, or what?!
Unfortunately, extracting this energy source domestically could be a direct threat to our beaches, the nation’s principal source of sand. Which is why I plan to Occupy the Beach of My Choosing later this summer, and stand in powerful protest—or, after a heavy picnic lunch, lie on a blanket in powerful protest—against exploiting this valuable resource.
Come to think of it, Saudi Arabia has lots of sand. So maybe we can get it from them.
Born to Pedal...
THE FIRST BUG was a surprise, glancing off my front teeth to lodge in the nosepiece of my fashionable clip-on sunglasses. Note to self: When biking to work, keep your mouth closed. So the second bug was totally my fault, but I defy you to bike three whole miles without exuberantly singing songs from Broadway musicals. (“Oklahoma” is particularly susceptible to bug ingestion.)
Fortunately, the second insect was quite palatable: chewy, of course, but with an aftertaste of fresh clover and just a hint of oak, suggesting it might go well with a nice pinot noir or, on a particularly hot day, a carafe of iced sangria. (Note: When June bugs are out in force, replace wine with a mint-flavored mouthwash. And flossing is a necessity.)
I BIKE TO work these days because the District of Columbia has strongly suggested I do so, in lieu of spending a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. Frankly, I could use the time incarcerated to catch up on my reading, but it seems to me that in imposing a fine they’re just trying to punish me. (Although there’s a chance that was their point.)
This was communicated to me in a letter from the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (SATAN). Using the terse and unforgiving language of a junior high school principal, it informed me that my license has been suspended for 180 days. But I can explain:
You know how it is when you’re northbound on I-95, a highway of mind-numbing flatness, like Kansas, but with more Starbucks. And you know how it is when you’re driving your hybrid electric car and feeling your oats—or, for younger people not familiar with that expression, feeling your Red Bull—and you want to see how fast you can go while STILL getting 58 miles per gallon.
New, Improved Terrorists!
EVERYONE CAN USE a fresh start from time to time. When Enco and Esso oil companies combined in 1973, they came up with the name Exxon—a word that at the time had no meaning or connotation—and then moved forward as a completely new company. Now, of course, we know that Exxon means “Lucifer’s Henchperson of the Coming Darkness.” So when Exxon and Mobil combined in 1999 to become the most powerful oil company in the world (Saudi Arabia is a small subsidiary), they wanted to distance themselves from the high negatives of the old name. So they came up with ExxonMobil, leading a confused public to ask, “Gee, I wonder what they sell?”
The point is, sometimes institutions need a makeover, and who better to turn over a new leaf than al Qaeda, an organization that, for at least the last decade, has suffered some really bad press.
As documents from his not-so-secret compound have revealed, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was concerned about the deteriorating reputation of his organization. The brand had become a problem. Too many mistakes in targeting and execution had tarnished all the positives of the proud al Qaeda name, which used to be synonymous with acts of mercy, community building, and the delicious cookies they sold door to door. (Thin Mints were my favorite.)
Like Father, Like Sun...
BELATED CONGRATULATIONS to North Korea’s new leader, the 20-something Kim Jong Un, whose exact age is being withheld while government officials review celestial events to choose which one specifically heralded his immaculate birth. This precedent was set earlier by Kim’s charismatic father, Kim Jong “Let-A-Smile-Be-Your-Umbrella” Il, who, according to North Korean textbooks, was born during the appearance of a new star. North Korean textbooks also stated that Il was an excellent golfer and that he produced no urine or feces—a helpful combination if you’re playing 18 holes without a cart.
The young Kim’s inauguration was done in typical North Korean modesty, with thousands of identically dressed people filling the square in Pyongyang, moving in perfect synchronization to honor the new leader and, secondarily, to celebrate the fact they’d all eaten beforehand. Regular meals is what they get in Pyongyang, as opposed to citizens in the rest of the country, who eat—as human rights groups have documented—less often.
Kim reportedly had very mixed feelings about the impending death of his father and his quick return from the Swiss boarding school where he had been living. He’ll miss his dad, of course, but he got out of final exams. And as any college student can tell you, it’s better to be in the history books than stuck in a campus Starbucks reading them.
I’m wondering if Kim will continue the powerful reminder of his nation’s nuclear capability by adopting his dad’s mushroom-cloud hairstyle. I notice this kind of thing because I, too, have bad hair. But, sadly, I have no nuclear weapons to casually mention to people making fun of me at a party. “Oh yeah? What’s your address again? Anywhere within a 50-mile radius would be fine.”
2-for-1 Bomb Sale! Supplies Unlimited!
In fact, my knowledge of Brazil is limited to that tall Jesus statue overlooking a city, and the fact people can be naked on the beaches while speaking Portuguese.
There's Something in the Water...
Who knew hideous sea creatures had their own club?
Bayer, Knees and Contraception
I was intrigued by a recent comment from a major political contributor when he suggested using Bayer aspirin was a viable birth control method for women. Mega-contributor Foster Friess was being interviewed by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell when he referred to bygone days when “the gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”
He later claimed the remark was just a joke, but not before I’d spent a half hour trying it out. I wouldn’t have wasted my time seeing if it was possible which, according to my unscientific test, it’s not. Of course, it could have been the slacks I was wearing, which sometimes gather at the knees, or the angle in which I was sitting. But the darn thing just kept falling out.
Learning from Our Mistakes (...kidding)
My new approach this year is not to promise better behavior or new experiences, but to simply look back at the mistakes of last year and avoid repeating them.
Football: Our Finest Christian Witness
When God chose Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow to be His witness to a hurting world, it might not have been clear that this was only a temporary calling. To be sure, during the regular season God was appreciative of Tebow’s on-field witness of kneeling in prayer and pointing skyward after every touchdown. After all, what better way to show the power of divine love than in front of millions of people drinking beer on the Sabbath.
Do Superheroes Get the Flu?
At first, I thought I had the flu because I didn't get a flu shot this year and naturally had to be punished by the medical community.