The Common Good
January 2004

A Towering Legacy of Achievement

by Ed Spivey Jr. | January 2004

As I begin my 30th year at Sojourners, it seems appropriate to take a modest look back at the enormous impact I have had on the magazine...

As I begin my 30th year at Sojourners, it seems appropriate to take a modest look back at the enormous impact I have had on the magazine, not to mention the innovations I have introduced to enrich our office environment, such as Pajama Tuesdays.

I am reminded of my contributions almost daily, as staff members stand aside reverentially when I pass by. They are in quiet awe of my storied tenure here, and also know that I tend to flail my elbows when I walk, having long ago stopped asking myself whether this looks cool.

Yes, I am an award-winning art director and nationally known columnist. But more important, I am the anchor at editorial meetings and other staff gatherings, my deep and resonate snoring providing a soothing background to the important discussions at hand.

But as I sit at my desk, surrounded by the symbols of my success—the 1994 fourth place writing award comes quickly to mind—I remember how it was when I first started.

As soon as I joined the staff of Sojourners, I realized it needed a new direction. The magazine was born after the editor heard Nancy Sinatra sing the words, "You’ve been lyin’ when you should have been truthin’," words that captured for him the sad state of the world and its desperate need for gospel truth. (For some reason, Ms. Sinatra’s later reference to her boots being "made for walkin’" was never incorporated into the broader Sojourners mission.)

Taking nothing away from 1960s pop stars and their impact on the modern church, I urged the editors to adopt a more biblical approach, suggesting that Sojourners follow the advice of theologian Karl Barth, who said Christians should live "with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other." How you drive a car when you’re doing that I have no idea, but the premise sounded good and Sojourners quickly adopted the biblically based prophetic role that continues today. (For those who don’t know, Karl Barth wrote the respected Church Dogmatics, a four-volume work that had such a profound message for 20th-century Christians it could not be ignored, especially when he brought it over and put it on the coffee table, completely blocking the TV in the process.)

As the magazine’s readership grew, I felt our ministry should be broadened and take on a more public witness. For example, I’d always felt that seeing the life of Jesus acted out with sock puppets would be a powerful and inspiring way to spread the Good News, particularly on the puppet-deprived streets of our nation’s capital. (One can walk for blocks in this city without seeing a single sock puppet performance, much less a moving portrayal of, say, Mary’s visit with Elizabeth. Of course, you’d need to use athletic socks for that, to properly convey the fullness women acquire when they’re with child. But the key to successful puppetry is to have a variety of socks on hand. So to speak.)

Alas, some felt this would not be a good use of staff resources and chose, instead, to concentrate on the magazine, which is probably just as well, since our prophetic truth-telling has never been more needed in this increasingly confused world. Just last month, for example, misguided French scientists cloned a rat, even though studies show we already have more than we need. (I personally confirmed this while on a walk recently with my youngest daughter, who suddenly left my side and began climbing up my back. As she tried to gain a foothold on my ears, a largish rat scurried across our path and disappeared into a dark hole. I started to speak about how our president’s foreign policy has taken us into a similar unknown place, but the person on my head was only interested in using her knees to steer me in the opposite direction.)

RODENTS NOTWITHSTANDING, as a senior staff member of Sojourners, I promise to make the next decade just as relevant and topical as the last three, particularly reaching out to today’s young people with discussions on matters important to them, such as how to make a Social Security check last more than three days, and how to choose between buying food or prescription medications.

I am grateful that, for the last 29 years, I have had a window on history, and have never failed to look out that window whenever possible, preferably during deadline. As it turns out, not much history has passed by that window today—just a couple guys smoking—but I promise I will not tire of my scrutiny.

Ed Spivey Jr. has been the Sojourners art director since 1974 and says that moveable type was his idea.

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