Ethics & values/faith Journal spreads ‘holy mischief’
Open a copy of Geez, and you’ll find “postmodern drivel,” as one reader ranted, or “great joy and comfort,” as another raved.
You’ll also find:
A running excerpt from Thor Hyerdahl, the Kon-Tiki guy, on how, at 22, he and his new wife found Eden on a South Pacific island back in 1936.
A letter to the editor about how Dumpsters are designed to keep vermin out, so garbage spirituality may not be as filthy as it sounds.
And an e-mail exchange in which an event planner pleads with Geez’s anti-advertising editors to accept an ad, just this one time.
All this, and more, amounts to “The Lighter Side of Less,” the theme of the second issue of Geez (rhymes with cheese). Edited in Canada and designed in Oregon, Geez is a mostly straight-faced, sometimes slightly irreverent journal promoting “holy mischief in an age of fast faith.” It pokes, piques and prods Christians, and the unconverted among its readers, to live out the revolutionary values of Jesus in a consumer-driven, postmodern, materialist world. Geez is committed to “an irreverent expression of incredulity (as when wars are fought, fortunes amassed, raw power pursued, using the name of God.)”
In other words, Geez has a bias. That’s not, the editors insist, a bad thing, especially when you’re out to change popular attitudes toward materialism, energy consumption, the environment and an institutional church that is committed to making its members feel good. And you’re determined to do it all in the name of Jesus, without accepting any paid ads in the process.
“Geez looks at little things that can radically change our lives,” says Darryl Brown, 44, a graphic designer from Newberg. He gives the magazine its sophisticated, edgy look. The new issue encourages readers to think about big houses, the meaning of money, the wisdom and folly of asceticism (doing without for God’s sake) and what living simply entails today.
Brown, who is a designer at Staccato Design in Portland, works mostly long distance with the Geez editors, Aiden Enns and Will Braun, both of Winnipeg. Computers and e-mail allow them to trade ideas and approve layouts without airline commuting (too costly in terms of money, energy and the environment, editors say).
Geez walks a fine line in the world of Christian publishing. It pursues a critical, sometimes comic, path between such journals as Christianity Today, founded 50 years ago by L. Nelson Bell and his son-in-law, Billy Graham, and The Door, a 34-year-old publication that claims to be “the world’s pretty much only religious satire magazine.”
Geez wants to appeal to many readers, Enns, 44, says. “If you’re an activist, Geez is like Adbusters for radical Christians. If you’re an evangelical, Geez is like Christianity Today, except that Geez is critical of the institutional church. If you’re progressive, then Geez is like Sojourners, only for the nonconverted, too.”
Enns, who teaches media studies at two Winnipeg universities, has two goals for Geez. One is to persuade those who already hold its values to speak out and to make an eloquent case for a Christianity that challenges dominant world views. Secondly, he’d like to win more converts to Geez’s critical take on the institutional church, which often doesn’t challenge national and global policies on economics, the environment and other issues. It comes down, Enns says, to reclaiming the revolutionary stance of Jesus.
“He lived in an age of empirical religion,” Enns says, religion “linked with empire as it is in our day. We have fast faith, an easy religion that blesses the American dream of acquisition of material goods and a feeling of apolitical smugness.”
Co-editor Braun, a member of a collective that grows organic produce to sell to Winnipeg consumers, says he wants Geez to be a relaxed, irreverent and revelatory read.
“It’s like sitting around and talking about faith,” he says, “but you’re doing it on Saturday night, over drinks. Not on Sunday morning. You’re having a good time talking about meaningful and deeply important matters with some chuckles in between.”
What’s missing, of course, are the ads. Most Christian magazines are laced with paid promotions for books, Sunday school curriculums and summer worship seminars. The editors of Geez are determined to resist the temptation of advertising, which they call “fee for speech” and “elitist.”
They have raised a first-year operating budget of $10,000 and signed up 750 paid subscribers. They print about 2,000 copies of each issue, distributing them to bookstores in North America, including Powell’s and Reading Frenzy in Portland.
“The dominant paradigm of our economy is consumption,” Enns says of North America. “It’s an advertising-driven, consumer society. . . . If we take advertisements, we participate in that logic, that false logic.”
For Brown’s part, he enjoys having whole pages to work with as he lays out the magazine.
“I’ve found a lot of people who don’t claim to be Christians,” he says, “but they are spiritually minded. They want to live right, in a sustainable and ethical way.” Then, too, there are Christians “burned out” by the institutional church, he says. “Some are outraged by fundamentalist war-mongering and the fact that that part of Christianity is the most visible.”
Geez aims to “untangle the Christian narrative” from competing stories of materialism and power, Braun says.
“We’re not going to let the right run away with religion. We’re not going to refuse to talk about religion just because the right has painted the public perception of it. We’re going to claim our little corner of the spiritual commons.”