Geez magazine still rocking Christian world

Geez! Has it been five years already?

It was 2005 when Aiden Enns launched Geez, a self-described “cheeky” magazine for the “over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even the un-churchable.”

Back then, Enns told me his goal was to counter the rise of the religious right by creating alternative Christian messages, to protest the “unholy alliance between church, state, market and military,” and celebrate the “spiritual dimensions of biking, energy efficiency and canning pickles.”

Looking back, he believes Geez has met those goals.

“It’s been a lively ride,” he says of the Winnipeg-based magazine, which has published provactive and thought-provoking articles like The Pastor’s wife: Swimsuit competition; Who Would Jesus Shoot?; The Son of Man’s greatest hits; Apology from a remorseful atheist to the Baby Jesus; 30 Sermons You’d Never Heard in Church; Jesus loves your penis, son; and Grandma doesn’t want me to go to hell.

“We’ve only begun to tap the deep well of creative force on the fringes of faith,” he says, noting that 70 per cent of the magazine’s content comes from its readers.

Another goal was to “create a magazine of exceptional quality”— another goal that he’s achieved. Geez has been shortlisted four times for Best Spiritual Coverage by the UTNE Independent Press Awards, and won in 2009. It has received awards from the Canadian Church Press for General Excellence, layout and design, and for the best socially conscious religious journalism. In 2007 it was named Best New Publication at the Western Magazine Awards, as well as Magazine of the Year.

It’s also received lots of praise from the mainstream media.

“A surprisingly hip, bold take on Christianity,” wrote Gloria Kim in Maclean’s magazine. “It hearkens back not to any recent tradition of right-wing fundamentalism, but to Christianity’s roots of social change and revolution, with Jesus as a rebel protesting against the establishment and taking his message to the streets and the harlots, poor and dispossessed who dwell there.”

“Not your average Christian magazine,” said Alison Gillmor on “Geez approaches the ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’ problem by laughing at itself, and by tackling the big serious questions with a wildly diverse range of perspectives.”

Geez pushes “the edges of respectability in a subversive, ecological, visionary way,” said Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun.

Enns is humbled by the praise but appreciative.

“It shows that you can do award-winning social justice journalism,” he says.

But publishing an award-winning magazine is one thing — paying for it is another. The magazine has been the recipient of much critical praise but being sustainable has proven a challenge.

When he launched Geez, Enns figured he needed 2,000 subscribers to break even. It only took a year to reach that goal but circulation later fell to 1,200. Today the magazine has about 1,300 readers.

Since Geez doesn’t accept advertising, it survives by keeping salaries low, utilizing volunteers and offering internships for students from Providence College, Canadian Mennonite University and Red River College.

“They do it as a labour of love,” he says of the magazine’s staff, most of whom are younger people. “They inspire me.”

Enns also is quick to attributes the magazine’s continued longevity to its loyal subscribers, many of whom pay more than the $35 yearly subscription price. “They believe in us,” he says of his readers.

Five years down the road, how does he feel about the future of Geez?

Geez is needed more than ever,” he says, noting the growing influence of the right in politics and religion in Canada and the U.S.

Despite this rightward turn, he believes there are lots of people who are looking for a different way of viewing the world.

“Those people need to know they aren’t alone,” he says. “We want to give them a voice.”

At same time, he’s quick to add that Geez isn’t just for young radicals — suburban, middle-class Christians are also welcome.

“I want to find a place for them, too,” he says. “Not everyone can sell their house or abandon their wealth. But they can advocate for affordable housing.”

Geez isn’t for everyone. Even its name, a play on the word “Jesus,” will offend some. But there are a lot of people, both young and old, who are feeling disconnected from the church — they care about the fate of the Earth or the plight of the poor, but seldom hear those subjects mentioned on Sunday mornings. Geez throws them a lifeline, lets them know they aren’t alone and helps them see that God really is bigger than a particular political party or denominational point of view.

As Enns puts it: “I love seeing people realize they can be a Christian and a feminist and a progressive and care for the poor and the Earth, that they can see the world in a different way… it’s about creating a sense of cognitive difference — to question what is normal, call things into question.”

Using that yardstick, Geez has been very successful, indeed.

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