In Guns We Trust by Ed Madden with Bert Easter

"Bert built a crucifix in the backyard." - Ed Madden

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After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, National Rifle Association spokesman Wayne LaPierre said at a conservative political meeting that the right to bear arms “is not bestowed by man but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright.” My husband Bert and I were struck by the religious language LaPierre used, the idea that God grants us, as Americans, the right to carry a gun. For the next few days, we kept talking about this language, this almost-religious devotion to the gun as an American icon, what it represents, what it can do.


I was reminded of an essay historian Garry Wills wrote after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012, “Our Moloch,” in which he compares the American worship of the gun to the stories of Moloch, the Old Testament god of the Canaanites that required the sacrifice of children.  “The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate,” he says. “It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?”


As we kept talking, we began to imagine a religion of the gun, a chapel to the gun, the gun as a god that requires the sacrifice of children. We imagined a child crucified on a cross of guns, a church banner with LaPierre’s quote. I suggested one of those hokey traditional pictures of the guardian angel hovering over two children, but with belligerent NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch’s head pasted on it, maybe a gun in her hand.

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A few years ago, as part of a collaborative show centered on the image of Saint Sebastian, Bert and I designed an interactive chapel to Sebastian. The show was organized by Alejandro Garcia Lémos and Leslie Pierce at Friday Cottage in downtown Columbia, and featured a range of artists—visual art, sculpture, stained glass, performance, film, poetry—all exploring the iconography of the saint and the historical status of the saint as a gay icon. In our little chapel, there was an altar with votive candles and a statue of the saint, surrounded by any little plastic figure I could find with a bow and arrow (cowboys and Indians, Vikings, even a Smurf). There were church pews, banners, and a shrine where you could write down your prayers, shames, or desires on strips of red paper and pin them to the body of the saint. By the end of the evening, it was covered with red ribbons of prayer.


So we imagined a chapel to the gun. A window diorama. We would call it In Guns We Trust, our national motto inscribed on all currency, evoking thus national patriotic and religious (and perhaps commercial) resonances. We asked Tapp’s Arts Center—perhaps a little in jest, since we are not trained visual artists—if we could do a window installation. They said yes. So we began work in earnest, hoping to get it installed in advance of the March for Our Lives.


Bert built a crucifix in the backyard. We bought toy rifles and machine guns. I bought Dana Loesch’s 2014 book, Hands Off My Gun: Defeating the Plot to Disarm America.  I looked up LaPierre’s infamous press conference on December 21, 2012 after the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, where he said, “The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 


I began to read more and more about how American attitudes toward guns suggested something sacred. “How can we determine if we are in bondage to an idol?” asked theologian John Thatamani in “The Price of Freedom? Child Sacrifice and the American Gun Cult.”  “Intensity of reaction is a sure-fire marker that we traffic with the sacred,” he said.  “We know that the gun has become a sacred object because it commands unquestioning reverence. Interrogating its sacral status triggers anger and even death threats.”


After the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Garry Wills wrote, in “A Nation Captive to the Gun”:  “God gave us guns to show us who we are. Giving up the gun would be a surrender to evil, taking us abruptly into eschatological time.” Eschatological, meaning end times, death and judgment, the end of the world.


“So this time,” Wills continued, “let us skip all the sighing and promising and moments of silence. Why keep up the pretense that we are going to take any real and practical steps toward sanity? Everyone knows we are not going to do a single damn thing. We can’t. We are captives of The Gun.”


“The Gun is patriotic,” he wrote, “The Gun is America. The Gun is God.”


I found that the psalm Dana Loesch cites in her acknowledgments, Psalm 144:1, was inscribed on AR-15 rifles by a gunmaker in Florida in 2015.  “Blessed be the Lord my Rock who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.”  The gunmaker said he hoped a Muslim terrorist would be struck by a bolt of lightning if he picked up the gun.


I was struck by the fact that the toy guns we bought for the installation all had the gun safety integrated into the mode switch, so that you can toggle between safe, semi, and automatic. On the cheaper guns on which the accessories were molded, the switch is permanently set on semi. We’re set on semi-safe.


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In Guns We Trust, our window installation at Tapp’s on Main Street is meant to draw attention to the almost religious devotion to guns in America, which prevents us from talking about reasonable control legislation. It is a chapel to the gun with banners (including the February quote from Wayne LaPierre and another intoning, in good Republican fashion, "Now is not the time"), a communion tray with cups filled not with wine but with spent AR-15 bullets. On the left side of the window, a poem called “Semi.” (We’re set on semi-safe.)  On the right side, passages from some of the things I’d been reading. There is a trinity of toy machine guns in the air, their laser targets trained on the sidewalk. There is an image of Dana Loesch as the traditional guardian angel, and a child crucified on a cross made of guns.


We hope the window raises awareness, or at least questions, about our American devotion to guns. We hope it helps to start conversations. We clearly need to start talking. Maybe now is the time.


Ed Madden is the poetry editor for Jasper Magazine and the poet laureate for the City of Columbia, SC. 

"the entrepreneurial business and infrastructure and commercialvision candidate" -- Ed Madden Endorses Andy Smith

Ed Madden (left) with Bert Easter and Andy Smith Would you rather?


Either/or.  That game.


Sometimes the options don’t feel very different.  Would you rather watch Seinfeld or watch The Simpsons?  Would you rather be itchy or scratchy?


Sometimes they are very different, despite the superficial structure of the game.  Would you rather be telekinetic or telepathic?  Would you rather have the power of invisibility or the power of flight?


My dad and I took one of those little personality tests.  I remember one question that clarified things for me.  Would you rather have your head in the clouds or be stuck in a rut?  That’s easy, I thought: head in the clouds.  That’s easy, he thought: stuck in a rut.


For him it was about getting something done, even if it was the same old thing.  For me it was about possibility, vision, about doing things better, doing things differently.


So, would you rather have Andy or Howard?  Someone emailed me, said here’s the issue: non-arts folks don’t see a lot of difference between Andy Smith and Howard Duvall.  Said we got rid of the regressive element on the council, and either of these guys would be good.

Don't see a lot of difference?  Really?  Are we watching the same news, reading the same webpages, thinking about the same city—and what they  think a city could and should be?


Everyone knows Andy Smith is the arts candidate—or to rephrase that, the candidate at the heart of the city’s cultural boom, the candidate with a comprehensive vision for strategic planning.  Everyone cites his transformation of the Nickelodeon Theatre from a tiny arts venue to a central cultural venue for the city—and his creation and direction of Indie Grits, one of the most exciting recent developments in our city’s ongoing cultural renaissance.  (And don’t say you haven’t noticed this cultural renaissance?  Columbia is not the sleepy little self-satisfied city I moved to 20 years ago. It is something better, something more.  It is an urban ecology in transformation.)  And doesn’t that massive film festival suggest he is more than an arts candidate: he is also the entrepreneurial business and infrastructure and commercialvision candidate?  Look at their webpages.  Look at Andy’s response to the flood and the infrastructure and local business issues it addresses.  What have they done, what can they do?  Earlier this year, the Free Times named him one of “50 People Who Get Things Done.”


Would you rather…?  There’s a difference.

What's Love: input/output with Jasper Reads: Download

In another happy incidence of serendipity Jasper has the opportunity this week to yet again combine two of his favorite things -- Art and Love -- in one magnificent celebration.

Of course, we're referencing the most nontraditional of new Columbia traditions, the What's Love: input/output party and multi-disciplinary arts extravaganza at 701 Whaley on Valentine's night.

This year, What's Love -- which has earned a rep for being less about doillies and lace and more about leather and flesh -- is taking it to the next level and Jasper gets to come along for the ride.

Literary arts editor Ed Madden has been working for weeks to construct a night of art, film, performing arts, and poetry, sprinkled with a heaping helping of adult flavoured naughtiness that will likely bring a blush to the cheeks, if not a rosy glow. (Yes, that's what we mean.)

But the thing that Jasper is most excited about could easily be overlooked in all the heated revelry. Several weeks ago Jasper Magazine sent out a call to Columbia's poets and prose writers to send us some of their sexiest words and rhymes. And we're delighted to announce that they did not hold back. More than 40 writers shared their words of lust and love with us and the result is a hot little chapbook called, Jasper Reads:  Download.

Edited by Ed Madden and designed by his own partner in love and lust, Bert Easter, Jasper Reads: Download, is being published by Muddy Ford Press, LLC. With poems by 16 local artists, Jasper Reads:  Download is a tidy little keepsake being offered in limited and hand numbered quantities and only available upstairs in the Olympia room (we like to think of it as the love grotto) on Tuesday night, February 14th.

Cost is $6 for 1 or 2 for $10 (one for you and one for your baby.)

And seriously folks, Jasper highly recommends the almost-lost art of reading to your sweetie in bed, especially when this is what you're reading.

Don't just take Jasper's word for it, read this excerpt from Jasper Reads:  Download by Jasper associate editor Kristine Hartvigsen below.


lust poem


straddling the black

leather seat of

your riding machine

I want to be

the snatch of hide

under your weight

watch your leg

swing across

my waist

caress your

steely thighs

with my vibrations

feel your hands


my throttle

Whew! Even Jasper feels a little warm after that!

Quantities are limited (150 hand numbered copies) so hurry up to the Olympia Room at 701 Whaley on Valentine's night to purchase your own personal copies. If you can't make it out on the 14th but want to be sure to get yours, (yes, that's what we mean), email to reserve your copies and send a check for $6 per copy, plus $4 shipping and handling, to Muddy Ford Press, 1009 Muddy Ford Road, Chapin, SC 29036.



Krewe de Columbi-Ya-Ya - "What we lacked in organization we made up for in sheer audacity ..."





I can't begin to tell you how much fun we had last year, but maybe the photo above will help you understand.

Yes, that's me, chief instigator at Jasper Magazine on the far right, and to your left you see the be-stogied Kyle Petersen, grad student and USC English instructor as well as music editor for the magazine who, in lieu of a drum is appropriately banging on an empty panettone tin with relish. Continuing left and behind Kyle is Ed Madden, literary arts editor of Jasper, poet and one of USC's most beloved professors. Further left is Bob Jolley, aka the Beer Doc, Muddy Ford Press publisher, ER physician, and general founder of the feast out in our neck of the woods and, beside him, our eldest, Annie, grad student, USC instructor, political junkie, and newly the queen of distribution for Jasper Magazine. (Had she not been dancing out in Seattle, our youngest Bonnie, would most assuredly been in this photo as well.) In keeping with the family affair, my sister-in-arms, Kristine Hartvigsen, associate editor of Jasper, photographer, and the voice of experience around here, is pictured below arm-in-arm with the boy we wish were our little brother, local artist Michael Krajewski. And below that, Ed is pictured with his beloved, Bert Easter, antiques-meister and an integral part of university students' first year experience.



The day started early at City Roots Farm as we rolled up to a small but growing crowd of friends and soon-to-be friends dressed in their finest purples, greens, and golds with assorted costumes that ranged from a crawfish to a local artist who had fashioned a boa from discarded plastic grocery store bags.

What we lacked in organization we made up for in sheer audacity, and before we knew it, we were parading down Rosewood Boulevard to the beat of the Next Door Drummers. We lit our stogies and passed our flasks of the finest adult beverages. We sang, we chanted, we threw beads to shocked but delighted onlookers. In the vernacular of the 1960s we seriously let it all hang out. Returning to our starting point at the farm, we feasted and drank and listened to good music as the night wore on.

All this happened as a result of a few weeks preparation.

Well, folks, we've been working on Mardi Gras 2012 for a year now and, Sisters and Brothers, this year we are blowing it out of the water!

With close to 20 bands on board already,  a food truck rodeo, a much larger marching contingency that includes some of your favorite local artists and Columbia's own Alternacirque and more, the addition of a canine parade as well, this year's Mardi Gras Festival hosted by the Krewe-de-Columbi-ya-ya is sure to go down in history.

So this I posit to you: If you are reading this blog you are either a lover of the arts and Columbia's arts community or you are a friend of this magazine. Either way, you are a perfect candidate to attend this year's festivities either as a reveler, as one of the smart folks who grabs one of the last spaces to become a member of the original and hosting krewe, the Krewe de Columbi-Ya-ya, or by starting a krewe of your own!

And starting your own krewe is decidedly easy-breezy -- we have very few rules & all we ask for is $50 to offset parade costs and that you have at least 10 folks in your krewe. 

Are you listening folks at The Whig, Trustus, Art Bar, Tapp's Arts Center, Town Theatre, Workshop Theatre, The Betty Page Turners, Jam Room, Hunter Gatherer, 701 CCA, and every freaking department or program at any of Columbia's universities? What better way to bond and let off steam and show your city spirit than by representing yourselves proud and loud at Mardi Gras?

We roll on Saturday, February 18th and this year our theme is "Going to the Dogs" which means we also have a canine contingency in our walking parade. You can register and walk your pup in the parade and we'll donate the $5 registration fee to  The Animal Mission. Other proceeds will go to benefit Doku Farms.

Come on out, Friends and Neighbors -- we're growing large and one of these days you'll be so happy to look back at the beginnings of what is sure to be a great Columbia tradition and know that you were a part of the start of it all.


Laissez les bons temps rouler, Columbi-Ya-Ya!