Betsy Shirley is the editor of sojo.net. She rejoined the editorial staff of Sojourners in 2015 after previously serving as an editorial assistant from 2010-2011. She holds an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School and a B.A. in English from Butler University.
Betsy’s articles and essays have appeared in America magazine, Religion Dispatches, Religion & Politics, OnFaith, Reflections, UTNE Reader, and of course, Sojourners. She is president of the Religion News Association and also serves as a board member of the Religion News Foundation. She is a 2015-2016 recipient of the Handa Fellowship in Interreligious Communication. She can be found on Twitter @betsyshirley.
Betsy began writing narrative nonfiction at the age of 6, though she now writes less stories about cats than she did back then. These days she prefers to focus on stories that delve into the complexity of contemporary religion — faith, doubt, scandal, schism — and the ongoing tension of believing in an unseen reality while living in this one. She’s especially interested in stories about gender, sexuality, evangelical history, and interfaith collaboration.
When she’s not cooking up story ideas for an award-winning publication of faith and social justice, Betsy enjoys walking tours, refinishing furniture, and sitting around campfires.
Posts By This Author
The Humble Christian Mystic You Really Should Know About
CHRISTIAN MYSTICS HAVE a definite dramatic streak. Their transformative encounters with God are full of divine revelations (Julian of Norwich), ecstatic visions (Teresa of Ávila), stigmata (Francis of Assisi), erotic imagery (John of the Cross), and all manner of artistic compositions (here’s to you, Hildegard of Bingen).
But then there’s Brother Lawrence who — if he is known at all — is known for experiencing God’s presence as he washed dishes, cooked eggs, or did other monotonous chores that came with life in a 17th-century French monastery.
Born Nicolas Herman, he emerged from one of Europe’s deadliest religious wars a disabled veteran. Haunted by his past actions and convinced he was eternally condemned, he failed as a hermit (too much time alone with his thoughts), then as a footman (“a clumsy oaf who broke everything,” he recalled), before eventually joining the lay brothers of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites in Paris in 1640. Yet Brother Lawrence’s anxiety persisted. When he tried to pray, he spent the whole time “rejecting thoughts and then tumbling back into these same thoughts.” Eventually, he gave up all his spiritual exercises and focused on becoming aware of God’s presence as he did his assigned work in the monastery’s kitchen. What he experienced wasn’t a celestial vision, but what he had sought all along: God’s peace.
“We go to such great lengths, trying to remain in the presence of God by so many methods,” he told a friend who posthumously published Lawrence’s modest writings and letters. “Isn’t it much shorter and more direct to do everything for the love of God?”
Carmen Acevedo Butcher, an award-winning translator of mystical and classic Christian texts, was drawn to Brother Lawrence’s gentle practice. Acevedo Butcher herself grew up saddled with severe “self-loathing” and anxiety from a childhood shaped by trauma, hellfire preaching, and the strain of being “a brown girl in a white society.” But in Lawrence’s writing she finds someone who experienced real Love amid real pain.
In Practice of the Presence, Acevedo Butcher’s new English translation of Brother Lawrence, she emphasizes his embodied joy and his “original welcoming spirit,” which she sees in his frequent use of tout le monde — “for everybody.” Drawing on Lawrence’s deeply trinitarian theology, Acevedo Butcher uses they/them pronouns for God, a move she hopes will communicate Lawrence’s kind, inclusive understanding of Love to a wide audience. Acevedo Butcher spoke with Sojourners’ Betsy Shirley about translation, mysticism, and how Brother Lawrence’s practice connects to the work of social justice today.
6 Key Details in the New Report on Jean Vanier’s Abuse
More than just an accounting of Vanier and Philippe’s abuse, the report offers a clear timeline and analysis of the secret intentions and motivations named by the two men and their accomplices. It also offers a look at the many figures who attempted to hold Vanier and Philippe accountable, or rein in their abuse.
The Top Stories Sojourners Published in 2022
Here at Sojourners, we believe following Jesus means being “creatively maladjusted” to the dominant definitions of success; for us as editors, this means resisting the tyranny of fickle algorithms that have so much power in determining which stories get read and which don’t. We love the 10 stories listed below, but each year we publish hundreds of beautiful and important stories, interviews, columns, reflections, reviews, and poems — and darn it, we aren’t gonna let algorithms tell us (or you!) what stories matter most.
Sojourners’ 2022 Book Roundup to Inspire Faith and Justice
“Find those who tell you, Do not be afraid, yet stay close enough to tremble with you,” writes Cole Arthur Riley in This Here Flesh, “This is a love.” Here are 12 books from 2022 — nonfiction, memoirs, novels, and short stories — that we think are worth keeping close.
9 Thanksgiving Prayers and Blessings for a More Just World
Many of these prayers grapple with what it means to give thanks for God’s abundance in a world that fails to share that abundance equally, on a holiday that is a painful reminder of how poorly European Christian settlers repaid Indigenous hospitality.
A Post-Roe Reading List To Inspire Faith and Justice
Ten stories that show how Roe's overturn will impact economically poor, politically marginalized, and socially vulnerable people — and what Christians can do.
I'd Like To Speak With a Human
Ten stories you won't find on a pre-recorded menu of options.
50 Ways To Thwart Your Enemy With Noncooperation
Actually just 10. But that's five more than in Paul Simon’s famous song.
30 Years After LA Riots, Churches Must Dispel Model Minority Myth
The devastation of the 1992 riots inspired Hyepin Im to advocate for the economic and political empowerment of underserved communities, including Korean Americans — and her own faith led her to look for ways that churches could be more effective partners in this work.
When ‘Alleluia’ Feels Hollow
Jesus rose on Sunday, but my heart is stuck in Lent.
Last week my church gathered our first in-person Holy Week services since before the pandemic. We sung Charles Wesley’s classic Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” our trailing alleluias slightly out-of-sync as we remembered how to blend our voices. But when we got to the line, “Where, O death, is now thy sting?” the words stuck in my throat. Love’s redeeming work is done — I do believe that — but fresh examples of death’s sting aren’t hard to spot.
Smiling in Triumph Despite Decay
Several days ago, I spent more than I would have liked on a dental procedure that involved removing decay from one of my molars, doing a lot of horrible-sounding drilling and scraping, then saving the delicate bits that remained by capping it with a fake tooth. My dentist insisted this was called a “crown,” but I know a euphemism when I see one.
10 Lent Devotionals and Books That Inspire Faith and Justice
The resources in this list — books, free downloads, email series, audio formats, and other media — aim to accompany us as we accept Lent’s invitation to self-examination, renewal, and yes, good old-fashioned repentance. Some of the resources zero in on a particular sin, like racism or ableism; others invite us to consider the myriad ways to renounce all the death-dealing powers of evil.
Barbecue Sauce, Bombs, and the Strange Juxtapositions of War
Maybe you’ve seen the now-viral clip: As air raid sirens wailed, a camera panned the skyline of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. The previous evening, Russia launched a full invasion of the independent democracy, prompting tens of thousands of Ukrainians to flee their homes. In the distance, the gold onion domes of a church glowed, architectural symbolism for divine light, intended to point worshippers to the world beyond. Then CNN’s coverage abruptly cut to an Applebee’s commercial.
Rev. Katey Zeh Is Done With Circular Abortion Debates
As Baptist minister and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Zeh has participated in plenty of “circular conversations regarding the moral absolutes of abortion.” But as she writes in her new book, A Complicated Choice: Making Space for Grief and Healing in the Pro-Choice Movement, these debates often overlook how abortion always “happens within a person’s real, full, and complex life.”
Our 2021 Book Roundup to Inspire Faith and Justice
“Above all else, guard your heart,” warns Proverbs, “for everything you do flows from it” (4:23). But can any of us say we’ve made it through the past few years with our hearts in good repair?
Yet whenever I’d crack open a book, something stirred; stories have a way of seeping in where tweets, memes, and news alerts fail.
Hallmark Failures: What Our Editors Are Reading
A lot of people I admire are fascinated with Hallmark Christmas movies. Chief among them is Mariame Kaba, founder of Project NIA, a leading advocate of prison abolition, and a self-described “Hallmark Channel devotee.” “I love the anthropological whiteness of those films,” Kaba told public radio in 2018. “I’m pretty sure there are white people who live like that. I don’t know any of those white people. I find it fascinating for that reason.”
‘God Is Weeping’: Faith Leaders React to Rittenhouse Verdict
Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty of homicide, attempted homicide, and reckless endangerment by a Wisconsin jury on Nov. 19, following a trial that lasted nearly two weeks.
Rittenhouse, then 17, shot and killed two people and injured a third in Kenosha, Wis., during August 2020 protests against police brutality and racism after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back in the presence of three of his children, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
The defense team argued that Rittenhouse, now 18, traveled to the protests to provide medical aid and defend a used-car dealership from property damage; they argued that Rittenhouse only fired his weapon in self-defense.
“Kyle was a 17-year-old kid out there trying to help this community,” Mike Richards, Rittenhouse’s defense attorney, said in his closing statements.
The prosecuting attorney, Thomas Binger, told the jury, “This is a case in which a 17-year-old teenager killed two unarmed men and severely wounded a third person with an AR-15,” saying that Rittenhouse was not defending his home or family, and that Rittenhouse had stayed out past Kenosha’s citywide curfew.
Rittenhouse’s case elevated national conversations over self-defense, vigilantism, and gun access.
Okla. Governor Grants Julius Jones Clemency After ‘Prayerful Consideration’
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt accepted a recommendation from the state’s parole board on Thursday to grant Julius Jones clemency, sparing the life of the man who was set to be executed later that day. Jones was convicted of killing Paul Howell during a 1999 carjacking, but Jones maintained his innocence during the nearly two decades he spent on death row.
“After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole,” said Stitt in a statement issued on Thursday around noon in Oklahoma.
Yes and Also Yes: What Our Editors Are Reading
The stories we're reading this week offer a binary-rejecting spin on a classic riddle.
Sherlock's Best Sermon: What Our Editors Are Reading
One of the best things I ever found at Goodwill was a complete set of all Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories — a major coup for middle-school, mystery-loving me. Unfortunately, the books smelled as if they had spent a few decades in the smoke-infused den of Holmes’ Baker Street lodgings. I sandwiched dryer sheets between the pages and read them all cover-to-cover.