Catherine Woodiwiss

Senior Associate Web Editor

I'm Senior Associate Web Editor for Sojourners, where I look for voices to contribute to conversations on faith, spirituality, justice, policy, culture, innovation, and daily life.

My favorite postures are ethnographer and producer — reporting on the spread of subcultures, ideas, objects, and beliefs through time and place; and creating the conditions for others'​ voices and talents to thrive.

In that capacity, I also co-founded a service design consultancy for creative businesses in emerging economies, and co-launched a DIY house show network to bring top local talent into supportive local living rooms. I was a speaker on collaborative solutions and the "Do It Together" culture at SXSW in 2014, and an ebook collection of my reporting for Sojourners on abuse and intimate partner violence in Christian congregations, I Believe You: Sexual Violence and the Church, was published the same year.

My nonofficial, not-so-subtle goal is to "keep DC weird." Hold me to it.

Posts By This Author

Pretty Much Everyone Thinks Contraception Use Is Fine, Survey Confirms

by Catherine Woodiwiss 09-29-2016

Image via /

The survey, released by the Pew Research Center on Sept. 28, polled more than 4,500 adults on the use of contraception and other recent “values” controversies in an effort to put data to the often-public communications breakdowns between America’s understanding of religious liberty and nondiscrimination. Other hot button issues in the survey included whether businesses should be required to provide wedding services to same-sex couples, and whether transgender people should be able to use the restrooms of the gender with which they identify — both of which revealed national opinion to be nearly evenly split.

Poetic Justice?

by Catherine Woodiwiss 09-29-2016
The moral of the story? We're working on it.
 Everett - Art / Shutterstock

 Everett - Art / Shutterstock

YOU HAVE TO feel for Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, who probably gets tired of hearing about his own death.

Kamen, still very much alive, introduced the self-balancing vehicle in 2001. But since 2010, when new Segway Inc. owner Jimi Heselden accidentally drove a Segway off a cliff to his death, popular memory has conflated the tragedy with its creator.

There are any number of plausible reasons for this case of false identification, but one of the most persistent deals with moral comeuppance: A person invents an obnoxious, silly vehicle; a person dies from the frivolous invention. It isn’t kind, but that sort of morality tale is enduringly satisfying. When we despair for humanity, our inner cynic appreciates when humanity gets what’s coming.

Kamen isn’t the first victim of misapplied poetic justice—fascination with the archetype of the doomed inventor stretches back to Greek myth, punctuated by names from Hamlet (whose snide “’tis the sport to have the engineer / hoist with his own petard” unwittingly championed his impending demise) to Alfred Nobel, who, despite popular myth, did not actually have many regrets about inventing dynamite.

John Sylvan, inventor of the Keurig single-cup coffee dispenser, is a recent case of the regretful kind—he publicly laments having introduced the waste-belching quick-fix to bulk coffee, and later designed a fully recyclable prototype that would remedy the environmental concern. But most of us only know (or care?) about that first part.

There’s something viscerally satisfying in the demise of a technological Icarus. Such falls let us root for our own inertia—a triumph against the hubris of building something nonessential, and the idealism of thinking it could change the world. To stop at a moral tale of disaster is to keep the focus on poetic justice and our own wisdom. It also, conveniently, keeps us from having to face the complexity of, “What do we do about it now?”

George Saunders on Trump, Mystery, and Why He Rejects Social Media

by Catherine Woodiwiss 08-30-2016

Image via Fort Greene Focus/Flickr

Saunders’ spirit of generosity, cloaked in the dark humor and melancholy of his stories, has made him something of a guru to younger writers. A practicing Buddhist, with a childhood in the Catholic Church, Saunders approaches his essays in particular with a spiritual frankness — comfortable with his own limits, unabashedly willing to admit what confounds him, and ready to tell the truth as faithfully as he can. 

In July, he published his months-long attempt to understand Trump supporters and how they came to invest so much in a highly divisive, unconventional candidate. He seems both a natural and a jarringly wrong fit to capture this election season — perhaps the writer best ready to chronicle the already-absurd, and the one most willing to take it seriously. And at this moment in 2016, Saunders may be a kinder national narrator than we deserve.

The Myth of the Midlife Crisis — And What That Can Mean About Faith

by Catherine Woodiwiss 08-02-2016
A Q+A with journalist Barbara Bradley Hagerty

Image via /

It's my experience, observationally and personally, that people of faith go through the same kind of U curve, the same ennui that you experience psychologically. …. this malaise, this sense that you're praying and no one's listening, that the honeymoon is over. Those really rich feelings during prayer or everyday life — that God is here and present in this moment, “I feel the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit” — for most people, I think that ebbs. I think that's part of the plan.

… I talked to a group of nuns who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, because I figured they had a dog in this fight — if they lost their faith it actually would matter. What do you do when stuff gets boring or dull or hard? To a nun, their answer was the same — sometimes you don't feel God, and you just keep going. It's a relationship.

#KissShameBye Reveals Lasting, Harmful Effects of Purity Culture

by Catherine Woodiwiss 07-19-2016

Image via /

The conversation — tagged #KissShameBye and hosted by the No Shame Movement — explored purity culture and its impacts on sex, dating, and marriage. Participants discussed one “source text” for purity culture in particular — I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a hugely popular book among young evangelicals, published 20 years ago, that advocates against dating before marriage and underscores themes of purity, defilement, saving oneself for marriage, and losing one's self-worth if engaged in anything other than hetero marital physical contact.

A Testing Ground for Community

by Catherine Woodiwiss 07-05-2016
Having a front porch means regular congregations, planned and unplanned.
Iriana Shiyan / Shutterstock

Iriana Shiyan / Shutterstock

IF THE SWELTERING heat were not enough to dampen the midsummer soul, D.C.’s metro system has shut down portions of its train lines for long-overdue repairs, leaving us retreating to our homes—and, if we’re lucky, our porches: the outdoor living rooms of a city.

Summer is a time when lethargy reigns, especially here in the humid semi-South. Unlike in the North, where frigid winter inculcates an obstinate determination to prove that weather won’t hold us back, the South is a respecter of heat. Come August, everything s l o w s d o w n.

There’s no better time for porches than in a humid heat, when sleepy hospitality reigns supreme. Summer is the season for public myth-shaping, when private dreams and tweeted ideologies collide on the street with other humans and the full cacophony of life lived outside. Our systemic ills are most visible in the summer: residents suffering from water shutoffs, police brutality committed and pardoned, an education system that affords some children elite summer camps and denies others a glimpse of the outdoors, the merry-go-round of ads reminding us that “summer” is skin-deep and buyable. So is our hospitality most visible—music drifting from one door to the next, neighbors sharing an extra lemonade.

In earlier decades, houses were designed for life to happen just off the street. So the living rooms of most houses in D.C. are in the front—kitchens, studies, and bathrooms in the back or on another floor altogether. The dream of safe ensconcement away from the unpredictable intrusions of neighbors or vendors is unique to suburbia—in urban design, proximity is power. Front porches, just slightly removed from the chaotic spontaneity of summer streets, are both cachet and a basic necessity—permeable culture containers waiting to capture the overflow.

Sustaining the Daily Grind of Activism

by Catherine Woodiwiss 06-30-2016
A Q+A with activist Bree Newsome

Image via JP Keenan / Sojourners

Bree Newsome, a Christian activist from North Carolina, climbed into history last year when she scaled the flagpole of the South Carolina state house and removed the longstanding Confederate flag. One year later, Sojourners caught up with Newsome, an honoree at The Summit 2016, on what her action helped bring down — and build up.

Trey Pearson: 'It's Hard When You're the One Who Has Had to Go Through It'

by Catherine Woodiwiss 06-08-2016

Image via Trey Pearson.

It’s hard when you’re the one who has had to go through it. And that’s tough — it’s tough when you can pour your heart out to someone and they’re angry or not willing to listen to what you have to say. My hope is they’ll be willing to have a conversation, with compassion and love, even when they don’t understand.

...Can You Not?

by Catherine Woodiwiss 05-04-2016

Image via /

new PAC has popped up in Colorado with a simple platform: “Bruh, can you not?”

The PAC, started by Denver-based Kyle Huelsman and Jack Teter, seeks to help get more qualified women, LGBT people, and people of color in office — by convincing straight white men not to run.

The site is tongue-in-cheek, promising “interventions for the misguided bros in your life who looked in the mirror this morning and thought ‘yeah, it’s gotta be me.’”

“We challenge brogressives and others to reject any notion that they are uniquely qualified or positioned to seek political office in districts that don’t need them. As well-represented white dudes, we feel it is our obligation to know when to shut up and Not,” says their statement at

But the Can You Not PAC — started “by white men, for white men” — is fully serious.

Making Room for Delight

by Catherine Woodiwiss 05-02-2016
Is joy not a betrayal, I wondered, of everyone who remains wounded?
Artur Bogacki / Shutterstock

Artur Bogacki / Shutterstock

I RECENTLY MADE the mistake of taking an extended trip to my favorite city. Istanbul is a rambunctious sprawl of cultures and histories—catnip for a writer, as I am, and for a college student, as I was on my first visit nine years ago.

Chief among Istanbul’s delights is the Hagia Sophia, first basilica, then mosque, then museum—part architectural wonder, part historical jigsaw puzzle. Above the ochre-domed great hall is the famous juxtaposition: a gilded mosaic of Mary and the Christ Child flanked by two enormous placards in Arabic script—the names Allah and Muhammad. The effect is somehow both solemn and conspiratorial, as if some divine negotiation has happened behind the scenes.

Hagia Sophia means “holy wisdom,” and to enter into its hushed halls, a thin winter light stretching its way across 1,500-year-old pillars to twinkle through heavy chandeliers, is to enter a palpable mystery. It is constitutionally impossible to behold the Hagia Sophia for the first time and not feel a stirring in the soul.

But this was my second time. After eight years of living in Washington, D.C., and working for social justice, I was carrying with me a very different posture toward the world—a suspicion of appearances, a stubbornness to accept grand narrative. I have learned much more about the world and the many ways it fails us since my first glimpse of a shimmering Istanbul. I’ve written about systems that rely on marginalization and the politically convenient, and I’ve felt, deeply and insistently, all the ways the world has grown more threatening for the most vulnerable.