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 non-official, not-so-subtle goal is to "make DC weird." Hold me to it.

Posts By This Author

INFOGRAPHIC: Sandra Bland's Death Is Not an Anomaly

by JP Keenan, by Catherine Woodiwiss 08-03-2015

At least five black women have died in jail in the month of July alone, ThinkProgress reports. What is going on?

Sojo Sessions

by JP Keenan, by Catherine Woodiwiss 07-29-2015
Lowland Hum
Image via Sojo Sessions

Image via Sojo Sessions 

Lowland Hum, comprised of married folk duo Daniel and Lauren Goans, have emerged with their eponymous second album a stronger, more versatile, and possibly even more intimate musical pairing than their first album, Native Air. It's this sudden sense of fragility and uncertainty in the face of the next layer of intimacy — and the corresponding joy when the leap taken finds solid ground — that Lowland Hum brought to Sojourners' Summit. 

Watch the full Sojo Session here

Rob Bell Talks Spirituality, Science, Oprah, and 'Pure Joy'

by Catherine Woodiwiss 07-22-2015

Image courtesy Rob Bell

Rob Bell is on the move. In his “Everything is Spiritual” tour, which makes its way through the Washington, D.C., metro this evening, he is focusing on the connections between science and spirituality and how we can sit within the reality of our ever-expanding universe. Sojourners’ Catherine Woodiwiss spoke with the author and speaker to talk spirituality, the “nones,” Oprah, science, and surfing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

'Trainwreck:' Amy Schumer Goes Longform

by Abby Olcese, by Catherine Woodiwiss 07-17-2015
Curiously inconsistent. Totally enjoyable.
Screenshot, trailer for 'Trainwreck'/YouTube

Screenshot, trailer for 'Trainwreck'/YouTube

Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck promises rude, clever fun. Does it deliver? Abby Olcese and Catherine Woodiwiss discuss. (Light spoilers in parentheses.)

Catherine Woodiwiss: Okay, so I was a little concerned that Trainwreck was just going to be an exact inversion of "the guy’s a mess, the girl’s uptight" Judd Apatow comedy set-up. And it’s not just that! But I am a little surprised how conventional it felt ultimately.

Abby Olcese: I enjoyed it. I enjoyed her getting to be a mess. Right up until the point where she breaks up with Jon Cena — which is an absurd sentence that I just said — up until that point, she’s really awful. But(Spoiler) when her dad died, and when Aaron visited for the first time and took care of him, those were very conventional story beats (End spoiler). I’m curious about that.

In her show, the Aaron Sorkin parody, the 12 Angry Men parody are really pointed, specific things and she’s using those tropes for a reason. So I wondered if that had a larger purpose in the long form. And I’m not entirely sure it did.

Woodiwiss: Amy’s style of comedy has always been a blend of pointed commentary and "do what the guys do but be a girl doing it." I thought it very subtle and clever that any on-screen nudity was male. And really, there was a significant range of interpretation of masculinity in the film — the impossibly muscular bro who was gay, the intern who was possibly transgender. Bill Hader, who is not the stereotypical leading man. And LeBron James, who is basically the Platonic form of male athlete.

But the women didn’t have the same diversity — they were all pretty stock characters.

And her dig at cheerleaders (derisively comparing them to strippers) was odd. Was that a subtle skewering of the "girl gets boyfriend and gets protective and starts denigrating other women" trope? Maybe, but it just sounded like a cheap shot.

Olcese: The last thing I wrote down was, was that really just all over the place?

Woodiwiss: Say more.

War, Peace, and the Stories We Tell

by Catherine Woodiwiss 07-10-2015
Army vet and peace educator Paul K. Chappell aims to change our cultural narratives about violence.
Chappell

Photo by Rick Reinhard 

“THE IDEA THAT peace is inevitable is as dangerous as the idea that war is inevitable,” says author and peace educator Paul K. Chappell. We’ve been discussing peace in practice for the better part of an hour, and he’s warming to the theme. He puts forward an unlikely premise—that violence is not intrinsic to human nature.

Paul Chappell isn’t what you would expect in a peace champion. A graduate of West Point and a member of the U.S. military for seven years, including as a captain in Iraq, he first honed his fighting skills on school playgrounds, getting expelled for fighting in grade school and suspended in high school. He was bullied as a child for his skin color (his father, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, was biracial—black and white—and his mother is Korean). Because of his father’s war trauma, Chappell describes his childhood as “unpredictably violent.”

It’s hard now to imagine this former troubled youth, both perpetrator and victim of violence, as the articulate Chappell thoughtfully winds his way through classical theory and national myth. But Chappell’s learned taste for creed over instinct is clear. The army provided the closest thing to family that a young Chappell had ever encountered, he tells me, but despite that deep affection—or perhaps because of it—he began paying attention to the lasting effects of war and trauma on his brothers-and-sisters-in-arms.

Land of the Free, Home of the Weird

by Catherine Woodiwiss 06-02-2015
Image via CD_Photography/shutterstock.com

Image via CD_Photography/shutterstock.com

The Wild West as we imagine it is a bit of a sham, of course — constructed in part by people living there even at the time, who would stage train robberies and trick out saloons to thrill adventure-seeking, money-dropping East Coasters.

It’s a cartoonized myth, the kind perfectly suited to the sort of theme park that America today leads the world in delivering. This could cause even greater skepticism about our present surroundings — but really, is there great romantic difference between a bygone West of restaurants and wagon paraphernalia and a tribute West of all that plus a water park? We agree that this is the story we’re telling and we go with it; to delight ourselves and each other, to give ourselves an origin story, a reason for what it’s all for.

I should mention it is Memorial Day weekend. National holidays share a similarly constructed myth in our collective nostalgia, I think, and Memorial Day has come further than most from its original purpose. 

'Where's God When...?' 3 Authors Launch Tour to Talk Loss, Doubt, and Healing

by Catherine Woodiwiss 05-14-2015
Image via Dan Holm/shutterstock.com

Image via Dan Holm/shutterstock.com

What’s it like to share your stories of loss to a room of hundreds? Wm. Paul Young (author of The Shack), Reba Riley (Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome), and Christian Piatt (PostChristian) are about to find out — and help others do the same. The three bestselling authors are launching a two-stop tour — "Where's God When..." — in Seattle and Portland on May 16 & 17, to help others hear, and share, their own stories of grief, heartbreak, and healing.

Sojourners sat down with the authors last week to talk loss, return to faith, and what it’s like to coordinate a tour focused on hard questions about God. Interview edited for length and clarity.  

Local Efforts to Rebuild Nepal — And How You Can Help

by Catherine Woodiwiss 05-02-2015
Image via Lokesh Todi.

Image via Lokesh Todi.

Lokesh Todi, born and raised in Kathmandu, moved home to Nepal nine months ago to be an entrepreneur. When the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit last Saturday, he and a cousin started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to help connect concerned givers with local NGOs.

“We thought we could get some supplies to local groups. Our goal was to get $20,000 — that’s a lot of money in Nepal," said Todi, a recent graduate of Yale University's M.B.A program.

Thanks to their concerned networks, including thousands of shares from Todi’s Facebook page, the campaign has now raised $120,150 — more than six times the amount they expected. 

“I’m really hoping to make sure that all this money goes to right channels, and make sure that every dollar is spent properly and wisely. My goal is to help the community build back stronger and a little bit more prepared,” said Todi.

Who's Watching? Brave New Technology, Same Old Fears

by Catherine Woodiwiss 04-15-2015
Image via scyther5/shutterstock.com

Image via scyther5/shutterstock.com

In 1990, my father and pregnant mother packed up their life in suburban Illinois, bundled their four young children (including me) onto a plane, and landed in Romania to teach on a grant at the University of Bucharest.  

The country was in the throes of revolution following the execution of ousted dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, and the transfer of power was by no means tidy or complete. The Securitate — one of the most brutal secret police forces in the world — proved difficult to shut down. All our neighbors operated under the assumption that their every move continued to be watched (one friend had taken apart his typewriter by hand and hid it so he could answer honestly that he did not keep a typewriter in the house). Being American, my parents were told to expect our apartment to be bugged.

Freedom had come, but the systems of omnipresent control proved psychologically hard to shake.

The specter of surveillance is an insidious tool. In the 1790s, British philosoper Jeremy Bentham developed a centralized prison model called the panopticon, in which every occupant is visible to a single guard. Most models, since adapted by prisons and schools around the world, leave open the possibility that there is no supervisor watching after all. Whether there is isn't the point — the mere promise of one is enough to coerce significant behavior change. Being constantly observable is the trap.  

These days, Americans don’t need a formative year spent in post-soviet Romania to feel uneasy about omnipresent surveillance. Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive secret surveillance programs operating under the NSA, with enormous access to private data from citizens not suspected of terrorism or criminal wrongdoing, rocked our understandings of data privacy and civil liberty. Now, as then, it’s reasonable to worry that we’re being watched.

And if it’s not the state watching us, it’s corporations after our money. Uber tracks our movements and fires drivers for sharing links to bad reviews on their personal media, unless it doesn’t. Facebook uses emotional manipulation to collect behavioral data, but insists it’s no big dealGoogle compiles secret profiles through wiretapping but swears it would never.

So are we being watched or aren’t we? And do we care?

Songs of Ourselves: Grief, Hope, and Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens. Black and white version of image via Tammy Lo/flickr.com

Sufjan Stevens. Black and white version of image via Tammy Lo/flickr.com

Sufjan Stevens’ newest album, Carrie & Lowell (out now), is a heartbreaking meditation on personal grief. It’s also joyful, baffling, and delicately mundane. 

In the spirit of a listening party, a few of us sat down to play through the album, sharing liner notes and meditations on the songs that grabbed each of us. Conclusion: it's really, really good. Stream Carrie & Lowell here, and listen along with us below.

 

Death With Dignity” — Tripp Hudgins, ethnomusicologist, Sojourners contributor, blogger at Anglobaptist

Tripp: I love the first song of an album. I think of it as the introduction to a possible new friend. “Where The Streets Have No Name” on U2’s Joshua Tree or “Signs of Life” on Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason, that first track can be the thesis statement to a sonic essay.

So, when I get a new album — even in this day of digital albums or collections of singles — a first track can make or break an album for me. I sat down and listened attentively to “Death With Dignity.” It does not disappoint. With it Stevens introduces the subject of the album — his grief around troubled relationship with his mother and her death — as well as the sonic palate he will use throughout the album.

Simple guitar work, layered voicing, and a little synth, the album is musically sparse. The tempo reminds me of movies from the nineteen sixties or seventies where the action takes place over a long road trip.

Catherine Woodiwiss: I was thinking road trip, too. There’s real motion musically, which, given a claustrophobic theme and circular lyrics, is a thankful point of release. It’s a generous act, or maybe an avoidant one — he could have made us sit tight and watch, and he doesn’t quite do it.

Julie Polter: This isn’t a road movie, but the reference to that era of films just made me think of Cat Stevens’ soundtrack for Harold and Maude, especially “Trouble.” (This album is one-by-one bringing back to me other gentle songs of death and duress and all the songs I listen to when I want to cry).

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