Olivia Whitener

Editorial Assistant

Olivia Whitener is an editorial assistant for Sojourners and would like to thank all of her college friends who requested help on their term papers for improving her editing and writing skills enough to serve in this position. Originally from Lawrenceville, N.J., Olivia has spent the past four years at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, N.C. working towards her degree in Anthropology.

While at Wake Forest, Olivia focused her studies in cultural and linguistic anthropology, particularly human-rights based anthropology and intercultural communication. She enjoys balancing the intricate theories of cultural relativism and universal human rights when working toward justice throughout the world. Olivia is excited to explore the ways that print and online media can promote on-the-ground social justice work to make positive change.

For the past three summers, Olivia has spent her summers singing songs, leading games, and watching the Spirit move at Cross Roads Camp and Retreat Center in Port Murray, N.J., an ecumenical ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church. In addition to singing songs around a campfire, reading while drinking a cup of coffee and laughing loudly in public places bring Olivia joy. 

You can follow Olivia on Twitter: @owhitener.

Posts By This Author

When People Are Good

by Olivia Whitener 04-25-2018
'Come From Away,' written by Irene Sankoff and David Hein; directed by Christopher Ashley.

WE ALL HAVE a story of where we were that September morning, when the crumbling skyline of New York City brought the country to a standstill. For people on thousands of airplanes in flight that morning, their stories began with emergency landings and sitting for hours on the tarmac in unexpected places after U.S. airspace closed. Of those stranded “plane people,” 7,000 arrived in Gander, Newfoundland—an island town of about 10,000 locals and limited resources. The new Broadway musical “Come From Away” provides a snapshot of the rest of that story.

At a preview performance in February, the audience was on its feet for an ovation before the lights went down. For 100 minutes the musical allows the audience to pause and reflect on the events of Sept. 11. Claude Elliott, the mayor of Gander (played in the show by Joel Hatch), introduced the 10th-anniversary commemoration of 9/11 in Gander by saying, “We honor what was lost. But we also commemorate what we found.” To sit in the audience alongside New Yorkers with intimate connections to that day and tourists with their own reasons for being there was to pay tribute to those memories as part of a community of strangers.

Missives Toward A Better Day

by Olivia Whitener 01-04-2018
Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, edited by Carolina De Robertis. Vintage Books.

“TO MY FELLOW and artists; to my fellow readers and lovers of art; to my fellow believers in peace and a more perfect world ...”

Thus begins Viet Thanh Nguyen’s contribution to Radical Hope—“a collection of love letters in response to these political times.” The Pulitzer Prize winner (for The Sympathizer) goes on to describe his dreams for a new model for our society, one that includes prophecies, poets, and the people: “Those of us who would tear down walls and eradicate borders, and who believe in both inclusion and equality, need to use our talents to help build a coalition.”

The dozens of letters in Radical Hope illustrate the dreams of this diverse community of writers. Luis Alberto Urrea asks, “What if there is no Other? What if there is only Us?” Katie Kitamura writes of a future in which her daughter grows up believing in the generative power of language. Many of the writers pen poetic reflections on the beacons of light and love who have guided them, looking to the past to bring enlightenment into the next journey. In the final letter, Cristina García imagines the world seven generations from now, asking what that will look like and wishing upon her great-great-great-great-great granddaughter “adventure and loving protection.”

St. Valentine: A Reminder of Radical Christian Love

by Olivia Whitener 02-13-2017

St. Valentine, kneeling in supplication.

As Christian witnesses, we should use the feast of Saint Valentine to care deeply for one another and especially for those who are persecuted by those in power. Flowers and candies and candles are nice — but this year, I’d much rather be smashing patriarchy, overturning the “refugee ban,” creating pathways to citizenship, and supporting high quality education for all children. And my valentine can join me in my ventures.

Music Is More Important Now Than Ever

by Olivia Whitener 11-22-2016

Sharon Jones. Image via Man Alive!/Flickr

Earlier this year, Tripp Hudgins wrote a piece declaring that all his favorite theologians are dying. He listed David Bowie and Pete Seeger as two theologians whom he felt sang “real theology about a real God” during their lifetimes. Others would later add Prince and Phife Dog and Sharon Jones to their lists of songwriters who spoke lyrics of truth in a broken world and who are no longer with us. Leon Wieselthier described his friend Leonard Cohen as “the lyrical advocate of the finite and the flawed” in a beautiful eulogy in the New York Times just the other week. Could a musically gifted person of any faith be honored with better words than those?

What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Love

by Olivia Whitener 09-03-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

A sign that hung in the volunteer room at Shanti Dan quoted Mother Teresa, reading, “I pray each one of you to be holy and so spread [God’s] love everywhere you go. Light [God’s] light of truth in every person’s life so that God can continue loving the world through you and me.”

This was not just a commission for those serving in Kolkata. Poverty, violence, hatred, sadness, hopelessness, crime, greed, darkness, jealousy exist in our homes across the world. And Mother Teresa was known for encouraging people to serve their neighbors in their hometowns or wherever they are called, striving to love each person as God loved us.

To Know and Be Known

by Olivia Whitener 08-02-2016
Interfaith Leadership: A Primer, by Eboo Patel. Beacon Press.
Interfaith Leadership

Interfaith Leadership

“WE CAN'T PUT cheese on all of the hamburgers for dinner, and can you please say ‘Dear God’ not ‘Dear Jesus’ when you pray?” These were instructions I gave to my dad before a birthday party in elementary school, worried that my new Jewish friends would not feel comfortable in our Christian home. Because I grew up in a religiously diverse area, I was cognizant of differences in religious practice before I knew the beliefs behind my own Christian rituals.

This is how my journey of interfaith learning and leadership began: by inviting my friends from school over to play and making sure they had something to eat. In his book Interfaith Leadership, Eboo Patel defines interfaith experiences as those “where people with diverse faiths interact, and their faith identities are somehow involved.” We weren’t just religiously diverse students sitting next to each other at school sharing our crayons—we were in each other’s homes, and that meant our faith identities were exposed and explored.

Interfaith Leadership outlines three questions that come up in interactions with people different from you: Who am I? Who are you? How do we relate to each other? Through stories of his experiences and those of friends from different faiths, Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core and a Sojourners columnist, shows us the process of becoming an interfaith leader who builds bridges and strengthens communities. He explains theories behind interfaith work in a way that is easy to understand, applying them directly to daily interactions and conflicts. For a short primer, Interfaith Leadership could be the most helpful tool for anyone striving to develop “positive, constructive, warm, caring, cooperative engagement” (aka “relationship”) with others.

In a World of Darkness, Be Like Mary Magdelene

by Olivia Whitener 07-22-2016

"Magdalen," by Georges de la Tour. Image via /Shutterstock.com

The woman who preached the first Easter sermon is known more for a fictionalized relationship with the Christ than for the words of light and life she brought to the world. The woman who stood by the cross until Jesus took his last breath is characterized by sexual promiscuity — one that is nowhere within the recounting of her ministry and her faithfulness.

Short Takes: Matt and Simone Weber

by Olivia Whitener 06-07-2016
Five questions for Matt and Simone Weber
Table Grace Cafe

Table Grace Cafe

In 2011, Matt and Simone Weber co-founded Table Grace Cafe in Omaha, Neb.—a community lunch cafe staffed with volunteers who participate in a 10-day restaurant internship program. Simone is a Nashville-recorded singer-songwriter and Matt has culinary training from the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York. Together, the Webers spread a message of grace along with a cup of homemade soup and gourmet pizza.

Website: tablegracecafe.com

1. Why did you decide to incorporate a job assistance program?
Matt: I knew that we would be using volunteers off the street every day, since that’s one way people can get food—if they can volunteer. We were running into people who were in transition, from jail or homelessness, and could use that service. And because I have culinary training and education, it was easy for me to come up with this concept.

2. I hear you don’t have a cash register at the cafe.
That’s right. It’s a donation box instead of a cash register. We have no prices on our menu. We tell people what the food is worth, but we don’t require a certain amount. We believe that everybody is able to be generous no matter where they are in life. By allowing people to give a free-will donation, we’re meeting people where they are and inviting them to give what’s generous for them.

bell hooks' Guide to Living With Love

by Olivia Whitener, by Kurt Houwen 05-25-2016
We’re a couple taking on Emma Watson's #feminist reading list together. Here’s what we’re learning.

Image via /Shutterstock.com

It wasn’t until recently, with the advent of modern capitalism, that people have retreated to the private sphere. This means we now believe that people can live secluded lives, only interacting with our most intimate connections — whether that be our nuclear family, romantic partner, or just with a pet. Hannah Arendt, another philosopher, offers a similar critique on people's retreat from the community and into the private sphere, naming it as a byproduct of capitalism.

'The Berrigan Letters' Reveals a Life of Love and Admiration

by Olivia Whitener 05-09-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

For 30 years, the Berrigan brothers led the nonviolent charge against war, poverty, and racial injustice, writing letters to each other and to other loved ones throughout their years of activism. Their work took them all over the country and world (including to a 1985 Sojourners Peace Pentecost celebration in Washington, D.C.), and these letters catalog their dreams, plans, worries, and prayers during their travels. From news clippings, poems, and reports about trials, to birthday greetings and responses to political elections, the Berrigan brothers expressed honesty, faithfulness, and love for one another and the world.