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

Does Religion Belong in Public Health?

by Olivia Whitener 03-28-2016
Beholden: Religion, Global Health, and Human Rights, by Susan R. Holman. Oxford University Press.

At 17, AS I SAT in a comprehensive health center in Namibia, a health care worker told my visiting religious group what the center really needed from outsiders to improve the care they offered. As a peer health educator at my high school, I entered the facility thinking I knew the universal cure for preventing HIV infection—education—and feeling sad that so many places in the world did not yet have access to the life-saving drugs because they could not afford them. I was naïve and incorrect on many fronts.

They had the drugs, the health worker told us, and they had a well-developed education plan both for prevention and antiretroviral therapy. What they really needed right then was baby formula, to prevent HIV-positive mothers from passing the virus on to their newborns. So the next time we wanted to donate to the organization, he said, please send formula or the money to purchase some, instead of knitted newborn hats or volunteers ready to paint the facility walls.

Susan R. Holman, in her book Beholden: Religion, Global Health, and Human Rights, provides valuable narrative, analysis, and information that can similarly open the eyes of religious leaders about helpful, sustainable, and respectful ways to approach health-related needs throughout the world. Unlike many global-health academics and activists, who simply dismiss religious efforts as destructive or limited, Holman asserts that religion must be incorporated into global-health initiatives “because faith matters to the large majority of people who are poor in this world.” Global-health initiatives cannot ignore the influence faith has on health, moral decision-making, and community structures.

It's Not Really About the Waffles

by Olivia Whitener 03-28-2016
A child-centered worship service encourages a sticky faith.
Waffle Church at St. Lydia's

Waffle Church at St. Lydia's

Last year, St. Lydia’s church in Brooklyn, N.Y., started a monthly service that lifts up children’s leadership and participation. They call it Waffle Church, and it’s messy on purpose. Olivia Whitener, an editorial assistant at Sojourners , interviewed Waffle Church minister Sarah McCaslin in January about the service that revolves around songs, stories, maple syrup, and the love of Jesus.

Sojourners: Why waffles?
Rev. Sarah McCaslin:
Well, I prefer a savory brunch option, if given the choice. But “Omelet Church” just doesn’t have the same ring. The fact of the matter is: Who doesn’t love a waffle? They’re easy to make, they’re delicious. But the waffles aren’t as important as the idea of this meal we share around the table. It isn’t that we’re going to church and then will have waffles. When we sit around the table together and fellowship together, it’s an extension of communion.

What’s special about a Waffle Church service? The first time we did Waffle Church, I was standing at the table, and I do a rhetorical-question-style liturgy: “Look, we are gathered around this table, and we set it with our finest. This is not the Lutheran table, it’s not St. Lydia’s table, it’s not Waffle Church’s table. Whose table is this?” Then a 6-year-old shouts, “It’s the Lord’s table!” We couldn’t have planned it, and it was just amazing. Of course, now we have to do it because there’s always the kid who wants to shout “It’s the Lord’s table!” And so here’s a piece of the liturgy that has been fixed because the children will demand it. That kind of stuff is just happening all the time.

Are there ways other churches can incorporate a Waffle Church service into their ministries? I think it’s about creating a physical space that can accommodate the needs of children. The music is the other major piece of it. At St. Lydia’s, we adhere to the paperless-music singing tradition, where all of the songs are taught. So there’s no hymnal, no lyrics to be read—those things tend to privilege literacy. This way, children and adults can participate in the music each and every week.

3 Reasons I Tithe — Even If It’s Not Much

by Olivia Whitener 03-14-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

3. Jesus already taught us how to tithe.

As I reflected on the practice of tithing more deeply, I realized that the parable in Mark 12 of Jesus recognizing the widow who offers two copper coins is one that influences my concept of discipleship — including monetary giving. It is cliché, because it is the lesson that is frequently read during budget meetings and stewardship drives. But the woman’s faith and commitment truly have been a reminder that it is not about how much I give, or even really whether I give anything. Jesus recognizes her sacrifice and discipleship, as evidenced through her monetary offering, and asks us to follow her lead.

Being a member of a church comes with many expectations. But so does being a Christian. A theological belief in salvation through grace alone roots my faith, but so does the action of giving of my time, talents, and earthly possessions to those who have less. I am both loved by God as an individual, and called to be in a community.

Encountering God in 'The Color Purple'

by Olivia Whitener, by Kurt Houwen 03-10-2016
We’re a couple taking on Emma Watson's #feminist reading list together. Here’s what we’re learning.

Image via /Shutterstock.com

During summers working at camp, one thing we did together was draw who we thought God is. The campers and I would draw anything from stars in the night sky to pictures of their friends and family to copies of images of God they had seen in paintings. Then, like Celie and Shug Avery in this passage from The Color Purple, the campers and I would discuss together how God should not always be thought of as an old white man. That image of God is limiting for those of us who cannot identify with such a figure. When you think God looks like a person who represents oppression, danger, or injustice, you don’t want to have anything to do with that God. When you broaden the scope to say God is in everything and everyone, then everyone, including me and Celie and my campers, has a part of God’s light inside us.

Carrying Love Against Hate

by Olivia Whitener 03-02-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Without his community of his sisters and family, who have been mourning his death and questioning God for not saving their brother and friend, Lazarus would remain entombed. Without community, we remain bound and entombed. I’m not saying that our actions are as great as Jesus raising someone from the dead. But I am saying that God entrusts us with living into community, so that we may welcome our brothers and sisters out of death and into life.

11 Must-Read New Books On Racial Justice and Faith

by Olivia Whitener 02-11-2016
February is Black History Month. Dive into these books now...and read all year long.

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Have you read America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis and want to read more about the present civil rights movement and how the church needs to get moving? Did you stay up all night finishing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and are looking for other memoirs to lead you to more questioning of the world? Have you been waiting for another book to spark discussion in small groups, like Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy?

I reviewed our book collection of new releases from the past year and compiled a list of the most important new books to read. Enjoy! 

Emma Watson Book Club

by Olivia Whitener, by Kurt Houwen 02-09-2016
We're a couple, taking on the star's #feminist reading list together. Here's what we're learning.

Image via UN Women/Flickr

Steinem says that from traveling so much, she had an opportunity to hear from so many different groups of people — proving that, “Hate generalizes, love specifies.’” And that’s one of the theories of social change, right? Hearing personal stories brings a better sense of understanding that can get more people on board and connected.

Gun Deaths Are No Accident

by Olivia Whitener 01-15-2016

No guns, no gun deaths. That was the mantra ingrained in me from a young age. It is the line that runs through my head when I read reports stating that around 3,000 of the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year are of children. In 2015, 265 minors were responsible for accidental gun shootings and 83 of these children killed someone, often because they found a loaded gun in the house and were curious.

QUIZ: Which Kind of Nonviolent Activist Are You?

There are different ways to understand the gospel's call to peace — and that's a good thing. In the last century alone, many influential Christian leaders have grappled with violence, justice, and peace, and ended up all over the nonviolence map. Where do you land? Take our quiz and find out!

Here I (Still) Stand...498 Years Later

by Olivia Whitener 10-30-2015

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Oct. 31 is approaching quickly — a day marked throughout the United States by costume contests, pumpkin carvings, and children knocking on neighbors’ doors with questions of “trick or treat?”

But for Protestant churches around the world, Oct. 31 is also a celebration of a grown man knocking on a (rather large) door, asking a different question of the Catholic Church:

From whom does salvation truly come? And a follow-up: How do we refocus the church on the Gospel?

On this date, almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses onto the front doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany — an act that, unforeseen by Luther at the time, is now credited with beginning the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s 95 Theses outlined his abstentions to the practice of selling indulgences to guarantee Christians salvation, emphasizing that grace is given by God alone and can only be assured by the clergy, not bought from them.

With the help of the social media of his day — the newly-improved printing press — news quickly spread to people throughout Europe that Martin Luther was questioning the papacy and attempting to refocus the church’s theology on forgiveness through the word and the eucharist, neither of which required financial prosperity. Within a few years, Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his continued teachings, which included suggestions that the Bible should be accessible to all people and that priests not necessarily need to be celibate.

The Reformation gathered Christians from across Europe into a community of “rebels,” from which multiple denominations would spring up over the next half a century.

Today, 498 years later — with of a Catholic pope nicknamed “The Peoples’ Pope,” who is on Twitter and preaches about income inequality — what would Luther think of the state of the church?