Rose, a native of the West Coast, lives in Washington, D.C. She has been on Sojourners staff since 1986.
For more than 30 years, Rose has rooted herself with Sojourners magazine and ministry. She is author of Bending the Arch: Poems (2019), Drawn By God: A History of the Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries from 1967 to 1991 (with Janet Gottschalk, 2012), and Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood.
A native of the West Coast, Rose has lived in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. since the mid-1980s. In the course of a 30 plus-year career in faith-based activism, advocacy journalism, and pastoral leadership, she has proven to be a skilled organizer, exceptional writer, visionary pastoral leader, and innovative teacher of biblical literacy.
With Sojourners, Rose has worked as an organizer on peace and environmental issues, internship program director, liturgist, community pastor, poetry editor, and, currently, as a Senior Associate Editor of Sojourners magazine, where she writes a regular column on spirituality and justice. She is responsible for the Living the Word section, poetry, Bible studies, and interviews – and oversees the production of study guides, discussion guides, and the online bible study Preaching the Word. She is also a religion reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a Huffington Post commentator. Her work has appeared in National Catholic Reporter, Publishers Weekly, Religion News Service, Radical Grace-Oneing, The Merton Seasonal, U.S. Catholic, and elsewhere.
Rose has a veteran history in social justice activism, including: organizing inter-religious witness against the Keystone XL pipeline; educating and training groups in nonviolence; leading retreats in spirituality and justice; writing on topics as diverse as the “Spiritual Vision of Van Gogh, O'Keeffe, and Warhol,” the war in the Balkans, interviews with black activists Vincent Harding and Yvonne Delk, the Love Canal's Lois Gibbs, and Mexican archbishop Ruiz, cultural commentary on the Catholic church and the peace movement, reviews of movies, books, and music.
A founding member of a small creative writing group, Rose Berger has taught writing and poetry workshops for children and adults. She’s completed her MFA in poetry through the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Her poetry has been published in Sojourners, The Other Side, Radix and D.C. Poets Against the War.
Rose grew up in the Central Valley of California, located in the rich flood plains of the Sacramento and American rivers. Raised in radical Catholic communities heavily influenced by Franciscans and the Catholic Worker movement, she served for nine years on the pastoral team for Sojourners Community Church; five as its co-pastor. She directed Sojourners internship program from 1990-1999. She is currently Senior Associate Editor and Poetry Editor for Sojourners magazine.
She has traveled throughout the United States, and also in Israel/Palestine, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosova, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and El Salvador visiting primarily with faith communities working for peace in situations of conflict.
Rose’s articles include:
- Pursuing the Secret of Joy: What is joy when it's not promiscuously tied to happiness, Hallmark, or hedonism?
- Nonviolence in Najaf?: Will we recognize an Islamic peace movement when we see it?
- A Presidential Option for the Poor? :Venezuela's Hugo Chavez stirs up fierce criticism - and hope.
- Of Love's Risen Body: The poetry of Denise Levertov, 1923-1997
- Glimpses of God Outside the Temple: The spiritual vision of Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O'Keefe, and Andy Warhol.
- Damnation Will Not Be Televised: Almost everything I know about hell I learned from watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer
She lives in the Southern Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., in the Anacostia watershed on traditional Piscataway lands.
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Christianity's First Pandemic Sounds Eerily Familiar
THE HORROR JOHN of Ephesus witnessed in north Africa and Constantinople was so traumatic that it took him three years before he could begin to tell the story.
“Thy judgments are like the great deep,” prayed John of the “cruel scourge” that struck the whole world in 544 C.E., when the plague spread along the trade routes of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. “Like the two edges of the reaper, it successively passed across the earth, and progressed without stopping,” wrote John. The cities stank with unburied corpses. This sixth century deacon and hagiographer wrote, “The mercy of God showed itself everywhere toward the poor, for they died first while everyone was still healthy enough to ... carry them away and bury them.”
No wonder John drew upon the psalms of lament and the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah for guidance. His congregation was dead or dispersed. To anoint and bury the dead meant contamination. All worship was suspended. The normally scrupulous were hoarding and stealing. And rulers who had overspent on imperial expansion placed impossible economic burdens on the survivors.
And then it all happened again 14 more times throughout north Africa—because pandemics recur in waves, sometimes for as long as 200 years.
What World is Possible After the Pandemic?
WE DON'T KNOW the full extent of the coronavirus pandemic. We know of the many who have died as a direct result of infection. We know that whole countries have turned on a dime to shield themselves from the shadow of death as it passes over. We don’t know where it will lead.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Rebecca Solnit wrote, “Horrible in itself, disaster is sometimes a door back into paradise, that paradise at least in which we are who we hope to be, do the work we desire, and are each our sister’s and brother’s keeper.” Solnit reminds us that disasters and plagues sometimes signal liberation.
COVID-19 has forced the human community into mourning. In our retreat from the work-a-day world, it has imposed a global sabbath and Jubilee. Staring into this “cruel scourge,” as John of Ephesus described the Justinian plague in the year 545 C.E., can we also see that another world is possible?
The Jubilee legislation found in Leviticus 25 lays out a vision for “social and economic reform unsurpassed in the ancient Near East,” according to Robert K. Gnuse. The Jubilee laws declared that Yahweh was the rightful owner of all the earth, and therefore all Israelites—rich and poor—have an equal right to its abundance, within limits. In an economic system based on land and its produce, this was a radical transformation. The legislation undercut wealth disparities by preventing land speculation and by mandating debt forgiveness and interest-free loans. Finally, it ordered the release of the enslaved and those in debtors’ prison.
There's Nothing Pro-Life About Trump
WHITE CHRISTIAN VOTERS —evangelicals, but also Catholics—pushed Trump over the finish line in the 2016 election. Trump regularly holds court in the media with evangelicals but has been less overt with Catholics. That is until January, when he favored some with a personal appearance at the annual March for Life on the national Mall, held in protest of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that overturned state bans on abortion.
“Catholics were of secondary importance to the Trump campaign in 2016, behind evangelicals. That hasn’t changed, but there is at least an effort to reach this community now,” former Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) told Politico in January.
As a Catholic, I’m deeply troubled by this president. Trump stands against everything I’ve been taught to believe.
Pope Francis has prioritized the climate crisis for Catholics; Trump withdrew from the Paris accords and dismantled the modest advances made under Obama.
Pope Francis says welcoming migrants builds a strong social ethic; Trump implements policies that tear apart families and imprison migrant children.
Catholics believe in promoting a consistent moral stance that allows life to flourish. Under the Trump administration average life expectancy in the U.S. has been on the decline for three consecutive years (representing the longest consecutive decline in the American lifespan since World War I).
Pope Francis teaches that the death penalty is no longer permissible under any circumstance; Trump’s attorney general reinstated the federal death penalty, executing prisoners for the first time in nearly two decades.
The Gospel According to a TikTok Evangelist
IF JESUS BROUGHT good news to the poor today, it might look like one of Shaunna Burns’ videos.
Burns is an honest-to-God evangelist on TikTok, the fast-growing, Chinese-owned, short-form video-sharing social network. Translate Jesus’ “brood of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs” into f-bombs and salty vernacular and you get Burns’ practical “good news” that’s changing lives.
A former debt collector, Burns knows all about the shady practices of collection agencies. But she didn’t start her 60-second “debt pro tips” on TikTok until she got a call herself from a collection agency harassing her for her daughter’s medical bills.
“Hey, guys. So, here’s some quick debt-collection pro tips,” North Carolina-based Burns starts in her first video in December. She then instructs the uninformed: It’s illegal for debt collectors to call outside of certain hours. Medical debt has a statute of limitations—usually three to six years—that varies by state. Always ask a collector for a copy of your original signed invoice.
Will We See Through the 'Fog of War' This Time?
The attack by a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired missiles into a convoy carrying Soleimani was neither impulsive nor a retaliatory response. It was not undertaken to protect Americans. It was not an act of patriotism. It was not done to defend the U.S. embassy in Baghdad after the “dramatic but bloodless” siege. If anything, it was in response to Trump’s increasingly untenable situation at home.
Did Pope Francis Just Elevate These Anti-Nuclear Activists to Religious Prisoners of Conscience?
Two years after the Vatican State signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (currently ratified by 34 countries), he declared during an in-flight press briefing from Japan to Rome, “Not only their use, but also possessing them: because an accident or the madness of some government leader, one person’s madness can destroy humanity.”
Epiphany is a Time for Imaginative Leaps
IMAGINE YOURSELF IN a darkened theater. At center stage sits a woman, child on her lap, both wrapped in tonal greys. A tiny stream of light falls from above. Off left, large animals shift their weight on floorboards, chuff-chuffing their breath; foreign tongues murmur them calm. Off right, the only sound is of metal rasps running repeatedly down the length of blades; random sparks flare off the cutting teeth. This is Epiphany. Everything is waiting to happen. We know the narrative detail: Mary and Jesus, a manger, the Magi’s star-trekking journey with camels and gifts to honor a “newborn king” (while Herod, like Pharaoh, plots a bloody offense). But Epiphany is a season for paradigm shifts. What if we scramble the details? Imagine this. Off left, the chuff-chuffing of foreign tongues come not from men calming beasts, but camels praying as they approach the child, the spiritual waterhole for the world. The camels have not brought kings or astrologers, but a guild of bakers, who extend platters of fresh bread toward the child. At center, the woman wrapped in a cloak of ultraviolet leans back on her stool: She has given birth to a star, filling them both with light. At her side stands a human child. He gazes off right. The sound of rasps and swords, boots and shouted commands fascinate him. Slowly, the child lets go his mother’s hand, relaxes his throat muscles, measures his breath. In a world of bread and circuses, he has made brothers of soldiers. He is a sword-swallower and eats their pain.
I Prayed The Rosary for Immigrant Children; I Was Arrested
“NO” IS A COMPLETE SENTENCE. I said it recently to a U.S. Capitol Police officer when he asked me to stop praying the rosary for immigrant children and to move. He then arrested me for “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding” in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in D.C.
That day the police arrested 71 Catholics. In the parlance of Christian nonviolence, we brought the spiritual power of our prayer to a site of mortal sin—specifically the offices of powerful lawmakers who support, through cowardly and often deliberate consent, caging immigrant children. The border patrol apprehended 69,157 such children at the U.S.-Mexico boundary between October 2018 and July 2019, seven of whom have died after being in federal custody.
What is the significance of Catholics and other Christians saying “no”? At its most authentic, religious faith builds moral muscles that push the human species to become more generous and just and guard against it backsliding into barbarity. While shallow religion shapes people for instinctive compliance to authority, ecclesial and secular, a deep faith tradition trains for moral discernment and formation of conscience and provides a narrative for how to resist immoral actions.
A Cross of Human Bodies
When the U.S. Capitol Police issued three warnings for us to disperse, most of those gathered stepped back behind the police line, but five stepped forward and laid down in the shape of a cross in the center of the rotunda. A cross of human bodies. Dozens more formed a eucharistic circle around this cross.
Challenging The Social Order at the Vatican
THE MAP is not the territory, wrote Polish scientist Alfred Korzybski, “but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.”
When I glanced through the participants list at the second Vatican consultation on nonviolence and just peace, I recalled Korzybski. The list was organized by ecclesial rank. Cardinals on top, followed by archbishops, bishops, monsignors, and reverend fathers. Next were women in religious orders, then male and female laity with titles, finally misters and Mses. My name was last.
President Trump Wants to Withdraw the U.S. from the International Arms Trade Treaty
Gun violence and small arms deaths disproportionately impact communities of color, women, and other marginalized groups. As the biggest arms exporter, the U.S. signature to the ATT demonstrated its support for the establishment of common international standards for all states in the global arms trade.
Spiritual Reflections on My Paycheck
MONEY IS TO Americans what sex was to Victorian England. We’ll read about others’ exploits, but rarely reveal our own.
In the mid-1980s, I joined the Sojourners base Christian community. I was in my 20s with little disposable cash and a modest college loan. My theological attitude was “love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10)—even thinking about money risked sliding into America’s amorous relationship with capital.
Madame Jazz vs. Madame Guillotine
IRISH POET Patrick Kavanagh famously said, “Any poet worth his salt is a theologian.”
In The Five Quintets, a poetic tour de force by Micheal O’Siadhail, Kavanagh’s quip is flavorfully borne out. Quintets offers a sustained reflection on Western modernity (and its yet unnamed aftermath) in the vein of The Divine Comedy, Dante’s sustained reflection on medieval Europe (and its aftermath, the Renaissance).
O’Siadhail (pronounced O’Sheel) inspects 400 years of Anglo-Atlantic culture—artistic creativity, economics, politics, science, and “the search for meaning”—with the skillful hand of a citizen-poet, refracted through an Irish Catholic soul. Dublin born and educated, now poet in residence at Union Theological Seminary in New York, O’Siadhail embodies the vatic tradition of the Hibernian Gael—poet, prophet, priest, and, at times, jester.
His blind guide for the modern era is Madame Jazz—who encompasses klezmer from the Jewish shtetls and céilí music from famine Ireland as well. Jazz is the consummation of all that is truly human, the best of our polyphonic harmonies, a wild, joyful freedom born of shared suffering. Her chilling counterpoint, who ends the age of monarchs, is Madame Guillotine, whose shadow reaches forward into our War on Terror.
Power Dynamics and Sexual Ethics
UNITED METHODIST BISHOP Cynthia Moore-Koikoi has fond memories of growing up in the church. It helped form and develop her as a leader, she said. But her involvement with church administration and leadership came with a price, as she described in a panel at the Religion News Association conference in 2018. As a youth delegate to her annual convention, Moore-Koikoi recalled that whenever she walked by a certain group of clergy, “they were going to make comments about my physical appearance ... I learned how to turn my face quickly when that ‘holy kiss’ was given so that it would land on my cheek not on my lips. It was like I was walking a gauntlet at times.”
In 2016, Moore-Koikoi was consecrated as a bishop and called to serve United Methodists in western Pennsylvania. Certainly, she thought, serving in such a high church position and marriage would protect her from sexual comments and predation. But, says Moore-Koikoi, “no level of power or authority in the church can insulate persons from sexual harassment.” Sojourners’ senior associate editor Rose Marie Berger interviewed Moore-Koikoi by phone in December 2018.
Sojourners: In 2016 you were elected bishop. Have you experienced any sexualized pressure, harassment, or assault since your ordination as a bishop?
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi: Yes. There was an incident that happened not long after I was ordained a bishop that I characterize as sexual harassment. Unfortunately, it happened at one of the earliest meetings that I went to as a bishop with the Council of Bishops. An individual there made some inappropriate comments about me, about my physical appearance and about his desires. It was a very uncomfortable situation, [my] being a new bishop, not knowing how bishops conduct themselves at those kinds of things.
‘Because of my chains...’
WHAT DO YOU see in the photo at right? Name all the objects. Spend a moment.
Hillside erosion. A semi-trailer truck with sleeper unit and maple leaf logo. Chain-link fence. Two people. U-locks at necks. Banner. Ecclesiastical stole. Heavy-grade straight chain. Clerical collar. Tree trunk. Small orange ribbon.
What is the subject of the photo? What does the camera leave out?
Photographer Murray Bush took this photo last year on May 25 on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia. The truck is for horizontal drilling and belongs to the firm Kinder Morgan, one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in North America. The company specializes in pipelines and petroleum terminals and is the first pipeline operator to purchase a fleet of oil tankers. The fence marks a boundary—and contested space.
The two people, Laurel Dykstra and Lini Hutchings, are members of Salal + Cedar, a Christian community in Coast Salish territory. The lock-on hardware around them—the U-locks and chain—is to delay removal by the 17 Royal Canadian Mounted Police who showed up. In 2015, the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster appointed Dykstra as a sort of “priest to the Fraser River watershed.”
No More Cover-Ups
I AM ROMAN CATHOLIC, and I want to apologize. Apparently, a portion of my church not only believes in but still practices child sacrifice.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report was clear. It opened: “We, the members of this grand jury, need you to hear this. We know some of you have heard some of it before. There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. But never on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: It happened everywhere.”
For more than 30 years, investigations around the world have revealed similar patterns in Catholic institutions. Priests, bishops, cardinals, and even popes have decided that the Roman Catholic Church is too big to fail—that perpetrators of child abuse should be “bailed out” and victims given cash and gag orders to protect the idol of a religious corporation.
Since medieval times the Catholic Church has operated as an artificial legal persona to put property in perpetual collective ownership: the first legal corporation. If diocesan priests are considered “shareholders,” then the Catholic Corporation has willingly sacrificed children in the name of shareholder protection, betraying any legitimate “pro-life” ethic it might publicly promote. In the Bible this profanity is called the “worship of Molech,” an ancient god of Israel’s enemies: Molech’s outstretched arms of bronze were held in fire until red-hot, then living children were placed in his hands.
San Romero de la America
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in a 2005 issue of Sojourners magazine.
"El Papa Juan Pablo Segundo Murió" read the banner shown on the TV set in the El Salvador bar I was sitting in April 2, 2005. The pope's death had been rumored all week. One taxi driver told me the pope was dead, though the next one informed me he was not.
In Suicide, Who Sinned?
SUICIDE IS A SIN. As a Catholic, that’s what I was taught. Life is a gift from God; only God can take it away. Suicide chooses despair over God.
But I’ve never understood suicide to be an individual sin. It’s a communal one—based in a profound failure of love.
This past spring, two young men committed suicide while in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security. Beyond individual and communal sin is structural sin—when lovelessness is made into policy and enacted with cruelty. Note all the places where love failed.
In May, Marco Antonio Muñoz, a 39-year-old Honduran refugee, died in a south Texas jail cell of apparent suicide a few days after being forcibly separated from his wife and 3-year-old son at the U.S. border. And I mean “forcibly.”
When Border Patrol agents told Muñoz that the family would be separated, he “lost it,” according to The Washington Post. “‘The guy lost his s—,’ an agent said. ‘They had to use physical force to take the child out of his hands.’”
Muñoz was transferred to a county jail and placed in a padded isolation cell. Guards checked on him every 30 minutes. Reportedly, every time the guards passed during the night, they noted him praying in the corner of his cell. By morning, Marco Antonio Muñoz was dead.
3 Things U.S. Catholic Bishops Can Do About Family Separation and Incarceration at the Border
In this violent crisis, not significantly mitigated by President Trump’s recent executive order,every Catholic bishop becomes a “border bishop.” The tools of active nonviolence offer a way forward. In the first World Day of Peace message, Blessed Pope Paul VI said, “Peace is the only true direction of human progress — and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order.” He warned of “the danger of believing that international controversies cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces.”
Charlottesville, the Summer After
THERE IS NOTHING new under the sun, as the author of Ecclesiastes reminds us. In this, theologian Elsa Tamez said, we can “find solidarity in our discontent.”
I visited Charlottesville in May, nearly a year after the “summer of hate.” I heard from young Christians who had been on the frontlines at Robert E. Lee Park (now called Emancipation Park). I stood in the presence of their discontent, listening and witnessing to the ongoing, traumatizing effects of last summer’s “fascist lollapalooza,” as one University of Virginia professor put it.
Still reckoning with the memory of Aug. 12, one leader in his 20s shared how he had tried to be a nonviolent defender amid multiple “armed actors,” including the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, anti-fascists, and police. By the end of that day, two state troopers were dead, one woman was murdered, dozens were injured, and the whole community was emotionally, spiritually wounded.