Rose Marie Berger

Senior Associate Editor, Sojourners magazine
Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Rose, a native of the West Coast, lives in Washington, D.C. She has been on Sojourners staff since 1986.

For more than 25 years, Rose has rooted herself with Sojourners magazine and ministry. She is author of 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 Religion News Service, Radical Grace, 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:

She co-owns a house with Sojourners Senior Associate Editor Julie Polter in the Southern Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. and shares it with Rose’s retriever “Juba.”

Posts By This Author

Afraid and Reaching for a Gun

by Rose Marie Berger 02-01-2016
Fear is a spiritual issue, not a political one.
gangis khan / Shutterstock

gangis khan / Shutterstock

AFTER MASS a few months ago, I asked a member of my parish how her search for a new apartment was going. She said, “I’m so scared where I’m living right now that I went out and bought a gun.”

I was shocked. “I hope you didn’t buy any bullets to go with it,” I quipped. She gave me an eye-roll; I gave her a hug.

Like many Americans (dare I say most)—from President Obama on over—I despair of our country ever regaining sensible gun-ownership standards.

If I had my way, society would have no guns. Period. My motto is: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is ... the unarmed cross of Jesus Christ.

However, I recognize that in rural areas a gun can be a tool for wildlife maintenance.

I recognize that a well-ordered society relegates certain uses of force to the state—generally understood as police and military—for the protection of its members, especially the vulnerable.

I recognize that the U.S. Constitution has a Second Amendment—controversial as it may be—that allows for people to “keep and bear arms” (in the context of a “well-regulated militia” that was deemed “necessary to the security of a free state”). It’s a system of checks and balances built into our democracy’s operating manual.

(Almost) Everything I Know About Hell I Learned From 'Buffy'

by Rose Marie Berger 12-15-2015

Image via amy/Flickr

For 700 years, Dante's epic poem — mainly the "Inferno" — has been the source of inspiration for preachers, pastors, and not a few theologians, who promoted hell as a physical place with its own address, zip code, and smoking embers. Add to their oratorical brimstone the fiery images from artists — Gustave Doré, Hieronymous Bosch, or Buffy producer Joss Whedon — and you've got a potent pedagogy.

The Language of Angels

by Rose Marie Berger 12-07-2015
Heaney understood words as "bearers of history and mystery."
Mikhail Zihranichny / Shutterstock

Mikhail Zihranichny / Shutterstock

SHORTLY BEFORE Irish poet Seamus Heaney died in 2013, he texted these last words to his wife, Marie: Noli timere. Be not afraid.

I’m not sure if Heaney, who was described by Robert Lowell as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” knew this was his last text and final words, but I suspect he did.

It’s a sad commentary that when the Twitterverse got hold of Heaney’s message, no one could figure out what it meant or where it was from. Many did not recognize the angels’ message to Zechariah (Luke 1:13) or Mary (Luke 1:30) or the shepherds (Luke 2:10) or Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20): Be not afraid.

Heaney understood words as “bearers of history and mystery.” As a distinguished translator of poetry from Greek, Latin, Italian, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, and Middle Scots, he had plenty of languages to choose from. But he chose St. Jerome’s fourth century vulgate version of the Bible. He chose the language of the angels.

The No KXL Miracle

by Rose Marie Berger 11-06-2015

Image via /Shutterstock.com

They said it was a fool’s errand.

They said there was too much money on the other side.

They said the politics were too difficult.

And yet here we are.

As my friend Bill McKibben wrote in 2011, our indigenous brothers and sisters in Canada had been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline for years. But before August 2011, virtually no one in the U.S. had even heard of it.

Then I read the pastoral letter from Alberta’s Bishop Luc Bouchard, The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands, and I felt the Spirit calling me to action.

We put out a call to religious leaders to join the Tar Sands Blockade in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2011. It was hot. It was humid. It was summer in D.C. But hundreds and hundreds of Protestant pastors, rabbis, Buddhist priests, Franciscans, Unitarians, and Christians of all stripes said they would come.

What Pope Francis Can Teach the U.S. Catholic Church about Thomas Merton

by Rose Marie Berger 09-25-2015
Jim Forest / Flickr / RNS

Thomas Merton portrait by John Howard Griffin. Photo via Jim Forest / Flickr / RNS

At his speech before Congress on Sept. 24, Pope Francis listed Trappist monk Thomas Merton as one of four exemplary Americans who provide wisdom for us today.

Out on the National Mall, thousands cheered when the pope named two other exemplary Americans: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Fewer recognized Merton (or the fourth exemplar the pope mentioned, social activist Dorothy Day.)

The pope did not choose to hail anyone associated with the institutional Catholic Church as his models. Instead he chose a former president, a Protestant minister, a lay Catholic, and a monk.

The Front Lines of the Global Free-Trade War

by Rose Marie Berger 09-23-2015
Why one pastor from West Papua is traveling around the world - and asking for help.
Shutterstock / Julia Tsokur

Shutterstock / Julia Tsokur

ONE GAUGE OF global policies is how they affect people we may have never heard of. West Papuans, for example.

In March, I met Matheus Adadikam while he was visiting Washington, D.C. He’s the general secretary of the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua, representing 600,000 people. Located between Australia and Indonesia, West Papua shares a South Pacific island with New Guinea. It’s basically on the other side of the world from D.C.

Pastor Matheus told me about his country. Well, not exactly his country, he says. Indigenous Papuans have lived there for 40,000 years, but in the colonial era—and more recently, as a province of Indonesia—they’ve had no right of self-determination. “As a Papuan, we have no right to speak about our rights as Papuans,” he says. “Forty years ago we ‘became Indonesian,’ so we can no longer speak of ‘Papuan human rights.’”

The story is starkly familiar. Since the establishment of colonial economic forces, the land of Indigenous Papuans has been held in chattel slavery by those more powerful—English (1793), Dutch (1828), Japanese (1944), United Nations (1962), and now Indonesians (1963). “Killings, torture, and rape of Indigenous people are routine,” according to the Center for World Indigenous Studies. A conservative estimate is that 100,000 people have been killed since 1963. “Even to raise our Morning Star flag is to die or be in jail,” says Matheus. (One man is serving seven years in jail for flag-raising.)

In 1960, a rich vein of gold and copper was discovered in the Jayawijaya mountain range in West Papua. After some back-room deals, the U.N. “gave” West Papua to Indonesia. Indonesia promptly welcomed the Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan mining company to open what became the largest gold and third-largest copper mines in the world.

“Justice, peace, and care of all of the Lord’s creation is the main mission of our church,” says Matheus, “but our experience has been that change happens fast, and external influences are changing who we are as a people.” His main mission now is traveling the world asking for help.

On Rabbits and the Pill

by Rose Marie Berger 09-22-2015
The official Catholic teaching on contraception hasn't changed -- but lay Catholics worldwide follow their own moral reasoning
trefalga / Shutterstock

trefalga / Shutterstock 

EARLIER THIS YEAR Pope Francis titillated the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics when he said we should not feel compelled to breed “like rabbits.” The Twitterverse resounded with commands to “hop to it.” The Italian press dubbed Francis’ speech the “Sermon of the Rabbit.”

In it, Pope Francis said, “Some think that—excuse the language—that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood.”

Was the pope changing Catholic teaching on birth control? On the contrary, Francis went on to underscore that “responsible parenthood” requires that couples regulate the births of their children, as Vatican teaching allows, using natural family planning methods.

What we think of as “the Catholic position” on contraception—“‘Every action which ... proposes to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil”—was actually codified as official teaching in 1930 under Pope Pius XI and was part of a larger conversation in Christendom. At the 1930 Lambeth Conference, for example, the Anglican bishops approved a resolution stating: “In those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, other methods [of contraception] may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.”

In 1951, Pope Pius XII overtly accepted natural family planning as a moral form of regulating births, in limited circumstances, within Christian marriage. He also emphasized the importance of a mature and informed conscience in moral reasoning. “It is correctly argued,” he wrote, “that the true meaning of adult independence is not to be led like a little child.”

As part of the process around the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI oversaw a commission to examine the use of oral contraceptives in light of church teaching. The commission’s report—titled “Responsible Parenthood”—argued for the use of artificial contraception within Christian marriage. In the end, Pope Paul VI rejected the commission’s recommendation, and his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae reaffirmed the church’s teaching against artificial contraception.

A Prescription for the Earth

by Rose Marie Berger 07-13-2015
Pope Francis, the world's spiritual physician, has diagnosed us with a degenerative disease.
Deforestaion

Dudarev Mikhail / Shutterstock

AS THE FATE of the world hangs in the balance, one humble pastor—leader of the world’s smallest nation-state—offers a word. Well, closer to 40,000 words.

Pope Francis’ much awaited social teaching on ecology was released in June to global acclaim and thunderous Twitterapplause. Laudato Si’ (“Praised Be to You”) takes its name from a line in St. Francis of Assisi’s “The Canticle of the Creatures,” written in 1225. The encyclical lays out the house rules for this earthly commons we share—archaea, bacteria, and eukaryota alike. (Google it. You, me, all the fauna and flora, are part of eukaryota.) So, what do you need to know?

1. The news is not good. The world’s leading spiritual physician has diagnosed “every person living on this planet” with a progressive and degenerative disease. A soul sickness has spread through us to infect the soil, seas, skies, and even the seasons. Among humans, the poorest have the least resistance and the richest are the major vectors. This disease multiplies in isolation and loneliness, with symptoms of obsessive consumption, greed and corruption, and habitual narcissism. “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.”

2. This disease is having dire consequences: objectification of the other, a failure of awe in the presence of beauty, and a defiance of reality by those who claim the “invisible forces of the market will regulate the economy” and dismiss the impact on society and nature as “collateral damage.”

This Independence Day, Read Bree Newsome's Call to Courage

by Rose Marie Berger 07-02-2015
Freedom

Image via /Shutterstock

If we want our churches to once again become places where young freedom fighters come to be strengthened, trained, and act in the peace of Christ for the spread of the good news of Jesus, then I recommend we start this Sunday — when as a country, we celebrate what it means to live free from fear.  

'The Violence Comes and Goes but ... the Victory Is Already Won'

by Rose Marie Berger 06-18-2015
Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Photo by Henry de Saussere Copeland / Fli

Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Photo by Henry de Saussere Copeland / Flickr.com

Last night nine Christians were massacred while at Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The dead include state Sen. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, senior pastor and state senator, and his sister.

The suspect, Dylann Roof, is 21 years old. He sat for an hour with the pastor and others gathered for Wednesday night Bible study, then open fired. Reportedly, he reloaded as many as five times while church members tried to talk him down. He said he "had to do it." This was a racialized hate crime.

 

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