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 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 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 lives in the Southern Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., in the Anacostia watershed on traditional Piscataway lands.

Posts By This Author

An Abundance of Cultural Differences

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
Catholics from different parts of the world have widely divergent experiences and contrasting approaches to “just war.”
Awe Inspiring Images / Shutterstock.com

Awe Inspiring Images / Shutterstock.com

'WE CAN JOYFULLY anticipate an abundance of cultural differences and varied life experiences among the participants in the Rome Conference,” wrote Pope Francis in his welcome letter to the Nonviolence and Just Peace gathering in Rome, “and these will only enhance the exchanges and contribute to the renewal of the active witness of nonviolence as a ‘weapon’ to achieve peace.”

Nowhere were the “cultural differences” and “varied life experiences” more conspicuous than in the conversation about whether there is ever a Christian justification for armed force.

U.S. and Western European academics are thoroughly trained in the theory, theology, and application of just war theory. It’s taught in U.S. and European seminaries. It’s taught in all military academies. It provides a framework for international law.

In stark contrast, Catholics living in Iraq, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan, Syria, Congo, Sri Lanka, and other war-torn countries are not schooled in just war philosophy. It is not part of training for priests or academics or those in political life. When people from war-ravaged regions talk about “just war,” they speak from the experience of having been on the receiving end of “morally acceptable” drone strikes. They make a powerful argument for a paradigm shift away from just war thinking.

In regions of civil unrest, some said, where religious extremism is used as propaganda to advance partisan military and political objectives, even associating the language of “just war” with Catholicism can categorize Catholics as “combatants.”

In the case of Colombia’s brutal, 52-year-long civil war, Jesuit priest Francisco De Roux described how just war teaching misled Catholics into taking up arms. “In my Catholic country,” said De Roux, “our nuns and priests join the guerillas because of the just war paradigm. The Catholic paramilitaries pray to the Virgin before slaughtering people because of the just war paradigm.”

The Mosquito Manifesto

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
Are we American Christians or Christians in America?

WHAT DO YOU do when the democratic process delivers the power of the presidency to an authoritarian leader with the strategic impulse control of a 2-year-old?

Here are a few responses I’ve observed.

OPTION 1: The Ostrich. Bury one’s head in the sand until the annoyances pass. The virulent rhetoric of Mr. Trump’s campaign, combined with his appointees and advisers, make this option available only to men of European decent. (White women may cover their heads, but shouldn’t bury them completely.)

OPTION 2: The Spaniel. Fluff up one’s coat and appear clean and eager on the doorstep of the new master. Hope for the best; hope for a bone. This option is supported by many who are well-meaning, are part of the political elite, or are dangerously naive.

OPTION 3: The Cockroach. When the light comes on, scatter into the street with a sign saying “Not My President.” Or simply hide in a dark corner hoping to pass the coming wrath undetected. This escape behavior is instinctual in creatures that are startled or undeveloped.

Since the wee hours of Nov. 9, I’ve exhibited most of these behaviors myself.

But as a Christian, I’m not allowed to live in illusions for long. In Paul’s “letter of tears,” written to the fledgling church at Corinth, he wrote, “We cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8). Therefore, existing in a “post-truth” state is not an option.

Americans are deeply disillusioned about the state of our nation. The fundamental optimism of the “American dream” has not matched reality for at least three generations. American optimism has always been partly delusion, as evidenced by the experiences of those defined outside of it or on whose backs the “great good” was built.

An election, however, is supposed to be a tool for the nonviolent transfer and distribution of power, not a therapy session to deal with disillusionment.

When You See Something ... Act!

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
Active-bystander intervention is what 'love your neighbor' looks like in public.

ROBERT HARVEY had a problem. The church he pastors was vandalized after the election: “Trump Nation. Whites only” was scrawled across its sign. His congregants, nearly 85 percent of whom are immigrants from West Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, were shaken.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported 1,094 bias-related incidents across the country in the month after the election. The greatest number of these types of events are against women in public spaces who are also immigrants, Muslim, or African American. These are assumed to be a “small fraction of hate-related incidents,” as the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported.

Harvey, rector of Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Silver Spring, Md., decided to take action. First, he reached out to the local community and other religious congregations. Second, he signed up for a nonviolence and “active bystander intervention” training.

To understand how to be an “active bystander,” one must first understand the “passive bystander” effect. Research shows that when someone needs help and they are in a crowd, bystanders are less likely to act. The more bystanders there are to an event, the more each one thinks someone else will help.

The Beatitudes and Executive Order 13767

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
False hope is found in a thousand Facebook posts.
Shutterstock.com

Shutterstock.com

OUTSIDE, A HELICOPTER circles this D.C. neighborhood, a dog barks anxiously in the alley. Inside, a woman sits in a straight-backed chair reading the Beatitudes. She adjusts her glasses. “Bienaventurados los que lloran, porque ellos recibirán consolación.” Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “It’s a beautiful prayer,” she says.

My neighbor Lola cleans office buildings during the week, takes English classes on Saturdays, goes to Mass on Sundays. Her husband operates a jackhammer for a construction crew. On the “Day Without Immigrants,” Lola’s boss said because it wasn’t organized by the union, workers should not stay home. So she went to work. Her husband stayed home. “We have to stand together,” he said.

Lola and her husband sometimes share their one-bedroom apartment with a man who was their neighbor in El Salvador. He works days, nights, weekends. He sleeps on a mattress in their main room for a few hours in the afternoon. Lola leaves pupusas for him, wrapped and warm. Sometimes he drinks too much, turns up the radio, dances. They quiet him so he doesn’t disturb the neighbors. He feels safe there.

Total Eclipse (of the Soul)

by Rose Marie Berger 04-25-2018
Flyover America will go dark.

THIS WON'T HAPPEN again until 2045. On Aug. 21, the thumb of God (with a little help from the moon) will smudge out the sun. A total solar eclipse will mark the brow of the United States with a Stygian darkness so deep that stars will unmask in midday. From Lincoln City, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., “flyover” America will go dark.

In Hebrew tradition, the darkening of the sun or reddening of the moon are markers of cataclysmic political events with spiritual consequences. In Greek, eclipse means “abandonment,” in Hebrew “defect.” God’s light is in a state of hiddenness.

Bosnian Butcher Radovan Karadžić Says Genocide Conviction Based on Jokes

by Rose Marie Berger 04-23-2018

Image via Yves Herman/Reuters

"America, keep your peace. You don't know how precious it is and how terrible is war."

Bond Denied for 7 Catholic Protesters Who Prayed on Nuclear Submarine Base in Georgia

Photo courtesy Heidi L. Thompson

Just steps away from a decommissioned submarine buried in the ground near the main gate at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia, anti-nuclear peace activists held a vigil Saturday morning to protest the U.S. nuclear arsenal and to show support for seven Catholic peace activists arrested early Thursday morning for unauthorized entry onto the base.

Life Inside a Tomb

by Rose Marie Berger 03-23-2018
Jesus rose in three days but some forms of resurrection seem to take longer.

IT IS HARD to tell time from inside a tomb. We cannot know how many minutes or hours Jesus’ resurrection took. Traditionally, he was in the tomb for three days. But how long does it really take for someone to rise—or be raised—from the dead?

Some resurrections start at a mundane moment. Dorothy Day, for example, was sitting at the kitchen table in a crowded apartment in New York’s East Village (writing a never-to-be published novel) when the French Catholic theologian Peter Maurin knocked on the door. “It was a long time before I really knew what Peter was talking about that first day,” wrote Day, who went on to found the Catholic Worker movement with Maurin. “But he did make three points I thought I understood: founding a newspaper for clarification of thought, starting houses of hospitality, and organizing farming communes. I did not really think then of the latter two as having anything to do with me, but I did know about newspapers.”

Some resurrections come through brutal suffering. Twenty-four-year-old Recy Taylor was left for dead in 1944 on a dark road near Abbeville, Ala., by the six white men who kidnapped and raped her as she walked home from a prayer meeting at Rock Hill Holiness Church. “A few days later, a telephone rang at the NAACP branch office in Montgomery,” wrote historian Danielle L. McGuire in At the Dark End of the Street. The president of the local branch promised to send his “best investigator” to speak with Recy Taylor. The investigator’s name was Rosa Parks. As part of Park’s organizing work on Taylor’s case, she formed what would become the Montgomery Improvement Association, the leaders responsible for instigating the bus boycott a decade later, an opening salvo of the civil rights movement.

An Outline for a Service Acknowledging War Crimes

by Rose Marie Berger 02-27-2018
A poem.

“Has the United States ever apologized?
Or are we too big to apologize?”

—Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson

The Chaplains Handbook has no confiteor or rite,
neither Book of Common Prayer nor missalette,
for scrutinies that beg forgiveness from the torn

and desecrated dead. We come contrite
for reports of helicopter gunships,
bodies observed in a ditch, the undress

of a girl who covered only her eyes:
Noncombatant gang rape, with bayonet.

The Way of the Gun

by Rose Marie Berger 01-26-2018
The gun involved in Donte Manning's death belonged to a cop.

THIRTEEN YEARS ago, on Holy Thursday, 9-year-old Donte Manning was shot around the corner from my house in Washington, D.C.

He died of his injuries four weeks later, on the Feast of Paschasius Radbertus, a ninth-century Benedictine theologian who wrote on intimacy between the body of Christ crucified and the real presence in the Eucharist. Donte’s death impacted me deeply. (I wrote a book about his murder.)

Caught in the crossfire between neighborhood rivals, Donte Manning was the real body sacrificed on the altar of this imperial city where teenage boys shoot each other over $200 Air Jordans and the Pentagon exports more than 1.45 million firearms to various security forces, just in Iraq and Afghanistan. (The Pentagon lost track of more than half of them.)

As theologian Ched Myers reminds, “Against the presence of Power is pitted the power of Presence: God with us.”

Donte Manning’s murder was never solved. It remains a cold case. Mitch Credle, the investigating detective, retired from the D.C. Metropolitan Police. In October, he decided it was time to talk about his one unsolved murder. He was interviewed by local news reporter Paul Wagner.

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