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:
- 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.
Posts By This Author
Remembering Scenes from a Massacre as 'Butcher of Bosnia' Convicted of Genocide
As I watched the presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon read the verdict — for a full 58 minutes — it all came back to me. In 1996 and in 1999, I traveled in and out of the war zones in Bosnia. The hand-dug graves in the soccer field. The reports of Muslim massacres; of whole villages forced into a school gym and burned alive; the small hotel where we stayed that was also housing skeletal refugees recently released from a Serb concentration camp; the dogs with blown-off paws; the underground bakery distributing bread at the risk of their lives. And most of all “Sniper Alley” in downtown Sarajevo and the Serb soldier who showed me his sniper nest on Serb-held Mt. Jajolina and pointed his rifle at the place where I was staying.
From the Archives: May 2004
IN 1968, the [Latin American Catholic] bishops met in Medellín, Colombia, to examine the church’s role in social and political transformation in Latin America. Here the vision of a “preferential option for the poor,” which had been rising up from the base for several years, was first clarified.
“The Lord’s distinct commandment to evangelize the poor,” wrote the bishops at Medellín, “ought to bring us to a distribution of resources and apostolic personnel that effectively gives preference to the poorest and most needy sectors.”
Afraid and Reaching for a Gun
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'
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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'
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.
Divest from Terrorism: The Achilles' Heel of Terror
THE SO-CALLED WAR on terror has dangerous and shifting financial front lines. Since the 9/11 attacks, a series of “anti-terrorism financing laws” have been enacted that allow the government to designate certain charities as “terrorist” organizations or as financing terror. The government can effectively shut down organizations without ever bringing criminal charges or providing evidence against them, according to the ACLU. “As a result,” it reported, “American Muslim organizations and individuals are unfairly targeted.”
In addition to fostering Islamophobia in the larger society and fear within Islamic and other faith communities, overzealous application of these laws can actually inhibit the war on terror. It risks crippling the very Islamic charities that can effectively combat radicalization in places vulnerable to extremists. Stephen Bubb, head of a charity network in Britain, where financial terror laws are similar to those in the U.S., has emphasized “sensible, credible, proportionate regulation” of Islamic charities. “I have witnessed firsthand the difficulties faced by organizations in Pakistan fighting the same battle that we are: for security, for a better way of life, and for a better future for our children,” said Bubb.
Three Years After 'Radical Feminist' Charge, U.S. Catholic Sisters and Vatican Reach Peace Agreement
The conflicted and controversial three-year doctrinal investigation by the Vatican of U.S. Catholic sisters in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has formally come to an end, according to a press release from the Vatican this morning and reports in the National Catholic Reporter.
“We are pleased at the completion of the Mandate which involved long and challenging exchanges of our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of Religious Life and its practice," said Sr. Sharon Holland, IHM, president of LCWR.
"Through these exchanges, conducted always in a spirit of prayer and mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another’s experiences, roles, responsibilities, and hopes for the Church and the people it serves. We learned that what we hold in common is much greater than any of our differences.”
Conservative operators within the Vatican have been working for years to bring suspicion on communities of Catholic sisters in the U.S. In the past seven years, they succeeded in launching twin investigations into American nuns.
The first, launched in 2008, was a controversial and unprecedented "apostolic visitation" investigating the finances and communal practices of individual U.S.-based Catholic orders of women religious, representing tens of thousands of women. It ended in December 2014 with a formal backing down by the Vatican office from which it was launched. The final report, issued under Pope Francis, was released at a public press conference in Rome — also unprecedented — in which all those involved made clear statements about the process and emphasized a spirit of forbearance, mercy, and transparency.
The second, launched in April 2012, amounted to a hostile takeover of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 80 percent of U.S. Catholic sisters and is the primary leadership governing body for U.S. Catholic women's orders. LCWR was accused by ultra-traditionalist Archbishop Levada of including "radical feminist themes" and fomenting "corporate dissent" from the church's teaching on human sexuality, among other things. Even though LCWR was founded in 1956 under the urging of Pope Pius XII, it was under Pope Benedict XVI that the doctrinal assessment took place.
#BlackLivesMatter Meet Stokely Carmichael
IN AN undistinguished apartment around the corner from my house in Columbia Heights, the Black Power revolutionary Stokely Carmichael honed his forceful, insistent rhetoric and organizing genius. His apartment effectively served as the Washington, D.C. headquarters for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Historian Peniel E. Joseph’s recently released Carmichael biography, Stokely: A Life, traces this complicated American revolutionary with nuance and freshness critical in our era of resurging black youth-led movements. Regarding Carmichael’s D.C. years, Joseph describes the intellectual crucible that was Howard University at the time.
The Caribbean-born, Harlem-raised Carmichael lived in D.C. from 1960, when he enrolled at Howard as a philosophy major, to 1965, when he relocated to Lowndes County, Ala., as a fulltime organizer for the black freedom struggle. For five critical years, Carmichael—who was raised Methodist and would later found the Black Panthers and become a leading anti-colonial, pan-Africanist living in Guinea (changing his name to Kwame Touré)—honed his organizing skills and revolutionary perspective from his student apartment on Euclid Street.
The Pope and Pandora's Box
JOURNALIST Elisabetta Piqué was reporting for Argentina’s La Nacion from a conflict zone in Gaza when her phone rang. On the line was her friend, Padre Jorge. He knew Piqué, a war correspondent, was somewhere bombs were falling. He wanted to pray with her.
Piqué had known Argentina’s Catholic Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio since 2001. “He knew me first as a war correspondent,” Piqué told me when we met on a warm October afternoon in the courtyard of Hotel Helix in Washington, D.C. An affectionate friendship developed. Bergoglio even baptized her two children. Her new book, Pope Francis: Life and Revolution, investigates the history, passions, mistakes, humility, courage, and spiritual maturity of the man her friend has become.
In the rush to publish biographies of the new pope, some (see Paul Vallely’s Pope Francis: Untying the Knots) tout Bergoglio’s conversion from careful, benevolent, autocrat to radical, somewhat careless, lover of the poor. Piqué categorically challenges this portrayal. “He is a person who has been consistent all his life,” she says, “not somebody that suddenly became like that now. The theories that he had a conversion are totally nonsense and without any basis. He was always a sensitive person toward suffering.”
Season of Disruption
WHEN JOHANNES BRAHMS first played his German Requiem in Vienna in 1867, the audience was shocked. In fact, scholars report that some “hissed and booed and behaved quite boorishly.”
This October, when the St. Louis Symphony performed the same piece along with German composer Detlev Glanert’s arrangement of Brahms’ Four Preludes and Serious Songs, it elicited a similar response.
Not to the work itself, but to what occurred during intermission.
As conductor Markus Stenz took the stage, two audience members began to sing. In strong, clear voices, they performed Florence Patton Reece’s famous justice hymn: “Which side are you on, friend? Which side are you on?” Nearly a dozen more scattered throughout Powell Hall joined in. While the audience watched in stunned silence, a banner unfurled from the balcony with a silhouette of a man’s face. It said: Requiem for Mike Brown 1996-2014.
As in Vienna, there were some boos from the audience and a few expletives—more disruption following the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, by white police officer Darren Wilson. While the Vienna audience complained that Brahms’ music was too religious for a secular setting, one St. Louis symphony-goer asked, “Is Powell Hall a proper venue for a protest?” And a Catholic priest challenged: “Instead of chanting ‘Which side are you on?’ further dividing the community, try singing ‘How can we heal?’”
Ban Ki-moon's Climate Altar Call
Reuters reported today that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is starting his drum beat to gets heads of state to his emergency climate conference in New York at the end of the month.
“Ban wants heads of state at a Sept. 23 gathering in New York to outline how their countries will contribute to a mutual goal to contain rising temperatures," said Selwin Hart, the Barbadian diplomat helping to spearhead the conference. The final deal is due to be signed in Paris in 2015, according to Reuters.
This one-day, “leaders-only” Climate Summit is somewhat unprecedented. U.N. climate negotiation meetings are usually called by the executive secretary of the UN’s climate caucus (UNFCCC) and attended by directors of environmental agencies. Ki-moon is switching things up because, as we’ve learned, effective policy to reverse global warming is about economics, not science or technology.
“You don’t control economic policy at national level if you’re an environment minister,” said Michael Jacobs, a former climate change advisor to the U.K. government.
Catholic Sisters Are Redefining Leadership
A new model of leadership that’s been refined in the fires of change and conflict is emerging from U.S. religious women.
In June, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, along with Solidarity with Sisters, invited 150 people to Catholic University for an opportunity to discuss the model of leadership that has developed in Catholic women’s communities around the world over the last 50 years since Vatican II. The event coincided with the release of Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times, an anthology of 10 addresses given by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) presidents.
Catholic sisters are emerging as leaders ahead of their times. From Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, and Nuns on the Bus to Catholic Health Association CEO Sister Carol Keehan, DC, who helped pass the Affordable Care Act, to former LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, who practiced authentic spiritual leadership in the face of the Vatican’s ongoing investigation of that organization (an investigation that Pope Francis should have laid quietly to rest, but has not), religious women are getting notice for their thoughtful, faithful leadership in the face of withering criticism and their own communities’ dramatic changes.
What are the marks of this new leadership?
Creation Yearning to be Free
ON JUNE 2, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy announced the next phase in the Obama administration’s war on carbon pollution. The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from existing fossil-fuel power plants (the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S.) 30 percent by 2030. That same day the stock market closed with record highs, and more than 173 companies and investors sent a letter to President Obama in support. Business understands that these regulations are good for long-term economic health.
State governments have welcomed the new plan because while the carbon limits are fixed, the path to achieving them is flexible. It allows both “rate-based” and “mass-based” methods of reduction, something unusual for the EPA, thus allowing some states to target specific industries and others to aim for overall carbon reductions. Catholic social teaching includes the principle of “subsidiarity”—let the most competent authority closest to the problem determine what works best in achieving a common-good goal. The Clean Power Plan that McCarthy, a Catholic, has rolled out does that. Yet it’s not enough and it’s not fast enough to beat our ecological endgame.
President Obama has pledged to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. To this end, he has 1) steadily increased car and truck fuel-economy standards; 2) required permits and set strict emission standards on all new fossil-fuel power plants; and 3) taken smaller, interlocking steps, such as establishing wind and solar renewable energy production on public lands, working with China to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, and significantly restricting funding from U.S. foreign aid agencies for new coal plants in other countries. This fall he may launch a low-intensity war on methane pollution from fracking and landfills. It’s not enough. There are too many loopholes.