Sojourners’ SciFi spirituality

Since I’m on a little scifi kick here amidst the apocalyptic readings of Advent, I thought I’d also point the way to the November 2008 issue of Sojourners.

My interview with Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow and Children of God, is a witty read. She’s the only Jew I know who can write scifi novels about Jesuits in space and get given honorary membership in that esteemed Company, the Society of Jesus.

Also see Elizabeth Palmberg’s list of scifi and spirituality books in This World and the Next.

There’s other great stuff in the November issue too, so be sure to browse..

Ethics in the New Battlestar Galactica Webisodes

I’m a Sci-Fi junkie. The best theology and ethics discussions have always taken place first in the sci-fi genre. Battlestar Galactica (the remake) did not disappoint in the way it weaved the discomfort with prophets, the nature of an individual’s personal choice to sacrifice for the common good versus the state’s decision that an individual should sacrifice for the common good (of the state), and the ever-present allure to do limited evil in search of ultimate good.

Check out SF Gospel and Dyalogues Blog for fun posts on such things. Its where the question finally gets asked: Is there Cylon redemption for human sin?

Now, SCIFI.COM announced the launch of a new 10-part series of Battlestar Galactica webisodes, “The Face of the Enemy,” starting Dec. 12 at noon ET.  Two webisodes will debut weekly, leading up to the on-air return of the series on Jan. 16, 2009.

Each of the three- to four-minute chapters will complement and enhance the action broadcast on SCI FI and give viewers more insight into characters and events from the fourth and final season.  “The Face of the Enemy” (written by the excellent Jane Espenson and Seamus Kevin Fahey) follows the action and suspense inside a stranded Raptor carrying a group of passengers, including Lt. Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) and a Number 8 Cylon (Grace Park).

When passengers suddenly start dying in alarming ways, fear, panic and chaos erupt within the confines of the small ship as suspicion grows that there is a killer among them. Michael Hogan (Col. Tigh) and Brad Dryborough (Lt. Hoshi) also star. Check out here for more information..

‘Waiting for Real Change’ in Columbia Heights

Sara Stahlberg, an American University student, who blogs at Trust Me: I’m A Reporter, has got a nice piece up about Columbia Heights and the public art installation at 11th and Park Roads NW done by Albus Cavus that I wrote about here. She includes a quote from yours truly:

Columbia Heights resident and author Rose Berger enjoyed what the exhibit represented in terms of the direction of the community.

“The Albus Cavus project with its panels of creative graffiti (as opposed to rage/wound-based graffiti) placed on the construction fence of the abandoned Bi-Rite represent a new generative force in the life of the neighborhood,” she said, explaining also that the “reclaiming of the Bi-Rite by a local green architectural firm committed to Columbia Heights (as opposed to the megalith big box stores that tower over 14th St) seems to have created a renewed affection for the neighborhood and the neighbors.”


Poetry Reading: DC Poets Against War with Peace Mural

I’ll be joining my compatriots in DC Poets Against the War for a poetry reading in honor of the Peace Mural. I’ll read for about 15 minutes this afternoon, sometime between 5-6 p.m.

When: Sunday, December 7th

Who: Rose with D.C. Poets Against War

Time: Rose will read in the 5-6 p.m. time slot; another reading is scheduled at 8:15pm

Where: 3336 M St, NW, Washington D.C. (Georgetown on M St almost to the bridge. It’s on the south side of M St. It’s a storefront gallery space. Parking is crazy, but some is available up in the neighborhoods, and there’s a lot a few blocks away)

Today there is a special reception, open to the public, that honors DC Poets Against the War. The Vietnamese artist Huong will unveil the newest segment of her Peace Mural, depicting a number of poems that have been submitted by poets across the country and published to the Peace Mural. The public is invited to join this special event.

This event will also feature the presentation of the Peacemaker’s Courage Award to Poets Against the War. The group was formed in January 2003 after Laura Bush “uninvited” poet Sam Hamill to a symposium at the White House entitled Poetry and the American Voice, after she heard he was against the war in Iraq and was planning to read political poems. Ironically, the event was to celebrate two of our nation’s most political poets, Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman. Mr. Hamill then sent a call for poets to raise their voices for peace. Within a month, he collected thousands of poems from around the world, and Poets Against the War was formed.

Today, more than 8,000 poets have spoken out for peace and have published their poems to Poets Against the War.The program will conclude a reception and readings of select poems depicted on the Peace Mural, and presented by the DC Poets Against the War.

The featured poets include: Melissa Tuckey, Reuben Jackson, Katy Richey, Eleanor Graves, Yael Flusberg, Fred Joiner, Rose Marie Berger, Joseph Ross, Alan King, Amy Melrose, Carolyn Joyner, and Dan Vera.

For more information about Huong, the artist, see:
More about the project, please visit:


Sojourners Takes the Lead on Audio Poems

Sojourners magazine, the leading publication for progressive Christians and where I moonlight as poetry editor when I’m not blogging, now offers a unique poetry feature on our Web site

All poets featured in the print publication are also showcased online with audio clips of the poets reading their work and sharing about their inspiration and writing process.

Rachel Guido deVries
Rachel Guido deVries

The poet featured for December 2008 is Rachel Guido deVries, who teaches creative writing in New York. Her most recent collection of poems is The Brother Inside Me (Guernica Editions, 2008). She gives a moving reading of her poem, “Imperfection,” and shares how a study of the word “religion” led her to write about faith in a new and surprising way.

To hear more readings and interviews with Sojourners’ featured poets, check out the Web exclusives at And kudos go to Jeannie Choi and Matt Hildreth for making all this cool online stuff happen!.

5 Things to Make Capitalism’s Collapse Fun at Christmas

It appears America’s creative juices are once again on the rise. We are getting excited about “making stuff by hand” or crafting  or knitting or just fooling around with the glue stick and glitter. Sure, it may be the economic depression forcing us out of expensive, brain-dead consumer habits, but why not look on the bright side? Can’t  the collapse of capitalism be a little fun? (Argh. I know. Layoffs. No healthcare. The poor pay while the rich play. I know.)

Here are a few ideas I’m playing with for Christmas this year. Personally, I think Jesus likes it when the moms and dads and three wierd uncles and stinky strangers and pets and field mice and whoever the cat just dragged in gather around at Christmas, drink something sweet and hot, and just play. I think it makes the baby Jesus smile. I’m just sayin’… So, here are a few ideas. What are yours?

1. Draw Names for Gifts. Have you got a regular pool of folks who all exchange gifts together (most common unit might be a family) or a group who is all going to be together for gift-giving on Christmas day? Instead of everybody buying a little something for everyone, instead draw names! We are doing this in my family this year. Make sure you have an even number of people in the name basket (and if you don’t, why not add in a gift to a local charity as the evener-upper). One person can “draw” the names and let everyone else know who they are to give to. This tactic: 1) lowers stress, 2) reduces shopping, 3) helps the planet, 4) saves money, etc.

2. Only homemade/handmade gifts and/or only gifts that cost $10 or less. Bake cookies. Make your own instant hot chocolate mix. Make candles. Give coupons for a backrub, a picnic in the spring, a story read aloud. Give a donation to a special cause in your giftee’s name. Write a poem. Make a fun YouTube video.

3. Make your own wrapping paper. Try the old “potato stamp” method for decorating newspaper wrapping. Carve potatoes into shapes and dip them in cheap paint and stamp them all over the newspaper and let it dry. Or collect beautiful autumn leaves and iron them between wax paper. Use this as wrapping paper with some brightly colored ribbon. Or iron brighly colored plastic shopping bags/bread bags/newspaper bags together for a very strong, wrappable, multi-colored plasti-fabric.

4. Make your own Christmas cards. Choose your favorite line of scripture or poetry or fiction about Christmas. Buy some blank postcards and a gold-ink pen at the paper/office supply store. Decorate the fronts of the postcards with your quote. Try making all the words a different size. Or try scrambling the words into a funky Christmas  word cloud. Write your personal note on the other side.

5. Play games. Do a “Mad Libs” version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” or familiar Christmas carols. Invent a Christmas charades game. Play a card game of “Feed the Reindeer” instead of “Go Fish.” Read aloud the opening chapter of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo.), or read The Holly Tree by Charles Dickens, At Christmas Time by Chekov, “Christmas in the Heart” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Shepherd Song at Christmas” by Langston Hughes, “Brer Rabbit’s Christmas Gift,” “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem,” by Maya Angelou, Junot Diaz’s The Three Kings Lose Their Way, Michael Nava’s Charity, Gary Soto’s Oranges and the Christmas Dog, or Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos.

At a recent baby shower, one woman told me that her extended clan that gets together for Thanksgiving and Christmas decided to read a book together before they all congregated. It gives the inlaws who only see each other once a year something to talk about. Cool idea!.

My Day on the Hugo Chavez Show

Tonight, PBS’s Frontline will air “The Hugo Chavez Show: An illuminating inside view of the mercurial Venezuelan president, his rise to power, and the new type of revolution he seems to be inventing – on television.” In the Washington Post review of the show, David Montgomery writes:

What Americans have been missing is a direct encounter with the temperamental, charming, fierce, cruel, seductive, whimsical and overwhelming personality that comes through on “Aló, Presidente.” When Chávez, 54, isn’t ordering troops to the border, he’s singing folk songs, riding horses and tractors, tramping through gorgeous countryside or castigating cabinet ministers who fail pop quizzes that he administers as the cameras roll.

In 2004, I was in the audience for Chavez’ “Aló, Presidente” … for 5 hours. And this was one of his shorter

Hugo Chavez at taping of Alo Presidente 2004
Hugo Chavez on Alo Presidente in 2004/Berger

shows! It was one of the most fascinating examples of political theater I’ve ever seen. He used media deftly to create a politically engaged populace.

Here are some of my journal notes from that day – January 18, 2004 – Caracas, Venezuela:

We were invited to be in the audience during the screening of President Chavez’ weekly television program. After coffee and about an hour’s wait, we were led to a tent behind the presidential house where the filming would take place (it is in a different location each week) and seated in chairs with our names on them in the midst of cameras and microphones and the “set” for the show.

Then Chavez sat at a desk “on stage” and for five hours hosted a program with only two short breaks. He talked about teachers in honor of National Teachers Day – honoring and joking with the Minister of Education who was present. He introduced an old prize fighter who was also present. He talked about the cross and scapular he wears. He chatted on the phone through a call-in mechanism with a number of people from around the country – a young girl about her school, one woman about the need for her to get involved in elections for mayor in her town, another woman about jobs for her sons and her nephew.

He talked about how unemployment was often the result of the neoliberal capitalist model and how Venezuela was creating a new economy – that they were going to initiate another revolution within the revolution by starting a new “mission” called Mision Vuelven Cara. This new mission will train and incorporate workers into development projects that will emphasize small farms and forestry projects, petroleum related businesses, tourism etc. The unemployed will be included as they build Venezuela’s capacity for productive employment. Then he recommended a book on the rebellion of 1840.

Then he went on to talk about how Venezuela has a deficit of beef and would be importing beef for a while from Brazil and Argentina, but that Venezuelans will be trained to raise beef, as well as for dairy farming. He said that it was good for poor people to eat more beef for the protein and that beef would be made available in poor neighborhoods for purchase in small quantities. He introduced the new Minister of Defense. He read from newspaper articles about the strengthened position of Venezuela in the world.

Then he spoke about the 1979 Puebla Conference of Latin American Catholic bishops which outlined the preferential option for the poor and he talked about the death of Oscar Romero. Chavez said that the challenge before Venezuela now is to take up the challenge of an option for the poor. Fr. Roy Bourgeouis was invited to make a statement. Fr. Roy talked about the School of the Americas and asked Venezuela to stop sending soldiers there for training. Chavez listened very intently. When Roy finished Chavez said quite a bit about the SOA. He had obviously done his homework. Then he moved on to talk about the writings of John Kenneth Galbraith. And so the program went on and on.

Chavez continues to be an ego-obsessed narcissist who doesn’t mind using his cult of personality to promote a particular political and social agenda and he’s not above taking direct, anti-democratic action against his enemies and to maintain his own power. So what else is new in the world of politics?

He is also “the peoples’ choice” in Venezuela’s fair elections. This week Chavez’ party swept most states, according to The Guardian, in Venezuela’s regional elections. The record turnout of 65% among 16.8 million registered voters shows the passion and antipathy elicited by this larger-than-life personality.

The Frontline show is tough, fair, and shows Chavez with his good points and his bad points. “The documentarians credit Chávez with being the first president in the 50-year history of Venezuelan democracy to elevate themes of poverty and social justice to the top of national discussion,” writes Montgomery. “But they suggest that his methods for addressing those issues have been uneven and over-hyped.”.

“Christ the King” in an Election Year

The great wheel of the Christian liturgical year is turning once again.

In the Catholic tradition, we mark the end of the church year—and all the good and bad that occurred therein—by crowning Jesus Christ as King. We go all out on the Feast of Christ the King to name and proclaim

Angry Christ by Alfredo Ossorio on Negros, Philippines
Angry Christ by Alfonso Ossorio on Negros, Philippines

that there are no temporal authorities—religious, political, economic, or otherwise—that own us. As Christians, we are owned by one alone—and that is Jesus the Lord.

On this day, we are also a triumphant people. This triumph is not human over human or even religious system over religious system. Instead it is the victory of truth over the dehumanizing illusions spun by powers and principalities of this world. In our Christian freedom, we tear off the masks of the death-dealers and expose their stratagems to the light.

In the liberty of this victory, we proclaim with Paul: “death hath no more dominion” (Romans 6:9)! Death, fear, and scarcity are the reins used by the little gods to control human lives. But as followers of Christ we stake a claim that “death hath no more dominion over us” either.

Secure in this truth, we are respectful of the little gods of the world—governments, economic systems, religious institutions—for the roles they play in the organization of human society at a particular moment in history. But we do not worship them; we do not offer sacrifices to them; we do not place them before the Lord our God.

I spend all this time pontificating on Christ the King because, in an election season, it is easy for us to get confused. It can be exhausting to separate the religious and political rhetoric that’s been flying all around us—somewhat unique to the American context—from deeper foundational truths.

Make no mistake: A new American presidential administration, at this time in history, can lead change of great consequence. By advancing an agenda that promotes human dignity and the common good, a leader committed to integrity and possessing a love for the fundamental ideals of democracy can create a better life for the poor both here in the United States and around the world. For our part, as citizens, we should work to see that this agenda is advanced at every level of governance.

However, Protestant theologian Reinhold Nie­buhr reminds us that the church has a unique role in a pluralistic society. “There must be a realm of truth beyond political competence,” says Niebuhr. As people of faith, it is essential that our first allegiance be to that “realm of truth.” This year the Feast of Christ the King can clarify and restore for us the proper order of our worship. It is the last Sunday of the church year. Advent awaits.

DURING ADVENT, I’LL BE POSTING DAILY REFLECTIONS. These are super short, but hopefully will keep us all in the Advent spirit. If you want to get them sent directly to your e-mail box, then add your e-mail address to the “Follow Me” box or set up an RSS feed.

Gather your evergreens. Go buy (or make) purple and pink candles. Get wire to make your wreath and a few simple purple and pink ribbons to weave together the greens. Clear a space on the kitchen table or anyplace where your household gathers. Write down a short Bible passage on an index card  – something from the Prophet Isaiah would be great – and keep it near the wreath. Now that we’ve cleared a space for prayer and quiet celebration at home, we can begin clearing the same kind of space in our heart.

A portion of this is reprinted with permission of Sojourners (

Jesus Bees and Street Honey

I love bees. I took a semester of bee-keeping when I was studying biology at the University of California, Davis. It was always a great adventure to ride my bike out to the veterinary medicine school where there was a “study hive.” I would spend hours tracking particular bees in the large glass-walled hive. For extra credit in that course, I wrote a collection of “bee poems” to submit with my research.

Someday, I’ll take up the renegade art of urban beekeeping and sell street honey in the inner city. (It’s actually illegal to keep bees inside the District of Columbia.) Read  here for more on the joys of backyard beekeeping.

Bees also have a time-honored place in Christian history. There are several mentions of bees in the Bible. And they are considered to have attributes of Jesus due to their honey and sting. According to an interesting article by Croatian vet students about animal symbolism in Christian art:

Honey symbolizes gentleness and charity, and sting symbolizes justice. Furthermore, bees are of the symbols of resurrection. Three winter months during which it does not come out from the bee-hive remind us of three days after Christ’s death when his body was invisible, then appeared again and was resurrected. The organisation of life in the bees community, with perfectly defined interrelations and relation to the queen-bee, became almost the ideal of Christian virtues. On the other hand, bees and bee hive symbolise eloquence, and are presented with the three known holy orators called “Doctores melliflui” (scholars sweet as honey). They are: St. Ambrosius, St. Bernard of Clariveaux, and St. John Chrysostom.

There’s also a fascinating bible study out there somewhere on Judges 14 where a hive of bees in the carcass of the lion distracts Sampson as he is on his way to “take” his enemy wife. Tell me what you find. The Hebrew word for bee is: devorah. It’s etymologically related to the words for “speaking” and “choosing a direction.” It’s associated with prophecy.

Of course, most folks have heard that bees are under attack from climate change and mono-crop agriculture. So eat your honey, plant native wildflowers, don’t use pesticides, and love your bees..

Columbia Heights: The Art of Spray Paint

I was driving by 11th St and Park Rd. in Columbia Heights, D.C., last week and noticed a drop dead fantastic spray paint art of Obama on the construction fence around the old liquor store. I checked on the Columbia Heights e-list and found out that the whole thing was part of a public art installation project by Albus Cavus artist collective.

by Albus Cavus Collective
by Albus Cavus Collective

On Sunday, Nov. 9,  artists from the DC area and the East Coast created a public art installation that seeks to lift up the Columbia Heights community spirit by improving aesthetic enjoyment. A dozen artists worked together with renown graffiti artists, like Tim CON and Leon Rainbow, in a live, outdoor presentation of art and people changing their environment. The artists covered the 80-foot fence of a construction site with color, imagination, and reflection.

“We are transforming an eyesore to eye-candy,” said Albus Cavus executive director Peter Krsko, the organizer of the art project. “Fences around building sites are usually to be endured, not enjoyed. In Columbia Heights, public artists and residents will smash that old construct with paint and spirit.”

Read more about it at the Prince of Petworth blog..