Podcast: Where’s the Body of Christ when Bodies Go Missing?

Six minutes of truth-telling from the awesome team at Sojourners: Where’s the Body of Christ when Bodies Go Missing? This is the nascent short podcast series that Sojourners is developing called The God Beat.

This story about missing black and Latina girls in the D.C-area speaks to me because of my work on the Donte Manning story (see Who Killed Donte Manning: The Story of an American Neighborhood) and because of Ebony Franklin, who was murdered a few blocks from my house. There are hundreds of unnamed and disappeared girls in our country.

My Sojourners’ colleagues, Dhanya Addanki and Da’Shawn Mosley, get to the root of the Christian question in their podcast.

Seven Year Later, D.C. Still Asks: Who Killed Donte Manning?

A shout out to John Muller who published a piece in today’s Washington Informer about Donte Manning’s murder. His killing 7 years ago was the provocation to and lens through which I wrote my book “Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood.” Thanks to John for keeping Donte’s memory alive. Here’s an excerpt from his article:

“More than seven years has passed since the shooting and subsequent death of 9-year-old Donte Manning but the Metropolitan Police Department is still seeking information that will lead to an arrest in the case.

Although Donte’s memory may have faded from the public consciousness, it still looms large to police and local writer Rose Marie Berger, 48, who authored the book, “Who Killed Donte Manning?” two years ago.

“Donte still haunts me,” said Berger of Columbia Heights in Northwest Washington. “Not as a ghost, but as an angel of conscience. His young life and his murder pricks our conscience as a city just like the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida has turned a mirror to the violence at the soul of our nation.”

“The fact that his killer remains free means two things: the first is that there is a young man out there who lives with the murder of a child on his conscience, and he has not made amends to Donte’s family or to society for his actions. The second is that violence is so endemic that police are not able or not willing in some cases to pursue justice,” Berger said.”–John Muller, Donte Manning’s Death Remains a Mystery

Buy a copy of Who Killed Donte Manning? by Rose Marie Berger

Can I Get A Witness?: Laura Amico’s D.C. Homicide Blog

Laura Norton Amico walk through an alley in Columbia Heights where a 17-year-old girl was found dead in a garbage container. (Washington Post)

I was asked this weekend why I write so much about the dead. The combination of an earlier article on the bodies of 9/11 victims left in the Fresh Kill Landfill on Staten Island (At the Hour of Our Death), my book Who Killed Donte Manning?, and my recent column for Sojourners Rachel’s Wail for a Murdered Teen appeared to set a pattern.

While the answer could be complicated, it’s actually very simple. In Catholic teaching there are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One of the corporal works is to “bury the dead.” One of the spiritual works is to “pray for the living and the dead.” Through my writing, I’m trying to practice my faith.

Attending to the works of mercy can lead one into some strange places. Over the past few months I’ve been talking with Laura Amico who runs a blog called Homicide Watch DC. Today’s Washington Post ran a feature article on her work and included a short quote from me. See an excerpt below:

On the morning of Nov. 15, Laura Norton Amico found herself penned inside a scrum of journalists who had packed a room at D.C. Superior Court for a glimpse of the lead suspect in one of Washington’s highest-profile murder cases: the 2001 killing of federal intern Chandra Levy.

But while everyone around her was jockeying for the best view of Ingmar Guandique, the man who would later be convicted of Levy’s murder, Amico waited patiently for the clerk to call the unheralded case of Vernon McRae, a 22-year-old Southeast man charged with fatally wounding Michael Washington, 63, during an argument in October.

Amico, 29, a former police reporter from Santa Rosa, Calif., has quietly carved out a role for herself as the District’s most comprehensive chronicler of the unlawful taking of human life. Since October, she has documented her efforts on a blog called Homicide Watch D.C. Her mission sounds simple: “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.” …

Rose Berger, 47, turned to Homicide Watch D.C. to follow the case of Ebony Franklin, a teenager whose body was found just before Christmas stuffed in a garbage can in an alley near Berger’s Columbia Heights home. A slaying leaves “a hole the community,” Berger said. And to be able to follow the case “allows for healing to happen.” Blogger Aims to Chronicle Every D.C. Homicide

Benedictine monastics have understood since the Middle Ages that in times of great social upheaval, economic distress, and environmental disasters that tear apart families and communties, the church can offer a very particular gift: stability. As Gerald Schlabach writes, “Precisely because it contrasts so sharply with the fragility of most commitments in our hypermodern society, the Benedictine vow of stability may speak more directly to our age and churches than anything else in the Rule.”

When I came to the Columbia Heights neighborhood to join Sojourners intentional Christian community (as it existed then), I had no idea how long I would stay. Now, 25 years later, much of that original community has moved away. However,  new communities grows up in the shell of the old, discipled by the witness of those who experimented with the gospel before them. And the Christian work of honoring the dead carries on in an new way.

Brett Busang: ‘Good Books Turn Our Thinking Along Grooves That Aren’t Well-Established’

"Water Oak" (Capitol Hill) by Brett Busang

My friend Brett recently sent me a note commenting on my book Who Killed Donte Manning? Brett’s an amazing artist. I’ve got one of his paintings at home and another hangs on loan in the Sojourners offices. It’s humbling to have someone reflect your work back to you and put it into their own intimate context. Thanks, Brett!

“You sure packed a lot into that little volume.  I found myself re-reading passages I did not grasp as perfectly as I might have.  The reason?  Like the richest of anything, they were multi-faceted and agreeably complex.

Good books turn our thinking along grooves that aren’t very well-established because they just haven’t been used.  I’m very grateful for the re-routing.

I’d also like to compliment you on the weaving-together of many strains: ancient history, holy scripture, urban planning, urban warfare, urban ritual.  A man prays in a “profane” space.  A little boy falls victim to a retaliatory shooting.  God is repudiated by men who want to centralize power.  Over time, power means military might – but also coffee, which is available in a “socially responsible” atmosphere that has nonetheless supplanted gardens.  Grown men groove to the gospel as they buff and shine their cars.  More importantly, the mother of a victim embraces the victim’s friends.  It’s good to be reminded of the momentary paradise most of us can grasp after an okay afternoon (or appalling shootout.)

I’m going to read it again tomorrow.  I think I missed too much the first time.

I spent the last week in a small Massachusetts town.  While there, I looked after a friend, made pencil drawings, and read about post-Katrina New Orleans.  I asked this friend to drive me along the Merrimac River, along which Thoreau had travelled as a young man.  I was utterly bewitched – and am glad I had to return shortly afterwards.  I would have otherwise made plans to move there.  Not a good idea.  I believe, like you, that age-old dramas are enacted in our “evil” cities and feel I should bear witness to at least some of them.  Not like you, of course – but in my more cowardly fashion.

Thanks for writing the book.  It provided a brand-new context for my own ruminations about half-hearted justice and wasted lives.  It invested seemingly fragmentary events with a sense of urgency.  And it charged the familiar with grace and meaning.”

Mirabai Starr: Berger’s ‘Jewel of a Book’

Here’s a shout out to Mirabai Starr in thanks for her lovely Amazon review of Who Killed Donte Manning?:

In her jewel of a book, Who Killed Donte Manning, Rose Marie Berger engages in the ancient prophetic tradition of calling us to bear witness to the “terrible beauty” of the sacred breaking into our ordinary lives, allowing it to transform ourselves and our communities. Through Berger’s finely tuned biblical lens, we are invited to see the whole of the human condition, from the violent death of an innocent child to the tenderness of a Muslim pizza driver kneeling in prayer as the sun sets over the streets of the inner city, as an opportunity to offer our prayers for the redemption of the world. —Mirabai Starr

Mirabai is the author of several excellent translations, including Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life, and The Interior Castle.

With Sounds True press, she’s also released a set of 6 small books of devotions, prayers, and wisdom drawing on the riches of Teresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, Michael the Archangel, John of the Cross, Hildegard of Bingen, and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Rose Reads at Baltimore Book Festival

Thanks to Gregg Wilhelm (CityLit Project) and Deborah Rudacille and John Barry (New Mercury Readings) for inviting me to read from Who Killed Donte Manning? at the Baltimore Book Fest last Sunday.

I shared the podium with 3 other impressive writers: Howell Baum (Brown in Baltimore: School Desegregation and the Limits of Liberalism), Christopher Corbett (The Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West), and Christopher White (Skipjack: The Story of America’s Last Sailing Oystermen).

There were about 40 people there in the outdoor tent (thanks Karen, Kevin, Heidi, Emmanuel and Julia for coming out!). We had fun eating kettle corn and watching all the people.

News of a Bookish Nature

I’ve been out sick this week, so this little ephemeral artifacting project–called blogging–has languished a bit. But: Here’s the news.

Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Story of an American Neighborhood, my first book, is due out in spring 2009 from Apprentice House press at Loyola College in Baltimore. It’s been an interesting process working with Apprentice House. I’m learning so much! And I’m really excited about the prospects of getting this little book into print and into the world. I’m geeky that way, I guess.

Apprentice House is only campus-based student-staffed educational publishing house in the United States. I think that’s really cool!  It’s run by Gregg Wilhelm, who also runs Baltimore’s CityLit program. Here’s part of an interview with Gregg from the Baltimore Sun:

What makes Apprentice House different from other publishing houses?

Apprentice House bills itself as the country’s only campus-based, student-staffed book publisher. All those words are important—there are newspaper publishers on campuses, there are journal publishers on campuses that are student-staffed. But we are the only book publisher in the sense that we’re not a university press, which are very different animals and have a very different mission. We’re educators first and foremost.

We are at the production stage where I am giving them a final manuscript and Gregg has assigned it to Emily, a student in Loyola’s design program, to work up cover treatments. I’ve still got some fact-checking to do, footnotes to complete, and a few research leads that I hope to track down before printing. But, otherwise, the book process is moving forward–and I’m excited!.

Cracking the Architecture of Despair

I had a wonderful time Tuesday night at the Servant Leadership School in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Thanks to Tim Kumfer, I was able to debut material from my upcoming book Who Killed Donte Manning?: The Story of an American Neighborhood. It’s due out in May 2009 from Apprentice House press at Loyola College in Baltimore.

I appreciated the response from the audience who asked the essential question of our day – and maybe any day: How do we maintain hope in times of despair?

Since we were talking about urban architecture and how it influences the soul of a community, I answered citing Mark 13:1-2 as an example. And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” and Jesus replied, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.”

When we survey the “great buildings” around us – which we might understand to be the overarching architecture of despair – we hear Jesus saying: See this mighty facade meant to intimidate you and make you feel small and helpless? I say to you: Not one pebble of despair will remain because I will destabilize these monuments to might by cracking their foundations with hope.

Hope is a decision we have to make every day. Just like they say in A.A., you’ve just got to be hopeful for the next 24 hours. We are surrounded by a world that is addicted to despair. The addiction is to hopelessness, and therefore helplessness. But we can decide to resist that addiction by being intentional about choosing to live in hope. We make that decision every day, one day at a time.

One thing that helps us choose hope is by breaking down the architecture of despair into its component parts. Learn the details of the stories inside that architecture. In every way and in all places, the actual human stories within the facades will reveal – yes, terror, yes, great injustice – and also, always, human ingenuity, compassion, love, acts of kindness, an irrational acts of hope that crack the foundations of the architecture of despair..

Speaking Gig: Tues, 9/16, 6 p.m.

On Tuesday, September 16, at the Servant Leadership School community dinner, Rose Berger will give a sneak preview of her forthcoming book Who Killed Donté Manning? A Spiritual Journey in Columbia Heights. Dinner starts at 6 and goes ‘til 7, with soup+sandwiches provided by The Potter’s House for $6. The Servant Leadership School is a program of the Festival Center, and is located at 1640 Columbia Rd. NW. Call 202.328.0072 and ask for Tim Kumfer for more information..