Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts On Power and Privilege Post-Charlottesville

Much has been written about white supremacy and white nationalism since this weekend’s deadly violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, and rightly so. We must condemn this evil that is seeking to fray the beautiful tapestry of American society. The hatred and racism that sustain these movements are literally life-threatening and must be confronted and dismantled.

But it is all too easy to point fingers and not do the hard work of personal soul searching, to be honest about the “every day racism” we whites participate in and benefit from. As a white woman, I have to confront my privilege, and the fact that my walk in the world is much easier because of my race than persons of color. Every day, I must confess my racism. Racism is so deeply embedded in our culture and entangles all of us in its web of inequity. I have to consciously reject it every day and the main way I do that is through the power of empathy, listening deeply to how those of color have a much different experience of the world than I do. I must understand that doors that open up automatically for me because of my whiteness open with difficulty—if at all—for persons of color. My race affords me places of safety not granted to those of other races.

I am not frightened of police officers. I don’t worry that by putting on a hoodie, I will be perceived as dangerous. I have never given my nieces and nephews “the talk” about how they should behave if ever stopped by a police officer. I have never been followed in a store by the owner because he or she automatically assumes that I am a suspect for shoplifting simply because of the color of my skin. I have never had to look very far—in books, movies, television, or church meetings—to see people who look like me. In white America, the color of my skin grants me power and privilege.

Racism isn’t an inconvenient social construct.  It is a deadly way to control others.

Racism permeates all corners of American society. Even the church is not immune from its cancerous presence. My own denomination’s history reveals a theology once held that supported the outrageous belief that owning another person and treating them less than human was in line with Christian values. Racism fueled segregation in the church through the creation of an all-black non-geographic jurisdiction in order to preserve (white) “unity”.

If we are to effectively oppose and defuse the movements of white supremacy and nationalism, the starting point must be with our own collusion with racism. Until we do this hard work, we will keep in place the social fuel that will allow these movements to flourish.

My white friends, we can no longer remain silent. We can no longer pretend we live in a post-racial society. We can no longer deny the privilege we possess. We can no longer believe that racism no longer exists.

With eyes wide open, may we dismantle the sin of racism, in our own lives and in the systems and institutions of which we are a part. May Love guide our work, focus our anger and fear, and lead us all into the promise of Beloved Community.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

One Bishop's Reflection on the First Anniversary of Her Election

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight. (Proverbs 3:5)

One year ago today, I was elected a bishop in The United Methodist Church in the midst of what was the closest experience of Pentecost I have ever had. Delegates and episcopal nominees of the Western Jurisdiction entered into a time of deep discernment and prayer. Truly, there was a profound sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

There are some who have said we in the West were drunk with new wine. But as Scripture and history show, that is often the case when those who weren’t present try to dismiss the movement of the Holy Spirit, which seeks to make all things new.

We were simply trusting in God with all our hearts.

I continue to lean into that trust.

I lean into that trust as I bring my gifts, skills and experience to this new ministry.

I lean into that trust as I surrender my life to God, who will guide my steps.

I lean into that trust as I sit at the Council of Bishops table, bringing a voice that has never been present to our common life and work.

I lean into that trust as I listen to those who are angry about my election and commit myself to remain in relationship with them.

I lean into that trust as a vision emerges for our denomination’s future.

I lean into that trust as we sit at Cabinet meetings and seek God’s guidance as we make appointments.

I lean into that trust as we in the Mountain Sky Area commit to the vision of Beloved Community, God’s desire for humanity.

I am so thankful for new and old companions--both within the Mountain Sky Area and throughout my life--who have enriched my life, sustained my soul and informed my ministry during this past year. I am especially thankful for my colleagues on the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops who have generously welcomed me and offered me their wisdom and insights, as well as the members of the Mountain Sky Area cabinet, as we have sought to care for and equip the clergy and laity of our area so our churches’ ministries might be vital and transformative.

It is humbling to have been entrusted with this ministry.
May Your will be done, O God, in all I say and do.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Western Jurisdiction Post-Judicial Council Hearing Press Conference Remarks

My name is Karen Oliveto and I am the Bishop of the Mountain Sky Area of The United Methodist Church. I stand here with my colleagues of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, the cabinet of the Mountain Sky Area and delegates and leaders from the Western Jurisdiction as well as my siblings in Christ, the Queer Clergy Caucus of The United Methodist Church. Also standing with me today is the childhood pastor who helped me hear my call into ministry, Rev. Ken White, my mother, Nellie Oliveto and my wife, Robin Ridenour.

I want to thank Rich Marsh for his hard work as counsel over these past many months, for Llew Pritchard for his assistance as co-counsel, and for the prayers from across the connection and around the world, that have sustained Robin’s and my souls.

I love being a bishop in The United Methodist Church. I have been moved by the faithful ministries within the churches of the area I serve. I love the relationships we have formed and the vision for our future that has prayerfully emerged in these nine months. It is as if everything I have done throughout my vocation has brought me to this position where I can best serve God as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

What is fascinating about today’s hearing is that no one questioned the gifts and graces I possess for ordained ministry and specifically for the episcopacy. And no one has looked at my work and said my abilities for this task are lacking.

In the Gospel of John it is written:

John 15:16  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name God will give you.

This is a pivotal moment in the life of The United Methodist Church as the Judicial Council deliberates on those whom God has called to bear fruit in the world-- specifically, the role gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people have in ordained ministry.

In fact, lgbtqi people have been serving faithfully as ordained ministers and yes, even as bishops, in The United Methodist Church since it was created in 1968. And we have done it at great personal cost, serving in the silence of closets, in order to be faithful to God’s call.

Making heterosexuality a requirement for ordained ministry instead of asking whether someone possesses the gifts and graces for ministry denies God’s infinite imagination that is evidenced through the lives of God’s diverse children. One part of Christ’s body cannot say to the other, “We have no need of you.”

Since 1972, The United Methodist Church as a human institution has been divided about homosexuality. We are not of one mind. What we know is that God loves us all unconditionally. We’ve come to an impasse. The legislative process and the decisions we’ve made have not allowed us to get to know each other, understand each other, hear how the Holy Spirit is working in our lives, and love each other deeply as God would have us do.

This is why I support the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. Some have said that my election was ill-timed. As people of faith, we know we can’t give deadlines and timelines to the Holy Spirit, who moves in our lives in surprising and unexpected ways and compels us to follow.  I strongly and prayerfully support the work of the Commission. If my election does anything, it highlights the urgency of their task. Because God has and will continue to call faithful United Methodists who happen to be lgbtqi to serve their church. This helps move the conversation away from debating homosexuality as an issue, to talking with people in The United Methodist Church who are lgbtqi whose lives bear the fruits of the Spirit that enrich the community of faith. In this way, we are bringing gay and straight together to build up the body of Christ in a way we have never experienced before.

I believe this is what John Wesley meant when he said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” He wove into the very fabric of the Methodist movement a vigorous tension of difference that enlivens unity, not detracts from it.

This is what I know to be true: the Holy Spirit will continue to move in the lives of lgbtqi United Methodists. Some will be called to ordained ministry. Boards of Ordained Ministry will find them to possess the gifts and graces for ministry. And there will be those to whom God calls into the episcopacy. I am not the first gay bishop, and I won’t be the last.

May we let go of fear of an unknown future, and live into love’s demands.

Bishop Karen P. Oliveto
Resident Bishop of the Mountain Sky Area
April 25, 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thank you, Pacific School of Religion!

It is an honor to receive this recognition today. Pacific School of Religion, you and I have had quite a relationship. I have been your student, field education mentor, associate dean of academic affairs, and adjunct professor of United Methodist studies. In all things, I have found that PSR kept helping me come back to myself, to a place of wholeness and integrity, reminding me of who I am and whose I am.

I heard my call to ordained ministry when I was 11 years old and began preparing for this vocation from that time on. I was blessed to grow up in a church that wrapped me in unconditional love and acceptance.

Yet, even with that love and acceptance, I grew up feeling as if there was something different about me, that there was something that kept me from full community with others. I didn’t have a name for it. But it made me feel like that woman at the well. Alone. An outcast.

Then I came to PSR and this strangely warmed heart got even more strange.

At first I contributed it to that classic seminary experience of how seminary deconstructs one’s life and faith, pulling the theological rug out from under you and leaving you to rebuild. In the brokenness, I had to face parts of myself that I had long suppressed. I listened to the stories of gay and lesbian students—Deb and Marcy and and Gloria and Fred and John Sam and so many others--and recognized myself. I struggled mightily with this new self-awareness, and when I was finally able to claim my identity and say, “I am a lesbian”, I experienced that peace which passes all understanding. I was made whole, and discovered within me the capacity for community that had always eluded me.

The thing about coming out at PSR meant that there was no real closet. Even when the United Methodist Church demanded that of its queer clergy, PSR taught me to live authentically. Professors like Karen Lebacqz and Roy Sano gave me the intellectual and spiritual tools to live with integrity in an unjust system.
My vocation has included parish and campus ministries in rural and urban settings on the East and West Coasts. I love this calling. I love the invitation to share life with others seeking to understand faithfulness. I love the questions that faith bubbles up within us. I love the daily challenge to risk it all for the sake of love and justice.

And now, I love this moment in my vocation. It feels as if everything I have done, including my time at PSR, has prepared me for the episcopacy as the first openly lesbian bishop. Robin and I have fallen head over heels in love with the people of the Mountain Sky Area, which encompasses 470,000 square miles, and they have embraced us with an enthusiastic hospitality and welcome.

I don’t know what the future holds. At the end of April, the Judicial Council of the UMC will rule on the legality of my election. But PSR has taught me to be bold in my witness, trust the Spirit, and make sure that in all I do I am not only seeking my own liberation, but working in partnership for the liberation of others as together, we live into Beloved Community.

In these days we are living in, when injustice, intolerance, racism, sexism and transphobia and all the -isms that seek to shackle the souls of our siblings seem to multiply with each passing day, may we continue to stand with the most marginalized and seek justice, walk with compassion on this earth, and always be guided by the One who loves us with a love that will never let us go. There is no going back, my friends, from this shared calling we have been given.

 Pacific School of Religion
Berkeley, CA
March 18, 2017

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017…Bring. It. On.

When the clock struck midnight last night, 525,600 minutes stood before you and 2018.  Minutes that have yet to be unwrapped. Minutes that hold untold possibilities. Minutes that could reveal heartache or healing. 525,600 minutes. How will you use them?

I have never been keen on New Year’s resolutions. Mainly because I manage to break nearly all of them by the end of the first week! But each new year, like each new day, is an opportunity for me to recommit to the things that matter most to me, to recalibrate my inner moral compass, to realign myself to the things that offer life to me and others.

As 2017 unfolds like the precious flower it is, here are the things I am recommitting myself to:

·       Stay connected to God. I try to turn to God as soon as I wake up, and before I go to bed. To say YES to the possibilities of the new day God has set before me, and to say THANK YOU for all that the day as brought me.  My conversations with God are the first and last ones I have each day. Through them, I am reminded that no matter how bad my day may have been, no matter how much I may be dreading what may be in store for me in the new day, “in all things God works for good.” My task is to join with God to co-create the good.

·       Stay grounded in love. This is related to staying connected to God. If God is love, and love is of God, it is critical to remain loving in all that I do. This is what heals the world. This is the power that overcomes hatred. This is the impetus for justice.  

·       Remain open-hearted to others. Hostility cannot be met with more hostility. An open heart is necessary if relationships—especially with one’s enemies—are to forged in order to change the world. This requires a willingness to be vulnerable and experience pain, but the rewards to be reaped always outweigh the costs.

·       Not confuse diverse opinions with division. Diverse opinions are needed and necessary in a healthy community. Diversity of thought stretches us to a fuller experience of life and helps us all have bigger dreams for this life we share. Division occurs when we stop offering each other mutual respect, shout each other down, and fail to recognize that we are not the only ones to possess truth.

·       Take time to laugh each day. This is as critical to me as my morning workout. Others need coffee in the morning, I need a good cardio workout. Laughter is an aerobic workout for my soul. Laughter reminds me not to take myself so seriously.

·       Stay vigilant. Every year begins with the promise of countless possibilities, yet also carries the potential for trauma and tragedy, pain and pathos, not only for ourselves, but for others. 2017 is no exception. My task is to listen to lives that are different from my own, to hear their challenges and concerns as they encounter the world. Together, we can protect each other’s humanity, rights, and freedoms. Together, we can stand for peace and justice. Together, we can push back the forces of hatred and inhumanity.

So, in 2017, I am recommitting myself to creating Beloved Community, to seek right relationship with God, others, and Creation. I will extend the energy of joy in a world that often feels joyless and lacking in hope. I will seek to offer my best self in every situation, and create the space for others to do the same.

525,600 minutes.

2017…Bring. It. On.