Monday, May 21, 2018

Review: Our Strangely Warmed Hearts by Bishop Karen P. Oliveto

I was excited to receive a copy of Bishop Karen Oliveto's new book, Our Strangely Warmed Hearts: Coming Out Into God's Call for review. Without reading the back cover, I was expecting a book that told her story of ministry. Instead, this book is half a history lesson - of the gay liberation movement, and The United Methodist Church and homosexuality - and half a collection of stories of many others who are LGBTQ United Methodists. 

Some of the history Bishop Oliveto shared was familiar to me, but some things were totally new to me, like the "Council on Religion and the Homosexual," which, using denominational funds from The Methodist Church in the 1960s, worked together with "homophile organizations and church leaders" and developed goals and purposes that were so forward thinking. (25-26) Oliveto quotes founder and former executive director of the Reconciling Congregation Program Mark Bowman: "We have some sense of history. We know that when the church has excluded people on moral grounds, eventually God has opened the church doors again." (33) May it be so! "Eventually" can be such a long wait though! Section 1 wraps up with a brief page on the (then anticipated) work of the Commission on a Way Forward, and a short mention of the author herself: "On July 15, 2016, the Western Jurisdiction elected Karen Oliveto, the author of this book, to the episcopacy by a vote of 88-0." (64) Coming after a long section of the painful, harmful history of The UMC in excluding LGBTQ persons consistently, systematically, increasingly, the sentence is a bright spot of hope. 

The real star of this book is the second section, the narrative stories, first person stories from LGBTQ voices. What amazes me, knocks me off my feet, is that there is story after story of God's grace, of the (sometimes literally) life-saving work of Jesus at work in these folks' stories through The United Methodist Church in spite of all the ways we have done warm to these lives through that same institution. How incredible, and what a sign of the power of God to persist and find a way through all the barriers we erect! I am so humbled by these stories. And so moved by the stories of spaces and places of welcome even in the midst of a church whose official polity says "not compatible." These stories are miraculous, truly. 

Some standouts: "My queer identity calls me to connect the dots because breaking the  chains of oppression for one group of people is inextricably linked with the liberation of all." (Israel Alvaran, 96)

"I looked around at this stadium full of beautiful people that I have shared in ministry with, who affirmed me, and I knew that with one sentence most of them would have a completely different attitude toward me." (Rose, 124)

"I cannot fight all battles, but God is not calling me to; God is calling me to follow, to love, and to serve so that the church can make justice happen, and feast together at the banquet God prepares for our weary souls. Thanks be to God." (Rose, 125)

And from Bishop Oliveto's final wrap up: "This [exclusion of LGBTQ persons] comes at a high price ... the body of Christ is fractured. And lives are literally lost ... The saddest pastoral call I have ever received was from a gay man who asked me to 'unbaptize' him, because he had heard the stance of The UMC regarding LGBTQ people and felt he was no longer worthy of God's love and claim on his life." (127) 

I definitely recommend you give this book a read. 

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