The Agony and Ecstasy of Proofing

Some of my writer friends hate to edit/proof. Some love it. I’m in the latter category – I love it.  I love reading for the flow of language. I love revising sentences and word choices until my writing partner finally told me, “You will never be done. You have to let it go.”

So yesterday I let it go. I am sure another close read would bring another round of changes, additions, deletions, and the discovery of new flaws. But I think I have let it go. If this is the form in which my manuscript goes to press, I am sure I will agonize about things I have somehow overlooked. But today I let it go.

I want to wave goodbye to my manuscript like I waved goodby to my daughter  when I dropped her  off at college thinking, “I’ve done my best as a mom and now I gift the world with this amazing creature who has become her own person.”  My daughter is an extraordinary woman. Letting her go was about the natural change of relationship from parent/child to parent/adult. Her autonomy means her continued growth and change is now entirely her purview.

Not so much with a book. Once you let it go it no longer changes, grows, or improves.  It is finished. Every flaw is captured in amber. Fixed. Oh-my-oh, there is now nothing for it. As a writer, that is both the ecstasy and the agony. So in that spirit I offer another snippet of my story:

“My name is Connie Lee Tuttle, but you can call me slumgullion.

During the War, my mom worked as a ship welder and burner building ships for the U.S. Navy in Portland, Oregon. The day before payday, my mom and her neighbors dumped all their leftovers into a common pot and heated it up for dinner. They called it slumgullion. You might see peas swimming with tomatoes, meatloaf un-chunked into small meatballs, macaroni noodles with the cheese dissolving into the larger broth. Sometimes, I hear, it was tasty. Sometimes, merely tolerable. But always, always, it was a party. Hard times transformed by laughter and food.

So call me slumgullion because I, too, am made up of bits and pieces thrown together. I am part French, part German, part Southern, part army brat, part mother, part daughter, part sister, part lesbian. Call me slumgullion because sometimes my story is tasty, a meal for the senses. Unexpected. Graceful. And sometimes it is merely edible, offering up only what is necessary to survive. And you can call me slumgullion because my life, my theology, my story is always transformed by sharing food and making community.”

-from A Gracious Heresy: the queer calling of an unlikely prophet

 

 

 

Naming the Evil of Donald Trump

I saw Hamilton the other night (it was fabulous!- from the cast to the lighting, the music to the musicians- but I digress) and I remembered something it took me a long time to learn: our heroes have clay feet.
No one is perfect. Everyone I have ever looked up to has been flawed.
Yet somehow we demand perfection from our leaders, certainly those in politics or religion. A not-so-secret part of me  demanded it of myself as a pastor. But perfection is not possible, or even reasonable. Who we strive to be and who we are sometimes diverge. Sometimes by intent and sometimes, because we are just plain flawed.

Until now  we have held our politicians (and religious leaders) to unreasonable standards. I am not saying this to give people a pass but to suggest that there is a difference between making mistakes (we all do) or having blind spots (also true of us all) but to say the hope is that we are able to learn from our mistakes and acknowledge it when our blind spots are revealed.

The term “feet of clay” is understood to mean a weakness or hidden flaw in the character of a greatly admired or respected person. We are disappointed when someone we admire falls off the proverbial pedestal, when a flaw or weakness is revealed. Like when we grow up and find out  that the founding brothers of our nation were less than perfect. That’s one thing. It is different from downright evil.

Donald Trump does not have clay feet. Clay feet assumes a weakness or flaw in an otherwise decent human being. Say the word with me: EVIL. I will not prance around the word. We cannot excuse behavior that demeans any human being. We know racism is evil. Sexism is evil. Heterosexism is evil. Ableism is evil. ‘Other-ism” is evil. And Donald Trump perpetrates evil everyday with the people he appoints to oversee the very institutions created to protect us, with the lies he tells about himself and others, with the decisions he makes about world politics, and with the words of hate and dismissal spewing from his anal mouth.

Donald Trump is evil. I wish he had clay feet. I wish he had a conscience so that he could have clay feet. But there is no indication that it is even a possibility. Donald Trump is evil with power. And if ever there was a time we needed to recognize the truth about this man, it is now.

Evil is being normalized and the more we accept or allow his actions to continue the more complicit we become. Now is the time to call our clay-footed leaders, our representatives in government, in the churches and synagogues and mosques, in our neighborhoods to remove the scales from their eyes and see the urgency of the tasks before us.

Even if you have been called evil by the un-saintly religious, even if the use of the word troubles you because of how it has been appropriated by right-wing fundamentalists, even if you haven’t considered the concept of evil to be relevant  in the 21st century, say it: Donald Trump is Evil.  If we don’t say it. If we  continue to normalize his words and actions, evil will take stronger and stronger footholds in our institutions and our population.

I don’t  know how to end this. I don’t know where to go with this. I only know that this is an urgent time and we are a vulnerable people. I believe we must begin with speaking the word. With acknowledging what is going on for what it is. For the past two years we have repeatedly said to one another, “We cannot normalize his words or actions.” That is true. But now is the time to name them. It will give us a clarity of focus. Say it:EVIL


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Call His Name: Anthony Hill

Anthony Hill

I sat in the courtroom for over six hours listening.
Visualizing.
Imagining.
Crying.
Clinching my fists.

Once again in  awe of our system of laws.
Once again fearful of people failing them.
Failing us.

I cannot fathom any sane reason
an unarmed, naked,
clearly disturbed man
should be shot in the chest
three times.

Three times.
You couldn’t figure out any other way?

This man.
This veteran of Afghanistan.
This gentleman.
Traumatized by combat
deserved better than that.

You didn’t know that
he was a veteran
well-liked
congenial
I get that.

But you didn’t ask
didn’t get follow up information
didn’t consider
that you might not have enough information
to make a good decision.

Though how can it ever be
a good decision
to kill an unarmed, naked man
point blank?

Surely it was apparent
he was struggling with
mental illness.
Clear as day
as the nose on your face.

Was your judgment colored
by his blackness?
Did the hue of his skin
give you permission
to use deadly force?

The defense council
helped us to see the perpetrator
as human
As you should have been able to see Mr. Hill
as human.

We await the verdict
that will allow
or disallow
prosecution.

In the mean time,
join me
call his name
and pray for justice.
Add his name to the endless list
of black men dying at the hands
of white officers.
Remember this man,
grieve this man,
who did not deserve to die.

ANTHONY HILL.

 

Who Gets to Say What a Christian Is?

Salon.com posted an interesting opinion piece suggesting that the religious right was ‘shrinking itself’ and that its overzealousness was driving people away. Take a moment to read it: https://www.salon.com/2018/05/14/how-the-religious-right-is-shrinking-itself-overzealous-christianity-is-driving-people-away/

Part of me wants to respond with a “no duh” but the other part wants to examine the issue a little further. If you think of faith in terms of stages of development then you see that the religious right speaks to those whose thinking is concretized, whose  world view is  black and white, and who are afraid they will be caught and punished for their misdeeds.

I’m not the first one to think of this. There is a terrific book entitled Stages of Faith: the psychology of human development and the quest for meaning by James W. Fowler. Read it if you get a chance – it’s not as dry as it might sound. His premise is that in the same ways we develop psychologically (think Erikson’s Identity and the Life Cycle) we develop spiritually.

The religious right tends to be stuck in an early developmental stage. For example, when asked why not to do something – that it would be breaking a rule, earlier stages of development would say something like: because I don’t want to get caught, or I don’t want to get in trouble, or I don’t want to be punished. Later stages of development say rather, I don’t want to do it because it is wrong or I don’t want to do it because it diminishes me or another or I don’t want to do it because it interferes with my relationship with Godde .

Christianity, like other religions, has means of spiritual deepening and growth that transcends our more youthful understandings. So I am not saying that those earlier understandings are bad or evil, but that they are developmentally stunted for those who want to mature in their faith. There comes a time when a childlike understanding doesn’t satisfy spiritual longing.

I am a Christian. If my faith couldn’t stretch my heart and mind and soul I’m not sure I would want to be one. If you have been driven away from the church by the religious right there is still a place for you in the Christian faith. Christianity is bigger than the smallness of their understandings. It may be uncomfortable at first and sureness will be replaced by possibilities and uncertainty – but it is worth it. In the same way we cannot let Trump define America, we cannot allow the religious right define Christianity.

You Must Pay the Rent…

When I was a young mother – twenty-four and my daughter six – I worked construction.
I got her ready for school in the mornings and hopped a ride on my boss’s truck to our work site for the day. Often it was to rehab public housing near the federal penitentiary here in Atlanta.

I came home exhausted in the evenings and made sure she got her bath, supervised homework, cooked supper, and ,once a week, prepared the evening meal for 60 children and adults in our church’s mentorship program.  Sometimes when you are busy surviving you forget you are afraid.

Our rented duplex was cold in the winter, heated only by gas space heaters that I hesitated to keep on while we slept. We bundled together in my bed, piling all of our blankets on top of one another until the mattress on the floor grew to resemble a multi-colored mountain.

One evening our landlord dropped by to pick up the rent. It was fairly early but we were already snuggled down under the pile of blankets, keeping warm while I read and she wrote poetry on 3X5 cards.  Her first effort went like this:

My dog has fleas (fleas, fleas, fleas, fleas)
All over her knees (knees, knees, knees, knees)

which we sang to the tune of The Blue Danube Waltz.

When the doorbell rang I forced myself up, padded to the door, and invited him in while I wrote the check that would wipe out my bank balance. Drafts of icy wind accompanied his arrival and departure ridding us of the last gasp of heat we had hoped would last for a little while longer.
I shivered back under the covers when my daughter informed me she had written another poem. “Great,” I chattered, trying to recapture some semblance of warmth to my hands and feet, “read it to me.” She took a breath and recited:

The night is long and wind blows cold
And I and my mother pay rent.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so I just hugged her tight.  Mother’s Day, I remembered this story and how there is, somehow, always enough. Always enough warmth.  Always enough joy to create and to sing. And most of all,  always enough  love to cast out fear.


 

Every ‘ism’ We Resist is Hostage to the Hatred of Women

Because we love so many men, respect so many men, work with so many men, know so many men,  it’s hard to imagine or believe there is a systemic hatred of women in our culture. Unfortunately, it is not only men. Sometimes women, themselves, buy into the devaluation of women.

I am not covering any new territory here, just reminding us of the basics. Women are taught to believe themselves to be ‘less than’ rather than different. Weak rather than possessing strength that manifests in ways different from men. So much so that men displaying what are thought to be ‘female’ characteristics are also despised.

My good friend, Erin, a transgender woman, recently posited that real change will come the  more broadly gender fluidity becomes the norm. Absolutely. Yes. But every time I step outside my milieu (whether physically or when reading the newspaper or watching television) I recognize that my reality isn’t completely in sync with the larger society. In other words, gender fluidity is likely the key to transformative change in how we value all gendered people but we can’t wait for the organic evolution before we act.

Our culture suffers from gynophobia: the fear, hatred, and distrust of that which is intrinsically female. Case in point: Hillary Clinton. I am still hurt and disappointed that a newsperson I respect, Chris Matthews, spoke so disparagingly about her. That and angry. He disrespected her in a way he would never have spoken about a man. The sustained Republican onslaught on her character from the moment she emerged in national politics is unlike that we  have seen for ANY male candidate ever.

An old but still relevant fact: women make less than men for doing the same job.
One in four women is raped or sexually abused. I don’t have any facts on this, but I have yet to meet a woman who has not been subjected to unwanted verbal or sexual advances. I don’t know any woman who has not at some/many times had their opinions overlooked, devalued, or co-opted.

And if we thought it was bad before now we have the so-called ‘incels’. Involuntary celebates. The incel movement is growing. It is filled with angry men who bitterly hate women and believe they are entitled to women’s bodies and lives. Women are being murdered. This is one of the best posts I’ve seen about them and it is definitely worth a readhttps://www.villainesse.com/no-filter/i-spent-evening-incel-forum-what-i-learnt

What will it take for the rest of the country to realize that sexism begets racism, religious rigidity, and homophobia? We must convince our culture that the hatred of women is real  and address the systemic evil of misogyny,  personally and culturally. Until women’s issues are seen as important and women are not seen as disposable, change will be incomplete. Every ‘ism’ we resist is hostage to the hatred of women.

It matters that we confront sexism not only for women, though it would be enough if it were. It matters because the hatred of women is a root cause of oppression. It matters that we challenge misogyny internally, socially,  and politically.  Every time someone devalues or dismisses women, jokes about rape, or treats women as disposable, we need to speak up. Each one of us male, female, or gender-fluid, must respond to systemic expressions of sexism in our personal and political lives. Not as an afterthought but with forethought.  We have to speak up even when it is difficult, even when we are uneasy with the idea of speaking up. Because we who believe in the freedom must speak out to make elemental change at an elemental level.

Can the Center Hold?


Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats, from ‘The Second Coming’

 

I am tired. Weary to death and yet I can’t not get up. I can’t not keep trying to speak, to work, to march, to live into my conviction that the ideas this nation is based on are redemptive and worth fighting for. Ideas that continue to expand: freedom, justice, equality, and  the rule of law and rather than the rule of ‘men’.

I would tell Mr. Yeats that the best of do not lack conviction but, for myself, I am grieving innocence drowned. The belief that our system of ideas pushes us away from demagoguery, hatred, and self-serving as the basis for our actions and toward our better selves. But the blood-dimmed tide is loosed and we must fight to come up for air.

Early on we said to one another, “We can’t normalize this.” Little did we know that the onslaught of things outside our imaginings have become more normal by merit of the volume of expressions of ‘the worst of us.’ It is daily, sometimes hourly. And friends and neighbors who are lulled into the normalization of Trump and his ilk can’t understand the urgency many of us feel. Others have climbed out of their pits and descended on us with the ‘passionate intensity,’ of their self-righteous hatred glorified in fiery rallies designed to show their ascendency.

Can the center hold? Will who-we-can-be as a nation prevail over who we-must-not-be? Ordinary people have become numbed to the insanity and I fear for our ability to extricate ourselves.

I am tired. I can imagine that many, many are tired. And it is okay to be weary. Rather tired than numb. Rather weary and righteous than well-rested and complicit. Rest now, if you need to. The center must hold.

 

My Big Book News

I signed a contract for my book!

After years of work (okay, often sidetracked by work that pays the bills) and a slew of rejections, I signed with Wipf and Stock Press and A Gracious Heresy: the queer calling of an unlikely prophet, will arrive in the fall of 2018.

It really is like a pregnancy. A long, seemingly endless, pregnancy. Scads of creative energy that depends on your blood and bones, heart and mind, to mature into a viable being – that’s what it feels like.  And I am proud and terrified, relieved and anxious. Like any new parent.

NOW I get it that  I have exposed myself and I am like Eve, looking around for a fig leaf. Memoir writing depends on truth telling. And my truth-telling reveals a complex conundrum that is at times humorous, sad, lonely, connected, and very, very, human. But if I can use a piece of well worn wisdom, “In for a penny, in for a pound.”  I don’t know what will come next but that’s nothing new for me. I’ll hang on for the ride and see if I can steer.

Today, with pleasure and trepidation, I invite you to a snippet of the work:

” Frankly, I am the very last person you would consider to be a prophet. Even writing that feels grandiose. My life is untidy. I don’t always do my best. There are times I’ve wanted to give up. More times than I’d like to admit. And even though I am driven by grace I can be harsh in my opinions of others and harsher in estimations of myself. Or worse, I give myself a pass but find it hard to allow for the frailty of others. And there are times I get so pissed off at God I could spit. I am like Jonah who sat under that bush and groused because God extended compassion to the people he despised.

The following tale is a story about how I got myself – or God got me – into the heresy of challenging the church to justice over doctrine and compassion over polity. You might think I’m a heretic and you might be right. I’ve been called worse.

Here is a story about the gracious heresy of my life and an unlikely call to prophetic ministry. Nothing grand. Nothing large. Mostly it’s a story about the risk and the price of being faithful and learning to trust that somehow it makes a difference.”

 

Trump’s Rise to Power


It prays on my mind that ordinary Germans allowed a man like Hitler to rise to power.
Even taking into account the economic depression that hit Germany, how could they let a man like him take power?

Now I know.
First, some are seduced because their fears are played to:
fear of people of other races and nationalities
fear for their safely
fear for their economic future
fear of change

Then the fears
normalize hate
normalize misinformation
normalize our worst impulses

Trump has played all those cards.
Like the master grifter he is,
who many thought was just an act,
that he would rise to
the “occasion of the Presidency”

He rose, alright.
Like Hitler on Krystallnacht
He plays to people’s fear
to deconstruct the government
to violate the rule of law
to turn us against one another
for his own benefit.

He is tearing apart our nation
so that we feel divided from one another
He is tearing apart our global relationships
disconnecting us from the many who share
our democratic values

He despises freedom.
of the press
of the people to protest
and as he rises he is attempting to devalue
both the press and the people.

He is carved from the same stone
as Hitler
and too many of us are blind to this rise,
to the possibility of a holocaust beyond our imagining,
somehow feeling safer to normalize
than to challenge.

This is Trump’s rise to power
and we are letting it happen
If there is a history left to record,
how will it judge us?

The Gracious Heretic

My  posts are all over the place. Politics. Spiritual practice. Theological musings. Feminism. Personal stories. Occasional rants.
“They” tell me that if I want my book to sell when it comes out I need to brand myself.
Generate a blog with consistent, thought-provoking themes. Themes that point to the direction and scope of the book.
They tell me I need to get people to “buy in” to my writing on this blog.
Gee, wouldn’t that be great. But if  you’re reading this you’ve already bought in.

I’m not good at that branding stuff. If I pick a word or two or three or four to focus what “I am about” I lose several dozen other things that are equally important to me. Some days I’m pensive, some I’m discombobulated.

So this is what I want to know: how do you do it?  And maybe even more than that, do I want to do it? Or maybe the word brand is what gets in my way. A brand is basically the way you want other people to see you. Of course, I want you to see me as spiritually enlightened, politically engaged, feminist, Christian, wise, and if I had my complete druthers, beautiful.

Another thing about a brand is that one comes to trust or distrust a brand based on personal experience. I think that is what I strive for: to tell the truth, even when it is difficult, even when it is about myself. In those ways I try hard to be trustworthy.

So here’s the truth as I see it. I am a heretic in the classic definition of the word: I hold opinions contrary to church dogma. I also work really hard to be gracious, meaning godly, compassionate, kind, forgiving, and justice-loving. So maybe that’s my brand. The all-over-the-place posts you read are all located there. And you can trust that. Or with experience and over time, see a consistency that earns your trust.

So brand me The Gracious Heretic. It’s all I got.

Thanks for reading.