All posts by Connie Tuttle

Connecting the Dots

I keep worrying the question: how did we get here?
Lots of folks have told me, in different ways, that we’e always been here.
I respectfully disagree. We are now galloping toward a future that is on a trajectory few of us have envisioned before now. Before now our trajectory has been very different. I. grew. up in a community that believed we were plodding toward ‘a more perfect union’, toward (with plenty of struggle, anguish, destructiveness, and pain) bending the arc of history toward justice.

Now we seem to be embracing and moving quickly toward self-first, everyone else be damned trajectory. Neither of these directions embraces the entirely of our society, but our past indicated that we could withstand challenges to power and open doors (however slowly and at great cost). The present feeds the fears of the soon-to-be minority and locates economic and political power in the hands of a few.

So how the hell did we get here? Let me say at the outset that I am not either a conspiracy theorist or an alarmist. I am an amateur historian, a working theologian, and an active citizen. I am open to being challenged and interested in being heard. That said, here are the dots I am connecting:

It all started with Newt Gingrich and his “Contract with America” that laid the foundation for a more radical social conservatism (racism, anti-immigration, anti-women’s rights, anti-LGBT) cloaked, once again, in financial conservatism and a distrust of government.
It expanded with the advent of the Tea Party and the influx of Republicans who publicly stated their refusal to compromise with the Democratic Party. Maybe it needs to be stated that compromise or finding ‘a third way’  has been the basis for our two party system since its inception.
We no longer have ‘the loyal opposition’.
From the introduction of the Contract with American in 1994, our political discourse has deteriorated to such an extent that our politicians no longer engage in productive dialogue. The power grab engaged in by the right has left our way of governing in tatters.
And, Godde help us, there is no shame. No shame is eschewing their oath of office. No shame in supporting lies. No shame in supporting a president with no morals, no ethics, no intellectual capacity, and no qualifications for the job.

So how did we get 30+% of the population supporting the president and the party that is against their best interests?  Here’s a dot: No Child Left Behind. When we teach children to regurgitate facts rather than to think critically and be able to sift fact from fraud, then we. open ourselves  to an entire population that can be easily manipulated. And when higher. education  is looked on with distrust, our problem is compounded.

Here’s another dot: the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. Wealth is power.
That is a problem in a democracy when the few can purchase influence,  votes, representatives, senators, and even presidents. When money consolidates power in the hands of the few, we no longer live in a democracy.

Another dot: voter suppression and gerrymandering. It seems clear to me that Republicans don’t think they can win if they don’t cheat. Period. Which brings me to my final dot (for this conversation).

The rise of white nationalism and of white people who believe they are threatened by POC and women and the LGBT community. As a nation we have allowed with impunity the infiltration of the military, police departments, and politics (both local and national) if white nationalists and Neo-Nazis. Racism, sexism, and homophobia is being normalized overtly rather than covertly by people with physical power.

And now we have Donald Trump in power.

Here are my modest proposals:
– include critical thinking and empathy into school curriculum nationally
– take money out of politics: dark money, PAC money, lobbying money
– make national laws about gerrymandering
– make voter registration automatic at the age of 18
-make Election Day a national holiday
-root out white nationalists from the military and police forces

Let’s start here.

Sometimes I have to smile: a lesson in humility

I met an author I admire this summer. I have bought and read many of her books. I even took a class from her years ago. She’s smart and insightful. In the course of the conversation I shared with her that my book had been nominated for an award and she asked after my book. I shared the title, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet.

“Who’s the prophet?” she asked.

“Me.” I answered sheepishly  and was promptly dismissed with a not-too-subtle eye roll.

Damm. Here’s the thing. I don’t call myself a prophet out of any sense of:
1- success;
2-  exceptional job done, or
3- any claim of spiritual insightfulness.

Maybe I shouldn’t have included that prophet thing in the subtitle.
But it really is a part of my story of speaking truth to power, as they say. I claim it from an educated view of prophetic speech that is not in any way about the one speaking.  Still, it was hard to be taken down a notch.

So let me share a few words from my book to clarify:

“A prophet? Are you kidding me? Thirty years ago I would have been right there with you. Believe me, I would never have called myself a prophet. Prophets are special. I am not. They have a direct line to God and the go- ahead and where-with-all to do all kinds of miraculous things. I do not. They rail at people for being idiots. Well, sometimes. They declare impend- ing doom. The most I can claim about impending doom is that I’m often scared. Prophets occasionally foretell the future. Not me. They are righteous in the extreme and above the fray and trials of this messy business we call life. Again, not me. Not in any lifetime. Not on any planet.
Boy, was I wrong. In seminary I learned just how wrong I was. I dis- covered that prophets are wonderfully flawed and chaotic people. Just like me. Folks often thought they were crazy. True here. Eventually I got to know the prophets as chums who spoke passionately and acted hyperbolically. I identified. I am not above the bedlam of life. I am neither a soothsayer who predicts the future nor a miracle worker. I am not particularly righteous, though I have been known to be self-righteous. To be honest I am a flock of flaws, surrounded by a majesty of misunderstandings, hobbled together with an impediment of imperfections. I am not special in any way to anyone except, maybe, to my mom and dad and daughter. I don’t have a direct line to God and when the party line is open, I often don’t hear—or more truth- fully, don’t listen—to what God is saying. I am strong willed and sometimes lazy. I get stuff wrong. A lot.”

So when I’m taken down a notch I need to remember to smile. Someone once told me my spiritual gift was humility. If that is true then it is only when I smile at myself.
Only when I smile.

Hope Creeps In

When I was a child
hope exploded each Christmas
like a  natal star,
twinkled in the colored lights,
enchanted in carols of joy
Expected
Anticipated
Delivered each Christmas morning
without exception.

But now I am a woman
and have put away childish things.
Now I search for hope
through a glass darkly
and hope sidles into
my faithless heart
refusing to be denied.

I have put away my love of tinsel
of sweets
and excess
and in the darkness of this hour
hope creeps under my door
and offers itself
to my fear
my grief
and my  disillusionment
with the unexpected power
of love.

People who live
in the darkness of our times
can see a great light.
A promise
A new way of being
a challenge to our despair
that evil cannot overcome.

May we accept
Godde’s invitation to hope
in this holy season.
though we only see
its dim reflection
in our busy celebrations.
Hope is seeking us
in the  dark corners
of our deepest need.
.

 

 

*a reflection on Christmas and 1 Cor. 13:11-13 and Isaiah 9:2

 

 

Where is Christmas?

My halls are not decked.
No tree.
No wreath.
A few colorful cookies baked.
Their scent long dispersed.

My heart is heavy with grief
over children in cages.
the destruction of democracy
the rise of white nationalism
knowing that we are not reaching toward
points of connection
but nurturing
chasms of departure.

Families flounder
beneath the burden of gifts
and Amazon sells sneakers
to the haunting tune of Ave Maria.
And I am lost.

But maybe in the asking is the answer.
I will find Christ in a cage
on the streets
in the one who despises
my race or gender
or age or sexuality.
And if I am very fortunate
or very faithful
or both
I will find Christ in those I despise
because this year I cannot find Christmas
in the shops
or the sweets
or the carols
or a rosy faced baby.

So please, Godde, let me find Christ
somewhere with in me
Let me find Christ
somewhere in every person I encounter.
Let me look for Christ in unexpected places
even in my unadorned home
and in the dark corners of my hopelessness
and in the promise I cannot grasp.

Let me find Christ
so that I might rest a moment from my despair
and live into the hope
I am so desperately seeking.

Remember the Holy ‘Yeses’

Let us celebrate those who are our ‘firsts’.

I posted about the sculpture of Shirley Chisholm
to be  placed in Brooklyn by the state of New York.
The first African-American woman in congress.
The first African-American woman to run for President.
I remember those days and the times.
I remember the joy and the power that surged through me
singing a holy “Yes!”

So I posted today about the sculpture
and a facebook friend said, “Finally.”
That ‘finally’ tasted like bitterness
and judgment
and dismissal.
Those things I understand. I truly do.

But perhaps ‘Yes’ serves us better.
How much more important is it for us to remember
the Yes of her life
the Yes of her witness
the Yes of a first to break barriers and
move the arc closer to justice
than it had ever been.

Even Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt,
never made it to the promised land.
He only glimpsed it.
His ‘Yes’ was passing through the waters
HIs “Yes” was making a way out of no way
HIs ‘Yes” was trusting Godde’s dream of the future.
His view from the mountain top
does not diminish his ‘Yes’
It invites us to our ‘Yeses’

Today I am grateful for Shirley Chisholm and all her ‘Yeses’
How amazing that the State of New York
recognizes her life and witness.
Today I am going to be glad for all her ‘Yeses’
and grateful that the state celebrates the holy Yes of her life.

Should we focus on Moses’ inability to reach the promised land?
Or Shirley not becoming president?
Let us never diminish the ‘Yes’ of any life.
The Yes of persisting
the Yes that challenges the injustice of every no
the Yes of dreaming justice into existence
the Yes that invites all the ‘Yeses’
of  those who are to come.

 

Comfort in Uncomfortable Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you awoke to a clench in your gut
a shiver in your chest
an ache in your heart
trust me, those feelings belong there.
Every day the assault on our ideals continues.
We question who we are
grieve who we have been
and anguish over
who we are becoming.

The day of Trump is upon us
because we, as a  people,
have been willfully ignorant
unconsciously arrogant
and unable to concede our complicity.
The consequences are upon us.

But let me speak tenderly to you this day:
This wilderness
this political wasteland
will come to an end.

We will not be purified
but we will be released
to try again
to begin again
to make the circuitous
ongoing
journey toward freedom.

Let today be the day of our dreaming
and let our dreams
be our guideposts
Make way for hope,
make way for justice
make way for Godde
to come again

 

 

Isaiah 40:1, 3-5
Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your Godde.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
 make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
 and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
 and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of Godde shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,

Enough Time to Grieve

I am grateful to have lived long enough
to grieve organically.
To survive days with the gash in my heart
bleeding out,
agony insinuated into every conversation –
even when draped in a flat affect
and the pretense of normality.

I am grateful I have had time enough
to explore all the dark corners.
The patience to meander through loss,
to pick up shattered pieces,
and reorder the reality
I feared I would not survive.

Godde requires my honesty,
insists I disrobe my soul,
and open to something
beyond my ability to imagine.
Godde companions me in the shadowlands.
Takes my hand when I am blinded by pain
or self involvement.
Invites me to new ways of seeing,
even when I refuse to open my eyes.

It is good to have lived long enough
to reach the unknown other side.
To discover Godde’s grace
tangled in my memories,
and the promise of Godde’s hope
reflected in my tears.

 

To Our Lawmakers: I’m Not Looking for Perfection

 

I am not looking for perfection from my leaders –
representatives,
senators,
judges –
you do not have to agree with me on every policy point.
You can play poker or golf with people I find reprehensible.
I don’t care.

You don’t have to be a person without flaws,
or who has never made a mistake.
You can be someone like me
who has sometimes made choices
you are ashamed of.
I don’t care.

What I care about is that you are a decent human being.
I care that you don’t judge others while hiding your own perversions.
I care that  you  pit  “we the people”
against one another for your personal gain or ideology.
That’s what I care about.

I want you to share a larger vision of who we can be.
I want you to stop cheating.
Stop gerrymandering
Stop suppressing voters
Stop impeding voting rights.

I want you to be outraged when the President
invites foreign adversaries to interfere
with our elections.

I want you to be decent enough to stand up
to a man who is destroying the fabric of our nation,
who invites division,
encourages hate,
despises diversity,
worships money.

I just want you to be decent.
To put the nation before your self interests.
To be someone your mom would be proud of.
To be a person  of integrity.
I don’t need you to be perfect.
But I really need you to just  be decent .

We all do.

de·​cent | \ ˈdē-sᵊnt \

Definition of decent

1: marked by moral integrity, kindness, and goodwill.    

.

Tales from an Elephant Orphanage

 

Well, folks, I’ve begun working on the sequel to my memoir (A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet).  The working title of the new project is Circling Grace: Tales from an Elephant Orphanage. It’s my telling of the story of Circle of Grace, a Christian, feminist, ecumenical, progressive church of which I am the founding pastor.

I am telling my part of the story though, as with all stories and especially a story about a group of people, mine is only a part. It is exciting to remember the early days, the challenges and discussions as we worked to birth this idea of a Christian feminist worshipping community. I hope, in the end, you will find the tale engaging, challenging, and, most of all, truthful.

The title comes form a conversation I once had with my spiritual director who said, “Connie, Circle of Grace is like an elephant orphanage. Wounded or sick or disabled baby elephants that have have been rejected or abandoned by their herd are taken in, healed, and taught how to be elephants.”

Check out this 60 Minutes story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hErfU4gb1GQ

In somewhat the same way, people come to Circle of Grace because their spiritual communities have rejected them. They come in need of respite and healing, starved for spiritual food and the unconditional love. She continued, “Some are able to return to their herd  (the churches they were raised in) and some, whose wounding has been too severe, remain and form a new tribe.” Her insight helps me ponder the implications and pray for and with the community I pastor.

Today I am doing what pastors do: reflecting on the story  theologically.  Immersed in telling the challenges and reliving the excitement of our early days, I was able to distill it down to a sentence:  “Creating safe spiritual space must take an uncomfortable front seat to theological differences.”

I am excited to be telling my part of the story, even while I agonize over my many and varied inadequacies. I am reminded again how important it Is that we tell our stories. Something important happens when we examine our pasts. We discover more deeply who we are. We see more clearly the challenges we face. And, Godde willing, we stumble toward redemption.

 

Are There No Facts?

You know those dreams you have or movies you’ve watched where the protagonist is running through the forest, whipped by low-hanging branches, and stumbling through the underbrush? That’s how I feel right now as we try to engage from differing perspectives in our political discourse.

My sister told me a story the other day: she asked some ladies  with whom she was playing bridge how, as Christians, they could support a president who (here she listed any number of his immoral behaviors including adultery, lying, racism, caging children…) and the response was, “I don’t believe it.”

How on earth do we converse with one another when facts are considered malleable?
I’m willing to discuss policy with anyone on any part of the political spectrum from right to left, but if we do not share the same reality, how can we talk about anything?

This is the slope we have careened down when science is disputed and reality is dismissed.
Sometime near the beginning of Trump’s presidency Kelly Ann Conway uttered the phrase “alternative facts”? I assumed that was the beginning of the end. In reality, that was the beginning of the beginning.

I remember when Richard Nixon’s actions came to light. Once the facts were established, both sides of the aisle insisted he step down. This time, this scandal, is horrifically different because our Republican leaders are treating the facts as optional interpretations of reality.

Facts are not something we can choose to believe or not. And if our policies are not based on facts then they will not truly address our problems. Then there is the unspoken truth  that conservatives  fail to critique how their policies underpin racism, sexism, and homophobia. They are unable or unwilling to confront and condemn the prejudice that powers their current movement because that would require admitting and responding to facts.

Where do we go from here? I am uncertain. But I must believe that there are more people who are willing to acknowledge and deal with the facts of climate change, racism, sexism, homophobia and how our lives are diminished – even endangered – than there are who aren’t.  More of us who are willing to be challenged than there are people who insist on believing only what is comfortable or that confirms their prejudices.

Today, let us embrace facts. Let us be challenged and informed by them. Let us offer them to our conservative friends. Over and over again. Open handed, like palming a cube of sugar for a horse. At some point, like the horse, they may come to realize that facts are palatable, even sweet.  They can be tentative as they like, but we must not withdraw our hand.