All posts by Connie Tuttle

Where There is no Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Proverbs 29:18a

One of my favorite scripture quotes. It feels so visceral, so challenging, so immediate. For those of us it speaks to, it challenges to us is to dream. To hope.  To imagine a world worth working toward.

When decency seems to fail, when violence is commonplace, and when the ascendence of white masculinity is viewed as the norm, we must dream powerful dreams. We must dream to survive.

The question for us is: how do a terrified and sometimes broken people dream?
Let our visions be informed but not driven by our anger.
Let our visions be informed but not driven by our pain.
Let our visions, instead, be informed and driven by hope. 
Now is the time we need to dream big. We need to risk daring a largeness. The seemingly impossible.

We are heirs to visionaries throughout time, including the dreamers who founded this nation. We will be no more perfect than they were, but we stand on their shoulders and can move what we share of the vision forward. Our imperfections do not reflect on the vision, but on our ability to bring it fully to fruition. It is okay to be imperfect. It is not okay to let our imperfections keep us from doing the work. We are farther along because of the many who went before us.  Let the work continue.
Now is our time.  

New Chapter. New Book.

I tell my story because I want to understand how the pieces fit together. But there is another part – looking for others who may have shared my experiences or enough similar ones to see to what conclusions they have come, how they were shaped, what wisdom they gleaned that I missed. And in some ways, to find people who are home to me.  Did they ask the same questions? Are there questions I can explore I haven’t considered? 

            Always beneath those questions are the questions: no matter how different we are, how do our lives intersect? where do we connect? Or can we? 

            I often talk about backing up and taking the long view. In those moments I see the connections: the way humanity is woven together and with creation. What seems disparate has tendrils of connection curling beneath the surface. 

            So today I begin to tell another part of my story. The passion that drives me is a gift from Godde. The call to pastor Circle of Grace is a gift and challenge of the Spirit. The struggle to live into the passion is both the gift and curse of community. I cannot tell more of my story without telling the story of Circle of Grace.

While this is my story it is also the story of many people who passed through our metaphorical doors. Some came to stay, some came for a while, some left angry and hurt. I hope to structure the tale to include the telling of others as well as my own.

The truth is sometimes difficult to share. Or even admit. I claim here and now that my truth is only a facet of our shared experiences. I heard a word the other day that that sums up my anxiety, joy, and trepidation of this leg of my journey: “flawsome.” 

            Thank you for listening. This is the beginning of my next book. Ask me questions. Challenge my assumptions. I see a bumpy road ahead and, I hope, will see a few more pieces of the puzzle of me fit together.

Embrace Your Inner Moses

This nation is in the midst of a mythic battle between right and wrong, truth and lies, life and death, and… good and evil. Yep. I said it.

Sometimes it has felt like I was watching a fast-moving train careen around corners. I sucked in my breath, heart thumping, waiting to see if the cars would fall off the rails or down the side of a mountain or churn over a trackless canyon to disintegrate as it plowed into the earth.

Sometimes it has felt like I was watching a slow-moving train with no engineer, no known direction, and no one in control.

The visuals have changed. There are not trains in my present day imaging. Rather a battle where the weapons of truth and lies have equal value. Where the end result will either be life-giving or death-dealing. Where our nation, and even the world will choose for their organizing principle to be those of good (freedom, justice, community, mutuality, diversity, law) or evil (control, vigilantism, division, hierarchy, homogeneity, and power).

It helps to change the imagery. Trains are massive metal containers pulled by even more massive engines that take miles of track to come to a stop. There is no way to turn a train unless pre-prescribed tracks are involved. The way is laid out and diversion is precipitated by disaster.

So… how might this conflict be reimagined? What would it mean if we did not see ourselves as powerless? And what, in this world where we experience so much as being out of our control, can we do to make a difference?

Here is my proposal: let every one of us claim our inner Moses. Imagine the power shift!

Hear me out. The people were inured to an intolerable and seemingly hopeless situation. They might dream of freedom and justice but felt powerless to make change. They may not have realized, because of its universal nature, that slavery was evil. When every day is about survival, enough to eat, enough to pay rent, enough to put gas in the car, then fighting for an idea, even a holy one, can take the back seat.

Moses rose up from his privilege to challenge the status quo and lead the people on the dangerous journey to freedom. Let us take a lesson from that for the present. Those of us who see what is going on must use whatever privilege we have to challenge the power of the right as it seeks to control women, demote queers to second class citizens, eliminate trans folk, and disenfranchise people of color. Period. It means making mistakes, trusting Godde, and learning from one another and from the journey how to be free.

Free and just. Free and mutual. Free and diverse. Free and always learning more deeply what true freedom looks like.

We must recognize the evil before us and stand up to those who use their power to keep power. We must risk ourselves and talk back to lies.
We must raise up an idea that is better and greater than our immediate security.
The idea of a world where personal gain and personal power are not the highest values.
Where freedom is everyone’s birthright.
Where all voices are heard.
Where we cast our lots together for the greater good of the whole.

We must step out in faith that Godde calls us to cross over seas that overwhelm us, trusting that Godde makes a way out of no way.
We must challenge the idols of control and wealth.
We must do the difficult work of learning what it means to be truly free.
We must do the work even if we do not end up living to see the results of our work.

Godde doesn’t care if you ‘stutter’ or whatever hindrance you believe keeps you from the work. Use the gifts you have with whatever challenges you have. The time in NOW. Our nation and our world need us.

Embrace your flawed, wonderful inner Moses and step out in faith.

Is There No Balm in Gilead?

 

We do not need to be cured.
We need to be healed.
Healed from the grief
and despair
of all that has been lost.
But mostly we need to heal
into hope
into believing
that what is to come
can be better.

To heal
we must give up privilege
but refuse to release it
to those who use their
white privilege
to spew hate.
We must use
whatever privilege we have
to end privilege.

To heal from fear
our souls need
the balm of forgiveness
even though
there is much
we may not yet
be able to forgive.

We need to be healed
from the betrayal
of  our nation
and  our neighbors.
Healed from the betrayal of
those who choose
alienation and hatred,
over values
we once sought to share.

We need to heal
from despair.
into hope.
Hope empowers
us to make change
and to love our neighbors,
seeming enemies, all.

The balm we seek
may be the balm we reject.
Love, the life-giving intention
for all creation,
doesn’t fuel our fear.
Love casts out
the fear to act
to stand
to speak
to keep on keeping on.

Love is the balm that heals us.
Damn it.

 

 

 

 

My Cup Overflows

Friday October 15th I preached a sermon at Columbia Theological Seminary for their Pride worship service.
That might not seem like a big deal  but here is some background:
– I was the first open lesbian to graduate from Columbia. (1986)
– The church would not ordain me and I left to pursue the ministry I was called to in other ways and other places.
– There is now a significant presence of LGBT+ students on campus.
– They celebrated Pride!?!

I never paused to dream that one day the seminary would celebrate Pride.  It never crossed my mind that there would be such a vibrant and open queer community of students and faculty.  Or that the community would be supported by the institution. But Godde dreams larger than I do and sees farther than the small span of my prophetic imagination.  As an undergrad at Agnes Scott College, my mentor, Dr. Mary Boney Sheats,  warned me before I set foot in the doors of Columbia that “You might not get there, but you will make a way for  those who come to go farther.” I never truly understood what she was saying to me until I stood that day at a pulpit and looked out over the future.

And they have gone so much farther. Thanks be to Godde! They have pushed forward the work of repairing what is broken. There is still a distance to go but each generation moves us into Godde’s future which is beyond our imagining.

These newly-called-to-the-ministry warriors don’t just look to the battles at hand or the ones in their immediate futures, but they look to the past. The service was one to honor those who had gone before, making this present possible. After the service the LGBT+ community (Imago Dei) presented me with a beautiful handmade stole decorated with a Pride flag. On the back were handwritten messages of acknowledgment and thanks. I could not have dreamed this day.

My cup overflows.

 

 

 

 

Amy Ferris – Read My Book!

Two years ago I had the privilege of taking a master class with Amy Ferris at a writers’ conference in Hawaii.  I had just read her book Marrying George Clooney: Confessions of a Midlife Crisis and, later, Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept us Small. Amy is smart, even brilliant, and funny. Sometimes hilarious. Mostly, she’s a truth-teller.

Since that time, we friended on Facebook and I follow her posts. She is powerful and persuasive,  encouraging and challenging women to own their power. And as powerful as I think I am there are also times I feel very small.

Anyone who is an artist of any sort: writer, painter, musician, singer, graphic designer… knows how vulnerable it feels to be so naked in public. And then waiting for response. From friends, the public, critics, and in my case, even theologians. I am challenged by Amy’s posts (not just one, but many) to stand up, ask for what you want, insist on respect. She says ‘be noisy, be loud’ and challenges her readers, ‘dreams are not meant to be tossed aside’.

I messaged her a while back and asked her to read my book. She responded with a heart emoji. What do I make of that?  So here I am being noisy and loud and asking again for what I want because this woman makes a difference to me and shared a part of my journey and continues to inspire me, however unknowing.

Amy Ferris, read my book!

Making a Way: the Power of Connection

Sometimes, when I am hurting or scared, I am like a wounded elephant. I want to go off by myself to die. And yet.
And yet I yearn for connection. I want others to care but I am afraid my grief or pain is  too much.
There are times I  cried for days, weeks, months even, sitting in my pain with a friend who listens. Not tears leaking down my cheeks but full on sobbing with snot and hiccoughs and incoherent babbling. It is then I am at my most vulnerable. I fear rejection. I’m afraid  my feelings will alienate the ones reaching out to me. And the sad thing is that my feelings have alienated people. I have hurt so bad at times that the animal instinct to protect myself morphed my pain into rage. Anger at the unfairness of it all. Anger at my hopelessness. Anger at my powerlessness. Anger that there was no comfort, however lovingly offered.

It was, finally, the power of those who persevered that created the space for me to heal. It was those who maintained connection when I withdrew. And those who did not, would not, take my pain and anger personally who helped me retrieve myself.  Otherwise, I think one of a few things could have happened:
– I could have isolated, withdrawn from life, and lived on half alive.
–  I could have returned to the larger world, isolated from myself and others by living inauthenticity.
– I could have become hateful, distrusting, and hopeless, diminishing my ability to be more fully human.

But I didn’t. And I’m telling this story as a cautionary tale. So many of us are in pain, grieving, hopeless, angry… with our neighbors, fellow citizens, politicians, – even friends. The political landscape can seem hopeless. The fast-moving train of racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, and climate change denial barrels toward our uncertain future. I don’t think I’m alone in mourning the loss of the progress we were making or being enraged at the our seeming powerlessness to protect people of color or a woman’s right to choose or our planet’s health.
I’m not referring to fleeting feelings but the ones that, when reading the news, sends electrical shocks through your chest. Or the times before drifting off to sleep a sadness settles over you like a blanket of hopelessness. Or when rage rises up and you fight off secret desires for another to die.

And you wonder, is there any way to get to the other side.

Here is my tentative and small suggestion. Let us sit with one another. Stay connected. Keep reaching out. When one is weak another can be strong. When one is hopeless, another may be able to see a path more clearly. When one rages, the other can make space for that truth. When you have the strength to reach out, do it. If you should be tempted to withdraw from life, allow the touch of others. My experience tell me  that we can only make our way together. Together we help one another remain authentic. We can refuse to disavow what we value deeply. We may not see the path out of our current failure/challenge/disaster… but together let us make a way out of what seems like no way.

Lost Time

A year and a half, nearly two years –
and we continue to wrestle with lost time.
How have we filled our hours
and days
and months?

Has fear divorced us
from our neighbors?
Isolated us
from our friends?
Quarantined us
from the world
so much so
that we refuse to live?
Have we marked time with
resentment
fear
anxiety
and the troubled anguish
of our souls?

Let us instead
open ourselves
to the time allotted to us,
acknowledge each day as
a gift to unwrap
a challenge to meet
a promise to be kept.

Let us open ourselves
to the cosmos
the wind,
the raspy pollen,
the green of burgeoning life,
the gray of life expended,
and devote ourselves
to the untamed spaces
within

Let us unearth
the faceted layers
of our souls,
confront  our fears,
and dare to follow
where the Spirit beckons.

This time need not be lost.
Rather,
let us embrace
as possibility
what once we ignored,
discover our uncharted hearts
and the hidden wealth of  wisdom
we unknowingly possess.

This is an invitation for us
to live deeply
to honor our losses
while choosing to live.
This is an invitation
to grasp life’s energy
with both hands
to embrace
to challenge
to drink the nectar
of the Sacred sap
flowing in our bones,
pulsing in the stars,
and thrumming in the veins
of our holy, holy world.

Come with me
to places
not confined
by this disease
and let us explore
the boundless terrain
of our souls.

Living with Uncertainty

There is a quote, I believe from an Episcopal confession of sin,  that says “We are self-deceived and strangers to the truth.”

I like to be certain.
It comforts me.
Numbs me
to  ever-changing realities.
But we all seek certainty at times
because the world is so large
people are so unpredictable
politics are so complex.
At their best
religions wrestle with questions
whose answers are beyond our imagining.
At their worst,
they offer false and concrete
certainty.

Most of the time,
most of us,
walk in the world content
with the ‘knowing’ we have
however incomplete
however unchallenged
We ground ourselves
in the rhythms of
waking and sleeping
working and playing
connecting and disconnecting.
Until the times
when our unknowing
overwhelms us
and we realize
that we are strangers to the truth
and maybe even
self deceived.

Climate change.
Political turmoil
in a land that once felt knowable.
The fall of nations to terror,
the subjugation of women
through sexual violence
the rise of authoritarianism,
rampant disease,
economic uncertainty.

Confronted with our ignorance,
that what once we thought
may no longer be true,
that what once we believed
has shown itself false,
we combat our fear,
by clinging
to what we think we know
because certainty
is our last refuge.

So let us pursue
something other than
the numbness of ‘certainty’.
The challenges of our time offer
both despair
and hope.
Death and life.
When we are confronted
by ambiguity
let us choose hope
and let us choose life.
Not because we know
any damn thing
but because
we are willing to risk trust.

This is where
faith and certainty collide.
Choose the path of trust
not because we are convinced
of some immutable truth
but because we choose
knowledge beyond facts
relationship beyond comprehension
and the wild goodness of the Sacred.

The writer of the book of Deuteronomy said,  “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” (30:19)

 

A Nation Stuck

 

One of the most helpful books to me, as a pastor and counselor, is James Fowler’s  Stages of Faith. In the same way psychologists use models of psycho-social developmental stages, Fowler examines the development of spiritual growth.

When I look around at our current political dilemma and try to understand how we got here and why, I find myself returning to his text. I have done no research so my hypothesis is based solely on observation. That being said, I believe a good part of this nation is stuck in Fowler’s stage 3.

Stage 3 is adolescence to early adulthood. Fowler calls it the Synthetic-Conventional stage in which peoples’ believe without critical examination. They believe that they have been taught and in what everyone around them believes in. There is a strong sense of identity with the group with whom they share belief systems. A particular feature of stage 3 is a lack of openness to question because questions are frightening. People at this stage of spiritual development tend to trust implicitly people in authority (external authority) and don’t recognize the box or circular thinking that is internalized when their beliefs go unexamined.

Sound familiar? I don’t mean this as a judgment on people but on the systems that  stunt spiritual and intellectual growth.  And not only stunt it, but condemn questions as faithless. A questioner myself, I find it terrifying. However,  it is important that my fears not  engage with the terror of  those mired in stage 3. It will accomplish nothing and most likely escalate fear on both sides.

What are the systems that stunt?  Fundamentalist religion and public education. Fundamentalism has a sharp stop at the door of questioning. The theological tenets of fundamentalism are circular arguments that defy challenges. Having worked with many folk healing from fundamentalist pasts yet thirsty for Godde, the fear of being wrong and ‘disobeying’ the authority figures of their pasts is inextricable tied to the fear of eternal damnation.  Fostering absolute trust in authority figures subsidized Trump’s ascension.

Then there’s our educational system. When we began ‘teaching to the test’ we encouraged children to think in absolutes.  Your answer is right or wrong. Facts are pandered to as knowledge rather than critical thinking.  When you spend twelve years of your life being ‘taught to the test’ the way you engage and interpret events in the larger world is stymied. It fosters  tribalism, manifesting in a shared identity with like-minded people, setting up a false ‘us and them’.

I keep thinking back to the opening chapter in C. S.Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In it the professor, after helping the children discern the truth of a troubling situation, sends them forth saying to himself (something like), “Aren’t schools teaching children how to think these days?” If we are afraid of children learning to think in a spiritual or theological context then, of course, we would be fearful of children learning to think in an intellectual context. Surely that fear is the origin of the seared phrase ‘intellectual elitists’. Those who have learned to question are deemed questionable.

My friend, Erin, says I put an ‘altar call’ at the end of my blog posts. Today I don’t have one. But join me in the effort to hear the echoes of faith that repeatedly reassure us to ‘be not afraid’,  Be not afraid to think. Be not afraid to question, Be not afraid of being wrong. Be not afraid of not knowing the answer. Be not afraid of many answers all being ‘right’. Be not afraid of the One whose identity is Love.