Category Archives: memoir

Learning from Our Elders or My Momma Is Still Teaching Me

That’s my momma on the right (my daughter is on the left and that’s me in the middle, but this is a story about my mom). She passed away December 20, 2014, a little over four years ago.
The other day a neighbor stopped me and told me a story about her I hadn’t heard before.

A friend  borrowed my mom’s car and it had broken down in the parking lot of the VA. Mom needed to get there with her AAA card for it to be towed. She called our neighbor and asked  if she was doing anything that day and, if not, would she take her to the VA?
Our delightful neighbor said ‘yes’ but in less than a mile her car came to an unexpected stop. Eventually, the neighbor’s  husband arrived to wait for the tow truck and Mom and our friend took off in the husband’s truck.

They drove to the VA, my friend tells me, and drove around the parking lot for nearly a half an hour but couldn’t find mom’s friend or her car. So they call the friend who tells them, “Not that VA” and they take off for another VA and finally meet the tow truck and pass off the card. It’s mid to late afternoon by the time they get home. As my 91 year old mom is getting out of the car in front of our house, she turns and says, “Well, we’ve had an adventure. Just think, if we weren’t doing this you would have been at home not doing anything.” She smiled with a twinkle, or maybe it was a glint, in her eye and said, “Life is an adventure.”

I am so very glad I got to hear that story. It rang true and opened my heart to a flood of memories and to the loving grief and gentle tears that have replaced the anguish of loss.

So today I am packing to go to the Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green and I confess to some trepidation. Hope my car will make the drive, hope my budget will survive the expense, hope I won’t be exhausted when I get there, hope I do well, hope I meet nice people, hope… actually, that’s a lot of trepidation.

However, I am girding my loins to lean into my mom’s wisdom. Whatever happens, life is an adventure. If I encounter life without expectation, if I am willing to do just the next thing that needs to be done –  perhaps even with enjoyment – well, then I will be participating in a well-lived life.

I’ve been  an observer of a woman who lived unafraid and with joy. It’s time for me to follow in her footsteps.

Saints and Sinners

I just got back from Saints and Sinners Book Festival (a LGBT subset of the Tennessee Williams Book Festival).

I want to list all the writers who read their works. All the books that piqued my interest. All the poems that pierced my heart. All the laughter that made room for the many and differing ones of us. Suffice it to say I had a wonderful time.

I was affirmed as a writer and accepted as a person of faith. Unlike some gatherings , my faith and call did not relegate me to the kiddie table.

And I met some amazing people. Part of me thinks that being in a place where I could read new work to an attentive audience was the best thing. Part of me thinks that being on panels with other writers (many of whom were best-sellers and have published multiple works) was the best thing. Part of me thinks that my musings about the writing process being received and appreciated as equal to my panel compatriots was the best part… but really, the best part was the people I met and connected with. The best part was taking master classes with Dorothy Allison and Judy Grahn. The best part was the deep conversations about life and writing.

The very best part was being a part of a tribe that welcomed me in, accepted my gifts, and encouraged my growth. And I don’t think my reflection would be complete if I didn’t lament that this is where the institutional church often falls short.

The Rev. Connie Tuttle, author
A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet

Are you my tribe? and other silly questions

For those of you who have read my book, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet,  (and if you haven’t, please do! Shameless plug: It’s available at Charis Books, Barnes and Noble,  Amazon and from the publisher, Wipf and Stock) then you know a recurring issue is that I claim tribes that don’t claim me back. I’m sure there is some way to unpack this psychologically or metaphorically but, really, the living of it is just part of who I am.

Here are some good descriptive words: audacious, silly, bold, self-deceived, hopeful, entitled, and brave.
Here’s a good question: what was I thinking?!

Which brings me to the story of the week. As an author I am also learning to be a marketing   person. ‘Learning’ being the key term. The best advice says one must identify one’s audience. Who would want to read the book? In my mind it could be anyone: army brats, people of faith, queers of all sorts, feminists, memoir readers, southerners, third culture folk… give me a minute and I could add to that, but you get the idea.
Then there’s the problem that the book, or me for that matter,  doesn’t quite fit into any of those categories. Take  the ‘people of faith’ category. It  isn’t the best fit because I am messy, flawed, unabashedly sexual, and salty. So my story isn’t inspirational in the usual way, nor is it filled with such spiritual insight and practice so as to invite others more deeply into their spiritual lives or impress them with mine.

You get where I’m going here? But I digress. That’s just some background to tell the story of how I and a dear friend travelled to a conference to give a presentation that virtually no one attended. I’ve come to believe it’s yet another case of me claiming a tribe that didn’t claim me back. As I tell this rest of this story be clear: I am not angry, dejected, or sad. Oh, I was but I don’t want to live there and frankly, it would be dishonest, because I might could have anticipated it. Today I am laughing at myself.

…So Erin and I drove to Oxford, MS to Ole Miss to the Southeast Women’s Studies Association Conference to talk about being queer in the church in the South. We were in the pedagogy path and ready to talk about the lived experience on which theory is based. As another dear friend reminded me: stories are lived theory. On the day of our presentation we arrived early at our scheduled room. It was set up for about 75 with our table at the front.
We got the lay of the land and waited for our captive audience to arrive.
They didn’t.
The moderator came in, looked around, and spoke with us briefly. No one was coming in for our presentation. I think she went out, grabbed a faculty member, and strong-armed her into coming in. Soooo… we gave our presentation to the moderator and the strong-armed faculty member. We were articulate, engaging, challenging, and charming – all the things you would hope for in a presentation at a conference. And more fun than most because we are both storytellers by profession and nature.

On the drive back we talked about how to describe our experience. “Though the room held 75, we managed to provide an intimate experience.”  Okay, it took a couple hundred of miles of driving to get to the belly laugh,  but I think we both  wanted to get there. Eventually.

Back to the question. Are you my tribe? I assumed that the SEWSA conference was  part of my tribe because, well, I’ve been living as a bold, out lesbian, feminist in the South since the mid 70’s.  In a gathering of feminists and queer theorists it just seemed like a seamless fit. I claim my tribe.  I have something important to add to the conversation. Thoughtful, nuanced, and lived.
But… as so often happens, my tribe did not claim me back. They are not alone and I do not fault them. Much. This experience helped me name a bigger truth: most of my tribes don’t claim me back.

Here’s the thing. I’m gonna keep on claiming you. I’m going to keep insisting that I belong. I’m going to keep on doing it because it’s at  the center of my story. And it’s what makes my story universal. It’s at the center of my theology, the way I am in ministry, and the way I live my life:  with the absolute certainty that we all belong.
Our deepest truth is that  we are all members of the same tribe.
So look for me. I’m coming to a meeting, a group, a gathering near you soon!

 

A Memoirist’s Confession

It’s true. It takes a certain amount of ego to put one’s life on paper, to peddle it to publishers, and to ask people to read your story. The other true thing is that once all that is done it’s left to the author to live with insecurity and self-doubt.
It could have been done better, written better, crafted better.

The editor in me asks: what was left out that should be in? what is in that should be out?
The philosopher in me asks: what is true?
The theologist in me asks: where is Godde?
The woman in me asks: having spoken your truth, can you still love yourself?

I have to believe every memoirists asks at least some of these questions. And perhaps it is not only the writer who must ask these questions. As you read the story of another’s life it’s an invitation to ask those questions of your own life.

How do you tell your story to yourself? How willing are you to be a truth-teller, even when your truth is messy or even downright ugly? Does it matter?

And then there’s the question I’ve danced around: if people know who I am will they still like me? It is a universal question that is also an invitation to an authentic life. For me, the answer is: not always, sometimes, and passionately. Speaking and living your truth can result in people not always liking you. Or liking you sometimes. Or disliking you passionately. Or liking you passionately. And sometimes, loving you warts and all.

The risk and joy of telling one’s story is that it sifts out chaff and reveals what you may have always known but were afraid to acknowledge.

I would love to hear, read, know your story. It is worth the risk of telling whatever the venue. Hearing your story will grow me into a deeper, more compassionate human being. I hope my story does the same.

So here is my story. There are some unresolved issues with the crafting of it that I only saw after its publication. There are truths that make me look quite weak at times and trite at others. There are passions revealed. And flaws. And even some places where I look quite exceptionally good.

My final confession as a memoirist is that I want  you to read my life. I want to share the connections of our human stories. And somewhere, deep down, I hope that telling my story makes a difference.

 

 

Abuse and Redemption

 

Sometimes when I write a blog post  I end up discovering even more of my story. I thought the book told it all. Last week, somewhere near the end of the post about going to Columbia Theological Seminary to read from my memoir I said I was “…wide open and vulnerable to Godde” in my time there as a student, and that those in power (at the seminary) abused my vulnerability to Godde.

People (usually men) in power don’t tend to understand or appreciate how their power intersects with the emotional and spiritual vulnerability of the powerless.
In a week where women around the country have been traumatized and re-traumatized by the obliviousness and blatant disregard by men in power I am more deeply aware of how intimate abuse is, whether it is physical, sexual, or spiritual. It occurs in our homes, our schools, our political institutions, our churches, synagogues, and mosques – wherever men are in power. It arises from the systemic evil of sexism and heterosexism.  So how do we make change so that no other woman or gender non-conforming person is ever abused again?

My experience of redemption begins with one.
It begins with one person in power being willing to listen.
It begins with women being in and sharing power.
It begins with witnesses.

Nearly 50 people came to hear me read from my memoir last week at Columbia. Women and men, cis gender, gender non-conforming, LGBT, and straight. And they listened. At the end of the forum, the president of the seminary, Leanne Van Dyk, rose and spoke, saying that on behalf of the institution, she was sorry for all I had been put through.
In that moment, redemption began.
A woman in power.
A woman in power listened.
A woman in power said what I needed to hear for my healing to continue.
And so it begins.
Redemption begins with giving women power.
It begins with listening.
It begins with acknowledging  past wrongs and committing to new ways of being.
It begins when we have the strength to speak, the willingness to listen, and the power to make change.

Returning to the Scene

Who woulda’ thunk it? Thirty-two years after after I graduated from Columbia I have been invited back to read from my memoir and talk about my experiences there.

I have mixed feelings about it. The strongest feeling I have is gratitude. Never would I have thought this day would arrive. What a graceful moment to come full circle and return to a campus where once I was a stranger in a strange land, an unwelcome alien, and a proverbial thorn in the side of this august institution. I am grateful not only to be welcomed and given a voice but I am also grateful (and astounded!) to see the course  ‘Ministry With LGBTQIA Youth’ offered.

But to be completely honest, the other thing I am feeling is anger. Now we all know that anger is often a ‘leading emotion’ that conceals or protects us from the underlying and original emotion. So if I follow that thread I must confess that my anger is trying to  protect me from hurt. So there you have it. The hurt is old. It is the hurt of being silenced and demeaned. It is the hurt of being dismissed. Hated. Feared. It is the hurt of being wide open and vulnerable to Godde and having those in power abusing that vulnerability.

I met a few weeks ago with a wonderful woman from Columbia who invited me to be a part of this event. She is ordained. And a lesbian. And open. All in the Presbyterian Church (USA). After a long, truthful, and profoundly intimate conversation she asked me what I would like from Columbia. It surprised me when I teared up and said  “I just want someone to say ‘I’m sorry’. ” Funny that.

This Wednesday I am invited to be a part of worship and to share my story. To talk about my journey at the institution I both love and hate. I have come to believe that giving me a voice may be the most profound apology I could be offered.

 

The Book, the Party, the People

It was a wonderful night!
Thank you to all who came out to celebrate with me!
Thank you to all who were there in spirit!

After eight (count ’em) years of working on my memoir it is time to celebrate!
So bring on the music – O Happy Day, Sing Lo-Sing O Sophia, and Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round, sung and led by three talented singers and a phenomenal pianist.  We celebrated diversity and connectivity.  Being interviewed by Imam Trina Jackson was enlightening and fun. (I love her so much!)
Celebrating at my alma mater, Agnes Scott, brought special joy, as did working with Tina Pippin (Religious Studies) and Kate Colussey-Estes (chaplain of the college). The college has come so far since I was there with their now profound commitment to diversity and inclusion!

And then there were all the friends who provided the ‘pot luck’ reception of extremely excellent food- both savory and sweet. And those who stayed to party.

After two weeks of wrestling a severe case of the flu topped by bronchitis I was able to step out and share stories of blessing and struggle. What was profound was the gathering of people who care, the sharing of food and life, and the hope for the future as people continue to stand against all that dehumanizes in the name of Godde.

I Sent My Book To Hillary

I sent my book to Hillary. Something in me wants to share my story with her. The truth is, her story is a part of my story, in the same way that all of our stories are a part of the larger epic writ large in our time. I identify with her as a woman in times of great change who has faced defeat while challenging institutions entrenched in sexism. She, perhaps, with more grace than I.

Make no mistake. I am no Hillary. I don’t have her intelligence, experience, or fortitude. But I know what it is like to be seen as a threat and to be the object upon whom people project their fears. I sent her my book because her story resonates  with me and I hope mine resonates with her. We are sisters bound by our age, gender, and passion for justice.

So I sent her a copy. Because, well,  we are “stronger together” and my small piece is joined to her very large piece and every other piece women bring to the table.

In my Author’s Notes and Acknowledgments I say, “Though I would not choose to live my life differently, I have learned that sometimes the dragon wins.”

The dragon won this round but he ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Because sisters, our stories are stories of strength, persistence, stamina, and dreaming large. So watch out, because we will change the world, one life, one story at a time.

 

Good Enough

Here’s a paradox: the story I tell in my book, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, is an extension of the work of my life. Another way I bear witness. Another kind of prophetic ministry. Now hold that in one hand. In the other hold the idea that I am a creative person who dances with language and paints pictures with words.

1-  Faithful to a call in which ego often gets shoved out of the way
and
2-  writer as artist with ego to spare.
Interesting intersection. Actually, not a new one for me. I teeter on a balance beam between the two and list one way or the other depending on the time of day, my frame of mind, and how centered I am in Godde on any given moment.

I am not particularly good or saintly. If you read my story you will discover a gleefully imperfect woman.  I do  have a wicked little voice in one ear that berates me for not being perfect. But there is a stronger voice in my other ear that says, “do your best and let it go” and “you will never be without flaws but don’t be without integrity”.
I wish I could be as good to my writer self as I am to my human self. But maybe that’s the answer to my dilemma today: to know that my work is not perfect, but I  have done it with integrity.

Wow. Thanks for listening to me untangle that internal knot.  I invite you to do the same. Unravel the  cords that bind you to the falsehood that  you are not good enough because you are not ‘perfect’.

 

Why I Wrote the Book (and a sneak peek)

People often ask me why I wanted to write a book – that was during the years I put my head down and trashed a thousand drafts. I always said it was because I had a story to tell. Now that my book (A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet) is published I need to think about the answer to that question in different ways.

It’s still true that I  wanted to write a book because I have stories to tell.
But there are lots of reasons.
I wrote a book because my life is unusual – or as some have said, ‘interesting’.
I wrote a book because I love words and language.
I wrote a book – and will probably  write more – because the creative process gives me juice.
I wrote this book because it is insight into a small part of the history of change in the church and the nation.
I wrote this book because I wanted to confront myself and share the humanity of struggle.
I  also wrote this book because I have a big ole’ creative gene begging for expression.

Here is a preview, a snippet, a snapshot from the book. It is from the time my mom and I visited Dachau when I was ten:

“I leaned into my mother’s warmth, hungry for the security she offered as I took in the pain and horror. Questions I would struggle with the rest of my life were forged in those moments. Forever, my questions about the Sacred and the human, history and theology, politics and prayer seek answers in those grim, gray rooms filled with the remains of the innocent and the stench of intolerance.
That day I left the camp in the safety of my mother’s embrace. It did not occur to me that she was like other mothers and that there were things from which she could not protect me. We passed through the gates of the camp returning to a world filled with magic and color and sunlight. I did not know then but Dachau will be a part of me until the day I die.
We returned home and over the next weeks and months, my fear and outrage receded to tolerable levels. Back in school, I turned to my studies and friendships.

As a woman and a lesbian I wear the first hand scars of the injury done to my soul by sexism, heterosexism, and the not so subtle message that I am “less than.” I also carry within me secondary scars of evil. As a white person, I the carry the secondary scars of racism, as a non-Jew, the secondary scars of Nazism. As a citizen, the secondary scars of violence. As a human being, the secondary scars of intolerance.
I guess I made that up, secondary scars, or maybe I heard in another context, but what I mean is that I and we carry in our persons not only the consequences of evil that has been done to us but also the evil that is done to others. We are not separate from that which is perpetrated on others. We are injured either by our complicity or our compassion, whether conscious or not. It is those scars that make it impossible for me to remain silent.”

A final plug: it can be ordered from Amazon or directly from the publisher: https://wipfandstock.com/a-gracious-heresy.html