Category Archives: memoir

OMG! My Book Has Arrived!

In what may be the longest pregnancy in recorded history, my memoir, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet  has arrived. Here is the description I wrote for the back of the book and it about sums it up:

“Take one wildly naïve, deeply flawed, completely unconventional woman and stir in God. Add to the mix that she is a lesbian, feminist, army brat, and single mom and what you get is an earnestly radical Christian on a mission. Her response to an insistent call to prophetic ministry is acutely human and terminally messy. Prone to veer off course, she wrestles angels who repeatedly return her to her trajectory. No matter, the prophetic ministry to which she is called ends up taking place in hundreds of small daily acts rather than the great act to which she had hoped for.”

I was notified that my author’s copies would be sent out late last week. So I just went online to see if maybe, somehow, who knows, it was on the web site. It is!
https://wipfandstock.com/a-gracious-heresy.html

It will also be on Amazon and in bookstores sometime in the next three or four weeks. Audible to follow.

Can I say I am overwhelmed? But more surprising, I am terrified.  It seemed like a good idea at the time. I have lots of good ideas “at the time”. This is one I can’t take back or do over.

So here it is, dear readers. I have labored long, revised and re-revised, agonized, and sweat tears. I now offer it to you in all it’s messy, imperfect glory. I self disclose (you’ll need to tell me if it is ‘over’ or ‘under’) and all of a sudden I feel very vulnerable. You may wonder why I didn’t think about this before. You may also come to discover that it  is not how I work.

‘Jump first’ seems to be my motto.Look around second. So now I’m looking around to see what I’ve gotten myself into. I am not oriented enough to answer that question yet, but this I will say: Some part of me thinks I have done my best and some part thinks it will never be good enough. That said, my story is an invitation to think about call, spiritual experience, doctrine, heresy, sexuality,  faithfulness, and challenging the powerful.  It’s also a damn good story about an interesting life.

I hope you will do me the honor of reading it.

Being the First


Remember all those jokes that went around that began “This is what people think I do” followed by either glorified or belittling pictures – or both – and then the punch line, “this is what I really do”?  Well, that’s kind of what being ‘the first’ is like.

I was the first open lesbian student at Agnes Scott College in the late 70’s and the first open lesbian student at Columbia Theological Seminary in the early 80’s. A few people thought I was a warrior. Believe me, I wanted to be one. If I could have channeled Xena I would have been one happy woman. But I discovered not all warriors are Xena, some are just emboldened believers who are willing to make the grueling march through enemy territory. And the thing is, as a warrior, you really aren’t at your best when you are alone. It really does help to  have an army beside you. Being ‘the first’ is lonely.  But many saw me as a strong warrior like the woman pictured above.

Then there were the majority who saw me as a destructive force that threatened to shatter institutions and bring down civilization. I am glad to report I did neither of these things. Sometimes I wish I had, but I didn’t. I had no interest in destroying institutions only in changing them and challenging beliefs, privilege, and systems of power.  I did that every day, sometimes by my mere presence, but with nowhere near the force or power that some assumed I possessed. 

What I really did was show up every day and try to be my best, most authentic self.  I didn’t always succeed, but mostly. Being the first means you probably won’t get where you want to go. It means you are plowing the field for someone else to sow and harvest. It means clearing a way so that those who you follow will be able to push even farther into the uncharted territory. Being the first is lonely and sometimes forgotten work.

That doesn’t mean it is not important work. It has taken me decades to realize that being the first was enough for me and right for the time. It was a challenge I accepted and a grace I assumed. But really, being the first looks much more like this than what others imagined:

The really cool thing is that now I am telling the story of what it was like to be ‘the first’ from my perspective. My memoir, A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, is coming out soon. Stay tuned.

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

 

 

 

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.


 

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.”

 

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.

 

Still A Heretic, Hopefully Gracious

          In an unabashed plug, my memoir,  A Gracious Heresy: the queer calling of an unlikely prophet, will be published soon.  I am at the stage of seeking permissions for works I quote in the text and that is where my story begins.
I asked a poet for permission to use his two line poem which sums up the unexpected confrontations, joy, and challenges that Godde sets before me. It took me a while to track him down because I didn’t know the context in which the poem was published. I did what all good researchers do: I googled him. I discovered he taught at a Catholic university somewhere in West Virginia so I called him and asked for permission directly, assuming he would tell me what publisher to contact.
We had a lovely conversation in which I told him I had written a spiritual memoir and was hoping to use his poem. He said he could give permission and was glad to do it. We talked further and he asked if he could read my manuscript. I was delighted and agreed to send it as an attachment. Here is what followed (redacted to protect the guilty):

Dear XXXXX,

Thank you so much for giving me permission to use your poem, XXXX, in my memoir. I have attached a copy and hope you find it worthwhile.
Warmly,
Connie

Before too long I received this reply:

Connie,
Although I certainly wish you every success, I think we might have a problem here.  The University I teach at is (like me) orthodox Catholic.
You seem like a good person, and so I feel kind of bad to ask you, but could you use a quote from someone else?
We all have to try and be faithful to the Jesus we know.
I’ll pray for you and you pray for me!
Again, I wish you the best.
In Jesus and Mary,
XXXX

Dear XXXX,
          Of course, I am deeply disappointed. I suppose I could have avoided your conflict by not sharing my manuscript but I choose not to prevaricate or mislead about my life and faith. Rejection in the name of doctrine is not a new experience for me though I did not expect it here. I will not use your work since you have withdrawn your permission.
Your poem, XXXXspeaks deeply to my absolute joy in God. Perhaps because of this, I am surprised you do not see the Spirit in the eggplant that is me. Be assured, I am not a good person but I am a child of God and a follower in the Way of Christ.

         Without rancor I concur: I pray for you, you pray for me… we are all a part of God’s body.
In Christ’s love,
Connie

To which he responded:
Thank you, Connie, although I wouldn’t say that I don’t see the Spirit that is in you.  We all need mercy; we all struggle.
(I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you were doing better than I am.)
And thanks, too, for the prayers!

 I only regret that I didn’t expect this. There is no question that this person is warm in spirit and seeking to be faithful.  What is clearer than ever is that I have absolutely no struggle with who I am, only with systems of oppression, especially those in the name of Godde. In the relative scheme of things this is not a big deal but it is an important reminder of the reason I need to tell my story.

‘Representing’ at the Shower of Stoles Project

 

I have the honor of speaking  at the Shower of Stoles project as part of All Saints Episcopal Church’s celebration of Pride Week. October 11, 2017, 6:30-8 p.m.

I first sent my stole to the Shower of Stoles in the 90’s.  For those of you unfamiliar with the project, it is a collection of stoles (you know, those things preachers wear over their robes that often follow the liturgical season) donated by lesbians and gay men who sought ordination or were already ordained but remained closeted. Each stole comes with a brief story of the one who donated. Many are anonymous. Viewing the kaleidoscope of colors and the uniqueness of each story is sometimes sad, sometimes triumphant, always moving.

The struggle for LGBT folks to serve in the church is long, arduous… and,frankly, not over yet.  We’ve made a lot of progress and these stoles represent the lives and work, the persistence and the resistance of many faithful folks who experienced a call to ministry contrary to their church’s teaching.

I am one of those people. I lived through a time when I had to find a way to make sense of this blasted  called and what it meant for me to be faithful. This week I get to tell the story of my stole, my call, my struggle to be faithful, and the grace I splash around in.

I’m focusing on resistance in my talk because the times we live in require much of us. These stoles remind us of  the power of resistance. Sharing the stories inspires us for the work of justice. And, perhaps most of all, these stoles and their stories give us hope for the future.

Come let these stoles bear witness and listen to the story I have to tell. Hope to see you there!

The Scars of Evil

            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 have heard in another context, but what I mean is that I and we carry in our persons the consequences of 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.

Godde calls us all to confront evil with love and love seems like an awfully flimsy weapon given the depth of evil we are capable of perpetrating on one another. But the activity of love is justice and Godde enlists human souls to do justice and be justice as the antidote to evil.

– from A Gracious Heresy, by ConnieTuttle

The Power of our Stories

Yesterday we said these words in our Seder meal:  “Laughter and tears life and death, good and evil – these are bound  irrevocably together. We bless them together for we know that with without death we would not fully value life. Without tears we would not fully value laughter. As we learn to maximize the good and valuable, let us  remember the evil we would reject, lest it creep, unrecognized, back into our presence.”

Has Pharaoh crept back into power? In our day ‘pharaohs’ are the ones who live in luxury while families struggle to make ends meet. ‘Pharaohs’ are those who get tax cuts while the most vulnerable lose benefits like meals-on-wheels, childcare assistance, reproductive healthcare, social security, and disability benefits. ‘Pharaohs’ are the ones who wrangle power from the people and centralize it among friends and family.

Today I wonder how we can celebrate the journey to freedom when Pharaoh skulks around every corner working hard to corrode our freedoms. Pharaoh lives in the White House, in the Senate and House. Pharaoh now resides on the Supreme Court.

So how do we become free? We remember our history and tell those stores along with new stories as we begin again our journey to freedom. For those of us in the United States our stories are of our constitution and bill of rights, and stories of our march toward the liberation of all: the abolition movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the movement for LGBTQ rights, for immigrant rights. These are the stories we need to remember

How do we become free? We wake up for the hundredth morning and grope for words to describe what is wrong. We engage in small heroic acts of disobedience until our disparate voices come together into the cry of the people. We continue to move forward even though the way looks impossible and pharaoh nips at our heels.

We open our doors and make ourselves see the crimes of rape, violence, hatred, intolerance, prejudice, and the dehumanization of those called ‘other’ who are really our sisters and brothers and friends. And we care enough to act.

We have begun. We are marching and speaking and writing and calling and voting. We are wading into a sea and we are in it up to our necks. But our stories give up hope and tell us we will make a way through to the other side. So let’s keep telling our stories and singing our stories as we travel on the road to liberation. Let the children of today represented by the Children’s Choir of Boston sing a story for us and inspire us not to let anyone turn us ’round on this journey.