Category Archives: memoir

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.

 

 

 

“Are You Ready? Come Go With Me”

women's march

Today we pack our belongings – enough to last for three days. Not so much meager as essential. Take only what you need. Underwear, shirts, a pair of jeans, portable phone charger, black sharpie, metro pass, ID, gas money.

In the morning we load up the car. We will wipe the sleep from our eyes and suck down coffee as we face early traffic. It will be a long drive. And we will laugh and sing, pray and cry. Mostly we will feel both our connections and our shared fears.

I am not afraid of dying so much. And perhaps I am being over-dramatic but a friend called this morning and asked if I were sure I wanted to go. There could be violence, he warned. And this, too, is new for a seasoned marcher like me. This march may be more like Montgomery and Selma than the peaceful marches  for women’s rights, against the war, for civil rights, for gay rights that I have been a part of… this might be different.

I am not so much afraid of dying but it doesn’t mean I do not want to live. The Way in which I follow, the one whose life is my roadmap lets me know there are things worse than dying. Not standing for the disenfranchised, whether or not I am one of that number,  is worse than keeping ‘safe’. And what is ‘keeping safe’ any way if I abandon my core principles.

My dad was a soldier. He put his life on the line many days for many years. He, too, taught me that it is important to live in service to something greater than yourself. And he taught me that being brave and being afraid are intricately entwined. He even went so far as to tell me that if I wasn’t afraid then I would not proceed with caution and that was just plain stupid.

No matter the outcome of this  testament to the values we hold sacred, the standing together matters. I will stand with you, my friends, and I will stand for you.

There is a song from my younger days that the Staple Singers sang. It keeps running through my head and it is important for our time as well. I’ve posted the lyrics here. It is my invitation to the nation: come go with me. Go to Washington. Go to your local march. We cannot wait to stand and be counted.

If you’re ready come go with me

No hatred

Will be tolerated

Peace love all between the races

Love is the only transportation

To where there’s communications

If you’re ready come go with me

The boat is after

The ever here to there

No wars will ever be declared

No economical exploitation

No political domination

Take your evil

Come go with me

Genocide

Get ready

Troublemaker

You better get ready now

Liars

I’m waiting on ya

 

 

 

Songwriters

BANKS, HOMER / HAMPTON, CARL MITCHELL / JACKSON, RAYMOND E.

 

 

 

Bread of Life

Can I tell you a story about what happened the other day?                                                                    On December 20th a new friend came by with a large bag and handed it to me saying, ‘Merry Christmas’. I opened it and the yeasty fragrance of freshly baked bread wafted into the air. It was a loaf of homemade bread that she made in a bread machine.

“Can I tell you a story?” I asked.

“Sure.” She replied.

“My mom baked bread every week in her bread machine. When someone moved into the neighborhood she took a loaf of homemade bread and welcomed them. Every week she took a fresh loaf to her hairdresser as her ‘tip’. She often baked bread for communion at Circle of Grace. What you don’t know is that today is the second anniversary of my mother’s passing. This loaf of bread must be coming from her through you. It is the most special gift I will receive.”

This is my Christmas story.

That Time A Man Grabbed My Pussy

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A storm of memories hit when I heard Donald Trump bragging about being able to grab a woman’s ‘pussy’ without repercussion.

Like most, if not all, women I have been subject to unwanted advances, sexual innuendoes, lecherous remarks, and crude invitations. I have been and felt threatened to be by myself at night. I know the drill. We learn to navigate it. Our awareness becomes second nature and, eventually, not even consciously recognized.  As a woman who embraces my sexuality I encounter men who think I ‘deserve’ the unwanted attention, however sordid.

I was twenty-one or so and worked in a bar around the corner from the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia where I volunteered backstage for their theatre productions. One evening, after the opening of a play, members of the audience crowded in for a nightcap before going home. It was a crush. I placed a slew of drink orders at the bar and carefully placed over ten mixed drinks on my serving tray. Lifting it over my head and pushing my way through the throng I smiled and joked with the customers as I passed.

Then it happened. I gently pushed through a group congregated in the middle of my path. These folks were dressed to the nines. Women in evening clothes, men in suits. The crème de la crème of Columbus society. As I made my way  I felt a hand reach between my legs from behind and grab my pussy.

As if he had a right.

I pivoted on a dime in the tight space, wrenching myself from his trespass and smashed my tray full of drinks into his face.

“Get your hands off me!” I screamed, shaking with outrage.

I couldn’t believe anyone would be so arrogant as to grab me like that, in public, with his wife standing nearby. Without my permission.

He told the bar owner that he hadn’t done a thing. I insisted he had. The owner told me that as his employee I was considered his ‘ property’ and I should have come to him. Then he did something the Donald would love, he sneered at me and said, “You’re Fired!”

So when I heard Donald Trump bragging about what he is able to do (in his mind) without permission I was forced to remember the time I was powerless to defend myself. Did I mention I was a single mom supporting my daughter? The man with the money and the power and the arrogance to assault me like that suffered a little embarrassment and the enjoyment of having me fired. I suffered both assault on my most  intimate self and financial insecurity.

So thanks, Donald, for helping me remember what it is like to have a rich and powerful man assault you with impunity. Thank you for reminding me how the women who have come forward are brave and righteous. And, finally, thank you for revealing yourself as an arrogant, entitled, misogynist who has no idea how your actions of a moment affect the women you manhandle for a lifetime.