Category Archives: memoir

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

 

Silenced by a Lie

I heard yesterday that I am “just an angry lesbian.”
It takes only one phrase,
uttered by those in charge of writing history,
to erase the reality of those not in power.

This is not a new thought.
Oppressed people
know who writes history
and it is not them.
It had never been so personal before.

If I were writing my history
this is the story I would tell:
Godde called me to ministry.
I had to figure out what it meant.
I went to seminary with the intention of being
authentic
open
vulnerable
and willing to engage in difficult, often hurtful conversations.
I made that choice
It came with a great price.
I got to experience personal rejection
even hate
and ignorance in the name of God
that daily crushed my spirit.

And yet I believed
I had the strength to engage
To stay.
To listen.
To retain my integrity.
So I did.
And I thank Godde for sustaining me in that time.

I didn’t realize that
years later
my witness would be silenced
by a lie.

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