Category Archives: writing

Tales from an Elephant Orphanage

 

Well, folks, I’ve begun working on the sequel to my memoir (A Gracious Heresy: the Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet).  The working title of the new project is Circling Grace: Tales from an Elephant Orphanage. It’s my telling of the story of Circle of Grace, a Christian, feminist, ecumenical, progressive church of which I am the founding pastor.

I am telling my part of the story though, as with all stories and especially a story about a group of people, mine is only a part. It is exciting to remember the early days, the challenges and discussions as we worked to birth this idea of a Christian feminist worshipping community. I hope, in the end, you will find the tale engaging, challenging, and, most of all, truthful.

The title comes form a conversation I once had with my spiritual director who said, “Connie, Circle of Grace is like an elephant orphanage. Wounded or sick or disabled baby elephants that have have been rejected or abandoned by their herd are taken in, healed, and taught how to be elephants.”

Check out this 60 Minutes story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hErfU4gb1GQ

In somewhat the same way, people come to Circle of Grace because their spiritual communities have rejected them. They come in need of respite and healing, starved for spiritual food and the unconditional love. She continued, “Some are able to return to their herd  (the churches they were raised in) and some, whose wounding has been too severe, remain and form a new tribe.” Her insight helps me ponder the implications and pray for and with the community I pastor.

Today I am doing what pastors do: reflecting on the story  theologically.  Immersed in telling the challenges and reliving the excitement of our early days, I was able to distill it down to a sentence:  “Creating safe spiritual space must take an uncomfortable front seat to theological differences.”

I am excited to be telling my part of the story, even while I agonize over my many and varied inadequacies. I am reminded again how important it Is that we tell our stories. Something important happens when we examine our pasts. We discover more deeply who we are. We see more clearly the challenges we face. And, Godde willing, we stumble toward redemption.

 

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

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.

 

 

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

 

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.