The following is based on a portion of A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, a moving memoir from Connie Tuttle. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
A prophet? Are you kidding me? Thirty years ago I would have been right there with you. Believe me, I would never have called myself a prophet. Prophets are special. I am not. They have a direct line to God and the go-ahead and where-with-all to do all kinds of miraculous things. I do not. They rail at people for being idiots. Well, sometimes. They declare impending doom. The most I can claim about impending doom is that I’m often scared. Prophets occasionally foretell the future. Not me. They are righteous in the extreme and above the fray and trials of this messy business we call life. Again, not me. Not in any lifetime. Not on any planet.
Boy, was I wrong. In seminary I learned just how wrong I was. I discovered that prophets are wonderfully flawed and chaotic people. Just like me. Folks often thought they were crazy. True here. Eventually I got to know the prophets as chums who spoke passionately and acted hyperbolically. I identified. I am not above the bedlam of life. I am neither a soothsayer who predicts the future nor a miracle worker. I am not particularly righteous, though I have been known to be self-righteous. To be honest I am a flock of flaws, surrounded by a majesty of misunderstandings, hobbled together with an impediment of imperfections. I am not special in any way to anyone except, maybe, to my mom and dad and daughter. I don’t have a direct line to God and when the party line is open, I often don’t hear—or more truthfully, don’t listen—to what God is saying. I am strong willed and sometimes lazy. I get stuff wrong. A lot.
But I am in good company. The thing about prophets is that when God calls they head the other way. Take Jonah. “God, you’re knocking on the wrong door.”
Moses told God “Let someone else do it, maybe my brother Aaron. He is a much better choice and besides, I stutter.” Jeremiah came right out and said, “I don’t want to. People make fun of me and don’t invite me to their parties. They think I’m crazy . . . but (damn it) there is a fire burning inside me and I can’t shut up.” Or, like me. “I’m busy and there are lots of other things I want to do and besides, I’m mad at the church over the Viet Nam War, civil rights, and the women’s movement. I want to act and write and have sex. You’ve really got this one wrong, God.”
Becoming a prophet is not a career option. Children will tell you they want to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, or firefighter when they grow up but never, as far as I know, a prophet. When you get right down to it, there is nowhere to go to fill out an application. It’s a call. An irritating and irresistible call. And if I have in any way lived a prophetic life I have to admit that only some of it has been responding to God’s call. The rest has been giving in. Let me repeat, I am not very good either at responding or giving in.
Prophets love people and they’re pissed off. Their appeals to repentance are for the community to return to its source. To love God. To do justice. To remember who they are to God and to one another. Sure, they’re bitchy and angry. Injustice makes them angrier than a bee swarm in a tornado. Prophets tend to make people uncomfortable. They irritate, intimidate, challenge, and enrage the general population. Actually, those are things at which I excel.
A prophet will stir up a shit storm or stand against one—and always on the side of the oppressed. They champion unpopular causes. The passion of their anger and grief makes them hard to be around. They are hair-brained vision-holders who refuse to give up on God’s dream for us and who we can be as a people of justice and compassion. Prophets challenge the certainty of doctrine with the uncertainty of what happens when God is unleashed. They offer hope. I only pray my witness offers hope, advocates for justice, insists on compassion. If it does, then that must be enough because I have come to understand that faithfulness is not tied to measurable outcomes.
I tell you all this to give context to my story of a queer calling that took years to untangle. I speak out for justice for the LGBT, and later QI, community both in the church and out of it. I spent years banging on sacred doors hollering, “Let me in!”
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.
And so I wrote a book about it. A Gracious Heresy is 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.
It 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.
Want to read Connie’s book? Check out A Gracious Heresy: The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, right here.