Shea Tuttle is the author of Exactly as You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers and co-editor of Can I Get a Witness? Thirteen Peacemakers, Community Builders, and Agitators for Faith and Justice. Her essays have appeared at Greater Good Magazine, The Toast, The Other Journal, Role Reboot and Jenny. She is a Hope College alum (’06).
Shea returns to campus on September 28th at 7 pm in Winants to read and connect with students as a part of the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series.
JRVWS intern Adriana Barker (’22) interviewed Shea in preparation for her visit to campus.
What was the highlight of your Hope College experience? Did you have a favorite class, professor, or extracurricular?
The highlight of my Hope experience was my relationships with professors who invested time and care in me. Some of my most formative profs, in no particular order, included Kathleen Verduin, Jack Ridl, Lynn Japinga, Steve Bouma-Prediger, Boyd Wilson, Mary DeYoung, Allen Verhey, and Jeff Tyler.
Tell me the brief story of your education and career journeys after graduating from Hope.
Following Hope, I went to Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, and graduated with my M.Div. three years later in 2009. From there, I moved to Virginia, where my fiancé lived. We got married that summer, and I started a job working for a family-owned construction company whose owners were also working to start a nonprofit; I got to help with both and learned a lot. The next year, our daughter was born, and I spent her first year mostly at home. Then I started working at the University of Virginia’s Project on Lived Theology, where I served initially as project manager and later as editorial manager. In all, I spent seven years as part of that project.
Currently, I work as a communications associate at CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, a charitable health clinic that serves people who are uninsured or who have Medicaid. There, I get to write frequently as part of our fundraising team, and I’m also improving my graphic design skills. It has been a gift to work for an organization providing healthcare to people in need over the past year when that has been so important–even though I’m not providing direct care. Throughout my years since Hope, I’ve continued to write in various forms at various times, including poetry, essay, biography, and children’s literature.
What is the most important thing you want people to take away from Exactly as You Are?
The editorial team and I went through countless back-and-forth emails and lists and brainstorming to figure out the title of the book. Ultimately, I’m so glad we ended up with the title we did, because I think it’s pretty much the whole point. Mister Rogers’ bedrock belief was that each of us is lovable exactly as we are, and that summed up his theology nicely as well. I hope, in reading about this deep conviction and how it guided Rogers’ life, that people might catch a glimpse of the truth of that belief for themselves.
What was something you learned about yourself through the process of writing Exactly as You Are?
Writing is really hard! I can’t count how many times I despaired over the direction of a chapter or the daunting task of wrestling the research into something coherent and meaningful. But it was also one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I’ve learned that, for me, having a big, unwieldy project to work on with some knotty problems to untangle is a kind of deep, mental health self-care.
Can you speak a little about your connection to ministry? What did writing Exactly as You Are teach you about ministry and leading a Christian life?
Fred Rogers was–or at least appeared to be–much more settled in his faith than I’ve ever been. I’ve always maintained a close connection to church and Christian life, but I also have a great big giant agnostic streak. At some point it occurred to me that what Rogers believed and taught summarizes pretty well what I hope is true about God and the world and people. There was something freeing about being able to share his convictions, as I perceived them, without the dozen caveats I might add if I were talking about my own.
I’m fascinated by your emphasis on liturgy, both in Exactly as You Are and your essay “What Church Has Taught Me About Mass Shootings.” What are some of the liturgies that you think are shaping American culture today? And how do we as individuals make meaningful changes to national patterns?
Oh goodness, they aren’t very good ones, are they? The liturgy of checking the phone. The liturgy of scanning for symptoms. The liturgy of the breaking news alert or the morning dread. The liturgy of tired arguments that still need making but don’t seem to make any difference. It’s a tough time.
It seems to me that most changes happen slowly, quietly, at least at first, until they rise up in a tide. The move toward marriage equality, for instance, happened slowly and quietly for a long time, and then seemed to happen all at once, thank God. More darkly, the move toward the embrace of open racism in national politics happened slowly and quietly for a very (very!) long time, and then seemed to suddenly become mainstream. Those big, seemingly-sudden changes–for better or for worse–are the result of the little, cumulative moves we’re making day to day, the small assents we give, the tiny yeses we say in moments that hardly give us pause. So I guess we’d better pay attention to the small choices we make, because they ultimately can join with everyone else’s small choices to make something enormous.
Any advice for current Hope College students who are interested in writing? (Or theology?)
Keep on doing it. It’s not an easy time to be a poet or a novelist or a theologian–as if it ever has been. It’s so easy to feel like no one cares about these things when the world is on fire. But I’m pretty sure it’s poetry and novels and theological musings that will save us. Climate science, of course. Medicine, of course. But a perfect line break, a humming paragraph, a deep question–these are the things that will help science and medicine and all those other essential disciplines maintain humanity and humility as they solve impossible problems in a dizzyingly complex world.
And also, of course, it might save you. Over the past year and a half, I rediscovered poetry writing. At some point, when I had a small stack of grubby pandemic poems, I sent a note to Jack Ridl. We spent a few hours on Zoom over the next few weeks, reading poems and talking about them. And can I tell you how delicious it was to look away from the news and the case counts and the polling numbers, and talk about tiny things? The rhythm of a word or the order of a sentence or the timing of a line. I didn’t know I’d been dying for it until we did it. God bless the tiny things–and Jack Ridl, of course.
Shea Tuttle will join the Visiting Writers Series on September 28th at 7:00pm in Winants Auditorium.