or’ the land of the free and the home of the brave…’

It was the summer of 2035 in the American State. The old man woke to a spring in his step for his granddaughter, Hannah, was coming to visit. She wanted to interview him for a special project for an American History class. She had been a child when the change had come so was curious to know just what had happened, firsthand, from someone who had actually lived it.

As they settled into the lawn chairs, the old man felt a little nervous.

“Are you sure this is okay, honey? Who’s going to read this? You know it’s always good to be careful.”

“It’s okay,” Hannah said. “Just my professor will be reading it and he knows I’m doing this for my final project.”

“Okay. I’ll tell you what I remember. Just wish it had turned out different for you. But you were just a child so maybe it’s good you don’t have any memory of what happened or how it was before.”

“That’s why I’m doing this project, Grandpa. I want to know what happened.”

“Well, first thing you need to know is no one saw it coming. No one. We’d had all sorts of political trouble, riots, immoral stuff, even corruption before. But, until then, it seemed things could always be made right when they got off track. Too bad they don’t teach the Constitution anymore or you’d see what a good thing the original founders had in mind. Served us well until the change came.”

“So, what happened?”

“It all started, as you know, with the former President, Donald Trump. But, you have to go back before that to understand. Many say it began at a White House Correspondences’ Dinner in 2011 when Trump was the butt of jokes told mostly by then President Obama, you remember, the first black president. Jokes like that were told all the time at those dinners but they say Trump felt so humiliated he vowed right then and there to get revenge. And so, he decided to run for President and in June of 2015 he road down that famous escalator and announced his candidacy.

Right from the start it was clear he was totally different from anyone who had ever run for President – and not in a good way. First of all, he’d never held any kind of public office. None. And, mostly, he seemed to thrive on all the attention he got from saying shocking and even crude kinds of things. Like he would make up these names for his opponents, like “Little Marco” and “Lying Ted” and then put them down right in front of everybody. And, he’d talk about other nations in terrible ways, like the Mexicans, and then boast about how he could make them do anything. But, you know that wall we have now? We paid for it, every penny. Mexico never put up a dime like Trump said they would. And, he started the whole Muslim ban convincing everyone they were mostly terrorists. He didn’t seem to like black folks either. They say he had a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., removed from the Oval Office and chose a man to be a senior advisor who had racist views on things. But, your Grandma thought the worst thing was the way he’d talk about women when he thought no one was listening or how he’d talk to women he didn’t like.

I thought, though, worst of all, was how he’d just make up things and then act like they were true. Like for years he claimed President Obama was not a legitimate president – that he was not born in this country and was probably a Muslim to boot. Or, like when he said there were thousands of people, Arabs, cheering when the twin towers came down on 9/11. There wasn’t any proof of that but, when he got confronted, he’d just double down. He could never admit he’d made a mistake or was wrong about something. That happened again and again.”

“But, grandpa, how could somebody like that have become president? He got elected back before the change when people had a choice.”

“You’re right. Not everyone thought what he did was bad and if they did they just turned a blind eye. In fact, truth be told, a huge part of the population felt glad for it. You see, and this relates to Obama, there had been a great collapse of things in 2008 just before Obama took office and it took a long time for things to come back. But, for many, things never really got better. Mostly, there was this whole part of the population that felt left behind. A few folks got really rich but many more just got poorer. Lots of jobs were created but few paid anything. There were others reasons too like machines were taking over many jobs but when you’re hurting you don’t care about reasons. You just want someone to see and tell you they can fix it. Trump did that. He told them he could make America great again – just like the America they remembered. And, they believed him. He became the “anti-government” candidate and they loved it.

And, President Obama had pushed things that weren’t too unpopular with many of them or with Christians either like gay rights and abortion rights. So, most of the Christians supported Trump too. He was able to bring all those people together. It was too bad though because he never really cared about helping people or changing the laws to please the Christians. The whole reason he was there was to get even with Obama.”

“So, how do you know that Grandpa?

“Well, it showed right after the inauguration. Instead of going to work on legislation to help all those folks who had voted for him, he wanted to prove that his inauguration had been the most watched in history and, in particular, larger than Obama’s. Actually, side by side photos of the events and transit ticket sales showed that wasn’t true but he refused to back down. That was when the term “alternative facts” got coined. Looking back, it was the first clear sign of what was to come.

Then lots seemed to happen very fast. The whole Russian thing – you remember, how they hacked into the election to benefit Trump. President Putin of Russia didn’t want Hillary Clinton to be president. He hated her. He wanted a friendly ally – someone who thought like him and he got it in Trump. Do you know that when they actually met face to face Trump reached out his hand to Putin and said, “It’s an honor to meet you.” Can you believe that? An honor? Someone who’d just tried to trash our whole voting system – the only real way to tell if a country is free. We should have seen right then and there what was coming. Many believe that was why Trump never would release his tax returns like every other president. He didn’t want people to know just how deep his Russian ties really were.

Anyway, when the Russian investigations started heating up, out of the blue, Trump accused Obama of having wiretapped him in Trump Tower before the election. This really caused a stink. But, again, he never had to show any proof or apologize. No one ever held him accountable. That’s when I started to feel like we were really going down a bad road and I wondered if we could ever turn back. Later, he accused Obama for actually causing the whole Russian thing saying he could have done something when he was President. Anything to blame Obama. Then, about that time, he fired the FBI Director and tweeted more stuff about tapes that, they say, led to him being investigated. But, by then, it didn’t matter much because he’d already convinced many that the free press was the enemy of the people, except for the state sponsored channel we still have today. Any report that did not cover him in a good way was labeled fake. This was the next clear sign things were going bad.

Then, worst of all, to really get even with Obama, he tried to get rid of Obamacare, the biggest thing Obama had done. Oh, it had its problems for sure but it gave many folks insurance who, before then, couldn’t get it. Trump wanted to replace it with his own plan. Trouble was with the Republican plan millions would lose coverage and, even today, it’s why so many can’t afford to go to the doctor. Plus, the national insurance that used to take care of so many, new babies, old folks, the disabled and the poor got phased out. That was when your Grandma stopped going to church. She said she felt like all those Christians who’d voted for him and then just kept supporting him had really lost their way. She used to say it was not what Jesus would have done.

It took some time but he eventually got the best revenge ever on Obama. But, so many millions of people, including many of those poor folks who had voted for him, were hurt in the process. It was too bad but that was when it finally got real for them. They got to see firsthand what Trump’s America was really about and it wasn’t so great for them. But, it was too late. It was just awful.

“Why didn’t anyone do anything, Grandpa?”

Well, the Democrats and some brave Republicans tried but they were in the minority. It seemed like the most Republicans had decided they wanted to win above all. Way back in the beginning when they first saw the bad signs they could have done something – stopped him from running under their party. But, they saw all those crowds showing up at rallies. Oh, some gave lip service to being upset when he’d pull stuff but then they’d go right back to supporting anything he wanted, even praising him.

It all happened right before our eyes. Before the end of his first year, Trump was cutting back the press. White House press briefings became fewer and fewer and then sometimes all we got were audio recordings. It became harder and harder to actually see people from the White House getting questioned. And, he started only allowing a few people at important meetings. Worst of all, you could say that the truth had become whatever he wanted us to believe so only the state sponsored news channel was seen as respectable. All other channels were said to be running fake news and, eventually, got banned.

And, around the world, we started to become more cut off from the free countries because Trump kept doing things like pulling us out of the global climate talks supported by every other country in the world but us. Yet, he continued to cozy up to Putin making agreements with this leader he seemed to really admire. Oh, how we should have seen it coming.

In our old national anthem, it said we were the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Well, we’re not free anymore because, really honey, too many of us were not brave. I say “us” because I often look back and wonder why I didn’t do more. Instead, I have to say that, as a nation, we cowered. After all, we’d never had a bully in the White House before. And, that’s really what it was. We let all that terrible name calling of our fellow Americans slide.  We kept quiet when there was disrespect shown for people having a different view. We put our President above the law when we ignored all those phony accusations and made up accounts of things. We allowed open and free talking to go away when news casts that questioned the President were called fake and those always praising him were said to be doing good. Most of all, we forgot we were governed by what was called the rule of law – not by a ruler. So, now we have a ruler. But, really, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”

Hannah was silent. Then, she quietly asked, “What can we do, Grandpa? I don’t want my kids growing up here…how it is now.”

“Really, honey, you have to decide what you’re willing to die for because, you know, speaking out can be dangerous. It’s why we used to honor our veterans on Memorial Day. So many were brave enough to go and die so we could be free.” And, the old man suddenly felt a lump in his throat.

“Thanks, Grandpa. I’ll send you a copy of my project. And, I’m going to think about how I can be brave. I promise.”

As Hannah left, the old man felt a tear roll down his cheek. For the first time in many years he actually felt, dare he say it, almost, hopeful. Hannah was just like her Grandma. He knew when she put her mind to something, something was going to happen. And, as he walked back into the house, he surprised himself by suddenly humming an old tune…

“…or’ the land of the free…and the home…of the…brave.”


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Guru ‘One Sock’

I’ve nicked named my two-year-old dear grandson One Sock as it seems he is rarely in possession of two. But, one day, he also became my Guru on one of our treasure hunts out into that wild, wondrous backyard of his. Knowing full well the time to embark, he points to the yard in captain style saying with clear resolve, “Treasyour. Treasyour!” and, without delay, pushes through the screen door with his Thomas the Engine treasure box close in hand. No time to waste! Off we go!

Soon, he pauses and picks up a small piece of bark. “Treasyour, Gamah,” and it goes into his box. A few steps later, he holds up a small leaf for me to examine. “Treasyour. Treasyour!” And, over a short period of time, his little treasure box becomes quite full.

One day, it was I who saw what looked like a true treasure, a white crystal. “Treasure, One Sock!” I said, “Treasure!” As I bent low to hold it close, I imagined a kind of teaching moment about the differences between ordinary treasures and this special one. But, my grandson seemed neither impressed nor deterred. Slowly, he guided me along and then paused to pick up one of those quite ordinary treasures camouflaged among all the other nondescript rocks. “Treasyour, Gamah. Treasyour.” And then our treasure hunt ended as cheese crackers, fruit cups and naptime called.

Now, I will leave it to others to debate what was or was not musing in the mind of my grandson that day. For me, in the quiet of the afternoon, I found myself contemplating the true treasure I had been led to discover. And, I heard the voice of the Guru, the Holy One…

“Pause. There I am waiting to be known in the very places you may least suspect. Remember. I bring forth all creation and delight in all My expressions. There is no hierarchy or grades of importance in My holiness. There is no part of My creation more beloved by Me than another. I am easy to see in what you may imagine as special but, truly, I am equally present in what you may imagine as ordinary. When you learn this, you will see Me everywhere. And, like One Sock, you will delight in everything.”

 Thank you, One Sock.


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If Not, What’s the Point?

How we treat our critics is the clearest indication of our theology. From “If God is Love.”
Last Saturday two friends and I went to the Women’s March in Concord, NH. It was glorious, inspiring and heartwarming to see so many women, as well as men and children, with messages on signs as diverse as the people. Many issues, yet, one hope.

At one point, I noticed several women standing quietly with their signs on the outskirts of the crowd close to the street. From their signage, one saying ‘Pray to End Abortion,’ one could infer they were evangelical social conservatives. It gave me pause to see them there. Then, I knew clearly what I needed to do. Simply, welcome them.

So, I approached, extended my hand, smiled and introduced myself. “I’m Rev. Stephanie Rutt. I’m an interfaith minister and just wanted to say I’m glad you came today. I feel it is so important that women with all different points of view can stand together.”

The first woman remained silent but looked at me with what seemed a mix of surprise, slight suspicion and even a bit of fear. The next one I approached seemed genuinely glad and open. She smiled and I instantly felt we could have gone for a cup of tea. The last woman seemed slightly preoccupied with her cell phone but was courteous. Hummmmmm, I thought. Just like us. As the morning went on, I imagined how good it would have been if one of the speakers had acknowledged and welcomed them. If not, I thought, what’s the point?

I am not naïve. I am fully aware that, given the opportunity, many on the religious right would institute a theocracy based on their religious beliefs instead of supporting a democracy encouraging the freedom of expression of all religions. Yet, if we hunker down on our side of the line and portray them as the enemy, how is progress toward a one America, indeed a one humanity, ever to be made? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that someone has to be willing to stop the cycle of hate – and there is plenty of hate, prejudice and fear on both sides.

And so, I extended my hand, and heart, to my evangelical sisters with the prayer that, in doing so, we might just open some possibility of finding, together, that which we have in common – a fierce, passionate, uncompromising love for God.

And, for me, I’d let God take it from there.


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Open Letter to President-Elect Donald J. Trump

It is in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all who have stood and continue to stand for the rights of others in fulfillment of our great American ideals that I send this letter.

Dear Mr. President-elect,
This is the first time I have written to a US President or President-elect. But, these are critical times. I am an interfaith minister serving a church in southern New Hampshire and have traditionally held strong liberal progressive views. But, my purpose here is not to further galvanize the political divide. To the contrary, I offer my hand across the great abyss dividing this country in hopes that, in doing so, we can begin to address the great challenge of our time: to affirm that beyond political, social and religious beliefs, we are, first and foremost, one America. I see this challenge etched in the very faces of our people, those diverse faces, strong, and committed to weaving together the multi-faceted strands that make us a democracy where there is truly liberty and justice for all.

Mr. Trump, you have been called to leadership at this critical time, as you have said, to “Make America great again.” Problem is from the raw grit of our great diversity arises differing visions of just what it means to be great. Those on the liberal left would say what is needed is a moral revolution in response to what has been called your egregious rhetoric and potentially dangerous policies threatening to roll back hard-won social progress here at home as well as advancements in multi-lateral climate change initiatives world-wide. While, in truth, I have felt the same, it may surprise you to hear that this is not what I would propagate at this time. Why? Because those on the conservative right, many of whom voted for you, would say the same – that what is needed is a moral revolution in response to damaging economic policies that have left so many behind, an elitist, unresponsive and ineffectual Washington bureaucracy, and a social agenda antithetical to biblical tradition. No, it is not helpful for either side to claim the moral authority to assert their vision of the truth fits all. Indeed, this is exactly what is creating the growing divide among us.

Instead of a moral ‘revolution,’ I believe what is needed is an ‘evolution’ of our national consciousness capable of raising us all up together. This requires a modern-day revival of the “All men are created equal” to include all the faces of our great America. Indeed, it challenges each of us to see the face of the laid off steel worker whose family has struggled so much, the disabled child who lives with Autism, the mother who lost her daughter to a drug overdose and yearns for greater border control, the Muslim who prays for peace, the policeman who risks his life every day for our safety, the African American who lives in constant fear of unchecked racism, the Christian who devoutly seeks to live out Christ’s Commandments, the gay man who searches for the courage to marry the one he loves, the waitress who cannot rise above her subsistence wage, the young girl who struggles to have her dreams as valued as her brother’s, the hard working immigrant who agonizes daily over possible deportation and separation from his children.

These are not political, social or religious ideologies. These are the very real faces of our brothers and sisters who have chosen, with us, to live in this great democracy where, together, we affirm all peoples are endowed by our great Creator “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” All peoples.

Mr. Trump, I pray you will accept this hand extended to you so that, together, we may work to create one America, one that celebrates and unites our many diverse faces. Indeed, as the one called to leadership at this critical time, I believe it is your charge and duty to do so. For it is only in this way that your hope, indeed the hope of all of us, can be realized: to, truly, make America great again.

Yours in Faith,
Rev. Stephanie Rutt


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There are many things that pierce my heart during this holy season. Early morning prayers in the dark in the middle of our Christmas lights. Heaven. That catch in my throat when I sing fall on your knees…in Oh Holy Night. Writing a note to that only-at-Christmas relative or friend far away. Finding, creating, that oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-wait-until-they-open-it gift for a loved one. Going on a mission for the completely unforeseen and unexpected gift for that dear one God has placed into my charge. Yes, there are so many tender, sweet moments.

But, nothing awakens me to love, sometimes even causing me to hide some sudden burst of emotion, like the sound of that Salvation Army jingle ringing out. There they are, my sister or brother in plain jeans and jacket, standing in the cold (for how long?) ding…ding…ding…ding…ding…ding…ding…ding…

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy in the beloved hymn, ”Do you hear what I hear? Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy? A song, a song high above the trees with a voice as big as the sea.”

Yes. I hear…humbled now, aching, busting, I do.

Said the night wind to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see?” Yes. I see now all the faces those anonymous coins and rolled bills will help to brighten on Christmas morning, every morning, making each face as bright as “that star dancing in the night.”

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king, “Do you know what I know?” And, suddenly, I do. Squeezing my crumpled bill into the small opening, I know that each and every coin and bill dropped into that red bucket will be magnified by our Beloved God a thousand-fold within the hearts of the ones receiving. Oh my, what more wondrous could possibly be known?

Thank you, ma’am.
Oh no, dear brother, sister…

Let’s thank that dancing star…”with a voice as big as the sea.”

Blessed Holidays Everyone!


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Welcome to My Table

This holiday season, in the midst of continued national divisiveness, I am feeling especially drawn to invite all my brothers and sisters to my table, those who may hold very different views about the presidential election than I, as well as those who hold similar views to my own. I invite all my brothers and sisters from both sides because, in the end, we are all children of God.

I invite the mother whose daughter died of a drug overdose. I grieve with you and now better understand your concerns about boarder control and illegal immigration. I invite the man who lost his job and then, like dominoes, his house and, finally, his health. I stand with you and can now better relate to your anger about global trade deals that have impacted you so personally. I invite all my evangelical brothers and sisters who feel as though our nation has lost its way through the narrow gate to life. While I have a different view, I am grateful to join with you in joyful song praising our Lord. And, to all others who have experienced disenfranchisement, I gladly offer you my listening heart.

In addition, I invite all my disabled brothers and sisters. Alongside my grandson who has Autism, you will be celebrated for your wonderful uniqueness and beauty. I invite all young girls and women. You will be held up and affirmed as valued contributors to our common good. I invite my Muslim brothers and sisters. You will be respected as lovers of God and keepers of the faith. I invite my brothers and sisters of color. You will be honored and appreciated for your ongoing struggle for true equality. I invite all immigrants who now fear deportation and separation from family members. Know you are safe at my table.

To my white brothers and sisters, yes, brothers and sisters, believing in white supremacy ideology, know two things. First, as children of God, I would gladly feed you if you were hungry, take you in and care for you if you were outcast, pray with you if you were overcome by life’s challenges. But, know also, at my table, we recognize that we are all equal in God’s sight so we strive to see one another the same. Any contrary intention, hateful or inflammatory rhetoric, simply will not be tolerated. You see, we stand strong, together, for the dignity of all God’s children and believe, first and foremost, in the power of love, the greatest on earth, to transform the human heart. So, you are welcome to join – but at your own risk – the risk of losing what separates you and, graciously, finding what joins you to all of us.

And so, this holiday season, I invite all my brothers and sisters to my table where we can, particularly in today’s climate, celebrate the words of the Prophet Muhammad who reminded us, “None of you are true believers until you love for your brother what you love for yourself” and, together, fulfill the great Commandment of Jesus to, “Love one another as I have loved you.”


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The Caller

This past weekend my husband and I drove down to the World Alliance of Interfaith Clergy conference in Marriottsville, MD. On the way, we found ourselves listening to a talk show which was inviting callers to share their feelings regarding the recent election of Donald Trump. I was struck at the level of anger on both sides. One caller, a strong Trump supporter, was particularly angry leveling much venom at those who were now protesting his election. After a follow-up question, she suddenly launched into what could only be called a full-blown, unstoppable, tirade.

Frankly, I found myself becoming more and more irritated. I felt quite sure that had she been in my physical view I would have leveled back in defense. And then, somewhere, tucked in the middle of the tirade, I heard a short phrase (they usually are) that stopped me cold. She said, “My daughter died…” and a little later, “from a drug overdose.” Suddenly, I could hear all of her complaints about the lack of border control, illegal immigrants, health care challenges, financial strain, in a whole new light. And, most of all, I remembered: behind every anger is a hurt.

And then, Grace stepped in. When the caller finally stopped talking, one of the hosts, a woman, said simply and softly, “First of all, I just want to say how very sorry I am about your daughter. I just can’t imagine how painful that must have been for you. I can’t even imagine.” And, it was clear the host’s words were heartfelt. No more follow-up questions. No commentary. No slickly spun analysis. No defense. Then, there was a slight pause of silence that could have been an eternity. When the caller finally spoke, her voice had changed completely. Quieter. Softer. And, soon, she politely ended the conversation.

Behind every anger is a hurt. On some level, the host knew this and simply provided a space for the caller to be heard. And, what did the caller most want heard? Not her political opinions or even her good reasons for voting one way or another. What she wanted heard was her grieving heart. But it took someone to hear beyond the accusatory rant, closed opinions and gritty insults – a someone who could respond, not react, from the depth of the human heart instead of from the customary socioeconomic commentary or intellectual analyses.

I am convinced that political opinions are much like religious opinions. We all have them and, though they can be similar, are rarely identical to others. Why? Because we each have a unique life story that has helped shape our beliefs. Know the story and you understand the beliefs and consequential behaviors. For example, the caller had not been derailed by Trump’s egregious rhetoric, as I, because his message had been as a balm to her wounds. Did that suddenly make his rhetoric okay? Absolutely not. But, it did help me to understand the caller better and, I suspect, others in a movement of those who have felt left behind, unacknowledged and unheard.

And, perhaps, it is here where our work resides. While it is our job to stand clear, strong and true in creating the world we would like to see, it is also equally important that we are able to listen deeply to those with whom we disagree. For, it is only in this way that we can find understanding in place of judgement, unity beyond uniformity with our sisters and brothers, and, as Grace allows, that love everlasting.

Today, I feel somehow deeply connected with the caller though I no longer remember her name or where she lives. And, it no longer matters to me for whom she voted.

She touched my heart that day…and I am grateful.


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