Category Archives: Interfaith

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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Stones and Ripples

Ever since sitting in circle with Medicine Story, I’ve been coming out of my daily practice with the image of ever-widening circles. Each time we sit in spiritual practice we are as a stone dropping into the water. The ripples simply extend out on the outer surface of our lives as a result of our inner movement. We don’t have to worry how they are created or how far they may extend. It is not our charge. We simply drop in. Sometimes the water we drop into is murky. It’s hard to see and we don’t know where we might land. Other times it’s crystal clear and we enjoy the ride. Still we keep dropping in trusting that all our efforts are rippling out to destinations, graciously, known and unknown. This is the heart of spiritual practice.

And, as the ripples of our practice extend out beyond our known horizons, the expression of our life’s purpose or destiny can begin to be realized. Each of us, as sparks of the Divine, has a unique role to play in the divine plan. Through our spiritual practice, we begin to cultivate the truth of our inner life, both the impulse, or unique role, that enlivens us as well as the personal beliefs and patterns that deaden our resolve. It is from this experience that we gain the authenticity from which to offer our help, guidance and support to others. It is from this experience that we, simply through our presence, may minister to the circles that gather around us from family to strangers…and, it is from this authentic presence, that our efforts may ripple out to those destinations, graciously, known and unknown. This is our vision for all who gather at the Tree of Life.

~ Rev. Stephanie Rutt

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Free Will

Along my healing journey, I came to realize about six months ago that I needed to somehow confront my perpetrator.  My story is not unique, by today’s standards it may even be trite, but in any case, that doesn’t really matter.  I am now fifty two years old.  When I was about five or six years old my mother divorced my father and met a man a short time later who is a pedophile.  Over a period of ten years he recruited me to engage in sexual intercourse with him on hundreds of occasions, and ultimately I myself began using sex with him as a way of negotiating my freedom as an adolescent.  At the beginning I went to the usual suspects of family members to get help, but for reasons that I will refer to later, no one was willing to help me.  I went disbelieved, and from my perspective, was emotionally abandoned.  Finally, either through irony or divine intervention, my mother found proof which was sufficient for her to believe me, and in September of my senior year in high school, he was gone.  I immediately proceeded to live my life with the relief that it was over, not wanting to look back, or relive the pain.

Quite out of the blue a few years later while I was attending law school, my brother informed me that he too had been sexually abused by this man, and told me of his belief that he was complicit with this man in being able to perpetrate me.  It was an earth shattering realization, and caused an anger and hatred in me toward my perpetrator that I had not had before.  What he had done to me was one thing, but to know how he had hurt my brother was an entirely different matter.

Many years went by, and life “took over.”  Marriage, career, children, divorce, and then serious health problems.  Even still, the shadow of my childhood experience continued to envelop me.  Fortunately, I was able to get on a healing path, and as a result much joy and goodness began to manifest in my life (or should I say my ability to see it was cultivated.)  Even so, about six months ago, I identified a pattern in my work where I was repeatedly taking on responsibility for other people’s problems, and recognized it to be a direct correlation to having been a victim so many years ago.  I decided the only way to break this pattern was to take some action to stand up and confront my perpetrator.  Up until this time, I had convinced myself that this was an unnecessary measure because it was all in the past and nothing would be gained, taking the high road as it were.  My brother and I went to the authorities where we had lived, and even though the statute of limitations had run, we told our stories.  Then I became aware that this man was going to be attending a local convention in Nashua, NH.  I began to fantasize about hand delivering a letter to him at this event a few weeks ago.

This is the part of the story that I believe is the most powerful and I hope that I can convey it in a way that will help bring understanding.  Perhaps the most challenging part of the process of trying to come to closure with this individual was the concept of forgiveness.  I knew, and believed that in order for me to truly heal from the situation I would have to find forgiveness.  I also had some kind of understanding that the forgiveness would have to begin with myself.  Quite honestly this was emotionally and psychologically confusing for me on so many levels.  From my perspective, this man was evil beyond evil, and the idea of opening my heart to forgive him was not a reflection of my true feelings.  And, if I tried to look at him and think, oh you poor person who must have been so wounded in life to have done what you did to these children, felt like I was taking it on myself, and there I was again that little girl going along because he was more important than me.  That didn’t work for me either.

But the thing that put me totally over the top was when I was at Kripalu for a workshop two weeks ago.  The instructor conducting the workshop is a high profile yoga teacher who is very direct and tells it like it is.  Part of the program involved healing and forgiveness.  The topic of the letter came up again, this time referred to as an “f” you letter.  She told me to write the letter, even if I did not give it to him.  Then she told me that everywhere I wrote “you” to cross it our and replace it with the word “I.”   That the experience with him was to teach me something about myself and that I should turn the mirror on me.  I was mortified. 

The idea sent me reeling.  How could it be that this experience was to show me something about me?  Did this mean I should be looking at myself to see that I was really a pedophile, a liar, a manipulative, deceitful human being?  Now I was more confused than ever, and found myself emotionally where I had been so many years ago, that somehow this was all my fault, and I am the one who was responsible.  Oh shit, is there no way out?

The past two days I was at my son’s college for parent’s weekend together with my parents and ex-husband.  While on my way home last evening, I saw Stephanie’s email about William, Steven, Quinn and Chris.  There is was again, the question of forgiveness.  I was feeling so sad, as I often do after being with my family, and was feeling very alone on the ride home.  I started to cry, and then pray out loud.  I prayed for God to help bring me to an understanding about the concept of forgiveness.  I prayed to God to provide me with guidance and answers to help diminish the pain of loneliness, abandonment, and just not being important enough to have been helped by my family as a child.  I thought about my grandmother, grandfather, aunt, and others, who I asked for help but did not help me.  I expressed feelings of anger and resentment.

Once the emotions were expressed I started to say the following (in my car by myself).  With respect to my perpetrator, I acknowledged that if I were honest with myself, there were no thoughts and feelings inside of him that weren’t somewhere inside of me too.   That as a human being, I could recognize the sameness.  However, the exercise of free will is what made us different.  I did not, nor would I choose to act on the things that he did.  And then I looked at my various family members, and told them the same thing, that there was nothing in them that wasn’t in me too, fear, shame, guilt, etc.  The difference once again came in the exercise of the free will. 

I realized that I had previously been coming at this from the point of view of self hate.  My fear around seeing the sameness in me and my perpetrator was that it would mean that I was as bad as he is.  But by accepting my shadow side, and forgiving it, I can recognize myself as the loving, caring human being that I am.  Om namah shivaya.   I can also recognize this in others.

Finally, due to the ability to exercise free will and choose, we are all held accountable for our choices.  So, although I have empathy for what people experience, they must still be accountable for their choices.

I can only tell you that this process has brought me great relief and calm.  I anticipate having this conversation many times again in the future, but as I have already said to myself, at least I know it has a good ending.

Thank you so much for listening.  With the deepest of love.

adiela

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How to Contribute

Dear Readers –

If you’d like to join this online discussion by posting an entry on the Become a Force for Good blog, please email your submissions (in Word format or simply in the body of your email) to:

amyb@treeoflifenh.com.

Please include your written & signed permission stating that your words may be posted as a blog entry. All submissions will be reviewed and uploaded usually within 24 business hours.

On the other hand, if you’d simply like to submit a quick comment to a post that’s already up, just click on the blue “Leave a Comment” link at the end of the post you’re commenting on and type what you’d like to say in the comment box you’re led to. Once you submit your comment, it is then “pending” until I go in to approve it, at which point you’ll see your words in all their glory. I check my email often, so comments usually won’t sit “pending” for much longer than a couple hours or so.

Happy writing! Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

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Compassion through the Pain

I just wanted to take a moment to connect with you about this – as it is a situation very close to my own heart.

I am currently writing a memoir about this very same thing… how to hold on to compassion while we navigate all the different emotions that we experience when we are faced with acts of violence or crimes that cause so much pain and fear and yet seem to make no sense.

My mother was murdered when I was 12 and I spent many years trying to make sense of it all. I am happy to say that my yoga practice has helped me tremendously with moving into a place of healing. My mother’s death was tragic and I still cannot stand to think of her suffering but it also allowed me the opportunity to practice forgiveness on such a huge scale.

It is a delicate and challenging act – trying to balance your very human feelings of loss, sadness, anger and grief while still not losing sight of compassion. Keeping your heart open to those who hurt you…. lots of deep breathing certainly helps. 🙂

It is a journey that I have personally undertaken and have not only survived but thrived because of it.

If there is any way in which my own experiences could help facilitate healing within the community then I am happy to lend my voice.

Please let me know how I might be of service.

Peace~Love~Blessings,

KK

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William, Steven, Quinn and Chris

Many of you have written to me in response to my letter and I’m so very grateful it’s been helpful. For those who courageously engage in a spiritual practice, there is an intimate awareness of the law of karma. Having visited some of our own inner places of sorrow, we know intimately that all we do to others we find in our self and our greatest challenge becomes how to heal and forgive – first our self and then, from that place, to extend compassion and forgiveness to others.

Some of you have seen the letter I received from a man in the maximum security section of Pelican State Prison. He had read my book, An Ordinary Life Transformed: Lessons for Everyone from the Bhagavad Gita, and wrote how the book had helped him to find an inner freedom even as he sat in his prison cell. It got me thinking about William, Steven, Quinn and Chris. How can we come to compassion for them and their families as we can for Kimberly and Jaime and their extended family? How can we authentically grapple with holding those who commit harmful action accountable while also feeling deep compassion for them? I would offer that a good place to start is in our own spiritual practice where we practice holding our own wrongful doing in a loving way. While we may not be able to personally identify with a particular act of wrong doing, whom among us has not held enough pain and suffering to be able to identify with the despair that can give rise to such actions?

I have contacted my former colleagues in the Souhegan Interfaith Council as a starting place to begin a dialog about how we authentically move from fearing to loving the perpetrators of harm among us. I will let you know what transpires and how you may join us in this dialogue to continuing being a force for good for all of our brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, I have posted these comments on our blog to start the dialogue…

Much Love!
Stephanie

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Become a Force for Good!

When the unthinkable happens in our own backyard, its force is so unexpected and stunning, we are left staggering and numb.  Some instinctual rage wells up in our collective gut and cries NO!  Not this!  Not here!  And, as that same cry echoes through our collective heart, the mind gropes helplessly for some way to understand.  Yet, we remain at a loss.

And, we are likely never to fully know what brought four boys to the Cates home early that Sunday morning to perpetrate such evil on Kimberly and Jaime.  We trust that Kimberly now rests in the arms of Grace and we hold Jaime and David in our collective care.  For William, Steven, Quinn and Chris, we must raise the sword of justice, not flinch in our duty, and hold each accountable.  But, I, for one, believe that true justice will occur beyond our laws.  The Bible tells us we reap what we sow.  Eastern faiths call it karma.  Simply, we don’t get away with anything.  At some point, most likely long after the events have faded in memory for most of us, the full force of what each boy has done will well up, unabated, to be purged and reconciled.  And, each will know, for himself, the cries for mercy heard long before from Kimberly and Jaime.  It is the Divine law, echoed in all traditions, that what we do to another, we do to ourselves.

Meanwhile, what are we to do finding ourselves in the wake of such evil?  I say, “Stand up!”  Unwavering and undaunted, let’s turn the tide by becoming a Force for Good!  Let’s courageously search our own hearts for ways to better see the signs of despair growing among us.  Let’s join arm in arm to stand for the disenfranchised so the forces of evil struggle to find places to prey.  While we are not individually responsible for the choices and actions of others, we are culpable for the conditions that give rise to such actions.  So, as a Force for Good, let’s strive to include all in our collective prayer, the slain, the slayers and their families, as we seek to serve a greater good.  And, to those who would ask, “Where was God?” when evil strikes, I would answer, “It is God who waits for us! WE are here to become instruments of divine Grace!  WE are here to be a Force for Good!”

We have created a blog called Become a Force for Good! www.becomeaforceforgood.wordpress.com List your organization, what you are doing, what your needs are, where volunteers are needed.  Share your inspirational stories, ideas and experiences.  Become a Force for Good!

Rev. Stephanie Rutt

Tree of Life Interfaith Temple

Amherst, New Hampshire

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