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Prayer Before the New Mexico House of Representatives, 29 January 2013

In this moment before the work of the day begins, before we speak and act, before we struggle and find our common ground

Let us pause, quiet our minds, still our bodies, breathe deep, and allow ourselves to come into the presence of that which we call Holy.

Eternal, Beloved, Gracious

God of many names

We pause this morning in gratitude – there is so much for which to be grateful

For the beauty of creation that surrounds us and makes us humbled to call this place our home

For the spirit of life that flows through that creation, uniting its people in common breath and common dignity

For the spirit of democracy that allows us as one people to chart our own course

For the spirit of vocation that calls us to give of ourselves in service to one another

For the spirit of trust that makes that service in the name of democracy possible

May we be worthy of the trust given to us

May we live up to the highest ideals of our call to serve

May those who serve today remain focused on the greater vision that gives rise to that call, and not lose sight of it in the midst of our divisions.

May you serve with wisdom and courage this day. May you find the strength to stand when you must, and the humility to bend when you must.

May you open your hearts wide enough to hold every person you serve, remember the common breath and the common dignity we all share –  remember our faces today in this chamber, so that you may look us in the eyes when you leave, that we might know our trust has been well placed.

Eternal, Beloved, Gracious

God of many names

For the gift of this day and the values that bring us together in the work entrusted to us, this morning we are blessed to pause and give thanks. In the name of that which we know as Holy. In the name of all the helpers of humankind. Amen.

Re: the “47%” — We’re Having the Wrong Conversation. Again.

WARNING: Long Post. Contains Math.

I confess I have found myself frustrated this past week over the public response to Mitt Romney’s “47%” remarks, leaked from a private fundraiser in May. Just to recap, here’s what was said:

There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it…These are people who pay no income tax, 47% of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll (President Obama) be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the five to ten percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not.

In the days since the video was released, there’s been a lot of response . . . but not necessarily the right response. From the right there’ve been two basic strategies: distancing (“I’m not him!!”) and apologia – namely a defense of the truth of the statistic in spite of the “inelegant” delivery.

From the left, the responses have been about process (“Is this the end of Romney’s campaign?”), or decrying of the candidate’s character, or lack thereof. The left’s response has been primarily about the character question, and about Romney’s seeming lack of compassion. Most of this has come in the form of, “Yes, but look at the people contained within the 47%!!”

In both instances, the truth of the statistic, and of what Romney is trying to communicate, is not often disputed. Technically, Romney is almost correct (it’s 46% according to the Tax Policy Center, who also note that number is abnormally high due to the current state of the economy).

However, the people who Romney is really trying to talk about are the poor. Look at the phrases used: “dependent upon government”; “ believe they are entitled”; “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” These are all standard issue conservative bromides vis a vis “the poor.” From the left, we decry the lack of compassion inherent in those statements. From my side of the aisle, I hear: “But that number includes the elderly! And children! And veterans!” There’s not a lot of challenge about the statistic itself, and the number needs to be challenged, especially if what we’re really talking about is poverty in the United States.

Thus, my frustration. Both ends of the political spectrum (at least from those who have a platform from which to be heard) make their arguments based on myths about poverty in this country that (dammit!) refuse to die. Romney’s remarks have provided us with an opportunity to have a fresh, honest conversation about poverty and “the poor.” And we’re dodging the conversation.

America (red and blue), you are pushing all my buttons this week. Let’s have a chat.

The Vision Thing

Do you remember  “Magic Eye” images? They were these odd, abstract, poster-sized images that you could find in shopping mall kiosks across the country during the ’90s. The idea was that if you focused in the image in just the right way (“focused beyond” said the image makers) amazing 3D images would be revealed. A “Magic Eye” picture featured prominently in a running gag in one of my favorite movies, 1995′s Mallrats. Willam, one of the “rats” who inhabits the mall, has spent an entire week staring intently at a “Magic Eye” poster, desperately trying to see the hidden picture—a sailboat. “Today’s my day,” he says. “I brought a lunch and a soda, and I’m not leaving until I see this sailboat everyone’s talking about.” Every few minutes, the film cuts to Willam, standing in place and staring, as one mall patron or another walks by, casually glances at the picture for a second and exclaims, “Hey! A sailboat!” Willam grows angrier and more frustrated. In the end, Willam just can’t see the picture. Instead, he let’s loose with a primal scream of frustration and kicks over the display.

I’m with Willam. I never could see the pictures in those things (although I never kicked over a mall kiosk over it).

The human capacity to imagine a future—and to actively work toward it—is a lot like trying to see a Magic Eye picture. Everything beyond the horizon of right now is a blur. And yet, somehow we’re able to focus beyond the blur and call a picture into our minds. Sometimes, when we stand together in a community, we might even be able to see similar pictures, or pieces of the same picture. However, not everyone is going to see the same future. It’s guaranteed to happen. Nine out of ten see the sailboat. The rest see . . . who knows? What then? How do we maintain community when vision differs? Do we argue for our own picture? Do we try to see what another sees? Do we hold our tongue (like Good Ol’ Charlie Brown in the comic above)? Or do we kick the whole thing over in frustration?

A Homily for Christmas Eve

But what happens next?

After shepherds have returned to their flocks. After wise men return to their far off observatories in search of the next star. After the angels have packed up the the trumpets and the sheet music, what happens next?

After a house full of guests have come to celebrate the new arrival and gone on their merry ways leaving behind gifts and probably a terrific mess, we are left with simply this: a new baby, two terrified parents, and their whole lives ahead of them.

After one miraculous night comes the endless daily grind of diapers to change and sleepless nights and midnight feedings.

After the party comes the difficult, joyful, terrifying work of raising a child.

Some give this infant the name “Immanuel” – meaning “god with us.” The angels announce that he will bring peace on earth and goodwill to all people. But before any of this can happen – before god can be fully with us, before he can bring that peace on earth, he needs to learn to crawl, and then walk. Needs to be able to hold his head up and know how to feed himself.

This “god with us” needs care and nurture. And it is a care and nurture that comes from human hands.

The gospels skip over these scenes in the next several decades in the life of Jesus, and so you can understand why this is the part of the Christmas story that so often is missed. Underneath all the miracles and all the spectacle, this one truth is the astonishing, scandalous message of the Christmas story.

Immanuel comes.

God chooses to be with us.

And God chooses to be with us first in the form of an infant. Helpless. Needful. Needing the nurturing, caring hands of humans to come into the fullness of being.

God, the all powerful and all knowing, needs human care.


I don’t know how or why you celebrate the season, or what you believe. For one moment this evening, I ask you to put aside the question of whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe this story or not.

Instead I ask tonight that you hold this image in your hearts and minds: A divine being in infancy, reliant on fragile and fallible human hands for survival.

Every single one of us has been in this position of need, although our memories on the subject may be a little fuzzy.

Before the end of this day, another half million children will be born into this world, some in far healthier conditions than the ones described in this Christmas story, and many more in as poor or even worse conditions than Jesus was. Each of us, however, is reliant on those same fragile, fallible hands.

Our hands.

There is a reason why the image of Mary and the infant Jesus remains one of the most powerful and popular among artists.

The image of mother and child, and the feeling that image instills, is a near universal one. It is a symbol of an essential and an unconditional love. It is no small accident that in both Hebrew and Arabic the word for “compassion” is closely related to the word for “womb.”

Compassion reflects the love and care given by a parent – the love and care needed by a child.

That need for care, for compassion, never ends.

Even as we age, we still need those loving hands from time to time.

Tonight, another half million souls entering this world are in need of that same love and care. Some will even grow up to be as reviled and despised as Jesus was in his own lifetime. Still, they will need that care. We all still need that compassionate hand.

Whose hands will they be?

This is the challenge given to us in the astonishing message of the Christmas story.

Immanuel comes, tiny and helpless.

God with us needs the care of human hands to survive.

And if the promise of Christmas, of peace on earth and good will to all people, is to come to it fruition, then human hands are still needed to nurture it into being. Our hands are needed.

Tonight we celebrate.

Tomorrow our homes will fill with guests and food and gifts. Given the surrounding population, it is almost certain there will be a few wise men and shepherds among us. No angels, perhaps, but certainly a horn or two. Definitely music.

Then Christmas Day ends. Our guest go home, the leftover are wrapped, the decorations and the music are stored away, and our homes are left a terrific mess.

The celebration of Christmas ends, and we are left with a challenge in its place: the image of god with us, an infant; the promise of peace and goodwill for all people; the need for our hands to do the work to make it possible.

Christmas has come. Christmas will pass.

But what happens next?

Tweet Your Questions

It’s “Question Box” Sunday at the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos. If you’d like to join in the fun, tweet your questions to @revcullinan between 9 and noon Mountain time. Check back here for video from today’s services, with answers to as many questions as we can fit in. Questions I don’t answer today will be saved for later posts, right here.

A Terrible Host

I’d like to apologize to my large audience of pharmaceutical company spambots for not attending to your comments in the hold queue sooner. I fear I’ve not been a gracious host. You may now find your ads for herbal viagra and electronic cigarettes in the dustbin.

For the rest of you, back to sporadic posts soon.

Sign of the Times

Marquette University to offer domestic partner benefits

My jaw hit the floor when I read this today. As a Marquette student twenty years ago, I was profoundly saddened by our failed attempts to have sexual orientation added to the university’s non-discrimination policy. It was a defining moment in my life, the beginning of my shift in religious identity.

Back then, I was disturbed by the disconnect between Marquette’s motto, cura personalis (“care for each person”), and the demonstrable lack of care for the person shown in the administration’s decision. Twenty years on, not only is the university listening to the voices of its student and faculty, but it admits that the idea of cura personalis applies to the dignity of the LGBTQ community within its metaphorical walls. What a difference twenty years makes. Kudos to Fr. Wild and the Marquette administration for taking the university another step in the direction of living its values.