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The Thing About Love Dogs

February’s Theme: Love

I became a dog person recently. This is a major life change for me. I spent most of my life, up through early adulthood, being wary of, if not downright terrified of dogs (an unfortunate schoolyard encounter at the age of five between a beagle’s jaw and my own posterior is to blame for this – funny now, yes, but at five? . . . not so much). I’ve slowly gotten over this trepidation in recent years. This past August, after much prodding and pleading from my family over many months, we took a ride down to the shelter in Española and adopted a pure-bred New Mexico Brown Puppy. We named her River (after characters in a couple of favorite sci-fi TV shows). She’s a sweet dog, just-right-sized, and (hallelujah!) doesn’t bark and howl along with the other dogs in the neighborhood. In many regards, it’s been like having a permanent toddler in the house, being responsible for another being’s feeding and other bodily functions in ways I haven’t had to in several years, now that the human children in the house are older. Annoying some days, to be sure, but a minimal investment considering what is received in return.

“Welcome,” said one of my Facebook friends, “to a world of unconditional love.”

. . . and . . .

“Dogs,” said one of our members to me, “are great practitioners of the inherent worth and dignity of all people.”

Both statements, I’ve learned over the last six months, are so very true. River loves people, regardless of who they are, and without any prejudice. People are all so very real to her, and every moment with each person is the most important and most favorite moment, whether its children at the farmer’s market or the battalion of plumbers, electricians, and dry-wallers we’ve had tromping through our house lately. River is happy to see everyone, and every person is the most real and most important person in the room. Her little puppy self is an excellent teacher in that regard. It’s amazing to watch people respond to her enthusiasm for them, and amazing to watch everyone walk away from these encounters (myself included) just a little bit happier than before. It’s only a moment, to be sure – a trivial amount of time in the life of a human. But what a difference it makes, that one moment of feeling real and important in the eyes of another living creature.

River reminds me daily that real love means being with a person as they are, seeing them as real and whole, and not just a means to my own ends – a step to getting what I want. It’s a difficult practice with some people. Some days I just want things. Some days I want it all to be about me. Some days it’s hard to be happy to just see and be with another. Some days, people are just annoying. And then River jumps up and licks their hands anyway, her whole back end wagging. She makes love look so easy.

Rumi ends one of his great mystical poems with the lines:

There are love dogs no one knows the names of.

Give your life to be one of them.

I know one of them is named River. I’m hoping each day I can be just a little more like her.

In my sermon on Martin Luther King weekend, I had some things to say about recent developments in the lack of funding for human services here in Los Alamos County (and please give a listen to the sermon on the web page if you were away for the three day weekend). Many of you have asked since then what it is we can do to make a change in our community. The easy answer is, of course, to be visible and vocal in the community – especially in venues where those in power can hear us and be held accountable for making compassionate decisions. How we do that is a more difficult question to answer.

That’s where you come in.

I’d like to invite those of you concerned about the state of human services in the county, and those of you with insight into resources and strategies, to join me for a congregational roundtable on Thursday, February 9th at 7 p.m. My hope is that together we can brainstorm some methods for speaking our vision and values out into the community. Please feel free to contact me with questions or ideas prior to the 9th.

One way we do live out our values and show our love is through our charitable work. I received a thank you letter from Self Help for our efforts in December on their behalf. Between special collections on 12/4 and Christmas Eve, our “Share the Plate” contributions, and monies and gifts collected for the local families we sponsored for the Holidays, the Unitarian Church gave over $12,500 to Self Help and its clients this season. This is, quite frankly, nothing short of amazing. Often, charitable giving seems like the least we can do. However, in these tough economic times, it is often a gift more precious than volunteer hours for our struggling non-profit organizations. I am grateful to each and every one of you who reached out in this way this past Christmas, and proud of what this congregation has accomplished together on behalf of those most in need right here at home.

If you’ve never had a chance to experience my “Summer Blockbusters” series during the summer (and even if you have!) I’d like to invite you to get a taste of what we do this month as I present the next in my annual “Discworld Gospel” series. On two consecutive Saturdays, February 4th & 11th, we’ll have special “Dessert and a Movie Nights” with dessert buffet and a showing of the 2010 miniseries of Terry Pratchett’s novel Going Postal, the subject of this year’s sermon. While I’ve done my best to describe the world of Pratchett’s satirical novels over the years, now is your chance to see it all brought to life. The presentation is too long to do in one night, so we’ll screen Part One on the 4th and Part Two on the 11th. Join us for both if you can, or come to one just to get a taste. Then, join us on Sunday the 12th for my sermon on the story, with a generous dose of clips from the film.

I’ll be out of the office from the 13th through the 19th for a week of study leave and my annual reading retreat.

See you in church!

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