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Author: John Cullinan

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.”

Illuminating the Word

Went to see this exhibit on the new illuminated St. John’s Bible at the New Mexico Museum of History this afternoon. Absolutely gorgeous. If you’re in or near Santa Fe, you have until April 7th to give it a look. More on my impressions later.

[full page illumination of “Creation” from the frontispiece for the book of Genesis, Donald Jackson with contributions from Chris Tomlin.]

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.

Keeping It Together

The news out of Los Alamos is still positive. Positive in a relative sense, of course. Nearly 70,000 acres have burned (compared to 44,000 eleven years ago), but the growth of the fire is slowing down, and fire crews have still managed to keep it from entering the town. The winds have worked in our favor, but they’re strong, and a shift in the wrong direction could be disastrous. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

I turned on the national news briefly tonight for the first time since the fires started. The sensational aspect of the fire is at the forefront, with reporting reflecting almost a perverse glee at the thought of the fire getting its hot little fingers on anything remotely nuclear. However, except for a brief excursion across the Lab’s southern border, crews have kept the fire off lab land, and away from contaminants.

My congregation continues to check in from various locations. Many, like myself, were already out of town for other reasons when the fire started. At last count, I think our little church community is spread out over seven states. There are probably more.

Communities around New Mexico have opened hearts and homes to evacuees. Within the first twenty-four hours, my wife and I had received two offers of places to stay in Albuquerque. Several of the pueblo casino hotels have opened rooms (and in some cases offered meals) free of charge.  The high school in the town of Pojoaque has become a makeshift post office, with mail available for pickup in the school gymnasium. The Baptist church in White Rock has been running nightly movies.

Los Alamos residents have in turn been sending care packages back up the hill for the crews fighting the fire.

Tonight, my family is in New Hampshire, visiting my  in-laws. My head and heart, however, are still back home. I want to do, and there really isn’t much to do but stay in touch with the congregation and hope everyone gets home safe to a town that’s (relatively) undamaged.

“Las Conchas” Fires — Some Reflections on the Last Few Days

As General Assembly was coming to a close in Charlotte, North Carolina, the forest areas surrounding my home in Los Alamos were starting to burn. A fire of unknown origin began around one in the afternoon. In less than twenty-four hours it had spread to over 40,000 acres — an area roughly equivalent to the size of the Cerro Grande fire of 2000. That was the last fire to tear through Los Alamos, destroying hundreds of homes.

The current sentiment among most Los Alamosians (I’m a more recent transplant) is, “I can’t believe this is happening again.”

I’m sitting with my wife and kids in my parents dining room in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, watching the news from Los Alamos, New Mexico — my home. The last few days have been surreal, to say the least.

I’d been at General Assembly in Charlotte for the past week. After a week of worship and governance, my wife and I and a few friends decided that dinner and a big, dumb 3D movie was in order. As the trailers rolled, my phone buzzed in my pocket. One of my congregation’s delegates was calling.

“There’s a fire in Valle Grande,” she said. “You’ll probably be getting more calls.” I thanked her for the info and we rung off. I admit at the time I wasn’t sure what she meant. I knew there were fires near Santa Fe, but I wasn’t sure where Valle Grande was in relationship to our town.

Two hours later, the friend watching our cats while we were gone texted my wife.

Besides the kitties, what would you like to evacuate should it come to that?

A quick, frightening geography lesson in one sentence.

A sobering lesson, as well. Define what’s important in your life by what you can carry in an armload (or via the arms of a friend thousands of miles away — even more sobering). A decade’s worth of unscanned photographs. A backup hard drive. A wedding dress. Passports and bond certificates. Stuffed lovies from off the kids’ beds.

Is that it? Is everything else just stuff? Replaceable? I hope.

The past few days have been an exercise in frustration. On Monday morning, our cat-sitter evacuated, taking our kitties to a rescue shelter in Santa Fe. By Monday afternoon, what had been a voluntary evacuation of Los Alamos had become mandatory. Meanwhile, I was sitting in a workshop — also mandatory — related to my UUA committee work. My heart, understandably, was not in the moment. I was checking in on e-mails and tweets at every opportunity, calling my congregants and leaders in other churches, doing what I could to keep our little community connected, scrounging for every little scrap of news I could get, testing the limited capacity of my cell phone’s battery.

So far, everyone is safe and secure. My congregation is spread out over at least four states (not including folks like me who were already out of town when things started burning). Eleven years ago, there was no Facebook, and very few had cell phones. Now we’re all connected, even before we disperse. The church remains the church, even during this hopefully brief exile.

Point people at the congregations in Santa Fe and Albuquerque have been tapped to help those in need. Members and friends are checking in on one another and reporting back via e-mail and Facebook. My wife and I are still glued to the internet and cable news, gleaning every scrap of information we can because it’s the only thing we can really do in this situation.

As of this afternoon, the fire had not crossed over into the town. Our fire chief has said the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours are the make-or-break moment. If emergency responders can keep the fire from crossing the canyons, we may get through this with limited property damage. The evacuation may even be lifted before I touch down in New Mexico, again.

I’m keeping a fairly positive perspective. I’m alive, my family’s alive, the cats are alive. Should the worst happen, the rest is just stuff, yes. Replaceable.

But, the forests are torched. Bandelier National Monument is devastated. It will take roughly 250 years for new tree growth to replace what’s been lost. And our community (even this newbie) is rolling its collective eyes skyward and thinking, “Not again.”

Meanwhile, I’ll keep posting. And praying. We could use your prayers, too.

Off to General Assembly

Packing up this morning to head to Charlotte, NC for the UUA’s annual General Assembly.

I’ll be there as a delegate for my congregation and to be sworn in as a new member of the Commission on Appraisal. I’ll also have a small supply of the book on hand for sale (and signing!).

If you’re in Charlotte and would like a copy, DM me @revcullinan.