Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Into the Sacred Depths

Our reading this Sunday came to us from the poet Billy Collins, titled, “As If To Demonstrate An Eclipse.”

As a child, I was always encouraged to look upward.  For hours, I would look.  My mother would just look with me.  Not much was said in these moments beyond, “Wow” or “What are their names?”

I’d invent names for them when I didn’t know.  Against the dark of night, I’d marvel at Arcturus, Vega, Altair, and Antares.  Names with stories attached to them.

Names of stars that are hundreds of light years away, stars that could have gone supernova in the middle ages but the light had not yet reached us, stars that could have planets with fellow watchers looking up and marveling at our own star, stars I would never see, could never see, we will never see beyond looking up on a clear summer night.

Those points of pale light piercing through the dark of night to my eyes – just one human amongst billions – would stay with me for years and years and up until this moment, too.  The passion would persist. Read the rest of this entry »

Easter People in A Good Friday World

Our reading for this Sunday came to us from the poet Jan Richardson, titled, “The Art of Enduring, for Holy Saturday.”  The opening story of this sermon was adapted from Rev. Michael McGee.

I’ve been told that once upon a time a group of friends of various religious denominations were seated in fellowship discussing the true meaning of Easter one Sunday.  Someone chimed in: “I believe we place too much emphasis on chocolate bunnies, colored rabbits and Easter eggs instead of the spiritual aspects, which is the real meaning of Easter. That’s what I believe,” said the Baptist.

“Me too,” said the Methodist. “Me too,” said the Lutheran. “Me too,” said the Catholic. “Me too,” said the Nazarene. –And the Unitarian Universalist was silent.

“I believe the real meaning of Easter is that Christ died on the Cross for our sins,” said the Methodist. “Me too,” said the Nazarene. “Me too,” said the Lutheran. “Me too,” said the Baptist. “Me too,” said the Lutheran. –And the Unitarian Universalist was silent.
“I believe the real meaning of Easter is the triumph of Jesus over the Grave,” said the Lutheran. “Me too,” said the Catholic. “Me too,” said the Nazarene. “Me too,” said the Baptist. “Me too,” said the Methodist. –And the Unitarian Universalist was silent. Read the rest of this entry »

Get Outside of the Box

After a busy April led into a May full of surprises, I am finally able to catch up in posting.  Thank you for your patience. -Rev. Brian

Our reading for this Sunday came to us from the poet Noel Coward, titled, “Nothing is Lost.”  The sermon also began with a retelling of a fable by Edwin Friedman, titled, “The Power of Belief.”

When have you been the man insisting he was dead when all evidence was to the contrary?  When have you thought one thing so assuredly in your life despite what those around you were saying, what the world was showing you, and what life was presenting to you no matter where you turned?

I know many of us have been there.  So sure of one thing, so sure of what our reality must be, that we have shackled our thoughts and buried the longings of our heart.  I’ve been there.  I’ve been there for the big moments of my life and I’ve been there for the smaller unnoticeable ones.  My journey to ministry is one of the prime examples.

It’s such a standard experience for us ministers, we learn to tell it over and over again.  But my own journey was primarily one of resistance.  Again and again the call came and again and again I fled.

But unlike many of my colleagues, I did not flee for a lifetime, only a small portion of one.  How about you?  What callings, what beliefs, what states of being have you either fled or clung to?  What are the ones you can think of this very moment? Read the rest of this entry »

Their Lives Still Matter

Our reading today comes to us from the poet, Audette Fulbright Fulson, titled “We Are Not Done.

I’m often considered a rather aggressive driver.  It comes as a shock to many, outside of my general sarcastic nature, and sometimes boisterousness, most people assume I’m rather quiet, reserved, and calm.

This is not true when I’m in a car, though I assure you I’ve calmed down significantly in the past two years.  But know this bit about me, it wouldn’t surprise you that I’ve received traffic tickets a couple times in the past.  Until my dying day, I will dispute all of them.

Sadly no one cares about such protests, and honestly it doesn’t really matter to me much anyway.  Except for one.  There is one instance of me getting a ticket that I will never forget.

It was in college sometime, back when I drove a temperamental Ford Focus – it was an awful shade of beige because that model was the cheapest, I think they called it Burnt Nevada or something like that.  Anyway, a carful of theology students were driving back to campus after visiting a Mennonite church on Sunday.

This is how theology students had a good time in college – we went to church.  We were talking about god-knows-what, and sitting in traffic, barely moving, and suddenly a song popped on the radio that caused my friend Jessica to shout out, “Oh my god!  It’s my song!” Read the rest of this entry »

The United States of Otherness

Our reading this Sunday came to us from the African American poet and Unitarian Universalist, Adam Lawrence Dyer, from his poem, “We are Jazz.”

I’m not much of a neighborly person. I know it’s a terrible thing to admit. You’ll see me about to step outside only to wait until people go away, keep my interactions to a short nod and smile, and assume the most suspicious plots when a neighbor strikes up a conversation.

I don’t think I have anyone to blame but myself for this behavior. But I did grow up in a rather gossipy neighborhood and I never liked that. On top of it I had a family that was always contrasting ourselves with people that were not “us” – people that were the other. I was reminded constantly of that belief and raised to be wary of anyone that was the other.

Set aside the racist subtext of this upbringing, it was a rather isolated view of the world. Fast forward to present day, we are now a year and a few months in our new home here in Lexington and I still carry some of that same attitude about neighbors – at least the part of being suspicious of them at all times. Read the rest of this entry »

The Corner of Fourth and Walnut

Our reading this Sunday came to us from the book, “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystanders,” by the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, concerning his revelation at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville, KY.

There is something fantastic and yet mundane at the same time about the spiritual life. People have long thought about the depth of our inner world and how it relates to the grand scheme of life and all existence.

And yet, the greatest pieces of spiritual wisdom, in my opinion, are not the stories of saviors, creation, or Armageddon – but the simpler moments of routine living. Whether we ultimately identify those moments as spiritual or practical, I’ll leave that to the linguists.

But for me, as a minister, they are in the very least transcendent – teaching moments – unexpected – and harbingers of wisdom. I suspect we all long for those moments. We know what they are. Those unexpected glimpses of wonder with each passing day.

They come to us when we are stirring cream into our coffee, meet eyes with a stranger, or pause to behold the beauty of, yes, the world, but also the single moment we find ourselves in. I remember one such moment for myself. Read the rest of this entry »

Mind the Light

Our reading this Sunday came from the book “Mind the Light” by J. Brent Bill.

There is this great story that comes to us from Loren Eiseley, a well-known anthropologist and natural science writer from the 1950s and 60s. Then again there are many great stories that come to us from him.

He was one of those great luminaries that spoke poetically of the natural world and the universe around us – he gave a mystic and spiritual element to the reality of science.

He was, one might argue, amongst the first religious naturalists – people that feel something they can only describe as being religious when faced with the grandeur of life the wonder of science. This story begins as many great stories begin:

Once upon a time, there was a man who used to go to the ocean to wander, wonder, write, and simply think about life. He was the philosophical type, always musing this or that quandary, and he thought of himself as being wise, well learned, and alone in his way of thinking. Read the rest of this entry »

The Sound of One Voice

Our reading from this Sunday was titled “You Reading This, Be Ready,” by the poet William Stafford. This sermon also drew heavily on “10 Ways to Build Resilience” from the American Psychological Association.

I remember my first evening as a chaplain – it feels like it was a very long time ago.  There is no way I could ever forget it.  When you study to become a Unitarian Universalist minister, you are required to serve as a chaplain in a hospital for a semester, a summer, or sometimes even a year.

It is often a mix of emotional boot camp with the normal duties of a chaplain – visiting patients, talking with families and doctors and nurses, being there in times of great joy, and more often than not, being there in moments of complete and utter sadness. Trauma, despair, confusion, death, and the breadth of human sadness with bits of bittersweet mixed in.  The particular hospital I was serving at was the very same hospital I as born in, a fact that somehow terrified me even more in the work that waited me as I began my first overnight shift on the floor with my supervisor. As we left the chaplain’s office she said, “Let’s go hang out in the emergency room.  It hasn’t been too busy today.”  Famous last words.  Before I knew it it was nearly five in the morning. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to the Resistance

Our reading from this Sunday was titled “Good Bones” from the poet Maggie Smith.

On Friday, January 20th, the year 2017, around noon, Eastern Standard Time, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America.  He had never held elected office once in his life.  He is known primarily as a reality television star and real estate mogul.

And he defied all odds and was elected on a platform of nationalist populism.  A nationalism that has been sweeping democracies from the Philippines to India, from France to the United Kingdom.  A nationalism we should be paying attention to here and abroad.

And for us, in this country, a nationalism that was unapologetically misogynistic, irrational, xenophobic, racist, isolationist, anti-fact, and downright nasty.  Should those words surprise you, I assure you my judgements of President Trump’s nationalism are taken directly from his own words, his own platform, and now his official Presidential agenda.  He is now here to stay.  For how long, we do not know.  He is our President.  And we are his employers. Read the rest of this entry »

Thou Shalt Engage

Our reading from this Sunday was an excerpt from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Tomorrow morning and throughout the day, our nation will pause to remember the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, one of the great saints of America for the movement he formed, the pacifism he practiced, and the dream of this country he shared with all of us for a racially, economically, and politically just America.

It feels especially fitting this year that we will pause to remember so great a man, and the values he lived – with tensions in the world rising, an uncertain political future ahead for our country, the real effects of the new government already being made tangible, and racial divides underscoring much of the struggle in communities near and far.

With progressives and many moderates, and I can imagine a very large handful of traditional conservatives, fearing for what is ahead in this country, the values that guided Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers are worth exploring more than ever. As Unitarian Universalists, we have a special affinity with Martin Luther King Jr.

Some of us even try to claim him as one of our own. He wasn’t. But he was close with us. He preached at our general assembly in 1966, he was close with many of our ministers, and he found white allies at the ready within our ranks.

He quoted Unitarian and Universalist ministers in some of his speeches, and yet he still held on to his Baptist faith – a faith rooted in the gospels and in the liberation stories of the Hebrew scriptures. He died tragically. Read the rest of this entry »