Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

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 »

Journey Into Darkness

Our reading this Sunday was titled, “Potbound” by the poet Diana Chapman Walsh.

It was the usual atmosphere you’d expect from a conference.  A large room with too much air conditioning, bright fluorescent lights, and people easing in to their seats – a few people scurrying across the room to say hello to people they know, but most sitting and looking around, wondering what they got themselves into.

In this instance, it was a room of about 90 clergy, 8 religious educators, a radical Mormon mother, and a secular Dutch teacher that mistranslated the information about the workshop and was probably wondering what the heck she was doing in a room with mostly clergy.

The lights dimmed, soft music began to be played, some people started singing some sort of song, and once that was all done, the lead presenter jumped up to the front and center enthusiastically.  With a massive grin and a very gentle but resonate voice, he welcomed us.  He again welcomed us.  He welcomed us again and again, looking at as many of us as possible.

A colleague of mine turned to me and said, “This is going to be one of those self-improvement things, isn’t it?”  I nodded.  She sighed.  Indeed it was.  One presenter after another that morning glowed about what awaited us, they enunciated their syllables with frightening clarity, and spoke in a gentle lulling tone with a pace that let each word stand out. Anyone that has ever attended a corporate team building seminar, a workshop on empowerment, or anything that even has a hint of being what some call “new age” knows what this looks like. Read the rest of this entry »

Some Amazing Silent Prayer

Our reading this Sunday was, “A Poem on Hope,” by Wendell Berry.

When have you experienced light and darkness striking a balance?  Joy and sorrow?  Contentment and want?  I ask this knowing that for many religious and political progressives these days, there is a very real imbalance. And not just in the wider discourse our country is experiencing.  Perhaps that imbalance is in your personal life as well.

But I will ask again.  When have you experienced this balance?  Think long and hard on those moments.  Have you forgotten them?  Has the year been far too unkind to you that memories of days past are no longer as present to you?  Perhaps dig a little deeper and you will find an example.  Maybe you’ve never forgotten.

Today we pause to remember the winter solstice – a day that is all about taking note of the ebb and flow of light and dark, life and death, and the bittersweetness that is our being conscious of our mortality. Read the rest of this entry »

To Be Hopeless Would Seem So Strange

Our reading from this Sunday was the poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by the Polish poet, Adam Zagajewski.

Where were you when you found out?  Seems like an odd thing to be asking today.  I was sitting at home, well into the evening, watching a channel I’ve watched nearly every day since the primary season began – it was becoming a problem.

My partner and I were watching and suddenly one of the more unabashedly liberal anchors, Chris Matthews, looked at the camera and his face sunk.  Completely sunk.  And then the camera cut away and cut back and he was gone.
The other anchors filled in the space.  I asked my partner how he was doing and he said, “I’m getting scared.”  Me, too.  It was a fear that many people were feeling for their own reasons.  It was a fear that is still very real.

Where were you when you learned the news that a reality TV star – amongst many other things – would become our next president?  Were you watching TV as well, at an election party, or blissfully asleep with the news waiting for you the next day?

Wherever you were, this is indeed turning into one of those moments in our history – at least for progressives.  We will all know where we were years from now when it sunk in.  We will likely remember the week that followed, not for any additional shock to our system, but it’ll be remembered as a week of crying, anger, denial, or – if you were like me, walking around feeling empty. Read the rest of this entry »