Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Month: November, 2015

Being Direct

Our reading today is title “Lucky” by Rev. John Gibbons.

The lost-and-found pet notice reads as follows:
Lost. One large and lively, multi-colored nondescript mutt. Ragged left ear, one-eyed, three-legged, missing tail. Answers to the name “Lucky.” Reward. Beloved.

And so the holiday season is upon us: large, lively, multi-colored and hard-to-describe. The celebrations are a bit worse-for-wear, sometimes shabby, oft-abused. We the celebrants — at least those above a certain age — are a bit dog-eared ourselves. Some of us bear the scars of unfestive frays past.

Nonetheless, the old bounding mutt of December still answers to the name Lucky. Despite all that is missing and all that is too much, there is in this season an abiding delight that we are still alive, still sniffing, still licking hands and faces, still barking at the moon, still rolling in trash, still chasing cars, rabbits and rainbows, still risking life, limb and tail, and still able to sleep and dream, curled warm on the rug. We are disfigured; life has taken its huge toll, but no more, and more remains.

We are lucky to be living in these beloved days and beloved nights. May we find delight, and may delight also find us. There is a reward.

I don’t quite remember how old I was when it happened. I was young, I know that much, probably five or six years old. It was Christmas morning and, as most children that celebrate the holiday would be, I was ecstatic. I woke up knowing there would be presents that appeared magically under the tree and I could stay in my pajamas as long as I wanted.

I never really ripped paper off of presents in a flurry. I was somewhat meticulous. I began to open my presents and, to my surprise, something odd was in one of them. I knew what it was immediately. It was an object most children hear about in legend, something you never want to see, something that represents the worst case scenario for Christmas.

Out of the box rolled an unmistakable black lump of coal. I’ve been told my response was less than enthusiastic. Those couple of months leading up to Christmas, I was doing what many kids my age might do. Testing the waters. Pushing boundaries. I expected to receive certain presents, I knew they would come, how could they not? Read the rest of this entry »

A Promising Fire

One of the first books I ever bought on religion as a child was not a Bible, not a picture book, it was this book. The Bhagavad Gita. Perhaps the colorful cover lured me in, perhaps there was a calling to its poetry and words that I did not know yet — sometimes life tells us who we are before we even know it fully.

This book did not sit and collect dust, it was not forgotten, it was a serious investment. I read it cover to cover. Then I read it cover to cover again, jotting down passages and putting brackets around phrases to go back to. I poured over this epic story, which was quite challenging for me to read at the time, and was enchanted by its words.

From that point on I was hooked on Hinduism. The imagery, the stories, the music, the language, the many gods and goddesses, and the celebrations — I couldn’t get enough. I suspect I drove my Hindu friends at school nuts then. I was this little scrawny red head asking constantly about their culture and religion. But that enchantment continues to this day. Read the rest of this entry »

The Work Continues

I come from a family of lifelong South Side Chicagoans — it’s something I’ve mentioned before and sort of a point of pride. It is a culture I adore. I love the neighborhoods, I love the accent — though mine has long since faded, I love the rough around the edges demeanor of the people.

There is a harshness to them that is still approachable and you know where you stand with them even when you’re not asking for their feedback. They are a people that speak volumes with just their facial expressions. There is also a deep territorial streak to South Side culture. You speculate about strangers, you wonder what they want, why they are bothering you, and what are they doing in your neighborhood?

As is the case with any neighborhood there were great pilgrimages to other parts of Chicago where these South Side families picked up their livelihoods and culture and plopped them down in the places to which they journeyed — in my case, my family settled in the western suburbs of Chicago.

I grew up confused by people that liked the Chicago Cubs, had a deep appreciation for Mayor Daley, and yes, I was taught that the name of our ballpark was always going to be Comiskey no matter what the sign said. But also, too, I grew up with that insular nature — that hostility toward outsiders. Read the rest of this entry »

Retelling the Story

This is my favorite time of year, period. There is really nothing that can compare. Sure, there is a warmth in Christmas and Yule traditions, there is the freshness of Easter and Spring, and the freedom of Summer are near and dear, but something about Autumn — something about Halloween, Samhain — just lets my innermost self melt away into the rhythm and flow of these days.

It’s a wholly internal experience — a feeling of coming home to myself. Halloween, and in my family, Samhain, was always full of anticipation, excitement, and an eagerness to participate. I never much cared for the actual act of finding a costume, putting a lot of thought into it, and showing it off — there’s nothing wrong in that, it just wasn’t for me.

I always appreciated seeing the talent and inspiration of others rather than put in the effort myself. Perhaps I was just lazy. The real joy for me in Halloween as a child was in being the most efficient and quick trick or treater you’ve ever seen, running between homes, hoping my friends could keep up, covering as much ground as possible, so I could get to the important work — bringing the candy home. Read the rest of this entry »