Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Month: January, 2016

Bending Toward Justice

Our reading today comes to us from the Unitarian theologian and minister, Theodore Parker:

The proverbs of the nations tell us this:
“The mills of the gods grind slow, but they grind to powder;”
“Ill got, ill spent.”
“The triumphing of the wicked is but for a moment;”
“What the Devil gives he also takes;”
“Honesty is the best policy;”
“No butter will stick to a bad man’s bread.”

Sometimes these sayings come from the instinct of justice in [humankind], and have a little ethical exaggeration about them, but yet more often they represent the world’s experience of facts more than its consciousness of ideas.

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long.

Ellen and William Craft were married. And on December 21st, 1848, they went to the train station intending to go just a few counties over to visit family for the holidays, instead, they fled the South. They fled the 1000 miles to the North from Macon, Georgia by train and steamboat in disguises, up the coasts of South and North Carolina, Virginia, D.C., and Maryland.

Four days later, on Christmas Day, they arrived in Philadelphia to spend three weeks with a Quaker family and then they travelled to Boston after the New Year. There they found a home. William spent his days from then on out making cabinets, Ellen worked as a seamstress, and they were Unitarians, and so they joined the congregation being served by that great minister of old, Theodore Parker. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome & Call to Worship at the Ordination of Rev. Diana Hultgren

Good evening and welcome! I am Rev. Brian Chenowith, the minister here at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington. It is my distinct honor and privilege to welcome all of you as the settled minister of this congregation to this occasion.

To my colleagues, welcome. To this congregation, welcome. To visitors, friends, and family, welcome. To the spirit of all that holds us, welcome. This is a momentous day. It is momentous for so many reasons — they cannot all be enumerated.

But chief amongst these reasons are the gathering of this community to engage in holy work, and also the mystery and wonder of affirming one persons call to the limitless and the uttermost — and ordaining her to the sacred office of Minister.

Today, in this moment, in this good and right space, we ordain and affirm our community minister, Diana Hultgren, to the Unitarian Universalist Ministry. Read the rest of this entry »

God Can’t Fix This

Our reading today comes to us from the poet Richard Blanco — an excerpt from his poem titled, “One Today.”

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day:
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined,
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows,
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

Unity Temple, the congregation I served for two years as an intern minister, sits in a peculiar place in the suburb of Oak Park, just outside of Chicago. The town itself is a good mix of affluent, middle income, and lower income people — with mixed housing developments and various types of businesses that cater to all different walks of people.

This was largely in part because during the era of white flight, Oak Park was intentionally integrated. On top of it all, the town of Oak Park, has within it a strong city feel with all of the comforts of the suburbs. It hugs the hip of Chicago, the western edge, and it is both a historic and new town. Read the rest of this entry »

The Silence of Injustice

Our reading today is titled, “The Spine” by Joseph G. Anthony

The masseuse can’t really find
the pressure point.
He runs his fingers up and down the spine
of Appalachia, but it’s all stressed.
Bony ribs and shoulders blades are grimy dark;
coal black though the man’s not black.
Just been underground a long, long time.
He tries lye soap to get him clean,
but it just peels the skin and leaves the stain unmarked.
Decades away from sun.
Some dirt is never done.
He scrubs away till finally pink blood seeps
through seams of gray.
He presses down, down, down,
on the poor white man whose backbone’s bent
beneath the weight of all that hate.
The man yells out in pain.
Oh, Jesus, sweet
Jesus, won’t nothing straighten
this spine

In the late 1990s, a south side Chicago kid by the name of Christian Picciolini opened a record shop in the suburbs. The store offered the music you would expect — blues, rap, rock, heavy metal, folk, jazz, and so on and so forth. The combined sales of all this music only equaled 25 percent of his sales each year.

The other 75 percent was due to one of the largest collections of white power music in, not just the Midwest, but the country. By the time Mr. Picciolini opened his record store, he was already immersed in the world of the first and largest neo-Nazi skinhead gang in the Blue Island suburb of Chicago.

He was fourteen years old when he handed his life over to fear, hatred, and violence. Combined with his successful record store and his early involvement in the rebirth of this movement, there was a ruthlessness, a hatred that filled his eyes and passed through his lungs, that makes him a well-respected leader in the white power movement in our country. Read the rest of this entry »

That Old Time Religion

Our reading today comes to us from the Universalist Magazine, dated June 16th, 1793:

Lincoln County, Kentucky.

Rush Branch Meeting-house.

“It is now about nineteen months since we were expelled from our former society of the Separate Baptists for the belief of the final restoration of all things to a union with, and enjoyment of God; and we have had to bear up under a storm of slander, prejudice, ignorance, and ill-will. Notwithstanding all this, the Universal cause yet gains ground. We have four churches constituted in this country [referring to Kentucky], five ordained ministers, and several young gifts.

We hold conferences twice a year by messengers from the churches. The number of members now in Society in Kentucky is about two hundred, we hope all walking in love, besides many other Christians in different societies who believe in the universal love of God, who have not joined with us in society yet, for reasons best known to themselves.”

In 1898, a man named Quillen Hamilton Shinn, which is a name that doesn’t get anymore old school Unitarian Universalist than that, arrived in the piney woods area of Dothan, Alabama, a town of about 3000 people at the time. The piney woods area was known as the sparsely populated area — mostly cotton and cash crop farmers with plenty of small town life.

The town of Dothan itself was only incorporated 8 years prior to Quillen Shinn arriving after the railroad had been built. Upon arriving in Dothan, Shinn observed, “The leaven of Universalism has been spreading in the surrounding country and a little has drifted into this town.”

Shinn, you see, was a Universalist missionary. It was all that he did. And the spread of Universalism in the surrounding country, all around the South, was due mostly to his efforts. He knew that in the town of Dothan, there were a few Universalist families already — and his successes had been great — at least in his mind.

Truth be told he faced immense rejection. Shinn organized with the local high school, going toe to toe with the Baptist principal and eventually earning his right to preach there, and shared, for three nights, heartfelt and inspiring sermons about the unconditional love of God. Read the rest of this entry »