Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Month: February, 2016

The Other Wholehearted Armory: Honesty About Sexuality

Our reading today is titled “Vulnerability” by the poet David Whyte from his collection called “Consolations.”

Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice , vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity. 

To have a temporary, isolated sense of power over all events and circumstances, is one of the privileges and the prime conceits of being human and especially of being youthfully human, but a privilege that must be surrendered with that same youth, with ill health, with accident, with the loss of loved ones who do not share our untouchable powers; powers eventually and most emphatically given up, as we approach our last breath.

The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant, and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.

The teachers would walk apprehensively into the classroom, often feigning a smile here and there, or sometimes with an energy that was so clearly disingenuous and manufactured. 

They would carry the heavy textbooks, visual aids, and other materials with them in and out of the classroom — it was school policy to lock up the materials so no one would steal them or deface them when class wasn’t in session.  With the fake smiles or fake enthusiasm, the students would shift uncomfortably and try not to engage — but once instruction began there were bursts of laughter. 

I never did figure out if the laughter was because of how uncomfortable the teachers were or if because the content was presented in such a clinical and, as a result, amusing way.  Year after year, starting in Middle School, it was nearly the same content, the same awkwardness, the same discomfort from the teachers, the same crossed arms from the students, the same message over and over.  We are, of course, talking about sexual education in school. Read the rest of this entry »

Wholeheartedly Unitarian

Our reading comes to us today from the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in an essay titled, “Character.

Persons with character are as easy to spot as if they were a different color. Self-trust and the perception that virtue is enough is the essence of character. It is the natural tendency to defy falseness and wrong. It speaks the truth, and it is just, generous, hospitable, temperate, despises pettiness, and is scornful of being scorned. Character persists when the mood has passed in which the decision to act was made. Character displays undaunted boldness and a fortitude that does not wear down or out.

When the soul is not master of one’s reactions to the world, then that soul is everyone’s dupe. The person of character is not for sale. He does not ask to dine nicely and to sleep warm. He does not need plenty; he can lose with grace. Character is persistent. The person of character makes a choice based on honorable considerations and sticks with it and, no matter what, does not weakly try to reconcile itself with the world.

Most outstanding of all is the good humor and hilarity of the person of character. The great will not condescend to take anything seriously. The heroic soul is not common nor can the common be heroic. The person of character always does what he is afraid to do. Greatness ignores the opinions of others.

Spending a year living in Concord, Massachusetts was an interesting endeavor.  I lived right in the heart of the town center, just off of the old Cambridge turnpike, my neighbors were the Unitarian parish and the Wright Tavern — the tavern where the minutemen had drinks while waiting for the redcoats to show up and where John Hancock and the provincial congress first met. 

To say the place was charming and overwhelming, humbling and with a picturesque postcard perfection — it cannot capture the feeling of living in the yankee capital of northeast.  To walk the same paths as so many august names — John Hancock, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and so many others — to walk where they walked, to be in the same buildings they were in, to eat chowder where they also had chowder, it is an American history geeks dream come true.  Read the rest of this entry »

[BLOG] Ministry & The Seven Month Itch

I’m a newer minister.  Sure, I’ve long been called to this work but as far as practicing the craft, I’m fresh off the assembly line.  I’m in my first settlement, first year, and there are first firsts all over the place.  On top of it all, there has been and will continue to be this shared hope amongst newer ministers that what we need to learn and do will be more accessible:  Searching for a congregation will be streamlined, settling into a community will be smooth, our credentialing process will be straightforward, compensation for ministers will make sense, and seminaries will teach all of the ins and outs.  No surprises will be left.  It’s a tall order.  It’s an impossible hope.

And all throughout this hope, no matter where I turn, I feel that my colleagues and I are often repeating ourselves with, “Well, this should be here for us…and that, too.”  Some may call it entitlement and certainly part of it is.  However, entitlement or not, we’re feeling our way through a calling rooted in humanity with human systems and human flaws with human needs.  It’s an incomplete system.  It may never be as fleshed out as our hopes demand. Read the rest of this entry »

Let This Be Our Testimony

Our reading today comes to us from a traditional Inuit wisdom teaching, translated by Edward Field, titled “Magic Words.”

In the very earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to and an animal
could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen—
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody could explain this:
That’s the way it was.

My life before ministry was working in a library. It was a work that I enjoyed. It had a balance of order and mess, depth and lightheartedness — and it attracted many different types of people, both patrons of the library and employees. It was, looking back, like its own type of ministry.

The sermons were in the books, the congregation had plenty of visitors, people pledged money by way of taxes and fines — except there really was no choice in that one, and the clergy were the dispensers of books, the librarians and clerks. I loved the work. Perhaps one day long from now I will retire to it.

I worked with a rather diverse set of people — but what was interesting to me is that many of them were Unitarians. They went to the church I grew up in, they were mostly quiet about it, but it was wonderful to learn of their existence throughout the years. Every now and then, though, we would get someone on the staff that was of a fundamentalist opinion.
Read the rest of this entry »