Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

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 »

The Unpopular Principle

Our reading this Sunday was an excerpt from the book, “Healing the Heart of Democracy,” by Parker Palmer.

This is how the story always goes.  Unitarian Universalist congregations often hold Intro to UU classes for newcomers, visitors, and those wanting to know more about us.  They cover everything you’d expect about our peculiar faith tradition.

Some of our long history, our love of committees and discussions, our self-deprecating humor, and, of course, our seven principles and six sources of faith.  There will be ice breakers, members of the membership team present, usually the minister, and whoever just wants to know more.

As someone that has served two churches before this one as a minister-in-formation, I was usually tasked with leading these introductory courses.  Almost every time, no matter what we did, after the evaluation forms were handed back in, there would always be one person that said we had way too much history in our presentation and another, in the same group, that said there wasn’t enough. Read the rest of this entry »

That Which Inspires

Our reading for this Sunday was the poem, “One Song,” by Rumi.

The city of Konya, in Turkey, sits just outside of the center of the vast country. It’s not easy to get to, and it is closer to Aleppo, Syria than it is to Istanbul. The latter, of course, is a massive sprawling metropolis sitting on two continents.

It is a perfect mix of old and new – ancient temples with new structures built right on top of them. The bosphorous river cuts through the city, marking the official beginning and end of the European and Asian continents in that region.

It is something to take in the enormity that is Istanbul – the culture, the history, the religions, and the people moving like waves every single hour of the day. Konya is a whole different story altogether. After flying in a small plane over the great emptiness that is central Turkey, and surviving the landing of a Turkish plane, you drive for what feels like days.

Days through the Anatolian steppes, which feel and look like deserts but most certainly are not. Days through ancient monasteries carved into mountainsides and days with a massive black cloud of smog coming closer and closer in to view as Konya approaches. The ride is probably just a few hours, but the landscape and peculiarities of the place make it stretch and stretch.

As you enter the city of Konya hiding behind the smog, you are immediately struck with just how different a place it is than Istanbul. It feels…suburban. It feels small but large at the same time. It feels like the Lexington, Kentucky of Turkey. Though we don’t have a giant smog cloud hanging overhead. Read the rest of this entry »

Renewal of the Spirit

The reading for this Sunday was the poem, “Pied Beauty,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately” – and so begins of the great American stories.  The story of a naturalist, a freethinker, a rugged individualist, and a man that did what he thought best for his own life and experience –

The story of Henry David Thoreau moving to Walden pond to live off the land, away from society, and to draw upon his own experience and the lessons of the natural world.  To suck the marrow out of life.

Henry David Thoreau is a name we hear often in Unitarian Universalist congregations.  It’s a name we proudly speak of.  It’s a name that most Americans are familiar with, having been forced to read Walden in high school or having some passing knowledge of the Transcendentalists and, in the very least, their individualistic spirituality.

Thoreau has a rather grand mythos attached to him.  He is seen as an intentional hermit, someone that had to escape the rush of society, someone that did what he wanted when he wanted to, and a great spiritual thinker that transformed American society and, by extension, informed Unitarian Universalism. Read the rest of this entry »

Heed the Guidance

It is said that Unitarian Universalism has a different feel depending on what part of the country you are in.  Each congregation of course has its own unique identity, but some have noted there to be distinct cultural differences in the religion itself depending on location.

East coast vs. west coast vs. the south vs. the Midwest.  I happen to agree.  Enter a Unitarian Universalist church on the West coast on any given Sunday and you will more often find services with liturgical dance, ministers in flowing white garments reminiscient of new age spiritual leaders from the 70s, chants to the goddess, and a flavor to it that is very counter cultural.

Enter a church in New England, however, and you will find people in their Sunday best, with organ music, often times scripture readings, the Lord’s Prayer, and communion!  And then there’s the Midwest, the birthplace of religious humanism and naturalism in our movement – the liturgical styles are different but the content is almost always lite on God talk.

And the South.  I’m still figuring that one out, but to be there is a definite flavor of Universalism – that itinerant tradition of which we are a part that sought to extinguish the fires of hell.  I wonder, where do we fall in this? Read the rest of this entry »

Called to Respond

There is this great story that come to us out of colonial North America, concerning a man by the name of Sir Edmund Andros born in 1674 – an English nobleman from London, and the 4th governor of colonial New York.

He was born with a silver spoon and believed wholeheartedly in the crown, the empire, and in the church.  Upon becoming governor of New York – he earned himself many enemies – because he was a nice guy.  He was called a Dutch sympathizer – one of the worst insults to be hurled during the infancy of British colonialism in North America.  The crown recalled him to England, examined him, and found no wrong doing on his part.

He came back to North America and was promoted to the Governor of the Dominion of New England, the only such person to hold that title.  With his new promotion in hand and his resolve to no longer be such a nice guy, he approached the Puritan churches throughout the colonies and asked them, “Would it be possible for the Church of England to hold services in your meetinghouses?” Read the rest of this entry »

Becoming Church

“By the Almighty, I will build a church of my own to Him.  To Him do you hear?  Not to your opinions of Him nor mine nor any man’s.  I will cut off a parcel of my farm and make a perpetual deed of it in the courts, to be held in trust forever.

And while the earth stands it shall stand, free to all Christian believers.  I will build a school house and meeting house, where any child may be free to learn and any man or woman free to worship.”

These are the words of Richard Allen, echoing to us from over 200 years ago upon the completion a meeting house which is just down the road on Higbee Mill Rd, now occupied by a church that surely does not espouse the sentiment of that statement.  This is the same Richard Allen whose farmhouse stands on our property to this day – the second oldest building in Fayette County. Read the rest of this entry »

Owning the Story – Gathering of the Waters

There is a moment, no matter where I am, that brings me great joy.  It’s something that causes me to sigh in familiarity, proclaim with joy, point at it frantically if I am with other people, sometimes scaring them, sometimes making them wonder what on earth is wrong with me.

It’s one of those simple spiritual moments in a life, nothing extravagant, nothing earth shattering.  But every time I see a decal on someone’s car or hat or clothing for the Chicago White Sox – there is this “Aha!” – a piece of home moment.

That baseball team is so much a part of my personal and familial story.  It goes bone deep…and not just because they are the best baseball team to ever exist.  But you know what I mean – there are things, images, and moments that remind you of where you’ve come from, where you’re going, and what part of your story is still with you and always will be. Read the rest of this entry »

Way Too Many Choices For The Story

Upon moving to any new place – specifically a new state – I’m sure the first impulse of anyone is to run and get their license plates changed.  It certainly isn’t my motivation, but last year it had a little bit of excitement as I was eager to be branded as a resident of Kentucky and lose my New England license plates – and all of the weird questions that came with them every time someone saw them.

The joys of moving to a new place and taking up a small piece of that new identity awaiting you – it can be exhilarating, even if it involves bureaucracy.  There is something fascinating about any county clerk or department of motor vehicles office where you stand in line and wait, wait, perhaps get yelled at, and wait some more.

Sometimes there might be awkward chatter with the people near you, all of you agreeing that this is indeed the longest you’ve ever had to wait.  My own experience has been the same.  Every time in Chicago, I felt like if only I slid an extra 20 dollar bill across the desk, I’d be taken care of immediately. Read the rest of this entry »

Question Box Sunday

Below are the questions submitted during our first ever Question Box Sunday.  I’ve divided them into some basic categories — including the ones we answered during the service.  Over the next few months I will answer 2-3 of these every week and make them available here on this website for you all to read.  Questions are powerful things that can create space for the unexpected to emerge.  In that spirit, you have my gratitude. Read the rest of this entry »