Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

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 »

Reflecting on the Orlando Massacre

My reading today is a simple one.  It comes to us from the Beatitudes of Jesus of Nazareth found in the Gospel of Matthew:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Here is how I imagined today.  I imagined little slips of paper being folded nicely in each order of service.  I imagined enough pens and pencils to go around.  I imagined soft music playing in the background as people wrote on those slips of paper and put them in a collection plate. 

I imagined the sound of the papers being put in a box.  And I imagined the joy in pulling each piece of paper at random from the box and answering the question one of you had written on it.  Today was to be our first ever Question Box Sunday.

A Sunday where the gathered people are free to ask the minister any question relating to religion and as the questions are pulled at random, with no knowledge of what they may be, the answers serve as the sermon for the day.  It is at once a joyful and somewhat petrifying premise for a end of the church year service.

Today it won’t be happening.  But it will, no doubt, in a couple months, I can assure you of this.  Keep your eyes open for it.  You now have time to think of the most absurd or most thoughtful questions possible.  But today, there is only one question that rests on my heart, and, I pray, it may be resting on your heart as well.  Read the rest of this entry »

[BLOG] Update

Last month my first blog post was picked up by Nature’s Path over at Patheos.  It is a specifically earth-centered and Unitarian Universalist focused blog and I am delighted to be joining their team.  I join as someone who is greatly inspired by earth-centered traditions — in addition to the other sources of our faith.  I look forward to seeing how this unfolds.

In the meantime, posts here will try to focus on ministry-specific content, while Patheos will provide various perspectives on engaging earth-centered traditions.

You can find the first two posts to Patheos here:

Are You There Odin? It’s Me, Brian.

Strike the Match