Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Tag: belonging

Fur and Feather

Looking back at the church I grew up in, I admire the things it was known for. I admire that it was known as one of the most fiercely humanist congregations in our denomination, I admire that it treated its pastors well, and I admire the reverence for nature that was present in all that we did.

Every potluck and event was at least vegetarian, if not vegan, every garden on the grounds was meticulously maintained, and while it was such a strongly humanist congregation in its reputation, there was room for the vibrancy of earth-centered traditions to speak to us. We always honored the wheel of the year and the rhythm of living and our place in the web of all existence was something that moved and transformed all who attended.

And every now and then we had an animal blessing. I look back and I try to imagine my three dogs, two scrappy westies and a big bounding labrador/newfoundland mix and I am glad we never tried to navigate such an event. But underneath all of that, there were continual reminders about our place in nature and our humility toward it.

Today is a day that celebrates and reminds us of our reverence for one piece of the web of life – our pets, our companion animals. For many traditions, Episcopalians, Catholics, Lutherans, and some other protestants, this is the day where St. Francis of Assisi is honored. Read the rest of this entry »

A World of Closet Doors

I can’t quite remember the exact day, but in the second week of April in the year 2000, roughly ten students at my high school in the suburbs of Chicago filed into school, dressed entirely in black, and they wouldn’t say a single word the entire day. They came from various cliques in the high school.

A couple geeks, popular students, crunchy granola kids, and general misfits. I was one of them. We only knew each other a little and had no connection outside of a shared after school group and the moment before us. We recognized each other in the hallways, in each others classes, and during lunch.

We’d smile at one another in encouragement as we passed in the halls and go about our day. Upon entering each class we’d hand a small slip of paper to the teacher and to anyone else that asked why we weren’t talking. The rules were simple: Don’t talk and hand over a slip when someone asked why.

That April of 2000 was the first time my high school engaged in the observance of the National Day of Silence. A day every April where people across the country stayed silent, mostly in schools, to protest the bullying experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students. The reactions were mixed. Read the rest of this entry »

When We All Belong

Our reading today comes to us from a piece titled “Children of a Different Tribe” by Sharon Colligan.

I grew up in the shelter of UU Societies. I was taught by Jews, Hippies, Asians, Scientists, Montessorians. I learned in Sunday School to be skilled in trance journeying, to visualize myself as a tree, to cast circles invoking the Four Directions, to gather for celebration and meditation on the turning of the seasons, to invent my own ritual expressions as my spirit moves.

The word God was not feared, but was translated for children as love, or mystery, or specialness. At thirteen I was gathered in a safe and sacred place with others of my age, and taught that sexuality was an interesting, good, and special thing, well worth making careful decisions about.

We were taught about disease and birth control, about shyness and communication, about the goodness of our bodies. We were taught to talk with one another with frankness, care, and trust. We were not divided by gender; I had never heard of a world ruled by an old white man in the sky. I slept knowing there is safety in togetherness, knowing our elders trusted our wisdom.

I was not taught that my upbringing was unusual; I was not taught that any of this was different from what other kids learn.

But our Youth know that they are different. They give all kinds of names to this feeling of difference: they say, I’m a vegan, I’m a queer, I’m a Pagan, I’m a punk rocker.

I’m here to say: the reason we feel we are different is because we are different. Our formative experiences– of childhood, of youth, of spiritual transformation– are profoundly different than those of the dominant culture. We are Children of a Different Tribe.

I distinctly remember how much I disliked Catechism school. Some of you probably knew it as CCD or some other acronym for Catholic or Anglican religious education. Now, I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist for most of my life, many of you already know this about me — but not always so. Read the rest of this entry »

Are You Invited?

Our reading today is adapted from the words of Kenneth Untener, the former Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The Beloved Community is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is work we are called to. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Beloved Community always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No covenant fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the congregation’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way…. We may never see the end results…. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

One of the things I loved most about living in New England for a year is that it became immediately clear that Massachusetts was a place that prized its history. It held dear its many stories, it cherished the artifacts of the past, it saw itself as a cradle of American history, and of particular note to me, it treasured the conflicts and disputes of the past as well.

It was often joked at the church in Concord that while the church itself was over 375 years old, it’s conflicts did not need to last that long. It certainly felt like some of them did. I do not share this as if it was a bad thing — it was all charming, it was all part of my personal and ministerial growth, and while I am a lifelong Chicagoan —

I know that a part of my heart carried away some New England Yankee. Having only lived there a year, I feel that it was never truly home, but its uniqueness and the many stories I was witness to will be with me for some time. Many of those stories are things we still deal with in some way today. Read the rest of this entry »