Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Tag: beloved community

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 »

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 »