Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Tag: goals

The Sound of One Voice

Our reading from this Sunday was titled “You Reading This, Be Ready,” by the poet William Stafford. This sermon also drew heavily on “10 Ways to Build Resilience” from the American Psychological Association.

I remember my first evening as a chaplain – it feels like it was a very long time ago.  There is no way I could ever forget it.  When you study to become a Unitarian Universalist minister, you are required to serve as a chaplain in a hospital for a semester, a summer, or sometimes even a year.

It is often a mix of emotional boot camp with the normal duties of a chaplain – visiting patients, talking with families and doctors and nurses, being there in times of great joy, and more often than not, being there in moments of complete and utter sadness. Trauma, despair, confusion, death, and the breadth of human sadness with bits of bittersweet mixed in.  The particular hospital I was serving at was the very same hospital I as born in, a fact that somehow terrified me even more in the work that waited me as I began my first overnight shift on the floor with my supervisor. As we left the chaplain’s office she said, “Let’s go hang out in the emergency room.  It hasn’t been too busy today.”  Famous last words.  Before I knew it it was nearly five in the morning. Read the rest of this entry »

Some New Kind of Adventure

Our reading today is title, “Things to Watch While You Drive” by Joyce Sutphen, the Poet Laureate of Minnesota

The trees, slipping
across the fields, changing places with
barns and silos,
the hills, rolling over
on command, their bellies
green and leafy,
the sun-tiger, riding
on your rooftop, its shadow racing
up and down the ditches,
a flock of birds,
carrying the sky by the corners,
a giant sheet of blue,
the road, always
twisting towards or away from you —
both, at the same time.

 I found myself wondering how many times I had packed up the car over the last two years — how many times I said goodbye, how many times I said “No, I’m not dragging that old thing with me” and instead donated it to Goodwill. This time, I found myself confronted with two packed cars.

Two cars heading into the unknown, two cars with a different part of the country waiting at the end of the road, two cars that surely forgot to pack that one thing we absolutely should’ve had the sense to remember. My partner and I were ready to say goodbye to the home we had known in Illinois for most of our lives. For me, the farewells were less impactful and tearful, my mother still held back her emotions, the other relatives did as well.

I would be lying if I believed that it was truly less impactful. Any goodbye is hard to grapple with — whether it is final or temporary. This goodbye, only four days ago, had a level of finality to it. We were leaving and, yes we would visit, but we would not be down the road or in the next room. The distance was going to last. Read the rest of this entry »

The Person Next To You

This is the second sermon delivered during Candidating Week.

A wise colleague once offered me some invaluable advice about ministry. She said it rather bluntly and without explanation, but I understood her reasoning: She said, never tell anyone what you do for a living..when you’re on an airplane.

This advice is not unique to ministry. It’s not unique to airplanes either. You hear it if you’re a lawyer, a mortician, a teacher, or, really, anything. I tried to live by this advice. I wasn’t quite sure why I needed to: I enjoyed talking with people about their views on religion, learning about where they came from, and hearing their questions – just like this past week. It’s the kind of thing I live for and am called to be present to. But, still, I followed the advice. And let me tell you, it doesn’t work.

A couple years ago I found myself on a flight to San Francisco. I was all prepared to be my most anti-social self: I had a book and my earbuds. Somehow I thought those things would help. Just after take off I started digging into my book. Not long into the flight I felt a tap on my arm and the man sitting next to me asked: Are you a Unitarian Universalist? My cover was about to be blown. Read the rest of this entry »

Suddenly Surprised

This is the first sermon delivered during Candidating Week.

Our reading today is titled, “Walking Toward Morning” by Rev. Victoria Safford.

You know, we do it every day. Every morning we go out blinking into the glare of our freedom, into the wilderness of our work and the world, making maps as we go, looking for signs that we’re on the right path. And on some good days we walk right out of our oppressions, those things that press us down from the outside or (as often) from the inside; we shake off the shackles of fear, prejudice, timidity, closed-mindedness, selfishness, self righteousness, and claim our freedom outright, terrifying as it is—our freedom to be human and humane.

Every morning, every day, we leave our houses, not knowing if it will be for the last time, and we decide what we’ll take with us, what we’ll carry: how much integrity, how much truth-telling, how much compassion (in case somebody along the way may need some), how much arrogance, how much anger, how much humor, how much willingness to change or be changed, to grow and to be grown. How much faith and hope, how much love and gratitude—you pack these with your lunch and medications, your date book and your papers. Every day, we gather what we think we’ll need, pick up what we love and all that we so far believe, put on our history, shoulder our experience and memory, take inventory of our blessings, and we start walking toward morning.

I was completely surprised. I wasn’t even sure what happened — all I knew was that I was suddenly face first in a pile of snow. I really hate to begin by talking about the winter. Not the winter Massachusetts just had with snow piles high above my head and not the winter you just had here in Kentucky, but a winter many years ago in Illinois. It was a completely unremarkable winter but it has stuck with me.

Not far from where I grew up as a child, there was a shopping center with the usual suspects: JC Penney, KMart, and a now dilapidated indoor mall that had the most amazing nachos and the weirdest assortment of stores: a magic shop, an exotic pet store, a store that sold various types of sand and glass. I was with my mother on a particular winter day, the snow was piled out along the sidewalk outside and I was simply not having a good day. Read the rest of this entry »