Sermons & Other Thoughts from Rev. Brian Chenowith

Tag: humanism

Into the Sacred Depths

Our reading this Sunday came to us from the poet Billy Collins, titled, “As If To Demonstrate An Eclipse.”

As a child, I was always encouraged to look upward.  For hours, I would look.  My mother would just look with me.  Not much was said in these moments beyond, “Wow” or “What are their names?”

I’d invent names for them when I didn’t know.  Against the dark of night, I’d marvel at Arcturus, Vega, Altair, and Antares.  Names with stories attached to them.

Names of stars that are hundreds of light years away, stars that could have gone supernova in the middle ages but the light had not yet reached us, stars that could have planets with fellow watchers looking up and marveling at our own star, stars I would never see, could never see, we will never see beyond looking up on a clear summer night.

Those points of pale light piercing through the dark of night to my eyes – just one human amongst billions – would stay with me for years and years and up until this moment, too.  The passion would persist. 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 »

[BLOG] Sorry, We’re Not Done With God Yet

Anyone that has ever stepped in to a Unitarian Universalist church and spent some time there will know the age old debate:  The Humanists vs. The Theists.  It’s the most anti-climactic battle of philosophies and one I’ve found few people truly want to engage.  Keep in mind that many “un-churched” and millenial folks find the whole debate to be baffling in the first place.  But it’s a discussion, an argument, a heated exchange that I am familiar with as a minister.  I remember I once responded to the question “What do I wish someone told me before I entered seminary?” with “Trust in God.”  A fellow seminarian chimed in:  “If anyone had told me that I would’ve thought I mistakenly went to a Christian seminary.”  I almost feel like that little exchange there highlights the problem and nothing else needs to be said.

It is true that most Unitarian Universalists do not affirm a traditional “God” figure.  Whether or not they use the word itself is another discussion for another day.  The short answer is that our use of religious language is all over the map — and that’s a good thing.  But for many Unitarian Universalists, such as myself, the image of God as a wholly benevolent, almighty, loving, and ever-present being that rules the Universe simply does not compute.  Where we go from that viewpoint is truly up to the person:  agnostic, atheist, naturalist, humanist, choose your label and there are many.  However, there is one aspect of this discussion that frustrates me.  Often times it feels that we are “beyond God” in the life of our congregations.  I find this to be so completely misguided. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good News of Humanism

This sermon was delivered at a neutral pulpit and to the search committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, KY.

Our reading today is titled “A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford.

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give – yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

As a child in suburban Chicago, my family came to Unitarian Universalism just as I was entering my teenage years. It was in a town about twenty miles outside of the city where we came upon the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale. This was after a good friend recommended it. The church itself was situated behind the town library and was surrounded by the large picturesque homes that were characteristic of the town. The building was quaint.

Beautiful stone with plenty of trees, a church sign that hadn’t been changed in over twenty years, and a distinct and charming look about the whole property. It looked like home and that was the point. In the 19th century, the minister of the congregation — William Channing Gannett — wrote an essay titled “The House Beautiful.” In this essay he suggested that a church home must, simply enough, feel like home. And he wasn’t just talking about the people. Read the rest of this entry »