Neal Jones: The Faith of a Trapeze Artist (Sept. 1, 2013)
Faith involves our imagination and will more than our minds. It’s imagining a future that’s different from the past and living as if that future is possible, and by living in the possibilities, faith enables that future to come true. Faith is not believing the unbelievable; it’s trying the untried.
Neal Jones: In Memory of Trayvon (August 11, 2013)
In America, to be a young black man is, by definition, to be suspicious and up to no good. ... We are still inundated every day with messages that link whiteness with goodness and being black with being bad in the movies and TV shows we view, in the advertisements we watch, in the news coverage we receive, and in the books we read. We are like fish swimming in a biased ocean. We did not choose the water we live in. We don’t even think about it or are aware of it. We just go about our daily lives, while the water we are immersed in influences us in ways we do not see.
Neal Jones: The Road Less Traveled (July 21, 2013)
"Heresy” is an interesting word. It comes from a Greek word meaning “choice.” Heretics want to exercise choice about what they believe instead of just swallowing hook, line, and sinker what they are told to believe. They want to seek for more light where others tell them not to look. They take the road less traveled. One of the ironies of Christian history is that the early Christians were declared heretics by the Roman pagans because they did not believe in the pagan gods. In fact, one of reasons Jesus was executed, according to the New Testament, is that he was regarded as a heretic by orthodox Jews. This, too, seems to be a pattern of orthodoxy. Once you believe you have the right to declare your beliefs as the only right beliefs, then it is one small step to believing that you have the right to declare all other beliefs as wrong. Then it’s another step to believing it is your right to eliminate wrong beliefs, which leads to believing it is your right to eliminate people who hold the wrong beliefs.
Neal Jones: A View from the Wall (July 7, 2013)
The United States of America was the first country in history to institute the separation of church and state, and except for those times when have been overcome by fear and prejudice, we have recognized the wisdom of maintaining a wall between government and religion. This morning I want to review briefly some of the current battles to maintain that wall, and I’d like to begin with a success story, the Supreme Court’s ruling just days ago against DOMA, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. We are finally beginning to recognize that people should not be discriminated against because of who they love. The DOMA ruling not only upholds the Constitution; it upholds one of the sacred tenets of democratic government – that all people are created equal; that while people do not possess equal talents and abilities, all people do have equal worth and dignity.
Neal Jones: Some Pastoral Advice (June 30, 2013)
On this day when we install our Board of Trustees and give thanks to some of the many volunteers who make this community happen, let us also openly acknowledge how difficult it is for some of us to recruit volunteers and for others to make the commitment to volunteer.
Neal Jones: Some Fatherly Advice (June 16, 2013)
For those of you who are fans of Jeopardy!, I don’t have to tell you who Ken Jennings is. He’s the contestant who holds its longest winning streak. In 2004, he won 74 Jeopardy! games, earning over $3 million dollars. Most know-it-alls are not, but Ken Jennings really is. So when he wrote his book The Truth behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids, I paid attention. On this Father’s Day, I turn to Ken’s book, which is replete with scientific facts, to debunk some of the advice many parents have given their children; for if we Unitarians put our faith in anything, it’s science facts.
Neal Jones: From White Knights to Black Knights (May 26, 2013)
Today’s sermon is a sequel to last Sunday’s sermon, based on the ancient Iron John legend as told by Robert Bly. White knights are more grown up than red knights, but they are not fully mature. They need to become black knights. In our culture, we normally think of black as signifying evil, but it also symbolizes death and grief and sorrow. In the Iron John story, you may remember from last week that the young man was wounded by the king’s men when was wearing black armor and riding a black horse. Black knights have been wounded. They have felt pain. They have suffered. They have lost something or someone dear. They have mourned. Because they have been wounded, they tend to be more patient, more humble, more understanding, more forgiving, and less judgmental and less certain.
Neal Jones: From Red Knights to White Knights (May 19, 2013)My “scripture text” is the ancient Iron John legend as told by Robert Bly. To summarize it briefly, there was a young man who wanted to catch the golden apples at the king’s festival, so he went to the forest to solicit the help of Iron John, a mysterious man who lived deep in the woods. Iron John gave the boy a different colored armor and horse for each day of the festival – first red, then white, and finally black. Bly sees these colors as being significant, as signifying the maturing of the boy into a man … and we may presume that a girl matures in a similar manner. Red is the color of youthful ardor, temper, arrogance, and impulsivity. In order to grow up, it is necessary to move from red to white. White knights have learned to channel their passion into worthwhile directions. White knights are not grown yet, however. The problem with white knights is that in their fight for good and against evil, they almost always see themselves as good, and evil almost always exists in others, especially in those whom they oppose.
Neal Jones: The UU Umbrella (April 28, 2013)
Neal Jones: A Test of Spirituality (April 14, 2013)
The closest thing to a spirituality test I know of is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The narrative begins with a lawyer trying to test Jesus. It’s not a lawyer in our sense of the word, but an expert in the religious law, someone more akin to a theologian. ... Jesus is trying to shock this theologian and his religious audience out of their stereotypical way of thinking about good guys and bad guys. He is giving a commentary on the priorities of religion and the meaning of spirituality. In the form of a narrative, he is saying that religion is not primarily about right performance of ritual. It’s not primarily about right belief in the right doctrine. It’s about doing right by the person who is right under your nose. You don’t need to rush down the road to find your priorities. What you should be about is right here, right now -- helping the person in need in your midst. Jones looks at behaviors that disguise themselves as love.
Neal Jones: From Tolerance to Appreciation (April 7, 2013)
In UU circles, we use the word “tolerance” a lot. I have a confession to make. I don’t like the word “tolerance.” For me, it sounds like you are tolerating someone, putting up with someone you don’t necessarily like. I guess tolerating someone is better than trying to change them, but a more spiritually mature response would be to try to understand them and to understand how and why they are different from you and uniquely themselves. An even more spiritually mature response would be to value these differences and nurture their uniqueness and appreciate that we are a healthier, wiser, more balanced, more complete, whole congregation because of these differences.
Neal Jones: The Star Thrower (Easter, March 31, 2013)
Faith is imagining a future that's different from the past and living as if that future is possible, and by living as if that future is possible, faith helps to make that future come true. Or as the recovery movement puts it, "Fake it till you make it." Faith is believing that new life can emerge from what has died and living into that new life. That is how Easter intersects with your life and mine.
Neal Jones: Some Second Thoughts About Forgiveness (March 24, 2013)
Neal Jones: What Love is Not (Feb. 10, 2013)
Neal Jones: A Humanist Response to Newtown, Part 2 (Jan. 20, 2013)
Today I want to focus on that first word in our second Principle, "justice." I think of compassion as the demonstration of love by one individual toward another, and I think of justice as the demonstration of love by society toward all individuals. ... It's up to us as a society to make of this world what we will. ... In Germany, 381 people are killed each year by guns. In France, 255 people are killed each year by guns. In Canada, it's 165. In Great Britain, it's 68. In Japan, 39. In the United States, it's 11,127. ... Maybe we have so many gun fatalities because we have so many guns.
Neal Jones: A Humanist Response to Newtown, Part 1 (Jan. 13, 2013)
I turn to our second Unitarian Universalist Principle: We affirm and promote justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. ... To have compassion is literally to feel with another their pain. It is to place ourselves in their shoes through imagination and intuition to know their experience, and this is not a grand leap of imagination because all of us, at some time and place in our lives, have experienced some kind of loss.
Neal Jones: Some UU Names of God (Jan. 6, 2013)
Religion strikes me as maintaining a lingering desire to have a heavenly parent … who has all the answers, who can fix all our problems, and who can assure us that, come what may, everything will be all right. It was Freud and Feuerbach who first observed that God is a projection of our best qualities, noblest values, and highest ideals. These are human qualities and values and ideals, and we should claim them for ourselves and quit giving someone else all the credit. In other words, the Bible has it backwards -- we create God in our image.
Neal Jones: The End is Always Near (Dec. 30, 2012)
Even though the world will not end on a prescribed date and even though you probably don't have a terminal illness, you should still have a bucket list because whatever you put on it is what you ought to be doing anyway. If you want to sky-dive, do it. If you want to open a bakery, do it. If you want to express your true feelings, do it. If you want to get in touch with an old friend, do it. If the list of things you would do in the final weeks of your life is really different from your life today, you're doing life wrong, and you shouldn't wait for cancer or Mayan calendars to grant you permission to do it right.
Neal Jones: Making Room for the Rocks (Dec. 9, 2012)
Making room for the rocks. (audio available, but not yet text)
Neal Jones: Becoming Not Holy But Whole (Dec. 2, 2012)
Liberal religion provides more challenge than comfort, which is why our numbers are small. Liberal religion doesn't provide you with a life preserver but attempts to teach you to swim, and it does so by encouraging you to trust your reason, your conscience, and your experience. As I said last Sunday, liberal religion, whether within the Jewish, Christian, or Muslim tradition, is anthrocentric. It's all about our human experience. Listen to your experiences. Examine them. Ask questions. Have doubts. Discuss them with others. Come to your own conclusions. From the standpoint of liberal religion, salvation means to embrace your experience, all of your experience, even the parts that are confusing and uncomfortable. The word “salvation” shares the same root as the word “salve,” which is an ointment which heals one back to wholeness. When you embrace all of your experience, you will change; you will grow; you will heal; you will become whole.
Neal Jones (et al): You Have Them and I Do Too (Nov. 25, 2012)
Spirituality is like the weather. You may have good weather or bad weather, but you always have weather. To be human is to be spiritual. The question is not whether we "have spirituality" but whether the spirituality we have is healthy or unhealthy, life-giving or life-denying, leading us to self-destruction or self-transcendence, making us whole or partial people. ... Today, we are going to listen to a few life stories of a few famous and not-so-famous people with the hope that they will inspire us to stop, look, and listen to those moments in our lives that are sacred, that plunge us beneath the surface of our lives to the depths of life, love, joy, and purpose.
Neal Jones: Staying Power (Nov. 11, 2012)
As you may recall, I have been talking these last several weeks about change, and today's sermon is the last of this series. ... So in a nutshell, here's what I want to say this morning: You change when you embrace your experience, but unfortunately, these opportunities for change typically mean embracing uncomfortable, unhappy, unfulfilling moments in your life that you would rather avoid and that you typically do avoid. It means that, in the usual course of things, when you change, things get worse before they get better. Another way of saying this is that spiritual growth requires the capacity to tolerate painful experiences and uncomfortable feelings.
Neal Jones: A Liberal Book (Oct. 28, 2012)
Biblical scholarship destroys Biblical infallibility and inerrancy. A scholarly study of the Bible reveals that there are no original texts of the Bible in existence. All we have are copies made years later, usually centuries later, that are actually copies of copies of copies, and they are all filled with errors, inconsistencies, contradictions, and intentional changes made over the centuries by scribes and editors. ... What we learn from Biblical scholarship is that the books of the Bible were written by different authors at different times in different places to address different audiences with different needs. … What I am sharing with you are not some radical, wild-eyed theories from fringe Biblical scholars. The field of Biblical textual studies is over 300 years old. What I am sharing with you is the consensus of mainstream Biblical scholarship across denominations and across the conservative-liberal divide. What I am sharing with you is what I learned at a Southern Baptist seminary.
Neal Jones on Getting over the Rocks (Oct. 14, 2012)
We will change if we embrace our life experiences. That's because life is like a river -- dynamic, flowing, always moving -- and we will move, too, if we immerse ourselves into the flow of life. Sometimes there are obstacles that block our way and get us stuck, however. It's easy to identify external obstacles to change, like lack of money, a busy schedule, or an insensitive boss, but it's more difficult to see internal obstacles. This morning I want to focus briefly on six internal obstacles to change -- all of which are ways we separate ourselves from our experience. The more we separate ourselves from our lives, the more we remain stuck.
Neal Jones on Turning to Others to Turn Yourself Around (Oct. 7, 2012)
We assume that independence is a sign of maturity. It's a weakness to rely on others, a sin to be dependent. You don't want to be a moocher. You don't want to become a burden on anyone. You don't want to be a leech on society. An alternative view of healthy development would be to see human beings as growing in our capacity for interdependence – the capacity to be mindful of the needs of others while also attending to your own needs. It's understanding maturity as the ability to be oneself while being in relationship with others. It's realizing that we're in this life together and on this planet together and that when all do well, everyone does well. It's more difficult to exploit others when you recognize your interdependence with others, and it's more difficult to exploit the planet when your recognize you interdependence with the earth.
Neal Jones on Your Life, Your Responsibility (Sept. 30, 2012)
When we focus only on external circumstances, we feel helpless, passive, and dependent. We see ourselves as victims and we act like victims. But when we become more enlightened, more self-aware -- more aware of how we perceive things, more aware of how we think about others and ourselves, more aware of how we feel about what’s happening to us, more aware of the range of responses we can give -- then we realize our ability to influence the events of our life.
Neal Jones on Letting Life Be Your Teacher (September 9, 2012)
Trying harder is not the only way to change. Another way is not trying so hard. This approach is about change from the inside out, changing the way you perceive, think, and feel in order to change how you behave. This approach is not so much about doing as being. It's about acceptance, and as Carl Rogers observed, the more thoroughly we accept ourselves, the more change seems to happen unnoticed.
Neal Jones: Stop Trying So Hard (September 2, 2012)
Sometimes trying harder leads to change. But sometimes our plans and actions can interfere with change. Sometimes our plans and actions can intrude upon the natural process of change. Sometimes you need to stop trying so hard to change in order for change to happen.
June 17, 2012 Neal Jones on Two Museums
March 11, 2012 Sermon
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