Neal Jones: “The Shadow Side of Individualism” (March 8, 2015)
While it's true that big money in our politics prevents the United States from instituting universal health care, it is also true that our politics reflects our culture. America has the most individualistic culture in the world and in history. Our individualism, while motivating some of our national achievements, also impairs our development of meaningful community and a mature spirituality.
Neal Jones: “A Subversive Act” (March 8, 2015)
We are hesitant to talk about money in UU congregations, but we shouldn’t be. Spirituality touches every corner of our lives, including our relationship to money. The spiritual practice of tithing is a rather subversiveact. Giving a portion of our income to support our faith community subverts our culture’s message that there isn’t enough, that our worth as human beings is based on our financial worth, and that we must live in a dog-eat-dog world.
Neal Jones: “Unitarian Sin” (February 22, 2015)
“Sin” is a word we don’t often hear in our UU vocabulary. For many of us, that word is associated with being naughty and going to hell. But if UUs are more concerned with the here-and-now instead of the here-after, then sin, for us, might be seen as squandering the gift of life. Peer Gynt, a classic fable about a man who never becomes human, has a lot to say about this sin.
Del Maticic: "Do I Dare?" (February 15, 2015)
Rev. Hugh Hammond: "Lost!" (February 8, 2015)
Neal Jones: “When the Tire Is Flat” (February 1, 2015)
When life doesn’t go according to our plans (and when does it?), we complain and make comparisons, which only makes us miserable. We essentially avoid living in the present moment either by retreating into the past with nostalgia or regret or by rushing into the future with wishful thinking or worry. Yet the here-and-now is the only reality we have. The more fully we can be present with our lives, the more fully alive we become
Neal Jones: “Here We Go Again” (January 25, 2015)
A Clemson frat party, a terrorist attack on a French magazine, and Rev. Franklin Graham’s pronouncements remind us that some of our worn-out stereotypes of marginalized groups are still alive and kicking. Some people cannot tolerate freedom of speech, and some cannot exercise that freedom with responsibility. In today’s sermon, we will focus specifically on our stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs and the spiritual consequences of stereotypic thinking.
Neal Jones: “Prophetic Voices” (January 18, 2015, Martin Luther King Sunday)
From Isaiah and Jesus to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, prophets have comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable ... but at a great price to themselves. We’ll listen to some prophetic voices and look at the historic pattern of how they are originally reviled and then honored.
Neal Jones: “Self-Laughter” (January 11, 2015)
People who are enamored with their own self-importance simply cannot laugh at themselves ... and unfortunately, churches are full of such people. Yet laughter at ourselves reminds us that we are larger than our egos. This is one of the qualities that attracted me to UUs – they love to tell jokes about themselves (and we’ll hear a sample).
Neal Jones: "Why You Shouldn't Be a UU" (January 04, 2015)
Some of us like to say that UUs can believe anything. That’s almost but not entirely true. There are limits to diversity even within Unitarian Universalism, and we will explore some of those today.
Justin Young: "Looking Back" (December 28, 2014)
In this annual fire communion service, congregants burn pieces of paper containing brief descriptions of something they most wish to leave behind and light a candle for a new hope for the coming year.
Neal Jones: "Our Best Laid Plans" (December 21, 2014)
Neal Jones: "Is There a Santa Clause?" (December 7, 2014)
Neal Jones: "The First Thanksgiving" (November 30, 2014)
For many of us, of the first Thanksgiving more resemble a Norman Rockwell painting than reality. The history of genocide which followed has many lessons to tour imageseach us, namely that history is written by the winners of wars, that the Puritan instinct lies deep in the American psyche, that violent religious beliefs lead to violence, and that we need to resurrect Native American spirituality.
Neal Jones: "Red & Blue in a Red, White, & Blue Nation" (November 16, 2014)
Dr. Pippin Whitaker: "What are UUs Called to Do?" (November 9, 2014)
(Intro: 2:15, Bio at sc.edu) Articulating what UUs stand for can sometimes sound like defining a negative, or like an all-encompassing platitude. Is there anything we have to do, as UUs? Our liberal religious heritage offers a call to faith in action that we sometimes overlook due to its profound subtlety. Join us and explore what this UU call may mean for your free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Neal Jones: "Wearing Masks" (November 2, 2014)
How might a minister speak to Halloween and Election Day at the same time? By talking about hypocrisy, the great temptation of politicians and preachers. Jesus was particularly hard on religious hypocrites, who create of religion of show. Hypocrisy can lead to spiritual death – we can become so preoccupied with appearances, with how others think and feel about us, that our own thoughts and feelings die from neglect. A congregation can be a place where we become more authentic and real.
Neal Jones: “A Sanctuary for Introverts” (October 26, 2014)
We introverts are often misunderstood in this extremely extroverted culture of ours, but Unitarian Universalism seems to be tailor-made for introverts.
Neal Jones: “The Process of Membership" (October 19, 2014)
Dr. Jack Shuler: "Things That Make Us Wince" (October 12, 2014)
Neal Jones: “The Power of the Pulpit” (October 05, 2014)
On the 10th anniversary of his pastorate at the Columbia UU, Rev. Jones describes the centrality of preaching in his Baptist background and in worship. The pulpit is larger than the minister; it is a symbol of freedom of speech, of prophecy, and of priesthood. The authority of a UU minister to preach is derived, not from a book, creed, ecclesiastical official, or tradition, but from the authenticity of his or her sermons.
Ivy Coleman, et. al.: “All the Colors of the Rainbox” (September 21, 2014)
Neal Jones: “Unitarian Universalism: A Religion of Responsibility” (September 14, 2014)
Our 4th UU Principle states: “We affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” We UUs relish our freedom to believe as we choose, without the constraint of creeds. Yet freedom without responsibility is simply narcissism. A responsible search for truth means to take seriously the findings of science, and a responsible search for meaning means to listen to the wisdom of others, past and present, in addition to trusting your own experience.
Neal Jones: “Racism in a Blink” (September 7, 2014)
Neal Jones: “No Time” (Labor Day, August 31, 2014)
Economist John Maynard Keynes predicted back in 1928 that our growing economy and technological advances would generate so much leisure time, we would not know what to do what all our free time. Not only did his prediction not come true, but we are busier than ever. Perhaps our busyness is our attempt to validate our worth. Worship, which shares the same root as “worth,” “worthy,” and “worthwhile,” can help us realize our true worth as human beings.
Neal Jones: Our Watery Connections (August 24, 2014)
Our annual Water Communion welcomes us back from our various absences during the summer. We use water to remind us of our connections to each other and the earth and to symbolize our tears and the possibility of rebirth.
Neal Jones: Learning to Fall (August 17, 2014)
Failure is downright un-American, or as Vince Lombardi put it, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” But if you can accept yourself as a person of worth, failure loses its sting. Joseph Campbell taught a different approach to failure: “Where you stumble, there your treasure is.” Failure can be an invitation to do the soul work of looking at your life and life itself unflinchingly.
Neal Jones: Cultivating Peace of Mind (August 10, 2014)
Dr. Todd Shaw: Bias or Belief? (August 03, 2014)
more past societal biases -- race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
Neal Jones: Are You Saved? (July 20, 2014)
The traditional Christian understanding of salvation is about getting into heaven, and Unitarian “salvation by character” is about self-improvement; both definitions are individualistic. The Universalist understanding of salvation, however, is communal – that we are all saved together. If salvation is about becoming a whole person, then the route to our salvation is through community. We need each other to overcome shame, develop empathy, and find meaning beyond our individual selves.
Neal Jones: What Now? (July 13, 2014)
When bad things happen, asking “Why me?” is a waste of time because it’s a question with a sense of entitlement – that we’re entitled to a life that goes according to our plans and expectations. A more productive question is “What now?” That’s a question focused on what we can do in response to what has happened.
Neal Jones: A View from the Wall (July 06, 2014)
The Religious Right of today, unlike the Fundamentalist of old, have attempted to transform our democracy into a theocracy and dismantle the wall separating church and state. They have been especially intrusive in public education, where they have been intent on teaching “intelligent design” as science and giving religious schools public assistance via vouchers and tax credits. In recent rulings of the Supreme Court, we are witnessing a disturbing trend of interpreting “religious freedom” as the right to impose one’s religious beliefs on others.
Neal Jones: The Meaning of Life (June 29, 2014)
One of the spiritual challenges of life is to create a meaningful life. Yet we do not find meaning by asking, “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is my purpose?” The meaning of life is found in immersing ourselves fully in the living of life.
Neal Jones: Coming Out as an Atheist (April 13, 2014)
Prejudice against atheists may be the last socially acceptable bigotry. The tide of public opinion has turned in favor of the acceptance of LGBT people because they have had the courage to “come out,” and we atheists must follow their example. Coming out will not only transform our society; it will transform us. Being true to yourself is a powerful experience.
Neal Jones: Ten Tips on How to Be Miserable (March 16, 2014)
In the Gospel of John, Jesus asks a crippled man what appears to be a callous question: “Do you want to be healed?” Perhaps Jesus understood that there are some benefits of being miserable, such as gaining people’s sympathy or diminishing the opportunity to be disappointed or disillusioned. If you aspire to be miserable, family therapist Cloe Madanes offers ten effective strategies.
Neal Jones: A Sabbatical Summation (March 9, 2014)
Rev. Jones shares what he did and didn’t do on his sabbatical.
Christian Anderson: Doubting Thomas: Jefferson and His Bible (March 2, 2014)
Rev. Fred Small: [read by Kate Noel Wells] short sermon on Standing on the Side of Love (February 16, 2014)
Rev. Sarah Tinker: Inner Peace (February 2, 2014)
The Rev. Sarah Tinker currently serves as minister of
Rev. Sarah Tinker:
Doubt and Confusion
(January 26, 2014)
service we'll be consider
ing what can be learned from this most human of conditions
The Rev. Sarah Tinker currently serves as minister of
Rev. Hugh Hammond: A Vision for Unitarian Universalism (January 12, 2014)
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
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