On Sunday, June 24, 2007, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture. This Sunday was the official Gay Pride Day celebration in San Francisco.
I'm going to talk about the concept of the self today, more specifically our need to question our self concepts. Gay Pride weekend in San Francisco frequently brings this idea into my mind. As I speak, and you listen, 300,000, 400,000 maybe even 500,000 people – we’re never sure exactly how many, it depends on which press you are reading, are gathering about a half of a mile away from here, downtown, for the annual Gay Pride parade and festivities that happen at the Civic Center.
Of course, the day is thought of with this word, “pride” that usually brings to mind an egoic state. However, I believe the word takes of a different meaning when talked about in the gay movement. Gay people are: proud to be there, proud to be visible, proud to be acknowledged. There’s a willingness to put one’s self out there just as one’s self is so that one can be recognized as a part of this society that we all live in. I can let go of my A Course In Miracles bent on things for a few moments and appreciate the idea of “pride” from the perspective of the gay community and what is going on downtown right now as I speak.
“Questioning Our Self Concept” – I haven’t spoken here in about four weeks. I was away for awhile. I went back to visit my family in upstate New York and then I had some other obligations. It’s interesting to me because I don’t usually go that long without speaking. I found myself questioning my own self concept about being a minister. What does that mean? Am I a minister if I don’t speak on Sunday?
I visited my family. My concept of myself as a family member was questioned there. What does it mean to be a family member? Am I a good son, a good brother, and a responsible family member if I only go back home to visit my family for four or five days once a year? Does that qualify me as a good family member? I went with my mother to church as I usually do when I go back East. This time, for the very first time, my mother and I were also accompanied by my two sisters. That’s us on the cover of your program (this Miracles Monthly) standing in front of the church right after service. I don’t know when was the last that my whole family was at a church service. It was probably when my father died. Aside from a funeral or a wedding, for just a regular Sunday service, it might be 35 years.
There I was. It was interesting. We were in the Catholic Church of our community hearing a message that I had no connection to what so ever. I have no connection to: all the trappings of Catholicism, what it tends to teach, and the huge, larger than life, bleeding Jesus on the crucifix that’s right above the priest as he speaks. The priest in my family’s church usually speaks for about seven minutes however he only spoke for five minutes the Sunday I was there. I timed him. He’s so quick. I wanted to see just how long was Father Kevin going to speak that Sunday – five minutes. He speaks rather slowly too. Five minutes is more like three and a half minutes of an actually sermon that I would give. It was a good talk. He talked about the importance of sharing a meal with your family. He said that this was something that people had gotten out of the habit of doing. He was encouraging families to get back into that habit of sharing a family meal together. He also talked about the importance of sharing the communion meal with one’s church family there at the church. He talked about those things for his five minutes. That challenged, again, my concept of what it means to minister, what it means to be a preacher. Rev. Larry and I speak here for about twenty-five minutes. He had about 200 plus people in that congregation and they seemed to be happy with his five minutes. I thought about the small number of people that we have here on Sunday. Sometimes that’s a challenge. Are we really a “church” with the few people who do come here? The church service I attended with my family seemed more like a real church. It had the trappings of a traditional church building and it had the much larger congregation. That was a challenge. What is the world’s concept of church? What is the world’s concept of minister? I think A Course In Miracles is continually asking us to challenge these concepts. Obviously we have them, and obviously the world reinforces them. However, we have to question and challenge them. This is what ACIM tells us to do.
I, of course, always remember that even though our local congregation may indeed be small, we do actually minister to a larger congregation all over the country and, indeed, all over the world. Currently two of our Supporting Members live outside the U.S.A.
A couple of days ago we received this in the mail from a woman who, I believe, did come here twice about eight or ten years ago. She lives in Arizona. “Dear Friends Tony and Larry, – For three days I’ve been trying to write a letter to you to enclose with my donation. I want to have deep and profound words to express my appreciation and gratitude for your great work. I don’t have any. Tony, I told you that you are provocative. While I was reading your article so many thoughts came up for me I wish I had made notes. I am much too tolerant of mind wandering. I emailed your article to several A Course In Miracles friends ....” This is the article I wrote for our Ezine about the Original Edition. (Ezine:19/May.24.07) “My teacher, Charles, resonated with the idea that Jesus was and is speaking to each of us where we are. I have also believed that there are no personal messages in the Course – or that it is all a personal message.” She then took a break and days later she completed the letter. “It has taken a long time to complete this note. Weapons of mass destruction seem to overwhelm my being lately. My husband has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and we are both being bombarded with suggestions and information. You, Larry, will empathize with our situation. Larry, I really appreciated your message “Personal Resurrection” (Vol. 21, No. 1 / May 07) “Willing participants ...” “... crucified on our own cross” and resurrected by our own choice. Willingness ... thank you both so much. You are enduring, steady, faithful. I love you. Peace Love and Joy (name withheld) Tucson, AZ”
This was a wonderful letter of appreciation, not from someone who comes here, not even from someone who is a Supporting Member of ours, but from someone who has been reading Miracles Monthly and receiving the emails for many, many years just wanting to say how much it means to her. She wanted to have profound words but she was not able to find them. Her words were profound and appreciated by Rev. Larry and myself.
This morning when I came in I had this email from someone who is a Supporting Member and lives in another part of the country. “Good morning, Reverend Tony. – I have just finished a morning message from you entitled ‘Sexual Healing.’” That was a sermon I gave a couple of months ago and the audio is on the internet. Supporting Members can listen to these. “How I wish I were in your area to attend the weekly service on Sundays. For now, I will listen on-line to previous services.” She went on and talked about why that particular sermon had beneficial meaning to her. That was from a member in Lubbock, Texas.
When confronted with the idea of what it means to have a church and what it means to be a minister, I sometimes move in the direction of being challenged and wonder if we are, or am I, even doing it. When other things, like these letters and emails are there I have to actively choose them and open my mind to a different concept of church and minister. I need to always remember that we are reaching people that we don’t even know. There are people all over the world who access lectures, read Miracles Monthly, and our Ezine. The concept I may have had about what a church is was formed when I was a child, when I went to Sunday Service with my family. That kind of church still goes on, but there are different concepts and we are serving that different concept. I need to remember that and open up to that.
I had the good fortune of working with our minister, Rev. Dusa Althea, recently as she was preparing to do two weddings. She’s done two weddings in the past few weeks. It was a challenge for her since she was not used to doing weddings, however these couples who were coworkers and clients of hers asked her, knowing that she was a minister, to be the officiate at these weddings. They were very different weddings. One was a huge wedding, a Chinese and Japanese young couple with lots and lots of people there. The other one was a very tiny wedding, a personal wedding with an older couple out on the beach with just four people there. Rev. Dusa Althea had diametric, opposite situations to deal with and very different people. What was interesting to me was the changing concept of self that Rev. Dusa Althea went through. I got to witness her as she changed her self concept and opened it up to being a person who could provide this service for people – providing a meaningful wedding ceremony for people. I think it shifted her in a way that was positive. I’m sure she’d be happy to tell you about it herself. Maybe she will give a sermon here that will talk about her wedding experiences. I watched Rev. Dusa Althea go through a changing concept of self. The way she related to being a healer and a minister before has now shifted and changed. Her old concept had to get questioned when she was asked to do these weddings. She had to rise to a new level of being a minister. Doing weddings is very challenging. I know because I do them. They are also a lot of hard work. I was great to see Rev. Dusa Althea question old concepts of herself and rise to a new challenge and allow the concept of herself to change.
I frequently get challenged. When I look at my challenges and observe what they are I see that they always involve challenging a concept of the self that I have, or someone else has, about me. I was challenged by a significant other over these past week. What does it mean to be somebody’s lover? What is that concept? Does what we do as a couple fit into our conceptual analysis? I was challenged by somebody I used to work with on the question of what does it mean to be a friend? What does it mean to be in communication? How I was conceptualizing friend was different than how this person was conceptualizing friend. Our concepts of the self were challenged. I have recently been challenged by members of our congregation. What does it mean that we have this church here? What does it mean for me to be a co-minister and a cofounder? I challenge myself as I get older and look at the years that I’ve been alive. I wonder, what does it mean to be living this life as a valid person and individual? Am I truly living the life that Holy Spirit wants me to live?
I have also been challenged by what it means to live here in the physical world? I fill out an Abundance Journal every day and what I’ve noticed is I can fill out yesterday. I can remember what I did yesterday, but if I just go back two days I have a very hard time constructing what happened two days ago. What did I do? I can remember yesterday, Saturday, but Friday is already a little blurry. Forget about Thursday. It’s mostly gone in my memory. Where is Thursday? I don’t know. Unless something very significant or unusual happened, I can’t reconstruct three days ago. Who was I Thursday? It wasn’t that long ago. I think about all the days of my life. Where are they? Where did they go? Who was I then? What is the concept of the self that I am?
A Course In Miracles talks a lot about the concept of the self. I always recommend that people read the section in chapter 31 titled “Self Concept Versus Self” (Original Edition). This section is very interesting and provocative in the way it challenges us. I’m going to read a few of the quotations from this section.
In paragraph 56 it says, “The concept of the self has always been the great preoccupation of the world. And everyone believes that he must find the answer to the riddle of himself. Salvation can be seen as nothing more than the escape from concepts. It does not concern itself with content of the mind, but with the simple statement that it thinks.” (Tx.Or.Ed.31.56) I think this is an amazing statement. Let’s look at the thinking of the world, the usual psychological paradigm. There, what you think becomes the most important thing. Everybody is trying to answer this riddle about themselves. “What do I really want in life? What would actually satisfy me? Why don’t I have what I really want? Why, when I get what I want, does it not seem to satisfy me? Might there be something else about me I’m missing?” All of these questions are confrontational and challenging to the ego mind and the world is submersed in this thinking.
For a large part, the gay community gathering a half a mile away from here is very submersed in this. If you go down there today and listen to some of the political speeches they will be about this kind of thing. What don’t gays have that they would like to have – in terms of legal rights and privileges, equal status. What do gays need to do in order to get these things? All of these kind of issues. How do gays need to present ourselves in order to have the world acknowledge them and their contribution. Yet this quotation from the Course says salvation does not concern itself with these ideas. Salvation, “ ... does not concern itself with content of the mind, but with the simple statement that it thinks.” That is what A Course In Miracles wants us to remember. We’re a mind that is producing thought. That is what shows us that we are alive.
This is exactly the same thing that the famous French philosopher René Decartes said in 1637 in his treatise, “Discourse On Method” when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” Actually, what he wrote was, “Je pense, donc je suis” because it was in French. It doesn’t matter what the thoughts are. We need to center into the idea that we are an entity, a being, a mind, that is thinking. That is what proves that we exist. We need to rest in the abundance of that existence and be glad, be in gratitude, and be powerful. We can be vibrant in the reality of being a mind that thinks and not get so hooked into what that mind is thinking about.
What does the usual concept of the self discussion tell us? If I have sexual activity with the same gender than I am a homosexual. This is what the mind thinks. This becomes our concept of the self. This is how we define ourselves. I give spiritual lectures on Sunday morning therefore I am a minister. Is this true? Is this who I am? If I am willing to spend a day with you does that mean that I am a good friend of yours? What if I am not willing to spend a day with you? Might I still be a good friend? I might not have that time. What does that mean? Am I a bad friend because I won’t spend a day with you? Since I am not there with my biological family in Canastota, New York, through all my family’s crises, does that mean I am not a good family member? Maybe I am not a good son to my mother who recently spent a month in the hospital. Maybe I am not a good brother to my sisters. I have to challenge these concepts. I have to sink into a different kind of identity so I can continue to show up. If I can’t fix a particular problem, the way someone is defining that problem, does that mean I deserve some kind of negative judgment? I have been unable. I have failed. Since I am sometimes unavailable for several hours at a time, at places and with people unknown, does that mean that I am not one’s committed life partner? I don’t know what those facts mean. I do know that we have to challenge these ideas. That is what ACIM is asking us to do, not to get hooked into definitions of ourselves, of others, of our relationships and of our station in life. We need to remember we think, therefore we exist. We can choose our thoughts. We can center into the infinite reality of who and what we are.
In this same section of the Text we also find this, “You will make many concepts of the self as learning goes along. Each one will show the changes in your own relationships as your perception of yourself is changed.” (Tx.Or.Ed.31.58) I like to watch people make shifts like Rev. Dusa Althea did. It was new for her. Her concept of herself changed. We do have these concepts and they do progress. The challenge is not to be attached to them, to allow them to continually progress and change. This is true with the gay community. This is true with myself. Of course we are going to have ideas. Of course the gay community is going to want to show up with a larger voice, a more prominent position and with more recognition in the culture. However it’s a mistake to think that this, in and of itself, is going to provide salvation for anybody. It is a mistake to think that this, in and of itself, is going to make anybody one iota more peaceful or happier. It’s not. It’s progress and our society does need to progress. The only thing that will actually make us more peaceful and happier is to sink into, “I think, therefore I am.” I am an infinite mind in connection with infinite thought and it is all up to me to choose. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit I can choose thoughts which will heal me and heal the world. That is my true challenge.
Also in this section we read, “Where concepts of the self have been laid by is truth revealed exactly as it is. When every concept has been raised to doubt and question and been recognized as made on no assumptions which would stand the light ...” (Tx.Or.Ed.31.59) We have to question everything. We have to learn how to live in the question of ourselves instead of the definition of ourselves. Most people want to live in the definition of themselves, the way they have defined themselves. They have worked with countless therapists, for countless years, to define themselves in ways that feel right, but there is no real happiness in this. The only happiness is actually living in the question of yourself, to be exploring and to be choosing different thoughts. This is what the prayer says that is at the end of today’s reading. “I do not know the thing I am and therefore do not know what I am doing, where I am, or how to look upon the world or on myself.” (Tx.Or.Ed.31.60) This is the powerful place to be. This is the miraculous frame of mind to be in, not knowing who we are, not knowing how to look upon the world and not knowing how to look upon ourselves. If the gay community could embrace that perspective it will be a more powerful force of positive change in the world.
Beneath the pride that seems to be shown here on this weekend – shown here right now a half a mile down the street – is this lower level of victimization and fear, “I am the thing you made of me, and as you look on me, you stand condemned because of what I am.” (Tx.Or.Ed. 31.47) Beneath the pride of the gay community is, “Yes we are coming out because we have been oppressed for so many years, put down and judged negatively. We have suffered all kinds of pain and victimization because of what you did to us.” That is the idea that has to get questioned. That is what doesn’t get questioned because there is too much exuberance displaying “... the face of innocence” (Tx.Or.Ed.31.44) at the level of the joyful celebration that seems to be going on at the surface. A Course In Miracles wants us to question this. The face of innocence that we put out there is used to hide the deeper level of victimization and attack that we feel. We all feel that we are the way the world has made us. We believe we are the victims of the world’s attack.
I can perceive myself as being attacked on all fronts. Certain members of my family appeared to attack me when I was back East because I wasn’t there all the time the way they were. Maybe they were better than I was. Were they better family members because they were there all the time? People who are my significant others can appear to attack me because, sometimes, they don’t know where I am for a few hours and I seem to be unwilling to provide them with a detailed, running itinerary. That’s the way it goes. What is really going on? What are the concepts that we seem to be challenging? Different friends and acquaintances can seem to attack me because I am unwilling to spend the time with them that they would like me to spend, the time that they think would be the appropriate amount. Can we maintain our own sense of reality, a sense of our unlimited nature, in the midst of these challenges and not make these things important the way our old concepts of ourselves want to make them important? These seeming attacks are just reflections of our own state of mind, our own feeling that somehow we are not measuring up. We could rise above our own feelings by rising above it when it seems to be reflected back to us by others. They are just reflecting our own concepts of the self that we need to rise above. We are not a victim of their attack. We are not a victim of the world’s attack. We can rise above the concept of the self and step into our unlimited nature.
Question your concept of the self, yours and everyone else’s. That’s it for today. Thank you. ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the June 2007 (Vol. 21 No.4) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.