On Sunday July 6th, 2014, 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 is 4th of July weekend. We generally think of the 4th of July as America's birthday. So, "Happy birthday America!" I texted a lot of people and said, "Happy birthday America!" America is officially 238 years old, now, being born in 1776.
People think of the Declaration of Independence as being signed on July 4, 1776. That's not actually true. It was ratified on July 4th. People signed it over the next period of days and, I believe, even weeks. It took a lot of time for everybody to get there and sign it. However, it was ratified on the 4th of July, and has "July 4, 1776" as the date at the top. Many people think about the significance of the 4th of July on this weekend. We think about America's birthday. I know that I do, and I think a lot of other people do as well. One thing that spiritual people frequently focus in on, and a lot of secular people as well, is the second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence and especially this line, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The document states that there are unalienable rights; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that should be self-evident. They don't need to be debated or proved. It's just evident to the self. A Course In Miracles has a strong emphasis on Self. I really like that idea about being self-evident.
There's an interesting fact about that phrase, though. I believe it is true because I've seen it documented in several places. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence did not write "self-evident." What Thomas Jefferson actually wrote was "sacred and undeniable." Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable." However Benjamin Franklin objected to that phrase. Apparently he thought it was too religious sounding, and he wanted something a little more secular. Benjamin Franklin suggested "self-evident." So before we credit "self-evident' to Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence over a period of two weeks, let's remember that "self-evident" actually came from Benjamin Franklin. Just a little fact.
So, how are we doing in this country with these self-evident, unalienable rights? Life? Not particularly good. (laughter) We still have the death penalty legal in the United States. A number of states don't have the death penalty, but the death penalty is still legal in the U.S.A. There hasn't been any successful constitutional challenge. There is something in our Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment. The 8th amendment to the Constitution states, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." I guess, somehow, the death penalty isn't considered cruel or unusual punishment. At least it hasn't been considered as that yet by the United States Supreme Court. Maybe one of these days it will be.
There are a lot of interesting things going on about the death penalty these days. I don't know how much you follow the news. There is a movement by doctors to no longer be involved with administering lethal injections of drugs to people who are being executed. One of the things we have done with the death penalty is we administer it with a lethal injections of drugs. Also, we get doctors to do this and we make it look like a medical procedure, but it's actually not a medical procedure. We're killing somebody. It's actually a violation of the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take that says: "I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone."
Making executions by lethal injection look like a medical procedure by getting doctors to administer it is actually a violation of doctors Hippocratic Oath. There are a whole group of doctors now who are refusing to participate and they are putting pressure on other doctors not to participate. Maybe this movement will take hold.
You want to know another interesting thing about the death penalty? I read this. Whenever some state in the United States makes the death penalty illegal, in Rome, Italy, they light up the Colosseum. Isn't that cool? In Rome, Italy, they've got nothing to do with the United States of America really, but there is something about the death penalty that seems abhorrent to the Italians and so they celebrate when it gets overturned anywhere in the U.S.A. I think this has something to do with the fact that the Colosseum is where a lot of Christians were put to death. It's also where Roman gladiators fought to the death. There is this ancient historical tradition, and now there is the truth that they don't do that anymore, of course. Yet the Colosseum is still there. It's a reminder of a more barbaric time and perhaps a symbol of what the Italians want to stay away from. Whenever some breakthrough about the death penalty happens in the United States the lights in the Colosseum go on. I researched it. That actually seems to be true.
Another thing that's going on with the death penalty is that a lot of drug and pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply states with a lethal mixture of drugs now. These reputable pharmaceutical companies don't want to be involved with that. So the states that still execute people via lethal injection are having to scurry around and find other places, or these "sub-pharmacies," to supply the drugs. However the quality controls on these "sub-pharmacies" are not as strict and problems are cropping up. Sometimes the drugs don't work right and the people being executed don't die quickly and painlessly like they are supposed to. There have been several of these stories lately. There has been a lot of news about this. One state even suggested that they may have to restate the firing squad in order to (laughter) administer the death penalty. It's an interesting thing to me because the death penalty seems to be going away, but not through legislation or judicial action, but through the actions of the ordinary people. I think that is what's interesting. Anyway, life – that's one of the unalienable rights and I don't know how we're doing as a country with that – not particularly good.
Let's talk about liberty. How are we doing in this country with liberty? Really awful, actually. We incarcerate a greater percentage of our people than any country in the world. Isn't that interesting? We incarcerate a greater percentage. Almost one percent. It's more than .7%. We incarcerate more of our people than Rowanda, more than Cuba, more than Russia. All of these countries incarcerate a lot of their people, but we're well above them. So I don't know, we're not doing particularly good with liberty either, even though it was there 238 years ago in our birth document.
How about the pursuit of happiness? Well that's an interesting idea, because it's not actually happiness that is the right, but it's the pursuit of happiness which is an interesting concept. It's almost like you're probably never going to have happiness here, we'll have bits and pieces of it, but we should have the right to continually pursue it. We've made some strides here. I believe about half the population of the United States now lives in a state where they have same sex marriage. I know that a lot of gay people, gay men and gay women, are very happy about that. I was at a party on the 4th of July with gay male friends in Berkeley who got legally married last year with a small ceremony, who I legally married. I talked about that last fall. Then we had a big public wedding ceremony a couple of months ago for all their family and friends, and I got to marry them again. They're overjoyed to be married. A lot of their gay friends are also now married, and we talked about gay wedding ceremonies at the 4th of July party last Friday. Many more gay couples are getting married and happy about it. We're making some strides in the pursuit of happiness.
This weekend is also interesting and important for me because yesterday, July 5, was Rev. Larry's birthday, as some of you know. (Rev. Larry and Rev. Tony co-founded the Community Miracles Center together in 1987.) I went to Rev. Larry's gravesite with his good friend Vivian, who is a Supporting Member here and comes to some of our events. Many of you know her. Rev. Larry would have been 82 years old. His body would have been 82 years old. It's very interesting for me. I always feel fine about going to the gravesite, but then the minute I walk up to it and see that marker I just start to cry. It's like ... (snaps fingers). Just like that.
I'm hard pressed to tell you what I'm crying about. A little bit is I miss him and just thinking about him, in body, not being here. Then a lot of it is just the awful murkiness around when he passed, that sickness process and the awful legal process that happened around his death, all of it is just so much unfinished business. (When Rev. Larry made his transition in 2010 there were disturbing legal issues because his Will was drastically changed three days before he died when he was very ill.) There is so much stuff that I still have to forgive, and I work on forgiving these issues all the time. I've got a picture of Rev. Larry and I've got a picture of his partner Tom right in my bedroom. I've looked at the pictures for 4 years now and say the Ho'oponopono prayer (Ho'oponopono is a Hawaiian spiritual healing art) and I still was crying, crying at the gravesite. Now maybe that doesn't seem like happiness to an observer, but I embrace it as it's my pursuit of happiness. It's my pursuit of it. I was happy to be there. I was happy to have those tears. I was happy to know that I still have forgiveness work to do around it and that I am doing that forgiveness. Part of my doing that forgiveness work is to be able to go up there and put roses on Rev. Larry's marker, think about him, and say something good about him. Vivian is great. She is always very comforting. She doesn't cry, I do, but she's very reassuring. We had a good time thinking about Rev. Larry I was really glad to be there to wish Rev. Larry a happy birthday.
Happiness is a big idea in A Course in Miracles. You don't hear it talked about a whole lot, but it's actually very big. It's all over ACIM. There are three happiness Workbook lessons all together which are:
101: "God's will for me is perfect happiness.
102: "I share God's Will for happiness for me."
103: "God, being Love, is also happiness.
And it is happiness I seek today.
I cannot fail because I seek the truth." (OrEd.WkBk.188.8.131.52)
Love and happiness are the same thing. God wants us to be happy. God's Will for us is to be happy. We share that Will. Be happy – just simply happy – and I like to think of it that way. Happy, it's not necessarily some transcendent, revelatory joy when we merge with the Divine and feel one with the universe. That's something else. That's revelation. A Course In Miracles does refer to revelation once in a while, but it spends a whole lot more time talking about doing things that will make us happy. Just happy, joyful, – feeling good. I like that, and I think it's somehow a self-evident truth that we should be able to pursue that, and we should be able to feel actual happiness from time to time. Maybe not all the time, while we're here in this plane, but from time to time. The pursuit of that happiness might lead us through moments of difficulty, like tears at a gravesite, but we're trying to go through those experiences and far beyond.
One of my favorite quotes about happiness in A Course In Miracles doesn't actually have the word "happy" in it. It has the word "happy" in the previous sentence. It was in the reading that was read at service today. It says, "To heal is to make happy. I have told you before to think how many opportunities you have to gladden yourselves ..." that's the part I like "... and how many you have refused. This is exactly the same as telling you that you have refused to heal yourselves." (OrEd.Tx.5.1)
I like that – just gladden yourselves. It's real obvious there that it's not talking about some transcendent, revelatory experience of merging with the Godhead. It's just talking about gladdening yourself. Just have a moment to be glad. Just have a moment to be happy. Just have a moment to lighten up a little bit. And a lot of the A Course In Miracles is really just that. It's letting go of the grievance, letting go of the judgement, and letting go of the anger. A lot of the Course process is just asking for help, choosing something else, just so we can be a little happier, just so we can be glad.
I know that there is a very strong desire in spiritual communities, in A Course in Miracles communities, for revelation experiences because most people perceive the Course as a pretty lofty, transcendent discipline. People want those revelatory experiences. They want revelation. They want to have that. They want to feel that oneness with God. People will talk about their experiences of revelation. I had one. I talk about it every once in a while. I don't like to talk about it too much. The Course says revelation is not really the goal. The Course's goal is not to give us experiences of revelation. It says that. It says revelation experiences may happen; they may not happen. The Course tells us not to be concerned about them. God and the Holy Spirit are alert to our revelation readiness. "The Holy Spirit is the bringer of revelations. Revelations are indirectly inspired by me because I am close to the Holy Spirit and alert to the revelation-readiness of my brothers. I can thus bring down to them more than they can draw down to themselves." (OrEd.Tx.1.80) When we are ready to have revelations we will have them but that's not the goal of the curriculum. As much as that is clear, I still see a lot of people wanting those experiences. So stop it! (laughter) That's not what the Course is. Study something else. Study something else because this Course is not leading us to that. They may happen; they may not.
What I'm trying to emphasize is A Course In Miracles is not as lofty as we sometimes like to think of it. It's actually much more practical. In the Workbook it says, "Sometimes in teaching there is benefit, particularly after you have gone through what seems theoretical and quite remote from what the student has already learned, to bring him back to practical concerns. This we will do today. We will not speak of lofty, world-encompassing ideas but dwell instead on benefits to you." (OrEd.WkBk.133.1) I believe the Course is mostly about practical stuff, just very, very practical stuff.
Practical stuff, like the practicalness of going down to Rev. Larry's grave on his birthday and having that experience. That experience may not have been happy in the feel of it. There was confusion and sadness, but I'm pursuing happiness and I'm glad to be doing that. And I know that I have to walk through difficult experiences sometimes. A Course In Miracles says, "Yet God can bring you there if you are willing to follow the Holy Spirit through seeming terror, trusting Him not to abandon you and leave you there." (OrEd.Tx.18.10.87) We have to be willing to follow the Holy Spirit's guidance through these experiences in life that may at first seem hard, that may at first seem negative. I believe going through these difficult experiences, as necessary part in the pursuit of happiness, should be a self-evident truth. We're going to have to walk through some of these difficult things in order to get to happiness. This walking through process doesn't seem to get witnessed very much. People don't really like to talk about it that much. So, that's what I'm trying to do here today.
I do want to also acknowledge that it is the first week in July, and it's important, I think, to acknowledge that we're half way through the year, or a little more around the other side of half way through the year. We're on the other side of half way through the Workbook, if you do the Workbook lessons every day. I think this is a real good time to look at your practice and see how you are doing. This is the halfway mark; how are you doing?
I'm okay some days, not okay other days. For the pursuit of happiness I've got to step it up. I've got to stop giving myself excuses to sometimes not do the lessons. I'm working with my ACIM-2 class. I'm working with a group of people. We're doing the lessons every day. I need to keep up with that group. I'm pretty good. I'm like a 75% person, but you know there are those days when somehow time just slips away from me and I don't do the lesson. However, if I'm really about self-evident of truth, the pursuit of happiness, I need to do them every day. I am at that stage of my life where I need to do them every day if I am going to stay happy, if I am going to continue to gladden myself, and this is my spiritual discipline. I've embraced it. I know this is the spiritual discipline for me. This is the means that has been given me. A Course In Miracles says "You are not making use of the course if you insist on using means which have served others well, neglecting what was made for you." (OrEd.Tx.18.68) I cannot neglect what was made for me if I'm going to pursue happiness the way the Course wants me to pursue it.
I had a little shock this week. I had a little event happen that I wasn't prepared for. A Course In Miracles says, "It is not you that is so vulnerable and open to attack that just a word, a little whisper that you do not like, a circumstance that suits you not, or an event that you did not anticipate upsets your world and hurls it into chaos." (OrEd.Tx.24.28) I hadn't been to the doctor in a year and a half, and I think I'm fine. I go to the doctor and I have a check up and my blood pressure is pretty high. I wasn't prepared for my blood pressure to be high like that. The last time my blood pressure was checked it was pretty good. My doctor was quite stern with me. I have a friendly, familiar relationship with my doctor and he said, "You gained weight. You're eating too much. Stop it!" His bedside manner was really good! (laughter)
I looked at him and I thought, "You've gained weight since the last time I saw you too.' (laughter) I didn't get with that. The truth is I've steadily been gaining weight for the past five or six years. I probably weigh twenty, or twenty-five pounds, more than I did five or six years ago. Now, I had just started going back to the gym. I was so proud of myself. Actually one of the reasons I went to the doctor now was I've actually lost weight recently. Two or three months ago I probably weighed about ten pounds more. So I felt like this was a good time to go to the doctor. (laughter) It wasn't the greatest. I guess, I probably should have waited another month. (laughter)
I had gone back to the gym. It had been a long time since I'd done some really good cardiovascular exercise at the gym, but I had started. But my blood pressure was high, and I want to work on that. I guess those two visits to the gym before the doctor's appointment were not enough to dramatically lower my blood pressure. I want to pursue happiness. My doctor has given me three months to get my blood pressure in line or he says I'm going to have to start taking blood pressure medication. I really don't want to take blood pressure medication, so I promised him that I would get my weight back to the levels that it was some years ago. I will do rigorous cardiovascular exercise, which is great to do regardless of how much weight you lose. It's great to do for blood pressure as well. It's great to do for my own happiness too. The truth is when I do that exercise there's a change in mood, and I always feel great afterwords.
I know there is a lot of research on exercise and mood link. There's proven science, but I don't have to get into it the science of endorphins to know something does happen and rigorous exercise does seem to gladden me. It is just one of those things I can do to gladden myself, and I better use the means that serves me well. I'm open to other means as well. I have dedicated myself to going to the gym regularly and really watching what I eat and drink. Rev. Heather and Rev. Dusa Althea can vouch for the fact that I have gone to the gym now every other day. I'm going to become a "gym rat" again, I guess. Well – okay! (laughter)
It's the pursuit of happiness. It's time for slim Rev. Tony again. Okay. We do what we need to do. It's not fun sometimes to go to the gym. Sometimes we do have to push through things that seem to bring up all kinds of stuff, and all kinds of things that we don't like, but that's how we get to where we want to be. That's how we achieve the goals. We do what is evident, what is self-evident, for us to do in order for us to really be able to claim the self-evident truth of happiness for ourselves. Life, liberty, happiness and the pursuit of it. This is where I am today in the middle of the year.
Thank you very much for listening. (applause) ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the July 2014 (Vol. 28 No. 5) 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.