On Sunday February 5, 2023 Rev. Tony Ponticello gave a talk for the Community Miracles Center's Sunday Gathering. A lightly edited transcription of the talk is presented here.

Keeping Appropriate Social DistanceTitle of my talk today, "Challenging the Ego's Drive to Separate." I want to start by quoting the great Betty Davis in the movie All About Eve. "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night," or day, as the case may be. She didn't say "bumpy ride." She said "bumpy night." It frequently gets misquoted as "bumpy ride." "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night." Many of the things I may talk about today may challenge you, may upset you. Maybe they won't; maybe they will. It's okay though. Whatever happens, it's okay. Sometimes it's the minister's job to challenge people.

"Challenging the Ego's Drive to Separate" what I've really noticed lately is just how all pervasive this is, and how I see it reflected in the world everywhere. It would be convenient to try to blame this on particular things, or certain institutions, like the U.S.A. government or the World Economic Forum.

However what I see is, it's really everywhere. Therefore, the only place that it must be coming from is my mind, because my mind is projecting the world that I see. I see it as all pervasive. I see it even in many of the things that we might think of as "good" things, underneath even those is often this agenda of separation. I see it from the political left, and I see it from the political right. Nothing is immune. The ego's whole motto is "Divide and Conquer." The ego is continually trying to separate us, break us apart. I'm going to talk about some of these things today.

There's a current narrative that is going on out there, and it seems sweet. It seems benign. It seems warm and positive. Maybe you've heard it. It is that many people — okay some people — prefer the relationships they have with their furry animal friends to the relationships they might have with people.

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In fact, they're choosing their animal friends to relate to as the closest relationships that they have, and they feel they don't need to have close relationships with people anymore, maybe ever, because they have their animals. It sounds sweet. They say, sometimes, very derogatory, nasty things about relationships with people — but the animals just love them unconditionally. Oh, if only people would love them so unconditionally. I have nothing against animals. I actually like animals a lot. I had a dog for many years of my life. I've had people who worked in the office who had dogs and brought their dogs to the office. I loved the dogs in the office. I would take the dogs for walks sometimes. It's not appropriate to call them "pets" anymore. That's actually a politically incorrect term. The people who have the little furry friends, they're not called "owners" anymore either. That's a politically incorrect term. I think the correct term now is "parents." We've elevated these furry friends to the level of our children.

Of course we can have our relationships with our furry friends, but the part of this that bothers me is it encourages people not to have relationships with people. It separates us. We need to have relationships with people. We certainly can have relationships with animals. That's fine, and I know you love your animals, and your animals love you, but people are kind of nice to relate to as well. A Course in Miracles talks about salvation through relationships. I think it's mostly referring to other people. Of course, we have relationships with our animals. I understand, but let's not rule out relationships with people as a primary source of our salvation. A Course in Miracles says, "Your brothers are everywhere. You do not have to seek far for salvation." (OrEd.Tx.9.38) I had a dog. I called her my pet dog. That was back in the day when you could say the word "pet," and people wouldn't jump all over you. But I never thought of my dog as my chosen relationship partner. She was my dog.

I enjoyed my dog, and hopefully my dog enjoyed me. Actually. I don't think I was the greatest owner, or parent — oops — but I did the best I could at the time, and my dog lived a healthy long life. So, I challenge that narrative, and every time I see it, I cringe a little bit. I think it's good for us to have relationships with people. It's good for us not to separate from people. I am challenging that ego desire to separate.

There's another narrative going on right now, and I'm sure all of you have heard this one. It's basically about how terrible men are. Men are just terrible, aren't they? There's "toxic masculinity." Men just want to control and push their weight around. Look at how men have ruined the world. Men have been in charge, mostly, for hundreds of years. Look at what a terrible state the world is in.

It's all men's fault. We need more women leaders. Maybe we need no men leaders at all. We just need all women leaders, and yada yada. It goes on and on. This gets a little laugh, and it gets a little nod. People think some part of that narrative is true. Really? Are men really bad? Are men really toxic? Is masculinity really toxic? It just causes people to be afraid of each other. It causes women not to want to relate to men. It causes some men not to want to relate to other men too. It drives this terrible wedge between men and women. I see it; I feel it. I see it in our entertainment. I see it in our music videos. I see it everywhere. It's men and women constantly battling.

I remember Rev. Dusa Althea and I, who's my partner, we would go to this Indian-Pakistani restaurant. The Indian-Pakistani restaurant had a big TV, and they would be showing Bollywood musicals, which are amazing musicals. They would be showing those. I would look at these Bollywood musicals, and I frequently noticed an energetic difference between the way men and women related in those musicals. I would tell Rev. Dusa Althea, "Look at that. The men and women in these musicals, in that culture, they don't hate each other. They seem to actually like each other. Yeah, they like each other." Then it just became truly obvious how our whole culture has embraced this idea that men and women are at odds. Now this has morphed into men are toxic, masculinity is toxic, and men have ruined everything. Is this really the value that we want?

In A Course the Miracles, and it was in the reading that Lucky read so wonderfully, it says, "To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning." (OrEd.Tx.24.2) We have to question these things, and I think we have to be truly vigilant about this. We have to be vigilant about ideas, even if they're widely accepted. Even if they cause us to chuckle a little bit, we have got to really question them and reject them, if at their core, at their foundation, they speak of separation, or they're promoting separation. If people think men are toxic, they won't want to relate to men or they'll relate to them defensively, which is what I always see in our American entertainment. It wasn't there in those Bollywood musicals that I was looking at.

We have got to challenge the ego's drive to separate with consistent vigilance to join. We need consistent vigilance to join. Joining should always be what we are choosing. Let me get back to the animal friends here for a minute. People are choosing animals and relating to animals instead of, and as a replacement for, relating to people. So … come on! You control every aspect of your animal's life. You tell your animal where to sleep. You tell them when to sleep. You tell them where to eat. You tell them what to eat. You tell them when to run, where to run. You frequently have them on a leash. You tell them where to pee, when to pee. You certainly tell them where to poop and when to poop. Come on. You control their every move.

When you say you prefer that relationship over relationship with people, yeah, because you can't control people's every move. Come on. You prefer the relationship where you are the master, and you only relate to your little slaves? Sure. If that's what you get used to, your relationships of people aren't going to work that well, because people don't put up with it. People have their own lives; they have their own ideas. And that's why we should be relating to people, because there are our equals. The animals aren't your equal, and you don't treat them like you're equal. Sure, they unconditionally love you and you unconditionally love them, but look at the power dynamic and differential between your relationship with your animals and your relationships with people. Do you really need people relationships where you control every aspect of the relationship? That's a problem, and that's going to keep you separate. I'm challenging that. We need to be vigilant to want relationships with people, whatever those relationships are, however intimate we are open to being with them.

People want freedom. You want freedom, and we need to learn how to relate to other free people.

Okay, let's move on. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one of my favorite topics …. Hey, I heard that the pandemic is over. Did you hear that? That was news this week. The pandemic is over. I actually found out that California officially ends the COVID-19 emergency at the end of this month, February. I also heard that President Biden has now said that the COVID-19 emergency for the United States of America will end on May 11th. Finally, we will come to the end of this emergency, this "15 days to flatten the curve" that lasted three years, or more in the case of the U.S.A. I talked about this a couple years ago. Hey come on … emergencies are short by definition. That's what makes them "emergencies." If an emergency lasts for three years, it's not an emergency. It's your steady state. It's normal. Okay?

The government is just going to try to find another emergency. They want to declare a climate emergency. Oh, that's great. That can last for decades, maybe even centuries. We could have century long emergencies now. "WooHoo!!"

Okay, so let's get back to the COVID-19 pandemic. We were told …. What were we told during the COVID-19 pandemic? We were told to isolate, to separate, to shelter-in-place, to wear masks, to stand six feet apart, to avoid crowded stores. Don't go to church or other public gathering. For sure, don't go to church. They sing in church! Oh no! They sing out loud and they spew droplets of saliva everywhere when they sing. Oh … how yuck! You can't be around that. Family gatherings, no more than nine people, only representing two households at the most. Everybody should have a COVID test before they go. Before we had the test, we had to take everybody's temperature — make sure nobody with any kind of elevated body temperature would come in.

Think about all of this massive push to separate ourselves. People are trying to forget about this. I think the government would like us to forget about it. I'm not quite willing to let go of the awareness of what our institutions pushed on us. I don't think it was healthy. Look at the image on the Sunday Program cover (page 1 of this issue of *Miracles Monthly*). This is what we were shown during the pandemic. Yes, this is how we were to tell if we were the appropriate safe distance from one another. Maybe this was a mother and a daughter who could only talk six feet apart and with the masks on. Stay separate. Separation was what was going to save us. Yeah. Well, did separation save us? "No." Just about everybody eventually got COVID19 one way or another.

Staying six feet apart didn't stop anybody from getting COVID. Many prominent scientists knew that you can't stop an airborne virus with these kind of mitigation strategies. You might be able to delay it a bit, but eventually, you just can't keep this up for that long, and everybody is going to get it, or most people are going to get it. That is indeed what happened. Our elected leaders wanted more control over our lives. They wanted to control our every move. I wonder where they learned this? Maybe they have furry animal friends and they're trying to relate to people like they do their animal friends. They control their every move, and they wanted to do that with us.

We have to question those values, question every value. I'm going to keep reminding myself of the COVID Pandemic, maybe a few other people too, because I don't want that to ever happen again. Okay, we're moving out of it. The emergency seems to be ending, but I don't ever want to go through something like that again, especially since it was actually not effective at all, and it had incredibly dire consequences to mental health and physical health in general. The obesity rate went up, the diabetes rate went up. They stopped people from going to gyms, when going to gyms, exercising and being healthy, might have been just what people needed to strengthen their immune systems so they could handle COVID when they inevitably got it, which they inevitably all did anyway. So, we have to question these things, and we have to be vigilant to always consistently choose for joining, not separating.

Separating is never going to be the answer. I grew up with the myth of overpopulation. When I was a young impressionable person, I was shown those population curves where the population of the world was increasing exponentially, and we were going to run out of resources and food shortly. I grew up with that myth. It never happened. They've been predicting that for how long? Wasn't it the economist, Thomas Malthus? Didn't he predict that over 200 years ago? I don't know exactly. It was a long time ago. I didn't look up the Malthus' date.* I bought into that excessive population growth idea quite a bit. It probably had some effect on me, part of why I chose the lifestyle I have where I didn't have children. I never particularly wanted to have children, but I do think the limited resources and expanding population ideas probably influenced me in that direction. When I was an impressionable age to be continually told that the population was exploding in this exponential way, we were going to run out of resources, and it was going to be dire catastrophes all over the planet, had an strong effect.

Well, you know, what's going on now? The birth rate is so low in many countries that they're having to do all kinds of things to encourage people to have children, because their populations are declining, and they don't have enough people to work. They don't have enough people to fill their labor force. Okay, case in point, the country of Hungary. Hungary is country of about ten million people, in central Europe or Eastern Europe, possibly. The birth rate's not high enough, so the government has instituted all kinds of measures to get people to breed, to get people to have children. You know what they've instituted? They have instituted that if you are a woman in your twenties, and if you have a child, you will not have to pay income taxes in Hungary. That's not just you don't pay income taxes for the year that you have your child. That's not just that you don't pay income taxes while you are in your twenties. You won't pay income taxes for the rest of your life if you are a woman and you have a child … you give birth to a child when you are in your twenties.

These are the kind of drastic measures that countries are doing because their populations are declining and they don't have enough people in the labor force. That's a long game solution, because obviously, when a baby is born, it's going to be about 20 years before they enter the labor force. They're playing the long game. I'll give them credit for that. But this is what is going on. Populations are declining. I've heard it said that one of the reasons that the U.S.A. is letting so many people in through the border is because we need the workers. Our native population, our birth rate is too low. Actually, we need this influx of people just to keep our labor market stable. You don't hear that too often, but I have heard it.

Now, we need to think about ... we need to question these values, these things that we hear, "The population is increasing at an exponential rate. Resources are running out." The ego spins all kinds of things like this. We need to question these values. I think we need, as a whole, to think about joining, including the joining together of men and women to have children. It's a good thing. Might have been a good thing for me. Didn't do it. I know I've talked with my sister, Sara, who's here today. Maybe she'll comment later. She's also a person who chose not to have any children. Lately, in the years that she is in now, she kind of wishes she did have some children, maybe some grandchildren by now to help her when she needs a little physical help, or when she needs some help with tech things. Maybe some grandchildren around would be great.

The AIDS epidemic just about stopped the sexual revolution in its tracks. The sexual revolution had been going on for decades. I viewed it as a pretty positive thing. Then the AIDS epidemic came along. Oh god, now bodies joining to have adult fun and intimacy was going to kill you. It was deadly. Talk about something that would curb the birth rate. That one definitely would. It also just stymies people getting together, people joining, people having fun together, people relating to each other. When you relate intimately, sexually, with someone, you have to navigate the interaction. You have to learn how to talk, communicate, and relate. It's very different from having furry friends. It's a different kind of relating. These are relationship skills that probably we all really need. But we've made … I know a lot of people who have made the whole idea of being sexual, actually, so remote, and even distasteful.

The spiritual community is terrible with this because we've made sexuality unspiritual. It's so unspiritual. I've always been a sex positive person. I get a lot of flack about that, and I get a lot of people who use this to tell me how I'm not nearly as enlightened as maybe I'd like to present myself, because I'm a sex positive person. I'm still identifying with my body, and I'm still seeking after body play, and it just goes on and on and on. But in my mind sexual relations, or relating intimately with people, is a really good thing. It gives us relationship skills, and thus it gives us salvation. There's another thing that doesn't get talked about a lot. People who are in "the game," so to speak, of relating sexually take a little better care of their bodies, at least they try to. They tend to eat better, they try to exercise. Maybe they succeed. They want to have the vitality and the strength to be involved with sexual activity. They also want to look their best so they can be attractive to their mates and partners.

There's a lot of positive aspects to staying sexually active, and we've demonized it. The whole culture has demonized it. The spiritual movement has demonized it. And it's not helping our birth rate any. Let's face it. I think about the birth rate going down. Who else wants to reduce the birth rate? The global elite at the World Economic Forum, they really want to reduce the birth rate. Think about those kind of things, and how those kind of things might be related. These agendas, they're all ego driven. They come from our egos, and they keep people apart. They're not healthy, and we need to challenge them because we need to be vigilant for joining.

They want us to drive electric cars. California's going to make it illegal soon to drive a gas powered car. Well … what's the thing about electric cars? Electric cars kind of have a limited range. You can't drive too far. You have got to drive to a charging station, then leave it for a while to charge. This really slows down long travel. Also, electric cars are really difficult for urban environments. I'm an urban person. I don't have a garage. I don't have any place in my home, or next to my home, where I can plug in an electric car. I'd have to go to a charging station. The whole conceptualization of driving, especially for an urban person, is changing drastically. Well, what does that do? That keeps us sheltered. It keeps us limited. It keeps us not joining. It keeps us separate. Challenge these things. I don't know what the answer is, but keeping people close to home, limited, and contained in a small space … I don't think that is the answer.

There's a big push to move to rural America. Move to rural America. Cities are terrible. Cities are unlivable! I still have occasional people communicating with me and asking me, "When are you going to move out of San Francisco?" I say, "Well, I guess I'll move out when I'm guided to. I've not been guided to yet." I pretty much love living in San Francisco, and it's not unlivable. I live here. I know a lot of people who live here, certainly not unlivable. Then some will talk about the high crime in cities. Well, if you look at statistics, per capita, there might be some argument that the crime is a little higher in cities per capita than it is in rural areas, but it's not by that much. The crime rate per person, relative to population is pretty similar, urban and rural.

There's actually some recent studies from Canada, which showed that the crime rate in rural areas was higher than the crime rate in urban areas. That's something to think about too. Keeping people apart, keeping people separate, is this what we want?

All of these agendas get trotted out to control our behavior. Global warming … okay, so the earth is warming. I don't want to argue that the globe is or is not warming, but when I first started hearing about global warming, I thought, well, the last ice age ended about 16,000 years ago. There were numerous previous ice ages, and it was always a global warming that ended the ice ages. So, what caused the last ice age to end 12,000 years ago? Was it because we were all eating too many burgers? I don't think so.

We weren't here in substantial numbers 12,000 years ago. Mankind didn't cause any of those massive global warmings. Why are we so sure that it's man that's causing this global warming now? Maybe he's contributing to it, but hey, the globe warms and cools in its own cycle. That's what it's always done. I learned that in grammar school science. We have got to question these things that they try to control us with, that try to keep us separate with. "Don't drive, global warming. Eat crickets. That'll be good." I saw a video of Nicole Kidman eating some grasshoppers, fried grasshoppers. She had a whole bowl. "Oh, these are so good." That's great, Nicole. You eat your fried grasshoppers. Let me tell you, fried anything with a little salt tastes good. That's all. Fried tastes good. So, I'm not eating fried grasshoppers unless I absolutely have to, and I don't think that's happening. I intend to keep eating the food that I eat and living the life that I live.

I'm going to resist these separation narratives. I'm going to challenge the ego's drive to separate us with consistent vigilance for joining and living a fun, dynamic, powerful life. Furry friends are great. They're not substitutes for people. Men are not terrible. Masculinity is not toxic. Breathing is not dangerous. I don't have to stand six feet apart from anybody. If I'm going to choose to get sick, I'll probably choose to get sick. It doesn't matter whether I'm six feet apart from somebody or not. I think church is a great thing. I can't wait to be back to in-person settings, and I'm going to sing right out. "Yes," there may be some moisture spraying from my mouth, but saliva's not necessarily a terrible thing. Being sexual is fun, it's natural, it's life affirming, and it's healthy. Plus it's what we need to do if we want to keep our population stable. Having children is a wonderful right path for many people. They should be encouraged to do it.

I'm going to be consistent about my vigilance to join and I'm going to resist these ego narratives to separate. Okay, that's my talk for today. Thank you. 

Rev. Tony Ponticello is CMC's 20 minister. He currently (05.01.23) serves on the CMC's Executive Minister and is President of CMC's Board of Directors. He was ordained by the CMC on Oct. 17, 1997.

Keeping Appropriate Social Distance

© 2023 Community Miracles Center, San Francisco, CA – All rights reserved.

Rev. Tony Ponticello c/o Community Miracles Center
POB 470341
San Francisco, CA 94147

This article appeared in the February 2023 (Vol. 36 No. 12) 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.