On April 15, 2007 Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, California, for the Sunday Morning Service. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that talk.
There was some interesting news this week. You’ll see the picture on the cover of the program. The news was concerning talk radio star Don Imus. I am sure that most of you probably know this story and the big scandal about Imus and his radio show. Don Imus, with his show Imus in the Morning, premiered on WNBC in 1979 as a drive time show that people listen to on the radio. That means he’s been doing that show for 28 years. That’s a long time. He was 39 years old at the time that show premiered and he will be 67 this year.
The controversial statement he made, in case you don’t know, was made as he was referring to the Rutger’s University female basketball team. He noticed that some of these female athletes on the team, who were African-American, were tattooed. He seemed to get some sort of titillation from this. He thought that it was interesting, maybe even attractive or risqué is some way, so he called these young women, “nappy headed hos.” Some people don’t understand this label. “Nappy headed” refers to the tightly curled hair that many African-Americans have. They were tightly curled hair “hos,” which stands for “whores”, prostitutes or women with loose morals who would sleep around. He was most likely saying this in an erotic kind of way. He thought it was attractive or titillating – because that’s what Imus does.
It was very controversial. Lot of people were up in arms. A lot of people demanded that he be fired and that he issue apologies. He did issue apologies. One of the things that he said in his defense was that people should listen to the music that comes from the African-American culture itself. Listen to Hip Hop. Listen to Rap. That music frequently refers to women as “hos.” Even worse, women are called “bitches” a lot in that music. After the controversy started, Imus told people to listen to this music and ask “Why?” Why were so many singling Imus out for their criticism when the music that comes from that culture itself has these terms?
I know why. That’s obvious to me being an Italian-American. I was born and raised in a little town where many Italians had settled. It was very common for us Italians to call each other “Wops” and “Guineas” but if somebody else called us a “Wop” or a “Guinea” that was definitely a no, no. That would be an insult. African-Americans can even call each “niggers” which is probably the most insulting label we could imagine for them. However, they can say, “Hey nigga.’ How ya doing?” and this would not be considered an insult in some circles, although there are some African-Americans who still wouldn’t like that. Within the culture certain things are allowed that are not allowed outside the culture.
I did think this talk about Imus and his comments was an interesting conversation to start. I saw several news pieces where they were showing some rap music videos and they showed how denigrating these videos were for women. The sexual content was obvious. The sexual nature and imagery, by these musicians, and how they were talking about women was questionable.
I did think there was another reason why it was so off for Imus to say this that hasn’t been brought out – but it really seemed obvious to me. I’ll bring it out. Imus was born in 1940. That means he’s 67 years old. The women that he made these comments about are young girls. They are 20 or 21. He’s 46 or 47 years older than they are. It’s the cross generational thing that I think is probably more unacceptable to people than even the racial issue. It’s very unacceptable for a much older man to say things like this about a younger girl. Movies like Peter O’Toole’s recent Venus aside – which is a movie about a much older man who is very attracted to a twenty year old girl – I still think it is very unacceptable in our culture for this, two generations removed, sexual banter. If that banter between the sexes and the races was among people in the same age group, I bet it would have been different. An interesting thing about this movie, Venus, is although Peter O’Toole received a lot of great critical acclaim for the movie, it even got him an Academy Award nomination, the movie financially flopped. It did very little box office. Not that many people wanted to go see a movie about an older man who had the hots, or an attraction, for a younger woman – including myself. I didn’t want to go see it either! (laughter) There’s something to think about here.
There were a lot of taboos that were triggered by Don Imus’ statement. He tried to apologize. He did apologize. He even had meetings with the young girls on the Rutger’s basketball team themselves. It didn’t get him off the hook. He now, officially, has been fired by the radio station and his talk show is at an end right now.
What does this have to do with A Course In Miracles? ACIM talks about the words that we use. It talks about choosing words that reflect mercy. At the first level, let’s look at Don Imus’ words. Did they reflect mercy? I don’t think they did. ACIM says, “God offers only mercy. Your words should reflect only mercy, because that is what you have received and that is what you should give. Justice is a temporary expedient, or an attempt to teach you the meaning of mercy.” (T-3.VI.6) I think it is obvious that Imus’ words, probably, were not merciful. However, we tend not to think about the media’s words afterwards – the culture’s words afterwards. Are they merciful for Imus? I think not. I think people have again found something that is easy to rally against. Everybody knows this was wrong. Everyone knows that this was not the politically correct thing to say. It becomes easy to project guilt onto Imus.
It’s the traditional “pecking party.” Once it’s determined that somebody did a bad thing it becomes very easy for everybody else to join in the attack, “Yeah, that was really bad!” A “pecking party” refers to what happens in chicken coops. Once one chicken gets pecked enough so that it is weak and bloody, all the other chickens start pecking the bloody chicken – usually until the chicken is killed. Chickens tend to do this, and people do it as well. This is what we do in the ego world. We find the thing which seems weak and then we all join in on the attack saying, “Ahhh, that’s the bad one. That’s the culprit. That’s the evil one.” It’s Don Imus. He’s the problem with the world. There’s the sexism; there’s the racism. That’s the problem. That’s the bad thing. I believe A Course In Miracles cautions us against this kind of thinking and asks us to look at it. Maybe we could short circuit that process before we jump on the band wagon.
I don’t listen to Don Imus. That kind of show doesn’t appeal to me at all, and I don’t know whether it is appropriate for him to be fired or not. Luckily, I don’t have to make that decision. He’s not working for me. I’m sure the radio station had their reasons for doing this. Probably their advertisers threatened to pull their business if the radio station didn’t cancel Imus In The Morning. It ultimately all comes down to money. CBS decided to pull the plug on Don Imus and Imus In The Morning, probably, not for the most admirable and gallant reasons in the world. However, the thing that we really should be asking is, “Is Don Imus the enemy?” What is the enemy? Is there even an enemy anywhere? Is the media the enemy? Is the political correctness of middle America the enemy? Maybe there is no enemy!
This is why I chose the reading that was read at the service today. It has this quotation. “No one is strong who has an enemy, and no one can attack unless he thinks he has.” (T.23.in.1) If we think we have an enemy, if society or our nation thinks it has an enemy, that thought is a weakening thought. We’re not strong if we have something that can attack us. The only thing that makes us strong is to know our invulnerability, to affirm that we can not be attacked. Women can not be attacked – in the large sense, in the spiritual sense. The female gender can not be threatened by what anybody says in the largest sense. That is the idea that we need to rise to, if we are going to heal anything. Setting Don Imus up as the enemy isn’t going to do it. There will always be “Don Imuses.” There’s always somebody else who will do what he did or think what he thought. If we’re going to have some kind of healing we need to rise up and realize our invulnerability from all attack.
The United States government thought Saddam Hussein was our enemy. It was very easy to join that crusade. A lot of people in the country were convinced that Saddam Hussein was the enemy and that started us in this four plus, years war that we are enmeshed in. Hopefully, this is causing a lot of people to rethink the idea of “enemy.” That’s the good thing about the whole situation in Iraq. I do believe it has started a conversation, a process of rethinking this idea of “enemy.” Do we really have enemies and if we identify enemies then what do we do with that identification anyway? What can we do? What do we have the ability to do? Much of what we do makes things worse. This is what people are seeing about the situation in Iraq. It didn’t help things that we went in there. It actually seems to have made the situation worse in a lot of respects.
In George W. Bush’s State Of The Union address in January 2002 he identified the “Axis Of Evil” which was Iraq, Iran and North Korea. They were our enemies. We’re still spinning all that. There’s the issue with Iran now and their nuclear power program. Is it actually a nuclear weapon program? Is Iran our enemy? What do we gain from thinking that Iran is our enemy? It makes us weak to identify the enemy out there. That is what we need to see.
Before we get too concerned about Don Imus, let’s remember Howard Stern another talk radio personality. In January of 2006 he left his usual radio show and radio company and signed a $500,000,000 contract with Sirius radio. That was a five year contract. That’s $100,000,000 a year. So, CBS letting Don Imus off the hook and out of his contract might not actually be a bad thing, financially, for Don Imus. He may go over to XM. I bet his lawyers are negotiating with XM right now to see what sort of deal they are willing to offer him so that XM can compete with Sirius who has Howard Stern. I’m not going to feel too sorry for Don Imus. I’m sure he will emerge and probably, within months, he will be back on the air in a new format making three or four times as much money as he made previously. What did his firing truly accomplish? Did it accomplish anything to seemingly remove this person? Did it accomplish anything to truly help racism or sexism? I think we can look at our own lives. When we think we’ve had an enemy, think we’ve had a conflict situation and then we think we won the conflict – what did it truly accomplish? A similar situation frequently crops up somewhere else some months or a year later. Nothing is ever worked out because it’s the idea that we might have an enemy, that exists in our minds, that is actually the problem. We keep manifesting it. We keep seeing enemies in the world.
It doesn’t matter what we do in the world, to correct the world situation. Any attempt we make to handle the world doesn’t solve anything, because if we are trying to solve it just by what we do in the world it only crops up again. If you continue on with the quotation from the Course, that is in the program, we read, “Belief in enemies is therefore the belief in weakness, and what is weak is not the Will of God.” (T-23.in.1.6) So, do we have enemies, somebody working against us? I think a larger question is, do we see the world as our enemy? I know a lot of people who feel that they are battling with the world all the time. I can think that too. The world seems out to get me. No matter what I do to handle particular situations, it doesn’t work. I am doomed to failure. The world is out to get me. But I think what A Course In Miracles continually asks us, when functioning in this world, is not to identify enemies but to truly center in on mercy even with those whom we may perceive to be our enemies – even with the world if we perceive the world to be our enemy. We have to be merciful. Are we being merciful to Don Imus in our conversation about him? I think, “Not too much” at least in the general conversation of the world. Our culture, right now, has found it easy to attack Don Imus.
I do want to give Don Imus a few words of mercy. He’s always done things like this. He’s a “shock jock.” He says shocking statements. He says sexist statements. He and Howard Stern both do this. That’s their job. That’s how they get people to tune in. Four or five months from now, when he emerges with a new show, do you know how many millions and millions of people are going to tune in, especially the first few weeks, just to hear what he has to say? Do you know how many commercial spots and minutes they can sell and how much money they can make? Again, it will all be financially driven. Somebody – XM, Sirius maybe, who knows – they will see that they can make a lot of money if they give Don Imus a show and they will negotiate. He’ll do a public apology again, and he’ll say he’ll never say things like that again.
Possibly, he will have a new radio show with even more listeners. He will make more money and more people will make money off of him. When and if that happens, what did taking Don Imus off the air accomplish? That’s what we have to understand. Maybe just being merciful, just pointing out that there is a problem, that you see that something wrong has happened, and then just letting it go, is actually the best way to handle these things. I think this is true on the world scene as well. Maybe we just need to be merciful with the world. It does not mean that we don’t see the issues that the world shows us. Yes we see them. We may even talk about them, but we don’t try to handle them in worldly ways.
A Course In Miracles has this quotation about the world, “You who perceive yourself as weak and frail, with futile hopes and devastated dreams, born but to die, to weep and suffer pain, hear this: All power is given unto you in earth and Heaven. There is nothing that you cannot do. You play the game of death, of being helpless, pitifully tied to dissolution in a world which shows no mercy to you. Yet when you accord it mercy, will its mercy shine on you.” (W-pI.191.9)
This is what A Course In Miracles always teaches us. The reason why the world sometimes appears to show us no mercy is because we show the world no mercy. We are not merciful to the world, in our way of thinking about it. We try to handle it in inappropriate ways. We try to handle it in ways which continually set up that the world is the enemy that we are doing battle with. So, that is what we see reflected back to us because the world is just a reflection of our thoughts.
Maybe the word “mercy” is a little confusing. When you look the word, “mercy” up in the dictionary it says, “... compassion or forbearance shown to an offender or subject: clemency or kindness extended to someone instead of strictness or severity.” We show mercy when we extend clemency to someone or something, or even to the world, instead of some sort of strictness or severe attitude, even though, “yes”, it may still appear to be an offender. The Course still is calling us to be merciful, to show that compassion, to show that forbearance, even in the midst of the appearance of offense. It doesn’t say those appearances go away. It says our choice is to be merciful. That is what our choice always should be.
When I hear this from A Course In Miracles I am reminded of something that Mother Theresa is attributed to writing. Actually, this was a poem, or a statement, that was written on the wall in Mother Theresa’s home for children in Calcutta, India. It is usually attributed to Mother Theresa, but in truth no one really knows who put it up on the wall. It was adapted from another writing that was changed, so you can go to the original statement if you want. However, the words written on the wall in Mother Theresa’s home for children in Calcutta are more spiritual in their content. I think it truly shows, what the attitude of mercy is, although it never actually uses the word “mercy” in it. I’m sure you will feel the mercy that it is calling for. I believe it shows us how we should be merciful in the world. It’s not that we need the world to change in order for us to change. We need to change our attitude first and just let the world be. We need to demonstrate the mercy. I’m going to read this poem, this statement that was on the wall at the children’s home in Calcutta. Who knows who put it there? Maybe it was actually Mother Theresa.
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
It was never between us and the world. It is between us and the Divine. That’s why we need to be merciful. That’s why we need to forgive. That’s why we need to do the best that we can do. That’s why we need to be compassionate. That’s why we need to do great things. That’s why we need to succeed. It’s not because we are going to gain, necessarily, anything in the world. It’s because it leads us to know who we, indeed, are. We are merciful so that we can know the truth about ourselves and the truth about our connection with God and with the Divine. It is never between us and them. It’s never between us and our enemies. It’s never between us and the world. It’s between us and the Divine. It’s between us and God. That is the miracle. That is what will make all the difference. Thank you. ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the May 2007 (Vol. 21 No.3) 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.