On Sunday February 10, 2013, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center’s San Francisco facility. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
Good morning everybody. On Thursday we had the Workbook Lesson, “There is nothing my holiness cannot do.” (OrEd.WkBk.38) This was the lesson that the reading was from today. That’s a wonderful lesson, and anytime I’m feeling a little low or overwhelmed: when I think that there is more to do than I can do, or that there is a task to perform that I can’t perform – that I don’t have whatever I need to do what seems to be in front of me to do – I like to read that lesson. Lesson 38 affirms that we have the unlimited power of the universe at our command, and that there truly is nothing that our holiness cannot do.
The third paragraph says, “In today’s exercises, we will apply the power of your holiness to all problems, difficulties, or suffering in any form that you happen to think of in yourself or someone else. We will make no distinctions because there are no distinctions.” (OrEd.WkBk.38.3) We make no distinction about what our holiness can affect – no distinctions between us, and something that maybe doesn’t seem to be us. As I am learning from A Course In Miracles, it’s all us. Everything – the world, everybody else – we’re all connected. It is all us.
I talked about this last week – about the personal goals that I am setting for the year. I am setting goals for what seems to be happening in the world, things that I want to see happening in the world. The world is me. So, all world goals are personal goals. I’m going to work on these goals in whatever way I can, in whatever way I am guided to.
One of the goals that I have is the reduction of gun violence in our country. It’s just time. It’s the reduction of the gun violence in me, because I am the world. It’s time. I am accepting this goal for myself as the world, because the world is me.
This issue about gun violence truly started to come into my awareness, and for a lot of other people in this country, with the shooting that happened on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We all know about those twenty, very young students who were shot and killed. The shooter was incredibly effective. He shot all of the students and teachers multiple times, between three and eleven times each. Twenty children, just six and seven years old, were killed. Six adults were also killed at the school. He then killed himself, and shortly before he had killed his mother by shooting four bullets into her head. All together, twenty eight people were shot and killed.
I don’t have to go into the brutal details. Everybody knows about them, and they are horrendous. Even today, while I was getting these particular facts – I wanted to make sure I had the details straight – I got confronted with the article that was reporting the shooting. The details of this shooting were still very disturbing to me, today, as I looked at them. I didn’t want to read them, because I didn’t feel like getting disturbed again.
The debate over gun control, which this shooting sparked, is now going on. The White House, very astutely, rebranded the issue. We don’t want to call it “gun control” anymore, because nobody wants to be controlled, so they are calling it “gun safety.” The debate over gun safety has now been sparked again. The debate is happening. I remember that right after the shooting, when I was listening to the talk shows, I’d hear the commentators say that we would all talk about this for awhile, and then the discussion about gun safety would trail off. People would just forget about the issue, like they always have. However, some commentators were saying, “No.” They thought that something fundamentally different had happened, probably because of the age of the young people who were killed, the deadly accuracy with the multiple times they all were shot, just the scope of the tragedy, wasn’t going to let this debate fade away. It seems like these other commentators were correct. The gun safety debate isn’t just fading away. There’s a lot of issues and a lot continues to be talked about. So much is going on with this issue and the debate keeps coming up.
There is now an assault weapons ban that has been introduced in the Senate, by our own California Senator Dianne Feinstein. The bill has three basic components. One is to ban certain kinds of weapons, which have been labeled “assault weapons,” though exactly what an “assault weapon” is still seems to be something that needs to be debated. However, in the bill, certain types of weapons that will be called “assault weapons” would be banned. The second component of the legislation would be regulating the size of the bullet magazines – limiting them to a certain size, possibly 10 bullet maximums, instead of 30 bullet magazines, or even 50 bullet magazines. The third aspect of the bill would be to have universal background checks, because it is estimated that 40% of all the guns bought in the United States are bought by people with no background checks. People are just able to buy guns from private individuals and private sales, at gun shows – about 40% of guns are bought that way. Some people buy a whole bunch of guns this way, and then bring the guns back to their own neighborhoods and distribute them, sell them to other people, many of whom would not pass a background check.
How many people die because of gun violence? It’s a little hard to find real good statistics, because part of the action of the gun lobby has been to suppress such research and statistics. Some statistics are out there. I found some statistics for 2007. In 2007, an average of 266 people were shot by a gun every day, and an average of 82 of them died. When we talk about gun deaths, we need to remember that for every gun death there are two or three other people who have been shot, wounded, and maimed – gravely injured – and that don’t die. We may talk about gun deaths, but let’s not forget that’s not the majority of the people who are directly affected by being shot by a gun. Some of these wounds are truly horrific in both the physical and the psychological effects they have on those shot.
I know for me, if I am going to get actively involved in ending gun violence for myself, myself as the world, I have to understand and be open to all sides of the issue. I can’t demonize the part of me that seems to be taking the other side of the issue. I have to be able to listen to what they say and appreciate it. I want to listen to the National Rifle Association (NRA). I don’t want to shut them out and not hear what they are saying. Making the other viewpoint bad is not the way to engage in any kind of positive change. I need to listen to the NRA. The NRA talks a lot about gun violence being, actually, a mental health issue, not an issue about guns themselves. According to the NRA, gun violence is actually an issue about mental health. You know what, they’re right. The truth is, that is right. If people were mentally healthy, they wouldn’t be going out, shooting and killing people. The NRA is absolutely correct.
For me, to take it a bit further, it isn’t just a mental health issue. It’s actually a metaphysical/spiritual issue. If we truly understood the metaphysics of A Course In Miracles, that there is only us out there, would we be going out there and killing us? We’re killing ourselves. We don’t get that. People don’t understand that. People think that there is an “other” out there. People think there is a dangerous “other,” or an “other” that they don’t like, an “other” that they want to perpetrate some sort of pain upon. People think that they can actually do that. We Miracles students, keep learning over and over again, as we study A Course In Miracles, that this “other” myth is, indeed, not true. There is no “other” out there. It is just us.
Personally, for me, part of really working on ending gun violence is just to continue studying and teaching A Course In Miracles. I need to continue teaching what we all know is true through our study. There is nobody out there but us. The Course says, “... you will begin to learn and understand why you have believed that when you met someone else, you had thought that he was someone else. And every holy encounter in which you enter fully will teach you this is not so.” (OrEd.Tx.8.22)
When we meet somebody else, they aren’t somebody else, they are truly us and we need to bring this holy awareness to all our interactions with everybody. We need to make our interactions with people all holy encounters, so that we continually learn that the “other” myth isn’t true, there aren’t “others” out there. It is just us. If we truly realized that, mird that awareness, we would share that perspective, and that perspective could become a much more prevalent philosophical framework. I think that would do more to reduce violence of all kinds, than anything else that we possible could do. There has to be a much more metaphysical/spiritual concept of the world, so that we can truly get to the cause of gun violence. That’s why I think of this as a metaphysical/spiritual problem and not merely a mental health issue. I do believe there are a lot of things to do here, at the level of the effect, but let’s not ignore the true cause of things. We owe our spiritual discipline that much honor.
A Course In Miracles says, “If I defend myself, I am attacked.” (OrEd.WkBk.135) This is another reflection of what I’ve been talking about. Why would we defend ourselves? Why all this talk about “self-defense?” The Course also says, “In my defenselessness my safety lies.” (OrEd.WkBk.153) There are statistics that you can get in research done in other countries, because they won’t allow the research in this country, that illustrates if you bring a gun inside your home you have immediately increased the likelihood of you being the victim of some sort of gun violence by 25 times. That’s a huge amount. If my math is correct, I think that means that if you bring a gun inside your house the likelihood of you being involved in gun violence increases by 2,500%. If people understood this statistic would they ever bring a gun into their house? Bringing a gun into your house is not going to protect you. It’s not going to defend you. It’s going to dramatically increase the likelihood of something awful happening with you and a gun – most likely the gun you bought to protect you – by 25 times. This idea needs to get out there. The myth of defense is a foundational ACIM principle. “It is essential to realize that all defenses do what they would defend. The underlying basis for their effectiveness is that they offer what they defend.” (OrEd.Tx.17.33)
A Course In Miracles does talk about armaments and weapons. “The world is based on this insane belief. And all its structures, all its thoughts and doubts, its penalties and heavy armaments, its legal definitions and its codes, its ethics and its leaders and its gods, all serve but to preserve its sense of threat. For no one walks the world in armature but must have terror striking at his heart.” (OrEd.WkBk.135.4) We need to remember that bringing guns, weapons, into any situation will never solve the problem that we think we have. It just makes the problem worse.
The NRA, the other gun lobbies, and gun advocates are very fond of saying that guns aren’t actually the problem. It’s people that are the problem. “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” They’re right. People kill people – with guns! (laughter) Of course it is people who kill people, but people kill people with guns. In the process of healing things, and working our way out of this gun violence problem, we have to address the fact that people do violence with guns, and that there is probably going to have to be some limitation on the guns. We can’t expect that this is going to be easy. A Course In Miracles tells us, “Undermining the ego’s thought system must be perceived as painful, even though this is anything but true. Babies scream in rage if you take away a knife or a scissors, ...” or a gun, “... even though they may well harm themselves if you do not.” (OrEd.Tx.4.28) We can not expect that regulations on guns aren’t going to cause a lot of screaming and raging. I think we need to just accept that, and not demonize those who then react that way. This is just what is going to happen. This is what we will do. Let’s be aware of that.
I think this new debate about gun safety has been very interesting, and good. It’s maturing. I remember the debate years ago. Years ago, a talking point was that hunters wanted to hunt, and so they needed their protected right to own guns. A bigger point was that people needed guns to defend themselves. We heard a lot of talk about hunting and self-defense, and we still hear talk about these. However, the whole hunting argument – nobody pays much attention to that anymore. There is still a lot of mileage in the idea that people want guns for self-defense. However, you now hear more and more, “No” the important issue isn’t hunting, and it isn’t even self-defense. The truly important issue is that people want guns because, at a certain point, this is what keeps the government in line. At some future moment, the general population might have to take on the government.
This argument is very true for many people, and if you read the Second Amendment – which is where all the gun rights stem from – it’s pretty obvious that this being able to take on a government is what the founding fathers were talking about. They weren’t talking about hunting (laughter), and they weren’t talking about self-defense. The second amendment states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” People need to keep and bear arms so that they could form a militia, if they needed to. You have to remember what had just happened. The new United States of America had just overthrown the British rule of King George the Third. The colonists had done this because they owned guns, and then formed a militia. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights came out of that important recent history. The right to bear arms was written into the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment, and we are still living under this perception of reality – the ever present threat of an oppressive government that will need to be overthrown. The Second Amendment is the law of the land. People have the right to bear arms and, at least at this point, no one is actually taking that issue on. Though there may come a time when someone decides to take that right on. There are civilized, modern nations where the general population does not have the same rights to own guns that we have in the U.S.A. There are many countries where very strict licenses are needed in order to buy and own a gun, licenses that are hard to get.
Let’s think about this, in the United States of America we have the most heavily armed military of any country in the world, and we in the United States of American have, arguably, the most heavily armed populace in the world. Of course, that makes sense. We have the heaviest and biggest military. The people pick up on that fact, and they arm themselves. If the government really wants to do something about guns in the populace, the government is probably going to have to tone down the military. Actually, a lot of that is happening. I think that’s a good thing.
Last week I was listening to a discussion about what defines a country. The commentators listed a couple of things. One of them was that a country needed to be able to secure its borders. The ability to secure your borders, in essence, makes you a country. The United States, historically, has not done the greatest job of doing that, although some people say that the U.S.A. currently is doing a better job than it has in the past. Another thing that defines a country is the ability to defend yourself in some sort of armed conflict with other nation states. There is a conceptual idea that countries are all about having a military, and being able to defend your borders. However, there are a few countries that have very little, or almost no military at all. A quick search on Google uncovered a Wikipedia entry that listed 21 countries with no military, or a very limited type of military.
Some countries have forms of militaries, but the countries have a declared policy of neutrality in any world, country to country conflict, like Switzerland. We don’t hear about people overrunning Switzerland all the time. Switzerland made it through both World Wars right in the midst of immense conflict in Europe, without any sovereign instability. There’s a lot of money in Switzerland too. People the world over bank there – they have those famous Swiss bank accounts. Switzerland controls all kinds of wealth, yet no other country thinks about going into Switzerland and taking it over politically. Switzerland does have a military, but its purpose and mission is very different than ours in the U.S.A. because of its neutrality. The 21 countries with no, or very limited, militaries seem to exist just fine in the world without those extreme weapon bearing institutions. When are we, in the U.S.A., going to start learning from all these other nation state experiments that go on in the world? There are about 194 countries in the world. There are a few iffy ones. Is Taiwan a country, or is it still a part of China? It depends on who is doing the counting. How about Greenland? Is that an independent country or is it still a part of Denmark? What about Palestine? The actual number of countries is a little difficult to determine, but it’s a few less than 200. The U.S. State Department currently recognizes 194, so that’s the number I used. If 21 countries have essentially no military, that’s 11%, more than 1 in 10. That’s not an insignificant number. Can we truly make the argument that having a military, capable of engaging in armed conflicts, is what makes a country a country?
None of these slightly less than 200 countries are so invested in their military supremacy as we, the United States of America, are. I believe that we have to start having that conversation, at a national level, to go along with the conversation of getting all these guns and extended magazines out of the population. However, as I said, the standing-down of the military is happening. It’s happening for a variety of reasons. A lot of it is because of financial reasons. We can’t afford it. We literally can’t afford the expense of arming ourselves in this way anymore. There’s a lot of discussion, right now, about the unmanned drone program, and that this type of military is the military of the future. The idea gaining a foothold is that the U.S.A. is not going to be engaging in wars that involve thousands of troops on the ground anymore. Our military action is evolving to be unmanned strikes, or special forces operations, like Navy Seals going in to take out Osama Bin Laden at his compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan. Of course, there’s a lot of people who don’t like that either.
I don’t like it. However, I look at this as evolution – and I know it’s awful – but it’s probably a movement in a little better direction. “Yes” there is collateral damage in special operations and drone strikes, and sometimes innocent people get killed. But, gosh, look what happens when we send hundreds of thousands of heavily armed troops into a country. While it is impossible to get exact figures, one agency, the Iraq Body Count Project, estimates between 110,000 to 120,000 civilian deaths were due to our armed conflict on the ground in Iraq. That’s a whole lot of collateral damage! Remember that for every one killed, there are probably two or three who were wounded and severely hurt. This progression that our country seems to be going towards – it’s not great – but it is movement in the direction of less. To me, less death seems better.
In 1966 the United States had 32,000 nuclear war heads. Think about that – 32,000 nuclear warheads. That’s enough to annihilate every cell of life on the planet! However, now there’s only about 5,000 nuclear warheads. That’s an 84% reduction. This is a huge reduction. This story doesn’t get reported a lot. Very few people every really think about it. Those statistics are out there. There has been a systematic reduction in these extreme weapons. Those are the U.S.A.’s own “assault weapons” on the nation state level. There has been a systematic reduction of these since the late sixties and early seventies. President Obama is pushing for us to reduce these even further. These extreme weapons have become obsolete – interesting!
I think this reduction is really worth noting. We need to be doing more of this, and we are doing more of this. We are doing this reduction for all kinds of reasons, part of it is just the financial reasons. It’s just too expensive to maintain all this huge, heavy military. Also, there isn’t a reason to maintain it. Those kinds of wars haven’t been going on. Those types of conflicts aren’t happening.
I have also been talking about what I can personally do. I have talked about how I don’t want to see gratuitously violent films anymore. I have talked about how I am not going to see Django Unchained. I got into a discussion with someone here who was defending the movie Django Unchained this week. I asked this person, “Have you seen the movie?” “No” this person answered. “But I heard Jaime Foxx talk about the movie on T.V.” The person believed the movie was raising a lot of important issues about slavery. I’m sure it is.
Let’s talk about Jaime Foxx for a minute. I like Jaime Foxx. What did Jaime Foxx say about the movie Django Unchained on television shortly before the shooting in Connecticut. He said this. Now admittedly, he was trying to be funny. Jaime Foxx is also a comedian, so we have to put these statements in that context. However, consider these statement in light of all that has happened since then. Are these statements by Jaime Foxx funny anymore? “Django Unchained, I play a slave,” he said. “How black is that? In the movie, I have to wear chains. How whack is that? But don’t be worried about it, because I get out [of] the chains. I save my wife, and I kill all the white people in the movie. How great is that? And how black is that?” Yea. That’s really funny. (sarcastically)
He said this on Saturday Night live and I certainly will grant him the benefit of the doubt. I loved him in Ray, but let’s think about it. Do we have a culture of violence in this country? “Yes.” Do our movies reflect this. “Yea.” A lot of things reflect this. Video games – many are truly awful. Many video games are sophisticated, computer simulations which actually train people how to be mass murderers. Admittedly, after the Sandy Hook shooting Jaime Foxx was back on television, and he said different things. He said, “We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn’t have a sort of influence. It does.” So Jaime Foxx put out a different statement, and I really respect him for that. Personally, I am really going to make an effort not to go see these violent films anymore.
I used to watch violent films a lot. I used to love director Sam Pechinpah’s movies. I thought they were amazing, and they were very, very violent. I intend to post things on our community blog, the MOLDG, whenever there is any breakthrough, or good news, to focus on about gun violence.
I also want to embrace the idea that the right to bear arms also means that we have the right not to bear arms. Maybe we need to be a little more vocal if we’re a person who does not have a gun. People are always defending the right to have guns. Maybe we should be proud of the right that we don’t have to be gun owners, and that we can choose not to. I choose not to. I choose not to have a gun. I am a proud “non-gun” owner. I don’t want to be around guns. I don’t want guns in my apartment, my home. I think I should have a clause in my renter’s contract, with my apartment mates, saying no guns in the house. That’s never been in our renter’s contract. We do have a clause about no drug use in the apartment. I think it might be time for a clause about no guns in the apartment. I don’t want to live in my apartment and think that one of my apartment mates is “packing.” I am thinking that I need to be a little more out there with the fact that I choose not to have a gun. I choose to feel safe in a world without carrying a gun. Maybe if more people would declare that, witness to that, more people would be interested in going along with that idea.
In the reading for today we heard, “Your holiness, then, can remove all pain, can end all sorrow, and can solve all problems. It can do so in connection with yourself and with anyone else. It is equal in its power to help anyone because it is equal in its power to save anyone. If you are holy, so is everything God created. You are holy because all things He created are holy. And all things He created are holy because you are.” (OrEd.WkBk.38.2)
We can heal all sorrow, and we can solve all problems. We all, personally, can solve this problem of gun violence. We do not have to see it as out there. We do not have to see this problem as outside of ourselves. I think this is a miracle that we definitely could embrace. We can accept the goal of manifesting the miracle of the reduction of gun violence, and it’s easy to measure if we are getting closer to our goal. Around 30,000 are dying in the United States every year – that’s just the ones who die – because of being shot by a gun. We have something to measure. We will know if we are succeeding.
That’s my talk for today. Thank you. ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the February 2013 (Vol. 26 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.