On Sunday February 23, 2014, Rev. Peter Graham addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. Rev. Tony Ponticello introduced Rev. Peter before he started his sermon. When Rev. Tony did this he said it was a "great joy" to call up Rev. Peter to the podium. Rev. Peter referred to this introduction in his first statement. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
It truly is a "great joy" to be here and a "great joy" that you are all here. I'm very grateful to the Community Miracles Center, because as I was preparing for this talk, I realized, wow, there's a lot going on, and preparing a talk helps me to put my life in context. There's been so much going on in my mind lately, and in the world, that it's been very interesting as I put this talk together. I hope you find it valuable and interesting as well. The title of my talk to day is, "Re-Minded of Love in Times of Trial."
Some of you may know this, and some may not, it's Black History month. As a public school teacher, this year, I am fortunate. One of the classes I'm teaching is English. I was looking for material for Black History month. A lot of the students I teach are also ethnically diverse, and they relate to the non-white version of history. I found this interesting letter. I found this piece of literature that I wanted to teach in honor of Black History month. It's called Letter From Birmingham Jail by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
What's fascinating about this letter is that it's incredibly spiritual, incredibly wise, and incredibly Course like. The thing that kept coming back to me about this letter that Dr. Martin Luther King wrote is that he wrote this letter in response to eight, white clergymen from Birmingham, Alabama who wrote him a very "nice" letter. However, they basically told him to get out of town, because he was down in Birmingham protesting the horrible conditions that African Americans were experiencing as a result of segregation in 1963. The eight, white clergy wrote him a letter that said, you know what Dr. King? You're a nice guy; you're a Christian guy. What are you doing down here? Give us time; give us time. We just elected a new government. Let this new government make some of the changes that the African Americans want.
Now some of you may remember the African Americans, at that time, drank from separate water fountains. The kids I teach, that's all they remember. When I say "segregation," the first thing they think about is, "They had to drink from separate water fountains?" That's what my students remember.
The African Americans in 1963 couldn't order a meal, at the Woolworth's lunch counter. They had separate schools. It was supposed to be separate but equal. It was separate - but it wasn't equal. Okay? They lived, essentially, as second class citizens with very few rights. They couldn't vote as well. It was really bad at that time. What Martin Luther King talked about in his letter was, "How can you ...?" In a very nice, eloquent way he said to the white ministers, "You are telling me that things are going to be okay. They've been telling us for centuries that things are going to be okay. They're not okay; they're not changing." And he said in his letter, "You failed to address the underlying causes of segregation." Of course the underlying cause of segregation is racism, and racism is fear based, right? Racism is based on separation - different color skin. This type of perception gets involved. "Oh, that person is less intelligent than me. That person is less worthy than me, ..." blah, blah, blah. Think about all the things that we do when this kind of perception gets involved.
What Dr. Martin Luther King said was the way you lovingly transform this racism is you have to confront it with direct non-violent demonstration or protest. It's not to be swept under the rug, but that people had to learn how to confront the racism in a loving manner. They had to confront the situation.
In this letter Dr. King also quotes Socrates. Many who know Socrates see him as a Jesus Christ like figure. In the sense of, Socrates was a great teacher, probably an enlightened teacher - Socrates gave us many different allegories that we study. This is what Socrates said, "In order for a student to learn you had to create tension in their minds" - tension in their minds. Dr. Martin Luther King was creating tension in the minds of all the white folk, of everyone, in Birmingham, Alabama, because when one has tension ... when we have tension in our lives, that's when we question what's going on. We question our perception, and that's how we learn. That's how we grow.
In a sense, another word for tension is conflict. I don't know about you, but I'm somewhat conflict adverse. (laughter) Where does this conflict come from? The A Course In Miracles reading for today mentions it. It says, "Intrapersonal conflict ..." the conflict in our own minds "... arises from the same basis as interpersonal conflict" (OrEd.Tx.3.42) the conflict that we have with other folks. Isn't that profound?
When you think about this, they seem so different. Our inner conflicts, for me, I can kind of keep in here (Rev. Peter gestures to his head) and I don't have to tell everybody. It doesn't seem as bad, but it really disturbs our peace of mind. However, interpersonal conflict seems more out there (Rev. Peter gestures to the external world). It seems a little more recognizable. "One part of the psyche perceives another part as on a different level and does not understand it." (OrEd.Tx.3.42) This is where we have conflict. It can happen within our own selves. We get in conflict over a relationship internally or we have conflict over our career, whatever it might be, right? It's present and something is not jiving. It's not enough money; it's not enough status. I don't really like it, what every it might be. You know, the body is not curvy enough. Whatever it could be. (laughter)
"He can never make his misperceptions valid. His creation is beyond his own error, and that is why he must eventually choose to heal the separation." (OrEd.Tx.3.42) So folks, the good thing is that these conflicts we have - we're going to come out of them - all of us. It's guaranteed. Okay? It is if you believe what A Course In Miracles says - but we're going to have to go through some of this.
Now let's leave 1963. We know where we are today. We have an African American president. We've made a lot of progress on the issue of racism. There's been a lot of miracles. Dr. Martin Luther King and the folks in the civil rights movement, including some white folks and others who were non-blacks as well, took on the fight and moved through it. Now we have African Americans, and other people of color, much more a part of our society today then they were in 1963. That doesn't mean it's perfect by any stretch of imagination.
Now let's look, currently, let's look at today. Just this week not far from the Sochi Olympics - when the Olympics is a time to celebrate brotherhood, humanity, we're all coming together to play some sports, see who's going to win - the capitol of Ukraine, Kiev, explodes in a near civil war. Basically the conflict is that western Ukrainians want to align more with Europe and United States in a kind of pro-democracy capitalism. Yet the eastern Ukrainians are closer to Russian descent, ethnically more Russian, they want to align more with Russian President Vladimir Putin and and a more autocratic way of things. The Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, (I want to say that correctly) made a decision to get help from Russia and the people were concerned that the government was becoming more and more corrupt. The Ukrainian economy is not doing well. All these things are going on. The Ukrainians staged peaceful demonstrations. It's been almost two months now that they've been doing this. Finally, this week, both sides had enough. There were elements from both sides that attacked. You may have seen the news. There's lots of conflict. People died. I'm someone who pays attention to current events. I really enjoy current events. I was thinking, "Oh! This looks like it's going to get bad.
However, there was enough miracle minded people involved that something did change.
The Ukrainians, the powers that be in Ukraine - I think with the help of the Europeans, and maybe even the Russians because Russians were consulting with Yanukovych as well, - stepped back. They signed this cease fire, and at this point their consensus is that Yanukovych has got to go. So he's been impeached and on May 25th they're going to have an election.
The moral of the story is that there was conflict. The people of the Ukraine were not happy with the government - at least enough of them were not happy. Hey, they were willing to protest for two months. Are you willing to protest anything for two months? Sitting outside? Remember, this isn't San Francisco. This is Ukraine. It's cold! Okay? They're out there. I heard one demonstrator, a woman, who said, "People have died but this is what we have to do to make the change." "This is what we have to do to make the change."
According to what our A Course In Miracles reading says today, sometimes we have to take on the external and be willing to accept the consequences for change, and sometimes we have to take on the internal in our minds. It's not really different.
Now of course, like Dr. Martin Luther King said, his approach was not to be violent. Initially, in the Ukraine, it wasn't violent. The demonstrators were direct. They said, "Hey! We don't like this." They said their piece, but initially they were not violent. At the same time, their president, Yanukovych, who was more like a "do it my way, that's how we're doing it, I'm going to stand you guys down" person didn't really hear them. And as a consequence, he's gone. So they shifted. They decided to do things.
Some of you know, previously I have talked about my workplace, my own professional life, there's been some conflict and tension. I'm department head at my workplace. I work at a big public school in special education. There's two hundred kids with disabilities. I supervise sixteen teachers, twenty some paraprofessionals, a lot of conflict. Okay? At times there's a lot of great work, beautiful work, but there's also ... you know egos clash. We're all not getting along, and I had one friend of mine who lobbied for me to lose my job. I mean not lose my job, lose my position. So that was tough, and I felt hurt, depressed, and angry about it, but it's a miraculous process.
Re-minded of the love in times of trial - what is a trial? The dictionary says a trial is "a formal meeting in a court in which evidence about crimes, disagreements, is presented to a judge and often a jury so that decisions can be made according to law." What has happened is that I've been undergoing, in my work life, this trial. However it's not been a trial where I'm condemned or anybody else is condemned. Now my experience, at times, felt like that. My experience sometimes felt like I was being tortured, punished, embarrassed, and my prestige was at stake. But really what was happening was that a department member was bringing to light, if you will, concerns that he had, as were some others about the way that the department was going. But it was bigger than that. It wasn't just me. We had been going through all these changes based on the California State mandate. The state has mandated many changes. Everyone feels overworked, and everyone feels tense. And so what happened during this process is that this year I said, "Okay. We're going to open it up. We're going to have department meetings in which we're going to discuss what the issues are." That's what we did, and I stepped down as department head in the meeting and there was this other department member who facilitated. People were able to express their frustrations, some of which were about me. It wasn't always pleasant.
Some of the frustrations, it turns out, were just more about the system. We all work in systems. They are ego systems. They're not going to work. They're not perfect.
This happened, and things began to transform. People began to get along better. However, it was also a time of reflection for me, and this past week I decided to resign from my position as department head. The miracle for me, my shift around this, was that I've been doing this job for seven years, and there's been a lot that has been accomplished. We've changed, we're doing different things. I think we're trying to meet the needs of students with disabilities differently and better, but I've also got the message that I don't want to do this job anymore. It's time to let it go. There are perks to this job. I get to be involved in all the decisions. I think I'm good at dealing with a lot of the problems that we're confronted with, but there are parts of the job that I don't like. Spirit guided me to this decision point based on feedback from friends, based on my own prayers around it. That's what I got, and that's okay.
One of the things I heard, when I was in the difficulties of this department, one of the things the Holy Spirit told met was, "Peter, put down your cross." I heard that thought That's what the Spirit is talking to me about. A Course In Miracles says, "The guiltless mind cannot suffer." (OrEd.Tx.5.64)
So we have a choice, folks. When we're confronted - and I hope that we can all see this - when we're confronted with the ego, when we're confronted with those thoughts that are guilt ridden and we're doing things out of guilt we have a choice. We all do these things to ourselves, "shoulds," guilt, and stuff like that. I'm learning this for myself. That's not good enough; that's not who we are. We are meant to be happy. It's okay for us to be happy. It's okay for us to have peace in our lives, and that's the miracle. What I've learned is like what the Ukrainians learned, like what Dr. Martin Luther King taught. The miracle experience is a process. Yes, we will go through trials. We will experience some of the thoughts and feelings that the ego has us experience. Yet the quicker we can catch ourselves, and the quicker we're willing to turn it over, I think it speeds the process up. That's my own experience. The miracles come a little faster.
However it's not always this way. A Course In Miracles says "There is no order of difficulty among miracles." (OrEd.Tx.1.1) The little upsets are as big as the big upsets, but the truth of my experience is, certain miracles that I've experienced take longer than others. Usually the ones about our relationships are the toughest. For me they are the toughest, right? My relationship conflicts have those kinds of perceptions. I've been experiencing some things in my own personal relationship as well. My primary relationship - most of you here have met a gentleman named Ken. We've been in relationship for ten years, and we've had some conflict. We have some recurring issues in our relationship. And one of the more recent issues is he's been traveling a lot. He travels the world to do his work, and I have to admit it's been hard for me. It's really hard for me when he's gone, and he wants me to take care of his cats.
I've done it but I notice that my experience of being at his place - it's a really beautiful condo, beautiful views - but my experience at his place is that I don't like it when he's not there. I like the cats and all that, but I don't like it when he's not there. So this past trip, I told him, "No." I'm not taking care of the cats because it's too hard for me. That was just what it was. Part of me was thinking, "You should be loving. You should be kind. You should do this" should, should, should. However, I said "No, I'm not doing it,"
Ken and I have some other stuff going on. We are at that tension in our minds in our relationship. There's tension over money. There's tension over what we do with our time. There's tension over just our living arrangement. He wants me to live with him, and I like living where I live. We have these things and it's gotten to the point where we're saying, "Alright, maybe this isn't going to work." I have to be able to accept that, and I have to be able to surrender that to Spirit. So we had a real difficult conversation before he went away on Monday night. We're not in a great place, but I feel okay. I feel okay, because I understand and can accept that there's a miracle waiting. What A Course In Miracles says, sometimes, I think is like this. Down below all the darkness, there's someone making a gift. Like there's this little miracles elf making a gift for you. If you're willing to ask and if you're willing to surrender into that process, the miracle is going to come about. The truth is that it is already happening. I've already changed my thinking around our relationship. We've got to confront this. I'm not taking care of the cats anymore in the way that I did. It doesn't mean that I won't sometimes, but I'm not going to do it the way that I did. I'm just clear on that.
At the same time, there's some things that I've been doing in relationships that I need to address, and I'm working on that. I've got a bad temper at times. I've got to watch that. That's one of the things that really bugs him, and I've got to address that. Another thing is now that he's away .... my big issue when he was away was what to do. Then last Sunday night I was out with some of my softball buddies and Rev. Heather showed up with Kim and we had a good old time, and I never would have had that. I would have never been out had it not been for that other situation. I met two other gentlemen there. I had dinner with them last night, and we went out and had some fun. That's the miracle. It allows my process, my experiences. It has allowed me to free up.
Free up. Let go of that fixed perception that's causing us pain. If I see my brother, in this case Ken as guilty and hidden with my grievances, it doesn't work, but it still needs to be brought up. Right? It still needed to be addressed. So now it's addressed. Yeah, I feel a little guilty about saying some of the things that I've said, but that doesn't mean that I can't change and doesn't mean that he can't change. What I'm learning is that we do have to - when Spirit tells us, when it's coming up for us - we have to say something.
I think when I first studied A Course In Miracles I just wanted the Light. I wanted to skip some of the process. Now that doesn't necessarily happen. What I do see when I experience the miracle - and I think forgiveness is the closest thing we get to the emotion of love here - what I do see is that I can get back to my one mind when I'm willing to let that process play out. Then my trials become my experience of freedom.
That's my talk for today. (applause) ♥
Rev. Peter Graham is CMC's minister #40 ordained Feb. 23, 2002. He is the Secretary of the CMC Board of Directors.
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the March 2014 (Vol. 28 No. 1) 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.