Legacy Article: Going back through our archives to make more of the articles that appeared in *Miracles Monthly* many years ago available again. Here's one from 2006.
(On Sunday, February 19, 2006, 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.)
I've been very busy this year, so far. I've been good with sticking to my resolutions and working with my "To Do" lists. I know you've heard me, many times, talk about how behind I am. I'm actually beginning to feel much more caught up. It's not a total feeling of being caught up yet, but I'm getting closer to it.
One of the things we have caught up here at the Community Miracles Center is all of our bookkeeping. I want to share some interesting bookkeeping figures. Those of you who aren't familiar with bookkeeping need to know that it's always good for a company to compute its net worth. This means that you take all your assets, whatever money you have and whatever hard assets you have (the value of your inventory and your equipment) and then you subtract from it anything that you might owe, all your liabilities. Assets, minus liabilities gives you a figure of what you actually are worth in dollars. In other words, if we were to sell every single thing we have – including the car, computer and all the books – and then pay off all the bills, this is what we would have left. If we got a directive from God who said, "Move the church to Somalia" we'd sell everything, pay the bills and this is the money we'd have to take with us.
(Rev. Tony moves over to a white board that is near the podium.) On January, 31 2005 our net worth was $62,300. (Rev. Tony writes the appropriate figure on the white board.) If we had sold everything and paid off all the debt, that's what we would have had left. One year later on December 31, 2006, at the end of last month, our net worth was $62,561. (Rev. Tony again writes the figures.) This means we operated in the black and increased our net worth by $261. (The congregation cheers and applauds.) I think that's great! That was on about $194,000 worth of income. This means we managed $194,000 of income and operated in the black. I think it's great that we've operated in the black for the last twelve months. There have been some hard financial times at the Community Miracles Center. A lot of churches and non-profits have had hard times. It's a difficult business to be in. Every once in awhile it's nice to know that things are, actually, going okay financially.
The financial picture is like a doctor putting a stethoscope up to your chest to listen to your heart. It's a vital sign that you need to take every once and awhile to see if you are healthy. I think this figure gives the Community Miracles Center an indication that we are doing something right. We are healthy and we're probably going to keep the doors open. You can be as spiritual as you want, you can have a hifalutin, cosmic, spiritual organization – but if you can't keep the doors open what difference does it make? We have been keeping the doors open for almost nineteen years. On March 1st we will have our nineteenth birthday. We will be getting into our twentieth year. We're doing fine.
The state of our church is good. It's healthy. Every year the President of the United States gives a state of the union address. Usually he comments on the economy and Americans all know the condition of the economy is an indication of how the country is doing. Our church's economy is good. The state of the church is good. It's healthy.
Questions always arise among the congregation. Those of you who are here are the congregation and, especially, our Supporting Members are the congregation. Sometimes there are problems with the Community Miracles Center. Sometimes there are problems with this church. I believe a certain amount of problems and discussion about these problems is probably a healthy thing. Sometimes it's easy to get caught in the problems and magnify them – make yourself think they're the most prominent thing. It's easy to get fixated on the problem instead of seeing the whole picture. It's easy for organizations to break up into little sects or groups which have controversies with each other and all of this happens here at the Community Miracles Center. We are not immune to any of that. It all goes on here. We have as much controversy here as, I'm sure, any organization has. Yet, I do think there is something healthy about what goes on here because we can have this kind of controversy out in the open, still join together and still succeed. When we use the stethoscope of finances and take our pulse, we are still a viable organization with increasing business every year and we are managing to compete in this global market place and stay in the black. (For information on becoming a Supporting Member see page #5.)
We are a global community. I say this frequently and I got a chance to say it again recently. I had a cousin visit from out of town. She was traveling with three other adults and we all met. I don't have many relatives visit so it's a big deal when a cousin visits. She asked me about the church. She knows I'm a minister in a church so she asked me questions about our church. They live in a small city in upstate New York, and their idea of church – I don't know what their idea of church is but I'm sure they are not quite aware of what we do here and what it all means. So she asked me, "How many members do you have in your church?" I said, "Well, that's kind of a difficult question to answer because I don't know what you're asking. What we call members are our Supporting Members and right now we have 77 Supporting Members so we would say that we have 77 members in our church." They all said something like, "That sounds good." Then I continued, "But what I want you to know is that half of those 77 members have probably never been to the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco." They went ... (Rev. Tony holds his head askew and makes a confused looking face.) Then I went on, "They interact with us through our publication and through our web site so it's certainly a nationwide ministry. We have Supporting Members who live in other countries. It's a global ministry with a publication outreach so ‘members' is a difficult idea but we have 77 people who pledge money on a regular basis." I mentioned that our regular attendance at Sunday Service was about 20 to 25. I explained the Supporting Member program a little bit. I throw this out here every once in awhile as well, especially in terms of the controversies that surface at the Community Miracles Center, because we need to remember that what we have going on here in the local congregation is one thing, but there is also a global congregation and the Community Miracles Center serves a nationwide and global community. It's important to keep that perspective. More than half of that $194,000 worth of support that we received in the last twelve months didn't come from the local congregation. It came from the nationwide congregation. We don't have a way of sorting out the money on the basis of geography so I don't have the actual figure, but I'm sure that well more than half of the financial support comes from outside the area, not here.
It's good for all of us to know that we are doing fine. I use the same financial criteria for myself. I like to find out what my personal net worth is. I like to see if my personal net worth is increasing and it has been for the past three years – I am happy to say. This hasn't always been the case. I had a few years when it went down. When your net worth is going down you've got to do something to fix it. I did, and now my net worth is going up. I like that. Some A Course In Miracles people would say this is too much of a monetary focus. "You're using money to mean something and that isn't what A Course In Miracles teaches us." However, A Course In Miracles teaches us that money has whatever interpretation we give to it.
This is from the Psychotherapy pamphlet, "... Even an advanced therapist [or minister] has some earthly needs while he is here. Should he need money it will be given him, not in payment, but to help him better serve the plan. Money is not evil. It is nothing." (P-3.III.1.3-6) Money isn't bad. To focus on money isn't a negative thing automatically. It depends how you are focussing in on it and what you are using the focus for. I use it as a barometer, as a feedback mechanism, to give me some sort of indication of how my life is working. We at the Community Miracles Center use it as a barometer, as a feedback mechanism, to see how the business aspect of the church is working because if the business aspect doesn't work the doors don't stay open. We don't keep publishing Miracles Monthly. Then the web site closes and we don't reach anybody. It's always a balancing act. A Course In Miracles helps to get that balancing act accomplished. We're not asked to deny the world, to deny the body, to deny finances and to live in some airy fairy, "spacey" land of just floating through the cosmos with no agenda. We have to balance those things and Holy Spirit gives us that balance.
We use our body as a learning device. That's what A Course In Miracles tells us. You have the body of your financial affairs. That's a learning device too. It's giving you feedback. It's giving you information and you can use that information to give you insights about how your life is working, how your thoughts are working. Are you are focused in a positive direction?
So, my cousin visited. She a little younger than me. Her name is Donna Jo. I come from a large family. In my mother's family there were ten children. Of the ten, eight married and had their own children. Those eight produced a new generation of 25 people. There are 25 first cousins in the family. That's large. I have two sisters so that means I have 22 first cousins. That seems like a lot to me. It's interesting to me that with all these first cousins, and with San Francisco being a big tourist destination, that she's only the third one who's ever stopped here to visit me and I've lived here for 27 years. Now that doesn't mean that she's only the third cousin to ever visit San Francisco. I go home, and sometimes I'm talking to my cousins and they tell me they were here a couple of years ago. Then I say, "You know I live there, right." They say, "Yeah." I say, "Why didn't you call me up? Maybe we could have met for coffee?" The idea of calling me up didn't even occur to them. Actually, this cousin had visited a number of years ago while I lived here and hadn't thought to call me. These things used to bother me. Then I realized that maybe it was something I was doing. I must be complicit in this. I'm not sending out the vibe that I'd like them to stop by and visit so for the past few years I've really tried to stay in communication with cousins. I email them. I send them Christmas cards. I always extend invitations. "If you're ever in San Francisco, give me a call. Maybe we'll get together." Donna Jo did that. She was here visiting with her husband and another couple. They called. We met for lunch. When she called she said, "I'm staying in a place called the Wharf. Do you know where the Wharf is?" (laughter - The Wharf is possibly the most visited tourist area in San Francisco. Everybody knows where it is.) "Yeah. Yeah I know where the Wharf is." She said, "Maybe we can meet for lunch? Do they have any restaurants there?" "Yes, hundreds. There's hundreds of restaurants at the Wharf." "Okay. Good." We went to Chic's Place on Pier 39. I don't know this cousin real well. As I said, our ages are a little different. I knew her when we were growing up but she was much younger than I. I don't feel I'm close to her. Before she came here I called my sister and said, "Give me a briefing on Donna Jo. Does she have any kids? Tell me something about her life so I don't go there and seem ...." I had a very nice time at lunch with her and her husband and her friends. We all chatted. We had a nice connection.
I don't usually feel guided to talk about what I do for a living with new people. How do you talk about that? They know I'm a minister and over lunch I found out that she's read a few of Marianne Williamson's books. She knows of A Course In Miracles. She dropped that information a couple of times at lunch. Everybody was chatting away at the lunch table and at one point she turns to me and asks, "Well, A Course In Miracles – that isn't a religion is it?" Up until this time, everybody at the table was chatting but when she asked that everybody got really silent. (laughter) I thought about Rev. Larry's sermon last week. He was talking about what do you do when you get an opportunity to be a witness. Do you say too much? Do you say not enough? What do you do when you get those opportunities? I could tell by the way she was asking the question that she thought the answer was, "No. It isn't a religion." However, in truth I do relate to it like a religion. It's my religion. I don't have another religion. It's my spiritual program. It's my spiritual path. It's my religion. That's what I told her. I said, "You might not call it a religion. I guess we'd have to sit here and define what you mean by religion. I might be defining the word differently than you do but, ‘yea' I definitely relate to it like a religion. It's my religion. We have a church based on A Course In Miracles. There's thousands and thousands of A Course In Miracles students all over the world who study it, relate to it as their spiritual discipline so, yes I think it's a religion." It didn't seem as though she really liked that answer. I threw it out there into the space.
A Course In Miracles tells us this, "... you are studying a unified thought system in which nothing is lacking that is needed, and nothing is included that is contradictory or irrelevant." (W-pI.42.7.2) To me, that defines a religion. It's a unified thought system. There's nothing lacking from it. There's nothing that we have to pull from some other religion to make this spiritual discipline whole. Nor is there anything in this one that is just fluff, something we don't need. We have a spiritual source book. It provides a moral code of ethics for us to live our lives by. I told her that too. "It provides us with a moral code. It's how I formulate my life and my personal philosophy. Yes, it's a religion."
I think A Course In Miracles is, indeed, a religion. I think Community Miracles Center is a church of this religion. There are other churches of this religion. Why are we a church? The California Franchise Tax Board recognizes us as a church. And, the United States Internal Revenue Service recognizes us as a church. That's why we're a church, because these two government agencies have given us letters which say, "You're a church!" (laughter) So, we're a church. I got it.
There's a lot of controversy in our greater church. Remember the title of this sermon is "The State Of The Church." There's a lot of controversy in the larger A Course In Miracles church. There's some controversy that surfaced just recently. It surfaced over the book, The Disappearance Of The Universe, Gary Renard's book, which many of you have read and many of you have liked. Gary Renard spoke here. He was the guest at Miracle Experience #22. What do we do with this? The controversy is, did this really happen? Did two ascended masters actually appear to Gary Renard over a period of nine years? Do Arten and Pursah really exist? Gary Renard says, "Absolutely, they exist! There isn't one word of fiction in any of this." Some people don't believe him and think that it didn't happen for whatever reasons they have. They don't believe him. Another part of the controversy is that people think, because Gary Renard is so adamant about that it actually happened, that we in this church, this community, feel that we don't even have the right to voice a contradictory opinion because he sort of "pounces" on people who do that. He gives them a lot of "flack." There it is. Did this happen or didn't it happen? There have been several series of emails and this has gone on in different waves over a period of years since the book came out. A recent wave surfaced again. The content of this wave is shouldn't we critically examine this? Shouldn't students be able to openly, and in a public forum, express that they don't believe this and that they want more proof than just Gary Renard saying so?
I don't know what that proof could possibly be! (laughter) I truly don't know.
This idea of books being fictionalized or not is actually a secular controversy right now. There's a book that's being published and peddled as an autobiography. It's named A Million Little Pieces. It's written by James Frey. Oprah Winfrey embraced it. It's about a man in a very severe state, drug addicted and beaten up. He came to consciousness on a commercial airplane with: teeth missing, a whole in his face, covered with spit, urine and blood and he couldn't remember how he got there. How did all this happen to him? The book is about his detox and rehabilitation and it's an amazing story. It's put out there like this actually happened. As I said, Oprah endorsed it, thought it was amazing, had him on her show. The book became a best seller. Now it has come out that it didn't actually happen. At least a lot of it didn't happen. A lot of it was embellished. It's not true. It's a big controversy right now. Who's responsible for the truth? Is it the publishers of the book? Doubleday Anchor publishes this book. I just went to their web site. They have a big statement about this now. They say they want to apologize to the public. They are not going to print any more of these books until a disclaimer can appear in the front of the book – a disclaimer from them and from the author. There's all this.
We're used to movies which seem to be biographies but we know that they have been embellished. The recent movie about Johnny Cash, Walk The Line is a case in point. A lot of it is based on truth, but if you watch the movie it looks as if the first song Johnny Cash recorded was "Folsom Prison Blues." That's what he recorded with his band. They couldn't play that well. They went into the recording studio for the first time and that's the first thing they recorded. Well, that's not true. He recorded many songs before he recorded "Folsom Prison Blues." Little things like that happen all the time in the movies. We shift the story around to make it a little more entertaining. The same was true with the movie Ray last year. These things happen all the time. We get used to it. Is it a problem? Should we be concerned.
Now, as I said, in the case of Gary Renard and The Disappearance Of The Universe, how will we ever know? Gary definitely claims it's the truth and he wrote this in our own publication Miracles Monthly just a few months ago. He said, "I want your readers to know that the experiences I have recorded in the book, The Disappearance of the Universe, are my true experiences. There is nothing made up or fictional about the book. It is my life from 1992 through 2001. Arten and Pursah appeared to me in person, in the flesh from out of nowhere, exactly as described in the book. All of the conversations we had were exactly as they are reported." (Vol.19,No.7/Sep.06) That's his statement. If you are one who doesn't believe him, are you going to call him a liar? You're either going to call him a liar, or maybe worse, delusional. When you call him delusional he says, "There is no history of mental illness in my family." (laughter) So what do you do? There's no way to answer these questions.
What does A Course In Miracles tell us about this, "Preoccupations with problems set up to be incapable of solution are favorite ego devices for impeding learning progress. In all these diversionary tactics, however, the one question that is never asked by those who pursue them is, ‘What for?'" (T-4.V.6.6-7) Why does it matter? What for? There's no way we're going to answer this question. We could spin this one around for centuries, but what for? Why would we want to do that?
In another place in A Course In Miracles — it's actually talking about something else controversial that can't be proved, reincarnation. So, it's talking about reincarnation but it applies just as well to this. I'm going to substitute a few words to make this quotation a little more applicable. "For our purposes, it would not be helpful to take any definite stand on [the authenticity of The Disappearance Of The Universe.] A teacher of God should be as helpful to those who believe in it as to those who do not. ... Our course is not concerned with any concept that is not acceptable to anyone, regardless of his formal beliefs. His ego will be enough for him to cope with, and it is not the part of wisdom to add sectarian controversies to his burdens." (M-24.3.1-2,4-5) "It cannot be too strongly emphasized that this course aims at a complete reversal of thought. When this is finally accomplished, issues such as the validity of [The Disappearance Of The Universe] become meaningless. Until then, they are likely to be merely controversial. The teacher of God is, therefore, wise to step away from all such questions, for he has much to teach and learn apart from them." (M-24.4.1-4)
It's a sectarian controversy. The wisest thing would be to not get embroiled in it. To side step, away from it. Actually, I'm going to use the text of this sermon as my way to answer the whole question about The Disappearance Of The Universe. (Thus, this article in *Miracles Monthly.*) I think we should get on with the main task at hand which is teaching A Course In Miracles and not get so embroiled in this idea whether Arten and Pursah actually exist, because nobody can prove it either way. The author says it happened. That's just the way the situation is. We need to accept the situation.
The larger church that is A Course In Miracles definitely has some challenges. It definitely has some controversies. What is the state of this larger church. Is it in a good state – a bad state? I don't know. At least these controversies are getting aired. They are out there in the open. I guess some people believe that they should be able to air them a little more freely. You can air them more freely but you tend to get confronted when you do it. But, maybe that's okay too. When we express opinions that are contrary to others they are probably going to confront us. That's part of the process. Again, it doesn't mean that something has gone wrong.
There are other controversies in the A Course In Miracles church. Should we be studying A Course In Miracles, the one that we are familiar with the blue book, or should we now study the Jesus Course In Miracles, the big white book because that was the one done before Ken Wapnick edited it. Some people believe that is the one that we should study because that was the one edited by Bill Thetford and because Helen Schucman had the guidance from Jesus that Bill Thetford should be in charge of the editing. There was no guidance that said Ken Wapnick should be in charge of the editing, so we should study the version that Bill Thetford edited that came way before the version that Ken Wapnick and Helen edited later. We should be studying the Jesus Course In Miracles and that's a big controversy right now in the A Course In Miracles community. Does it mean something is wrong with our church? Not necessarily. This is just what happens. How embroiled do we get with the controversy? That's the problem. We can have the conversation but do we get sidetracked by it? Do we get so spun in it that we forget what the real task at hand is, which is to free our mind from the belief systems of the world?
What about the state of the global institutions of "Church" in the world? Well, if you follow the news you know that there is big stuff going on with religions in the world. I follow the news.
There's a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, that on September 30, 2005 published some editorial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. In these cartoons, with the images of the Prophet Mohammed, sometimes he wasn't portrayed in the best light. The important cartoon that truly got the ire of many Moslems has the Prophet Mohammed with his turban, except his turban turns into a big bomb that's lit. I was actually able to find this cartoon on the internet. I thought about including it on the cover of Miracles Monthly but I decided that since Moslems have asked us not to do that, I will not do that. I was tempted, but I won't do it. There's a big controversy about these editorial cartoons. There were riots in Denmark as soon as those cartoons hit the stands. When other newspapers in other countries picked up these editorial cartoons there were riots in the other countries. There's been violent riots ever since. Many people have died. Just this weekend, in the past couple of days, there were big riots in Pakistan about these cartoons. People are dying. They attack "The West." What's the image of "The West" that they attack, Kentucky Fried Chicken. The Moslems extremists have been burning down Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. (laughter) That works for me actually. Moslems say that these cartoons are, "... culturally insensitive, insulting, and blasphemous." Supporters of the newspapers say that the papers are just exercising their right to free speech. The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has described the controversy as Denmark's worst international crisis since World War II.
Sectarian controversies abound all over. What is the state of the church? The global church isn't any different from our local church. We have controversies. We have things that we disagree about. Different sects, different groups, think things should be one way. Different groups think things should be another way. Different groups do things that offend other groups. How embroiled do we get in this? How much do we make these the main issue and how much do we use that to distract us from what we should be accomplishing. Islam is a religion that teaches peace. Christianity is a religion that teaches peace. But somehow the sectarian controversies affect the state of those churches and gets them to be at war. Think about the Protestants and Catholics fighting for years in Ireland. It happens all the time. The global is just a reflection of the local.
I think we all have to ask ourselves the question, "How do we handle these controversies – in our local setting – in our personal setting?" We have to understand that the global community is just a reflection of that.
Take a minute to take the pulse, a vital sign read, on the health of your own interaction and on the health of your own community. I think Community Miracles Center is actually a very healthy church. I think we function in the midst of our controversies and allow them to surface and we talk about them. Yet, we do keep doing the work that we do. I think the global church community could come together more if they grasped that same principle. They could understand that they are always going to have differences of opinion but these don't have to become violent controversies. We can learn how to all get along in peace. I think the state of the church, the community church, the nationwide church and the global church could indeed be something that could lead us to greater peace, and greater joy, if we didn't let the sectarian controversies distract us.
That's it for today. Thank you. (applause) ♥
Rev. Tony Ponticello is CMC's 20th minister. He is currently the Executive Minister (12.11.2017). He is also President of the CMC Board of Diretors. He was ordained by the CMC on Oct. 17, 1997.
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the January 2006 (Vol. 19 No. 11) 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.