How both dramatic and everyday life experiences called Community Miracles Center Board members to *A Course in Miracles* and to serve.
It's a unique entity – a legally recognized, conventional church with ordained ministers, and yet based on an unconventional text with an unconventional approach. It offers a spiritual home to those who are lost or don't feel they fit in, to those who seek to make sense of a confusing world, and especially to those who don't like to be told what to do. It's a home for those who like to make up their own mind, in their own time and in their own way.
Based on the study of A Course In Miracles, the Community Miracles Center (CMC) believes the time a person takes to learn spiritual lessons is completely voluntary and without judgment. Along the way there is no sin, just mistakes and a chance to choose again, and one need do nothing to "fit in" – all are perfect now. What does that mean? It means no rules of worship and always this: respect for a person's autonomy, respect for his or her choices and decision-making ability, and respect for all just as they are.
Today when most people think of the Community Miracles Center, they often think of Rev. Tony Ponticello, its colorful Executive Minister, but behind the scenes is another reality. Six other people guide and lead the CMC on its path of inclusion. In a way, they are a small microcosm of the A Course in Miracles community as a whole. Like others who gravitate toward the study of ACIM, they don't always agree. Nearly fifty years after its first publication, different versions of the Course and different theories of what the words mean can lead to long and loud arguments about which or who is right. CMC Board members read and follow different versions of the Text. They talk and argue about what the words mean and how to live them. Yet, in the end, they come together in brotherhood for the greater purpose of putting into practice the words of the Course as they work with each other, make decisions for the CMC, and bring the message of the Course to the world.
What does that mean for those seeking a spiritual home? It means that wherever you are on your path, whatever your interpretation of the words, however you choose to practice, the Community Miracles Center door is open and the community welcoming.
Who are the people who hold that space open for you? Some have been through the incredible and some the unimaginable. Some like to finish Sunday Service early so they can get home and watch (or play) football, others would rather play with their grandkids. Some served in the military, others serve as teachers. All of them had a conventional religious upbringing. All of them left conventional religion and began to look for "something else." They know what it means to search. They know what it means to not fit in, and now that they know what it means to belong. They want that for all. Let's meet them.
♦ A Rock Star ♦
It's true. He's a real rock star with 5 albums. Rev. Rudy Colombini is the driving force and lead singer of The Unauthorized Rolling Stones and the Founder and President of San Francisco's Music City. As an entrepreneur he manages several business enterprises and after almost 30 years as a student of *A Course in Miracles*, he's learned how to apply it to business life. In 1995 Rev. Rudy became the 15th person to be ordained by the CMC and he joined the Board in 2011.
Rev. Rudy Colombini (in his words)
If I were to try to explain to someone the main message of A Course in Miracles, it would be, "Get out of your way." Another one would be, "You're no big deal, but you are the whole deal." And another, "Forgive and it's over. Forgive and you will be happy."
The lowest point of my life was 1987. I had broken up with my fiancé and that winter was very dark for me. I kept asking, "How long is this going to last? Because this is terrible." I had achieved kind of everything I wanted. I had lots of cars and a beautiful apartment and lots of money, but I was very unhappy and thinking, this just cannot be life. Through people in 12 Step programs, I ended up in Gerry Jampolsky's little clinic in Sausalito in some sort of group and someone mentioned A Course in Miracles. I asked, "What is it?" and she said, "It's a book about how to live your life." Now I would rephrase that and say, "It's a book about learning what life is."
I pretty much just ate it up. It spoke to me right away. The hard part was getting through the Christian wording. I'd really had a problem with the Catholic Church. I was raised by two parents who were dying of cancer. When I was 11, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. And when I was 13, my dad had bladder cancer. I was in and out of hospitals. Think about what a grind that is for a kid. Not surprisingly by high school I was acting out, and I was expelled. I was caught making out in the girl's bathroom, drunk. I remember my dad came to the rectory and he said, "Rudolfo is a good boy. He didn't mean any harm here." He told them, "His mother is sick with cancer and I'm sick with cancer, and he's really acting out. Please don't kick him out." The priest said to him, "We will call the police if you don't leave."
That kind of encapsulated the Catholic Church for me, and after that I was like, "Sorry, I'm not doing this anymore." So now, here I was still wanting to leave all of that behind yet reading the A Course in Miracles with its Christian language. It took me probably 10 years to get a lot of basic Christian terminology and definitions out of my head, because I had literally gone from nursery school through college and graduate work, all at Catholic schools.
But, my study of A Course in Miracles has allowed me to move through the world at a level that I'm not even able to understand. I'm envisioning and creating and building something called Music City that might be the most significant music endeavor in the world. I'm talking about four indoor clubs, an outdoor club, a school, a Music Hall of Fame, 33 studios that are plug and play, two recording studios and a hotel – all in one building where everything can be photographed and videoed. And profits from its operation will be given to a 501(c)3 charity to support the educational school and the Community Miracles Center.
It's been a huge undertaking and things have gone wrong, and there's the whole impact of the pandemic. But, A Course in Miracles tells me that it will get done and my job is patient, persistent practice. How can I be patient? Because I hand it over to the Holy Spirit. I hand it over to infinite intelligence and I say,
"You do it. You, Spirit, you do it. I'm not doing it anyway. You're in charge. If you can't get it together, it's your problem. You handle it, Sir."
There's two parts to A Course in Miracles. There's reading it and understanding the world is an illusion. Then there's understanding that it's my illusion, and the way I'm going to fix it is I will not attack anything or anybody no matter what.
When you realize you're not guilty and you're not making anyone else guilty, you can realize how beautiful you are. We're really fucking beautiful. And in order to get a snapshot of that peace, every morning I get up and do my little A Course in Miracles practice.
When I read A Course of Love it revolutionized A Course in Miracles for me. I started understanding that the "metaphysication" of the universe is happening right now, and it's happening by me. By me! Now I'm on a path where I don't want to see people dying anymore. I'm holding the secure thought that if I follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which stops my attacking the universe, that the universe will stop attacking us.
I realize that A Course in Miracles may be the most spiritually advanced technique that we have right now in healing the world. It says that because we created sickness and death, we can "discreate" it. So it is in my hands to change the universe. And that's why I serve on the Board of the Community Miracles Center – to change the world. And also because of my love for Tony – Rev. Tony Ponticello. He's one of my two or three very, very best friends. And, really, what else would I do? It's what my music is about. My Message of Love album is all about this stuff. It's "Do you believe in spiritual sight? Do you believe this world ain't quite right? Well, try some forgiveness." It's simple as that.
Look, I've played the biggest stages around here. But I make 10 times more money in: the hotel business, or in the real estate business, or in the land business, or in the parking business. But, as soon as you wake up, you realize that any amount of money is not wealth. It's not wealth for you, and it's not wealth for anyone else. What's important is what you do with the energy and the energy is not even in the money. The energy is in your thumbs. So what I'm doing is I'm taking my artistry and my business sense and these many years studying this profound spiritual discipline that rocks, and I'm weaving them all together with the guidance that the Holy Spirit gives me. And I'm just doing the very next thing that comes to mind.
And I feel really good inside of how it's all coming together. I mean I'm a millionaire with a busking1 kit. I was busking Saturday and Sunday. I made $160 bucks on Sunday. I'm going to donate it to Music City Artist Development, of course, but I was able to be happy with the charity and do that, and also put together a little show myself.
It is a happy life and it's a life that wasn't always happy and it isn't always happy now, but it's seriously making some steps towards Heaven or the real world.
1. A "busking kit" allows street musicians to play, amplify music, and collect donations.
♦ A Cheerleader for All Beings ♦
Her alter-ego was an auditor for the Texas Department of Transportation, but these days Rev. Kim Wilson is a cheerleader for all beings who teaches and counsels from a non-dualistic curriculum. Rev. Kim became the CMC's 85th ordained minister on March 15, 2015 and she is the newest member of the Board, having joined in the summer of 2020, but she is not new to *A Course in Miracles*. She has been a *Course* student for over 15 years and her extensive study of non-dual texts also includes *A Course of Love*, *The Way of Mastery* and *The Sophia Code*. Rev. Kim lives in Texas, sometimes near the Mexico border with her husband Kiko, other times in her northern Texas home in Lubbock.
Rev. Kim Wilson (in her words)
I was raised in Lubbock, Texas in a fundamentalist Church of Christ. At birth they start telling you all about Jesus, and I'm so thankful for that because I always had Jesus' hand to hold on to. He was always my friend and my mentor. He was my golden rule guide. But at 15 I decided, "Well I think I'd rather go to hell than where these people say they're going, because I just don't see it." And then it took me 50 years to realize that while they might have been pretty damn judgmental, I wasn't better than them!
So at 15 I left for Mexico and Central America to find God and learn Spanish. (I'm very fluent now in Spanish.) And I started getting married. I got married and divorced, married and divorced again, and I was like, well this isn't working. I'm going to have to do something else. So I went to Canada and did some traveling.
But in '87 I ended up back in Texas working for the Texas Department of Transportation – TxDOT. And the next year, when I was 33, I went to AA and sobered up. I didn't tell many people that I grew up in a home where my dad had a mental breakdown when I was two and had shock treatments for the next 20 years, and that my family life was pretty shut down. I was so stressed by the time I was four, I was pulling my hair out by the handfuls, and I still pull it out. I have lots of pictures through childhood where I have big bald spots on my head and still, if I get under some kinds of stress, I'll start back up again. I started drinking when I was 13 to cope with the stress, and I drank for the next 20 years.
So at 33 I was seeing a counselor because I was now on my third divorce, and I really wanted to be in a relationship that worked. It was the counselor who said I had to go to AA. So I did, and sobered up. Two years later I met my husband, Kiko, at AA. We got married and had two boys – Wilson in '92 and Randall in '93. But when Randall was about three, Kiko and I divorced. Kiko was still struggling with drinking and was actually in prison when the boys were in junior high and high school. I'm happy to say that both of our boys are doing really well now. Wilson ended up getting three college degrees and works on the coding and design of video games like Red Dead Redemption 2. Randall is an environmental artist for video games like Darksiders.
And Kiko has grown so much since then and so have I! We remarried in 2014.These days we finally understand that we don't have to hash out our grievances with each other. Kiko lives in our home near the border with his mother who is 93, and she doesn't walk. He also helps his brother who is blind.
And I now have a chance to help my mom in Lubbock and work through some issues that I needed to address. I'm thankful she's still here, and I get to do it now. You see, my mom has always been my pet person to blame for everything. And now I'm finally asking if I may have been seeing her wrong all this time. But I still get triggered. As a child I was frightened of my mother. Even now, if I get real close to her, I know she's not going to hit me, but I was so used to that when we were younger, I can still get triggered. When you get hit by anybody it does something, I don't know what it does, but it's just some kind of thing that becomes something we need to look at and embrace. We need to let that abuser have their feelings. Let them say any words they want, and know it doesn't have to affect you. I'm thankful I get to begin the healing process with my mom.
And with myself, I had a major surgery in 2012. I had endometrial cancer, and I had surgery in between getting my sons off to college. Then I was getting my dad and mom help. Within six months we'd sold three houses and moved. It's taken me eight years to finally follow up on my cancer surgery. I just have to remember who I am, and that I am unlimited. I am the light. I'm a child of the light, and that's what I'm called to do.
My goal is by my birthday, which is September 9th, I'm going to come out and stand up and be somebody. I'm not going to hide and wait for: when I'm really good at it, or when I'm really perfect, or when I won't get it wrong, or whatever. I'm just going to look to Spirit and be led and go for it.
All of these experiences I've had really help me understand the struggles and pain that others go through. And just like everyone else, I'm still a work in progress. These days I am also involved with a couple of different things with the Teachers of God Foundation and it's helping me in leaps and bounds as I move into my new role as a Board member with the CMC. I've also worked with other organizations at different times, just a little bit here and there. I'm involved with Astrology Unplugged, with Rick DiClemente out of Philadelphia, and I speak on his show sometimes.
But the reason I'm a CMC Board member, and so passionate about the CMC, is because of its inclusivity. There's no editing of anything. When I did my ordination talk, no one edited it. I mean, we do go over it and kind of know what we're going to say, but nobody edits out what we say. I appreciate that. I think everybody has a right to that.
I also wanted to be involved in a bigger way with A Course in Miracles community now that I've retired, and Daddy has died, and Mom's now come to a point where she has full-time help. That means I now have the time to share myself and step out into the community in a bigger way with more reading, writing, and studying ACIM and ACOL.
And, it's interesting that even though I've retired, what I did as an auditor for 25 years is helping my practice of A Course in Miracles. Most people think of auditors as going over books and financial records. But I was an auditor for policy and procedure. That's looking at how your practice aligns with what you say are your values and procedures. In many ways it is like the questions we ask ourselves as we study the Course. Are we in alignment?
Another reason I agreed to serve on the Board is because the CMC, as a Board, operates in alignment with the lessons of A Course in Miracles. In 2007 I went to my first CMC ACIM conference and that's when I just fell in love with the perfection that Rev. Tony brought to the conference. I've been to a lot of conferences. I've worked for a lot of places that had conferences and worked on them, but he was just so attentive to detail when it came to the food and the customer service. What's more, everybody working on the conference had a voice. Anybody have a problem? We're going to talk, and fix, and do what we can. There's not going to be anything that's left undone. It was a great conference. It was enjoyable, it was peaceful, and I felt it was really inclusive. I'd like to see us continue organizing conferences throughout the world. And maybe the changes that have come with Covid-19 will help with that. Zoom allows us to connect wherever we are.
♦ A Doctor and a Practice of Healing ♦
You'll soon have to call him Dr. Vincent! Rev. Vincent Fuqua was the CMC's 51st minister, ordained in 2004, and he recently completed a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology! It's all part of a life of dedication to helping others rise above meaningless stereotypes to find their true identity and a sense of beauty and peace. It helps inform his outreach to communities of color in his work as a Health Program Coordinator with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. He counsels young people and reminds them of how amazing and beautiful they are. Since 2010 he's served on the CMC Board to help bring its message of health and healing to the world.
Rev. Vincent Fuqua (in his words)
We all have our different take on how we go about the A Course in Miracles, and the Community Miracles Center allows different points of view. You can see that if you listen to the talks that Rev. Tony gives, that Rev. Peter gives, and that I give. You can see how we each have our own way of how we use the Course. For me, one of the great things about the Community Miracles Center is that it has allowed me to evolve in a way where I can integrate race into the Course and talk about how it has helped me deal with a society that exists with racism and homophobia. Having the Community Miracles Center give us a platform to discuss how we go about working through our life experiences from a Course perspective has been great.
The other thing is, which is very interesting, is that people think that the people on the Board always agree with each other, and we don't. Trust me. We have different takes on how we see things, and it's okay. We still love each other, and it's okay to not agree with one another, because we all come from our own perspective of how it impacts us.
I grew up Baptist. My family was very Christian, and we used to have to go to Sunday service and Sunday school. But I lost sight of it when I decided to leave Southern California, where I'm originally from, to come to Northern California. During that time I sort of let go of my spirituality. I just didn't go to church, for years. And then suddenly something told me that I needed to find it back again, to get in touch with something that I always thought was part of who I was, but had lost for many, many years.
My journey to A Course in Miracles came through Rev. Peter. We used to be partners, and when we first met, he used to talk about "his class" and I'm like, "What are you talking about?" And then he invited me to a Sunday service, and the minute that I went, I knew that's where I was supposed to be. I had been searching for a spiritual practice that would allow me to be true to myself and not make me feel like I have to hide who I am. Rev. Larry Bedini was speaking, and it was just something about the way he was talking about his own life experience and how the Course had helped him see things differently that made it so welcoming to be there. And then to be able to comment after he spoke? I'm like, "Wait a minute. You can't talk after a minister speaks. What are you talking about? You've got to be quiet. You don't say anything." It was totally different from what I was used to.
I kept going every Sunday and when they talked about starting a class in January I was guided to take it. And before you knew it, two years later, I became a minister, which was nowhere on my radar, not at all, but I just love the message of the A Course in Miracles.
I remember during my second year of study, Rev Larry said, "I want you to get up and do a prayer." I'm like, "What do you mean get up and do a prayer?" He's like, "Nope, just get up." So I did my first prayer and he was so supportive. And then they had me do more readings, and the more I read the more it resonated with me. And then when I had to do my first sermon, when I became a minister, it just blew me away.
I've had my challenges with A Course in Miracles, especially the whole thing about not being a victim and how to work through forgiveness when people cause harm to you, but I've evolved in a way that I never thought possible.
It's also interesting how it fits with my background in public health. I work for the San Francisco Department of Public Health and for many years, I did a lot of prevention work around HIV and AIDS. And that led to me doing more work as a Health Program Coordinator focusing on health disparities among African Americans here in the city. Right now I'm also the Covid Health Equity officer. Because I had a public health background and a bachelor's degree in psychology, I decided to pursue a master's in psychology, and I recently got my doctorate in clinical psychology. It's been interesting to be able to have a spiritual practice that I can integrate into my public health work and also into my counseling work.
A Course in Miracles has really helped me, as I've worked with so many different people and communities and organizations. I've learned how to forgive, learned how to let go of my grievances, learned how to recognize the reason why I'm upset or not upset, and the anger that comes up in me regarding how some decisions are made. It allows me to see things differently. Right now, for the therapy part of my doctorate, I'm working with young kids, helping them see how wonderful they actually are, and that they are not the label that people put on them.
My vision for the CMC is for us to continue to get more and more involved in communities, because I just love the message of A Course in Miracles. I'd also like to see the CMC present at other spiritual conferences to share our message of inclusivity and how we can use the message of the Course to help people who appear to not have as much privilege, to help build their confidence in themselves, and see how actually incredible and beautiful they are. And that even though our society puts these labels on us, it doesn't mean that's who we are. I'd like to be able to take this message to a level that we never thought possible. To be able to do that would be remarkable.
♦ The Football Player ♦
And not just any football player. Rev. Peter Graham was an offensive lineman and his experience on the football field still shapes his outlook today. Rev. Peter is the CMC's 40th minister, ordained in 2002. The lessons he learned from football – about teamwork, dedication, and the "eye in the sky" have helped him lead the CMC as a member of the Board since 2010. He's also a thoughtful, theological scholar with a broad background in progressive theology and a desire to bring the life lessons of *A Course in Miracles* to the students he works with every day as a high school special education teacher and to those who come to the *Course* through the CMC.
Rev. Peter Graham (in his words)
We all come from different backgrounds. I grew up in a working class, blue collar town. What do you do in that setting in the ‘70s? You play football! My grandfather played college football for Rutgers University, and I think I got his genes. By the time I got to high school, I realized I was pretty good. I became captain of the team as a senior when we won the state championship, and I was recruited to play in college. It was really fun.
And even today, as a member of the CMC Board, that football experience comes back to me. I played offensive guard and defensive lineman and, in football, probably the most cohesive group is the offensive line. It's five guys who have to be working well together for the entire offense to work well. It's humbling, because it's a very hard position to make work well. The work is grueling in terms of the practices. There's a lot of coordination that has to go on and teamwork is really important. You have to get along, and you have to actually work to get along with your teammates. It's funny because in college most football players were conservative Republicans, and I was a liberal Democrat at the time. So we all had to learn to work with people who had different ideas than we did. It's also one of those positions where you're not the quarterback, and you're not the star. You have to buy into the idea that success is all about teamwork, not you.
I think I learned from football that to be successful takes hard work and commitment, and that you can't just be a passive member of an organization. You have to lead by example, and you demonstrate a lot through your actions as opposed to what you say. This means it's up to you to step up to get things done, and that you always have to remember that people you're working with are just as important as you.
Football is also humbling for another reason. Because our teams were successful, we won a lot. And just because you won a game, you might think, "Oh, man, I played really well that game." But in football, there's a lot of accountability, because afterward you go and you watch the film of the game. Your coach is there critiquing you, and you get a score. And you're sometimes left thinking, "I thought I played much better than that." We had this expression. We'd say, "The eye in the sky does not lie."
To me that's like the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sees everything and there is a sense of accountability. It's also very transparent. I think that's something else I've learned from football that applies to the CMC Board. Rev. Tony sets a standard on this. He tries to be open and transparent and talks about his own life experiences that way. And sometimes on the Board, we deal with difficult issues that people are passionate about and people get offended. One way or the other, we've had to work through those issues, and we have. There is a tone on the Board that people are encouraged to speak up and share their point of view. Whatever happens with an idea or a conflict, we work through it, and then we move on. As a Board, we are putting A Course in Miracles into practice. We don't hold onto a grudge if something doesn't go our way.
In that sense, I like the metaphor of the CMC as an umbrella, because I do think we have a long history of openness to new folks, new voices, and to people who are just learning. Our conferences are expressions of that. Rev.Tony really tries to get different voices at the conferences, different perspectives, people with different experiences and maybe even different interpretations of A Course in Miracles. A great example is when Gary Renard was under assault because some didn't like his message in his book, The Disappearance of the Universe. I'm a little bit of a purist and I like the Ken Wapnick, Gary Renard point of view of the Course. Rev. Tony and, at the time Rev Larry, listened to the opposing views and heard them out. But in the end they said, "We've traditionally heard all voices. He has the right to speak like anyone else." I was really proud of that.
I also bring a love of theology to the Board. I was raised Catholic and, for me, going to church was something I actually enjoyed. I felt safe in the church growing up. I liked to sing at church when I was younger and it was a positive experience. We all come from different families and my family was a little weak. There was pretty severe alcoholism and I was raised by a single mom. So the church felt like one place I could go that was a safe haven from some of the chaos that I experienced at home.
When I was in church, I really listened to the priests when they gave the talks and sermons. It gave me a good foundation. I often think that if the Catholic Church had been different, allowing priests to marry and including gay people, I think I would probably have become a priest. But as I got older and realized I was gay, I found that the traditional Catholic Church didn't really have a place for that.
So, I started attending an organization called Dignity, and became exposed to what I'll call progressive theology – a broader understanding of a person's experience to God. And it gave me a much different view than the traditional Catholic Church with a different view on salvation through Jesus. We had really good speakers who were either gay priests who had left the Church or been forced out, or just were on the cutting edge of theology. I also looked at mystics and liberation theology, and it brought me to studying Matthew Fox, who had a book out called Original Blessing that turned the concept of original sin around.
I just started reading more and more. One day, when I was on South Street in Philadelphia, where they have a New Age bookstore called Garland of Letters Bookstore, I came across A Course in Miracles. I started reading the lessons and thought, "Oh, wow. This is pretty profound." But when I eventually bought myself a copy, and started doing the lessons, I got depressed. Those first lessons say, "Nothing I see means anything," and I really got confused. But as these things seem to work out, I was visiting a friend in San Francisco when I came across the Community Miracles Center. I told myself then, "If I ever move out here, I'm going to come back and study the Course. And that's what happened. I moved in December of 1999 and started studying in January 2000. I joined the ministry program, and the rest is history.
One of the big issues that you have in coming from an alcoholic home, is you're really cut off from your feelings, and trusting other people is really a precarious situation. So I think you take on an inauthentic self to pass in the world, while you hold onto simmering grievances, hurts, and things like that. I had a real hard time after college. It was one thing being a college student but going out into the professional world and dealing with adults, and the responsibilities of work, and dealing with being gay were other challenges. How do I deal with that?
And then this book came into my life that is all about forgiveness and recognizing that the resentments, and grievances, or judgments and values that helped me through those past experiences, now have to be let go. A Course in Miracles helped me deal with that and really helped me deal with my sense of victimization. I had a tendency to feel like that, especially being a gay man and feeling like an outcast from the church and society. I also couldn't say who I was at the job I had. The Course helped me to get over the sense of victimization that came from all of that. It busted it right out of me. I couldn't stay there. You're really disempowered when you stay there.
I'm now a high school teacher in special education and A Course in Miracles helps me every day just doing the work and really offering up feelings and thoughts whether they are based on experiences or feelings of being angry or upset. For me, A Course in Miracles is a very pure spiritual teaching. And I do think that there's a way to study and practice it that is most beneficial so that your life is happier, you have more peace, and you have more joy. When I give a talk, I try to share that and base my talk on how principles of the Course are operating in the world or in my life. I think that everything that the CMC does, the conferences, the Sunday services, the free drop-in classes, or the paid classes, are all ways we focus on teaching ACIM and helping people to understand how to apply it in their lives.
♦ The Energetic Healer ♦
She's a former Peace Corp volunteer who served in Afghanistan and a former New Yorker who finally left the snow behind after twenty years. But before she left she began the journey that has had her bringing health and healing to others for over fifty years. Rev. Dusa Althea Rammessirsingh is a renowned energetic healer and bodywork professional. She has been an *A Course In Miracles* student for over 27 years, and in 1997 she became the CMC's 21st ordained minister. She joined the Board two years later in 1999 to help bring a message that "feeds the soul" to the world.
Rev. Dusa Althea Rammessirsingh (in her words)
When I first came to this country when I was five, we lived in the Bronx, New York and the first time I saw snow it was wonderful. After that, I hated it. I wanted to leave New York because I could never understand why people would come from the tropical islands and move to New York where it's cold. But I stayed and got my associate's degree in health and wellness. It was while I was working as a secretary at the Women's Institute, which was a program for drug and alcohol abuse, that one of the women said to me, "Why don't you go to massage school?" I did and that was it. I've been a body worker ever since.
I like that with massage you are constantly studying. You can do lymphatic work, you can do osteopathic work, and somebody's always trying to teach you something new. That's because, no matter what, everybody has a new technique. Everybody has a new "cure all" that is going to just do the whole thing. And I still buy new products even though I know in my mind it's crazy. I know their stuff is not going to be a cure all, but I still buy it. I do it because it makes me keep studying anatomy. It keeps me searching and listening to people about their experiences. I'm part of a group of body workers that meets every six months, and we tell each other all about the new techniques we have learned. Then we treat each other. It's a constant learning, and I like that.
But I have to laugh at myself, because I have these big charts that I had laminated of the body, and the arteries, nerves, and the lymph system. I keep them by my bed, but it's not like I look at them every night. I'll say, "Oh, I'm going to look at that every night." And I don't, but I think it doesn't matter. I think the intention keeps my mind going. Even if you don't do something, your intentions move you forward. It's like praying. Just because you pray doesn't mean you're going to get what you want, but you keep doing it anyway. You still pray.
I didn't actually leave New York until I was 27 when I went into the Peace Corp and was sent to Afghanistan. And when I came back from Afghanistan I decided not to go back to New York and the snow. Instead, I moved to California and lived in an apartment around the corner from the Community Miracles Center, but I didn't know about it or even about A Course in Miracles.
For years and years I had been looking for a spiritual practice. I'd try something, but it wouldn't last because a lot of them told you how you had to behave, what you had to do, how you had to sing. It was a lot of that. And even though I liked them, I felt like that's just not for me. And I think I stayed away from religion for such a long time because I was raised Catholic. Being told you're a sinner and you're no good just never resonated with me. By the time I was 15 or 16, I had stopped going to church. In fact, we had actually stopped long before that. When we were little kids, there are eight of us all together, the church wasn't far from where we lived, and we would walk to the church, go in one door and come out the other door. And then when we got home, they would ask, "Did you go to church?" And we'd say, "Yes, Mom." I have two twin sisters, and today neither one of them belongs to any kind of religion.
But I was still looking and a client told me A Course in Miracles was really interesting and a good spiritual practice. So I started going just once a month to the First Friday Healing Circle led by Rev. Tony. The first thing that got me was you didn't have to believe in God. I don't believe in God; I don't care if there is a God. Maybe that comes from being raised Catholic where everything was about sin, and I needed to move away from it. So I just said, I didn't believe. But A Course in Miracles says you didn't have to believe in it. It says that very early on. And I know it's true because I see things work out as they should. I don't want to be told things like you're a sinner or that's wrong. We make mistakes and correct them. Right? And that's what the Course says. It's not as limiting to your thought process as most religions are. It's not at all. At least it doesn't feel that way to me.
Eventually I started going to the Sunday service. And it was after that I was asked to join the Board. And in all the years I have been on the Board, I can say that we bring the same openness and non-judgment to our Board meetings. I'm not saying we don't have conflicts and that people always agree with everything, but if we don't agree, we put off decisions until another time, and we keep discussing it. We work to apply the principles of A Course in Miracles to how we work together as a Board and how we guide the CMC.
You can tell that from our conferences. The teachers all have their own grasp of what A Course in Miracles is. It isn't like Catholicism where you've got to say this and believe that. For example, I have a brother who's a Jehovah Witness. I have a sister who's a born-again Christian. My brother goes on and on about Jehovah. And ACIM has given me the grace to not get upset about it and he feels honored that I can listen to him without being angry or upset. The message of the Course is that everyone is allowed to have what feeds their soul. That's what we all need. Everybody needs to have something that feeds their soul and their spiritual being. And whatever it is, it's okay with me. They don't have to do what I do.
Now A Course in Miracles is just part of my life. ACIM has given me the spiritual practice I was looking for. Now I want it to reach more people and help them, too.
♦ A Life of Service ♦
He served our country in Vietnam and knows first-hand about the struggle returning vets can face with PTSD and alcoholism. He knows that the feeling of belonging to a community is an important part of healing. For over 30 years Rev. Tedosio Samora has dedicated himself to bringing that sense of community to others. He's one of "the originals." In 1990 Rev. Ted became the CMC's 6th ordained minister, then 20 years later joined the Board in 2010. Now he helps the CMC bring the healing message of *A Course in Miracles* to the world through; CMC conferences, classes, resources, and outreach.
Rev. Tedosio Samora (in his words)
I served in Vietnam War and the reason I joined is because my dad was in World War II, and I told myself, if my dad could serve in a war, I can too. I have five brothers and all of us joined, and we all went to Vietnam at different times. I don't know how my mother lasted or understood it, but I know she did the rosary every night. You know, she was a profound Catholic and, even to this day, once in a while, I'll do the rosary in memory of my mom.
Of course, when me and my brothers all came back, we all came back messed up in the head. We had post-traumatic stress, and we all did drugs. I moved to the Bay Area and got a job at a VA hospital as a nursing assistant taking care of psychiatric veterans. I worked there for a few years and I was going to Foothill Junior College, but I never finished, because I got the job I'd always wanted at Stanford University doing work as a computer technician. And even though I was drinking and suffering with post-traumatic stress, I was somehow able to handle myself. Eventually I thought that because I was a computer cechnician I could find a better job. So I quit my job at Stanford, moved to San Francisco, and found a new job. But I was a drunk. I rented a place right next to a bar that I went to almost every night. Somehow I kept my job and I was still making good money, but eventually I had my fall with alcohol, and that's when I decided to get help.
Before the fall, I was doing spiritual stuff, but it hadn't been helping. I went to different organizations, but they all were not for me. There were some bad ones that I joined, and there were some good ones that I left. But, I was still looking. When I finally I went to AA and got sober, I wanted to find something that fit me spiritually.
As it happened, one day I was walking on Haight Street and saw this blue book that said, A Course in Miracles. To me it felt like I was led there by the heartfelt part of AA to find this new blue book. It wasn't the first time I'd seen it. When I'd seen it earlier at a book fair, I looked at it and I thought, "This is nothing but a cult." I threw it back to where it was at the book fair. But this time, when I saw the book again, I had a feeling that somehow I was led to it. So I walked up on Haight and Ashbury where the Community Miracles Center started, walked upstairs, met Rev. Larry and Rev. Tony and bought the book. But I did not understand it. It was very hard for me. Then I thought about how Rev. Tony and Rev. Larry had classes, and I joined.
So I was one of the originals at the CMC. We go back 30 plus years. When I first started going, it was a very simple group: Rev. Larry, Rev. Tony, a couple of others and me. Then it grew to 10, and then it grew and kept growing. I wasn't always too happy about that, but I am now. After Rev. Larry died in 2010, Rev. Tony wanted help in making decisions for the CMC and, since I was the longest there, he asked if I wanted to become a Board member. I said "Yes," and even though I disagree sometimes with Rev. Tony, it always goes to a vote of the Board of Directors and we make our decision there. The Board is what runs the Community Miracles Center and that's what I like about it. We're a community. I know that some members of the Board call it a church, but I call it a community.
I'm very proud of the Community Miracles Center. I like that we are open to other spiritual paths and that our bookstore sells books that are complementary to such as The Way of Mastery. I remember at first we didn't want those other books. But we discussed it as a Board and finally agreed to embrace other spiritual disciplines that have come out of A Course in Miracles. Different books speak to different people. I have books at home I like such as A Call to Awaken and Love Does Not Condemn. The Urantia Book was one that I read and found very interesting because it describes the universe.
As far as the future? One thing I like about the CMC is its openness. We get along, and I'm very happy that the Holy Spirit has kept us together for a long time. And I think the CMC will become even bigger because of the conferences we have. I remember going to the first retreat way back when I first joined. Originally the CMC had just six members, and now at some conferences we have 450 or 500 people attending. I'm proud of that. And I'm proud of the ministers we have who teach classes and help spread the word.
♦ A Lifetime of Supporting Brotherhood and Unity ♦
With a background in restaurant management, an Ivy League education, a love of good food, and his extreme attention to detail, he could be running a famous 5-star restaurant. Instead, Rev. Tony Ponticello has dedicated his skills to a life of service and healing by co-founding the CMC in 1987 and bringing the camaraderie of fellowship and the message of *A Course In Miracles* to all. Although already a minister, he specifically wanted to be ordained by the CMC and in 1997 became the CMC's 20th minister. And might it surprise you to learn that he could have had a different career as a tarot card reader or how Ivy League fraternity life prepared him for his life of service? Read on.
Rev. Tony Ponticello (in his words)
I grew up on a farm in upstate New York and the one thing I really liked about church was that on Sunday morning we didn't go down to the farm to work, because we went to church. We took a bath, dressed up, and put on our best clothes. My father didn't go because Italian men, they didn't do that, but my mother and my sisters always went to church, and my mother was always really dressed up and made up with jewelry. She looked pretty, and I liked going to church with my mom. And they would usually have a nice dinner afterward and my mother would cook something special. I thought, "Wow, this is really great. Everybody gets together looking their best, feeling their best, and joins together, and does whatever you do on Sunday morning."
As a result, I have always had a positive association with Sundays and with going to church. That emotional, warm connection is probably something I've been trying to recreate for others ever since. But it didn't have anything to do with the theology. Even from an early age I thought the church's whole view on sex was wrong. I remember in religious instruction, we talked about mortal sin and venal sin. Mortal sin was when you killed somebody. I got that. "Okay, murder, that's really bad." But then we were told that if you kissed a girl with your mouth open and your tongues touched, that was a mortal sin, too. I just knew that wasn't on the same level as murder. So from about age 12, 13 and 14, I backed away because there was nothing there theologically for me to grab onto.
When I went to Cornell University in the early ‘70s, it was a very strong fraternity college, so I pledged a fraternity. The fraternity I pledged was a little different than other fraternities because it wasn't based on Greek letters. The name of the fraternity was Seal and Serpent, and it was based on Hindu and Sanskrit symbols and principles of knowledge and fellowship, and it had been around "forever," even from before Greek fraternities really got their foothold.
But it was still a fraternity. You had 20, 30 young men, teenagers really, living together, and owning substantial property. We owned a big house and a great piece of property right next to Cornell University. It was a big responsibility. You had to manage the taxes and repairs. After I moved into the fraternity I became very involved and in my second or third year there, I was elected president.
As president, I was very much into inspiring the brothers to feel brotherhood. We didn't all always get along, but if there were real conflicts, we brought them up at a meeting, We had monthly meetings of the full brotherhood presided over by the president and run by Robert's Rules of Order. When there were issues, we always went back to our principles of brotherhood and knowledge, wisdom and education. Those were always more important than our personal differences. We were always supposed to remember we were like family, and even though we don't always get along with every member of our family, we always remember that we are family.
There was also a social aspect to fraternity life that I think helped cement that feeling of family. We came together every night for dinner. Every Saturday night was a formal dinner, and we dressed up a little bit. They served wine, you could bring a date, there were candles on the table. It felt special. We also had a lot of social events like: movie runs, parties, picnics, and outings. Sometimes we'd hire a band and roll up the carpet and have a dance. So I had imprinted on me a belief that while you can have your organization and your principles, you also need to socialize and celebrate together.
When you step back and look at it, I have tried to bring the best of all of that to the CMC including this idea of coming together on Sundays, of brotherhood, of diverse people working together like family, and of having meals together, and fun together, and celebrations.
And probably something else has influenced me. I'm a very social person and probably a pretty tribal person, but I try to rise above tribe because tribe can also be a problem when it holds you back. But I was raised in a small upstate New York farming town with a lot of Italians in it and everybody was very expressive and emotive, and we joined together a lot. I always knew the power, and the joy, of joining with like-minded people. In the fraternity maybe it was just about sharing the ownership of the home and the idea that we're here to make sure we've all got a place to live and food to eat and to support us in getting through Cornell University.
But with the CMC, we're here to support each other studying A Course In Miracles, and coming together helps us do that, because it's just healing to come together. I sort of knew that intuitively, and I wanted to be part of an organization that did that. I don't know if I particularly wanted to have a church per se, except that I had no resistance to the idea of church. It just seemed to me that "church" was the governmental, social structure that was provided by law to help people come together, especially if you want to help others and counsel. So I had no problem with it and just said, "Let's do it." And I'm really proud of how it has worked out.
A few years after I moved to San Francisco, I was involved in helping others deal with HIV and AIDS. Louise Hay was big then. I think I saw myself as part of a big movement in metaphysical and spiritual healing that was going on partly in response to the AIDS crisis, but I always thought it was broader than that. I didn't think of ministering to just gay people, but I thought A Course in Miracles presented some real alternatives and hope for all kinds of healing.
The CMC started small, but always with a Sunday gathering and social events. Every month there was a pizza party, or a potluck, or a "Let's all go out to the movies" night. There was always this idea of a social network, or social community with your fellow A Course in Miracles students. As a former fraternity president, I saw the advantage of social family, community, tribe, whatever, and I'd had a lot of training in that. I had a lot of training in something else too, food service and catering. In my fraternity, in my senior year, I became the steward who was the person who ran the kitchen. The steward was one of the few paid positions that the fraternity offered, and it paid in the sense that you got free board, and you didn't have to pay for food. But it was a lot of work. The steward had to hire the cook, arrange the dishwashers, plan the menus, and order the food. So I managed the kitchen and did such a good job at it that they hired me after I graduated as both the steward and the cook while I looked for a permanent job. Plus I got free room and board for me and my girlfriend.
At the end of a year I had really solid restaurant experience and got into restaurant management. For the next four years I was kind of a hippie restaurant manager. I worked 25 hours a week, I lived out in the country, I baked sourdough bread, smoked marijuana, listened to a lot of music, and went camping. I also read tarot cards. It had started in high school when I read a science fiction book called Nova that had a prophetic tarot card reading in the middle of the book. Something just really spoke to me about that. So I went to Syracuse University where I knew they had alternative bookstores to find a tarot deck. It's the same deck I use today.
Not everyone knows that tarot cards are part of a metaphysical thought system. You relate to the world like a dream and the tarot cards that you're reading are part of that dream and are interconnected with everything else that's going on in that dream. That's why they're prophetic, because everything is connected. I just knew that was true. So I became a tarot card reader as kind of a pastime. I did it at my fraternity house. I read tarot cards for the brothers. I also did it when we were doing a mixer at rush when we were attracting new members. It was a pretty fun thing to do on a date, too. You never knew when a girl might be impressed and might even come back to your room to "get her cards read."
I'd also been exploring different spiritual texts. I read Carlos Castaneda books and then the Seth material. I started getting into the Tao Te Ching and writings of Zhuang Zhou who was a teacher of the Tao a couple centuries after Lao Tzu. Then I read the the Bhagavad Gita, and I tried to get a smidgen of all the major world religions. I never did read the Quran though, so I missed that one. Anyway, suddenly I was just in this milieu of reading all these books and New Age spiritual things. I read the teachings of Stephen Gaskin, the San Francisco hippie who went and did The Farm down in Tennessee, and he was really into a new view of Jesus.
Then one year we had this really severe winter in upstate New York where it was just so cold, and after maybe a month of it not getting above 5 or 10 degrees, I just said, "I've got to get out of here." It was in the middle of winter, it was around Christmastime and I had one of my first experiences of really getting a clear message from something Divine, and It said clearly, "This environment is not conducive to human life." That was the guidance. Then I got a postcard from my friend Mike who lived in San Francisco and he said, "It's like 65 degrees, and I'm at the beach." That's when I said, "That's it, I'm moving." So I created a plan that by the end of August I would be in San Francisco. And that's what I did. I packed everything up and got rid of all my possessions, got down to two suitcases and a backpack, and flew out of there. That was over forty years ago.
Now my vision is that the CMC continue to be there for the people who are guided to participate and for those students who want other A Course in Miracles students to study with, interact with, socialize with, and learn with. I hope post-Covid that we will continue to do that, but maybe it will be in a broader, different way. The current situation with the pandemic has been interesting and difficult, but maybe this little reset will be good because it kind of shook us out of our more entrenched positions and maybe now we'll be more open to doing new things and bringing the Course to people in new ways.
I see the field and the discipline as very broad because not everybody relates to A Course in Miracles in the same way. I want, as I always have, for the Community Miracles Center to be a vehicle for other people and their voices, and their messages. I want ACIM students to know they have a home here and that they have support. I want them to know that they have something here they can connect with to be happy and to feel love and joy and warmth and light.
That's important because while people try to intellectually understand the A Course in Miracles, in my view, intellectual understanding comes with time, and it varies, but I don't think it's the goal. If you stick with the material long enough and you keep studying it and reading it, going to meetings and classes, and doing the workbook lessons, you'll understand it eventually. You don't even have to be concerned about eventually understanding it, because you just can't avoid it. So I'm not that much concerned with getting people to intellectually understand A Course in Miracles. I'm more concerned with keeping people motivated to stay engaged. If they stay engaged because they feel a sense of love, and connection, and joy, they'll get the intellectual understanding that they need to get when it's time for them to get it.
I also have a strong personal focus on healing. I think people need know that healing is real and practical and that you can manifest it in your life, which probably means in your body as well. I understand not everybody relates to A Course in Miracles that way, but I think in order to really feel joy, you've got to be able to relax and know that whatever happens, somehow you're going to be okay through it. It's that Course quote, "God wants us to be healed, and we do not really want to be sick, because it makes us unhappy." (OrEd.WkBk.70.6) To me it means a happy mind manifests a healed body. I believe that, and I want to be a mouthpiece for that message.
But I also want to be in community with other people who have a different message because all of the ways of approaching A Course in Miracles are valuable, and I can't know what anybody else's path is. We're all Miracles students and my vision is to keep finding new ways for us to join together.
♦ A Gentle Invitation – An Open Door ♦
Thirty-four years ago the Community Miracles Center began as a way to serve the disenfranchised, the seekers and the searchers. Its welcoming door is still open. If you are a person who, above all else, wants to make up his or her own mind, if you are a seeker of the secret to what makes the world work and how to find your place in it, if you believe or hope that in a gathering of open-minded and accepting friends you can find your spiritual community, the Community Miracles Center welcomes you. ♥
Rev. Deb Canja is CMC's 122nd minister. She was ordained by the CMC on Aug. 23, 2020.
c/o Community Miracles Center
San Francisco, CA 94147
This article appeared in the October 2020 (Vol. 34 No. 8) 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.