Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

My Photo
Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What it's Like to Have Everything

Westfield Shopping Center has opened on Market Street, San Francisco, where the Emporium department store used to be. The famous dome is preserved, hovering over a large open spaced living room-lounge with maroon chairs, couches and tables for shoppers to rest, read and chat. It is a rather pleasant place. The new center is anchored by Bloomingdale's, which looks very shiny, and new, glittery I’d say. Also there are other stores. I wandered around, peeking in here and there and realize now I cannot remember the names of any of them. So much for signage. The new center is connected to the San Francisco Shopping center dominated by Nordstrom. I walked over to that mall too.

I did not buy one item, I was not even tempted. I have everything I need and there are few things that I want. Ann and I own our own home, have two cars, computers, printers, stereos, cds, TV, couches, chairs, lamps, a collection of paintings and photographs, lots of books, cookware, silver, china, glassware and plenty of clothes and shoes. I am sure I have left out things I can’t even think of now. My children and close friends have all they need, they don’t need me to buy them things. For Christmas we give the family perishables – things they can eat, drink or use up like candles. I give the children money.

By the way, let me say I am very thankful that I have all the possessions I want and need. I feel fortunate to have the money, property and possessions I do. My parents lived well and had fewer items of necessity and even fewer luxuries. They were starting their marriage and family just as the depression of the 1930’s hit. They never owned a home, had a mortgage, a stock or a bond but had a few debts.

Recreational shopping is what my mother did, but she bought little. She dressed well, wore hats and gloves, but never had a fur coat or real jewelry and never complained about it. She went shopping on Thursday nights in New York because that was the only night stores were open in those days. Even I rather enjoy looking in shop widows and cruising a store or a shop just to look. Walking along Union Street in San Francisco is like going to an outdoor museum. Jewelry, antiques, specialty stores line the streets and delight the eye.

The cutesy slogan “Shop ‘til you drop” sickens me. It screams empty meaningless lives bereft of books, museums, fine music, religion and culture. The passion to shop as creative activity makes me wonder what inner spirit and reflection on life these good people have? Stores seem packed with buyers who don’t need anything; they have enough not to have to shop for a year at least except for food and drink.

Churches, museums, theaters, music and dance have their hands out all the time begging for money. People spend money for more and more stuff, stuff they don’t need, just think they want.

I have heard of a wealthy couple living in a posh neighborhood in a lavish home who never pass up a give-away. Drawers and closets are jammed with samples, cut rate drugs, cereals, peanuts in bags from airline flights, packages of soy sauce, chop sticks, aspirin packets and on and on. The desire to have and hold and keep and accumulate drives some people to distraction. I notice that many street people push shopping carts, sometimes two, stacked full of stuff.

Another evidence of accumulation is garage or tag sales. Periodically, folks have sales where they put out stuff they no longer want or need. It decorates the streets of cities and towns on weekends. In San Francisco, these sales are so wasteful of time and don’t bring in much money. Now people put a chair on the sidewalk with a sign reading Free, Please Take. I do think these sales may be good for community building.

Is it my imagination or is one new growth industry storage spaces, big buildings where one can rent a roomette or large closet just to put stuff that the house can no longer hold?

The temptations to shop and spend are all around us. The lavish ads in newspapers, magazines and TV are virtually inescapable. The pre-Christmas catalogues started coming in October. The gorgeous pictures of food, clothes and handsome stuff beguile us.

I wonder what goes on inside people who have this need to accumulate? Do we feel empty inside so we fill that space with stuff? Do we have a sense of loss and think it will go away if we shop and find something to buy and carry home? Will the sense of loss go away with the purchase of new shoes? Most of us fear death in some way or other, do we think that fear will diminish if we go shopping? Is our sense of self worth so deficient that a new purchase will make us feel better about ourselves? I wonder how many people with really full and nurturing sex lives shop much? I’ll bet that compulsive shoppers have lousy sex lives. I also wonder if people who have fulfilling jobs shop much? My guess is that people who work serving others are not accumulators.

Often a part of religious life is taking a vow of poverty. It means that the person dedicates their life to God and service of others. Basic needs of food, clothing, and transportation are provided by the church, convent or monastery so that the person may go about doing good.

A secular vow of poverty can go like this. We do our best to live our lives unattached to the goods and products of the world. We control our stuff, it does not control us. We have what we need to make us happy and comfortable and give lots of money to help others, especially those in need.

There are people who justify buying lots of stuff by pointing out that the activity helps the economy. People create, manufacture, promote and sell things. They have jobs, earn money for food, clothing and the necessities and pleasures of life. My question to them is what is this vast accumulation of stuff doing to this planet earth our island home? What are the battery acids doing to our water tables? What damage to the earth are all those plastic bags doing? What of the waste of trees with paper bags, catalogues and wrapping paper and the resulting damage to the air of fewer green trees?

Perhaps shopping is like sex, the more you get the more you want.

Monday, November 13, 2006

So You Want to Get Married

Marital and Pre-Marital Counseling

I have done pre-marital counseling for many years as a Marriage Family Therapist and a priest of the Episcopal Church. I have published the content of the counseling in a short book that will help people find tips for preparing people for marriage and helping clergy and counselors conduct pre-marital sessions.
You can download it into your computer or purchase it as a paperback book. Go to:, type in the name So You Want to Get Married and you can order it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Against the Wars

How to Preach Against the Present U.S. Wars

Few sermons are preached opposing the present wars waged by the American Government in Afghanistan and Iraq. Doubtless many clergy oppose these wars. Many Episcopal lay people also oppose the war.

Our baptismal covenant calls all of us, clergy and laypeople “….to strive for justice and peace among all people.” Jesus calls us to be examples of redemptive love and forgiveness. We even call Jesus the Prince of Peace.

We Christians know we are to be peaceful people and makers of peace. We also know that many Episcopalians and other Christians are soldiers, warriors and defenders of the country. Many Episcopalians support the present wars, many in our own parishes. Yet it is imperative that preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ speak against the present war, the violence against civilians, the ravaging of homes and cities. Many in the church yearn for the clergy to be moral and spiritual leaders and guide their thinking on ethical issues.

How can we preach against the war and not offend some people, lose members and money and split our congregations? It can be done.

It begins with trust. We can tell our people our fears. Be up front and say, “I am afraid my opposition to the present wars will make some people leave and the parish will lose money.”

We need to trust our congregations to be thoughtful, reasonable and loving people despite the variety of opinions they may hold. We can trust them to listen, be persuaded toward peace or for whatever reason remain firm in their positions supporting the wars. We must trust ourselves to know what we believe and set it before others fairly and without rancor. We also must not fear our strongest convictions; they may very well be what the spirit is calling us to say.

Share with your people that you are opposed to the war. Make sure you indicate that you know others have different opinions and you are open to discuss them. Opposing the war does not have too be a matter of right or wrong. It is a matter that as a preacher and a person you are a peacemaker and oppose violence as the way to peace. It is a matter open for discussion.

One preacher said it this way; “I hope that the fact that I am opposed to this war will not mean I cannot serve you as your pastor. I do understand pain, grief and death…Pastoral care will not be dependent on how I feel about the wars.”

Even after all that, some parishioners may leave and some money might be gone too. Perhaps, others will admire our courage and join the church and replenish the money. Another benefit of prophetic preaching is that it opens the way for discussion and study groups on peace and other issues of social justice.

I wonder what the country would look like if the clergy and lay leadership of our church spoke openly and honestly opposition to war and tackling real peacemaking?

(Some of the ideas in this article are taken from Rebecca Zartman’s article in the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Easter and Pentecost Quarterly.)