Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Letter Printed in The Living Church

The present controversy about the authority of scripture, and authority with some African and American conservatives against the Episcopal Church, USA, is familiar to us older Episcopalians. In the 1940s to 60's the high church party and the low church groups battled about the authority of scripture, who is more Roman than thou and surplices versus chasubles. The church has always been "messy" about all kinds of things. Since all church is local, our parish churches get along nicely without a lot of bother about what Bishops here and there fight about.

RWC

Monday, July 30, 2007

BELLY DANCING

Monday, July 30, 2007

Instead of church yesterday, we journeyed across the Bay Bridge to San Leandro and the Belly Dance Festival. Go to www.tatseena.com/festival.htm. for some pictures and the schedule. Some eighty dance groups performed, we saw about a dozen. Belly dancing started as a way to train women’s muscles to prepare for delivering babies. Women of all sizes, shapes, colors, races, weights and lengths partook. The costumes are varied and colorful in the extreme. There is no nudity but it is astonishing what these dancers can do with their chests, bellies, hips, bottoms, arms and hands all at once. Like all fine dancing there is control, being able to move all parts of the body keeping the heads still and straight. We had a good Moroccan chicken and couscous lunch there as well.

Belly dancing is wonderful exercise and stretching, movement and rhythm. The stamina of constant movement for ten or fifteen minutes is impressive and healthy. The beauty of the women’s bodies was wondrous to behold. Most of the dancers were bare from just below their beasts to just above their pubes. The navel was a shadow eye peering out at us in the audience. Many of the costumes were bare backed with a bra strap showing and exposing a delightful expanse of flesh reminding us that our backs are fleshy and beautiful too.

Many of the dancers were large to fat. The jiggle of the larger bellies give a charming extra ripple to the vigorous to gentle movements of the dancers. I thought what a wonderful opportunity for large women to get exercise, learn to dance, enjoy showing their bodies and having a sense of their own beauty eschewing the style of most women. The large dancers showed they loved heir bodies and were not afraid to let us know they were proud women.

Not only large women but small and thin women also danced and moved their bodies with grace and vigor along with the more average sized women. They all showed off their bodies and their dancing skill without shame or embarrassment. It may take a while for beginners to get that sense of freedom and joy in their bodies but it is worth having..

Features of many of the dancers are hand cymbals. Clicking and dinging as the women dance. Keeping the rhythm and movement and sound all at once are fine talents and give a pleasing sound to the dance movements. Then there are the ululations, high pitched voice sounds giving a version of applause, approval and encouragement to each other.

Not only do the dancers have to learn to move and control their own bodies, they must coordinate and dance as a corps de ballet in sync with two to a dozen other dancers in their troop. The routines of the groups are indeed complex and varied. Many hours of practice are in evidence as the women perform.

The costumes are so very colorful and varied. Fringe, sequins, scarves, hats, flowers veils, sometimes boots and shoes although most danced barefoot. Greens, yellows, reds, browns, blacks, whites blare out from most of the dance troops costumes.

The most striking dancers were not the ones with the most beautiful bodies but the ones who changed their facial expressions along with the mood of the movement, intensity of the rhythm and swoops of the arms, legs and hands. Dancers with fixed smiles or serious miens were not as interesting to watch.

The music is that rather whiny Middle Eastern music with strong drumbeats and sinewy sounds that are piercing and relentless. Reed instruments and strings fill out the sounds.

There is an initial sexy air as we watch the dancers then after a while it moves to a place of appreciation and happiness. Occasionally a particular dancer will catch my attention by the beauty and of her body, the look on her face that appears seductive. The erotic charge is pleasant but not pervasive.

Belly dancing is fun to watch, has a mysterious air and is a wonderful revelation of what the human body can do and be.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Words by Kilmer Myers and Emil Brunner

Christians are used to thinking with certain guidelines or laws like the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Those ideas are the bases for Christian morality. Others also have given us lists of similar items to think about. C. Kilmer Myers Bishop of California left office in 1979. He wrote that (Jesus) was the one program of the church. He quoted Kaseman, Perspectives on Paul, p. 53. (That is the only citation I have for this.) This appeared in the Pacific Churchnews, December 1979.

Who is Jesus? What did he want? In his own day?
1. He did not belong to the religious or social establishment.
2. He was neither a priest nor a theologian of his own day.
3. He was not with the rulers of his time –they in fact murdered him.
4. He possessed a unique faith and an astonishing intimate way of prayer.
5. He had an entirely new attitude toward God and humankind that infuriated the leadership of church and nation.
6. He proposed a radical change in the inner life of persons and institutions.
7. He put people and even animals ahead of laws.
8. He died (quite unlike Socrates, Buddha or Mohamed) a scandalous, senseless, brutal death abandoned by his friends and even God.
9. He was the only human person ever raised up from death to a new life beyond space and time thereby satisfying both.
10. He, a man, is like God, a mystery. Yet God indeed desired, willed, to become enfleshed in him.
11. As always he pointed a way from himself; he was for others.
12. 12 When all is said, when the assessments and appraisements are all in, he remains fathomless.

What did he want? Of me? You sisters and brothers, take it from here.

Love - +Kilmer

Emil Brunner, renowned Protestant theologian of the early twentieth century, said secular nations should be held to standards of order and conduct. These are:

1. The equal dignity of all human beings,
2. Respect for human life.
3. Acknowledgement of the solidarity for good and evil of all nations and races of the earth.
4. Respect for the pledged word.
5. Recognition that power of any kind, political or economic, must be coextensive with responsibility.

Would that the present incumbent had some theological knowledge to back up his alleged piety.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Spirituality Bunk

As I have said many times I fear the development of the notion of spirituality has been a way to avoid the religious person’s contact and involvement with the issues of the world, social action, justice and radical change. It doesn’t have to be that way as the great social leaders like King, Tutu, Dorothy Day, Dom Helder Camera, slain Archbishop Rivera had and have a strong life of prayer that they say sustain them.

My prayer life has always been haphazard. I have tried to meditate in many ways and settings and fall asleep, think of sex or when can the damned silence end? Mike Murphy, founder of Esalen Institute has said people are meditating all the time and don’t necessarily call it that.

There is a great emphasis these days on the virtues of silence, emptying the mind and quieting the “monkey mind.” Who says god does not speak to us through the monkey mind? There is the line in the Old Testament about hearing God’s still soft voice. I had an OT professor that translated that as a “crashing stillness.” What I get from quieting my mind and silence is sleep. I have friends who testify about the “high” they get by meditating and having almost out of the body experiences. I rejoice for them but that is not for me nor for many people who just are not wired to pray and meditate in that particular and peculiar way.

I like a lot of time alone and do a certain amount of staring off into space and just let my thoughts flow. When I stand at the Vigil for peace and Justice, I often pray for the troops and the people they kill. I usually think of hostile and mean thoughts about the president, King George the Bush. It is very hard for me to think healing thoughts that he might change.

I pray on the run, for people and issues that I come to mind as I listen to the car radio, swimming my laps at the pool and walking and shopping and cooking.

I think of the intense pleasure of orgasm when mind is focused on pleasure, the mutual pleasure of lovers. To use the Buddhist expression, I sense an oneness with my wife and the universe, and I am not sure of the universe.

I get little pleasure from the outdoors and nature. It is amusing to be in it for a while and the air usually smells good. But I’d rather be home reading, listening to music and writing. I am even envious of Ann. who loves to hike, watch the birds, enjoy the color of the Ocean and feel the breezes. It is OK for me in small doses until I can get home again.

I envy the simple piety of people who can love Jesus, sing the corny hymns, feel the spirit and have a sense of open joy. Not me. I have a romantic notion of the cowled monks and nuns in monasteries worshipping long hours in smoke filled rooms wafting their prayers upward to the ground of all being. But I can’t see myself in such an atmosphere for more than ten minutes.

I do like to look at photographs of my children and grandchildren and I do pray that they are well and continue to be so. I do utter a quick prayer for people when they aske me to do so. I pray for friends and family who are sick and in need.

I have pretty much given up reading the Bible. I know the stories, psalms and gospels so well that I find few new inspirations coming from them. I find the lessons in church services tedious.

I gave up the daily office years ago, especially the saying the little ditties called venite and jubilate, nunc, mag, etc as boring tedious and tiresome. I occasionally like to go to evensong in a cathedral or great church for the sound and sense of worship there, but only as a special treat from time to time.

I do like to take communion with my brothers and sisters of all stripes and colors and conditions. I think of Jesus and his mission and sacrifice. I think of my family, the great Christians of the faith and the saints not of the church like Gandhi, I am in communion with. The everlasting wordiness of the consecration prayers gets on my nerves. Just bless the bread and wine dammit and let’s get on with it. Why do we have to hear the whole story of creation and redemption in order to hear Jesus simple words of the institution?

There are all kinds of ways of praying, I know that. Ann and I do say grace at dinner and I continually give thanks for all the blessings and wonders of this life, and I do this on the run too.

I resent having to pray every time we go to church meeting, clergy conference. I hate having to go to the Eucharist at every confirmation, bishop’s visitation or any time Christians gather.

I have given myself permission to enjoy the prayer life as I live it. I cannot get excited about all the present palaver about the importance of the spiritual life. With all the people I hear about that are spiritual, who meditate, read the daily offices, belong to prayer and healing groups, I see the world the same, old, sweet, miserable, sinful place God has given us to live in. The so-called spiritual renaissance has done little to bring peace and harmony to the world.

So go ahead and pray up a storm, but stop lauding the prayer life as better than another kind of life. I suspect this too will pass like the hot fads of the past like Christian Education, Group Life labs and religious, evangelistic crusades designed to change the church and world.

I can’t wait.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Learning from the Mormons

Ann and I went to the local Ward last Sunday in Utah and heard one dreadful talk and one rather good one.  Each man spoke about twenty minutes with a musical selection between each. There were easily two hundred people and perhaps more, as I couldn’t see all the people from where we were sitting.
 
There was no nursery. Parents sat with their children of all ages.  Babies cried, children wandered, parents were in and out of the service with their yowlers. Occasionally, I missed a word or two because of the children’s noise.  It was quite nice to have us all together.
 
There were no readings, no prayers of the people.  They had the bread and water sacrament done reverently and efficiently. The bread was passed to everyone in the church.  Then the little shot glasses of water passed around.  It took about fifteen minutes and everyone was quite quiet and respectful except for noises from children.
 
I really liked the prayer over the sacrament.  It was short, reciting Jesus words of institution, not the whole story of sin, redemption and salvation like most of the wordy pieties of the Book of Common Prayer. The Mormon prayer was short and to the point.
 
We sat for everything, even hymns. After an hour and twenty minutes  my bottom was sore and my knees creaked more than ever when I finally got to stand up. The hymns were sentimental and pious songs of personal faith. I’d have liked at least one of the worship of God.
 
The first speaker was an official of the stake – Diocese - he used very good personal testimony on the power of prayer, two healing stories from his personal experience.  He interrupted his flow a number of times by referring to the book of Nephi, with quotes about the power of prayer.  It was very disconcerting as he went back and forth between he scripture and his interpretation.  It reminded me of Episcopal preachers who feel it necessary to refer to all four Biblical readings during the sermon.
 
That first sermon was superficial in that he never mentioned that God often does not answer our prayers in the way we want. He didn’t deal with the crushing reality that God says no many times to our most fervrent desires.
 
The second speaker was a young man recently returned from his mission In Ireland.  He told personal stories about how he saw the Holy Spirit of God working in the lives of the people he encountered and in his own life.  He was engaging charming and quite moving in his stories. He even quoted Episcopal Bishop Phillips Brooks, referring to him as “a man named Brooks.”
 
All too many Episcopal preachers give us ideas, concepts, doctrines and Biblical references with no personal stories or any stories or illustrations at all that refer to the real life of the listeners.
 
After an hour and twenty minutes in the worship service the whole group broke up into another hour of instructions for Adults, Youth, mid-schoolers and parents with very young children. 
 
The service started at 10:00 AM and was over by 11:20 AM and most everyone stayed for Sunday school for all. We’d be run out of town if we started such a regime and discipline of education in our churches. Episcopalians go to cocktails and brunch after church.
 
Of course the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is against homosexual sex, gay marriage, abortion, and women in leadership in the policy making of the church.  The people of Utah are largely Republican, support the wars, low taxes and have the laissez-faire attitudes of the Republicans in the Executive branch.
 
So none of these issues are mentioned much in the Mormon worship or talks. But that is also true of us Episcopalians.  Few sermons take a stand on the important social and political issues of our time.
 
I enjoyed the experience and we Episcopalians can learn much from Mormon worship. Whole families worshipping together, short Eucharistic prayer, no long boring Bible readings, (I personally would be OK with two but not four as in our liturgy.) No lengthy, theologically confusing Nicene Creed. I did miss the prayers of the people and the peace.
 
Time is a most important value in busy people’s lives today. Mormons use their worship and education time efficiently and smoothly. Their numbers are increasing and ours are on hold.  We have much to learn from our Mormon friends.
 
One of my wag friends will say, “Well if you like the Mormons so much, why don’t you join them and leave us alone?” I am not a Biblical literalist. The Book of Mormon contains stories and history with which I cannot in intellectual honesty agree. Their positions on sexual and social issues do not jibe with mine or those of the Episcopal Church. I like their emphasis on the importance of family, but it seems to undermine individual differences. Besides, I firmly hold that religious reality is based on the Bible, sacraments, tradition and reason. We Anglicans admire intellectual freedom, think within a tradition, and are expected to question everything. I do not think I would be very happy as a Mormon nor they with me.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Address Book and Church Growth

The address books of clergy and lay people are sources for inviting unchurched people to a parish newcomer Sunday. In those books are the names of people you know who are not members of a local church. Look on each alphabet page and see the people who are friends or relatives who could if they would respond to an invitation to attend a special church service with you.

Once or twice a year a church could have a special Sunday welcoming visitors and possible new members. The event should be user friendly, simple hymns, welcoming sermon – save hell-fire for next Sunday, streamlined liturgy, omit Nicene creed, lengthy prayers of the people, confession and absolution. Instruct people to greet each other at the peace. Welcome all to the holy table. Keep announcements to a minimum and ones that show and tell newcomers how they might join up – inquirers class, Bible study or prayer group. Have a fabulous coffee hour. Also, make sure they know they are your guests and are not to put money in the collection plate.

Here is where the address book comes in. Not only invite an unchurched person but also go to their home and pick them up and take them to the service. Take them out to lunch afterward and have a conversation about the experience they had of church.

Yes, I know the usual hesitations.
“I have asked them before and they didn’t come.” Well, ask them again.
“I am too embarrassed to invite people.” Well, get over it and try it anyway. You are inviting them to visit a place that you really love and enjoy.
“It feels like evangelism.” It is, we just call it inviting people.

Do not invite them to join. Just invite them to come to this service. Let them have a no-pressure experience of worship, music and the word. Invitations to join come later in a letter of thanks from the clergy and lay leasers indicating programs that the new potential member might enjoy.

Get their street number from your address book and write the person a personal hand written, not email, thank you note for joining you that Sunday.

Make sure they know they are not expected to give any money, they are your guests and the guest of the church.

Start now planning for this event that might kick-off the fall season at your church.