Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Labor Day Sunday Sermon

Labor Day Sunday
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Church of St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco
Proper 17, year C
Pentecost 14

Each Sunday nearest Labor Day, I remember the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, which caused the death of 146 garment workers who either died in the fire or jumped to their deaths. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers in that industry.

The company employed 500 workers, mostly immigrant workers from Italy and the Eastern Europe. Some of the girls were as young as twelve and worked fourteen-hour shifts during a 60-hour to 70-hour workweek, sewing clothes for a wage of $1.50 per week.

Lighting was by open gas lighting, smoking was commonplace and there were no fire extinguishers. Only two exits, a fire escape that collapsed and an elevator that failed to work as women fled the fire. Many jumped out the ninth story, window or down the elevator shaft. Many waited until they died of smoke inhalation.

Many today wonder about the need for unions, which are celebrated on Labor Day. That awful fire and the deaths of those mostly young immigrant women continue the necessity of forcing owners to take care of their employees.

On a personal note, the building was refurbished and donated to New York University where it presently houses the science building. I walked by that building every day for the four years I attended NYU and took classes in that building. Whenever I preach or write on Labor Day Sunday, I remark on the terrible Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the continuing need for labor unions in the era of the 24/7 work ethic.

Jesus says, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” “The first will be last and the last, first.”

In recent weeks we have read of six miners lost in a Utah mine disaster. Last year many men died in a mine cave -in in West Virginia. Safety standards are lax in many of these events.

The struggle goes on. In Tarheel, North Carolina the Smithfield Packing Company is a slaughterhouse employing 5,500 largely African American and Latino workers. They process 32,000 hogs a day. The workers suffer excessively high injury rates, provocations by management to stir up racial hostility and are hostile to union organization. The courts have found the company illegally assaulted, arrested, harassed, intimidated, coerced, threatened, fired, suspended, disciplined and spied upon employees engaged in legal efforts to organize a labor union.

Labor Unions fought for medical care, pensions, job security, better pay and safe working conditions in the past and still need to do the same today.

Over the years the congress has passed laws making it very difficult for workers to form unions. A friend of this church who works in labor wrote me that:

“Basically, workers have lost the right to organize unions in this country. Employers routinely fire, threaten, harass and bribe to make sure working people don’t have a voice in working conditions. Statistics say that in 25% or organizing campaigns, an employee is illegally fired. Penalties on employers are so minimal hat they gladly flout the law rather than deal with the consequences of their employees have a say in the workplace.

The labor movement is trying to get passed the employees Free Choice Act which would make it easier to organize.”

Certainly there has been corruption and misuse of power by labor unions. But the need for employees to organize is especial important in this day when medical care and pensions are seldom offered employees, working conditions are ruinous. Take the very idea of 24/7 and tell me this is not harmful to physical and mental health of labor and management.

I suppose you have been waiting for me to preach some Bible stuff. Everything I have already said lays the groundwork for Jesus’ word. God is active in and through the work of unions. God is working in and through the life and work of management. Jesus words give us guidelines.

“The exalted shall be humbled and the humble exalted.”
Contrast this with a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle, “CEO pay = 364 X worker’s salary. CEO’s averaged 10.8 Million dollars a year. The average pay of production workers is 29, 544 a year.

“The exalted shall be humbled and the humble exalted.”
He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
“The first shall be last and the first last.”

Jesus is always on the side of the hungry and oppressed. The Christian churches at their best have always supported the poor and downtrodden. All too often church leaders like Bishops and church executive hob-nob with the rich and are seldom seen in the streets of the Mission, East Oakland and Richmond. We are seen in the best clubs and finest mansions and never in union halls.

Jesus our leader calls us into unity with one another and in caring for the hungry and oppressed.

Our Eucharist calls us into unity with each other here in the church. On this Labor Day we are called to see surely what God is working in and through the halls of Labor. We can see what we can do and are doing to foster humanity in the work place.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Knife

“Don’t cut yourself, Bobby,” my father used to say to me when I was a little boy. It was a good warning to a youngster full of curiosity about everything. I did cut myself once in a while cutting an apple or peach. Later, I thought a Boy Scout knife was the greatest thing in the world and I wanted to have one. It had lots of blades and bottle cap opener and screwdriver. I loved just fiddling with it and looking at it. Once I cut myself fairly deeply and I looked into a layer or two of skin before I started to bleed. I hated the idea of looking inside the skin. I eared possible seeing the bone beneath.

As I grew older I had the thought of a knife going into a body as in a stabbing. The idea of a knife penetrating my body or anyone else’s gives me a shock. Knifing and slashing depicted in movies make me ill and I avert my eyes if I can see it coming.

When the 9/11 terrorists slashed the throat of one of the pilots to take over the plane, I felt faint just thinking about it. When I read of a woman raped and then murdered as the killer slashed her throat, I was appalled.

I have had a hip and knee replacement. My doctor asked me if I wanted to view the video of the surgery. I told him he just wanted to see me the big sissy faint away.
I am shocked when I read of Lorene Bobbitt slicing off her husband’s cock. It takes my breath away. I read of husbands who get so enraged that they take a knife and slash and stab their wives. Being held up at knifepoint presents a fear I hope never to feel.

My friend who drove a yellow cab in San Francisco told me two African American men got into his cab early one morning, one leaned forward and put a knife to his neck and demanded money. They escaped with a small amount of cash and my friend was spared.

I got a new electric knife that I really like. My wife hates it and is afraid of it. A guest came and looked at it and said it reminded him of a chainsaw. Needless to say, I never go to a movie with the word chainsaw in the title.

And knives are wonderful. Steel blades and silver handles cut my steak into nice bites. Scalpels incise my body to bring healing as infected parts are removed. Knives cut vegetables and fruit, cut rope and string, whittle wood into artistic shapes. Knives can be beautiful to look at with black handles and stainless steel blades. They have the power to hurt and heal. Just like water, quenches thirst and drowns people.

Why do I fear knives? They might kill or hurt me, cause me to bleed. I am not fond of the sight of blood and don’t look when I see it coming in movies or on TV. Knives cause a special kind of pain at least in my eyes. They frighten me and make me think of death and pain. I wonder if I would ever get mad enough to use a knife on someone else?

Knives could cut me open and people would see inside me and discover who I really am. Is a knife like a penis that enters another human, a woman? Does the knife/penis go into me and make me see myself, my inner hidden self? Perhaps, but I am pretty confident I know myself quite well and am willing to show others all the parts of me. My dark side is there and I am able to show it. But no truth is perfect. Perhaps my fear of knives and penetration reflect some fear of finding out who I am and hidden secrets. But I’ll just have to wait and see and I am still afraid of knives and being cut.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Vicious Critique of the Pacific ChurchNews

Dear Sean McConnel,

I got the PacificChurchNews today wrapped around the EpiscopaLife.

Excellent and relevant story about Aids walk.

I suppose you had to do the crap about EMG, another project of the church calling for long range planning and producing no action or at least not much. Notice the illustration stories. All Saints, SF pledges some $. Good. Note card sale from one of the wealthiest parishes in the diocese??? Hey those cards will make good eating for the Mexican children. It is good that some of those folks went down there. But Note cards??? Did you do it on purpose to contrast what a rich parish does and the poorer, All Saints did?

P. 2 Andrus is standing on the labyrinth, where people walk in circles, like the church in general. His screed is about meditation and prayer that he says youngsters' hunger for. They hunger for sex, sweets and drugs.

Eyes Wide Open paragraph. There were at least three other Episcopalians there, you, Marilyn Saner whose son has been to Iraq and yours truly. You asked me to send you a copy of my remarks. Gosh, I can’t find them anywhere in PCN. Then we have almost a quarter page obituary of someone no one has ever heard of. Nice as it mentions the Church Army, which also is something, no one has ever heard of except three of us.

P3 another report of a meeting and opinion poll of Episcopalians with no call to action or rather all call and no action. A second picture of Andrus asking for money this time.

PP4-5 MDG list of goals that any ten teen-agers sitting down for ten minutes could have enunciated. More talk, more call to action and no action. Social service items are mentioned Good Sam, Sojourn Chaplaincy and St. Dorothy’s’ are all fine but they are not social action; they are not programs for social change.

P. 6 A whole page on Episcopal Schools, that’s nice. How many Episcopalians attend these three schools for the rich 30? How many children in toto are educated by these “venereal” institutions? ½ page every other year is about what the schools are worth in terms of ministry to and with members of this diocese?

P. 7 Dumb picture of Andrus peddling a one hundred dollar a plate dinner for the Maritime Center. Here is a hot ticket for the bulk of the Episcopalians in the diocese.

A PREBYTERIAN Church advertises a conference on the Wall of Silence. Very good indeed.

Ms Julia writes the great cliché of our time. “…A Christian life rich in contemplation”…is a very good thing. While she mentions action, the fact is the church is now rich in contemplation, humor, play, conferences, long-range plans, studies and virtually no action.

Finally the war in Iraq and Afghanistan are not mentioned once in the PCN.

Sean, I know you have a diverse constituency to write for so this criticism is not about you but about what the church is doing and not doing.

In a recent SF Chronicle editorial page there is an article where Cynthia Tucker writes of the worsening plight of young lack Americans who are killing each other at a startling increased rate. Richmond, Oakland and the south of Market San Francisco have huge numbers of murders. Those towns are all in the Diocese of California. We have parishes and missions in those towns, all struggling just to survive and do not have the resources to do much about murders. Now this is an area of real need for social change. I hope some of these spiritual life meditators and contemplators get involved in stopping the murders happening daily in our Diocese of California. That would be social action indicating that a rich spiritual life has some value.