Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Justification by Sex

Bad theology creates bad sex. Our fundamentalist brothers, and it does seem to be the men, believe that to be saved one must do good works. What do have to do or rather not do in order to be saved? No sex before marriage, no sex for homosexuals and no pre-marital sex. These abstentions are good works that will get you into heaven. Oh yes, they believe in feeding the hungry, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But when some of those ministers get horny they seduce unsuspecting maidens by assuring them that having sex with the pastor is a “necessary evil to bring us back to a God-consciousness.” Leafing through my Bible, I just can’t seem to find sanction for such an approach to theological ethics.

This swam into my awareness as I read in the SF Chronicle about Archbishop Earl Pauk, 80-year old leader of suburban Atlanta’s megachurch, Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. He had sex with his brother’s wife as well as at least one other parishioner. Odd that as these events became known church membership dropped from 10,000 to 1500 people.

It is important to note that dynamic, energetic charismatic leaders, including clergy, have high sex drives. Few high-powered people know how to handle this part of their personality and often get into sex troubles. You don’t build congregations of 10,000 members without a lot of powerful hard driving clerics. Billy Graham and Robert Schuler have huge ministries but have not been marred by sex scandals.

But back to bad theology. I believe we are not saved by any good works we do. Feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, working for peace and social justice do not save us, get us into heaven or bring us heavenly bliss. We do those important activities to make us better human beings and create a more humane society.

We are saved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That is the message of salvation for Christians today.

Bad theology says to follow the rules, the Biblical teaching recommended by the local pastor, no sex outside of marriage, do good works for others, give lots of money to the church and obey the appointed leaders, no matter who appoints them –Popes, Mormon Apostles, congregational votes or some other ecclesiastical authority. If you do all these things then God in Jesus Christ will surely save you from hell and allow you to rest in heavenly bliss.

This of course is an ancient discussion highlighted by Martin Luther’s confronting the Pope’s call for indulgences, paying priests to say masses for the dead insuring their entrance into heaven, profits going to build St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. Luther cried thatjustification is by faith alone, not good works.

So having sex with the pastor may be fun, illegal and exciting, it won’t get you into heaven. Beware of bad theology.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Published in the SF Chronicle 11/19/07-Role Models

To the Editor of the SF Chronicle

Here is what children learn from role models? Barry Bonds may have lied abut his using illegal drugs. The President of the United States lied about weapons of mass destruction. Roman Catholic bishops covered up sexual abuses among priests. Protestant Evangelical preachers failed to live up to their proclamation of no sex out side of marriage. Prominent business executives lied about the value of investments. Celebrity movie and TV stars use illegal drugs and drive under the influence.

Their own parents lie, steal and are often violent.

Children learn that they and all humans are sinful, radically imperfect, bad and wrong. This is a good lesson and helps them avoid self-righteous judgments. So children need lots of help learning what is right, honest, mature, authentic and loving. Too bad that is not the goal of all organizations.

Steroids and Bonds

Barry Bonds and Steroids

Baseball’s Barry Bonds uses steroids, it is said. It is illegal according the law and rules of baseball’s hierarchy. The fans love him and the owners need him. He will be allowed to flout the laws of the state and baseball. His arrogance and silence are the only defenses he chooses to muster. No one is going to hold him accountable for his illegal behavior. Maybe it will be his body, already beginning to rebel as it solidifies and thickens causing damage to ligaments and bones.

Bonds is a super hero to many, and is permitted to live by his own rules. His role model is the present incumbent of the White House. Tell enough lies and disregard the greater good often enough and you will win the hearts of most of the people most of the time. Bond’s age will catch up with him, if nothing else. The incumbent’s term ends in one more years, thank God.

I like many are envious of Bond’s money and fame. We don’t have the natural gifts and talents that make any professional athlete. I certainly do not have the drive and discipline to practice, practice and more practice that is needed to refine the natural talents that most professional athletes possess.

Envy noted and aside, what is going on here? People want heroes, tarnished or not. In fact all are heroes are imperfect. Lincoln was a selfish, wily politician. FDR put Japanese Americans in camps and did little for African Americans. JFK planned to assassinate Castro and slept with the Mafia. Bishop Pike was a drunk and a womanizer. Yet all did so many wonderful things for the country and for me. My heroes are tarnished. Why shouldn’t fans heroes be flawed? They have the right to worship the sinner too.

Bond’s lying raises the question of the truth. Does the truth really make us free? Do we need to tell the truth and nothing but the truth in order to live lives fully? Intimacy with a spouse depends on telling the truth, being open and honest about one’s feelings and emotions as well as revealing the facts of one’s life and shearing them with another. Truth is the basis for faith in relationships and in business.

Business often seems to put little faith in the truth. Lying cheating and stealing money, ideas, employees are ways of life for big business. They make us money so we do business with them anyway.

What about happiness and the good life? Is Bonds a happy and fulfilled person? He has enormous amounts of money and fame. His first marriage broke up with much pain and bad publicity about the financial settlement of his wife and children. One lover left him acrimoniously telling the world that he indeed told her he was using illegal steroids. His arrogance has made him few friends among his teammates and employers. Living a lie means he is always on guard and under scrutiny. Most of us will never know much about the inner workings of the man.

The self-righteous part of me wants Bonds held accountable for flouting the rules of society and baseball. Lesser players would be fired and retired for lesser crimes. Justice demands Bond be convicted and punished.

Then there is the part of me that says, we should let people use what drugs they want if it means hurting themselves and others. We allow smoking and drinking alcohol and people kill themselves and others. Let Bonds use whatever steroids and drugs to enhance his body to perform to his greatest capacity. Give him the freedom to do what he wants with his body.

I guess I give in to the idea that Bonds should be held accountable for lying, abusing his body and damaging his position as a role model and icon for young people particularly and rabid fans too.

The few times I have seen him on the baseball field, even before I knew much about him, I was repelled by his arrogant slouching to the plate to take his turn at bat. His body language was “fuck you to the world. I am big Bonds and watch out.” His growing personal arrogance, his disdain for the press, his demands for entitlement, his easy chair in the club house, his touchy manner all add up to a man who needs to be taken down a peg or two and realize he is just a fool like the rest of us.

Perhaps just living the role of Barry Bonds is punishment a plenty for him, but I want him out of baseball.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Conjugal Love and thanks to Dostoyevsky


The principal intensity of my life was not gambling, nor writing, nor religion. It is the searing, generous, absoluteness of conjugal love.
-said of Dostoyevsky and I take it to myself.

I found this quote somewhere and I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment. Conjugal love, sexual pleasure, physical and emotional intimacy with Ann, is the most important thing in my life and I endorse it absolutely. That is not to say that the search for justice and peace, following the teachings of Jesus and my family are not important, certainly they are. The principal intensity of my life, “searing, generous, absoluteness of conjugal love” is basic to my being. The quote put into clear and powerful perspective what I have believed all along. I am accused and accuse myself of being a sex fiend, sex-crazed, and sex consumed. Guilty as charged.

Had I not screwed around as much as I had, I would not know the sheer joy of conjugal love with Ann. Had our personalities matched and needs coincided, I would not be satisfied with conjugal love. Had our differences of interest, personality and focus not be so pronounced, we could not even get along. The cliché of “opposites attract” is well illustrated in our lives together.

Ann loves travel, has great curiosity, intellectual depth and loves detail. I, however, have a mile interest in travel, little curiosity, are not very deep and hate detail.

Ann enjoys stylish clothes, has a great concern for health, has a few close friends and is a nutritious eater. I wear comfortable and casual clothes, have minimum health concerns, many casual friends and will eat anything.

Ann has great patience, worries a lot, loves teaching, loves learning, has a mild interest in religion, is enthusiastic and cheerful. I have almost no patience, worry little, am an impatient teacher, I am a “know it all,” have much interest in religion, am calm and curmudgeonly.

The things we have in common are: lots of sex, fidelity, physical expressions of love, verbal expressions of love, we are open and honest, share everything, tell the truth, are easy about money and are not greedy.

The End of Sex written by George Leonard, an old friend, was written in 1983. The sub title is Erotic Love After the Sexual Revolution. One important point he makes is a call for high monogamy. Loyalty, courtesy patience and enthusiasm for each other’s enthusiasms are important parts of a couple’s agreement to live in high monogamy. He presents the following paradox. “The more I am truly myself, the more I can be truly with you. The more I am truly at one with you, the more I can be truly myself.” Conjugal love and high monogamy make a powerful combination.

Thank you Ann, Fyodor and George.

Red Light District in Amsterdam

A Visit to the Red Light District in Amsterdam

September 2007

My wife and I visited the Red Light District twice. In the afternoon it was quiet, we returned in the evening when it was noisier and busier. The prostitutes legally peddled their wares from little booths with glass doors. They stood brazenly looking out at us as we walked by. We came upon a group of booths unexpectedly just by turning a corner and going over to another street.

The first thing I noticed was that the women were quite attractive, large breasted, slender, a few more zaftig than others and one or two rather fat and voluptuous. They wore bikinis or bras and panties. A few wore just a slim skin -colored cloth running down from the neck, covering nipples and merging into hairless crotches and out the back. None were completely naked, but there was the occasional edge of a coral nipple showing. Costumes varied in red, coral, black and pink and textures of silk, net and rayon. There were fringes with see through materials. One or two wore cowboy hats. Some costumes were highlighted in black light so the cloth and the women glowed and made the bright greens and reds brighter and luminous.

Most smiled, winked, licked their lips and gestured for me to come in and join them. A few waved or smiled at Ann. I felt excited and deeply curious but was not sexually aroused. Mostly I felt sad.

The cubicles were fifteen feet in depth and four feet wide. They appeared clean, with a bed in the back nicely made up. There was a stainless steel washbasin. A heavy curtain could be pulled across the door window, assuring privacy. The rooms and curtains were colorful and warm making the stainless steel basins look sharp and sterile. The cubicles actually looked comfortable and appealing.

We saw mostly white women, two Asians, three blacks and one heavy woman who spoke loud Spanish to a girl and child in front of her glass door. My fantasy was that they were the children of the prostitute coming to visit their mama. The women were attractive, healthy looking and whimsical in their looking out at us. Some smoked and held cigarettes in that sexy appealing way one sees in early movies.

As we passed one door, we heard a man ask the woman the price and we heard her say fifty Euros. I wondered what that did and did not include. From other reading, I learned that the price went up the more you wanted. Blow jobs, nudity, touching breasts, anal or S and M all had a higher price. I saw a number of huge dildoes in one cubicle that were available for other exotic and expensive activity.

I saw a rather short man go into a cubicle with a lovely and tall white woman. As she closed the curtain, I imagined him being intimidated by the bigger and quite assertive woman.

The streets and alleys were overrun with young men being silly and noisy, about the way they would be after a football match. There was much hooting and laughter and camaraderie chatter, mostly nervous if you asked me.

Yes, I felt sad. Why do women sell their bodies to men? Do they need the money? Do they do it of their own volition? Were they sold into the business? Did they take it up freely? Is it because of the unequal scales of justice and money between men and women? Or is it just the way it is and has been and will be world without end? Which is my view. We should try to stop illegal slave trade of women and children. We can make sure the women and their clients are clean and healthy and the women protected from harm.

When I went to a sex workers’ conference a few years ago in San Francisco, those women wanted to be free to be and do what they wanted and to be protected under the law like all citizens are. They did not want to be regulated.

At that conference and in my work I heard women say they had clients whom they saw regularly who paid them well. They were not on the streets or in cubicles.

I feel sad because basically I do not approve of sex for sale, somewhere deep down in my heart. Yet the liberal in me says that women should be free to do what they want with their bodies. I also think sex working should be de-regulated and free enterprise should prevail.

I admire the Dutch for taking a straight forward, clear- thinking, non-puritanical attitude toward this human behavior.

The Church and the City - from garden to city

The Bible starts in a Garden and ends in a city, the city of God. The word city and the word civil have the same root. To be civil is to be human, caring and respecting the will and needs of others. The word city today is a dirty word denoting crime, congestion, pollution, danger and poverty. The cities are becoming places of extremes, the very rich and the very poor. The middle classes have fled to the suburbs where the illusion is “a better place to raise the kids,” not noticing the rising drug use and criminal activity of suburban life.

The cities still are the places of great buildings, grand houses, mansions, opera houses and symphony halls, parks, the best theaters and restaurants, major universities and hospitals, the great museums and the financial centers, churches and cathedrals.

Life is on the sidewalks in the city. One can walk to the grocery store, hardware store and a coffee shop, even many times to work. No car is needed to engage in the life of the city. Streetcars, buses and subways carry citizens all over the place.

“Eyes on the sidewalk” is an expression coined by Jane Jacobs, late critic of urban life. Neighbors may not know each other well but they watch out for each other. When my daughter Jessica was five years old, she was playing on the sidewalk near a tree in front of our house. I parked my car nearby and walked up to her, bent down and began to talk with her. I realized a woman had come up and stood behind us. When she saw I was Jessica’s dad, she said, “Oh, it’s you, that’s OK.” Her eyes were on the sidewalk, she had not recognized this man talking to this little girl and was just checking up. Often there are no sidewalks in the suburbs.

More and more city housing is affordable only to the rich and the poor. Flourishing churches and cathedrals in the city minister well to the affluent with numerous clergy, beautiful well kept church buildings, good church school curricula and teachers, fine organists, organs and choirs.

Most of the other Episcopal churches have one full time cleric, if they can afford it, a part time organist, volunteer choir – not usually very good, part-time secretary and sexton. Sunday church school and youth groups happen from time to time.

These affluent and marginal churches do a fair job of ministering to the existing congregations of Episcopalians. They welcome newcomers, provide religious education, visit the sick and shut-ins, baptize and bury. Sunday services, preaching and programs are usually uninspiring. Parish groups like altar guild, vestry, stewardship committee, worship committee exist and do their work of keeping the parishioners happy and entertained.

Some churches provide social services like soup kitchens, shelter programs, and a variety of good and necessary services to the community. A very small minority of the church members carries out the social services ministries.

When I was rector of Trinity, San Francisco, Marilyn Saner ran a shelter program one month each year for ten years. Seventy-five homeless men came to the parish rooms for a dinner and spent the night on cots. Of the three hundred members of the parish, no more than half a dozen helped feed the breakfasts or dinners. That is typical of the response of most church membership to church- sponsored social services.

The great needs of the city are seldom faced and are not met by parish churches. These are justice issues. The difference between social service and social justice is summed up by Dom Helder Camaro. “When I fed the hungry, I was called a saint. When I asked, “Why are the people hungry?” I was called a communist.”

Church people are willing to feed the hungry. Church people generally are not interested in the question of why people are hungry or homeless, unemployed, or sick, or why children are bitten by rats in their homes, or children graduate from high school and can’t read, or why do we have war?

These are justice issues. The civil rights movement for freedom for African Americans, homosexuals and women involved many church people. The parish churches, urban or suburban, seldom if ever deal with these justice issues.

My daughter attends an affluent small-city church and went to service on the Sunday before Labor Day Monday. After the service she said to the preacher, “You missed a good opportunity to refer to the labor movement, unions or work in the sermon or prayers of the people.”

Jesus’ ministry was to the sick, poor, lame and blind. He gave short shrift to the religious and social leaders of his time. In weakness there is strength, the poor and the humble shall lead the way.

It is by facing and becoming deeply involved in social justice issues that we are truly following Jesus. It is becoming immersed in these issues that we are doing the work of the church and the gospel. I also believe that kind of ministry of intense integrity and real meaning will attract unchurched people to look at the church, find Jesus as the source and energy and basis for a human life that has concrete goals and depth of authenticity.

It was exhilarating and exciting to decide to go public with the slogan, “Gays and Lesbians Welcome in this Church.” It went against the will and desire of many members of Trinity, SF and many Christians in the diocese of California in 1981. It was shocking news to say publiclly that our church would make the church available for funerals of men who died of AIDS in 1983 when the epidemic was given a name. Many parishes and dioceses finally followed suit. By pushing the church through example, the church made institutional changes toward justice for homosexual persons.

It was a challenge to the parish and diocese to perform marriages of same gender couples in 1985. We performed such ceremonies, withstanding threats and criticism from the Bishop and many clergy and laypersons. Now the church on the national and international level is working toward full justice for homosexual couples to have the same rights in church and state as heterosexual couples. Candidates for president of the United Sates today have to wrestle with their stands on homosexual rights.

This is social justice, as opposed to social service. A few other churches, not many, have taken on important social justice issues. All Saints’ Church in Pasadena, California, comes to mind.

Urban churches face many other important social issues. Every major city in the United States has young African-American men killing each other daily, caught up in drug traffic, poverty and glorying imprisonment. The drug traffic itself is a major issue. Many of us feel legalizing marijuana and other soft drugs would not be deleterious to society, would provide tax monies from the sale of the drugs and would get many people out of the trade. No church to my knowledge has dared to become involved in dealing with these two issues – killing of youths and drugs.

A slogan of the present bishop of California is “social justice from a firm base in spirituality.” I see the diocese full of programs promoting spirituality, a few concerned with social service and very few concerned with social justice. Everyone is against the present wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The urban church provides the most exciting arena for ministry. Clergy and lay people can be engaged in the life and stuff of the city - housing, crime, drugs, and discrimination to name a few. The city calls on the church to be innovative and creative in discovering new ways to inspire people to a deeper humanity with the ministry of Jesus as the basis. The city needs ministers, clergy and lay, to help bring about real change in people’s lives. The city needs people who can put their prayer lives into action to bring about peace and justice. The city needs people who know how to meditate, pray, give thanks and teach the poor and oppressed how to pray and then move into justice -seeking.

The Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sex Abuse Allegation

While I hold no grief for the inexperienced and poorly trained, most recent rector of Trinity, San Francisco, I believe he got the canonical shaft.

Clerics who get accused of sex abuse are presumed guilty until they prove their innocence. Just the opposite of the American way and principle, that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Thus the cleric gets screwed by the present canons and rules of the church. The Bishop alone evaluates the charge and the cleric is relieved of his office until the charges are investigated further. The cleric’s name is made public to the congregation, diocese and press. The person who makes the charge remains anonymous. The people of the parish are in shock, suspicion and uncertainty. Money, members and attendance drop like boulders off a cliff. All this in the name of protecting the accused. Who protects the cleric, the congregation? The canons of the church continue to support a victim mentality.

The cleric’s name is dirtied, reputation smirched and chances for a job limited. This system sucks.

When these canons went into effect a priest-lawyer proclaimed that when people become ordained they give up their rights as citizens of the United States. I’ll tell you right now, I did not give up my civil rights when I was ordained and will fight to uphold them in the courts if necessary.

A physician accused of sex abuse is allowed to practice, doing surgery, giving physical exams and prescribing medicine until an inquiry results in a guilty verdict. Then the doctor is punished. Not until then is the physician’s name published. Just being accused punishes the cleric. Something like the protections physicians have should be in place for Episcopal clergy.

The canons of the diocese and church need to change to make sure the church operates in a way that a cleric is innocent until proven guilty.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Notes on our Two Months in Europe

2007 European Trip, September 8 - November 6, 2007

London – A week with Stephen and Hugh; sightseeing, St. James Piccadilly, surprised to hear Matthew Fox as preacher. Tate Modern show was a bust. Went to the British Museum and others as well. Saw a wonderful play, "The Last Confession," about the death of John Paul 1 and election of a new pope. Intrique, murder?, survival.

Amsterdam – Golden Bear Hotel, sightseeing, Red Light District. Sexy seeing the legalized prostitutes but felt sad that they had to sell themselves. More canals than Venice, busy trams, lots of students.

Leiden – Janice and Arnold visiting and dinner. University town an hour from Amsterdam. Swallowed a whole herring raw, local custom.

Düsseldorf – Ingrid and Wolfgang. Lots of food, sightseeing and catching up on old times. Visit to magnificent Cologne Cathedral and a lovely Island on the Rhine.

Berlin – We rented a Penthouse, ate at home, visited great German museums, including the Helmut Newton Museum of Photography, Dined with Paul Moor, old SF friend. Local tattoo artist said we were not too old to get tattoos. We didn't.

Venice – rented a small house, rode the vaporettoes, the "bus” system boats on the Grand Canal, sightseeing, eating at home. Solemn High Mass at St. Mark’s Basilica.

Todi, Vasciano, Italy – 17 days at the villa of old SF friend Nadine Scott whom I have know since the sixties. Excellent food as she is a great cook, catching up on old times. Hiking and reading. I tended the wood fire like the good Boy Scout I never was. We visited Orvietto and Assisi whilst there

Rome – Stayed at a Convent Hotel, sightseeing, High Mass on All Saint’s Day in Santa Maria, Travestevere, sightseeing.
Met Iraqi students of diplomacy studying for two months in Rome. They are the first Iraqis we had ever met. They said the US should never have invaded but now they have screwed things up the US should stay and get things settled. Charming, good English and amusing. Seeing Shaun Loftus and Spike, SF and Trinity friends who came from Florence to see us in Rome.

Impressions - Way too many of us tourists. Long, long lines to get into St. Peter's Basilica, so we didn't go. Long lines at the Vatican Museum, Ann went and said she was glad I didn't. Too packed. Tourists everywhere in Venice; we were falling over each other. Restaurant food in Italy was only fair, not as good as what we had expected.

We loved the sights in England, Amsterdam, Berlin, Venice and Rome, the cathedrals, churches, bustling streets, high culture and just walking around in the great cities. As always being with old friends is still the best.

The best restaurant we ate in was the "Al Cavallino," Borgo Cavour 52 - 31100 Treviso, tel. 0422 412801. Treviso is near Venice.