Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Monday, December 31, 2007

Why is Schofield so Fat?

Why is Schofield so Fat?

The elephant in the living room in the events of Bishop John D. Schofield pulling his diocese out of the Episcopal Church is “Why is Schofield so fat?” I am outing a large elephant. He weighs three hundred pounds now. In 1960 when he started as a student at General Seminary in New York he was a slender reed of a boy studying Biblical criticism in the required courses. Of course, he forgot his lessons and made up his own methods of reading the Bible. Then when he was a curate in a parish in San Francisco, better known as sin and sybaritic city, he grew but failed to mature. He must have viewed with horror that so many men enjoyed same gender sex. Many of his brother clergy, only brothers then, no sisters, were gay. How repulsive.

Then he went to the tiny parish in Inverness where he made the church into a retreat center. Just down the street was Manka’s restaurant, one of California’s finest. Nearby was Vladimir’s, with Czech food of beef, pork, red cabbage, potatoes and apple crisp with whipped cream. It was an easy reach for a lonely, celibate, sex-starved priest living alone in the deep countryside.

Cruising all over the state of California, especially in rural San Joaquin, he led retreats, quiet days and prayer groups. Oh those church suppers with the maple cured and honey-baked ham, peas and potato dishes, the green Jell-O jiggly salads in a mold. Then there were the tuna fish casseroles, beef stews and endless pasta dishes with Alfredo sauce, meat-balls and manicotti and don’t forget the lasagnas that fabulous Costco sells cheap.

Then he is elected Bishop of San Joaquin in 1988. He spreads himself even further around the diocese enjoying banquets in his honor in every town and city in the central valley. Chicken, mashed potatoes and peas, plus a variety of berry and cream pies, make an abundant splendid diet. I suppose a bottle of fine wine from one or two of the splendid vineyards found within his domain. What is a poor celibate boy to do except to eat away any pining yearnings he may have had sublimating his sexuality to the Lord. The diocesan web site shows him portly, chubby and downright fat. What a change from the skinny youth of 1954.

My psychologist friend says, “What’s he hiding with those layers of fat?” Does he hate himself so much that he is trying to disappear under all that fat? Is he hiding something? I have read differing stories about Schofield. Some say he has said he was a homosexual and went through a de-programming program and is now straight. I have also heard that he has denied that he ever went through such a program. I believe that he has said he was homosexual in orientation and has chosen to be celibate. That is an honorable choice, if it is true.

”Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” seems to be Schofield’s level of intellectual and Biblical knowledge and criticism. Jesus had no women followers, so no women should be ordained priests and deacons in his church. It says so in the Bible, only men then were apostles and so it should be now, says the schismatic Bishop. Homosexuals are castigated in Schofield’s Bible so those poor folks need not apply to be ordained as anything in the church. Biblical scholars, the conventions of the church and human compassion disagree with his “for the Bible tells me so” interpretations of sacred scripture.

Is Schofield so fat to protect himself from the pain of being wrong, hated by so many and the knowledge that he proclaims a childish corruption of holy writ? He flatly rejects God’s call to women and homosexuals to be ordained in Christ’s holy catholic church. His word against God’s is a choice he has made. Such arrogance and disregard for human beings and their vocation, his abuse of the power as a Bishop and contempt for his own intelligence is enough to make anyone fat, very fat.

Spirituality Bunk

Schofield, Spirituality – The Ruin of the Church

Few of my readers will be surprised that I write that the notion of Christian spirituality rife in the church today is the ruin of the church. One of the most prominent spiritual directors in the Episcopal Church today is Bishop J.D. Schofield of San Joaquin who is pulling his Diocese out of the Episcopal Church. When he was vicar of St. Columba’s Church, Inverness, California, the church was a center of spiritual direction, retreats and prayer groups. He led spiritual direction seminars all over California and became so well known he was elected Bishop of San Joaquin. St. Columba’s was not a thriving parish. It had few members, was not self-supporting, but the people prayed a lot. That emphasis on spirituality to the exclusion of social service and social action accompanied by an anti-gay agenda hurled Schofield into the limelight.

The 1950’s and 60’s the leadership of the church was convinced Christian Education and then the group life movement were the salvation of the church. Then along came spirituality and the church continues to wallow in wandering purposelessness but now at least we pray at every possible turn. When the present Bishop of California was elected in 2005, Bishop William Swing, presiding, appointed a chaplain to the convention. The chaplain uttered a prayer at every possible pause in the proceedings. We gave God a proper dose of “thy will be done” that day as if she needed such a constant reminder.

The present Bishop of California, Marc Andrus, has a motto of Christan action based in a vigorous prayer life. I see programs in diocesan propaganda on spirituality, Taize services, spiritual formation, centering prayer, contemplative prayer, stewardship, how to run a vestry meeting, youth group, quiet days etc. I see no programs on how to develop a social action ministry in parishes or diocese. How do we help ay people move from prayer to action? How can a parish church be a peace church, be anti-war, teach young people about the evils of war. How can the diocese help parishes resist racism and sexism in local communities, private clubs, private and pubic schools? Do we help parents handle bullies in their families and schools or do we leave that up to the local school. What should our churches do when the sponsor Boy Scout troops that discriminate against gay members and leaders? Can the diocese teach parish churches and clergy to protest war, racial profiling and gay bashing?

The General Theological Seminary in New York of which I am an alumnus came out with a Spring catalogue of classes for lay people. There was not one social action course, lecture, discussion or movie on how to implement prayer and spirituality into action. We prepare people to pray but not to act.

Here are some sermon topics for action oriented preachers. They are lines written by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

“Challenge capitalism as a masquerade for democracy.”

“Liberate have-nots and enrage despots.”

“Make permanent waves not just on the heads of stylish women.”

To coin a phrase, “Faith without works is dead.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

X-rated Book Review of JESUS FREAKS

Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge, by Don Lattin, HarperOne, 2007 $24.95 236 pages

A woman was found stabbed to death on January 8, 2005 by a young man who had been destined to be a prophet of a bizarre messianic sect, The Family. Don Lattin gives us a story of messianic delusion, sexual perversity, cult followers ending in murder and suicide. Ricky Rodriquez was chosen by David Brandt Berg, founder of The Family, to be the new leader of the group after Berg’s death.

Growing up in the sect, Ricky said he was sexually abused by his mother, Karen; his Nanny, Susan Kauten; and many other men and women in his immediate family under the guise of a new sexually free way of teaching children about sex. Ricky left the cult in his late teens in a furious rage and vowed to kill his mother, co-leader of the sect. He tried to get information about his mother’s whereabouts from Kauten. He stabbed and slashed the throat of Kauten and then went out and committed suicide.

Lattin takes the reader on a breathtaking and thrilling ride through the sect, its history, ways and educational programs. The bizarre sexual practices are presented, and the sect’s attempts to cover up and then reform itself are told with a cool detachment.

One of the niftiest evangelical tools used was Flirty-Fishing. Women were trained to go up to men in bars and dance places and use their bodies to bring the men to Jesus. They would dance closely, kiss, rub body to body and tell them that God created bodies and uses them to bring people to him. Sometimes this would even mean going to bed with the men. Pastor Berg taught them to say to the men, “Listen, feel me, I am the love of God, I am God’s love for you. I am God’s love because he created me for you. He created me a woman with a woman’s breasts, and my pussy and everything for your pleasure. Doesn’t that prove God loves you?“ Read the book to find out more. Pp 68-69

Berg told his followers that God spoke to him directly and Jesus sent him regular messages. Thousands of people from hippies to professional people followed along the way. Many people love to hear a loud, clear, simple method of relating to God and Jesus and achieving salvation by obedience to a powerful authority. The Mormons, Southern Baptists and some mega-churches provide the same. Toss in sexual freedom and incest and you have a winner.

Lattin tells this sad and titillating story with the style of the professional journalist he is. He had the religion beat at the San Francisco Examiner and then Chronicle for many years.

The book is a splendid look at the inside of a sect; its organization, secrecy, recruitment, terror and even good works.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Episcopal Church Break up

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America during the Civil War 1861-1865, stayed unified despite diverse views on slavery and preserving the union. The Presbyterian and Methodist churches broke into northern and southern separate churches. In the mid twentieth century both denominations became united again in The Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church.

Parishes and dioceses separate from the Episcopal Church and give allegiance to other authorities because of their belief that homosexuality is alien to the word of God.

As their clergy and lay people age and younger people come into power, there will also be a unification of the Episcopal Church. We have much to learn from the experience of the Presbyterians and Methodists.

Monday, December 10, 2007

How to Get Rid of Your Rector-Advice to the Laity-Satire

How to Get Rid of your Rector- Advice to the Laity

Rectors, vicars and assistant rectors can grow to be a real pain in the life of a parish. There was a time when a rector had life tenure as a way to assure that he or she had the freedom of the pulpit and not have the position threatened by the whim of a vestry or bishop. Now it is possible to get rid of the clergy leadership under recent canons. However, it is a cumbersome process: conferences with the bishop, caucuses with the vestry behind the clergy’s back, trumped up charges of incompatibility or poor management.

But now there is a much easier way. All parishes have drama queens both male and female in their midst. Perhaps the parish has an acting company or a drama group, you know, those groups that put on Christmas pageants and act out the parables for the church school kids.

Choose one of the attractive women from the group and rehearse her on how to seduce the clergy leadership. Get her to have a séance with the cleric. She doesn’t have to go all the way, just make an approach. No matter what the cleric does doesn’t matter. The actor then goes to the Bishop and says the cleric has made an inappropriate sexual advance. Describe the scene to the bishop, give a good cry or a gentle weep and convince him or her that the Rector or Vicar has made a sexually charged innuendo. A wounded vulnerable woman makes the best “victim” against a straight male, female, lesbian or gay priest. The bishop isn’t stupid so give a convincing performance.

The Bishop is virtually forced to call in the cleric, reveal to him or her that an allegation has been made but the Bishop may not reveal who made the allegation, so the actor is in the clear and the cleric will be removed from the leadership position until further investigation. Meanwhile the cleric’s name is revealed to the public, but not the name of the accuser. The cleric won’t be back as rector and leader. The vestry is free of that nuisance and can go find another victim, I mean cleric, to lead the parish.

It is fun, easy, quick and no one gets hurt but the clergy who come and go anyway.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Church and the City

The Church and the 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 publicly 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.


Henry Knew How to Suffer

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Henry Goodwin Knew How to Suffer

Henry’s lover Robert died of AIDS fifteen years ago and his ashes are in the Trinity Church Columbarium.

Henry used to come into the huge empty space of the church on a weekday and cry, moan, weep and wail. When it first happened Richard Turley, parish administrator, and I would rush into the church fearing Henry had been attacked or taken seriously ill. Henry was simply mourning the death of his beloved Robert.

A few years later Henry came down with HIV disease and gradually worsened into full incapacity. He came to church and sat in a special comfortable chair with a pillow for his aching bones. He often came into the office just to chat and complain, but always with humor and a smile. The members of the parish grew to love and support him.

Every morning for years Henry went to Peet’s Coffee shop on Fillmore at California Street, drank some tea and visited with his growing number of friends who also regularly spent part of the morning at Peet’s. After a while Henry did not have to pay for the tea.

One day Henry complained that his cleaning man couldn’t come for a month. A man, one of Peet’s customers, told Henry he would clean his apartment for him for a month.

Henry knew how to suffer. He moaned and groaned and complained. He told people that he was in pain, he had to go to the hospital, he had to come home from the hospital, and he needed help shopping. Henry was always in pain and he told us so. Henry was transparent, self-revealing and made himself vulnerable. He got lots of help because he asked for it or because people sensed his need. He also could laugh at himself.

Henry taught us a valuable life lesson. Share your pain and misery, tell your friends what you need, share your frustration. Don’t make everyone else wrong and blame the world or God for your suffering. Suffer and allow your friends to help. If they don’t know what you need, they can’t help you. Most people are willing to help if they know what you need.

Suffering in silence is no virtue, it is a sin. It cuts yourself and others off from love.

Henry came to church every Sunday he was able. As he went to the altar to receive communion, he touched the plaque bearing Robert’s name, as a way of being close to his departed lover.

We Christians believe in the hope of resurrection and a life after death. That is what faith n the life, death and resurrection of Jesus promises. That was Henry’s hope after a life of grief suffering and knowledge that he was loved and supported by so many people who came to know him as he suffered with valor and dignity. His ashes rest next to Robert’s in the Trinity columbarium.

From a homily at Henry Goodwin’s funeral service, December 1, 2007, Trinity Church, San Francisco, CA by Robert Warren Cromey