Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Responding to The New Yorker Article on Bp. Paul Moore

Dear Honor Moore, (Bishop Paul Moore's daughter)

I think your outing of Paul Moore is just wonderful. He has always been one my heroes and now even more so. I am sad he lived so much of his life in the closet. I wish he had announced the gay part of himself to the world. What a comfort it would have been to gays and lesbians and an inspiration to the closeted to come out.

C. Kilmer Myers with whom Paul worked in the ‘50s, and who later became Bishop of California tried marriage, adopted children and was also gay. My bet is that his alcoholism was his attempt to cover up this gay side. I have first - hand testimony that Myers acted out sexually as a gay man while he was Bishop. He too is one of my heroes for his passionate concern for the poor, homeless and victims of injustice.

My own father, The Rev. E. Warren Cromey was bi-sexual. He adored my mother, loved my brother and me, but had gay sex from time to time with friends who later told me about those activities.

My father was chaplain on Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island) in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Paul Moor referred his old St. Paul’s teacher, Fred Batrop, to my dad for counseling and friendship. I remember meeting Fred once or twice at our house for dinner. I do believe Fred was alcoholic and gay but had not married. I also recollect Fred was a priest deposed, for some reason I have forgotten.

I also know that Paul was on the board of directors of a counseling center to help homosexual men and women in the ‘50s. It was based for a long time at the now defunct Church of the Holy Communion in Chelsea. When I discovered this, I thought how brave Paul was to ally himself so early with a homosexual organization.

I had no personal knowledge or suspicions about Paul’s homosexual side. His pro-gay stands and actions as bishop were just another natural part of his concern for the poor and disenfranchised.

Paul came to General Seminary a couple of times between 1953-56 when I was a student there. He led a quiet day and tried to teach us to meditate. He failed miserably as far I was concerned. Whenever I am forced to meditate I fall asleep or think of sex. But when he came and talked about the ministry of the church to the inner city and urban concerns, I was excited and inspired to spend my ministry in the city. I have served in the Bronx and then in the city of San Francisco since 1962.

Your article about Paul’s life re-inspired and reminded me about the work for justice, peace and care for the poor all over again. I am married, straight and have had a long ministry with gay and lesbians here in San Francisco – since 1964 as a matter of fact. My SF parish was 75% gay men and 5% lesbians and a few of us straight people as well.

Beth Clements told me a couple of years ago that you were working on a book about your father. I do hope The New Yorker article does move toward a book.

Thank you for writing the article. In many ways it continues the importance of Paul’s life and ministry

With all good wishes,

Robert Cromey

How Does God Answer Prayer?

How God Answers Prayer
By Robert Warren Cromey

God answers our prayers from within ourselves, not from up there or out there. When we shut up and listen to our deeper selves, we find the answers to our prayers. The God within is our true and deep self and tells us what to do.

Liz Gilbert describes herself in the middle of a cold November night crying miserably on the bathroom floor. The crying seemed to go on forever. She realized she no longer wanted to be married to her husband. Totally confused, she cried uncontrollably. “…Please tell me what to do – repeated again and again…and the crying went on forever. Until – quite abruptly – it stopped. Then I heard a voice….It was merely my own voice speaking from within my own self. But it was a voice I had never heard before. This was my voice, but perfectly wise, calm and compassionate….The voice said, “Go back to bed, Liz.”

In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert describes her pain and sorrow and how she finds God in her conversations with Him, which turns out to be with her God within.

Now if your God within or without says go commit suicide, kill your spouse and children or murder all Arabs, then you might want to check out God’s voice with the members of your family, your therapist, your priest or the police.

But those of us who are relatively normal can listen deeply, look within, quiet our minds, use self examination, go to therapy or AA, read a book, listen to music or even meditate if that is your cup of bullion.

When you pray about deep problems, expect the answer to come from within your self not from outside, from a notion of God or even good advice from a friend. Rust that deep voice within.

I know a woman who knew she should not marry her groom as she walked down the aisle toward the altar. We all know the man who hates his job with a passion and the voice within says, “get out” but he stays and is miserable.

A friend of mine worked very hard in therapy about staying in his marriage, which had produced four children. He agonized that he would have to divorce his wife and be separated from his two sons and two daughters. One day he just knew what he had to do. It was clear from deep within himself that he had to suffer the pain of divorce and separation. After he moved toward ending the marriage, his doctors told him that he had been on the edge of having a massive stroke.

Too often we expect our prayers to be answered by some divine intervention, some event that will lead us clearly without pain to a new place. The God within answers our prayer as we struggle alone or with the help of friends to discover our own answers and only then we can be sure they are God’s answers to our prayers. God is “breathing through our own hearts.” God is wherever we have the experience of extreme love. The God within works through our minds, our thought processes, our thinking capacity.

We pay attention to what our mind is teaching us. The God within also works through our emotions, our anger, sadness, fear, sexuality and joy. By paying attention to our emotions, we also learn who we really are and what we really want out of life. These are the areas of our inner self through which we learn God’s will for us.

How do we know we are not talking just to ourselves if we listen to the God within? The answer is quite simple; we don’t know. But the same self-deception will happen if we choose any other way of knowing what God wants us to do. The incarnation means that God entered human history as well as created human life. This human life of ours has all the answers. The only ways we know any answers are through our reason, emotions and finally our wisdom. I’ll bet on the God within to give me the answers to my prayers.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

How to Listen to a Sermon - Take Notes

When sermon times comes at worship, do we look forward to it, dread it or are hopeful for insight or understanding of what the scriptures mean? Most of us have not thought about how we listen. We can ready ourselves to listen and really understand with our minds and hearts what the preacher is saying.

I have been retired for six years and have listened to many sermons during that time. In order to focus on what is said from the pulpit I take notes. In high school, college we deepened our learning by taking notes. I start by noting the time the sermon starts and when it ends.

I listen for the Biblical text. It does not always have to start the sermon. It may come in the middle or at the end. I try to understand the Biblical passages mentioned. Often more than one Biblical reference is confusing to me and makes my mind wander.

At first I jot down everything I hear, summarizing in a few words what the preacher is saying. I look for what the preacher is searching to say, the theme or the main idea.

I listen for stories. Jesus was an artist, a storyteller of immense talent. The stories are what most of us remember from a sermon.

I like stories from the preacher’s own life, foibles, triumphs, failures and successes. They make me feel connected to the humanity of the preacher. In high school our athletic teams mostly lost our games to other schools. The reality and sad humor of those events made me grow and learn something of the way real life is. People often remarked how much my sport stories meant to them.

A friend wrote. “The other day at the cathedral for ordinations, the preacher told the ubiquitous Native American tale. I had already zoned out and was fidgety. It was only when she began to recount personal stories of her relationship knowing the ordinand that it became interesting and I became engaged in the sermon. I really didn't know the ordinand, but by her telling of personal stories, I felt more a colleague than before.”

I write in my notes when I hear the preacher related the sermon or Biblical passage to something going on in my personal, social or political life. Can we love a terrorist, the members of the political party to which I do not belong, or the sixteen-year-old boy who murders his father, mother and two brothers with a pistol?

I note when my mind wanders. I ask myself, “What happened?” When I return to listening closely the preacher has become vague, is not being specific and concrete. She or he is examining a concept, idea or abstraction like the Trinity, Incarnation, or the details of the real presence. These important issues are best handled in discussion groups. We listeners can learn from their mention from the pulpit but it takes real work to pay attention to abstractions for very long.

At the sermons conclusion I take a moment with this checklist.

Was there a clear theme that was stated and illustrated?
Did the stories relate to the theme?
What did I learn from this sermon?
How does this text relate to anything in our lives today?
Did the sermon move me to be a better follower of Jesus?
Was I moved to any action by the preacher’s words?

I will bet that a preacher who looks up and sees the congregation taking notes will become a better and more careful preacher.

Taking notes will make the listener a more attentive participant in the preaching enterprise.

Notes for fun and reflection::
Some practical considerations:
Put in your hearing aid
Take your ipod out of your ears
Pretend you are interested
Act as if you care
Don't bang your head on the pew in front if you nod off
Sit on the bulletin unless you are using it to take notes.
Go to the bathroom before the sermon starts
Take the gum out of your mouth
Put your purse on the floor
Do not comb your hair during the sermon, no flossing either.
Take your eyes off the stained glass windows, they have been their for one hundred and eighty-five years.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. Listen to the words.

Dr.King gave the best advice I have ever heard about preaching. He
said: "Make them laugh, make them cry, and then tell them what you want them
to do."

When I was a new, young priest I was gratified to see a young girl in
the congregation carefully taking notes during my sermon. When I
complimented her after the service about listening so carefully, she
told me she was keeping track of whether I used every letter of the
alphabet in my sermon!!!

“No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms and untruisms and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanor as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips.”

-Anthony Trollope in Barchester Towers,

From a Lutheran Pastor friend:

I think it would be “spicier” (is that a word?) if you inserted some things like: When to tune out from a sermon that isn’t making it, isn’t proclamation. What is the preacher sharing of their own faith experience? Mentioning some strategies of benign sabotage (nodding off to sleep while the sermon is going on, looking the homilist in the Adam’s apple or neck when things are going astray, strategic yawns or coughs). All of which switch to rapt attention when the preacher gets back on track. Too many preachers use a sermon to teach rather than to proclaim. The Gospel is about proclamation, not education (which only happens as a by product of the former.

Friday, February 01, 2008

woo woo Episcopalians

That is what I call Episcopalians and others caught up in the current fad of the “spiritual life.” My own seminary, GTS in NYC peddles courses on spirituality and vestries and many other areas not including carpenters and plumbers. Why not? I say. Gad! I may have given them new ideas.

The Episcopal Church has never had a broad base of social activist clergy and congregations. In the sixties there was an outpouring of Episcopal involvement in the civil rights movement and the anti-war in Vietnam cause. Even in the fight for full rights for gays and lesbians there were a few leaders from the Episcopal Church but very few outspoken ones. Larger numbers of churches give good soup kitchen and small homeless shelters.

The Episcopal Church, clergy and congregations are virtually silent on social action. The church has no voice or action in urging proper medical care for all, legislation to provide low cost housing and programs to wipe out hunger at home and abroad.

Benjamin Franklin said it well. “Serving God is Doing good to Man, but Praying is thought an easier Service, and therefore more generally chosen.” Episcopalians pray about things as part of our spiritual life but the doing of things is too hard.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it very well. “Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.”

woo-woo adj. concerned with emotions, mysticism,
or spiritualism; other than rational or scientific;
mysterious; new agey. Also n., a person who has mystical or new age beliefs.

When woo woo piety produces social action the church will move to a church that has spiritual depth that produces vigorous commitment to change the injustices of our society.