Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen

Sunday, April 20, 2008
Year A, Easter 5 – SJE

No Body Knows The trouble I’ve seen.
Nobody knows my sorrow,
Nobody knows the trouble I seen
Glory Hallelu

I want to talk about how to deal with trouble as John’s gospel suggests.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in me.
I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Jesus probably did not say these words. They were said the by the author of John’s Gospel written in about 90 AD, sixty years after Jesus death.

The rest of the passage wrestles with the idea that Jesus and God are one being. Now that is trouble. The church has asserted that Jesus is truly God and truly man. Jews, Unitarians and Muslims among others do not believe that. Since the church continues to discuss that dogma, I will leave you with the invitation to continue the wrestling and talk with the rector about it some time.

Now we all can make a list of our troubles – money, sex, war, anxiety, relationships, the office, the church, the school, politics, health and on and on – over meadow and farm….

I got a call from the daughter of a woman named Maureen who used to come to my groups in the 70’s. She asked me to visit her mother in St, Mary’s Hospital, which I did. Maureen was unconscious, had no friends except her daughter. She died the next day and her body was donated to UC Medical School as she had a rare disease, which should have killed her long before her death at 77. It was a sad little visit but felt honored that I was there for an old friend and client whom I had not seen or heard from for 25 years. She had a port wine stain on one half of her face and upper body from birth. It is called a hemangioma. She lived with that mark all her life but managed to have three husbands and a couple of kids. She was tough and frightened of rejection all through her life. Her toughness left her sadly alone. She showed few of us her vulnerability.

1. Jesus says, “I am the way,” - talk about trouble. Get on the way, the path of following Jesus. Be prepared for the cross, because that’s the way much of life really is. It is pain and it ends in death. So what else is new? What did you expect?

When visiting sick – Many times I have held the hand of a man who has said, “Why did this happen to me? What did I do wrong?”

What you did wrong was to get born. Pain and sorrow are integral to human life. The life and death of Jesus is our story about the reality of life.

Jesus was a healer and so are we. – Visit the sick, pray for them, touch, and lay hands on the sick. Send cards.

I have had several major surgeries – cards, flowers, people praying for my safety and recovery in England. It meant so much to me and I am sure contributed to my healing.

Blessed are the poor. Take the poor seriously. Always acknowledge a panhandler. Say hello, give when you feel like it, be polite. Give that person the dignity one gives too every human being.

2. Jesus says, “I am the truth,” - talk about trouble. – Tell the truth, bigots, war, race sex,

“I am uncomfortable with your talk and jokes about Jews, Arabs

My Jewish friend sent me a racist and sexist cartoon about Arab women being terrorists. I told him it made me uncomfortable. He wrote back and said he was glad I told him and it would not happen again,

Tell the truth about being angry. Allow your anger. Your anger is a natural normal part of you. Allow it. Express it safely if you can. Do no violence. Maybe just acknowledging it to yourself is enough.

3. Jesus says, “I am the life - talk about trouble. – Eucharistic, community. Following Jesus gives us life. We take seriously the troubles and pain of life, we are healers, we care for the sick and downtrodden. Most of all we are Eucharist people we are Thankful people.

Give thanks. It is impossible to thank people for all they do for you.

If you live a life of thanks giving your troubles are not over but the take on a new perspective.

Thankful I got AIDS. Billy said, I found my God, my church, and reconnected to me family.
Thankful that the pain of surgery means I am alive and have new life.

Thankful or the outrage I feel every morning when I read the newspaper and see the stupidity of our ceos, politicians and media moguls. I can channel my outrage into conversation, writing and voting and standing on a street with Sr. Maggie and others in a vigil protesting this dreadful war.

Thankful for my wife, children grandchildren and friends and fellow Episcopalians in this sloppy denomination we call Anglicanism.

The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. That is truly the way out of trouble and into the path of following Jesus. The life of gratitude transcends the trouble We’ve seen.

Christians are a new 'species', homo eucharisticus, a humanity defined in its Eucharistic practice....

We pray for each other and the world
We confess our sins and acknowledge our weakness and errors
We know we are forgiven
We bask in the mystical presence of God in the breaking of the bread and drinking of the wine
We eat and drink together at the altar in a statement of oneness and unity in the name of Jesus Christ the Revolutionary.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Musings on the Olympics and China

Lots of fuss about he Olympics these days. Everyone hates China’s human rights abuses. Many want the throat tingle of seeing the torch racing through our cities. Many of us want to see protesters impeding the runner’s progress. Many see the human rights abuses of the United States government toward homosexuals, immigrants, Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghanis and torture victims.

We can’t wait to see the thrilling opening and closing ceremonies orchestrated by Hollywood and Madison Avenue. We cheer the winners of track, field and swimming events so long as they are Americans. Television coverage of the games veers away from events where Americans do not compete or are perceived to play poorly.

The Olympics like all American sports are about business not sport. The Olympic games and the massive media coverage of the events are about selling beer, not athletic prowess. Many of us do not watch the coverage of the Olympics for the same reason we do not watch telecasts of sporting events or network TV programming. It’s the commercials stupid. Certainly the commercials are stupid. The constant interruption of events, drama and movies by sales pitches are an insult to the human spirit, not to mention basic intelligence. Most people do not seem to care or notice the commercials anymore. Besides, ads are not pitched toward people of my age – 77. I guess the ad people think the younger folks are stupid and insensitive.

Reading the newspapers and magazines gives me the freedom to choose what I read and skip what I choose not to read. I bounce past most of the advertising. I do not have the privilege of hopping over the TV ads in the coverage of the Olympics.

The real question for me is not protesting the sponsors of the Olympics; the real question is about the Olympics at all. Men and women train arduously to become the best athletes possible so they can compete in the games. They push their bodies and spirits to the limit in order to be the best for themselves and for their country.

There was that Olympic swimmer from highly rated Stanford who couldn’t put together a full English grammatical sentence sprinkling it together with “like” “you know” and “whatever.” College graduates like pro footballers, basketball, baseball and hockey players sound like idiots when it comes to the language.

We are told athletics teach us the value of competition. I have often wondered about competition. Wasn’t competition for mortgage money that downed our economy these past two years? Wasn’t it competition for money that cause Airlines to not check the wiring on fuel lines that caused millions of passengers to be stranded in their travel? Isn’t it competition that allows factories and automobiles to continue to pollute the planet? Isn’t it competition that allows the rich to get richer and the poor poorer?

“Winning is the only thing,” said coach Vince Lombardi. “I can’t stand losing,” is the motivation for an Olympic swimmer, I read about. That is really the message of the Olympic games. Being number one is the goal in life for many. This idolatry of being number one leaves the rest of us wanting. Poor me, I’ll never be a CEO, a Bishop or a billionaire. Most of the people on the planet are not going to be the top in their profession, job or school. We teach our children by implication that if you are not number one, there is something wrong with you. The glorification of winning and being top dog damages the spirit and soul of the many people not mature enough to yet see that most people are not number one.

There is more to say and I may write about it in the future.

Handling Bigots

A friend once told me the story of a prominent Bishop of the Episcopal Church who attended a formal dinner in the 1960’s where the host held forth mightily against Jews and their business practices he continued on attacking blacks for their sexual promiscuity. The Bishop sat silently through the talk.

Just recently another friend told me that he had been at a dinner party at the home of a prominent businessman and his lover. Aaron, my friend, said he had not heard such remarks for years. The young gay man held forth about Jews, Blacks and Hispanics in a slurring and hostile way. Aaron was also speechless.

It seems like we all need people to hate and scapegoat. We need people around whom we can belittle so we can feel better about ourselves.

It can’t be lack of education. Schools, colleges, the media, churches have been doing a really good job of teaching the immorality and illegality of such talk. Such attitudes still do exist. We know that African Americans use the word nigger in talking about each other, but will not tolerate others people using that word in any context. We also know that many people in the under-class harbor racist and sexist attitudes out of ignorance, lack of education and business experience.

Thoughtful people can still be aware that prejudice still runs through many people in all walks of life. From time to time we are confronted with such remarks on social occasions. We can keep silent and then feel guilty.

A few times in my social career I have been confronted by bigots - anti-Jew, Black, Mexican, gay, lesbian remarks and hearing horrible sexist stories about women.

I have tried to stay calm and have said simply, "I am uncomfortable with talk about like that about Jews, blacks, gays etc. I prefer not to hear such talk. May we talk about something else?"

That usually stops it. There is some embarrassment but things move ahead and the bigot talk ceases.

Perhaps if we are more willing to make it clear that such talk is not appreciated, we can help make a small statement of justice for all people.

More on Handling Bigots - from friends

1. Great suggestion, Robert. I wanted to let you know that this privileged white person had her first experience of racism courtesy of a Japanese vendor in Kyoto when my family visited Japan last week. "Go home!" he said to me. I stood there blinking my blue eyes in disbelief and said "What?" He repeated "Go home!" I said "Why?"
"I hate foreigners!" he replied in remarkably good English. I slumped away, thinking of how many times my colleagues of color have experienced something probably less explicit, but just as painful. We live and learn. I also visited the Peace Museum and memorial at Hiroshima and was very moved. Ironically, the people in Hiroshima were incredibly sweet and friendly.

2, I have found your way of handling bigots to be effective in dealing
with angry and hostile vestry members when they go beyond the bounds of
acceptable language and behavior. To sit in judgment on them can turn
the fire in your direction. The best way is, as you say, to take it on
yourself by saying "I feel uncomfortable with the way this conversation
is going. Can we move on?"

3, My experience has been the same. Sometimes it has been difficult to stay calm and to resist the temptation to make a cutting sarcastic response. But, it is important to say something, not to let that prejudice however slight just roll along. I have sent your words on to some others.

I also try to watch my words to ensure that they do not unintentionally appear to express prejudice. I believe that most of us have human prejudices; the virtue is never to express or act on that prejudice such that it hurts someone else.

4. dear fr. cromey,
what a good technique to handle this.

in my past, i have gotten into way too upsetting situations for myself and the other party by being antagonistic towards the bigot.
and as we know, silence can be read as agreement, so i will memorize your words and be forearmed. this is
a technique of obvious strength of conviction and says very much more in its conveyance of grace. thank you

5. I guess saying "how can you think that, you fucking asshole?" would be too direct?

6. Thanks, Robert -- what an excellent way to respond to such comments. "I" statements ("I am uncomfortable", "I prefer...", etc., rather than "YOU make me uncomfortable" or "YOUR talk is racist", etc.) work well I would assume, also, that if the subject does not change, then one has set the stage for a polite "Goodbye, perhaps we can talk another time."