Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Monday, May 26, 2008

God Talk

Randy Broman, Ann Bontatibus, Regina Saisi and Ann Cromey and I had dinner together recently and got in a wonderful discussion of God or lack thereof. Randy had read one of the recent books spouting there is no God. He has declared himself an atheist and had climbed down off the fence of being an agnostic. I asked him my usual question, “What is the definition of the God in which you do not believe?” He was frank in saying he did not believe in what I call the grandfatherdhood of God, a supreme being a grandfather in the sky counting our sins. Ann and I pointed out we don’t believe in that God either.

God is being itself; God is the ground of all being, in the words of Paul Tillich. These are the concepts of God that I find helpful. We went further with the discussion of the idea of ambiguity. Randy said as a scientist he was taught here is no such thing as ambiguity there is only truth to be sought. Randy sees, like Einstein, that scientific discoveries are not final, they are ambiguous and open to change and development. I said I find the idea of ambiguity to be essential to being a Christian and a mature human being.

We also chatted about transcendence and how most people have that experience of transcendence at the symphony, rock concert, athletic events, sex etc. One aspect of church is the sense that our lives are deeper and broader than our every day experience.

The notion of reverence comes to my mind as I thought of that conversation and as I write now. The reverence for life, the sense of awe and majesty as we stand before the glories and terrors of nature. Albert Schweitzer talked about the reverence for life.

Then there is the numinous and the holy. These ideas are vague yet strong, they call forth images, pictures and icons. In Judaism and Christianity the image of God is named father. That has come down to us from primitive times. Feminists have demanded and suggested mother is just as valid an image. I agree. The Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox use Mary as the Mother of God, putting her into to the Godhead. Perhaps that adds the note of the feminine in the Godhead that pleases many.

I have too simple a mind and imagination to get father, mother, Jesus, Mary and Holy Spirit all wrapped up into the ground of all being and being itself. So my image, picture, and icon of God is father. The Book of Common Prayer, uses God the father most of the time and then throws in the Jesus and the Hoy Spirit. I understand theologically and historically where all that came from.

But in my private prayers and devotions, I pray to God the Father, the ground of all being as the father, being itself as the father. But this is a picture an icon, not GOD. I do not confuse the God and father. I do not expect the ground of all being to save me if I jump off the roof, to end all wars, to be responsible for evil. When I pray I know the prayer works on me not on the being itself.

This is the ambiguity that I live with. God is being itself, the ground of all being. In order to focus on God I use the term father to name the concept of being. The concept of father is an image that is useful for me to focus on God, the ground of all being.

Thoughtful people say if you want to see what God is like, focus on Jesus. This is helpful to some. Jesus is the healer, the feeder of the hungry, the one who calls for seeing the deeper meanings of the law, the compassionate one and the one who sacrifices his life for all human kind.

Jesus is a useful image but it does not work for all people and not particularly for me. Jesus is too visceral a human being for my taste as an image

As we human beings open ourselves to be discovered by God, we can remain ambiguous, use several images, doctrines and notions. I suspect I will never have a solid faith and belief system. I am quite happy to worship within the traditions of the Christian faith and enjoy a floating and ambiguous view of God.

The church means worship and action. The church is a community of friends who care about each other in all aspects of life from baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, sickness, health and in death. We come together on Sundays and holy days to break bread together in holy communion, eucharist, mass – worship. Then we the people of the church go out and serve the world.

I tried to add this as a comment to your blog. Alas, I couldn't.
Anyway, thank you for your candid post on the image of God that works for you. We all are so different when it comes to the "icon" of God we hold in our mind's eye (if we hold an image at all) when we pray.
I thought we Anglican/Episcopalian Christians also consider Mary, the Mother of Jesus, as the Theotokos or "God-Bearer". Isn't she the "Co-Redemptrix", the second Eve who did her part to fulfill salvation history by saying "yes" to God? Without Mary's participation would Jesus, the second Adam, have been born?
I see God as genderless but having qualities of gender, because we, as males and females, are created in God's image. Julian of Norwich referred to Jesus as "Mother". Certainly the biblical Jesus was a nurturer and healer as most mothers are toward their children.
Some of the Church Fathers viewed the Holy Spirit as the "feminine" Person of the Divine Trinity. The Trisagion Prayers of the Eastern Church begin with this prayer to the Holy Spirit,
"O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who is everywhere present and fills all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life...."
The Holy Spirit is (masculine) "King" as well as (feminine) Comforter and Giver of life.
Because I am a man I primarily relate to Jesus. He is in my mind's eye when I pray. However, there are times -- especially when my prayers appear to go "unanswered" -- that I ask Mary, the Mother of God, to intercede on my behalf. I remember the nun who taught me catechism saying, "Jesus will not deny his mother any request she makes of him." She pointed to the miracle at the wedding in Cana as "proof" of the truth of her belief.

Nevertheless, as you so rightly point out, all this "God talk" can only be metaphor. None of us holds God in the palm of our hand. It's our feeble attempt to wrap our finite minds around the infinite God.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Social Service - Social Action

Sermon for Unitarian-Universalist Church of Marin
San Anselmo, CA
Sunday, May 25, 2008

When I fed the hungry, you called me a saint.
When I asked why are people hungry, you called me a communist.
-Dom Helder Camaro

So last Sunday I preached at Trinity Church, San Francisco on the Trinity. This week I speak to the Unitarian- Universalists, who years ago gave up on the Trinity in favor of the Unity.

It is my pleasure to be here and I thank Joan Nelson, therapist and friend, who thought my peculiar slant on things would be of interest to this congregation.

In the fifty-two years I have been ordained a priest of the Episcopal Church, I have often regarded myself as a high-church Unitarian. I do love the smells and bells, the mystery and majesty, music and melody of Anglican and Episcopal worship.

Like most male Episcopal priests I like to be called Father and dress like mother. Just kidding. I like to be called by my Baptismal name, which is Robert.

I have a simple Christian belief. I am a follower of Jesus. Not the Jesus of complex Trinitarian theology, stained glass windows and getting hung up on the cross. I follow Jesus the Revolutionary.

Jesus the revolutionary taught ideas that still need to be heeded today. Jesus was a healer. We need universal health care for all in our country today.

Jesus the revolutionary fed the hungry. The people going hungry in our country and in our world increases every hour.

Jesus the revolutionary called for loving our enemies. The United States goes to war and tortures our enemies.

Jesus the revolutionary said, "Blessed are the poor." People with little or no money in the US and in the world need massive aid for food homes, education and health care.

Jesus the revolutionary said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." We live in a country and world that profits from weaponry and war.

Jesus the revolutionary said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted." The US and the world need men and women who are willing to be persecuted for healing those in need and not bask in cushy jobs and fat salaries.

Unitarians are famous for social service programs like feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless, have a great program of sex education for teens, ordaining women, gays, and lesbians. They did that far sooner than most denominations Unitarians are strongly anti-war and accept all people who wish to join in the congregation.

Most churches have programs to help those in need. At Trinity, SF, we had a living room for people with AIDS to come and read rest, play cards and meet others. We had a shelter program where we sheltered 75 homeless men in the church rooms for a month each rainy winter for the past fifteen years. We allowed fifteen AA and NA groups to use the church rooms each week. We too did lots of social service.

But I want to make a distinction between social service and social action. Social service is feeding the hungry.

Social action is asking the question, “Why are people hungry, homeless, poor, having no health insurance. Why is there such a gap between the rich and the poor?

I think the brilliant men and women who are devout capitalists need to look at our system of government and economics to see how we can adjust the system so people do not go hungry and have no health care. I do not think we need armed revolution. I think we need people of good will to look at the system and make adjustments.

Rich, my Republican friend, and I were both born in Brooklyn, New York. He loves and respects me because I helped him understand and love his brother who revealed that he was gay and had a lover. It was hard for Rich to understand that. He came around and was reconciled to his brother. When it comes to the poor, he donates lots of money to feeding programs, soup kitchens, and hospitals. But when it comes to suggesting that capitalism as we know it leaves too many people poor and hungry, Dear Rich says, “Leave capitalism alone, don’t change anything. Just let things be.”

I think we in the religious, the faith community need to call on our leaders to fix the system so that so many people do not end up in poverty.

Many capitalist counties flourish with low poverty rates and good health care. Sweden, Ireland and Germany come to mind. Of course, they have very high tax rates. There may be other adjustments that smarter people than I can discover to change the system.

Let’s take a specific example of social action. We all know our health care system leaves many people with little of no health care. Why is that? Most people in the US when polled want vast improvement in the health care system. Our government does not want to do much about guaranteeing better health care for all. What can we do?

We can take on social action. Organize.

There is little a parish church can do to change the health care system after stating loud and clear for all to hear that the church stands for health care for all.

But think of the power of many churches gathered together to work for health care and other issues.
Community Organization has been going on for many years. Right here in the Marin County Organizing Committee has been gathering churches and synagogue and foundations to work on specific needs and goals they jointly decided upon. Mental health, shelters and toxic waste sites have found solutions as groups banded together to bring about change.

The Bay Area Organizing committee has been working in San Francisco in the Ingleside and outer Sunset to work on common concerns like parks and recreation centers.

Community organization is hard work. Gaining consensus on goals and plans of action are difficult. But that’s what politicians do. They organize and get laws past. Church groups can organize and bring pressure of money and vote to bear on legislators to make sure we have adequate health care for all.

That is social action, that is what will change things for real healing in our society.

Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr. were not organizers. They were inspirer-ers, they inspired people to action to bring about change. Jesus needed Paul to spread the church. MLK needed Lyndon Johnson and the Congress to pass laws ending discrimination against African Americans. Real Change comes through social action and the organizing of good people who care deeply about others.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Trinity Sunday Year A
May 18, 2007
Trinity, SF

What a pleasure to be with you this morning for Trinity Sunday, our name day. I appreciate the invitation from Bp. Otis Charles to be with you this morning. He knows how to treat a retired rector and make him feel welcome.

Let me tell you an Otis Charles story. He was bishop of Utah for many years and his office was in Salt Lake City. When Ann and I married we often visited SLC to visit her mother and brothers and their families. It is a bit dour, that city. Dour and dry. I called Otis and he invited me to lunch. He took me to his club, the only place in town where could have a legal martini to start a splendid lunch and conversation. That lunch was a memory Oasis site for me visiting SLC. I was grateful then for the martini lunch, conversation and now for this opportunity to preach today.

I calculate that while rector of Trinity I have preached on Trinity Sunday some twenty times, so I should be used to it by now. By the way next Sunday I will preach at the Unitarian Church in Marin. Unitarians separated from The Congregational church because they did not want to believe in the Trinity.

By the way, next Sunday I will preach at the Unitarian Church in Marin County. They separated from the Congregational Church many years ago because they could no longer believe in the doctrine of the Trinity.

Otis and I were baptized, confirmed and ordained in the name of the Trinity. Most of you were baptized and confirmed in the name of the Trinity. The Trinity is invoked many times during our liturgies and every time there is a blessing.

The monotheistic Jewish Christians who began to think about the nature of Jesus had to decide how Jesus could be human and divine and connect to God the father and yet there could only be one God.

They wrestled with the question of how do we know God, what is the nature of God and how does all that connect to Jesus?

After complicated debates the idea of the Trinity emerged.

Our God is the creator of the universe.
Our God is fully realized in the man Jesus.
Our God is always with us giving us power and IN- SPIRATION.

All the same one God known in three facets. Like a prism, one prism, three colors or expressions all in the same prism.

This is a metaphor, not a fact.

What does it mean to us today?

God the Creator - The story of creation – A fabulous story, not scientific fact about how the world came to be. The old Jewish Patriarchs sitting around the campfire telling a story when the children ask, “Where does the world come from?”

Some literalists believe that great story of the creation is historical, scientific and actual fact. You are welcome to do so if you wish. I believe in the reality behind that myth, namely that God created the universe

Jesus. The Healer - Jesus heals the blind, the lame and the sick. What does that mean for us today? Health care for all people in our country.

Phil Diers of this congregation and the late Dr. Ted Winn fought diligently for years for single-payer health plan. The SF Labor Council recently voted to endorse a bill in the California State Senate for a single-payer health plan.

The United Methodist Church has Peace and Justice Parishes. In our church we do not have such designations. Every parish should be loud and clear peace and justice church, a church that stands for health care for all, not just for those can afford it.

That is the work of Jesus the healer in our time.

Then there is the Holy Spirit. The In-Spiration, the power to enliven and excite. God’s Holy Spirit is seen everywhere. Music, architecture, nature, in worship in community and caring for the needs of all.

There is little a parish church can do to change the health care system after stating loud and clear for all to hear that the church stands for health care for all, food for all people, justice of lesbians and gays and all minorities, an end to war and the search for everlasting peace.

But think of the inspirational power of many churches gathered together to work for health care and other issues.
Community Organization has been going on for many years. Marin County Organizing Committee has been gathering church synagogue and foundations to work on specific needs and goals they jointly decided upon. Mental health, shelters and toxic waste sites have found solutions as groups banded together to bring about change.

The Bay Area Organizing committee has been working in San Francisco in the Ingleside and outer Sunset to work on common concerns like parks and recreation centers.

The God of creation and creativity, the Jesus of healing and justice and the Holy Spirit of empowering people to work together can be a new source of the church’s work in the days and years to come.

I close with this story (which I will paraphrase)

A Hero to Jewish Children
A Polish social worker during World War II, Irena Sendler masterminded operations to rescue nearly 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Sendler died Monday at 98.

Sendler died at a Warsaw hospital on Monday morning, her daughter, Janina Zgrzembska, told The Associated Press. She had been hospitalized since last month with pneumonia.

Born in Warsaw, Sendler served as a social worker with the city's welfare department, masterminding the risky rescue operations of Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during Nazi Germany's brutal World War II occupation.

Records show that Sendler's team of some 20 people saved nearly 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto between October 1940 and April 1943, when the Nazis burned the ghetto, shooting the residents or sending them to death camps.

Under the pretext of inspecting the ghetto's sanitary conditions during a typhoid outbreak, Sendler and her assistants went inside in search of children who could be smuggled out and given a chance of survival by living as Catholics.

Babies and small children were smuggled out in ambulances and in trams, sometimes wrapped up as packages. Teenagers escaped by joining teams of workers forced to labor outside the ghetto. They were placed in families, orphanages, hospitals or convents.

In hopes of one day uniting the children with their families - most of whom perished in the Nazis' death camps - Sendler wrote the children's real names on slips of paper that she kept at home.

When German police came to arrest her in 1943, an assistant managed to hide the slips, which Sendler later buried in a jar under an apple tree in an associate's yard. Some 2,500 names were recorded.

"It took a true miracle to save a Jewish child," Elzbieta Ficowska, who was saved by Sendler's team as a baby in 1942, recalled in an AP interview in 2007. "Mrs. Sendler saved not only us, but also our children and grandchildren and the generations to come."

After World War II, Sendler worked as a social welfare official and director of vocational schools, continuing to assist some of the children she rescued.

In 1965, Sendler became one of the first so-called Righteous Gentiles honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem for wartime heroics. Poland's communist leaders at that time would not allow her to travel to Israel; she collected the award in 1983.

Despite the Yad Vashem honor, Sendler was largely forgotten in her homeland. Only in her final years, confined to a nursing home, did she finally become one of Poland's most respected figures, with President Lech Kaczynski and other politicians backing a campaign that put her name forward for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sendler is survived by her daughter and a granddaughter.

She used her creative power to save Jewish children
She was a healer as she chose life over death
She was inspired and passionate to organize and find communities of helpers.

This morning I preach to you in the name of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Visit - a movie

The Visit

Ann and I went to see this movie..

It is the story of a lost soul professor who, after a long absence, returns too his Greenwich Village apartment to find a man and woman living in it without his knowledge. They are both visitors, he to his home and they as campers in his home. Walter is past mid-life and disinterested in everything. He slowly discovers himself and new life by becoming friends with the Palestinian and Senagalese woman.

They are both illegals. The young man gets arrested and Walter does all he can by hiring an immigration lawyer. The young man can’t be visited by his mother or woman friend because they are both illegals also. I won’t reveal how it ends.

The young man teaches Walter how to lay bongo drums and through the drumming and friendship with the young illegals, he realizes he must find a new life for himself and as the movie ends he does so.

The movie does not raise the question of the legality of the immigration system but shows the plight of people in the US who have few rights and are mistreated by the failed immigration system. The Visitor makes us look again at what it is to live in the land of the free and home of the brave and the perils of legalism without justice.