Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Sunday, December 28, 2008

On Letters to the Editor:

From a friend on reading an open forum article I wrote:

Well done, Robert! I saw and read it in the S.F. Chronicle.

Congratulations on getting it published! My letters to the editor almost never get published. The only time I could get the SF Chronicle to publish something I wrote was about a half dozen years ago. … I submitted an opinion page piece appealing for getting more public toilets available to people on the streets 24 hours a day, free of charge, and proposing how they could be operated safely, be kept clean and in operating condition, while, at the same time, providing jobs for unemployed people.

Everything else that I wrote, which was usually political or political/religious, never made it to the printed page.

Here is my response:

I send about ten letters to the SF Chronicle for each one published. Letters need to be short and making one point - vividly. I write about five Open Forum pieces a year and one gets published every three or four years. I also write to the The Living Church, Episcopal Life and Pacific Churchnews and get some published there too. Even the SF Examiner publishes some of mine.

I encourage you to write regularly and succinctly. That way they get to know you and your name gets into their orbit. You also are teaching the editors a thing or two about the values and interests you hold dear.

I think of these items as preaching the gospel incognito. It is also a hobby of mine.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Salvation and Wholeness

The old Christmas carol goes, “Our Savior Christ Jesus was born on this day…”

Saved from what? Who needs saving these days? Who really is concerned about being saved by Jesus or anyone else? I love to sing the old and familiar carols and get to wondering what it means to be saved.

Mormons believe in the celestial kingdom and work on a plan of salvation to assure people will get there after they die. Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics believe that when they die, if they have lived a life of faith and are members of that church, they will go to heaven, a place of eternal bliss. I have a few gay friends brought up in those traditions who fear they will not only not go to heaven but will go to hell because they are homosexual. They have been brainwashed in the theology of those sects.

Salvation means deliverance from the penalty and power of sin says the American Heritage Dictionary. Some people believe they will be penalized for their sins, the evil things they have done or left undone. That penalty dooms them to eternal punishment in hell. Eternal damnation is what many people believe they are to be saved from.

The sins that we are to be saved from are violations of love and compassion and breaking of the Ten Commandments like stealing, murder, adultery, false witness, and dishonoring parents and God.

Some people believe that by accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord, they will be saved from their sins and go to heaven and avoid damnation. Some conservative religionists believe they must have an emotional and heartening experience of Jesus in their hearts and minds and then they will be saved from their sins. It can’t be a mere intellectual act of will; there must be an awakening, ecstatic moment, and an experience of the mystical presence of Jesus. Then once they have “found Christ” they are to be good and avoid all the sins and wrongdoing.

However, many Christians do believe in an intellectual assent to become followers of Jesus. Many believe that by following Jesus their sins will be forgiven and after death they will somehow rest with God in eternity.

The Catechism of the Episcopal Church makes no mention of salvation. The closest item we have is redemption…”the act of God which sets us free from the power of evil, sin and death.” When we celebrate the birth of Jesus we look forward to his suffering and death by which the church teaches, “...we are freed from the power of sin and reconciled to God.” (Book of Common Prayer p. 850.)

Here is what salvation means to me. After I die I am in some mysterious state known only to God. It looks like eternal sleep to me but the church teaches that we are somehow in God’s hands and we have no present knowledge of what that state is. Literature presents poems, stories, plays and even music to fill our minds and imaginations with what the after-life is all about. Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained are two examples.

Salvation has the root word of salve, or healing, wholeness and health. We human beings can work though the sin, evil and pain we have caused others in confession, counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous or therapy. When we have dealt with the resultant anxiety and guilt, we approach a state of healing and wholeness. It is a life - long process. We never make it all perfect. We are always screwing things up and then we are able to acknowledge our faults, seek forgiveness and reconciliation with others and move on in life.

As a Christian I believe the gospel good news that through the life, death and resurrection Jesus Christ we are fully forgiven and reconciled by God. So I don’t worry about eternal life or life after death. I am called to live as full and healthy a life as I can here on earth and serve my brothers and sisters in the world. That is what makes the good and healthy and life. That is what I mean by being “saved.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas 2008

What does Christmas mean to the world in the year 2008? In Western culture for the last two thousand years or so, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Jewish itinerant preacher. The stories of his birth in a barn behind an inn, the visit of wise men bearing gifts and later his execution on a cross are written into the fabric of our culture, its music, art, architecture, philosophy, literature, and in Christian worship. The Christian churches developed out of these humble beginnings.

The basic simple message of Jesus has been distorted over the years as churches identified themselves with political power. Popes became so powerful they crowned kings. Orthodox Patriarchs worked hand in hand with Czars, Conservative Christians dominated Republican politics in recent years.

The abuses of religion wedded to power have produced pogroms, racial and ethnic hate, inquisitions and wars to the point that many believe with the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair that "Religion has caused more misery to all of mankind in every stage of human history than any other single idea." There is all too much truth in her remark.

The Christian churches have distorted the basic message of Jesus beyond recognition. As a result, the cathedrals and churches of Europe have become tourist sites. Few Europeans are active members of their churches, though many say they are nominally Catholic or Protestant. The main line denominations in this country are shrinking in membership. Fundamentalist churches are strong and growing as many people yearn for simple messages of hope for heaven. As long as these American churches align with the powerful and rich, they too will soon diminish in size and strength.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus the Revolutionary. In the extreme poverty of the Roman world two thousand years ago, Jesus made enemies by advocating things like peace and justice, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, focusing on the poor, jabbing the powerful and holding the foolish accountable. He radically suggested people love and forgive their enemies and one another.

When the Christian churches get back to the basics of the message of Jesus the Jewish prophet, they will flourish. The reason that Jesus is remembered by so many in the world is the appeal of those deep human values. When church and world truly stand for love and not power, when we stand for forgiveness and not vengeance, we will be following the message of the man whose birth we celebrate at this season.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Legalize Marijuana

To SF Chronicle Insight

Prohibition became the law of the land because Baptists and Methodists with their strong anti-alcohol beliefs led the way. I agree with Debra J. Saunders that our nation should move to legalizing drug use, perhaps starting with marijuana. (SF Chronicle Insight 12/7/08) However, religious groups will again lead the fight to keep drugs illegal. The Mormons will join the others in vigorously opposing decriminalization. These denominations not only oppose alcohol use but any substance that stimulates the body and mind. The main line denominations like Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans will probably say nothing but will be quietly opposed.

The underlying issue is the fear that most religious groups have about pleasure. Sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, alcohol or marijuana use give people pleasure. They believe pleasure that is good for the body is bad for the soul.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Advent-Christmas Letter 2008- Obama

Advent is the season for waiting for the coming of Jesus at Christmas and anticipating the kingdom of God, when justice and peace will reign in the world. This year many of us are waiting for the coming of Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States. The feelings of relief, joy, and hope rise above the many crises facing our country and world. Solving the problems is not the issue. The sense of honor, cooperation, creativity and intelligence generates the power to support the president and his advisors in facing the crises.

As a teacher, Ann taught her students by giving them strategies and waiting for them to figure things out for themselves, rather than her telling them the right answers. She let them figure out if Hamlet was just a depressed and confused hero or perhaps a cruel murderer.

A good therapist helps patients tell the truth about their past memories and behavior and then waits for the patients to discover how to heal themselves.

The debacle in Iraq teaches leaders and diplomats to wait and discover who the people are and what they want before they start killing the people they want to convert to democracy. Humanitarians want to relieve the pain and suffering young women face undergoing a clitorectomy. The same humanitarians had best wait and see what might happen to women outcast, hungry and homeless from their tribes and community because they have been spared that rite. Part of waiting is living in ambiguity.

We did a lot of waiting this year, too. The big one was for the election and its joyous outcome for us and for the country. A man of my vintage sits in the waiting rooms of various medicine men and women, giving him lots of time to reflect on the human condition. Ann can’t wait to get to the next class she attends – Cuban Movies, Women as Gods, Hebrew Bible and Spanish. Waiting in airport lounges annoyed us on our trips to Palm Springs in January, New York and New England in April, and to Salt Lake City in July.

The Christian theme of waiting and anticipation reminds us of the journey of faith. I, Robert, have little patience with much of religion and church life. I am more committed than ever to Jesus the Revolutionary. You know, the old stuff, like seeking peace and justice, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, focusing on the poor, jabbing the powerful and holding the foolish accountable. You can see there is a lot of waiting for all that to happen. I do go to church and enjoy the people, the music and the Eucharist. I am invited to preach four times a year, which is better than forty when I was a parish priest. Ann joins me at church and in much of what I call my thinking.

We hope you have a thoughtful Advent and Blessed Christmas.

Ann and Robert