Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Imperfect Birds

By Anne Lamott

Riverhead Books, 2010

279 pages $25.95

This is the most painful yet compelling book that I have ever read. Lamott usually makes me laugh and then get choked up. In this case I also got anxious and somewhat depressed. Seventeen year old Rosie, the star of the book, is gorgeous and horrible, a consummate liar and hot chick. She is winning in her vulnerability and nasty as a rat in her machinations to outwit her parents, snag dope, get good grades and demean herself sexually to get high.

The scenes where Rosie lies to her recovering alcoholic mother and distracted stepfather are so realistic that I wonder how often I have been lied to and not even noticed. Yet Lamott shows Rosie as warm, tender, loving, caring to her friends, parents, children and animals. This teen is the perfect illustration of humanity as totally depraved and completely loving all at the same time.

Lamott’s love of nature and colorful descriptions of flowers, birds, mountains and hills more than hint that nature and health, the universe and wholeness are the true sources of health and healing. This becomes evident as Rosie’s parents force her into a radical program to get her off drugs and back into a life of reality. Whether or not it works is not revealed.

Without ever mentioning it, the book is a radical call for the regulation of illegal drugs. Drugs of all kinds are available to teens at school, inneighborhoods and recreation centers. There is no control over the contents or levels of potency. The kids often don’t care; they will try anything just to see how it feels. When a child gets hooked, the need and drive is relentless to get more, at whatever cost.

There is no way the parents can stop their teens from getting hold of drugs and using them. Parents cannot be clever enough to catch their beloved children in the lies and deceits that are used to evade the truth.

Lamott’s painful family scenes and dialogues make us cringe with hopelessness before our lying offspring. She shows the helping groups are also mostly useless. AA, NA, ersatz religious groups, rehab centers and programs all are used and abused by the lying kids. Recidivism runs riot.

Church groups need to get off the high horse of moral judgment and condemning of drugs to sensible support of radical governmental control of illegal drugs.

Lamott is an earnest Presbyterian but only maddeningly hints at it by naming a back to nature storefront religious group Sixth Day Prez. It features healing rituals and vacuous spirituality rather than solid Christian theology and ethics. Those probably wouldn’t work on Rosie either.

The book is thought provoking, hints at redemption and new life but offers no definite answers. The characters are shown in painstaking stark reality. One just knows that what Lamott writes is the way it is. The sad ring to it all is that there is little hope within the society to end the problem with the laws we have now.


Killing people in war is bad enough. Killing civilians is very bad. Killing suspected terrorists is bad. Killing suspects without due process of law, without a hearing or a trial is very bad. Killing innocent people in suicide bombings is very bad. Killing people with rifles, handguns and knives is also bad.

But killing people by remote control is evil and cowardly.

A soldier today controls drone aircraft thousands of miles away. He is sitting at a desk at a computer. Using technological targeting, he or she presses a button that drops bombs on buildings and people. What a wonder of science. What a skillful new way of waging war. What ingenuity we humans have.

So what is wrong with such activity?

1. It has no emotion in it. It is done without feeling. The soldier works the shift, drops the bombs and then goes home to dinner with the family There may have been some thought and feeling at first but after a while those are numbed as they become routine office activities like playing computer games.

2. No one but the victims see and feel the damage. Only they suffer. The perpetrator sees or feels nothing of the suffering and death caused by his or her action.

3. Killing by remote is cruel. It inflicts punishment and death on unsuspecting human beings who may or may not be military or even enemies.

4. The drones destroy villages, primitive buildings, caves and tents. They are not directed at big cities or industrial complexes.

5. No medical help is provided to the victims of remote bombings. Since the bombings are always a surprise medical aid to the wounded will be delayed and perhaps not available at all in remote villages and caves in Afghanistan.

6. There is no way to determine the success or failure of the mission. The perpetrators are not on the scene. Ground forces may or may not be near enough to assess the results of the bombing. The victims’ accounts will no doubt be exaggerated and inaccurate.

7. Since the victims have no way to fight back directly they will find other ways to retaliate probably using so-called terrorist activities all the more. The families and friends of the victims will be very good candidates for extremist organizations. They won’t be lining up to join the U.S. and NATO forces.

8. It stimulates more hate and rage in the surviving victims. They have more reason than ever to hate our country, do all they can, by whatever means to drive our soldiers from their native soil. Thus more and more of our soldiers and their families will be wounded and killed.

9. “What is the greatest contradiction of our time? The US continues to fight ‘terror with terror,’ Current and past administrations cleverly define this strategy as ‘counterterrorism.’

One only needs to look at US Code 18 Section 2331 for further proof. An act of international terrorism, according to it, involves:

A) Violent acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation of committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State; B) Intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

Is that clear enough?”

The US Government says it is now legal to kill women and children if it means one drone attack can kill one militant or terrorist.

The worst evil of all is that the CIA, not the Air Force or the military direct the drone program. The CIA is a rogue organization that virtually is independent of the foreign policy of the US. Its skullduggery has killed innocents, corrupted duly elected governments and brought ruin and disrespect to our country’s freedom and all we stand for.

All of this makes the action of extremist Muslims who bombed the World Trade Center seem quite justified.

Every American should be ashamed of this particular way of waging war. We in the church should stand strong criticizing this cowardly and evil way to wage war.

Why We Left the Church

Facing the Music

A letter was read to the congregation of Church of St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco on Palm Sunday telling us the one of our members, Michael Music, has been banished from the church and grounds for two years. If he comes on the premises, the police will be called to remove him. He is charged with taking money from an elderly parishioner. I was aghast and appalled, speechless, in fact, an unusual thing for me.

Ann too was shocked. I wrote the following letter that afternoon.

Palm Sunday

To: the Rector, Wardens and Vestry of Church of St. John the Evangelist

Re: Michael Music

Your action in regard to Michael Music was difficult for you, for Michael, and for me.

I presume a person is innocent until proven guilty. Michael has had allegations made against his behavior. There is no proven crime committed by Michael. There are suspicious circumstances only.

I do not believe any person or group should judge a person guilty without hearing his or her side of the story.

To my knowledge members of the vestry have not spoken to Michael on this specific allegation. John Kirkley talked with me about it. Michael Music has told me his side of the story.

The idea that our community needs protection from a member is patronizing. Perhaps it is true that some very vulnerable people need extra protection. That can be handled in a case-by-case situation. The rest of us are responsible people who can handle difficult people and situations.

I hope the Rector, Wardens and Vestry will reconsider their harsh and unnecessary treatment of Michael Music.


Robert Warren Cromey

This letter caused me to ruminate on a number of issues of how people in the church have been dealt with.

They gave Jesus a trial and then crucified him. They gave Joan of Arc a trial and then they burned her at the stake. They gave Bishop Pike a trial and then let him go.

Michael Music never had a chance to face the music, play his tune before the vestry. He was tried, convicted and punished. He was not present at the vestry meeting. No one heard his side of the story.

Michael admits he took the money, he admits he regrets not to have had a written agreement with Barbara to use the money. He says Barbara told him to use the money. Now I am told Barbara cannot remember giving that permission. It is his word against hers. He has agreed to repay the money and has made two payments. I have seen the cancelled checks.

The vestry says there was a report from Adult Protective Services outlining what Michael did. One of their staff had an interview with Michael. They did not press criminal charges. The APS heard Michael’s side of the story. The vestry did not.

The vestry did not listen to Michael’s side of the story. I did. Michael has been tried convicted and punished and he has not had an opportunity to testify in his own behalf.

The day before the Vestry meeting John Kirkley called me and outlined the charges and indicated what he wanted to happen. He did not mention any proposed punishment to me.

The vestry has punished Michael by banning him from the premises for two years. I think this is unjust, harsh and unloving.

It astonishes me that a Christian community banishes a member resulting in his exclusion from the sacraments in his own parish.

Ann and I have informed the vestry that we withdraw from the parish. If anyone asks why we have done so I suggest you say that Robert and Ann disagree with the action of the vestry concerning Michael Music. Anyone wanting to talk with us about that is welcome to do so.

I have directed that I be removed from the healing and preaching rota and the church mailing list. Our pledge is cancelled.

Background and Motivation.

I do not put much worth in motivation, but in this case the harsh treatment may stem from some items in Michael’s relationship with the leadership of the parish. Most recently Michael has stood vigil outside the church calling for a buzzer system for the front gate and a pastoral care team. Some have said his vigil has kept people away from attending the church.

In the past his keys to the church have been retrieved from him because he has used the kitchen without permission, stored things in the building and abused privileges. He has been forbidden to lead or attend groups in the church because he talks too much, does not listen to others and is not caring about other people’s feelings.

When I led meetings and study groups and had people who talked too much. I would take them aside, chat with them and make it clear what the specific problem was and ask them to be careful in the future. If they continued, I would simply, gently yet firmly interrupt them. The trouble is most leaders do not know how to conduct and lead groups and handle alleged difficult participants.

In a private conversation with Michael one time I interrupted him a couple of times and asked him not to digress and be more succinct. After our time together Michael said, “Cromey, you should give a course at St. John’s on how to interrupt Michael.”

Two basic principles about church life that I think are very valuable.

1. The church is not a private club; she must take all who want to join.

2. The church’s glory is you can’t avoid the person you hate.

-Jason Byasse as quoted in The Christian Century magazine

One of my clergy friends on hearing me tell Michael’s story asked, “Did this happen in this country?”

One vestry member in an East Coast church said, “I thought we were supposed to love and forgive sinners.”

I say a person is innocent until proven guilty. A person deserves a hearing before being tried, convicted and punished.

This episode reminds me of what happens in many parishes and dioceses even today in the Episcopal Church. If a person is reported to be gay or lesbian or is accused of sexual harassment the bishop steps in and the person is removed from his or her job. No innocence until proven guilty, no trial, no confronting the accuser, no listening to another side of the story. Just get out.

Our church can and must do better than that if we truly care for love, forgiveness and justice.


Friday, April 16, 2010


Telling a Parishioner to Leave the Parish

I have always been proud to say the Episcopal Church must take anyone who wants to be a member or attender. We are not a private club. All are welcome to worship with us.

Events have occurred where a decision had to be made.

In 1959 a parishioner and his 14-year-old son came and said our organist had made a sexual overture to the boy on an outing for the choir and acolytes. The organist said it was true and apologized. The father wanted me to fire the organist. I refused. The man and boy left and both returned and the boy is now a priest of the church.

One member of our church cut off the foot of his lover with a rented chain saw. When they recovered and served their time in hospital and prison they returned to take the Eucharist. No one asked them to leave. They were not deemed to be a threat to the congregation.

In the 1980’s a woman in a study group loudly proclaimed week after week that gays are evil and were going to hell. The parish was 85 % gay men. No one thought we should ask her to leave the church.

An irate vestry member threatened me and other members of the vestry with a cane. We ordered him to leave the meeting. He came back to church and no one suggested he should leave the church.

A group of ten women who did not like something I was alleged to have said about lesbians staged a kneel-in when I was in the pulpit. They were not disruptive of the service, merely annoying to many people. They stayed for many weeks until they left of their own accord.

A convicted child molester was a member of Trinity and came to the church several times after he had served his time.

Two priests of the church who had been convicted of smuggling cocaine served their sentences and came to the church regularly. I welcomed them.

A man who had spent twenty years in prison for abetting a murder was welcomed into the church where I had served. No one asked him to leave.

Several times I defied the bishop’s ban and performed a dozen same gender marriages. I was not deposed or asked to leave the church.

A member of one parish was accused of taking money from an elderly parishioner whom he had visited regularly. The rector wardens and vestry told him to stay away from the parish for two years or he would be removed by the police if he came on the premises. I did not think this action was justified.

In seminary we were taught that the only grounds for excommunicating a person in the Anglican Communion was that they were “Open and notorious evil livers.” The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were held up as the only example one could think of.

I’d love to read comments on what you think are grounds for telling a parishioner to stay away from the parish.