Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


An old and dear friend of mine is now very conservative. Once he was a strong supporter of civil rights for African-Americans and with his wife adopted a black child and brought her into their home. A strong supporter of LGBT rights, he gave money to support that movement. We lost close touch for many years. We saw each other from time to time for lunch. We began to be in touch more when email became more popular and we grew adept in communicating that way. I was quite shocked that he had voted for the Bushes and Republicans since before Reagan. I didn’t think much of it since my brother also voted for Reagan and I assume Republican ever since those days and we get along fine but don’t talk much about politics.

But I noticed my old friend, let’s call him Liam, has become shrill. Obama will ruin the country. Health Care Reform will ruin the economy. All Muslims are bent on ruining democracy. This trend has become more noticeable as Liam seems out to try to convince me to change my positions on issues and to get my support for his view of things. On the issue of the Muslim take-over there is a touch of hysteria and paranoia.

He has a lot of support for this kind of thinking. Right-wing talk shows, the Tea Party Movement and apocalyptic, end of the world fears, abound in the United States. Liam may be fired by that support and now conventional thinking. But I do wonder if there is something of a more psychological anxiety in him. However, I am not his therapist. He has not asked me for help and I cannot diagnose him.

Thinking about this change in Liam, I also wonder if he, like many people, has a hard time with ambiguity, the ability to hold comfortably two divergent views at the same time. I think that ability is a definition of a mature person.

Fully developed, authentic persons look clearly at what they believe, hold to that belief and are understanding and sympathetic to other people’s quite divergent points of view.

Many people whole-heartedly support the right of Isreal to exist. They just as strongly hold the view that the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians is unjust and cruel.

One can fully support President Obama’s presidency and be completely against his policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One can be a full-fledged people oriented Democrat and understand and disagree with the Republican business and economic centered point of view.

This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t take a strong stand on issues. Taking a strong stand does not mean dishonoring or holding in contempt the views of others. There are times when one must take a stand and make sure that those who disagree are not hurting others.

In a strike against a Coal Mine company, one can understand the need of workers for more pay and more safety. The owners have to earn enough money to run the company. Seeing both sides does not prevent one from taking a position. One must judge who is being hurt most? Where is injustice? Which is the weaker party in the weakest position? I tend to be on the side of the weaker and the underdog. But I can see and disagree with others who take the other side.

As a strong advocate for civil rights for all in the 1960s, I could see that many of my fellow Episcopalians were hurt by my taking a strong stand for blacks, gays and lesbians. I had to decide which side I was on. The minorities would be hurt if I did not support them. My middle class white co-religionists would be hurt if I supported the minorities. It was not a hard choice really. As a follower of Jesus, I chose the side of the weak the poor and the outcast.

My friend Liam supported the minorities in the 60s and maybe he still does. But I hope he can appreciate and understand the other side of issues and the people that support those issues. Life would be easier if the world was good or bad, black or white, right or wrong. But it isn’t. We are presented a world with shades of gray.

That is another way of seeing the world of moral, ethical and political choice as ambiguous.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Now It’s Islam

I have recently received a number of anti-Islam items from friends who should know better. They announce that we have to fear all members of Islam and all Muslims. They are all out to destroy everything in western civilization.

In my lifetime I have seen fear and hate toward Japanese-Americans, African-Americans, Jews, Communists, women, Mormons, Mexicans and homosexuals. It looks like Muslims are next.

The assumption is that all members of the group think and act in exactly the same way as a few of them do. All Japanese-Americans wanted Japan to win the war, all African Americans are shiftless, all Jews are money grabbers, all Communists want to conquer the world, all women should stay home where they belong, all Mormons are polygamists, all Mexicans are lazy, all homosexuals want to seduce children, now it is all Muslims are terrorists.

Then there are the humorous ones, All Episcopalians are whiskypalians, all Roman Catholics are fish eaters, and all Methodists are tee-totalers.

There are a billion Muslims in the world less that a quarter are Arabs Muslims live in every country in Europe, Africa, South and North America.

Take a moment and get some facts about Muslims and go to: or read Karen Armstrong’s Islam.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

End the Wars and Get Out

It is about time some senators like John Kerry, Richard Lugar and Karl Levin raise doubts and concern about the war in Afghanistan. Right below that SF Chronicle story is another headline, 8 U.S. troops die…. War and defense is popular and expensive. Seeking peace in our country is regarded as cowardice and weakness. I truly support all efforts for peace. Many Americans want the wars to be over. It will take strength, character and political risk to allow the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to be in charge of their own freedom and nation.

End the Wars and Get Out

It is about time some senators like John Kerry, Richard Lugar and Karl Levin raise doubts and concern about the war in Afghanistan. Right below that SF Chronicle story is another headline, 8 U.S. troops die…. War and defense is popular and expensive. Seeking peace in our country is regarded as cowardice and weakness. I truly support all efforts for peace. Many Americans want the wars to be over. It will take strength, character and political risk to allow the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to be in charge of their own freedom and nation.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Years Benefit Ball in San Francisco

by Robert Warren Cromey

Each year at Gay Pride time we read and hear about Stonewall. The Stonewall riots in New York City are assumed to be the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States. A new documentary Stonewall Uprising depicts that exciting and important event which began on June 28, 1969 and ran for three days.

I muse upon a couple of events five years earlier in, which I played a small part. Hundreds of gays and lesbians attended a New Years Benefit Ball on January 1, 1965. Police invaded the private benefit event and arrested six people. The also took flash photographs of party goers in a blatant attempt at intimidating the guests as they entered California Hall on Polk street to go to the ballroom. One woman and three lawyers were arrested for blocking the police from entering and two men were arrested for alleged lewd conduct. The ball continued without further interference.

The event was a benefit for San Francisco’s Council on Religion and the Homosexual, an organization of clergy and lay people to study and understand the homosexual community, which was being harassed and persecuted in the City and Bay Area. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were among the founding members of the board. They also had staffed the New Year’s event.

When the San Francisco Police Department heard about the ball, they attempted to force the rented hall's owners to cancel the event. Some of the leaders of the Council had met with the police to explain the purposes of the council and the ball with the idea of heading off any trouble. The police were more interested in the theology of the clergy, and, noticing wedding rings, asked if their wives knew of this event. We left the meeting feeling sure the ball would go on without interruption.

When police demanded entry into the hall, three CRH lawyers explained to them that under California law, the event was a private party and they could not enter unless they bought tickets. The lawyers were then arrested, as was a ticket-taker, on charges of obstructing an officer.

When the police invaded the hall several of the clergy, including Cecil Williams and I, tried to block the police from entering. We were brushed aside and they went into a private party. The police did not want to be seen arresting clergy, we were seen as more respectable then. The arrested lawyers were the late Herb Donaldson, Evander Childs and Elliott Layton. Donaldson later became San Francisco’s first openly gay judge.

Seven of us ministers who were in attendance that night held a press conference the following morning, January 2, 1965, where we described the pre-event negotiations with police and accused them of "intimidation, broken promises and obvious hostility." One minister compared the SFPD to the Gestapo.

Those participating in the press conference ripping the police were The late Rev. Lewis Durham, program director of the Glide Foundation, Rev. Robert Warren Cromey of the Episcopal Diocese of California, Rev. Cecil Williams, Director of Glide’s Church and Community Ministry, Rev. Fred Bird, pastor of St. Johns Methodist Church, Rev. Charles Lewis, of the North Beach Lutheran Ministry, the late Rev. Dr. Clarence Caldwell, of the United Methodist Church, and Rev. Ted McIlvenna of the Glide Foundation.

When the arrested lawyers came to trial, they were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which saw the lawyers' arrest as an attempt to "intimidate attorneys who represent unpopular groups."

Herb Donldson said "They jury went out and deliberated and came back not long afterward and announced that they had found the defendants not guilty. And that they would have done it even if the judge hadn't told them to do it.” Judge Leo Friedman excoriated the police for their tactics and harassment.

That was a critical moment in San Francisco history.

Some important things started to change when a judge and a jury said that you couldn't be convicted as a criminal for standing up to that kind of police harassment. The police department was embarrassed by the publicity, which went local, state and national. Harassment of gays and lesbians began to diminish.


Donaldson also said it well, "There were no gay parades, no gay proclamations, no gay exhibit at the library, there weren't gay people in courses in the high schools or in the grammar schools. There were no openly elected officials, there were no openly gay judges. There weren't any openly gay lawyers in San Francisco in 1965.”

The New Years Ball, the acquittal of the lawyers and those arrested, and the change in police policy were dramatic events in the LGBT movement for full freedom in the society. Stonewall is perceived to be the beginning of the movement. But the New Year’s Ball in San Francisco and its aftermath were powerful forerunners of the movement for LGBT rights.

Robert Warren Cromey is a priest of the Episcopal Church,

retired and living in San Francisco.

He was one of the founders of the

Council on Religion and the Homosexual in 1964.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Shopping for Food and Clothes

I shop in a number of different stores for food. I go to Safeway on Market Street for shrimp, fish, Fetzer Chardonnay, dairy products, milk, eggs, yoghurt, butter, sour cream and cottage cheese. I like to swipe and munch a blue cheese stuffed olive from the salad bar. I get vegetables, some meat and sausage there too. They also carry sushi, which we like to eat once a week at least. Lemons are the most expensive in town, sometimes a dollar each. I like the mix of people, gays, lesbians, African-Americans, the elderly, infirm and some white Anglos too.

One friend says he likes to shop at Trader Joe’s, I said I like Safeway because it has a better clientele.

I got lemons at 69 cents each at Whole Foods on 24th Street. It replace Bell Market a mid sized neighborhood super market. Now it is a pricey semi-natural organic food store shopped by people that drive SUVs and BMWs. The little old ladies of both sexes who toddled daily to Bell seem to have gone elsewhere. Whole Foods CEO wrote in The Wall Street Journal that he was against the Health Care Reform bill. I understand the company is anti-union and has poor benefits for employees. So I have a prejudice against them and seldom shop there. The store is handsome and the red, yellow and green produce well displayed. The bakery there does have a fine strawberry, peach, blueberry cream tart for desserts.

I love to shop at Costco. The one near us seems dominated by very busy Asian shoppers with huge trolleys filled with food items and electronics. There are lots of other shoppers too. I love the sheer hugeness of the place, the large packages and quantities one has to buy there in bulk. We get toilet paper, Glen Livet Scotch, some wines, asparagus, also shrimp cocktail already prepared in neat packages, crumbly white feta cheese that we devour. The flower mart is varied and the flowers seem to last longer than ones from other stores. I am tempted by the electronics, huge TVs that are the first think you see when entering the warehouse. I buy chicken breasts in quantity to freeze, lamb, rack of lamb and paper towels. It has the feel of a European market nestled in the outer arches of a church – but huge.

I go to corner stores for pints of Jim Beam whiskey when I am serving Manhattans, occasional containers of milk when we run out. I feel guilty going in there as I buy so little. I know they depend on the small sales in quantity but I still feel a bit guilty. Today’s corner stores are the size of the grocery stores in the 40s and 50s that I remember as a boy in Brooklyn.

I have been getting fresh wild salmon from Sea Bear, an on-line outfit out of Seattle. When salmons are in season, I can order them and they are shipped by parcel post in three days to our front door. The fish are packed in dry ice and come in white plastic containers. We choose not to buy farmed salmon, as we do not think it is good for the salmon or for us to eat fish raised in crowded tanks if we can help it.

Bi-Rite on 18th Street is near our house. We go for items we need and forgot from our larger shopping sprees. The clerks are usually very polite and helpful and the food excellent and expensive.

Ann shops the produce markets from time to time for lemons and limes, which can be six for a dollar. Vegetables and fruit are good but need eating very soon as they are quickly unappetizing. I seldom shop in farmer’s markets in the city. They take away trade from the local, markets, seem expensive and I am not convinced the taste of the fruit and vegetables are all that superior from what I get at Safeway. They are now a part of the San Francisco Saturday buying craze. The natural and organic labels make the products seem superior. But then perhaps I have corns on my palate.

When I shop now, I buy what I want no matter what the price. I no longer look for the bargains, the cheapest or even the best quality. I used to shop with care and caution, now I shop with a certain abandon. When I was younger I had the sneaking feeling I would run out of money if I wasn’t careful. I feared I might end up on the streets. I no longer feel that way. I have a prosperity consciousness with a certainty that I will always have, not only enough, but more than enough. Even now with social Security and the Church Pension Fund I will always have enough to live comfortably unless there is an absolute breakdown of the government and the stock market.

In addition to this prosperity consciousness I do not have elaborate tastes in clothes. I like the classic casual look of chino pants, open neck shirt, sweats and rugby shirts coat and tie for church and dress occasions. I have not owned a suit since I retired eight years ago and gave two ill-fitting suits to Good Will. While I admire the dressed up look of a shirt, vest, shirt and tie, I do not like to wear them, as they feel tight and uncomfortable on me. I must admit when I see a well dressed and suited man they do not look uncomfortable but relaxed and debonair.

I have on hand a dark blue blazer from Nordstrom a glen plaid grey sport coat from Brooks Brothers, chino pants from Land’s End, pajama’s from Brooks as their extra-large are truly extra large. Cheaper stores extra large are not roomy enough for me. I do like red and blue plaid jams of different weights for different seasons.

That is another thing. I dress for comfort. Loose pants and sweaters are a necessity. One of my women friends in the 70s wanted me to wear clothes that showed off my body more. I am always glad to show off, including my body, but nope, not tight clothes for me. Loose and relaxed is what I like.

I’ll admit to a couple of extravagances. I love bright colorful argyle socks. When I wore gray clerical clothes as a priest, the bright socks gave me a shocking dash of color at the ankle. Socks like that are not easy to find. Some stores sell muted argyle patterns that are too drab for my taste. I get the Ben Silver Men’s clothing catalogue. They are based in Charleston, South Carolina. The southern gentlemen models all look constipated with thin smiles. But they do have great argyle socks for sale. They run about thirty-five dollars a pair and I have them sent. They are colorful, fit well are long lasting and most importantly, I like them. I have succumbed and bought a set of underwear shirts of the finest cotton and a pair of military khaki trousers for dress wear that are quite elegant and expensive. I would not buy a tie from them, as they are way too expensive for a pretty rag to wear about one’s neck.

I don’t have many pairs of shoes. They get tossed out or given away once I do not like them any more. Because I need arch support I have to have sturdy shoes and walking shoes. I have no need for more than three dress leather, one pair of walking shoes and I pair of cold wet weather waterproof shoes. I don’t like shopping for shoes as I am uncertain about fit and there are few styles I like much.

I buy mostly food, clothes and necessities. I have he usual gadgets, books, CDs. Now that I am retired I don’t buy books or CDs not rent DVDs. I get them from the San Francisco Public Library.

We live in an economy that demands that we buy and consume as much as possible whether we need it or not. At the same time we are polluting the planet with gases, garbage and destroying rain forests and oceans to fill our voracious appetites for things to keep the economy from collapsing. In my own way I try to live simply, buy what I need to be comfortable, secure and healthy.

I enjoy shopping seeing the items, the people and spending money. I feel guilty sometimes that I have so much and so many have so little both here and around the world. Shopping reminds me of the larger world of food, commerce and economics, which needs our attention and concern.