Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 YEARS AGO AND JFK

November 22, 2013

My timid secretary come into my office and said tightly, “The President has been shot.” That was fifty years ago today. We ran upstairs to the Bishops office. The Rt. Rev. James Albert Pike gathered his staff around him in his office and read the prayers for the dead from the Book of Common Prayer. I went to my office and watched the television coverage of the so sad events in Dallas. I felt a sinking in my stomach, and an ache.

I remembered that a few days earlier the Bishop handed me a note on White House stationery scrawled with President Kennedy’s signature. It was so illegible we weren’t sure whose signature it was. We laughed at the poor penmanship.

Going home later, Lillian and I told the girls about the President’s death. They were more interested in little girl things. I was glad. I watched television for much of the day. Ruby slaying Oswald added to the confusion and chaos that swelled around the nation.

I wondered if Lyndon Johnson wasn’t behind the assassination? I also became interested in the “who did it” theories.


A few days there was a memorial service for the dead President at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, which was truly packed for the occasion. I was asked to narrate the service for a local radio station. I was honored to do so. I described the cathedral, the colors of the vestments flowers and some of the dignitaries who attended.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

PHILANTHROPY VS. TAXES

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hold on Mr. Benioff and other moguls. (SF Chronicle, November 18, 2013) Giving gifts of books and stuffed animals is nice, but it does not solve the problems of the homeless. Massive donations to education by foundations do not solve the wreck of our education system. Dot com contributions to hospitals fail to even dent the deeply flawed health care systems of our country.

Only governments on the state, national and local levels can do this. Tax-averse businesses and industries make it impossible to really improve homelessness, education or health care as well as protecting the environment and feeding the starving.


All the private philanthropy in the world cannot solve the massive problems facing our nation and world. The self-interest of big and small business opposes most efforts to change the world for the better. What a huge difference it would make to the planet and the people if business and industry cooperated with the government with talent and tax money.

Monday, November 18, 2013

PROOF OF HEAVEN

Proof of Heaven
A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.
Eben Alexander, M.D.
Simon and Schuster Paperback, 2012

Spirituality is hot today. Conservative religions flourish. Huge numbers of people call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Even atheists are gathering in “church like” groups. Some people attend main line churches. Yoga, meditation and Buddhism attract many.

Spiritual seekers have one thing in common.  Except for atheists, they seek a sense of transcendence, something beyond our scientific view of earthly matter.

Eben Alexander’s book seeks to provide scientific evidence for an afterlife, something that transcends physical death.

He contracted a disease that caused him to die. No brain waves could be detected. His body was completely stilled, little pulse or breathing. He had tubes in him to help his heart and lungs function.

However, when he awakened after seven days he reported vivid dreams, thought processes, decision-making and fantasies. He completely recovered from the dreadful illness. In Proof of Heaven, Alexander recounts in detail what he remembers of the time he was brain dead. The 193-page book details his scientific training as a physician, his medical education and years of neuro-scientific study so he could become a neurosurgeon. He brings that vast learning to his experience of being able to see and visualize things although all the machines measuring his brain waves indicated his brain was dead.

He says if my brain was dead, how can I have had these visions, pictures and conversations? “While his body lay in a coma, Alexander journeyed beyond this world and encountered an angelic being who guided him into the deepest level of super-physical existence. There he met and spoke with the Divine source of the universe itself.” He believes that “true health can only be achieved only when we realize God and the soul are real and that death is not the end of personal existence but only a transition.”

As a priest of the Episcopal Church I do have a sense of the transcendent. It is part of my experience in liturgy, prayer and in caring for the sick, the poor and seeking justice for all. That is the message of Jesus. In worship we draw near or are drawn near to the transcendent God.

I also respect those who speak with the dead, have extra-sensory experience and report spontaneous healings and miracles. While those are not experiences which I have had or even trust, I do believe there is something beyond our human knowing. In the words of the Burial Office of our Church, I have a “sure and certain hope of the resurrection of Jesus” and life after death. A sure and certain hope is the best I can come up with.

So who am I to say that Dr. Alexander’s witness is false, unreasonable or weird?
The book is a thoughtful and fresh look at the age-old questions of life after death, heaven, and the possibility of things transcendent.

Robert Warren Cromey,
San Francisco, CA





Thursday, November 14, 2013

THE GOOD FUNERAL - BOOK REVIEW

The Good Funeral
Thomas G. Long and Thomas Lynch
Westminster John Knox Press 2013

Funerals have gone to hell is the assumption made by our authors. Long is a Presbyterian Minister and scholar, Lynch is an undertaker and poet/writer. With humor, self revelation and glorious anecdotes about funeral practices past and present, they decry the corpseless ceremonies common today. Ashes are often present at funerals but that is not a body.  Celebrations of life are galas of narcissistic recollection of the formerly alive and their impact on the attenders.

Both authors recount the fear and loathing most people have of the lifeless corpse by most Americans and the British. The thought of an American family keeping the dead body around, washing, anointing and dressing it is repulsive to most people. They want the funeral director to take her away ASAP. Muslims, however, do claim, wash, anoint and dress the lifeless body with great respect and honor. They feel privileged to do so.

I must confess that when I or one of my loved ones dies, I want the undertaking profession to remove the body from home or hospital and take it to a mortuary to prepared the body for disposal in the way I think is appropriate. I am new fashioned, not old. I have instructions in place for the disposal of my corpse. My wife and I are in agreement about that.

The authors take us through the stages of what happens after the death of a body.
Concern for the body, care for the bereaved , and disposition of the body. Each phase takes thought and deliberation. The authors provide the various options within the stages. For instance, the clergy and undertaker need to make sure the family is comforted, counseled and supported in their grief. Disposition gives options – burial, cremation, scattering at sea or on the mantel.

Lynch the undertaker excoriates his profession for becoming sales people for casket companies, clothiers, cemeteries and insurance companies. Long the cleric criticizes the clergy for letting the undertaker take over the role of the clergy in organizing funeral rites and graveside practices. For instance, clergy using silver vials of  sand to sprinkle the coffin rather than real dirt and sending the mourners away before the casket is lowered into the ground. The authors’ concern is the proper honoring of the deceased and seeing the disposition to the end.

Both authors spend some time reviewing the work of Jessica Mitford’s 1963 book The American way of Death. They appreciate her revealing the price-gouging of the bereaved in selling caskets and paraphernalia by greedy undertakers. Her book brought about legislation controlling these practices. However, they decried her devaluing of care for the body of the deceased and rituals and funerary rites in general. Ms. Mitford is uncomfortable with the human body and wants it out of sight and mind as soon as possible. She seems to have no concern for grief and mourning. Her philosophy is, get on with your life.  Long and Lynch pay close attention to the human need to go through a process and grief and mourning, often impossible now with the notions of a celebration of life. No mourning or tears allowed.

During the 1980s in San Francisco we were bombarded with funerals for young men who died of AIDS. Clergy, undertakers and the medical profession all were totally unprepared for the onslaught of the disease. One of my doctor friends said, “Robert, please don’t send me any more patients, we don’t know what to do for them.” Some funeral directors would not take bodies of men who had died of AIDS. Some churches wanted nothing to do with homosexuals, dead or alive.

At Trinity Church, San Francisco we had 75 funerals over a six year period. It meant that the clergy and laity looked after the dying patient, his love, parents, grandparents and sometimes even children who came to mourn and grieve for the deceased loved one.

The Good Funeral is a fine book for clergy, undertakers and all of us facing the choices to be made at the time of our own deaths and the demise of our loved ones and friends.





Friday, November 08, 2013

The Fundamental Question

The Fundamental Question

Here is a new question that must be faced by the Episcopal Church.

An Episcopal Bishop has issued a pastoral directive to a gay married priest in her diocese. She says you must have sex only with your husband.

Presumably, this is the vow straight people make when they marry. “To keep thee only unto her…”  Is that really supposed to refer to homosexual people also?

The homosexual world including clergy have had a different culture for thousands of years since, they were illegals and also forbidden to marry. Some LGBT people today think they should marry with the same agreement of single monogamy as straight people.  Other LGBT people have lived in a culture that condones partners to be sexual with others where there is mutual agreement to do so. To be clear, many partners mutually agree to allow their partners and themselves to be sexual with others.

The traditional straight Christians vow to strict monogamy was to ensure that the children born of the woman were the legitimate offspring of the husband. This had to do with inheritance of estates, money and lines of authority for royalty. It had nothing to do with the solidity, moral or sexual purity of the relationship between husband and wife. Married men and women from Biblical and times immemorial have had lovers other than their spouses.

Homosexual clergy today may marry their partners. The church and the culture must go the next step in recognizing that LGBT people are not EXACTLY like straight people. Views are different when it comes to the definition of monogamy. Monogamy means the vow that “I will be with you forever AND we may choose to be with other sexual partners when there is mutual consent to do so.” Adultery is when one enters into other sexual relationships WITHOUT the other partner’s consent.

The church has entered a new world since it has allowed homosexual clergy and same sex marriages. Look at the changes we have already made. In Biblical times, polygamy was practiced among ancient Jews; think Kings Saul, David and Solomon. Today in Africa priests of the Anglican Communion have multiple wives.  I dare say that some Anglican and Episcopal Clergy engage in open marriages where with mutual permission, each partner may have sex with other partners. Blacks and whites may marry each other. We allow divorced clergy to remarry, where it was unthinkable fifty years ago.

In the 1920s the Episcopal General Convention decried birth control. In the 1930s the church said it was a responsible action for married people. Abortion is now approved under strict circumstances. Homosexuals are now free to be themselves, and LGBT people may marry. We need to look forward to new ways of regarding marriage.

It is interesting that the Episcopal Church has never taken a stand on pre-marital sex, sex for divorced people, sex for unmarried homosexuals or masturbation

We need to look straight in the eye the fact that homosexuals, now set free, bring cultures and differences that challenge traditional straight people’s views of what constitutes the vows in a marriage.

The Reverend Robert Warren Cromey


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