Cromey Online

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

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Monday, February 09, 2015


Healing Church

“He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.”

Jesus was a healer.

To heal means to make whole. You know the expression, “I am trying to get myself together.” We want healing wholeness and a sense of being truly human.

What was it like to be sick in Jesus day?
No doctors, nurses, hospitals, drug stores, check ups, much less sanitation and even germ theory.

Casting Out Demons. People who were out of their so-called normal minds were on the streets in Jesus day, just like now. We see men and women all the time on our city streets who seem possessed. They yell, speak out harshly and with great anger.

I was sitting in a Starbucks on Irving St. with my friend Michael. We overheard an aggressive angry man sitting on the sidewalk. He threatened to stab people. We saw no knife. Michael was a nurse and he said, “We need to call the police.” They arrived within five minutes, were firm but clear that the man had to go to the hospital. They took him by the hand and lifted him into the ambulance. Ten minutes this man, possessed with a demon – alcohol, drugs, or insanity, was taken to the hospital.

Not only in Jesus day. The demented just walked the streets until they die. In poverty stricken Africa and in rural America, the demented walk the streets until they are killed or die.

Walking hand in hand with Jesus. Some people have that experience of being in the presence of Jesus. One woman was perplexed about many problems in her life. She went for a walk quietly in her heart and prayed for Jesus to guide her. As she walked she felt Jesus had taken her hand and was walking along with her. The old hymn came to my mind, “Oh he walked with me and he talked with me when I came to the garden alone.”

Another great spiritual is Blessed Lord, take my Hand.  Many people witness to feeling the presence of Jesus, of Jesus taking their hand and lifting them up.

In the movie Selma MLK, Jr., calls up Mahalia Jackson and has her sing Blessed Lord take My Hand, as he has to make hard decisions about moving forward in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

I have never had such an experience of Jesus. Not everyone does or has to. We all relate to the presence of Jesus in different ways.

We want to take our friends and family by the hand and lift them up when we see they are sick. We want to give them a healing touch.

That’s what we do at our healing station here at St. John’s. Healing ministers anoint with oil those people who want a healing touch for themselves or others.  We lay hands, human hands and anoint with oil. People are invited each Sunday to the healing station with our physical and emotional concerns. We need to be taken by the hand and lifted up.

Healing hand to all that are sick. Not just here in church but politically too. Affordable Care Act is trying to be destroyed by many conservative political forces in our country. So many in our land need to be taken by a healing hand and lifted up. Simply by helping people have health insurance.

We heal the hungry.
 When we pass out food at The Julian Pantry on Saturday mornings.

Seek to heal by urging an end to all wars. Lend us a hand some Thursday at noon to stand and say NO WAR!

We seek to give a healing hand to our neighbors frightened that they will be deported.

We hold out our healing hands when we heal people in Nicaragua get clean water.

We give and receive a healing hand when we give each other the peace.

One of our parishioners told me that the only time anyone touches him is when he comes to church and people hug him or shake hands and say The Peace of the Lord. Take a moment and give a healing hand to our brothers and sisters in the church at The Peace.

We Christians are also interested in Political healing. Not just personal healing.

We Christians are healers when we support the San Francisco Organizing Project when they meet in our church this afternoon from 3-6 PM. We take the hands of the powerless and assist them in becoming strong through community organization.

Jesus comes and takes our hands when we take the holy bread, the icon of his body. He takes our hands and empowers us to heal and strengthen others. We are in communion with Jesus and God and with each other.


Sunday, February 08, 2015

SELMA THE MOVIE, Personal recollection

The Selma, Alabama, March

Hundreds of clergy and lay people went to Selma, Alabama, after seeing a peaceful march beaten back with horrific cruelty by white police officers.  On March 7, 1965, the nation and world saw it happen on TV.  Martin Luther King, Jr. sent a message to the clergy of the US to come and support him and the drive for Negro voting rights.

A number of San Francisco clergy met and decided to heed the call.  I bought tickets for three of us on credit from a travel agent friend of mine. Don Ganoung, Kit Carson, Lane Barton and I, along with Cecil Williams and Lewis Durham flew to Atlanta, Georgia, changed planes for Montgomery, Alabama. We all had wives and children. It was scary but we knew we just had to go. From Montgomery we took a bus down the red dirt road to the small town of Selma.  We rode in the same van with James Reeb, who was to lose his life that night, beaten to death by white ruffians in downtown Selma after eating dinner in a restaurant.

It was like alumni day.  I met dozens of Episcopal clergy from The General Theological Seminary where I had gone to school.  Hundreds of clergy in our dark suits and clerical collars came.  We went the Brown Chapel to hear King speak.  He was fiery and passionate.  An assistant interrupted him.  He left in mid sermon saying someone had been injured.  It was James Reeb, the Unitarian minister from Boston.

Kit Carson and I were assigned to sleep at a Black family’s poor but tidy home. We slept in a double bed. When we awakened the family had gone. We noted there was no food in the house.  We walked back downtown for breakfast.  When we told people that we had walked back and forth on that lonely dirt road, we found out we were lucky not to have been ambushed, beaten or shot.

All day we stood around and chatted with friends old and new.  We awaited King’s order to march a thousand clergy and lay people to Montgomery as planned.  I sat on a bench on the side of Brown Chapel. King and Ralph Abernathy and two other men walked by on the way to church.  I stood and we had a brief conversation and a shake of the hands and they hurried into the church.

Bishop Pike came to Selma for a few hours and spoke to the assembled crowd. He had given a lecture at a nearby university. He had to leave that afternoon.

I was also a stringer for the San Francisco Examiner.  I called Lisa Hobbs, a reporter at the time, a couple of times and told her about what was going on in the town.  She took down the chronology and then said, “Tell me some of the colors you see.”  I saw green grass, brown faces smiling and afraid, some red rooftops and a black telephone in my hand. She wanted some color and pictures for her story.

That evening when it was dark, the line of March was formed.  Kit and I stood next to each other while the TV cameras lighted us. The click and flash of 35 mm’s seemed to go on and on.  The police chief came on the bullhorn and told us to disperse.  No one moved.  After fifteen minutes he came on the horn again and told us to disperse or we would be arrested.  A third time he came on and told the TV cameras to turn off their lights.  And they did.  Now a thousand people stood in the dark, facing policemen with clubs.  We knew what had happened a few days before.  I was never so frightened in my life as I was then. Kit and I clung to each other.  We waited another twenty minutes. 

Dr. King came on the speaker system and told us that the march would take place later in the week.  He had reached an agreement with the authorities and another march would take place in a few days with police protection.  This we had come for was cancelled.  I felt great relief and some disappointment.

We retraced our steps and the next day flew back to San Francisco safe and sound and excited beyond measure by the events of the last three days.

A week later another huge number of people went to Selma and did the march the entire way to Montgomery, Alabama.  After that March President Lyndon Johnson launched comprehensive civil rights legislation that assured African Americans the right to vote and invalidated all laws that discriminated against people of color.

When I returned to San Francisco, I appeared on a number of radio and TV talk shows. I was invited to a number of churches tell of our experience. It was amazing to me how little we knew of the suffering Black Americans in the South. Many did not know that black people could not vote, were prevented from working in many companies and had to live in he poorest parts of town.  They did not know that most African-Americans lived in fear of white people all the time.

Why did I go and risk my neck? I was married to Lillian and we had three young daughters. If I had been hurt or killed I would have jeopardized their future, but I was aware of the pain and sorrow white America caused African Americans.  The sharpest learning came from reading Gunnar Myrdal’s book The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy examining the terrible facts of racial discrimination.  I had read it in college. When Lillian and I took a bus trip to Hampton, Virginia in the mid-fifties, we saw drinking fountains and toilets marked for colored.  Our friend Vernon Bodien was the white chaplain to the all-Black Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. In his home we met professors and lawyers who could not teach in white universities, had to ride in the back of the bus and were in constant fear of their lives and those of their children.

I read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I was tremendously moved and outraged that fellow Americans were treated so miserably by the white majority.  Newspapers and magazines in the 50’s began to cover the blatant discrimination in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

My upbringing in the church had made its mark.  I knew a few black clergy whom I adored.  The late Fr. Fergus Fulford, an African-American, was humorous, thoughtful and passionate about the need for black rights.  In the summers of 1951 and ‘52 I worked at Camp DeWolfe in Wading River on Long Island.  There were black youngsters whom I got to know and like.  I taught some of them to overcome their fear of the water and learn to swim.

Going to Selma just seemed like the right thing to do. I felt it important to bear physical witness that we white liberals could act as well as talk about freedom for all people.  My wife was very liberal and supported my going, though it must have been hard for her, as we had three young daughters.   There was a certain amount of danger for me.  But her support was important.

P.S. In the wonderful 2014 movie Selma the writers moved scenes around and episodes heightened dramatically. The movie did real justice to the events in Selma in 1965.

Friday, February 06, 2015


I recently finished reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. It won the Man Booker Prize for 2014. The story is about Australian soldiers captured by the Japanese in World War 2. The prisoners of War were forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. The prisoners were treated like slaves and had to put up with endless manual labor, cholera, malaria and beatings by the Japanese. Dorrigo Evans is a surgeon who tries his best to protect his men. Evans’ life and loves are interwoven with the awful work of the prisoners/slaves.

What makes this book really unusual is that the lives and thoughts and values and philosophy of the Japanese engineers and soldiers are also explored. We discover what motivates their cruelty, loyalty to the Emperor and the radically different view of life they have. This is the first book I have ever read that gave us a picture of the humanity of the Japanese soldiers as they carried out great atrocities.

The professional and love life of Evans give the book another view of the mind and behavior of the European-Australian and Americans who fought inn that terrible war.